Originally published on Belle about Town, by Emily Cleary
As a lover of home comforts and my own space, booking a campervan holiday has never even neared the top of my must-do list. Give me a facial over a field anytime. But having recently researched a story of Top Tips for those planning a campervan holiday this summer, I found myself becoming more and more intrigued as to what the whole appeal was.
I’m fine with the great outdoors, it’s the claustrophobic indoors of a tent with two toddlers that has put me off the idea of camping since having kids. One night I can just about deal with, two nights is my max. Seriously, you spend hours loading up a car and trailer/roof box, spend another few hours driving to a muddy field somewhere, then another few hours later you’ve finally battled with canvas to erect your home for the night and you all bed down in a sweaty space where standing up straight feels like a luxury, for about three hours sleep before the sun/birds/tractors/rain wake you up at 4am and the pain all starts again. That’s not my idea of a holiday.
However, campervans clearly take a lot of stress out of the situation. No tent to erect, a proper bed to sleep on, and the freedom to just get up and go if you don’t like the spot you picked. So there we have it – I bit the bullet and called Kate from Campervantastic to see if we could rent a vehicle for the week and see how we got on. This was the result…
Day One and my husband picks up our van from Kate and husband Steve at their HQ in Forest Hill and drives it back to our Buckinghamshire home. By the time he arrives he has fallen in love. As soon as they spy the vehicle our kids run up to it and climb inside, squealing with excitement and shrieking with glee at every new discovery. Our VW California is brand new, with just 900 miles on the clock, and offers more facilities than my first bedsit. There’s two double matressess, one top one bottom, and the front seats swivel round giving a good feel of space inside when stationary. The kitchen comes kitted out with two hobs, a fridge, plenty of storage space and even crockery, cutlery, pots and pans (all decorated with VW campervans, of course). There’s a wardrobe at the back to hang your stuff, there are cubby holes everywhere, there’s even running water at a fully functional sink, and a shower head to attach to the back. There are blackout blinds to pull across at nighttime – a godsend when you’re holidaying with young kids – and tiny lights all around to save you grappling for a torch in the dead of night. There’s heating and aircon, and extra space in the back for car seats etc to be stored nicely out the way. The van comes complete with isofix fittings in the back seats – another essential if planning a trip with kids (although they’re bloody fiddly to fix in).
Having packed up a few clothes, extra bedding, and enough wet wipes to wash a small army, we set off down the M3 in search of some fun. The beauty of campervanning is the sense of freedom. No worrying about what pitch to pick or whether the tent is facing in the right direction, if it’s not right you can just move. Flying down the motorway we were aware of the envious looks of other road users. Caravanners snorted as we overtook their cumbersome slow-lane-hoggers, and everyone from boy racers to friendly grannies gave a toot or a wave as we pulled up beside them at traffic lights. Dennis, as he had been christened by my weird kids, was a star in his own right.
We parked Dennis up at a caravan club campsite near Salisbury for the night, enjoyed several (hic) pints of cider at the local pub while the kids ran around the garden, then retired for a surprisingly good night’s sleep.
My problem with camping is this: kids.
Going to Glasto as a teen I could take the tent because after a skinful I could sleep through a hurricane if I had to (in fact I once did), but you don’t drink to that level when you have small people to look after, and five years of motherhood has bashed out any ability to sleep through anything anymore, so I dread any time when we’re all in the same space because it inevitably means late nights, ridiculously dawn-chorus early mornings, and lots of wriggling on an uncomfy surface in between. Dennis, however, was different.
Dennis was comfy, Dennis was dark, and Dennis, dear reader, gave me the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. Seriously. Maybe it was the five pints of scrumpy (me), maybe it was the exhaustion of over-excitement (them) or maybe it was just sheer happiness at being away from work and school (all of us), but something clicked that night and we all woke up fresh, excited, and raring to go. So that’s what we did. No worrying about drying out groundsheets or meandering checkout queues, we packed up Dennis, swivelled the seats round, and hit the road towards Devon.
I have friends lucky enough not to have to take toddlers on holiday who campervan so much I joke they might as well live in it. I’ve never seen the attraction, until now. But while they can literally
just jump in and go whenever they get a spare second, we had to plan a bit more. I booked us into a holiday park near Paignton. An electric pitch is highly recommended because you can then plug in and feel the freedom of charging phones, running speakers, even watching TVs and DVDs without any worry of draining batteries. We also booked a space with room for an awning. This side tent that attaches to the van is invaluable if the weather isn’t so good. Even the closest of families needs space sometimes, and even Dennis wouldn’t be desirable for two grumpy grown ups and frustrated small people during a thunderstorm. An awning gives you a room on the side of your van, space to bung the bags, set up tables, why you can even create your own skittle alley in there if you feel so inclined. We did.
Keeping the kids entertained wasn’t hard. As well as the holiday park attractions of arcades, playgrounds and even an outdoor swimming pool, there was Dennis. We spent a lot more time just mucking around by the pitch as it really felt like we had brought home with us. My son loved snuggling up on the seat with his Plox box of fun (if you’ve never bought one, you must – there’s hours of fun for the creative and crafty child to take on their travels), and the girl could chill out and watch Hey Duggee on her iPad when she needed an afternoon rest and recharge. I could pluck an ice cold prosecco from the fridge, ditto husband with a beer. It felt like Dennis offered us more facilities than a hotel room at times.
My family and I spent five nights in Dennis and while I was glad to get back to my own bed at the end of it, I didn’t return exhausted, grubby, and in need of another holiday – a sensation all too familiar to most parents after a family camping trip. The site we stayed on had a fab shower block, and you find that as you’re using an electric pitch you’re surrounded by caravans and motorhomes which all have their own facilities, so the queues in the morning aren’t too bad either.
We didn’t just survive, we loved it. So much so that both the kids (and the husband, if I’m honest) even shed a tear when Dennis had to go home. And me? I’m a campervan convert. I’d definitely hire one again. If I had enough money I’d even buy one, and I’ll tell you one thing: I’m never sleeping in a tent again.