As happy campervanners we felt like we always needed the electric hook-up. We didn’t have a leisure battery and our fridge only ran off 240v mains electricity so without a hook-up we couldn’t power the fridge and were worried that we’d run down the van’s only battery if we left the lights on too long and wouldn’t be able to start the engine in the morning. As happy trailer-tenters we don’t have a fridge (or any battery at all) and we’ve started to realise how much we limit our options if we only camp in locations that have a hook-up available – especially at busy times as the electric pitches are always first to go. Also, some sites charge quite a┬ápremium for the hook-up which is disproportionate to the small amount of electricity we consume so we’ve started to look at alternative power sources to broaden our campsite options.

What do we use the hook-up for?
Our power demands are fairly modest – we don’t have electric heaters or electric cooking equipment. Our main use of electricity is:

  • Lighting
  • Kettle
  • Charging (phones mainly, occasionally tablet, camera, laptop)
  • Chilling food

Alternative power?
Lighting

There have been big developments in lighting options for camping over the last few years. LED lighting has incredibly low power demands and will run for a long time on battery power alone. Our ageing rechargeable lantern has served us well over the years. It easily lasts for 2 or 3 evenings and can also be recharged manually by winding as a last resort. I’m a big fan of head torches as they produce a small amount of light (so will run for a long time on one set of batteries) but the light is focused exactly where you need it. Great for searching through a bag looking for your toothbrush late at night.

We also have a few battery powered LED lightbulbs for hanging from the awning or above the bed and they run from a single standard AA battery which can either be rechargeable or picked up locally from any supermarket or petrol station if we run out.

Kettle

We have a small low wattage electric kettle than can be used from a campsite’s hookup without risk of tripping a fuse. It takes a while to boil compared to the one we have at home, but still a lot faster than the stove top kettle that we can use on our gas camping hob which takes FOREVER! Still, we’re camping so what’s the rush? For coffee, our preferred brewing method is the moka pot as we described here, which doesn’t need electricity.

Charging

Charging our phones might seem like a luxury when camping and something we could easily live without, but is actually the one thing that we would miss (even more than cups of tea!) if we didn’t have a hook-up – not for making phone calls (which I almost never do!), but for all the other uses: for playing music, looking up directions, taking photos, researching destinations for day trips, paying for things, even for using the flash as a torch that’s handily always in my pocket. In many ways a smartphone is a camping essential because it has so many uses in a single device that takes up so little room. Fortunately rechargeable power banks are very popular. I have a power bank┬áthat is about the same size as my phone but will recharge it three times over. I can also use it to charge my camera, eBook reader, smartwatch or anything else that can be charged from USB (including some lights). I’d recommend the Anker range of portable power banks for their compact size, build quality and battery capacity. Get into the habit of turning your phone off when not in use, or put it into flight mode to save power and the battery will last much longer. Portable solar power is starting to become a viable option for campers. I have a folding panel which I can leave on the campsite charging my battery pack, and after a full day in the sun it should have enough power to give my phone a full charge. I’m hoping for even better results on our European summer camping trip.

Chilling food

Our latest camping purchase is a Campingaz 28 litre electric cool box in place of a fridge that runs off 240v mains to chill it at home before leaving, and then off 12v in the car while travelling. We have the option of powering it from the site when a mains hook-up is available but it’s not an essential requirement. The majority of our camping trips are for long weekends. If we arrive on site on the Friday we can take some essentials for breakfast on Saturday morning with a couple of ice packs and not need a fridge. Fresh meat for a barbecue can be bought locally on the day rather than taken with us and stored on site. Eggs and even milk can be kept for a couple of days without being chilled if kept out of the sun. Our preference is the types of beer that should be served cool but not too cold so they don’t need a fridge. Wine can be chilled enough by filling the sink with cold water from the site’s tap and submerging the bottle for half an hour. Longer trips might pose more of a problem, but for 2 or 3 nights we can manage without a fridge entirely.

Now that we’ve put a bit of thought into the options we are starting to view the electric hook-up as a nice-to-have rather than an essential. With a bit of thought and preparation we can easily manage without it – at least for short trips, and because most of our trips are booked at short notice, all of the electric pitches are often already booked so by reducing our dependency on mains electricity we’ve opened up more destinations. Now excuse me while I go and put everything back on charge!

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