Earlier this year, the prospect of a camping holiday with girlfriends was too grisly for me: thoughts of claustrophobic tents, deflating squeaky mattresses and unbearable, over-tired children rising at 5am...
Fast forward a few months and the desire to get away wins; I cave and visit a caravan dealership. There’s one with fixed bunkbeds, all cute and cosy and the girls (Jemima 8, Hatty, 6) are pleading. My mind advances to the necessary trip to IKEA for the virgin bedding and new cutlery we’ll need, I could get used to this! We bit the bullet and vowed to get maximum use out of our new, shiny caravan while the children are of prime age.
Behold! We have purchased a Bailey Pursuit 5 berth caravan, the Ford Escort of the caravan world. It’s sketchy on quality in parts but light, bright, neutral in décor and much like a mobile premier inn hotel room, in miniature. She is called Betsy Lou. The hardest part is breaking the news to family and friends who are not sure which way to look / possibly think we’re joking.
I did go to IKEA and splurge on new bedding, cutlery, tea towels, pots and pans (yes, of course, I already own some but these had to be new) and I may also have bought some gorgeous grey enamelware. It’s pretty much the best thing about it all, apart from forgetting to secure the cupboards for the first return-trip home and discovering the chipped carnage once home. A schoolboy error not to be repeated.
I love jargon and the world of caravans has opened up a whole new vocabulary. A towed caravan is a Touring caravan (as in are you touring or static?). Specifically, your caravan is your ‘outfit’ (ours is a 560/5) the numbers are important as they dictate the berth of the van and furthermore fuel chat with the other half while sitting outside one’s outfit eyeing up everyone else’s, as in “look at the Celtic Rambler, reckon that’s a 6 berth”.
You need to know about Motor Mover – it’s a remote-control mover for your caravan. It does what it says on the tin and it’s pretty sexy. Do not buy one without it.
Electric Hook Up (EHU) in my limited experience is essential if you want ice cold wine, radio 2, crispy salad, lights, pumped water. I DO want all of these things.
Breaking news: emptying the chemical loo is NOT as awful as you think. Especially if you instil an, ahem, NO SOLIDS rule. Disposing of your wee when it is nicely coloured bright blue and emanates a chemical odour is inoffensive. Yes, you’ll want to wash your hands afterwards but I have not yet witnessed anything stomach churning at the disposal points.
I am immensely proud that I towed Betsy Lou on our inaugural trip. I am eternally grateful to my friend Sophia who accompanied me and urged me to ‘put your foot down’ when joining a dual carriageway. After all, it is Sophia who planted the seed by suggesting the camping trip in the first place. She has a traditional bell tent, complete with bunting and authentic gas camping stove. Was a little part of me gratified to see an inflatable mattress being relegated to the bin on the last morning?
There’s plenty of good news to report about the camping and caravanning world. It’s the simple life: the daily housekeeping, the pottering to the dishwashing hub, the genuine back-to-basics that is proving to be a wonderful leveller, within our own family group and across a caravan site. I can honestly say that this constant trickle of tasks is refreshingly fulfilling.
When not touring, we live in a rural location, which gives us privacy but isn’t the sort of neighbourhood where our children can just ‘play out’ with peers so for them to be able to wander off to the play park on each site we have stayed at, has been a revelation. They are meeting and playing with children of all ages and vastly differing backgrounds, from all over the UK and it’s wonderful. It’s an aspect of touring that we genuinely hadn’t considered and a very healthy one too. It’s putting our protected children ever so slightly out of their comfort zone in a very safe environment. Everyone nods and smiles, not everyone wants to chat which is fine with me too, thanks. There is an overriding cheery vibe – is it possible we are all Happy Campers together?
When we return home, my small kitchen suddenly feels palatial and I find myself appreciating my environs all over again. I shan’t deny it’s bliss to sink into a bath on our first night home but at no point on our travels did we feel unclean. All of the shower blocks, whether uber modern or rocking an eighties flavour, are squeaky clean with an abundance of hot water.
Financially, this is a winner. There is the initial outlay of the caravan, of course, but three nights stay has averaged £118 for a family of four. It’s not the £10 a night I naively thought camping was but there’s no way we could get a hotel room for that money and frankly, it cuts the difference between us going away or not. We have been on four adventures in the same number of weeks and I honestly think we’d have spent more if we’d stayed at home. Don’t forget, we take the contents of the fridge with us so there’s no ‘big shop’ on arrival like a traditional self-catering holiday.
Our favourite aspect of touring has to be the Family Time. You can of course install a small TV in your caravan and I’m not saying we won’t if we go away in times of inclement weather but for the time being we have steered clear and installed Guess Who, Boggle, Battleships, Happy Families (no pun intended) and best of all, we are rekindling our repertoire of card games. Playing rummy takes me back to my backpacking days and I am loving it. Maybe this modern-day little hotel room-on-wheels is kinda a bit like backpacking for the 45 year old and her family. I have packed the cribbage board for our next trip which is a 4 nighter. Living the dream.
Louise lives in Hampshire with her husband Toby, her daughters Jemima and Hatty and their much loved cats Benny & Percy. Louise is a self employed business development manager and procrastinator.