Alan's Blog




Home in a Van

I've been having further thoughts about the options of Camper Van, Motorhome and Caravan recently – see my blog on these topics as I'm not going to repeat myself here.

The reason for this is purely one of COST! Particularly the cost of overseas site fees during peak summer time – the time of year when families get ripped off the most - even though they are the least able to afford being ripped off.

Another factor is one which I wrote about in my blog entitled The Spirit of Caravanning.

Let's get back to basics. All we need to survive is shelter, food and water and being able to keep at a comfortable temperature. Every one of these can be achieved by using a van with suitable food and drink supplies. We've recently met two people who have bought small vans and fitted them out very cheaply with all they need to survive and be reasonably comfortable whilst touring.

The huge factor in cost elimination is site fees. Having been quoted as high as about £60/night recently, this can add enormously to the cost of a summer tour – especially if you're going for several weeks. Deduct the cost of the ferry for a caravan and you save even more if you go by van – but make sure your van isn't too long or it will be classified as freight and charged accordingly. I got away with it last time I tried taking a 'long' van on the ferry but was warned not to try it again - so you be warned too. You might not be as lucky as I was. In my case, I had rented a van a little longer than the 6 metres length permitted by the ferry company - check your ferry company before you buy a van as they are all different.

To save even more, you don't even have to add any fixtures and fitting to the van. As a young man I frequently used to take my own 'original' mini van (1969 model) and use it to sleep in with Skip, my yellow labrador. On the occasions when I didn't have a van of my own, I used to rent one and sleep in that. Incidentally, if you're going to be sleeping in the wild (not on a site) it's well worth taking your guard dog with you – the bigger the better!

In fact, renting may well be an option worth considering if you only use it for a fairly short trip each year – cheaper than going to the expense of buying and running your own van – and it will almost certainly be quite new, well maintained and insured (including green card for overseas trips) and rescue and recovery cover provided too – and much cheaper to hire than a motorhome.

So, what do basic equipment do you need to go touring in a van:

1)         Inflatable mattresses for all personnel to sleep on - with sleeping bags.
2)         Picnic stove (and fuel) and a few pots and pans (and kettle), cutlery and plates etc. to suit yourself. An alternative would be to buy local food that can be eaten cold – and drink water (or wine!! - if you're not driving!).
3)         Ideally, a portable shower and a portable loo together with a 'pop-up' privacy tent. Don't forget to take plenty of water too.
4)         Folding table and chairs.

As for any other trip, maps and guidebooks are always useful and these could be in an electronic format for reading on a tablet computer such as an iPad – or just search for the information you need on-line (when available).

As you will realise, this is an incomplete list, although a complete list is much the same as you'd need to have with you on any type of camping trip. Many of these items would be what would normally be contained in your fitted-out camper van, motorhome or caravan. They just aren't 'fitted' into the structure of the van. The purpose of this blog isn't to list an inventory of what you're likely to need to take with you. If you can't list what you need, you shouldn't be going! Even a tent may be a useful addition to take with you.

So why use a van? With a small van, or even one a little bigger for a family, you can park almost anywhere for FREE. Even if you saved yourself only £25/night for 6 weeks you'd save yourself more than a thousand pounds. If you add that to the savings in the cost of the ferry fare for a caravan as well as the savings in additional fuel cost used when towing a caravan and you can see just how much of a saving you can make on a long tour – easily £1500 to £2000. Of course, hiring a small van would cost you about £1000 for this sort of time period but that would also include the vehicle insurance and maintenance costs – just add fuel and GO!

However, if you bought a cheap van for around say £5000 and fitted it out yourself (or just loaded it with the things you need), it would be a lot cheaper than buying a 'ready-made' camper van or motorhome and the money you'd save on not having to pay site fees would soon pay for the cost of your van and fittings / equipment.

Of course, you'd probably end up with a camper van once it had been fitted out to your liking – but at a much lower cost when using basic materials or buying second-hand caravan / camper van interior fittings, or even making your own furniture. Want some ideas?  There are loads of van conversion videos on YouTube……

I never thought I'd be writing so enthusiastically about using a van as I've always been a great fan of caravans. In fact, we do own a large (25 feet long, twin-axle) caravan but after our summer tour last summer (2019) which was both expensive and quite stressful for me, as the driver, having to tow the caravan for so many miles, I've come to the conclusion that a van, or small camper van is the way to go - an easy option maybe, but one that provides much more flexibility when it comes to both parking it for the night as well as the type of roads which one can take - nothing worse than being stuck in a narrow road with no way out when you have a huge caravan attached to your tow-bar!

Step 1: Buy a van.

Step 2: Go for it!

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