Have you lusted after campervan life but can’t quite convince yourself to take the plunge? Hiring a campervan for a holiday might be just the ticket for you. Give yourself the opportunity of road-testing the campervan lifestyle without the hassle and cost of buying a van and all the extras you’d need. Or simply hire a campervan for a family holiday just for the fun of it!
Campervan Holiday Destination
Where will you take your campervan on holiday? Before deciding where to hire your van from consider hiring it near your destination. This could save you some costly mileage in the van as well as hire cost. The downside is not being able pack straight into the van from home but with a good inventory provided by the hire company, some common sense and reading helpful tips from fellow travellers, you’ll be able to skip that extra step.
For our family holiday in the UK in August 2020 we decided on hiring a campervan for a road trip around Devon and Cornwall. We were keen for an adventure and holidaying in a van seemed to fit the bill. We decided to hire a campervan from O’Connors Campers who are based in Okehampton, Devon. They are located just off one of the main routes into the southwest, the A30, which should result in a fairly smooth collection process (assuming Okehampton isn’t completely choked up with traffic due to an accident closing the A30 meaning all of the cars trying to leave Cornwall and Devon were diverted onto Okehampton’s small streets. It took us 45mins to travel 320m (350 yards)!).
The VW California Ocean – meet Virgil
We hired a VW California Ocean for our family of four for 10 days / 9 nights. O’Connors also rent retro VW campers but ask that they don’t leave Devon and Cornwall. We hired a large awning along with our van. This was used for storing our stuff in when we set up camp. We were also able to keep it set up when we drove away from campsites meaning that our pitch was saved. I spread rugs out in our awning making it a cosy space to spend time in. If you don’t wish to pay the extra for an awning you could bring a small tent with you to store items outside the van.
O’Connors provided us with a detailed inventory and useful suggested ‘extras’ packing list to help with avoiding over- or under-packing for a campervan holiday. This was really useful for us as we were hiring a campervan for the first time. On collecting your home on wheels you’ll be given a full tour of its features and some do’s and don’ts before being given the keys. As we were leaving our own car with hire company in their secure parking while we were on our road trip we then loaded up the van with everything we’d brought with us. The California Ocean has loads of great built-in storage. We had plenty of room for everything we’d brought with us including 4 wetsuits and 3 bodyboards!
Packing for hiring a campervan
Even if you’ve never camped before you should find packing for a holiday in a rental campervan fairly smooth. The rental company gave us a detailed itinerary of what they would provide alongside a suggested packing list of extras. We added to that from our experience of camping trips and travelling light, as we did last summer Interrailing through Europe.
Here’s our list of suggested extras to take when hiring a campervan in the UK
|Sleeping bags (for kids)||Torches (ideally head torches)|
|Pillows (for all)||Picnic rugs (with waterproof base)|
|Duvet & small double sheet||Reusable water bottles|
|Extra cosy blankets||Quick dry towels|
|Clothes pegs & line / rope||Bug spray|
|Matches / lighter||Sun cream|
|Paper towels||Cool box & ice packs|
|Ziplock bags / beeswax wraps / storage pots||First aid kit|
|Bin bags / recycling bags||USB power banks|
|Tea towels||USB charging plug|
|Loo roll||Games (eg cards, Dobble, Top Trumps)|
|Hand gel / wipes / soap||Bag of magazines / activity books|
|Collapsible bucket||Reusable shopping bags|
A trick we use when camping in our tent is to pack useful items, such matches, bin bags, tea towels etc into a large, sturdy plastic box. We took our usual camping box with us for our van holiday. This slotted easily into the van and was transferred into the awning when we were set up. Games were stored in a separate small box. We packed our clothes into packing cubes and had a spare cube or two for dirty laundry. We kept one small washbag separate from the rest of the toiletries for toothbrushes and toothpaste which helped with easy access at bedtime. Other packing cubes contained our power banks and chargers, sun cream, bug spray etc.
For the beach we packed two sturdy bags of swimwear and towels. Decathlon’s quick-dry travel towels are excellent, and we use hammam towels from Sand and Salt to sit on. The boys both have cosy, towelling shorts and hoodies to pop on if they’re chilly after time in the water. Over the years we’ve used Boden ones, but this year we picked up a couple of Joules ones too. We tend to get them second-hand, either from friends, eBay or Facebook groups. Our wetsuits and other beach items were popped into an old Ikea bag.
And then there’s the food…
Like any self-catering holiday 3 meals a day plus snacks (of course) needs to be considered in the planning process. We pack a ‘larder’ of food into a large, sturdy plastic storage box. This usually includes most of the following ‘essentials’ plus any store-cupboard ingredients we need for our meal plan:
- Salt + pepper
- Ketchup / other sauces
- Oil for cooking (or just use butter / spread)
- Breads / wraps
- Marshmallows + chocolate digestive biscuits for those all important S’mores
- Favourite snacks (ours are currently oat / cereal bars, flapjacks, nuts & crisps)
- Nutella and / or jam
- Baked beans
- Gin & wine
- Tonic water
- Squash (we took Robinsons Squash’d which are concentrated, so tiny bottles)
- Croissants, pain au chocolat and chocolate-filled crepes (special camping treats!)
In our cool box, ready to transfer into the fridge in the campervan we packed some basics, lunch items as well the fresh ingredients needed for our meal plan.
- Spreadable butter
- Ham / salami
- Salad veg (cucumber, peppers, tomatoes)
- Homemade pasta & pesto salad
- Grated parmesan
- Juices / smoothies
We planned ahead for breakfast and lunch food as well as five evening meals expecting to do at least one top-up shop locally and eat out for lunch or dinner a couple of times.
Evening meal plan
Steak, coleslaw and garlic bread: We cooked the steak on the firepit, the coleslaw was shop-bought as was the garlic bread. The garlic bread had been frozen. It defrosted on the journey. We wrapped it in foil and cooked it in the fire.
Chicken & runner bean curry with rice: I used chicken thighs which had been in the freezer at home, these defrosted over a day or two in the van fridge. We cut these up and browned them in a pan then added the shop-bought sauce (we used Holy Cow Tikka Masala Curry Sauce which is excellent and not too spicy for the kids) along with sliced up runner beans and let it all bubble away. Served up with boil-in-the-bag rice.
Sausages, hot dog buns and corn on the cob: The sausages were frozen before we travelled so they stayed cold for a few days before we needed to eat them.
Spaghetti Bolognaise: a veg-packed homemade bolognaise sauce which had been frozen at home added to spaghetti and topped off with grated parmesan – the perfect, warming camp meal.
Pasta and sauce: this was our store-cupboard backup which we used on a rather rainy evening in St Ives!
Making a trip plan when hiring a campervan
We took a 10-day road trip around Devon and Cornwall in our rented campervan. You can take a look at our itinerary here. We planned for 3 nights at the first site, then 2 nights at each subsequent site. By the end of the trip moving on every other day became quite tiring. For a more relaxing pace of holiday and a chance to get to know an area a bit better we would probably choose to spend at least three nights in each location.
Our third site at Trevalgan Touring Park near St Ives was an established motorhome and caravan site, very different to the wild camping feel of the first two spots we’d chosen. We took advantage of the excellent laundry facilities there (super quick washing machines and powerful tumble driers) as well as the bakery service run by the shop on site. We ordered croissant for our breakfast on the first day and fresh baguettes on both mornings. Even though we usually prefer camping in the middle of a field we definitely appreciated these additional facilities for a couple of nights in the middle of our trip.
We planned our 10-day road trip to spend most of our time on the beach. We knew we wanted to visit both the north and south coast of the south-west peninsula but our locations were primarily led by the choice of campsite. We aimed to choose ‘special’ places rather than compromise on the campsite for the ‘perfect’ location.
Another approach is to pick sights and locations that you’d like to visit and then find a campsite within easy reach of those. Lots of #vanlife families use saved lists on Google Maps to help them identify areas that they’d like to plan trips to. If you’re on Instagram follow the #vanfamtribe hashtag for more top tips like these as well as campsite reviews and family activity ideas.
Campervan Life – the Verdict
We loved sleeping in the van (far more comfortable and dry than a tent) and I especially loved being able to make my morning cup of tea from bed. When the weather was windy and wet the van was a comfortable place to spend time, cooking and hanging out. We definitely appreciated having a large awning with us. It didn’t connect to the van but had an overhanging peak which protected us from the rain when going between the van and the awning.
Living in a van takes a lot of clever packing and good organisation. Perhaps if we always holidayed like this it would become second nature, but after a night six or seven we started to miss the space we would normally get from a self-catering cottage or apartment.
In Summer 2020 we wanted to have an adventure on a staycation in the UK while staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Hiring a campervan ticked those boxes, and I think we’d absolutely hire a van again for a future road trip, but we’re not quite ready to take the plunge yet and buy our own.
What about you? Do you #vanlife or not? Would you consider giving it a try?