In the first of three guest posts, Robin explains the thought process that led he and his family to deciding to buy a campervan. Favouring the flexibility of a VW campervan over tents, caravans and motorhomes, he’s now searching for the right T5 van to have converted into a camper.
So why a Campervan? As with a lot of owners I guess it was a gradual process of compromise. Our son Owain is 7 and at the point where we can’t take him out of school so – deep sigh – we are finally, despite our best efforts, at the point in our lives when we are limited as to when we can take holidays.
Couple this with the fact that we found ourselves getting in a bit of a rut and wanting to make more use of our weekends and free time. Additionally we are both self employed so have quite a lot of freedom about when we take time off. The UK has so much to offer and France, Ireland, Spain etc. isn’t that far so we started looking at how we could explore more and give Owain some great experiences.
My wife Heather’s family had a caravan when she was growing up and used it extensively. They, like us lived in South Wales (UK) and were therefore close to an abundance of fantastic beaches and countryside for weekend jaunts. They mainly used it in the UK, I think the Loire was the furthest they got in France. But they used it a lot, most weekends from Easter until the end of summer and at least 3 weeks away as well.
I on the other hand fit into the category of having developed a deep dislike of caravans – sorry but it’s true. I understand the benefits but I have absolutely no desire to haul something from one place to another…..slowly……with a queue of traffic behind me. Also, they’re just so….big… nowadays.
Growing up in the North of England I camped a bit including a great jaunt around Central / Southern Europe but early on after Owain arrived, I was reliably informed that camping in a tent was classified as a Father-Son bonding experience so although certainly possible, not a solution for the whole family.
So eventually I arrived upon the idea of a campervan. A compromise, but one that would allow us to do the types of outings that we wanted – from the single day / night away in West Wales to cross country jaunts and further afield.
It was at this point I decided to mention the idea to Heather. She loved the idea – I think it brought all the great memories of the caravan holidays flooding back. The idea started to take on a life of its own as we imagined how we could use a campervan.
Here are some of the things we initially thought we wanted to be able to do:
- Day trips to the beach etc.
- Weekends in Mid or West Wales – staying away for up to three nights at more than one location
- Trips to events like air shows, festivals as well as other visits while minimising the cost of accommodation
- Visit great pubs and restaurants and not have to drive home
- Stargazing trips
- Extending visits to family and friends by being able to stay places en route
- UK and foreign holidays.
Another deep ingrained memory though was of sitting on the hard shoulder waiting for the AA to fix (or more likely transport) my Dad’s ageing VW estate car. I still remember the exact moment when I promised my younger self that I would never own a vehicle that was that unreliable and since then I’ve kept my promise, so whatever we were looking at had to have a good level of reliability.
The more we thought about it the more we honed what we wanted. Here’s the initial requirement list:
- Compact enough for us both to drive and be able to use once we reach our destination – as opposed to having to use bikes to go into town etc.
- Reliable and easy to maintain
- Able to set off with the minimum of effort
- Able to transport and sleep the three of us and preferably four to allow Owain to bring a friend
- Big enough to be able to go away for a few days and more
- Have a fridge and simple cooker to allow us to cook even when the weather is poor (In Wales? never)
- Be extensible so we had more room for longer trips / stays
- Be upgradeable – e.g. add a heater if required to extend the usable season.
So I started researching, quickly discounting the old style VW campervan. Although I understand their attractiveness as a design icon, I’ve just passed too many on the hard shoulder and waiting for the AA does not fit into the category of adventure we were looking for – so that meant something more modern.
I also rejected the larger motorhomes as Heather wouldn’t drive one and it wouldn’t give us the flexibility we needed – they’re just too big. Was there a modern take on the compact VW camper ?
First I came across the California and it looked very hopeful – then I looked at the prices of them new. Wow – out of our range I’m afraid. I also looked at the other, older VWs – the T25s etc. It turned out one of Heather’s colleagues had one and loved it but the tales of maintenance and breakdown adventures discounted these as well.
It was then I began to understand that there was a whole world out there that I knew nothing about – campervan conversions; taking a panel van and converting to a full or partial campervan specification. And king of all of these communities as far as I could make out were the VW T4 and T5 conversions. These are based on one of the several models of the VW Transporter panel van and converted for all sorts of different uses and configurations. People were passionate about their vehicles and really open with advice and experiences both good and bad. There were so many people into the “scene” that the number of accessories and vendors was large too, so lots of choice.
So that seemed to be a solution. Choice is a double-edged sword. Sure, there were lots of options, and the conversion route would allow us to specify a vehicle to fit our requirements, but what did we really want and how could we decide ?
Robin’s next guest post will focus on researching and specifying a conversion. You can read more on his own blog, http://www.davinacamper.com.