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How to prepare for your first campervan holiday
It’s normal to feel a bit nervous before heading off on your first motorhome holiday, but we’ll show you how a few preparations can take any anxiety out of the trip...
Whether it's hot or cold outside, and whether it's raining or not, a motorhome holiday can be enjoyed in any weather. But if you're new to the idea of camper-vanning, it's understandable that you might be a bit nervous about your first trip. And that's why we've put together this checklist of what to cover before you set off, so you can maximise your enjoyment of your motorhome, while cutting down on any costly mistakes.
Your first campervan holiday: plan ahead
First things first, you need to plan ahead. And bear with us, but the first decision you need to make is actually whether or not you’re going to plan ahead. No, really. Some people love planning an itinerary down to the last second, while others prefer to hit the road and let the holiday unfold naturally. Are you a nitty-gritty type, or a freestyler? Much of your enjoyment will depend on how well you know yourself.
Having said that, if this is your first motorhome holiday, we’d advise planning at least some of it in advance, because knowing the finer details about where you’re going and what to expect when you get there will take any tension out of the trip.
Single-site or multiple destinations?
This is an extension of the planning process. If you prefer being free and easy, you’ll likely just find a campsite on a map (or more likely through an internet search) and head there. And once you’re there, you can start to look for the next overnight stop on your journey.
If this is your bag, it makes sense to keep your driving time down to just a few hours each day (with a decent break every two hours), to give you plenty of time at each end of the trip to load up and then unpack. However, with a little practice, you’ll soon have this down to a fine art.
Have a dry run
If you’re going to head out into the wilds in your new campervan, it makes sense to get to know it before you set off, which is why it’s a great idea to spend a night or two in your campervan while at home.
That way you’ll know just how quickly the water tank runs out, how long the cooker takes to boil water, and just how easy it is to empty the toilet cassette (a task you don’t want to get wrong more than once).
A couple of nights in the campervan at home will also give you a good indication of how quickly you might deplete your leisure battery by using lots of lighting and powering various external devices.
Also, using your campervan in the convenience of your own driveway will also give you a chance to learn the easiest and most efficient way to load and unload everything.
Obviously, you have to make sure that your driving licence covers you for driving your new campervan.
Your vehicle also needs to have a valid MOT test and be taxed. There’s no point in heading off, only to discover that either of those things runs out halfway through your journey, when Wi-Fi is in scant supply – get it sorted beforehand. Insurance is another must-have, because you cannot drive without it. And don’t overload your campervan, because this could invalidate your policy.
However, having travel insurance is also a good idea, just in case something untoward happens with the campsite you’re planning to use.
Finally, make sure any medical insurance is up to date.
The good news is that you have a roof and even some wardrobe space, so you’re already up on those who use tents as their overnight shelters. However, this does not mean you need to bring most of what’s kept in your bedroom’s built-in wardrobes with you; there simply isn’t the space, and you really don’t want to be shifting all that weight with you.
Packing light is the way forward, and a good way to do this is to make a list of all the things you’ll need beforehand.
Given the British weather at any given moment, you’ll likely need light clothes for during the day, and a warmer jumper and jacket for in the evenings. And of course, waterproofs are vital.
Okay, it’s good to get away from screens while on holiday, but it’s still good to bring along some form of digital entertainment, and of course, remember a charger.
And don’t forget stuff that’ll keep you protected and relaxed – by which we mean sun cream, a tin-opener, and a bottle opener to let you enjoy that longed-for glass of wine.
Thought for food
You don’t need to plan for a three-course meal while away camping, but you'd do well to have some essentials with you.
Most motorhomes have the facilities to allow you to knock a simple but tasty meal, but if you want to skip all the preparation, it can also pay to cook up a batch of something beforehand, then freeze it in boxes. If you keep it in your motorhome’s fridge, it’ll defrost gradually and be easy to heat up when you need it.
And don’t just buy everything on the way – bring your basic store cupboard items from your home’s store cupboard; there’s no sense in shelling out when you already have it.
Tie everything down
This goes for both all of your belongings and everyone who’s in the campervan with you. So, make sure that everything you’ve brought is securely packed into the appropriate storage area, and that everything is fastened. Indeed, if your motorhome doesn’t have them, it’s a good idea to add locks or latches to cupboard doors, to stop anything falling out on a twisty road.
Hoses and cables should be rolled up and tied securely and bungees or straps should be used to keep heavy items such as gas bottles in place.
Everyone in the campervan must be securely seated in a seat with a seatbelt, too.
Avoid turning a drama into a crisis
Things go wrong – that’s just a fact of life. However, being prepared for when things go wrong can stop a pain-in-the-neck issue from becoming a holiday-wrecker.
So, you should always carry a First Aid kit with you, just in case the wheel brace slips when you’re changing a wheel and you gash your knuckles. You’ll also need a wheel brace and a good jack, just in case you have a puncture, and you need to make sure any spare wheel is in good nick and can retain pressure.
Spare bulbs and fuses are a wise addition, and if you’re driving in Europe, you’ll need reflective jackets for all on board, plus a warning triangle.
Before you set off, make sure all is well with your motorhome. So, make sure all the bulbs light up as they should, and change them if they don’t.
Check the engine oil and water levels, to minimise the chance of ending up on the hard shoulder, and carefully check all of your motorhome’s tyres. You need to ensure that they’re all at the correct pressure, that they’re free from cracks and splits, and that they have the required depth of tread; in the UK all tyres must have a minimum of 1.6mm or tread depth across 75% of the width of the tyre.
If any of your tyres gives you cause to debate whether or not it’s legal, change it – you’ll be safer and you’ll have peace of mind.
It pays to plan your route well in advance, and if you’re using a sat-nav system it’s wised to program in your break stops along the way. Make sure you set a realistic mileage limit for each day, so that you don’t feel a need to rush, and also try to avoid especially narrow roads, especially on your first trip.
Plan your trip so that you arrive at the site in daylight, because this will make setting up much easier on your first trip. This will also give you time to hook up to any electric points, and to fill up your water tank – and enlist the assistance of the campsite owners or fellow campers should you encounter a problem.
And if you’ve got to the site early enough, you’ll be fully unpacked and sitting down to relax with a glass of vino in your hand, a meal on the hob, just in time to enjoy the views and that first glorious sunset. At which point your campervan will feel like a very wise investment indeed.
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