So we’ve done it! Our first night in a campervan was a success and everyone in the family is on board with our newest plans for adventure. *Breathes a huge sigh of relief*
Covid lockdown rules easing in the UK mean that we are now allowed to spend the night away from home, as long as it’s self-contained. So we chose to go to Scotlands House Campsite, a small site half an hour away from where we live in Reading.
We were expecting our first night in a campervan to have a few hiccups, so we decided not to venture too far from home. Although I was pretty confident that we would all enjoy it, it put our minds at ease to know that we could pack everything up and dash home if things got too much!
Something we are trying to be very conscious of at the moment, is what a big change the current relaxing of rules is for our little adventurers. For example, while we travelled a lot with my daughter when she was very young, meaning that she was quite used to sleeping in different places, my son has only been away once, so sleeping somewhere different was a new experience for him.
The stress of packing
One of the few things I have not missed about travel over the last year is the packing. No matter how many trips we go on, I simply cannot speed up my packing routine and it is one of my least favourite things to do.
Packing the campervan seemed to take forever. Because not only were we packing clothes and toiletries, we also had to think about bedding, crockery, food and a million and one other things it would seem.
But finally, just as I was coming to terms with the fact that I may have to live in a fort made of packing cubes for the rest of my life, we were off.
One of the reasons we chose to buy a VW California campervan was because the backseats can be moved forward on a rail so that they are directly behind the front seats when driving. We ummed and ahhed about whether we needed this feature (lots of van conversions don’t have it) but eventually decided that as the children are still so small it was something we wanted. It quickly became apparent that this had been a good decision when I was called upon to pass a million small toys behind me during the duration of our drive.
Setting up camp
Once we arrived on site, things went more smoothly than I was expecting. There were strict Covid rules in place to ensure social distancing, but they were easy to follow and everything felt very safe.
The weather was perfect and there was a great little park right next to us, so Mr A and I took it in turns to take the little adventurers there to play while the other one set up camp.
I say ‘set up’, but one of the lovely things about having a campervan after years of pitching tents on campsites is how easy it all feels. Five minutes after arriving we had a brew on the go, whereas in a prior life we’d still have been arguing over tent poles.
One of the things we love about the VW California is that the designers really have thought of everything. So even though the van is new to us, everything is pretty intuitive to locate and use. The fold-away table and chairs which are hidden away in the sliding door and tailgate, for example, are particularly clever.
Obviously, as the day progressed we remembered things we’d forgotten or discovered we’d need items we hadn’t even thought of, so added these to a list for next time. The idea is that we’ll eventually have a core set of things such as crockery and utensils which we’ll leave in the van, so there will be less packing on each journey. We also know that we’ll eventually find homes for various things and all learn where they’re kept. As on this trip there was a lot of “Do you know where the xxx is?” questions.
After sliding back the seats and cooking dinner on the little stove, we enjoyed our first meal sitting around the little slide out table. After years of camping and eating outdoors, it’s amazing how quickly you can start to feel smug about eating inside with a heater on the go!
At the moment our sleeping arrangement sees the three-year-old and Mr A in sleeping bags in the pop-up roof of the van, while the baby sleeps in a mini tent on the double bed next to me. In the future both little adventurers will sleep in the roof together.
As we predicted, it did take them a while to settle in a new place, but once they’d dropped off we were surprised at how well they slept.
A decision well made
Our first night in a campervan, followed by a visit to Wellington Country Park the next day, really did do wonders for us all.
As a family who loves to be on the move and exploring new places, the last year has been tough at times. Seeing the excitement of my little adventurers as they were able to play in a new park and run around the campsite made the day’s worth of packing all worthwhile!
It also really confirmed that we made the right choice by investing in a campervan. Although we love far-flung adventures and exploring different countries, we also have to be realistic that at this stage in our lives, with work and small children, lots of our future trips are going to be closer to home.
We also know that you can take your children on the most amazing adventures all round the world, but they really will be just as happy in a field in the middle of nowhere with a park next to it.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that they’ll remember the most random things about your trips. For example, I asked the three-year-old what her favourite part of the night away was. Her answer: the fridge in the campervan!
Top tips for your first night in a campervan
If you’re thinking about buying a van or you’re planning to hire one for a trip, here are some tips for your first night in a campervan:
- Put all of your clothes in packing cubes (use different colours for each family member if possible). It makes it so much easier to lay your hands on things.
- Be prepared that everything will take way longer than you’re expecting the first time round. So don’t leave it until everyone’s starving to start making dinner.
- Take simple meals to prepare and plenty of snacks. Don’t over-complaicate things on your first night and end up getting stressed.
- If you’re travelling with children be prepared that it may take a while for them to settle at bedtime. We found that talking about sleeping arrangements in advance made them feel more comfortable about it.
- For some reason, you can never have too many tea towels or empty carrier bags.
- Enjoy the experience! Everything won’t go to plan. You’ll forget some things and mislay others. (I didn’t find my hairbrush until we got home!) But the feeling of freedom really is like no other and we felt very grateful for it, especially at a time like this.