Well, after 7 years of campervan ownership, it is with some regret that we are announcing here that we have sold the ’van. After a lot of consideration, taking into account several factors, we concluded that ultimately, the campervan didn’t work for us any longer and we needed a better solution. Contrary to what we originally thought, that solution is not a new ’van, but instead a trailer tent. So, the campervan may have gone, but the camping will continue, as will this site!
With an increasing family size (our second baby is due in November, our first will be 2 next month), the Bongo as it was just didn’t cut it for us. The sleeping arrangements needed some consideration once our little boy was too big to comfortably co-sleep, meaning investment in making the roof a warmer & more comfortable sleeping berth, and/or finding some sort of hammock to go over the front seats. We also needed more storage with more occupants. This led us to wonder whether a 20-year-old van was worth putting the extra money into. There were no real issues with it yet, but it was only a matter of time, and given that it was under SORN for a large part of the year and essentially left to the elements on our driveway, we felt that that time was getting closer. The other consideration with the age of the van was the lack of ISOFIX which meant that our child’s next stage car seat wasn’t compatible. Reliability was only going to deteriorate, and the prospect of sitting at the side of the road beside a broken-down vehicle only worsens when children are thrown into the mix. We also liked the idea of family camping holidays abroad but 20MPG fuel economy on top of the limitations described above were putting us off making firm plans. The ’van was just going to increase in cost and decrease in utility for us.
We had already largely come to this conclusion last year, when we had had a successful first camping season with our son, but knew that we were going to have to look at better solutions in future. We therefore had a half-hearted attempt at selling the ’van in the autumn, using Auto-Trader and word of mouth. We had some interest, but given that the season was over there was nobody who really wanted to commit to a new ’van (and perhaps we weren’t really fully ready to lose it yet) so we SORNed again, put on the cover and put off the inevitable for another winter. This year we committed to selling and put some research into pricing, comparable adverts and the best routes to sale. We joined some Facebook Bongo groups, realised that there is a huge variance in the quality of vans for sale, as well as the models and the conversion types, which meant that it was really difficult to judge what price we should ask, and in the end used an eBay classified ad. We both shared this as much as possible, and in the 28 days the listing was open, we had a lot of interest. This ranged from extensive questioning via eBay message to repeat visits to view the ’van. We got a lot of compliments from people who had been viewing a number of vans – in general, the feeling we got was that our asking price was at the top-end but those who saw it felt it was justified based on the condition and high quality conversion of our Bongo. The conversion had been done when Tom bought the van from a dealer in Norfolk in 2009 and had been well looked after so looked almost as good as new. With 2 days left of the listing, we agreed a price that we were very happy with and took down the ad. We had to then arrange to get the van to the garage for an MOT to prepare it for collection, which took some researching into how to get it there (as it was SORNed and uninsured) and resulted in us paying them to collect and return it on a recovery truck for ease. Our toddler is still talking about the man who took away our van on his flashing truck!
In the meantime, the summer was passing us by and a number of ideal camping weekends had been missed, which strengthened our resolve that we did still want to camp. We started looking at other options and initially focussed on either more modern ’vans for conversion or smaller motorhomes. A colleague was converting a Ford Transit van and shared his experiences with us, and we looked into Mercedes Vito dimensions. We had a lingering nostalgia for past ’van trips, and were reluctant to look at large motorhomes that would force us onto hardstanding among the caravans at sites. We enjoyed the back-to-basics “tent field”, and using smaller campsites. We also thought about the running costs of a campervan or motorhome – maintenance, repairs, insurance, MOT, tax – and wondered whether a one-off outlay on a tent was a better financial option. We revisited the per night cost calculations we’d previously considered with the ’van. After bringing up the old discussion about “proper camping” – Tom has never slept in a tent, whereas several of my childhood family holidays were in a tent – the main drawback of a tent seemed to be the practicalities of erecting it and the coldness of sleeping on the floor. A conversation with another work colleague brought up trailer tents, and research into these was sparked.
It turns out that there are a myriad of options in the trailer tent world, from basic trailer boxes that you might take your rubbish to the tip in with a tent stapled on, to folding campers which are like half-caravans. This article covers the subject well.
We found information about the Camp-let trailers, which appealed to us as a hybrid of the two extremes, with a lot of our boxes ticked in relation to cooking facilities, sleeping comfort (2 double beds) and extra living & storage space. They are lighter trailers than most as well, and given we hadn’t ever towed anything before we thought this sounded good – although we were incredulous of the promo video we saw of a guy towing one behind his pushbike! There are also numerous videos of just how quickly the tent can be erected – with a record of 21.04 seconds! This aligns much more with our “drive up, pop the roof and we’re camping” philosophy of campervanning.
The company is Danish and has a sole distributor in the UK – Camperlands – which it turns out isn’t too far from us, so we had a jolly family outing there one weekend last month to browse these wondrous contraptions. We were given a demo of the Camp-let erection by the very helpful staff, who didn’t quite make the sub-30 second time, but were pretty damn quick! They let us (well, Tom, whilst I ensured our toddler didn’t knock over too many display models) have a go along with them so that we had a feel for it. Fortunately, given my current stage of gestation, the tent can easily be put up by one person. They sell other brands there as well, so we got a feel for all of the differences and had a good look around different styles. We came away having decided that we wanted a Camp-let but unsure of the model and specification, and whether we would go for used or new. Camperlands do a range of packages that tailor the tent to your requirements, and also sell a lot of second-hand models. We stopped off for a country pub dinner on the way back and started our preliminary research and set up eBay searches whilst waiting for our food. We were excited about camping again!
It turned out there’s quite a market, and with the range of packages and optional extras available, no two are alike. It’s a lot like looking for a car – you won’t always find one with all the added details you want, so you need to prioritise. Did we want wooden slats and memory foam mattresses? A carpeted ground sheet? Alloy wheels? An extendable side annexe? Deluxe or standard kitchen? Plus the external bits – storage box or bike rack on the trailer? Jockey wheel? It was endless. We had to weigh up initial purchase price against the cost of buying the extras we deemed “essential”. Prices range from a few hundred pounds to over £10,000. Of course, this meant that we needed to take our time, fully research all details and get a good feel for the market. And we had plenty of time to do this – we’d already written off the idea of any camping trips until next year and hadn’t sold the ’van yet. Right? This was going to be a really good project to see us through the winter and give us a focus for 2017 trips. So, of course, we bid on our first used Camp-let – a Savannah model – on eBay that night! We missed out on that one but the ball was rolling, and it was only a matter of time. Although we’d just been egging each other on when bidding, in a light-hearted way, we were actually genuinely disappointed not to win in the end. We realised we were serious. We started contacting the sellers on other listings, coming up with a barrage of questions about the specifics of their trailers, and spending our lunchbreaks discussing the responses. Within a week, after exchanging several messages and best offers with another seller, we agreed a price and bought a 4-year-old Concorde Special Edition. We then had about 3 days to get a tow bar fitted to our car and collect it!
We “worked from home” that Friday, and between us managed to get the car to the tow bar fitters, collect cash we had pre-ordered from the bank and get a good start straight from finishing work to go and collect it. We had bought from lovely owners who seemed as excited to show us everything the Camp-let could do as we were to discover it. They’d been on a fortnight’s holiday with it each of the 4 years they owned it but otherwise not used it. They were sad to see it go but with the onset of ill health had decided to put their camping days behind them. They told us that they’d actually tried to have Camperlands sell it for them, but Camperlands had so much stock of second-hand trailers this year that they didn’t have
capacity for it. This was the first time they’d ever used eBay, and we think they’d been apprehensive, but were clearly happy to see a young family with genuine enthusiasm for camping turn up. Our little boy charmed them, eventually leaving with 2 toy cars that had belonged to their now 40+ sons, and we enjoyed several cups of tea and a lot of sharing of experiences as they handed over our new trailer tent. We drove home in the fading summer light with nervous eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror checking that the trailer was still attached, and wondering what the strange beeping noise was at every turn (until we realised that it was the indicators on the trailer). We were already planning where our first trip would be as we embraced a future of Happy Trailer-Tenting!