As we race into summer and the prospect of sunshine-soaked days to explore near home or further afield in the UK, hitting the road in a motorhome conjures an evocative picture for many.
With staycations all the rage, our Leave Work to Travel motorhoming trio reflect on the lessons - of which there are many - they learnt to help those about to take the plunge.
After swapping a caravan for a motorhome in August 2019, selling a business and setting off on a rollercoaster retirement road trip, Steve shares tips and traps to avoid.
In the ‘look before you leap’ adage, below are some key questions to help determine if motorhoming is right for you. The booming sector offers an enormous range of motorhomes and campervans of all shapes and sizes for all types of budgets. A DIY campervan conversion can be successfully achieved on a more modest budget, giving you total control over the layout, fit and the finish of your van. A fantastic example is the vibrant Florrie the Lorry who you can find on Facebook and Instagram.
For those contemplating a motorhome, your model will depend on your aspirations and goals.
- How do we know we will like motorhoming?
- Where will our travels take us - and in which climates?
- Do we want a left-hand or right-hand drive?
- Do we need a different type of driving licence?
- How many weeks a year will we use the motorhome?
- What facilities/storage do we need (internal and external)?
- Will we stay on designated sites or wild camp?
- Will we require an awning?
- Do we need an alarm/security camera?
- Will a big motorhome be difficult to navigate on narrow roads?
- Will we travel with pets - if so, what are their needs?
- Can we rub along together in a small space for weeks/months/years?
Size Really Does Matter
Having towed caravans up hills and down dales for many years, a compact motorhome seemed the perfect solution back in 2019 to savour the delights of Europe and its eclectic cultures. At 6.5 metres long by 2.2 metres our small van is easier to manoeuvre. With just the two of us and travelholic golden retriever Bracken, a two berth Swift Rio 320, seemed ideal.
The layout is the ultimate in simplicity - a foldaway double bed, toilette and shower cubicle, oven, grill, cooking rings and a microwave. With three small cupboards each and a shared small wardrobe (you won’t be surprised that my cupboard space was rapidly relegated to less than two!) packing is disciplined and minimalistic.
What was missing was a permanent table for mealtimes. Our solution is to swing the driver and passenger seats round to accommodate a small travel table and have a larger portable table outside. This worked out great in warmer winter climes - but not so much in the UK where teas on knees became the norm.
When beginning with the end in mind, deciding the purpose and size is critical. We’ve seen monstrous motorhomes towing motorbikes and Kas battling to negotiate small roundabouts in rustic French villages.
We’ve also marvelled at models which are even smaller and more compact than ours.
Up Close and Personal
When we set off - oblivious to the plethora of curve balls that lay ahead - we were apprehensive about how long could we last in a confined space with a big hairy dog?
Quite the opposite as it transpired as researching and discovering new places - our raison d’etre for travelling - was inspiring, invigorating and motivating.
We even coped with Bracken choosing the most awkward space to sit when making dinner - right in front of the cooker!
Agonising over an Awning?
For short travel stints, an awning gives you additional space to set up a table and chairs to watch the sun sinking after another perfect day with a little glass of something.
There are traditional aluminium pole supported awnings - and now on the market simple blow up ones. While you gain the added space at your destination, of course they have to be stored in the MoHo.
During our two months Scottish explorations putting up and down an awning was not so appealing. We stopped at 41 different places in 62 days, staying a maximum of three nights in any one place.
Sat Nav Challenges
As with caravanning, manoeuvrability can be an issue. There is no such thing as a tight turning circle, so ending up down narrow streets can set stress levels soaring and are best avoided as we discovered. Following Satnav instructions, especially in large towns and cities, can be a disaster. Having been directed up such narrow streets in Jaen in Andalucia, we had to extricate ourselves from a very tricky situation by asking for help to reverse while we did a “U” turn - holding up traffic for five minutes. Whoops very embarrassing! Much better to actually have pulled over, stopped and look where we were being taken. Lesson Learnt.
Secured and Re-assured
Security should be a high priority and many motorhomes have alarms and CCTV fitted.
On only the 11th night of our first major retirement tour, we stayed on a car park (a designated area for motorhomes) opposite a hotel and near a harbourmaster’s office in Sitges near Barcelona. It was a magnificent spot overlooking the waves crashing into the shore below and situated between two campervans. I thought I’d set the central locking on the driver’s door, and we were well chilled. At four am I woke and saw a light at the front, it was a man taking my satchel which contained all our passports, money, and credit cards! I jumped up, but he had his car waiting and disappeared with my satchel and an IPad from one of the neighboring campervans.
We failed to hear him due to the waves, the high winds and deafening noise of the motorhome buffeting. Why didn’t the central locking work? I have no idea, but thieves are sophisticated with their tools. Read about the dilemma we faced - and what we did next.
Before we next set off, I bought chains that every night when parked up, link the two front doors.
Over the top? At the fabulous Fortuna spa experience on our Southern Spain trip, we met a Brit called John in his 70’s who had been travelling throughout Europe for 15 years and also had a chain across his front doors along with a webcam.
Others we have met have the same inexpensive and simple system of increasing interior and/or exterior security.
It’s also important to have a safety checklist when parking up to ensure windows, skylights and doors are closed and locked.
What will you take with you when out for a day’s exploring? For us, it’s the camera, video, passports.
Ensure your laptops - the livelihood of some full time motorhomers working every day - are insured. Also have backups to the cloud (Dropbox, One Drive or iCloud) as you really do not want to lose those fabulous photographs.
I also have scanned in all important travel documents, which are also on the cloud, so I can get them on my mobile phone. We keep all paper documents in a locked tin, which is kept under the bed at night. Some people have safes which are drilled into cupboards.
Determined thieves can break into empty caravans, converted vans or motorhomes. Always park in the safest place in a car park – under a light at night, not in a dark corner. When leaving for the day, park where there are lots of people. You can never be 100 per cent secure but you can limit any loss.
Living the Dream
Despite all our trials and tribulations, we have become so addicted to motorhoming that we’ve sold our house to set off on more hair-raising explorations.
The incredible sense of freedom and exploration makes us feel alive with the buzz and stimulus of new cultures, challenges, heart melting scenery and magnificent architecture. Not to mention the wonderful like-minded people we meet along the way.
We wholeheartedly agree that ‘we travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us’ (Robyn Yong).
In this spirit we wish you all safe and happy travels - however long or short - always.
Please share your journeys and experiences with us as you make magical memories.