How do you define a mid life crisis…living through a pandemic and making a rather large impulse purchase? Going on a very wet holiday to the Lake District with 3 boys in a hired campervan, then coming home and purchasing your own? Naming said campervan?
Yes I’m sat here with my hand up, and not an ounce of regret. You see, we are now over 15 months in to what has been a VERY testing time for our little family. We are still coming to terms with James’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis last year, the unexpected tornado that has torn through our lives.
Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong auto immune condition that is continually worrying, stressful and totally exhausting. It has completely changed our perspective on life in general. Add into the mix a global pandemic, and it’s really highlighted what actually matters to us, so we have decided to make a big lifestyle change.
So why a campervan? Well, we wanted a way of utilising our weekends, to be able to get up and go with minimal planning. A campervan offered us that freedom. I am not known for rash decisions, but I do tend to have flashes of inspiration every now and then – not sure Ben would fully endorse that statement but I have my moments! I then spend hours researching and planning to get everyone fully on board with my little nugget of joy until finally they think it was their idea in the first place! Two weeks after our holiday in the Lake District we [ahem] decided to buy a campervan. So here I am, having just given Elsie (a VW T5) a spring clean after our first proper trip away over the Bank Holiday weekend!
If you have ever toyed with the idea of buying a campervan, let me explain our reasoning for wanting one and some considerations to make before you take the plunge! Starting with last year, when everything changed…
Covid turned the travel industry upside down, and all bets were off whether we could go further than our backyard ever again. OK, a bit dramatic but you get my gist. Even though we gave our ‘yarden’ a makeover, outdoor space isn’t something we have a lot of, and to say we felt penned in is a huge understatement. Nobody knew what future travel would look like. Even now with the traffic light travel lists, expensive hotel quarantines and all the potential risks not to mention the ever increasing costs involved with flying, holidaying in our own campervan definitely became appealing!
A major selling point of having a van is to be completely self-contained. Elsie has her own cooker, fridge, sink with running water, TV/DVD, 2 double beds, porta loo and even an outdoor shower attachment – so as long as we have access to water to fill up her tank we can hit the road! We are even looking into buying a solar panel system to extend her battery life so that we are not as reliant on electric hookup in the future.
For now though we are sticking to EHU bookings until we get to grips with diabetes management during our campouts as we need to charge his Dexcom receiver and keep insulin cool on hot days. But hopefully next year we might be able to go off grid a bit more.
Honestly, I am so happy to see the country beginning to get back on it’s feet and opening up to travel again. We are very much looking forward to pootling [what a great word, as I get older I intend to pootle, potter and dilly dally more!] around the UK. We have some amazing adventures planned in for this year that we are really looking forward to and as I mentioned earlier, we’ve just got back from a blissful few days away staying at a forest location. We didn’t move the van off site and instead headed out into the woods to explore on foot. We have enjoyed just chilling out away from technology.
So it’s safe to say that our first proper trip away was a huge success, we’re completely in love with the lifestyle the van affords us and we cannot wait to do it all again, Elsie has well and truly become our happy place. Having young children means our longer trips are still tied to school holidays though. In the past we’ve hired caravans, cottages and cabins but the price massively increases to align with the holidays – as a family of 5 we were beginning to be priced out! Having the van means that we only need to book a site and off we go, the only additional holiday costs being fuel, food and lots of ice-creams! Weekends have also become our playground, do we have a day trip out to the beach, or book a last minute site if the sun’s shining and get away for a couple of nights? I can think of worse choices to have to make!
There’s something really special about owning a campervan, there’s a real sense of community. Here’s why we love it and why we’re so excited…
While the VW badge holds a sense of nostalgia for me (my Dad had a 70’s style hippy bus called Bertha) unfortunately it also comes with a higher price tag. That said, they do also hold their resale value and already our lovely T5 has increased in value since we brought her home simply due to the demand that covid has created, as people who usually holiday in sunnier climes are also choosing to staycation this year.
However, I personally see van life with the boys as a fast track for us to spend more quality time together, exploring the great outdoors. Hopefully along the way we will make some special memories to last a lifetime.
It’s also given us an excuse to just get out, whether that’s only for a short drive with the sole intention of parking up and enjoying a ‘brew with a view’ or for extended day trips to the beach, knowing we can make food, have cold drinks and keep everything we need close at hand!
If you like to kayak, climb, take a family walk, surf, swim, go on bike rides or just explore the countryside together – you’ll need to plan storage space for all your gear. Elsie came complete with her own trailer with a collapsible bike rack on top. This is valuable extra storage for us. As a family of five we come with a LOT of stuff especially when you consider all the wet weather gear which is a UK staycation staple. If everyone in your family loves being outdoors [in all weather’s] then a campervan might just be for you!
However, typically vanlife isn’t anywhere near as idealistic as Instagram makes it out to be, especially when you’re travelling as a family rather than as a tanned and toned couple with beach blonde hair and a perfectly styled van interior.
Moving bulky car seats in and out of the van is an absolute pain, you can’t do anything quickly, and kids and parents alike will naturally get under each others feet from time to time. There will be mud trodden into the van when the weather’s wet and you will find sand in your bed if you’ve visited the beach. You will have to tidy the van repeatedly as kids are messy little creatures. Oh and one of them WILL fall out of the pop top at some point – we’ve already ticked that one off!
Clever storage and child friendly distraction techniques are your best bet! We have a cupboard dedicated to outdoor garden games and traditional board games, plus we have the hammock. You’ll find yourself buying anything that is collapsible, folds away or little travel inspired gifts for the van too.
Adding an awning or pop up tent to your set up during bad weather will give you a waterproof way to store those pesky car seats, added space in which to chuck the kids while you make up the beds or cook a meal, and a place for the loo that will protect you from the elements and give you an element of privacy when nature calls.
If you are considering vanlife as a family you should plan to take things slowly and go with the flow…something that admittedly doesn’t come naturally to me. But seriously EVERYTHING takes longer with kids on board! As far as journey times go a rule of thumb is to add an extra 45 minutes for every three hours of driving to account for stops to change nappies/toilet breaks, stretch their legs, grab snacks and momentarily pause the ever present whinging.
We’ve really had to change the way we do things, instead of rushing around to fit in a busy day visiting local attractions, we have learned to love slow mornings making breakfast instead. We’ve enjoyed days staying put on site and just chilling out while the boys played with friends they’ve made, and evenings sat outside watching the sunset and listening to the owls hooting with a glass of something chilled – we are on holiday, afterall!
We only arrived back home from our first proper trip on Tues, and we’ve already sneakily booked in another little local stopover for tonight, isn’t that what life is all about?
All images are my own unless otherwise credited and must not be reproduced with permission.