what the heck, you live in a caravan?!
You know, I can't quite remember how we came up with the hare-brained scheme to buy a caravan to live and travel in! We'd never even stayed in a caravan before, but once the idea was planted, it wasn't long before it had firmly taken root in our brains, we couldn't let the idea go! Before we knew it, our days were consumed searching online for the perfect caravan and then we were driving across France to Germany and Belgium searching for caravans! And now we are the proud owners of our caravan, Alfie!
so... why did you decide to buy a caravan?
We were probably four months into our trip when we decided to buy a caravan. There were two main reasons we thought it would be a good idea:
1. saving money - campgrounds are a lot cheaper than short and midterm rentals and airbnb's, which we were staying in prior to buying the caravan. Sure, the caravan will depreciate a little in value between us buying and selling it, but the difference in this price and campgrounds on top of that is still good value in comparison to other accommodation available to us.
2. having a home on the road - one thing we quickly realised after leaving home was that living in airbnb's and rentals never quite feels like home. You have to adjust to the quirks of each place every time you move and discover what each landlord has decided to provide you with in therms of bedding and kitchen utensils. Living in a caravan has provided us with a home on wheels. Although it's tiny, it's ours - the caravan really feels like home, and when you're on the move fairly frequently, there's nothing more comforting!!
When deciding on a caravan we did also think about buying a campervan. The thing that put us off was that, when you're in a campervan, you are limited to where you can go because you're basically driving a decent sized truck around. With a caravan, you drive that to where you're staying, and then you detach your car and can use that to explore easily.
how did you choose your caravan?
The model of caravan we ended up buying was an Adria Alpina 663UK, and as with most things in our life there was a fair amount of research involved, and a decent sprinkling of luck!
Initially we began our research looking at British caravan models. It seemed to make sense that we would buy a caravan in a company that we could speak the language! We were scouring the UK autotrader website, reading as much as we could on the caravan club websites, and watching review after review on YouTube. We got a bit stuck though as we were looking for a very specific layout. We've noticed that travelling as a family of five brings all sorts of predicaments. Looking for a hotel room for a family of four? Sure, no problem. But as soon as you add that extra kiddo - you need to book two rooms. Riding on theme park rides? Rides for two, rides for four - no rides for five. Out to eat? Tables for four are a dime a dozen, but trying to pack five around a table, generally ends up with someone in a precarious position. Anyway... you get my point, and the same thing goes for caravan. If you've got a family of four, you've got a wealth of choices in terms of layout. Families of five, not so much.
Add to the fact that we were going to be super fussy with our 'wants' list. We wanted each of the girls to have a fixed bunk (so that's triple bunks), but we also wanted a fixed double bed, and a separate dining/living space. This particular configuration is RARE in UK models, and so our search shifted to the continent, and that is how we happened across the Adria brand.
Adria is a caravan and motorhome company from Slovenia. We found glowing reviews of their products and as a bonus, we discovered that they had several models of their caravans that fit all our requirements. We were staying in a town, Vannes, on the west coast of France when we started our search, but couldn't find any Adrias for sale in France, so we decided we would take a road trip to Germany and Belgium where Adrias were plentiful. Armed with a shortlist of caravan models, a carload of road trip snacks and a bucketful of optimism, we hit the road.
We visited three caravan yards in Germany - it was late November, and a family of Kiwis wanting to buy a caravan to live in as winter was just beginning was highly unusual, but the caravan dealers humoured is. We had just one spot left to visit, up in Belgium before we were due to head to the south of France. We'd seen a number of caravans - some that seemed like good options, but nothing that we were 100% sold on as yet.
We'd spent the day driving all the way from Frankfurt to Wevelgem, Belgium. Once we arrived at the caravan dealership, we started our search for the caravan we had seen advertised on their website. Completely bummed out, we discovered that they had sold that caravan - it was no longer available. Not wanting to have wasted the trip, we decided to browse the dealership to see if there was anything else we could look at.
That's when we came across Alfie. He wasn't even listed on their website. In fact, another customer had ordered him much earlier in the year, organised for modification and paid the deposit, and then at the last minute had pulled out of the sale. I knew the moment we walked in to have a look that Barry was in love. This model hadn't even been on our radar - but it was perfect - the exact layout we were after. The Alpina range is made for Scandinavian winters - perfect for a bunch of Kiwis not used to the cold, who were planning on living in it over a European winter or two!
Before we knew it, we were the proud owners of Alfie - this was late November, and we had the next month of accommodation, up until the New Year, organised. We left Alfie with the dealership, they were going to be making a few modifications for us, and we would pick him up to begin our new lives as caravan dwellers on the second of January!
pros + cons of living in a caravan
as I mentioned before, accommodation tends to be cheaper - especially off season. With that said, we've come across some really fancy campgrounds in Europe - they're practically resorts - and these spots can be as expensive as hotel accommodation during the peak of summer.
we have a home no matter where we go. We've been living in Alfie for nearly a year now, and occasionally we have a trip that he can't go on. Whenever we return, it really does feel like coming home. As a real homebody, I really appreciate the feeling of having a space that is ours.
there are some SUPER-AWESOME campgrounds in Europe - and we've been so lucky to stay in some beautiful spots with incredible extras that you just wouldn't get in a regular accommodation. We're talking pools, waterparks, spas, restaurants, bars, gyms, playgrounds galore - you name it!
flexibility - if you want to go somewhere you can just go. As opposed to organising rental properties etc, you're not so locked into accommodation.
staying in rentals limits the amount of people you meet. By staying in campgrounds we've been able to meet some really cool people.
the obvious one is space - there's not a lot! Not just physically, but mentally too. If you have a disagreement with someone else in the family, there's not a lot of space for downtime. In the summer it's not such a problem - you can always head outside, but as the weather packs in - some days the only way to get away is put your headphones on and pretend no one else exists ;-)
toilets. I'm not even going into the fact that Barry has to empty the chemical toilet on a daily basis, but our caravan bathroom is WAY too small to even consider showering in, so we have to shower in the campground bathrooms. For anyone who has ever stayed at a campground before, you will understand why this is in the con list ;-)
there are some not-so-super-awesome campgrounds in Europe too. It doesn't help that we're travelling the whole year through, but there have been some spots we've stayed that I'd never want to go back to!
oh, the places we've been!
I did a quick calculation and we've stayed at 22 different campgrounds this year. I wouldn't recommend all of them, but the ones that we really enjoyed, I've listed below:
Strandpark de Zeeuwse Kust, Renesse Our first introduction to European camping - an indoor heated pool, restaurants and underfloor-heated bathrooms - this blew our tent-camping-kiwi-minds!
Kaiser Camping, Bad Feilnbach We were meant to only stay overnight at this campground as we made our way to Slovenia, but got stuck in a massive snowstorm that was hitting southern Germany and Austria at the time. It was our girls' first experience in the snow, and it was magical!
Camp Terme Catez, Brezice It felt like we were the only people stupid to be staying in a caravan in Slovenia in January! The campground was deserted so we had the bathroom, laundry and kitchen facilities all to ourselves. Like most campgrounds in Europe, there was a range of accommodation - mobile homes and hotels on the site, so even though the campground was deserted, they were still able to have the thermal pools, ice skating rink, and surprisingly good pizza restaurant open for us to use - and those were the real highlights - especially for our girls!
Camping Polidor, Funtana This was the first campground that we really fell in love with. The staff at Polidor made us feel like old friends, and we ended up staying here for three months! While we took international trips to Azerbaijan and Greece during this time, and also explored Croatia, we left Alfie well looked after at Polidor. The facilities at Polidor were awesome, and the campground was small enough to feel really personal. We really hope to visit Polidor again!
Bella Italia, Peschiera del Garda Our first taste of a huge European campground in full swing! Bella Italia is located right on the edge of Lake Garda, and it was such a beautiful spot to be based and to explore northern Italy from.
Camping de Riquewihr, Riquewihr, Alsace This campground was so pretty - the sights were lovely and shady, and extra bonus - they had a range of food trucks visit on different nights throughout the week!
Camping D'Angers Lac De Maine, Angers We only stayed here overnight, but they had an awesome playground, pool and bathroom facilities, and the campground just had a really nice vibe to it.
Camping de Rhuys, Theix-Morbihan The staff at Camping de Rhuys were lovely and friendly, the sites were shady and pretty, and the bathroom facilities were pretty good too.
Blarney Caravan + Camping Park, Blarney, Cork We stayed here for a couple of weeks and it was a lovely base as we explored Cork. Just a couple of minutes drive to Blarney Castle too - if you're keen to kiss that Blarney Stone ;-)
Woodlands Park, Tralee We stayed here for just over a month. Tralee took us by surprise - we arrived just in time for the madness of the Rose of Tralee, which was surprisingly enjoyable! The owners of Woodlands Park were amazing people and the facilities were great too. Best of all, Tralee was a wonderful spot for us to explore the south-west of Ireland which is particularly delightful!
Blackthorn Farm, Trearddur Bay, Anglesey We only stayed here a night, but man it was beautiful! Tiny campground, but the facilities were really charming! If we weren't making a beeline for the Lake District, we'd have stayed longer for sure!
Skelwith Fold Caravan Park, Ambleside Skelwith blew us away! The grounds were gorgeous - we got to see deer wandering through the campgrounds each day and there was plenty of walks right on our doorstep. They had an awesome adventure playground for the kids, as well as a huge laundry - and an amazing heated drying room - if you put anything in there overnight it was beautiful and toasty by the next morning. The bathrooms were excellent, and they had a lovely library room, stocked full of books, and with plenty of space for the girls to work in a nice warm room if they'd had enough of the caravan!
Love 2 Stay, Shrewsbury This is a great spot - we wish we'd have visited during the summer as they have some awesome outdoor facilities that it's just a little too cold for right now! But the sites are large and the bathroom, washing and laundry facilities are excellent.
Abbey Wood Caravan Club Site, London We fell in love as soon as we spotted the dozens of squirrels climbing trees all over the campground. That love was cemented one night when we came home and saw a couple of foxes on the edge of the woods! To make things even better, the campground was located a ten-minute walk from the Abbey Wood Railway Station, which meant we were just a thirty minute train ride from the centre of London! The site was really lovely, the bathrooms were always clean, but the best thing without a doubt was the proximity to the centre of London. Not surprisingly, there are not many spots for caravaners in London, so the fact that we were able to live our caravan life, and be minutes away from all that London has to offer was so awesome!
Edinburgh Caravan + Motorhome Club Site, Edinburgh The staff in Edinburgh were so wonderfully friendly and helpful. The bathrooms were always clean, and the site itself is in such a handy spot to explore Edinburgh, which was a city we really loved!
Holy guacamole, who knew I had so much to say about caravan life?! It's been such a cool way for us to explore Europe and one I can highly recommend!
We're only a handful of months away from leaving Europe, so we've now got Alfie up for sale, he's the perfect caravan for a new family of adventurers - and although we are all super-sad to be selling him, we couldn't be more grateful for all the awesome memories we made over our year as a caravanning family!
PS. this is the third post in the series: Our Big Family Adventure.