When we decided to take a year out and go touring round Europe, we rapidly realised that we would need two things that we didn’t have. Firstly, a car that was capable of towing a caravan and secondly somewhere to sleep that we could put up and take down easily.
The car bit was relatively easy because it needed to be an estate car – even on weekends we carry a lot of stuff. It also needed to be able to tow, and it needed to have a lot of gadgets as this is always important. Fortunately, we were already members of the Camping and Caravanning club and every year their monthly magazine would have a list of the best tow cars. This year I read it with more interest than usual and we eventually purchased a used VW Passat Estate which fitted the bill nicely. We’ve called her Hazel.
Our other dilemma was what could we use to sleep in while we tour round Europe? Of course we could use a tent, but if we’re doing this for a year a bit of comfort would be nice. Our trailer tent had plenty of space, but took too long to put up and take down so that wasn’t going to work. There was of course another option, but the idea was a bit like the elephant in the room and we didn’t really want to consider it.
I’ll admit the idea of becoming a caravaner didn’t come easily to me. Was it the memory of my childhood experiences of caravanning in Scotland in the rain? Was it the result of having watched too many episodes to Top Gear where they mocked the caravan? Or was it having sat behind too many caravans on winding country roads hoping for somewhere to overtake? Either way, after looking at all the options a caravan turned out to be the one we settled on. We did investigate camper vans, but the price and the lack of flexibility they gave us when pitched up somewhere and wanting to explore meant for us the caravan won – we didn’t fancy having to pack everything away every time we wanted to take a short trip to the shops!
So, how do you go about choosing a caravan? Bunk beds? Fixed beds? Fixed bed to the left or to the right? End washroom? End bedroom? Weight? Length? Height? The options are endless. But after going to see a quite few different configurations we decided on an Avondale Dart 525-4. Our ‘van’ is 8 years old and has a fixed bed at the back that just about fits me and Sarah, and the kids sleep at the front on the seats which can be quickly made up into single beds.
In our family we have a tendency to name cars. We’ve had a Molly Mazda and a Bertie Berlingo – I think you get the idea. And this is where maybe the hardest decision of the holiday so far has come – what to call the caravan? There have been a range of suggestions, with the current temporary name being K or Kay the caravan, which none of us are completely happy with. This morning the name “Little Donkey” was suggested which I quite like, but I guess time will tell if we ever stick on a name.
On a totally different note, in the words of Columbo one last thing before I go, someone I was recently talking to was asking what we were hoping to achieve in doing this trip. I gave some rambling answer about the ‘experience,’ widening cultural understanding and the opportunity to spend more time together as a family, all of which is true, but they pointed out that we’d probably already given our kids the most important lesson: If you want to do something, you not only can, but should do it!