Car, motorhome, micro motorhome, campervan, large van conversion, small van conversion, RV, combi, poptop, 4 wheel drive or coach. Self build or pre made. 1 berth, 2 berth, 3 berth or more. Shower room? Toilet? Fixed bed or Rock ‘n’ Roller. Stand up room or seated only? When it comes to choosing your new home your going to have to make a lot of decisions, some are going to be easy, some not. So fasten your seatbelts (sorry!), choosing can be a bumpy road – I’ll stop now!
WHAT IS A CAMPER?
According to Wikipedia ‘ A campervan (or camper van), sometimes referred to as camper, or a caravanette, is a self-propelled vehicle that provides both transport and sleeping accommodation’ Pretty straight forward but that criteria covers a vast array of vehicles. What is going to be right for you is going to depend on a number of factors, not least budget and personal stipulations.
Generally speaking the bigger the camper van the more expensive its going to be, not only the initial cost but your going to be paying more for fuel once your on the road
Now, for the most part I always travel solo. Maybe I might join a convoy of other campers from time to time but my van choices have always been based around the need that it just has to accommodate me. In saying that, all three of my campervans have been able to sleep between 2-4 people. Your struggle to find a campervan that’s built just for one, the exception being possibly homemade custom van conversions in small vehicles that may have a single bed to save room.
So when it comes to choosing your camper your going to need to have a good idea of what you want. Most people are going to be restricted by budget but your be surprised what you can get for your money if you shop around. Keep the following points in mind when choosing yours.
WHAT SIZE IS RIGHT?
One of first things your going to need to consider is how many of you are going to be living in it. If your a solo traveller like me then your probably not going to need a four berth RV with expandable sides and two bathrooms – yep – they exist. However if your planning on taking your family with you and plenty do, and your budget is big (I mean really big), then maybe an RV would be best. Be sure that whatever you choose it has enough seats for all passenger’s to travel safely and enough beds, fixed or converted from sofas etc. to sleep everyone. Most countries in Europe are going to require everyone to wear a seat belt whilst travelling.
Having the room to stand up whilst in the living quarters of your van is a massive bonus.
Generally speaking the bigger the camper van the more expensive its going to be, not only the initial cost but your going to be paying more for fuel once your on the road along with higher ferry prices and possibly servicing and maintenance. Its also going to pay to bare in mind where you are heading with your new home. If your heading off on a tour of Europe then generally speaking places like the UK, Germany and France tend to allow for more comfortable driving but driving can become a little more tricky if your going to Italy or further East. In saying that its nearly always going to be a pain in bigger campers manoeuvring and parking in small towns and cities wherever you head. However if your going to be traveling the outback of Australia or cruising across America then a bigger camper wont be so much of a problem.
Just as importantly you will need to keep in mind what your going to put into it. My entire life is in my van, I own nothing more than what’s inside. If you cant live without twelve pairs of shoes and your vast DVD collection or have a hard time saying goodbye to your drum set (honestly I’m not joking, I’ve seen it!) then choosing a saloon style car isn’t going to work that well especially when you remember your going to need storage room for things like food, water, cooker, pots and pans etc. If there is multi people staying inside then obviously your going to need something bigger. When I take my possessions out of my camper they fit into a 80ltr rucksack, I choose to own very little but that choice is personal and one your have to make yourself. Come up with a list of things you want to take with you. Try gathering it all together and see how much you have. Is it really going to fit inside that small van your looking at buying or will you end up just sleeping on a pile of boxes and dirty washing.
On a similar note your need to work out what features you want inside. If you want an onboard toilet or shower than thats going to take up space. Most factory built motorhomes will comes with a small bathroom but if your planning a conversion yourself make sure you allow space. Building in a bathroom and then realising the door wont open because your beds in the way will be pretty annoying. Doing some research can really help here as im constantly surprised on what people manage to fit into their campervans. I spent a winter camped up climbing in Albarracin, Spain and met an English couple who had managed to fit a projector and a 46inch pull down screen into their VW T4 camper. The screen rolled down from inside the ceiling, very clever and perfect for watching movies on. Again, make a list of things you want and take a look around online to see what others are doing.
Closely related to choosing the size of your campervan is going to be the restrictions you may have on your driving licence. For instance, in the UK, if you passed you driving test before 1st January 1997 then you can legally drive a campervan up to 7.5 tons which will give you plenty of options to choose from. However, if like me you passed your test after 1st January 1997 then your be restricted to vehicles up to 3.5tons only which will still give you a lot of choice but rules out that 30ft twin axle motorhome you’ve got your eye on unless your prepared to undergo further training and tests but a lot of these are going to be age and experience restricted. Bare in mind those weights stated above include the vehicle and its load so if you passed your test in 2002 and you buy a 3.5 ton van to convert into a camper, well your not going to be able to put anything in it. Be sure to check what you can legally drive on your licence before you buy.
HOW HIGH DO YOU GO
My first campervan was a small van conversion with a pop top roof which basically means I could raise and lower the roof section to allow me to stand in the van when I was parked up. I used a similar sized van which didn’t have a pop top roof for about a month during a trip in France and personally, it was horrible. Having the room to stand up whilst in the living quarters of your van is a massive bonus. Yeah sure, you don’t need to but it does make a big difference. If your go down the route of converting a saloon style car then your not going to be able to stand up but at the same time you probably wont be spending a lot of time inside, just when you sleep. If your converting a van then chances are your be spending a lot of time in the back as this will also most likely be where you cook, wash, relax and sleep so choosing a van with enough head height to stand up will improve living conditions greatly. Be aware though the height of your van is going to affect other aspects of your travels. Higher vans are going to be less aerodynamic than smaller vans for the most, meaning your get less miles to the gallon so more money spent on fuel (personally being able to stand up outweighs the extra cost of fuel). Parking again can become an issue as a lot of parking in towns and cities is height restricted so finding a spot can be hard. Lastly make sure what ever you choose you know the exact overall height including any add-on’s like aerials or solar panels. Coming across a height restricted tunnel on your travels and not being 100% sure you will fit under can be a costly and possibly a trip ending experiencing if you decide just to go for it and hope. (Not all tunnels are marked up correctly as I found out in Rouen, France where I ended up stuck and closing the city down in rush hour, not my proudest moment).
HOW MUCH FOR YOUR NEW HOME
The big one, the cost of your new home. My first campervan that I lived in for a year cost me just under £1000 and was fully set up ready to go. Okay, it was old and creaky but she was solid and served me well. You can pick up vans for under £500 in the UK and then convert them. Bare in mind the cost of converting them can sometimes outweigh buying one already converted especially if you need to hire tools or aren’t competent with doing your own electrics or woodwork and have to hire someone. How much you spend on your new home is going to be really personal and will take in a number of factors in addition to all those stated above. Your budget is going to determine the type, age and condition of your new home. If you want something ready to go and has been factory made like a motorhome then be prepared to part with some cash. If you fancy a converted medium sized van then the cost is going to be much less. The older your new home then the cheaper its going to be in general but be aware, what ever you choose, make sure it has as much history regarding its servicing and maintenance as possible and find out as much as you can about the camper, you don’t wont to part with your entire budget to find out its about to blow a head gasket or the timing belt needs doing. Don’t be put off straight away with high mileage vehicles especially if they have a good service history with them. My current home has over 340,000km on the clock but thanks to it having been looked after before I brought it and after, I’m confident it will keep going for a long time yet. I’ll be writing an article on what to look for when viewing campervans in the near future.
Once you know the kind of campervan your looking for do some research on prices and don’t be afraid to travel to find that perfect one. My second motorhome was a 21ft high top van which I converted myself. I knew the type of van I wanted but they always seamed to be priced out of my budget of £3000 until I started looking further afield. I ended up driving halfway across the UK to go and look at a van that fell inside my budget at a cost of £2800 and it turned out to be perfect. Do some research on your preferred style of campervan. For instance if your looking at getting a mid sized van that you will convert yourself your be greeted with plenty of different makes and models. Find out which ones get good fuel consumption or which ones have a good reputation for build quality etc. Doing your homework and having a little patience can pay off big time.
Vehicles without a V5 logbook are very hard to trace the history and may even be stolen.
MAKING YOUR CHOICE
So you found ‘the one’. Its within your budget and your driving restrictions and has enough room for you and any others coming along on your travels to live comfortably on the road. You’ve made the phone call to arrange a viewing and your on your way to take it for a test drive. Here’s a few last tips to keep in mind.
- It is always a good idea to take someone along who has good understanding of mechanics. Having that knowledge could save you a whole heap of trouble in the future. If you dont know anyone then you can always request for the vehicle to be insepcted at a garage. Some owners, especially if they have multi people coming to look at the camper, might not agree to this and in any case, it will be you paying for the inspection. If it turns out not to be so good then okay, you’ve lost a bit of money on the inspection costs but saved a whole heap had you of brought it.
- Don’t rush into a purchase. Like I mentioned above, I travelled half way across the UK to look at a van but was willing to drive back empty handed had it not of been suitable. There are always others out there and as this is going to be your new home for a while or longer, you want to get it right.
- If your in the UK, never buy a vehicle without a V5 logbook and be sure to check that the engine number and chassis number match those on the log. Most other countries will have similar documents when buying a van. Vehicles without a V5 logbook are very hard to trace the history and may even be stolen.
- Always request a test drive. Get an idea of how it handles and listen to the engine for any unpleasant noise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This again is where a mechanically minded friend is going to be very helpful.
I’ll leave you this time with a piece of advice I always give myself when looking at a new campervan. It maybe nice having that all singing all dancing camper but the less you spend on your home the more your have to travel and enjoy it.
Read Part 3 – Having The Talk