Just before the Easter holidays, we finally bought the campervan we’ve dreamed of owning. Its high top means we can use it in all weather and there’s plenty of space for adults, children and canines. Since then, we’ve made the most of the freedom it offers and headed for the coast on several occasions. And we’re loving every minute of it. But there’s also a steep learning curve when it comes to packing. Here are our top tips for clever packing.
1. Vacuum storage bags
These are a revelation. If you travel without them, it’s time for a rethink. You pile your clothes / duvets / towels and other fabric items into them and use a pump or vacuum to suck all the air out. We bought some that come with a tiny pump that we can keep in the van. A single duvet shrinks to the size of an aeroplane hand luggage bag. There’s so much more space available in the van and when you arrive, you just undo the ziplock and they spring back to normal size.
Last year, we headed to Kielder Forest for a total break from technology. Actually, when we’re away in the van we rarely use much tech at all, preferring to be outdoors. But on the journey, we give ourselves a break. Because it’s the children’s holiday too. And if they’re watching their favourite films or television shows on the journey, they enjoy it. We don’t fall out with them due to their moaning about it taking too long and by the time we arrive, they’re almost as ready for a break from tech as we are.
3. A pre-cooked meal
If we’re arriving late, I tend to cook a meal before we go and take it with us. Our van has a microwave in it, so something like a chilli can be chucked in there to reheat and it’s ready in a few minutes. There’s nothing worse than slaving over a slightly slow hob with two cold, grumpy children waiting for their dinner.
4. A drive away awning or tent
I know drive away awnings aren’t to everybody’s taste, but we wouldn’t be without one on a long trip. When we’re travelling, everything goes in the top of the campervan. But when we arrive, that’s where the girls sleep so it all needs to come out. A drive away awning gives us the space to bring everything we need but not be limited for sleeping space. On shorter trips, a small pop up tent is just as good. I use the one I bought for me and Bubbles to sleep in before our ultramarathon. Halfords stock these for around £25 and there are some great savings on Groupon to make them even cheaper.
5. Use the space you’ve got
The first time we went away, we really struggled to work out where the dogs could sleep. If they had enough space, it left us scrunched up and uncomfortable. If they didn’t have enough space, they kept trying to get into bed with us. There’s no joy in cuddling up in a tiny bed with a stinky staffy. So, my husband made a shelf that fitted over the kitchen area. With that in place, there’s plenty of space for all of us.
6. What not to take
The first time we went away in the van, I noticed that it was using quite a lot of fuel. We knew this was because of the extra weight of being full, but hadn’t taken into consideration how much difference food and water would make. So my advice would be that as long as you’re staying relatively near to a supermarket, it’s easier to fill up with food and water at your destination. We take one meal for our first evening (as above), and buy everything else when we’re settled in.
7. Home comforts
The children always sleep well in the campervan, because they spend the days running around in the fresh air. But they would be a nightmare about going to sleep without their book and cuddly toy. They each have a toy they’ve slept with since they were tiny and they’ve never slept without it. They also listen to a chapter of one of their favourite bedtime books each night to help them settle down. Whilst most routines go out of the window, we try to stick to these at bedtime.
8. Fold away storage crates
Along with the drive away awning and vacuum storage bags, fold away crates keep everything organised. They take up very little room in the campervan but when opened out, they offer quite a bit of space. When everything comes out of the vacuum storage bags, we put it in the crates and stack them on top of each other along one wall of the awning. This is our storage area for the time we’re away, preventing the rest of the van and awning from getting cluttered.
9. Bags and bottles
When we’re camping, there are never enough bin bags. Either carrier bags or reusable tote bags are incredibly useful too, particularly for walking to and from the shower block. We always need a day rucksack for picnics and it’s easy to forget these if everything is packed into vacuum storage bags. Water bottles are another essential, both for around the campsite and days out. Aside from the environmental impact of buying plastic bottles every day, it’s really important to carry water when you’re walking or on the beach with children.
10. First aid kit and Calpol
The first time we went away in the campervan, Lia came down with a cold and fever. She was talking but not really making sense and seemed a bit delirious. We panicked and phoned NHS 111, who reassured us that she was fine but just needed some Calpol to bring her temperature down. Did we have any? Of course not. A local taxi company rescued us by buying some and bringing it to the campsite. It was such a relief, but that bottle of Calpol cost us a total of £40 including the taxi fare. We won’t make that mistake again, and a first aid kit is just as essential.