Camping Tips -Caravan vs Tent

Throughout my life I have camped in caravans and tents and find it hard to decide which I prefer. Each has many pros and cons and I thought it might be helpful for anyone considering camping to see some of them listed here.

Tent

Why camping anyway? Why not a hotel or B and B? Well it's down to personal choice but we camp mainly because especially for a family like ours - not a standard 2+2 size -it's generally cheaper.

We enjoy al fresco cooking and dining, outdoor adventures, watching the sun set having our own stuff around us and for me, the joy of sharing an activity I enjoyed so much when I was a child with my own children

Campsite at sunset

I got quite emotional the first time I walked across a campsite to the sinks to wash up with my daughter - I had a vivid flashback to doing the same thing with my own mum.

We've camped before weddings and christenings to save on hotel costs, for short breaks and long holidays. We've camped with our own kit across the UK and in rented tents and caravans abroad. I've camped alone and as a family we've camped with friends and family.

There have been years we would not have been able to afford a holiday if we could not camp. For us a few days in a tent is better than no holiday at all.

Next question - tent or caravan?

TENT
You can pick up a festival-style lightweight tent for the price of a family takeaway but if you are serious about camping in a tent for more than a couple of nights in summer and want room to move you should probably invest in something more substantial.

Even so, a couple of hundred pounds will get you a good family sized tent although you can spend as much as a couple of thousand on one of the new inflatable models.

Not sure what you want? Some camping shops have tents set up so you can see them properly. Don't just peer in - go into the bedroom and lie down and make sure you fit.

Our first tent was marvellous for space but it transpired that my six foot husband could only stand upright in one small area so when shopping for our next tent we made sure he could walk around it upright.

We like to have flexible sleeping spaces and a decent sized living area so if it rains (and in the UK it generally will) we have space to set up a table inside to eat and play games. We also have a tent extension which is fantastic for longer holidays giving us much more space and making our existing tent more flexible. Our tent has built in storage pockets which are very useful and an optional built in shade over the second door.

You need to budget for camp beds or good mattresses. We use memory foam self inflating mattresses which are vastly better than the old air mattresses we used to have - warmer, more comfortable and quicker to set up.

You need bedding, Generally  good quality sleeping bags are best as it can get cold at night, even in summer. Lights are essential too. We take headlamps for nighttime loo trips, a wind up lantern and a couple of battery lanterns.

We also have chairs, a folding table, a kitchen unit which our gas stove goes on and a portable toilet for wild camping or for when we don't want to use the toilet blocks. We take a washing up bowl, water carrier, cool box and ice blocks as some sites will offer an ice block freezing service which helps keep your milk, butter and other food fresh for longer. We also take a portable BBQ.

Camp stove, whistle kettle and vintage enamel tea pot

Storage is easy as long as you have space. Our tent lives in the shed and we bought a second set of kitchen utensils and plates etc which we keep there in a large bag to just pick up and go.

However unless you are a hardy soul camping in tents has a relatively short season, Erecting and taking down a tent and packing up takes time and energy. You have zero privacy and noise on some sites can be an issue. There's little to no security as you cannot lock a tent.

CARAVAN
You can pick up a second hand caravan from online selling sites for as little as a few hundred pounds but especially if this is your first 'van I'd advise going along to a proper dealer where you get some kind of guarantee. Many advertise that they carry out safety checks before selling.

Visiting a caravan and camping show is a great way to see the different layouts and styles and if you are in the market for a brand new caravan you might pick up a show deal. Check you have a cooling off period though as it's easy to get carried away and spend more than you wanted in the excitement of the show.

Many dealers offer cheaper slightly older models and second hand 'vans which have been traded in for new models.

If you are hoping to buy second hand online or from a friend or neighbour ask about service history. An annual service will check brakes, gas, water and electricity and should also check the chassis and wheels, the bodywork, fire safety and more.

For peace of mind pay for a pre-owned, pre-purchase inspection.

Before buying anything make sure your vehicle is capable of towing it. Factor in the cost of a tow bar  and caravan insurance too. Think about where your caravan is to be stored. If you don't have room at home you will need to pay for storage.

On the plus side you don't need to buy anywhere near as much equipment, you can camp pretty much year round and most of your equipment can be stored in the van. You have more comfort, privacy and  flexibility. You can even put the legs down in a lay-by and have a cuppa rather than pay service station prices on longer journeys.

Campsites

You will pay a little more to park a caravan than pitch a tent, even if you both want an electricity supply.  You can use both a caravan and a tent without electricity. A good battery should last around three days on a caravan with careful use. You could buy a good solar charger or a spare battery. A solar charger is useful for tent campers too especially if you want to use a tablet computer or your phone without having to resort to running the car to charge gadgets.

Campsite at Sunset

Some campsites won't accept tent campers and some are tent only. Many sites accept both but have separate areas.  Some charge extra for larger tents, for caravan awnings or for gazebos which are becoming increasingly popular as an add-on to camping set ups.

When I was young my family switched from tent camping to caravan camping and joined the Caravan Club which offers a great directory of campsites in the UK and overseas but as the name suggests, only caters for caravaners. They organise short breaks and social events for club members. As a child and a teenager I loved the "rallies" and made lots of friends.

As tent campers currently we have camped with The Caravan And Camping Club which gives me a few days free camping every years as an influencer (#GIFTED) and we have found some fantastic sites through their directory.

They accept caravans, tents and motorhomes and also organise social events in districts including "meets" and temporary holiday sites.

We had a wonderful summer holiday on the Isle of Wight with The Caravan and Camping Club and loved our weekend camping in the New Forest (thanks to the Club's Camping In The Forest partnership with The Forestry Commission) so much we went back to the same site for another holiday.


Camping in the new forest collage

OK so there's some food for thought. I personally think a mix of both styles of camping is ideal - my children love the tent-life with hot chocolate at dusk and feeling so close to nature.

However I have fibromyalgia so sometimes it can be difficult for me to cope with the physical aspect of a tent. Sleeping on the floor, the cold, a lot of bending and crunching, all takes a toll.

There's no denying that a caravan can make life easier if you have very young children or a disability or simply prefer a little more comfort but if you cocoon yourself in it you might miss out on watching bats and owls, hearing the distant crash of surf at night on a coastal site or the sounds of wind through the trees.

If you think that caravan is the way to go for you you can do a trial run before investing. I literally JUST found out that there are AirBNB style schemes like Camplify where people will rent out their caravan, trailer tent or RV/motorhome for as little as £40 a night so you can try before you buy.

Camping is not for everyone but I cannot recommend it enough for a great activity, especially if you have children. You might not think you will like it but give it a go - you might be surprised. My husband had never camped a night in his life and he's a convert now.

Even if you aren't committed to buying the whole kit you can borrow or hire - and if you really love your home comforts there's always Glamping!
















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