I am not known for my well-thought-out decisions. I tend to have flashes of inspiration which often disappear as quickly as they came. However, not this time! 2 weeks after deciding I wanted to buy a campervan, here I am sitting in Mabel the Motorhome and planning our first adventure together. If you are thinking of buying a campervan, let me explain my reasoning as to why I really wanted to get one, and some considerations before you take the plunge!
I have to say straight away that the photo above is not my campervan, but it is what I first imagined my camper would be like. A dream campervan, if you will, but once I thought about it my practical side took over and I chose a more sensible van!
Why I Wanted to Buy a Campervan
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about travelling in a campervan. I’d considered hiring one in Portugal last year and had wondered about getting one several times but had dismissed it for a future activity, perhaps in my retirement.
The thought of me and the open road with a campervan and perhaps a dog for company sounded great. I would love to have a dog for company but travelling abroad with a canine buddy can get complicated, so I decided to wait.
I loved the idea of the freedom to go wherever you choose, but I admit I was hesitant about doing it by myself. I haven’t owned a car for more than 10 years, and although I used to be a good driver I am way out of practice. Me, alone, trying to manoeuvre a huge campervan didn’t really appeal.
As well as the practicalities of driving a campervan by myself, I was also wary about my safety. Camping alone isn’t as easy as travelling alone and staying in hostels or hotels, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to sleep in a campervan by myself.
But this year, everything changed. The travel industry has been turned upside down, and all bets are off. No one knows what the future holds, but with borders closing, quarantines in place and potential risks involved with flying in a plane or even taking a bus, travelling in a campervan alone definitely became more appealing!
Advantages of Travelling in a Campervan
The major attraction of having a campervan is to be self-contained. The campervan I bought has its own toilet, washroom and even a shower, so as long as I have access to water to fill up the tanks (and a black water drain to empty the toilet) I don’t actually have to have contact with anyone.
I am glad to see that hotels, aeroplanes and other travel companies are putting measures in place to protect travellers, but as things are so uncertain at the moment I will not be rushing to jump on a flight. I am very much looking forward to pootling around the UK and exploring some of my own country in relative isolation!
Another advantage of campervan travel is that you have the freedom to travel around independently. The same applies if you have a car, bicycle or any form of transport of your own – which I haven’t had for the last 10-12 years.
I got quite used to hopping on buses and trains to get around, which meant I was at the mercy of timetables, delays and questionable neighbours on long journeys! I also suffer from travel sickness, so taking a bus always involves Dramamine and precautionary sick bags in case the need strikes.
However, with a campervan, I can choose when to leave and where to go. No longer do I need to worry about missing the train or getting on the wrong bus. No more concerns about getting from the airport to my accommodation at any time of day or night.
I can simply put my desired destination into the sat nav and off I go! I haven’t yet decided where to go first, but I am planning to explore the UK for the summer, then Europe if travel restrictions allow.
I also don’t have to spend money on a campsite every night. Although free camping is not usually allowed in England, there are various ways to enjoy a free night’s stay which I will definitely be looking into.
Disadvantages of Campervan and Motorhome Travel
My Carbon Footprint
I was concerned about my impact on the environment. I do try to travel sustainably whenever I can, so I was worried that the carbon footprint of driving my own vehicle would ruin my good intentions.
However, when I looked at a carbon tracker, I was surprised to find that driving the campervan all the way from John O Groats to Lands End (the northern and southern tips of the UK) and back again would emit the same amount of carbon as a return economy flight from my home airport of Birmingham to Barcelona.
I am pretty sure that in a normal year I would take a lot more flights than that, so compared to my previous travel activity, owning a campervan would probably be better for the environment – or at worst about the same.
I used to try and reduce the carbon footprint of my flights, so I will do the same with the campervan, by recycling, avoiding plastic use where possible and being a responsible camper. I will still offset my carbon use by planting trees with Trees for Life.
Campervan Driving Challenges
As I mentioned, I haven’t owned a car for years, and haven’t driven for a while. I did hire a car in Jordan last year with a friend of mine, so we helped each other with navigating. I had never driven a car with a sat nav, and I had never driven a van before.
So, after buying Mabel, the journey home with me behind the wheel of my very own campervan was nerve-wracking to say the least! However, the route was actually very straightforward with most of the driving on the motorway so I at least managed to build up some confidence.
The campervan is wider than most cars, and of course, she is longer and taller too, as well as a lot heavier. Thankfully, Mabel has been very well looked after so she isn’t difficult to drive.
However, getting used to the handbrake being on the wrong side, and the position of the gear lever will take a while, and driving on narrow, winding roads and any kind of reversing are challenges I haven’t tackled yet, so I nervously look forward to those!!
Campervan travel can be expensive. Certainly, the cost of a campervan is a large investment if you plan to buy one, and hiring a campervan overnight is not much different from the cost of a hotel.
Of course, if you are travelling in a family or couple the cost would be less between you all, but for solo campervanners, I found hiring a campervan to be quite expensive for the length of trips I had in mind.
Buying a campervan is a large investment, so you will need to be able to afford the initial cost. Plus the extra equipment you might need, the tax, MOT, insurance and costs of running the campervan all add up.
However, if you buy the right campervan, it should hold its value fairly well, so you can hope to enjoy a couple of years in your van and sell it on for more or less what you bought for it. That isn’t guaranteed though, so don’t rest all your hopes on that!
I personally don’t own or rent a home as I am usually travelling for most of the time, so the decision to buy a campervan was easier as Mabel will be my home on wheels for the foreseeable future, and without the cost of a mortgage or rent on a flat, she is better value.
Should you Rent or Buy a Campervan?
Whether you should buy or rent a campervan really depends on what you plan to do with it. If you are only looking to use the campervan for a short time, renting may be the best option for you.
If you’ve never been camping in a motorhome before, renting a campervan before buying one is also a great idea to see if you like it. If you find it’s not your thing, you’ve not blown your savings on buying a campervan that you hate!
However, for solo travellers in particular, renting a campervan can seem expensive if you are hoping to travel on a budget. Some rental campervans were going for less than £50 a night, for a more basic setup without toilet facilities, whereas more fancy campervan conversions were over £100 per night.
I plan to spend at least a couple of months travelling around the UK in a campervan, so for me, renting really wasn’t an option. But, for a shorter holiday, hiring a campervan could be a great option for you and the family.
Things to Consider before Buying a Campervan
I’ve already hinted at some of these, but before you spend any money you should think about all of these to help you decide exactly what you need and want in a campervan.
Who is the Campervan For?
I’m a solo traveller, so this was easy – Mabel is just for me. However, you may be looking for a campervan as a couple, a family or friends, so you will have different requirements. Campervans generally come in 2, 4 or 6 berths, so they can sleep 2-6 people quite comfortably.
Don’t forget that you will also need to have the correct number of seats with seatbelts for driving from place to place, as well as enough space for beds. An extra tent could provide more sleeping space, but if you can’t get there safely in the campervan then that will be a big problem!
Larger motorhomes may also require a special driving test to make sure you can safely drive them. Any campervan or motorhome that weighs over 3.5 tonnes (including everything inside the vehicle and people) needs an extra category license.
Are You a Confident and Competent Driver?
This was actually one of my main concerns, but if you drive regularly you shouldn’t have a problem driving an average-sized campervan safely. I didn’t want to tackle a full-on motorhome, so my auto-sleeper is about the size of a transit van which felt very manageable.
How Often Will You Use Your Campervan?
To make buying a campervan worth the investment, you need to be sure that you will make use of your campervan. If you only plan on a couple of short trips then renting a campervan could be a better option for you.
Where Will you Use your Campervan?
For me in the UK, I am not too worried about the roads and what effect that might have on Mabel. However, when I was backpacking in South America, I met lots of people who were driving their campervans on more questionable roads! In that case, they needed much stronger and more powerful vehicles which would hand all kinds of terrain.
Do you Prefer Style over Substance?
There is no denying that the old-style VW campers are great fun! I was tempted by one of those, but my brother used to have one and admitted that it was a pain to look after. Older vans like that are more likely to go wrong and need things fixing, have problems with rust and general upkeep.
Newer VW vans are much more reliable, and you can get some very funky conversions which look great, but perhaps aren’t the most practical depending on your answers to the rest of the questions below.
I decided to go for an autosleeper conversion, which doesn’t look particularly cool or trendy, but which ticked all of the boxes for me. Mabel might not be the most modern campervan on 4 wheels, but she is exactly what I wanted.
Do you Want to Stand Up Inside your Campervan?
Smaller campervans can be quite short, so standing upright inside is impossible unless you aren’t very tall! The most basic campers will basically just be for sleeping in, so if that is what you want that’s great and you don’t need to worry about the height. However, if you want more of a home on wheels then being able to stand up is the best option!
Some campervans, like my autosleeper are built tall enough to stand in, whereas others have an extendable roof which can be raised and lowered as needed. I wanted things to be as easy as possible without worrying about something else to break or go wrong, so I chose a tall van to stand up in.
Buying a Campervan: Do you Want a Toilet?
When I was looking to buy a campervan, I wasn’t sure if I needed a toilet. There are plenty of options available if you want to get a separate porta-potty and toilet tent to pitch outside your camper, and even a bucket will do if you’re happy to rough it!
However, with the current situation, many campsites may not open shared toilet facilities. In the UK, the Camping and Caravanning Club announced that it will open their campsites in July, but the toilet and shower facilities will remain closed, so they would only accept bookings from self-contained campers.
As well as regulations, I had already decided I would prefer to be as self-sufficient and self-contained as possible, so I am glad I found a campervan with a bathroom installed.
Do you Want a Fitted Kitchen?
Many of the smaller campervans and campervan conversions may not have a kitchen installed. A lot of people are happy with portable gas hobs, grills and campfires to cook food, so don’t find a kitchen is necessary.
However, for me, knowing the British weather, I wanted to be able to cook indoors. Mabel has a fully fitted kitchen with a sink, 3 gas hobs and a gas grill and oven. I’m not sure how much I will use the oven, but as she will be my home I hope I will get to bake something!
Do you Want to Convert the Campervan Yourself?
If you are a DIY expert, you may be considering buying a van ‘shell’ and converting the inside yourself. If you have plenty of time and the skill to do this, it can be very rewarding if you know what you are doing. You can also pay a professional company to convert the van for you.
However, campervan conversions can be complicated, and make cause problems with the DVLA when you register the vehicle as a campervan. Insurance companies may also charge you more or not be able to insure a conversion you’ve done yourself as it can be difficult to value the conversion.
The safest and easiest option is to buy a ready-made campervan, but if you like an adventure then, by all means, do some more research and learn more about conversions.
Is a 2nd Hand or New Campervan Best?
This largely depends on your budget. New campervans can cost £40k and up, so that was out of the question for me. If you have the money to spend then buying a new campervan which is still under warranty can be useful, but new vehicles always depreciate quickly.
Buying a 2nd hand campervan is much cheaper than new, and it is more likely to keep (most) of its value when you come to sell it again, provided you look after it well.
When buying a 2nd hand campervan, you really need to know what you are doing or get help from someone who does. I am very lucky that my cousin deals in campervans, so he knew what to look for and could make sure everything was working as it should, both inside and out.
Get All the Advice You Can Before Buying a Campervan
Before you actually buy a campervan, make sure you do your research. Take a look at campervans online or in person if you can to get a feel for what is available for your budget. Join campervan and motorhome Facebook groups which are a mine of information and advice, and don’t rush into anything.
The challenge right now is that demand for campervans is exceptionally high, as a lot of people are planning to take a staycation this year and explore more of their own countries. Once you do find a campervan you like, you will need to move quickly before someone else sneaks it out from under your nose! So get your research done in advance so you are ready to go ahead.
If you are hoping to buy or rent a campervan, I hope I’ve answered some of your questions. I wanted to share my thoughts on why I wanted to buy a campervan, and I hope I will be very happy with Mabel! I’ll be sharing more of our adventures once we get out on the road, so watch this space and follow along on social media!
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