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Caravanning for beginners – Buying our first caravan

We bought our first caravan a couple of years ago as complete novices.

Neither I nor my husband had towed or even holidayed in a touring caravan, so everything about it was a massive learning curve.

As a twosome, we’d always travelled flexibly and independently, but the arrival of our kids brought a big shift in lifestyle and trips away became more focused on families.

Our eyes had been opened when we booked our first holiday as a family of four. Admittedly, it was a 5* all-inclusive for my Brother’s wedding, but the cost was roughly three times what we paid for our first caravan. Ouch. Our holiday budget wouldn’t stretch to trips like that every year, and we knew being limited to one or two family holidays would leave us with itchy feet.

We were intrigued at being able to rock up at places, having everything we might need, and it not costing a great deal. Getting a bit of nomad back into our lives felt appealing.

Ditch the stereotypes

Two of our neighbours have a caravan, as do my husband’s parents, and yes they’re all retired.

So when we chatted about a caravan there were a few ‘over my dead body’ comments, but we could both see the positives… however, the stereotypes did take a bit of working out.

Fate then dealt us a helping hand. A family we knew listed their immaculate 1994 Swift Challenger 410 for sale, complete with awning and accessories. It was old, reasonably priced and buying from people we knew, surely it wouldn’t fall apart as we drove down the road or have floor to ceiling damp that as novices we’d failed to spot.

All was well, apart from husbands ego, apparently, a 20-year-old caravan parked up outside is slightly cringeworthy. But we had bought our first van, and to our surprise, we realised there’s a growing army of younger caravan and camper van lovers out there, who like us, are off exploring every other weekend.

First time caravanners

Our kids were aged three and one when we got van #1 and we all loved our first trip.

We played it safe and booked a campsite close to home, meeting our kids grandparents so we had some guidance when we got there. Here are a few things we soon realised…

Packing up is a learning curve.

The things you need are pretty obvious, but remembering everything can be tricky. If Tim asks ‘Have you put xxx in?’ it’s a sure fire way for me to forget what I was about to pack. I’m sure I do exactly the same to him. I’ve since written a caravan checklist.

The technical stuff was a challenge.

Getting a tow bar fitted, hooking up to the car, how to use a jockey wheel… we’d never done any of it. So we took to the internet and gleaned help from people around us. It turns out fellow caravanners are really helpful.

Pitching up

Levelling the van, putting the feet down, toilet, water, gas (who knew all this stuff existed), it’s fair to say we needed a bit of help.

Oh and then there was the Isabella awning that came with the van, canvas and poles everywhere and a lot of head scratching the first few attempts to put it up.

But we did it and we were pretty chuffed.

Upgrading our van

We only had that little van a few months before we had our first major incident.

On our way to Devon we had a blow-out on the M1 and it was terrifying. Pitch black, the electrics on the van were shot and lorry’s were roaring past. After a quick check, we limped off the motorway to discover the rear half of the van had been ripped apart by a shredded tire. We were gutted but agreed we wanted another van.

Investing in a bigger and newer van meant the buying process would be much more involved. Make, layout, weight, single or double axle, private sale or dealer? There’s a lot to think about. We spent time researching and looking around showroom after showroom to get a feel for the right set up. Our children were pretty young at the time and one of them refused to sleep in a bunk, all major considerations. Our car and what we could safely tow was another.

Life’s better with a caravan

The right caravan is individual to every family. From the kitchen area and worktop space, the bed arrangements, to the shape and layout of the living areas. It’s important to go and have a look, sometimes it’s a gut feeling that will decide the best fit for your family’s needs.

After a lot of research, we decided on a Sprite Quattro EW and there was one sat waiting for us at our local dealer, Robinsons Caravans. Fate. We were sold on the cosy feel of the L shaped living area, it’s lovely.

Next, we needed to buy the awning. Another big grey area. So back to the showrooms, lots of research, and finally a Kampa Rally Air Pro 390 Plus was the one for us. It’s turned out to be brilliant, easy and quick to put up, lots of space.

So this is where we are at. We’re enjoying more family holidays and we’re seeing a lot of the UK.

We hope to shine a spotlight on owning a caravan and urge people to look past the stereotypes. Caravanning is being hailed as officially cool again – and we think it is – and the rise in UK caravan sales seems to suggest we’re not alone in our thinking.

NB: Everything about this post was organised and paid for ourselves, and all views expressed are entirely those of Curious Campers.

#weloveourcaravan

Curious Campers is for families that love their caravan, just like us.

We hope to champion caravanning and shine a spotlight on beautiful and unusual places that we and our kids find fascinating and fun, sharing tips we’ve discovered along the way.

So when we go somewhere a bit special or find something we like, we write about it, because we want to share that joy with other people, just like you.

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