In August, I mentioned that I was seriously thinkng about buying a caravan (or at least I was toying with the idea). In December, I decided to go for it.
There was no way in a million years that my little Corsa was going to pull a caravan- 998cc was not going to cope with that at all, no matter how super or special it was (I miss you, Clarence). I would need to get a new car.
I did some research on the best cars to tow with, their fuel economy and their running costs. I then completely ignored the results of my research, and bought a big Mitsubishi, because it has nice wheels. The running costs are high, the fuel economy is low, but the car is comfortable and should be able to tow a caravan with ease.
I also bought a caravan; it’s a 1996 Coachman Mirage (if you look at it from a distance, it looks like it’s called a Minge). When I bought it, there was no way of checking that everything inside it worked, so I based my judgement entirely on the fact that it looked nice inside and didn’t smell of piss. I find this method to be both accurate and reliable in every situation where an assessment of something is required but where the tools to carry out such an assessment aren’t available. For example, this is a great method to use when you first meet someone. If something/someone is unkempt and smells of piss, run a mile. If something is either unkempt or smells of piss, you’ll have to resort to tasting it/them to complete your assessment. Fortunately, I didn’t need to lick the inside of the caravan but I did get some strange looks once when I took a car for a test drive some years ago.
I’d never towed anything before, so driving home with the caravan on the back of the car was a learning curve. There were some country lanes and some motorways but I quickly found that the caravan pretty much follows the car. Even better, my car/caravan combination meant that I barely noticed the caravan was being pulled by the car- it was incredibly easy! I did wonder why a white van was driving right up my arse once or twice though.
I think I have a disability, which prevents me from planning things properly, although people have told me this is simply known as “lacking common sense”. I didn’t plan much further ahead than “go look at some caravans” because I wasn’t entirely certain I would be coming home with one. I have no driveway so the caravan would need to be put in storage. No problem, I knew of a few places that provided caravan storage.
I made a few phone calls and began to panic a little bit- none of the caravan storage places had any caravan storage spaces. This could be a bit of a problem.
Fortunately, I found a place not too far from home that had some available space. It would cost about £66.00 per month or £460.00 per year, it wasn’t too far from home and access was Monday to Saturday, 8am to 5pm (Sunday 10am to 4pm). What a load of crap- how am I supposed to bugger off after work if I can’t get my caravan? It wasn’t exactly cheap either. The only redeeming feature of this place was available space for a caravan at incredibly short notice
When I arrived at the storage site, I was shown to my space. Getting the caravan into it was a bit tricky for a novice, because it’s hard to get your head around the fact that to steer the caravan left whilst reversing, you need to steer the car right and to steer the caravan right whilst reversing, you need to steer the car left. No doubt there’s people reading this who are thinking “actually, it’s very easy to comprehend” which is probably true if you have experience in doing this. Anything is easy if you know how to do it.
The caravan stayed where it was for a month whilst I looked for alternative storage. Whilst here, I used the electric hookup facility provided to see if the electrics worked inside the caravan- they did! I was also able to check that the water pump worked- that did too! If nothing else, I’d be able to boil myself some water.
Fortunately, I found another place that was only £325.00 per year and access was 7am to 9.30pm, every day of the year except for Christmas day. This new place was even closer to home too- it was ideal. Once I’d got my £66.00 worth of storage at the previous place, I picked up the caravan and moved it to the new place. Over the next couple of months, I popped there a few times to put the necessary bits in it and tidy it up a little bit.
I could see that one of the pipes underneath the caravan had become brittle and fallen to pieces- apparently, this is a common problem with the corrugated pipe used under caravans and a common fix was to replace it all with rigid piping. It wasn’t a task I was looking forward to, but it needed doing and I was prepared to do it.
When I eventually dared to go underneath the caravan to measure up, I was amazed to see that practically all of the piping had already been replaced with rigid pipe. There was only a tiny section (from the shower to an elbow joint) that hadn’t been replaced. This was brilliant as it meant that I wouldn’t need to spend much money or time repairing the pipes! I went to B&Q, bought a washing machine waste hose and repalced the broken pipe with it. Job done.
The only other thing that needed doing was replacing the caravan battery. The one which came with the caravan was as dead as a Dodi and refused to charge, so a quick look on Amazon, a few clicks and a few days later, I had a new 110ah leisure battery. I had actually been quite sensible here, as I’d noticed that the batteries came in all sorts of different sizes. Get this: I measured the battery box before ordering a battery so that I knew it would fit. Forward planning and preperation doesn’t get much better than that, especially when you take my disability into consideration!
Whenever I’ve seen a caravan, I’ve seen an awning on the side, which drastically extends the living area. You can put a table and chairs in the awning and not worry if it rains, so it seemed like a good idea to buy one.
I had a look online and quickly found that new awnings are expensive! The cost of a new one is on par with a monthly mortgage payment. I would need to look for alternatives.
The alternative was a ‘porch’ awning, which as far as I can make out is still an awning, but is a slightly different shape. I found some cheap ones on eBay which were suitably sized, included zip doors and window flaps. Do you get what you pay for with this sort of thing? There was only one way to find out. I purchased a ‘porch’ awning and a separate inner-tent, which could be attached inside a section of the ‘porch’ awning to provide a wind-proof, cosy tent, which would be ideal for any visitors or overnight-stayers at my caravan. I was all set for my first trip away!
Last weekend, I went away in my caravan for the first time. I left on Friday afternoon and booked in at a camp site approximately 45 minutes away from home. This was close enough in case I forgot something vitally important but far away enough that it felt like I was on holiday.
Once on the motorway, something became immediately apparent; cars don’t like letting caravans pull out in front of them. I can understand this if you’re doing some speed and you’d have to slam on your brakes if a caravan pulled out in front of you. But no matter how long I poodled along with my offside indicator on and no matter how clear the third lane was for people to move over to allow me to pull out, no fucker would budge. I couldn’t believe it- there was no courtesy there at all. When I’m overtaking in the middle lane and something wants to pull in front of me from the inside lane, I move to the outside lane if it’s clear. If everyone does this, everyone is happy. Towing a caravan up a hill and having to slow down makes it even harder to pull out into the middle lane at a safe speed. Lorry drivers were great at flashing me back in after I’d overtaken them, but I always found this when I used to drive large vehicles years ago.
Other than battling against thoughtless, selfish twats on the motorway, the journey was uneventful. Again, I found that the Mitsubishi pulled the caravan with no difficulty at all. The only downside was being able to see the fuel guage drop in front of my very eyes, although in fairness, I was still getting aroung 30mpg, which isn’t terrible for any vehicle towing something.
I arrived at the camp site (which incidentally is one of the cheapest camp sites I’ve come across and who don’t charge for dogs, awnings or visitors) and managed to reverse the caravan onto the generously-sized, hard-standing pitch with ease. Connecting everything up was a doddle and in less than an hour, I was sitting in my home from home. I was incredibly happy that the water heater worked as this was one of the things I’d been unable to test. In fact, the hot water coming out of the taps was actually hot; not tepid or warm. I would definitely be having a shower in the caravan.
Setting up the ‘porch’ awning was quite easy, although next time I’ll follow the instructions in a slightly different order. Once pegged down and poled up, there was no way it was going to budge. One thing to note was that banging pegs into a hard-standing pitch results in a few sore fingers and bent tent-pegs. Apparently, you can get special tent-pegs for that.
The camp site was superb; quiet and clean- there was not a negative thing which could be said about it. The same couldn’t be said for the weather, which chose to be pretty rubbish for Friday evening and the whole of Saturday. The poor weather did have one benefit though; it tested the water proofing of the ‘porch’ awning, which didn’t keep out as much water as I would have hoped (all of it). There appeared to be a few drips from where toggles were attached to the seams, which isn’t a major problem as I’m sure I can repair this myself and even if I can’t, the drips were so minor it’s barely worth worrying about.
On Friday afternoon, I decided to use my caravan facilities for a shower. The shower cubicle is surprisingly spacious and the flow of water is adequate, although it’s hardly a power shower.
The water warmed up so I got under it. As soon as I was soaked, the flow slowed down to a dribble and stopped. I had to dry myself off to investigate but found the cause of my inadequate shower was a lack of water- my water container had run out. Over the course of the weekend, the 50 litre container ran out a couple of times- it’s surprising how much water you use! And no, there were no leaks- I checked inside and outside the caravan for this. Apparenly, you can buy an attachement which will allow a connection from the water container directly to a tap (if present), which means that running out of water will be a thing of the past. I’ll definitely be looking into this.
It wasn’t as surprsing that my 20 litre waste water container was woefully insufficient- it quickly got to the point where I wasn’t very worried about it overflowing, as it was only ‘grey’ water. In that sense, it was brilliant as it only needed emptying on the one occasion.
The cheap TV (with built-in Freeview and DVD player) worked perfectly, although I may consider buying a bigger aerial as sometimes the signal was a little patchy.
On Sunday, the weather was lovely- it’s so nice, just being able to sit around either reading or wacthing TV. An elderly couple turned up with a caravan attached to their Saab convertible to occupy the pitch next to mine. The elderly man took ages and had to shunt a fair few times to get his caravan in place- I did it in two shunts. Perhaps he was new to caravanning?
I asked him.
Turns out he wasn’t new to caravanning and I’d just pissed off my new caravan neighbour.
On Sunday evening, I opted for a Chinese takeaway, which I had been fantasising about all weekend, so I popped into the local village for food (you can’t easily do that if you have a motorhome). Once cooked and collected, I returned to the caravan for my feast.
The Chinese food wasn’t bad; it was vile. Absolutely disgusting- I’m not even exaggerating. The sweet and sour sauce had far too much vinegar in it, the beef was stewed and soggy (it looked like brains) and the chicken was boiled and chewy. It really was the worst Chinese takeaway I had had the misfortune to try. To top things off, the can of drink I bought for 80p had the words “multipack can – not to be sold separately” all around the top. This was defnitely a disappointing experience, especially for someone who enjoys their food.
I hitched up, did all my checks and headed back to the storage site. I’ve now got the hang of the reversing stuff, so getting the caravan back into it’s spot (which only has about 3 feet of space all around) was much simpler than when I’d first tried to reverse into a tight spot.
My car has reversing sensors, which are fantastic little aids to use when parking. I play a little game I like to call “Beat the Beeps” whereby I continue to reverse a little bit further after the beeps tell me to stop- it’s a bit like playing roulette. If I don’t hit the obstacle behind with my towbar, I win.
These fantastic little aids become the most annoying things ever when you have something attached right behind the car. As you turn the car, the beeps become more rapid until they sound constantly. Even straightened up, the beeps strive to beep in such in irregular pattern that it pisses me off no end. Why did no one have the igenuity to add a simple on/off switch for these on the dashboard?
Beeping aside, I unhitched, put the legs down and attached my security devices before heading home.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first caravanning experience and I think I did it as well as could be- I’ll definitely be going away again soon (my intention is once a month, during spring and summer). I would recommend caravanning as a cheaper alternative to going abroad and I think I’ve proved (to myself, anyway) that a caravan holiday still feels like a proper holiday. My plan for the future is to go caravanning in France (or the rest of Europe) for a couple of weeks and if things go really well, I’ll look to get a bigger, nicer caravan, although I’ll need to take a trailer test to drive anything bigger than I already have.