Tent, caravan or campervan: which is the best home on the move?

We’ve tried them all, from horse-drawn caravans to a campervan. Here’s the verdict

Traditional barrel-topped caravan: ‘I had fond memories of the treks along country lanes in the wake of a buxom-bottomed carthorse.’

Traditional barrel-topped caravan: ‘I had fond memories of the treks along country lanes in the wake of a buxom-bottomed carthorse.’

 

I have a confession to make. But I’ll get back to that, it’s the campervan versus caravan versus tent debate I’m here to discuss.

We’ve been enjoying holidays on the move for years now, having started out with tents of every variety before moving on to a traditional barrel-top caravan. I’d holidayed in one as a child and had fond memories of the treks along country lanes in the wake of a buxom-bottomed carthorse. I believe you can still hire the horse-drawn variety somewhere in Wicklow, but you’d be taking your life in your hands around my neck of the woods, so we fitted ours with an axle to allow for car-towing.

It was slow-going, but then the best holidays often are. Great adventures were had, but the barrel-top wasn’t built for long-distance travel and as the kids got older far away fields looked greener and the big purchase was made.

One of the downsides to buying the campervan was the price. You’re paying for accommodation and transport built-in; so between initial purchase, maintenance, insurance and tax, the outlay can add up.

With a campervan you’re paying for accommodation and transport built-in, so it can be costly.
With a campervan you’re paying for accommodation and transport built-in, so it can be costly.

To curb some of the costs of our campervan purchase, we joined forces with two other families and split the costs by three. Co-owning meant forward planning was needed, particularly around the summer when, naturally, everyone wanted a turn. We set ground rules around equal access: the bills were split; we took turns storing the unit; and had a happy few years of holiday adventuring.

Packing hardship

The particular downside that drew us back to another (more modern) caravan, was the hardship of packing/ securing every time you wanted to explore. Unless you like to drive to one location, park up and use nothing but say bikes or public transport to get around, you’ll have to be super patient. My crew are a little lacking in that virtue. We enjoy holidays covering a number of locations and local exploring.

The traditional caravan: you can hitch it up, jump in the car and just drive away.
The traditional caravan: you can hitch it up, jump in the car and just drive away.

The cheap, but functional caravan we bought next, was ideal for this. You could hitch it up, jump in the car and drive. With a campervan it’s all: wind in the awning, empty the portaloo, secure the cups and glasses, make sure there aren’t things that can fall over and smash in the fridge as you motor along. The sort of stuff that takes the good out of an adventurous impulse.

Pitching a tent

Some of our best holiday memories have been around the trials and tribulations of pitching a tent and dealing with the very close proximity of nature. I have my own vivid memory of camping on a mountainside with a group of climbers. A storm blew up overnight and in the morning, ourselves and our aerodynamic one-person tents had survived, but the storage teepee had blown off the mountain, complete with several full rucksacks. That night wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever had, but myself and the kids agree there is something very magical about waking up under canvas. It’s about the light, the air, that almost primal experience of sleeping on light mats on the ground.

There is something very magical about waking up under ‘canvas’.
There is something very magical about waking up under ‘canvas’.

The tent, the most humble of all on-the-move accommodation, is certainly the cheapest. However, it can be a hassle to have to meticulously plan and pack the tent and everything you need in terms of sleeping and cooking paraphernalia. Pitching and assembling can be labour-intensive, but when I asked the kids which they preferred of all the above, while it was the trusty caravan they voted for, they were slow to knock the good old tent off the list.

Ping-pong

When I asked about their ultimate choice, one piped up that it was the ping-pong table in the caravan that put it in first place. Reminiscing about the “table” (a counter top propped between laps) we all recalled the hours of fun that was had with a couple of bats and a tennis ball, which, to me best represents the appeal of a no-frills holiday and children’s innate ability to create fun when left to fend without their dreaded mobile devices.

I’m not forgetting the confession by the way, I know you’re waiting. It was Christmas. We were going to my parents. We had a babysitting dilemma in the shape of Fiona, a lactating goat in need of twice-daily milking. Most campervans come with a “garage” – external storage for things like mucky bicycles, wellies, surf boards, milking goats. Yes. That’s the confession. And apology. To the previous co-owners of the campervan. We filled the “garage” with straw. Fiona was comfy, with all needs met.

You’ll find nary a reference to this asset in the brochures, but the campervan’s usefulness in addressing everyday animal husbandry challenges gets a thumbs up from me. It’s still pipped at the post though, with a unanimous verdict. For price, comfort, convenience and ping-pong facilities, the trusty caravan wins hands down.

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