Tent, Caravan or Campervan?

Although we are currently campervan owners we often wonder if the current set up is the optimum in terms of convenience, comfort and cost. So what are the options when considering how best to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle with your family?

The Tent

Probably the most popular because it can be the cheapest and is very flexible.  Although the initial cost of your family tent, sleeping bags, self inflating mattresses, cooking equipment and general paraphernalia can seem a little steep, you won’t have to replace that stuff for some time (unless you caught up in the upgrade frenzy).

On your first trip it is definitely a good idea to borrow as much stuff as possible and if you enjoy it invest in some decent kit.  For instance a good quality SIM (self inflating mattress) whilst not a cheap item to buy, will be worth a lot more to you than a cheap flimsy mat on which will never get a good night sleep.  NB  Air mattresses are the devils work often not great as they are cold and frequently deflate.

The pro’s

  • Relatively cheap – there is a huge variety of tents ranging from very cheap festival goer’s weekenders, to large family tents of varying quality, to high-tech backpackers tents.
  • You can get a lot of space in a tent, some people go to the extreme!
  • Even a mid range tent will keep you warm and dry in normal weather conditions
  • Almost all campsites will accept a tent ( there are a few that only accept touring vans but you don’t really want to go there anyway, do you?)
  • If you have the space in your car you can equip your tent with all the luxuries of home or keep it basic, camp according to your own style.

The con’s

  • It can take a long time to pack all your camping gear
  • You need to be very organised to make sure you  have everything you need, gathered from every corner of the house.
  • When you reach your destination (often a fairly long drive) you then have to set up your tent and your kit.
  • Of all camping options, you are most vulnerable to the elements in a tent (you may see this as a pro!).
  • The tent pitching argument – every couple does it!

IMG_7406

The Campervan

Campervans have long been very popular with campers.  There is a certain romance associated with campervans, they seem to symbolise freedom to many people.  The ability to up and off at short notice is certainly one of the big pro’s of a campervan. However, they are not without their disadvantages!

The pro’s

  • Keep your van packed with the essentials, all you need to do is add clothes and food, choose your destination and you are off!
  • Want to stop somewhere along the way for a cup of tea?  No problem, just pull over and fire up the hob. The kettle will be whistling in no time.
  • Inside your camper you will be completely protected from the UK’s dodgy weather.
  • You will get a comfier bed.
  • Kids get themselves all muddy on a walk – no problem, you have a change of clothes with you.
  • Once you’ve arrived at your destination it will be a pretty quick set up.
  • When you aren’t camping a campervan works perfectly as a family car.
  • No tent pitching argument!

The con’s

  • There isn’t all that much room inside compared to a tent.  (Although many people add an awning or separate tent this does add to your pitching and de-camping time).
  • When you need to go anywhere from the campsite you will need to pack away beds, etc before you can drive away.
  • Unlike a tent you have to pack away the bed arrangements in the main compartment every morning and get them out again every night.
  • They can be expensive both to buy and to run but it depends how flexible you are about your requirements.

Debden House

The Caravan

The caravan, loved by their owners, hated by everyone else!  Well that is a bit strong, and I had many happy holidays as a child touring round England and France with my parents towing a caravan.  There are many advantages offered by a caravan but you will need somewhere secure to store it.

The pro’s

  • A good amount of space
  • Comfortable beds.
  • Lots of mod cons including a toilet, so no traipsing across fields or squatting behind the tent in the middle of the night! Tell me that isn’t only me).
  • If the weather is rubbish you can hang out safely in your caravan and still enjoy some good family time.  Of course you can do this in a tent too, but you are more vulnerable to wind and flooding.
  • Some styles of caravans have an increasing cool factor particularly vintage  models.
  • You should be able to keep most stuff you need for your holiday ready inside your caravan, though this will depend on where you are storing it in terms of security.
  • With most styles of caravan you will need to make and unmake the beds every day.

The con’s

  • Towing a caravan is notoriously slow and tricky, especially when maneuvering down those pretty country lanes.
  • Towing a caravan can be dangerous especially in high winds, no good at all if you are a nervous driver. However, you can now go on towing courses  run by organisations like the ‘Camping and Caravanning Club’.
  • You may need to pay to store the caravan,
  • They can be expensive, though it is possible to pick up old models relatively cheaply.
  • Many of the smaller campfire campsites do not accept caravans so you may be missing out on some great campsites like Thistledown Farm, South Penquite Farm and WoWo.

There is even a book about cool caravans!

Other options:

Trailer Tents and Folding campers

I have to admit to being a little mystified by trailer tents and folding campers, I am unsure what the difference is but I have had no personal experience of them but they seem an interesting proposition.

The pro’s

  • Easier to tow than a caravan as they aren’t high sided.
  • As with a caravan or tent you retain the freedom to use your car without packing everything up (as you do in a campervan).
  • A good amount of space.
  • As with a campervan or caravan you are well protected from the weather.
  • Proper beds!

The con’s

  • The main disadvantage I have been able to discern is that they take some time to erect, possible even longer than a tent.  Sounds like one big tent erecting argument to me!
  • As with a caravan you will need somewhere secure to store it.
  • Fancy camper

Glamping

The fashion for glamping seems unstoppable!  Tipi’s, yurts, bell tents, geodesic domes, camping pods, tree houses, gypsy caravans – there are some fantastic types of accommodation available.  The term ‘glamping’ seems to cover almost any pre-set up tentlike accommodation. However, true glamping (glamorous camping) will include plenty of luxury, pretty decoration and, one hopes, a comfortable bed!

The pro’s

  • It largely depends where you go but the majority of the equipment will be there for you so,  no laborious packing and no tent pitching argument!
  • A good glamping site will give you plenty of space around your accommodation, no need to worry about others camping too close.
  • Glamping sites are very often advocates of campfires or wood burning stoves, lovely.

The con’s

  • You will need to book in advance, so no spontaneous camping!
  • It is expensive and you will have nothing to show for it other than lovely memories.

So, what is your camping accommodation of choice?  I think if money were no issue I would love to glamp but for immediacy, the ability to get off at short notice my vote is still with the campervan – for now at least!

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13 thoughts on “Tent, Caravan or Campervan?

  1. Mrs M (@madamding) says:

    We have a VW Campervan and also I got given a large Vango tent for review last year. I love them both and I think they provide different types of holidays. We’ve got an awning for our Camper which is essential with children I think but we need to buy a better one this year. I’m sure we’ll use them both this year but I think the Camper wins it for me at the moment.

    • Hazel says:

      Mrs M – Yes, I have been trying to resist the awning as it adds to set up time, but I think it may be a necessity. Although I am also sorely tempted by a bell tent, very easy to erect and can be used by itself too. Just a bit bulky. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

    • Linz says:

      We have a vw camper and the purchase of a 2 second pop up tent has revolutionised our campervaning experience…turn up, pop up tent, dump stuff from van to tent and get on with the weekend!

  2. Arthur says:

    I enjoyed reading. I like the pros and cons that you shared. I always enjoy glamping in any part of UK. It is always memorable and enjoyable. Never tried campervan before but sounds interesting. I’d love to try it in the future.

  3. Fiona says:

    Great food for thought! We’ve been committed tent-goers and have a good sized family tent which we love including the windows to watch the sunset:-) But…we don’t own a car so the car hire often turns out to be the most expensive part of a camping trip:-( Currently hunting for glamping sites that might be accessible by some sort of train / taxi / bike combo!

  4. wild2012 says:

    Thanks for a good overview – and a great website, by the way ! We have a VW California now having been tent campers for years and years. It seemed that the more ‘stuff’ we accumulated and had to shoehorn into the car, the less we were motivated to go away for anything less than 2+ nights. The convenience and comfort of the van instantly changed our experience of camping and we haven’t looked back.

    Whatever your choice – and it’s horses for courses – I guarantee you’ll be sitting there on your campsite/glampsite (… is that a word?) nosily looking at your neighbours and debating the whys and wherefores of their set up ..!

    • Hazel says:

      Yep, sounds just like us. Though I do slightly miss sleeping under canvas you can’t beat the accessibility of the campervan. Would love a Cali, lucky you! And agree checking out everyone else’s set up is a favourite campsite pastime!

  5. Amanda Thurlow says:

    We have a lovely family tent. It’s great for us as we can store it all at home and don’t have to pay for storing a caravan. I would love a caravan but can’t afford one at the moment.
    A lovely blog, I’m enjoying reading to wet my appetite before our first camping trip of the season at the end of May.

  6. Zo says:

    I have 4 tents….. Canvas bell is beautiful and with one pole is pitched my me on my own in 10 mins but a bit heavy and for fair wether camping as it takes so long to dry. A big three room quesheda pop up which is fantastic for a quick trip but takes two to put away and initially a few uses to get the hang of it. A family collmans tent with big windows which are just blurry and get condensation but is reasonable easy to put up I have done it on my own but is easier with two. And lastly a two man quesheda pop up tent great for over night stays or an extra put me up set up. Am curious about trailer tents and would love to hear from owners of quick put up or pop up trailer tents.

  7. anton says:

    A ‘pitch’ for trailer tents. We’ve been camping (with kids) for about 11 years now. Started with a VW camper van, but got frustrated by the lack of space, cooking in doors (camping is about outdoor living, having to pack up every day and when moving etc, and the money locked up in the van.

    So sold the van and moved to tent camping. But really struggled with getting a good nights sleep – even with extra thick thermal-rests. And then we discovered our wonderful trailer tent. It has most of the benefits of a camper van without the draw backs and it was cheap – £500 second hand on ebay for a great condition tent.

    First, its comfortable – two double beds, adjustable so you can sleep flat even on a steep hill, snug and cool with canvas compartment. Second the kitchen is wonderful – attaches on the back of the trailer tent its a unit with sink, hob, storage space that you can pick up and move around so you can have it outdoors or in the kitchen area in the tent. Third its spacious – big living area and two separate double sleeping compartments.

    Its easy to tow – biggest problem is forgetting its there. Very easy to erect – definite MIS-information on the blog – takes us about 5 mins plus pegging, so much faster than most tents. Only draw back over a camper van is a) needing somewhere to store b) its not as quiet as a camper van.

    So for us after our quest to find the perfect camping solution we couldn’t be happier than with our trailer tent (its even starting to be a little bit cool!) well maybe the last point is not quite true…

    • Hazel says:

      Thanks for commenting. I must admit I’m beginning to think you might have a point. Our kids have grown at an alarming rate and space is definitely becoming an issue. I’m intrigued by the setting up time though. It seems to vary wildly. Some people I’ve spoken to have rolled their eyes and said setting up their trailer tent was a dreadful time consuming task, whereas others, like you, seem to think it’s a snap! So please do tell! What model/make yours is and if you have any tips about what to look for. We are seriously considering a change! Thanks!

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