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Caravan thoughts part 1: Pros and cons of owning a caravan

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my crazy plan to build a compact caravan. Over the next day or two I want to post some of my thoughts. Here's part 1: Pros and cons of having a caravan. These are relative to my two usual forms of holiday accommodation: youth hostels and camping in a small tent.

Pros
  • Campsites are usually cheaper per-night than hostels, particularly for two people.
  • Always get a private room at no extra cost - no sharing a dorm with snorers and people who arrive/leave at unsociable times.
  • Guaranteed to get a comfortable bed (hostel beds vary a lot).
  • Don't need to share the kitchen with other guests.
  • Don't need to share the lounge (sometimes with a TV) with other guests.
  • Don't need to unpack and move a lot of stuff from the car into the accommodation on arrival and back again (plus the hassle of re-stowing the luggage) when you leave.
  • Have your own personal space to relax in without feeling self-conscious and worrying about breaking rules or getting things dirty etc.
  • You know where everything is [apart from shower blocks and other campsite facilities], so less feeling of dislocation when you arrive tired after a long day's driving and sightseeing.
  • Campsites are more common than hostels, so probably less difficulty finding one near where you want to stay.
  • Possible to camp in a layby or service station etc. at a push (eg. if you can't get to the intended destination for some reason).
  • More comfortable to sleep in than a tent.
  • Quicker and less hassle to put up and take down than a tent.
  • Less unpleasant in wet weather than a tent.
  • Plenty of storage space in the caravan, so the car doesn't need to be packed to the roof with food, clothes, sleeping bags and airbeds, etc.
Cons
  • High initial cost.
  • Makes driving between accommodation a bit more difficult.
  • Somewhat increased fuel consumption.
  • Ferry fares more expensive.
  • Some (very steep/narrow) roads are impractical to tow a caravan on.
  • Need to drive a bit slower, particularly on hilly terrain.
  • Need somewhere to store it between holidays.
  • Some ongoing maintenance will be required (not much).
  • Limited and cramped cooking facilities.
  • Because it won't be a full size caravan, there won't be room for a toilet or shower so would need to use the camp site facilities.
  • Might not have room for a heater, and if so could be too cold to use in winter.
  • Might not have a proper fridge.

Comments

Sounds like your pros/cons depend on whether you want the freedom to roam around ~ 'cos as you say that's easier without the caravan. On the otherhand, if you've got a destination in mind then a caravan allows you stay in that place for as long as you like(?)
Yes, I think the style of holiday is likely to be a little different with a caravan. Drive to a place and spend two or three days there before moving on, rather than staying in a different place every night. One thing I am aiming for in the design of the caravan is to make it as quick and hassle-free as possible to set up and take down, which should be a major bonus if we arrive at a site late and tired from a long journey.
Under "pros" you omitted: "The fun of planning, and making, the thing" :)
There is that too. :)
Under the cons: you miss out on the joys of living in some interesting buildings.
You're right, though not all hostels are in interesting buildings, and often the nicest-looking hostels are booked up long in advance. We've stayed in some very nice hostels, some fairly dull ones, and a few really horrible ones (typically in city-centres). On a road trip you sometimes have to settle for somewhere that doesn't look very good because it's the only place with availability anywhere near your desired route.

I'm hoping people will think my caravan is an interesting building! ;)
Some YHs are absolutely fabulous buildings but Alex doesn't take to them. Wilderhope Manor being a case in point. Although TBH there is something a bit freaky about that place... might just be the crummy management though.
Although TBH there is something a bit freaky about that place...

Was it the screams from the cellar or the bones under the bed?
ISTR the self-catering kitchen was rather substandard. That often seems to be the case at hostels that also sell catered meals - I think it's a subtle way of encouraging to buy their food instead of cooking your own.
I'm hoping people will think my caravan is an interesting building! ;)

That seems likely :)

Maybe you can offer guided tours.
This seems like a well-thought-out list.

Does your planning take into account that one could sometimes take the caravan and sometimes not? I very much like having options.

Also, when I read the list and comments, my thought was, is it a 'pro' for you that people will undoubtedly think that what you are doing is inherently cool? Because I expect this to be rather excellent, based on your other work that has been documented on here!

What sort of resources do you have at present, to start dealing with item 1 in 'cons'? Is it somewhat feasible?
Yes, I imagine not every trip will involve the caravan.

I think it would very much be a pro if people saw the completed caravan and it made them a little bit happier (that's one of the cool things about driving a Minor), or maybe even inspired them to turn a crazy project of their own into reality. On the Cons side of that, I can imagine it getting tedious if people keep wanting to ask lots of questions about it (with the Minors, you develop a sixth sense for when somebody is about to come over and tell you they learned to drive in one, or their granddad had one).

Without going into too much detail, I hope it will be achievable if I budget carefully and come up with some clever ways to save money on materials. I may have to sell off a few things I don't use any more. My biggest concern is the cost of a decent mattress for the bed.
Whatever you do, don't base your design upon the 'camper vans' constructed for a recent Top Gear.
Just watched the episode on iPlayer, thanks. :)

(Anonymous)

Your caravan Project

Alex, quite intrigued by you project.
Looks really interesting.
Over the years Lynn and I gradually progressed from bivouacking then back packing ultra lightwieght tents all through the tenting range to frame tents-trailor tents to various standard Caravans.
We still have an end Kitchen 2 berth design that we store in France (to save us dragging it up and down and ferry charges)its there for use as and when we get over (going again next Thursday.
I write to say well done on the Project-great thinking.
I did a design study for a super light- weight Mog Caravan for specific touring.(all within your braked weight assessments)
I found the study of it all very refreshing,stimiulating and quite possible.
Well done Alex, will find it interesting to follow your thinking-and watch it develop.
minormadman
All got very interesting

Re: Your caravan Project

I've not owned a caravan before, but my parents have had a succession of them. When they first started dating, they went camping in dad's mountaineering tent. The weather was horrible and mum vowed never to go camping in a tent again! That didn't stop them buying a trailer tent though. I think they must have sold it when I was a baby because I have no memory of it. While I was growing up they went through a series of four or five 4-berth touring caravans, a static caravan on Anglesey, (briefly) a VW camper van, a Renault Trafic camper van, and they currently have a 2-berth touring caravan. I'd be tempted to borrow it but it's much too big and heavy to tow behind a Minor.
I quite liked Hammond's DIY Tardis, firetrap though it turned out to be. Clarkson's was obviously designed to accommodate his huge head, whilst May appeared to be travelling with a metal coffin.