Small Bites: Campervan

10 things you didn’t know you didn’t know about a Campervan holiday

Doing a family campervan holiday has been on my dreams list for ages and ages, but it took me a while to persuade Mark to want that dream too.
The booking process didn’t help, with the initial quotes not including a significant number of additional charges, most of which were not optional.
A New Zealand-based campervan is almost invariably going to be an expensive experience. We paid around $170/day for the van, and paid for accommodation on about half the nights we were in it, in order to stay in places where freedom camping wasn’t permitted.
The information on exact inclusions (like what kitchenware / cooking facilities and linen are provided) is also not particularly clear on the websites we looked at.
All that said, here are the top 10 things we didn’t know we didn’t know about travelling in a campervan.

  1. A campervan is like a cross between a tent and a boat
    Space is constrained and so constantly needs tidying. Everything you do moves the whole thing (every action really does have an “equal and opposite reaction”). You’ll constantly be taking out and putting away furnishings (like bed ladders and dining tables) to enable use of the space in other ways.
  2. Simple breaks take a long time
    Maybe this is partly because we travelled with a 6yo, but even just stopping to use a public toilet ended up taking at least 15 minutes, by the time you clamber about getting sorted to get out (because you tidied away your jerseys when you got in so they don’t go flying), get out, get the doors locked (because the back door needs a key), do what you’re doing, get back in, put jackets away, have a quick drink, get back into seats, make sure everything is secure again…
  3. It’s really hard to keep things clean
    We swept the floor at least twice a day, every day while we were in the van and it was still filthy. Especially when the outside ground is damp, you just keep bringing stuff inside – and the instant you step inside, you’re in your main living space, there is no vestibule!
    We recommend packing a pair of slippers or jandals for wearing inside the van to keep your feet clean, and to save having to brush your feet off to get into bed!
  4. You’ll develop “van legs”
    As mentioned in point 1, every move creates a reactionary move in the van. So, someone rolling over in the top box will be felt by everyone in the van. If you use the on-board toilet, you’ll quickly learn how the van moves as you do, and you’ll find yourself pre-empting this action when using a toilet that’s not in the van. It’s a lot like getting sea legs after being on a boat for a couple of days.
  5. Having an on board toilet is super handy, but use it sparingly
    Some people will tell you not to use the toilet, because changing it out is “revolting”, but actually, we found it not too bad. The biggest consideration was that the toilet cassette simply did not have a lot of space. By having it on board, when we parked up in a boggy picnic area in the pissing rain, we didn’t have to get wet to the knees trying to get to the long drop in the middle of the night. By not using it much, we only had to empty it twice in 10 days.
  6. Don’t let the check-in people panic you about battery life
    We had plans to be off-grid our first couple of nights, but when we picked up the van, they wanted us to go straight to a paid campsite to plug in and make sure we had enough house battery. Turns out, the house battery also charges while you drive, so this is less of an issue than it was made out to be. The bigger thing to note is that none of the power points work when not connected to mains, so in the bigger vans you need more than ¼ tank of petrol, OR mains power for heating. The old cigarette lighter is fine for charging phones etc and is always on, but camera batteries you’ll either need to stay in a campground or find a café with a plug.
  7. The on-board TV probably doesn’t actually have an antenna
    We were all “oh cool, we have a TV, can watch the news etc each night”. Nope. Turns out, our camper only had the TV for playing DVDs or TV off a USB. If we’d known that, we would have bought some of the DVD collection from home
  8. You’ll constantly be packing and unpacking
    I was all excited about “only unpacking once” for this holiday, but in actual fact you are constantly pulling things out of cupboards and finding new places to put things. Nothing can be left on a flat surface while driving, or it just slides around and falls to the floor. You’ll get so used to putting things away and pin-closing cupboards that you’ll end up even doing it before bed every night. We recommend packing cells for clothes, as this makes getting stuff in and out of cupboards more efficient.
  9. Bigger vans have heaps of storage
    The advice given in the lead-up to our trip was basically “don’t bring much”, but our van had a massive under-bed storage vault, along with cupboards up both sides. Even with having to shove a whole bed worth of extra bedding and towels into one cupboard, we still had space to spare throughout the van. Smaller vans though? Some have literally no storage. The one I shared with Laurie back in 2015 was so small our suitcases took up the whole back during the day and the whole front at night. There was no space to unpack to. We would advise to get the biggest van you can afford if you are in it for more than a few days.
  10. There’s no way to know if you’ll love it or hate it till you do it
    We had, on average, a pretty awesome time. If we were doing another road trip in the future where we wanted to go to off-the-beaten-track places again, we’d totally pick up a camper. But we met a family in Milford Sound who were heading back to Queenstown for a couple of nights in a hotel, after a week in their camper was just too much. There were things we found frustrating (like how narrow the spaces were), but the freedom to literally decide to get going now was awesome.

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