The NEC is hosting the camping and caravan show this week and with a growing interest in this area Linda and I decided to go and take a look to see what it is all about. I have always been a reluctant camper, accepting the freedom it brings at a price I can afford but it only became a favoured option when I followed the advice of a friend and tried canvas over these new fangled materials. From the very first night under canvas the experience changed from something to be endured to something that could be enjoyed. I had to start setting an alarm to get up rather than just staying awake all night before giving up and getting up. When I moved in with Linda it became obvious my two person tent would be insufficient and we bought a rather nice previously enjoyed frame tent. The thing weighs nearly as much as a house and filled the boot but promised so much as we dreamed of weekends away.
Then the accident happened and with no real tricep function remaining setting up the frame tent is an impossibility. In fact just lifting the many bags containing the parts are beyond me. The accident also changed my perception of life and time away enjoying the countryside and the company became ever more important, camping would have played a large part in this dream. The dream of a camper van became the candle providing light at the end of the tunnel as I got better and yet aside from the culture and the image we knew nothing of the reality of camper van ownership.
We entered the NEC with a completely open mind and the first vehicles we came across were iconic Danbury T2 VW’s. The image everyone associates with the genre. They were very pretty and very expensive. They had a practicality about them but also a number of drawbacks. They would easily fulfil a weekend away and be usable day to day transport but would we feel comfortable for a week or two? There were hundreds of similar vehicles, all based on production based VW, Peugeot and Citroen vans and some were very convincing offerings. We quickly found what we liked and what we didn’t like but for prices in the region of £30k they were all a bit of a compromise. We moved from hall to hall, quickly discounting caravans, even the cute ones and the trailer tents which seemed to command unreasonably high prices , most in fact exceeded the prices of conventional caravans and for the life of me I don’t understand why.
The Fifth wheel trailers were absolutely amazing. I hadn’t seen one in the flesh and had barely considered them as I had flicked through magazines but they were show stoppers, the living room was the size of a living room, the bedroom the size of a bedroom and a decent set of utilities all wrapped up in a package costing less than the budget T2 VW. There were no compromises and I could imagine living in one not for a weekend but on a permanent basis. Up to that point I hadn’t actually visualised living in any of the offerings on show, I could easily see myself in a Fifth Wheeler. I think the experience actually crystalised what I needed from the dream van and it was a long way from what I thought I had required. We moved on to the the RV end of the camper van market and increasingly these vehicles were providing the answers. The coach built bodies seemed to provide, comfortable living areas, decent bedrooms, utilities and masses of storage space, exactly what would be required for an extended trip and yet they were built into body lengths no greater than the campervan offerings from the other halls. some of them were seriously clever and I was smitten with an offering from Laika. We went back to take another look and were even more smitten. I even spun the driver’s seat around to test the position and made brum brum noises as I crested a rise on the approach to Cannes. Had I not sold both kidneys already and left my wallet in the car I could easily have signed on the dotted line.
So now we have a good idea what we need and what we don’t need. We now need to work out how everyday people such as ourselves achieve this. It may mean buying a wrecked carbooters Mercedes Sprinter or a retired mobile library and creating our dream or renovating a tired fast appreciating classic but where there is a will there is a way.