Experiment 3: Family holiday in a caravan
And so the experiment continues …..
As much as I want to tell you I only travel to explore the big wide world to enrich myself, I’m just not at that stage in life. The honest truth is that travel is my escape.
Escape from the inner planner nagging and reminding me where to be at a certain time. Escape from a home that will never stay tidy no matter how much I declutter. And escape from the “…wait a minute I just need to do that one last thing.” Without the incessant undertone and distractions of a normal everyday life with three kids I can start to feel more like me. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a happy Mum—but well planned escapes make me a more sane Mum.
Although travel makes me happy, it also costs us money. And because our travel budget is not unlimited we have to get creative in order to stretch it. That’s where experimenting comes in.
We are forever experimenting with different and more affordable ways to travel so we can do more of it. So far we’ve spent a weekend in a VW California Bus and a long weekend in a mobile home on a peninsula just outside Venice. Last summer it was finally time to try the caravan.
Our caravan adventure last summer took to the the Voralberg and Tirol regions of Austria before trekking back to Switzerland to finish off our holidays on the banks of the Neuenbergersee in Yverdon Les Bains. The idea was to settle down, relax and get to know the areas rather than to travel from place to place.
We were excited, nervous, wary, intrigued—how would it go?
Expectation 1: Towing a caravan isn’t for the anxious types
The day before our departure, Hubby headed to Bantam camping in Hidelbank near Bern to pick up our rental caravan. We only reserved it in June, a bit last minute considering we were traveling in the peak season of August, so our more local Bantam dealer in Urdorf didn’t have any available. Our home for the next 2 weeks was a Bantam Edition 485 TK with a double bed, two bunk beds and another bed that could be created out of the table and benches.
TIP: Book well in advanced for high season travel but if you are after something closer to the summer holidays it doesn't hurt to ask
Pick up was easy and the staff gave Hubby the tour and helped him attach it to the back of our Seat Alhambra. A gold star for hubby who insisted on a tow bar when we purchased our car back in 2013. Who knew we would eventually be towing a caravan? I certainly didn’t expect to! But if you’re in the market for a new car or van, I can now say it is something to consider.
The drive from Bern back to Zug was a slow one. Welcome to the new pace of towing a caravan - maximum speed 80. Never did I think we would be those people in the slow lane being overtaken by pretty much everything else that was on the motorway.
TIP: If you think you might one day like to tow a caravan, get a tow bar! And if you have the option of upgrading to the newer towing system that allows you to go 100 km/hr do it. You will save a lot of driving time.
Hubby is our confident boy scout so he didn’t even break a sweat towing that caravan back to Zug. I was more than happy to leave it to him, I was nervous that the caravan would come flying off. This allowed me to keep double checking everything which annoyed the heck out of everyone.
Towing a caravan means not only driving at a slow pace but having a difficult time finding a car park. We were limited to stopping at service stations along the highway with generous parking spots, so make sure you have a rest stop plan. Once you do stop, if you are indecisive you will perish! Parking with a caravan requires time and space in order to properly maneuver. It was something that we got used to by the end of the trip but I was glad hubby was in charge. Did I mention my anxiousness on our journey over the Arlberg Pass? Driving down from 1793m really put our breaks to the test.
So, by the end of the trip I would still stand by my assertion that towing a caravan isn’t for the anxious but if you have a partner who doesn’t mind doing it, then go for it!
Expectation 2: We’ll have more space than a van
We chose to rent a caravan over a VW Bus this time around due to space. With our requirement to sleep 5 people, a caravan makes a lot more sense. The evening before we departed was spent happily organizing our gear in the caravan.
To keep things organised clothing was stored in packing cubes and each person had a backpack for their other things like toys, pens, pencils, games and camera equipment. We had to be conscious to not overpack but at the same time i tried my best not to have a minimalist meltdown. Most importantly we had to make sure that everything would fit back into our car because at the end of the trip we needed to drop the caravan off on the way home. The rooftop box that was not full on departure became a lifesaver at the end of our trip.
The caravan felt a little like the mobile home we had stayed in near Venice. Storage size was similar but the living and kitchen space was a lot smaller.
Tip: use packing cubes and things like backpacks to keep things tidy in the caravan
Expectation 3: The Caravan is just for sleeping and no, we will not be using the caravan toilet.
The idea of cleaning out the waste container of the toilet was enough to make us decide from the very beginning not to use it. However with a newly potty trained toddler in our family the rule was broken a few times. I'll admit I never personally changed or cleaned it and happily left that to hubby. However, in the campsites we stayed in, the toilets and showers were so nicely maintained that there really was no need to use those facilities inside our caravan.
We also didn’t use the sink and the stove in the caravan, opting instead for using our own gas grill outside and washing the dishes on the campground. We kept the eating to outside because space was tight and we used the caravan for just sleeping and relaxing. It kept things cleaner, and ultimately saved work.
We ate outside when the weather was good and inside our Outwell Awning when the weather was not cooperating. We consciously brought along our Awning to put up on site for this reason. Although it’s normal function is to pair up with a VW bus we made it work as our dining room and kitchen, especially handy on those rainy days. Made possible because the awning is high enough to stand in.
Tip: We brought along only two luxury kitchen items: our raclette oven and our coffee machine.
Expectation 4: We’ll get a good nights sleep
With more space that the VW Bus we were most excited about sleeping in real beds. The beds in our caravan were very comfortable and made even better with my duvet i brought from home (How is it possible I still don’t own a sleeping bag!). The kids were happy enough with their sleeping bags and slept well in their bunk beds. The highlight was the curtain that divided their “room” with the rest of the caravan.
Little Z slept on the bed converted from the table and benches which worked well for her at age 3. But an older kid may find it a little uncomfortable and so we would look for a larger caravan for next time (I like the set up of the Burstner Averson Plus better). It is also not fun having to put up and down the table and bench each day. Lucky we could eat outside in nice weather and inside the awning on wet days.
Sleeping in closer quarters to your entire family does take some getting used to as does the sound of rain on the metal roof.
Tip: Don’t forget to bring along mattress protectors if your kid is prone to accidents. We also brought along the disposable potty training mats for Z just in case.
Expectation 5: You have the convenience of having a car
Unlike with a VW Bus or motor home, once you have set up camp (and it can take awhile) you have your car free to use. This is a huge advantage of a caravan and we were able to use the car to explore around the Tirol region and head to larger supermarkets or check our new restaurants.
TIP: If you plan to travel often between campgrounds, keep your outdoor setup to a minimum.
Expectation 6: Holidays in a caravan can stretch the budget, especially in high season
Renting a caravan in high season isn’t cheap, neither is staying on a 5 star camping ground.
- Caravan Rental: 2329 chf (including chairs, table, extension mirrors, gas, end cleaning, and cancelation insurance)
- Camping Seeblick Toni 7 nights: 350 Euros
- Camping Yverdon 4 nights: 184chf
For 2 weeks for a family of 5 in the height of summer that worked out to be around 225chf per night. Not cheap, but not over the top for high season.
If you ask the kids, they still love the VW Bus best. The Tween said the caravan felt too much like a house and she liked the adventure of sleeping in a car better. But if you ask us parents, I can tell you we were super happy to have the extra space of the caravan for a 2 week holiday. It also wasn’t as scary to tow that caravan as I had first expected - but I was glad it wasn’t me doing the driving.
Would we go again? Absolutely! But the experiment continues …. next experiment: a roof top tent.