Camper Van, Motorhome or Caravan?
Making the choice of what of the three types of mobile accommodation can be difficult. Of course, one major factor is budget, however, other aspects affecting choice are just as important according to how you are going to use it.
Firstly, we need to establish some criteria for each.
Here I am referring to a vehicle similar in size to the ‘original’ Volkswagen camper vans of the 1970s and those of a similar age made by Dormobile. That is a maximum length of around 15 feet (4.5 metres).
Similar to a camper van except they are somewhat larger – both in length, width and height.
Here I’m referring to a touring caravan that can be towed using an ordinary vehicle. I am not referring to a ‘showman’s’ caravan or those massive caravans manufactured by the likes of Tabbert, neither am I referring to caravans that are permanently sited (sometimes known as mobile homes). Be aware that you need to carefully match your caravan with the vehicle you intend to use as a tow-car.
Let’s consider the options for each:
- Ideally suited to days out or weekends away.
- Can be parked almost anywhere – quite good for 'wild camping' (subject to security).
- Usually much cheaper to buy and run than a motorhome.
- Too small for long term travelling as accommodation far too small – although a lot of couples do seem to manage this.
- Very limited accommodation for family use.
- Unsuitable for large families or groups of friends.
- Good for long-term travelling.
- Despite their size, almost all motorhomes have a maximum seating capacity (on the road re: seatbelts) for 4 people – or less. Because of this, very few motorhomes have sleeping accommodation for more than 4 people, so they are useless for larger families or for large groups of friends.
- Very expensive to purchase and run.
- You need an extra vehicle for day-to-day use as a motorhome of far too large for everyday motoring.
Camper Van / Motorhome
- If you need to leave your campsite, even to go shopping nearby, you need to pack all your things and make the vehicle ready for the road.
- If your vehicle suffers a breakdown or fails to pass its annual test you are stuck with no accommodation.
- Can be bought quite cheaply (pre-owned).
- Can be left at the caravan site when you go off shopping or touring in your car.
- You can change your car without having to change your caravan.
- If your car suffers a breakdown you still have accommodation whilst your car is being repaired.
- You only need to have one car – the car you use everyday will also tow the caravan.
- Can accommodate large families or groups of friends. Up to 6 people in the caravan and a number of people in the awning.
- Not suitable for days out (unlike a camper van) and not ideal for weekends away.
- Ideal for long term touring as it is spacious enough, and sufficiently well equipped, to live in permanently – many people do so.
- Needs to be towed behind your car. Not all drivers are licensed to tow a caravan so check your driving license before you buy a caravan as you'll need to attend a course and pass the test in order to get your license changed.
- Needs a separate insurance policy when compared to a camper van/motorhome.
- Always needs to be pitched on a suitable site or service area – no good for 'wild camping'.
- The combined length of your car and caravan may well be longer than almost all motorhomes. This means higher charges on ferries when going overseas. The combined length of your 'rig' may well be around 40 feet – the length of a large HGV.
- Needs more careful route planning as many roads where you could take a camper van are unsuitable for a caravan – narrow lanes and mountain passes, for example.
- If you have a large twin-axle caravan, be aware that some sites don't accommodate this type of caravan – check before you arrive. Also check that the entrance route into the site allows you sufficient turning and manoeuvring space.
- Security isn't very good. Caravan doors, being quite light and flimsy, are fairly easy to break through regardless of what locks you have fitted. Standard caravan door locks are usually very poor.
- Many houses can't accommodate a caravan on the drive, so storage fees may be an additional cost to consider.
What to buy?
Only you can decide what you will buy. However, establish what your needs are, and what your budget is, before you rush into buying anything on impulse. And do remember that what you buy will need to be well maintained - and this isn't cheap.
As for me? My family of three plus dog have a large, twin-axle caravan (25 feet / 7.6 metres). This is great for long term touring and we once lived in it for 10 months – including a complete winter season. It is expensive to take abroad and we have spent a lot of money keeping it in good condition. However, it was fairly cheap to buy and it has been a great asset. Of course, it's useless for day trips, for which we could do with a camper van – although we have better things on which to spend our hard-earned cash at present.
Many years ago, in 1973 I worked with a man who had both a VW camper van and a caravan. He used the camper van for days out and every-day motoring and, for holidays, used both together, towing the caravan with the camper van. He certainly had the right idea.