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The future of vanlife post Covid

The whole world has changed this year with the global pandemic causing chaos in societies world wide. Even now, in August, we still don’t fully understand the virus and its long-lasting effects on people. We do know however that it is unlikely that the world will return to how things used to be “pre covid”. So where does that leave vanlife in a post covid world?

Vanlife in a post covid world

mask and sanitiser on wooden table
Masks and Hand Sanitiser

Face masks and hand sanitiser still feel a little strange. They are becoming more normal and those that have been shielding since March are either starting to venture out or are now so used to shielding and listening to the news 24/7 that they believe the outside world to be too dangerous and are staying inside. There are also people that need to get back to the lives they had before.

I am talking about those who either live full time in their vans and have been forced to stay in one place, those who use their vehicles as weekend breaks and want a change of scenery or those who just enjoy camping out where it is quiet, when time allows.  Campervans and motorhomes have the means to be a safe and self-contained bubble. Many of us choose to avoid tourist traps, stay away from the major tourist towns and yet are seen to be the devil by many people.

Daily Fail

Last week the Daily Mail’s Mark Duell wrote an article calling for congestion charges for campervans in Scotland. He reported that police are sending patrols out to move on campers in the Lake District and New Forest as Fly-Camping becomes a new buzz word. “Fly camping” is the new practice of campers (the quote was aimed at tent users) just leaving their equipment behind for someone else to clear up. Broken chairs, tents and airbeds were mentioned. Post covid vanlife could be much harder to cope with.

The article, frowning on the community of holiday makers choosing to travel in a house on wheels, was quite offensive. Looking at the pictures used to illustrate their point it is clear that a car park full of 12 cars with two motorhomes parked up and a beach full of tourists seems to shine light on the real problem and it isn’t campervans after all. The picture of campervans parked by a sea wall is probably due to insufficient bay sizes in the car-park. Thus the article roused the community to take a stand.

They contacted local MPs to call for an educated look at the benefits campervans/motorhomes have on the local economy. Providing services like larger car parking spaces, service points for water/chemical toilet disposals and overnight locations, would only be a positive to their towns and local economy.

Self contained, self isolating.

Kitchen in the back of a converted van.
Rear Kitchen for a camper conversion

Vans are self-contained vessels, with their own water, cooking equipment, heating and toilets on board (in most cases). We are much safer than going to hotels, B+B’s and caravan parks where the cleaning of accommodation between guests cannot be verified appropriately and cause concern to users. We know a few people who are (not campervanners) still paying top whack to use a holiday park. Due to restrictions, none of the facilities are available to them. No pool, no restaurant and no entertainment.

The ability enjoy vanlife, in a self-contained vessel, park away from society and have a few days of fresh air with social distancing being at its optimum, is so important for the vulnerable among us too post covid. A dear friend and member of the campervan community has been undergoing treatment for cancer through lockdown.

She has been shielding to protect herself but is now in desperate need of a change of scenery. Some fresh air and some healing from being in nature. For her, the ability to ‘wild camp’ in a safe but remote-ish area and not go to a campsite with other people from who knows where is the safest option for her to get that break, whilst still retaining full social distancing.

Cost of camping – How much?

campsite post covid vanlife
Campsite

As holiday companies struggle to recover from a poor season, thanks to covid, many are in a deficit. Brand names such as Tui, Virgin Atlantic and Hayes Travel are reporting job losses. It will be a necessity if they are to try and survive the pandemic, to make staff redundant. UK campsites are well set up to accommodate the safe return of holiday makers and vanlife post covid.

With pitches already designed to be 6 meters apart for fire safety they are keeping everyone distanced on pitches. Due to the losses they made in the first half of the season and the demand now for holidays, we have watched the prices sore from what was an acceptable £15-30 per night to over £50 on some sites. One near London was an astonishing £200 per person for 2 nights (minimum stay).

Rising costs

We all understand that site owners have been hit hard in the pocket. They are trying their best to recoup as much money as they can. This is in order to keep paying their bills, insurance, wages for staff and providing a clean site. That being said, however, holding people over a barrel for the highest premiums will really effect those most disadvantaged in our society. They will be forced again to stay at home.

Take a family for example. 2 adults and 2 children. They live in a high rise and had no garden during lockdown. Now desperate to take the children on holiday in the UK. Once they add on charges of up to £50 per person per night and factor in how much it would cost to buy a tent and all the equipment that goes with it – it is unachievable. We all understand that costs will rise post covid but there needs to be some policing of the rates to ensure that it does not become out of control for users either in a tent or vanlife.

Benefits of campervans and motorhomes in the community

Tourist
Tourism

Campsites are found all over the country, providing different levels of facilities. From rural and basic to all singing and dancing pitches, fully serviced with water, drains and electric hook up. Most sites have services to empty your toilet cassettes and larger sites even have entertainment, pools and restaurants.

For some, that is exactly what they are looking for but others are looking for a different pace of life. The joy of the journey, rather than the destination perhaps. Being able to park up means that you can visit many more places and stay longer in each one. A new view every day and a new place to explore, shops to spend money in and attractions to visit. We are boosting local economies and getting to relay information about the place to friends, family and in some case hundreds or thousands of followers on their blog pages. A free travel rep if you like!

Explore and give back

Mobile tourists are able to enjoy the locations and learn about its history. From the castles to museums, the beach and National Trust locations. We purchase lunch, dinner and usually a bag of chips to accompany a stroll along the promenade… At the end of the day we are looking for a quiet spot, where we can park up and relax. Tomorrow we will be heading off to investigate another location.  It is a very small percentage of people that are disrespectful as you get anywhere in society. The majority of us do leave no trace, even clearing up the mess others leave behind.

Many European countries have already seen the benefits of welcoming motorhomes and campervans with ‘Aires’ easily accessible when on the road. Coming back from Spain earlier this year, we had our first experience of them driving to Calais. We stopped to sleep in 2 of them and also parked up for short rests in others. Some were just gravel car parks, others had toilets (although not open at that time due to Covid) and others were a motorway service station. These also had the facility to fill up with water and empty toilet waste for a small charge of about a euro and shop for essentials. We even saw some that you could pay to hook up to the electric for a quick boost.  Perhaps studying the positive impact of Aires in Europe could smooth a transition for post covid vanlife and highlight the required infrastructure.

We used an Aire in France

This one spot was close to a town that had the most beautiful architecture. Lots of cats that all came to greet us as we walked around. We would have driven straight past this town and not know it was there if not for the Aire. We also purchased some local products as a thank you to the town for their hospitality.

Lack of parking spots

Van overhanging a drop
Overhanging parking can be scary!

Here in the UK we seem to have a totally different outlook on campervans and motorhomes. There are very few parking spaces large enough to fit us unless we pay for two spaces or find an overhang. Many car parks are planting shrubs on green areas which limit once more the spaces we can overhang.

We visited Robins Hood Bay in North Yorkshire a week or so ago. The local information prompted us to park in the coach parking spaces and pay coach prices. In a car space, if we could have found an over-hang, we would have paid just a few pounds for our visit. Instead we had to pay £10 for an all day coach parking spot even though we were only there for a couple of hours. It was a flat rate for coach bays. Not only was that an inconvenience to us, but also to any coaches that wanted to park in their designated spaces.

Robin Hood Bay

With tourism being encouraged in the small fishing harbour, bursting with holiday rental properties, ice cream shops, gifts shops and beach front catering huts, the parking situation was problematic. It is on a steep hill and the main car park is at the top by the train station. Two small other car parks can be found lower down the hill but for small cars and permits only. Just by making 2 or 3 larger spaces for motor homes could provide a solution. That ensures there are spaces for larger vehicles and does not interrupt the use of the coach bays for other tourists.

Same goes for supermarkets, town parking and attractions. In some situations where there are either low barriers or insufficient sized spaces, we have had to park in residential roads. Residents are then put out by large vehicles parking in front of their homes for the day. The council looses out on this lost revenue and residents are inconvenienced. In our own town, we can not park in our local supermarket. We have to drive to another one, 20 minutes away for heavy items. Our camper is our only mode of transport.

Aires in the UK for post covid vanlife.

local tea room
Mad Hatter tea room, Barnard Castle, Yorkshire

As mentioned above, Europe has really grasped the benefits of Aires stop overs. France (as we have physically seen them) having many situated along motorways and within walking distance of towns. This enables parking in locations where money will be spent in the local amenities.

The majority of us want to spend one night, to see the location and then relax in it. We are looking for quiet spots tucked away from busy roads and residential streets. Not the motorway laybys, roadside parking or apparently passing places like the daily mail has reported.

In a survey held by a reputable Facebook group over 81% of participants agreed that they would be happy to pay £10 a night with most of the others selecting a lower fee. We are happy to pay for the facilities and the ease of being able to park up. Don’t think that we are freeloaders as often called.

Town Car Parks and attractions.

parking campervan
Lou parked Chewy in the smallest overhang!

Car Parks nearer towns or the coast mean contribution to local economy. Visitors eat out, buy gifts or visit the arcades for example. If local councils were happy to make space for us with appropriate charges for over nights, the money raised could be ring fenced to initially provide the facilities like drinking water, grey water dump and chemical toilet disposal. Then the extra money could be injected back into the area. The benefits would speak for themselves and with very easy profit.

In a town near us, there are free overnight parking spaces for motorhomes. Situated at the back of the overflow car park, a 5 minute walk from town. The town council did debate whether to remove them and the local business were up in arms. As a small town in North Yorkshire, outsiders coming and purchasing items is important to the economy. Many independent shops rely on the passing trade to keep afloat. They felt that their business would be severely impacted on if motorhome/campervan owners were rejected from parking in the town and the spaces remain in situ.

Rise in motorhome sales

Popularity of motorhomes has been steadily rising over the last decade. The Motorhome sector reported increase of sales climbing 81% in the ten years running up to 2019. Since Covid, the demand for such leisure vehicles has sored to see traders selling a months’ worth of stock in just 1 week. Prices for these motorhomes are £30,000 – £60,000 on average. Some smaller motorhomes can be found in the £25-30,000 bracket but these are harder to find.

Self build campervans are also increasing in demand. Sales have also risen with websites such as Auto Trader reporting a surge in searches of caravans and motorhomes up 18%. Long waiting lists are in place with traders. The rental market has boomed with people trying multi stop destination holidays in such vehicles.

Responsible renting

motorhome under the stars
Motorhome

With the demand for rentals, it is a worry that the users of the vehicles are not being given clear instructions on how to use the vehicle properly. We read a first hand report where a member of the community approached a gentleman emptying his toilet waste into a brook that runs into the sea just a few yards away. When approached, he felt that it would be ok as it was ‘just water’. He was instructed that there are chemicals in there that are dangerous. Then he admitted he was a first-time renter of a motorhome and was unaware of what to do. He didn’t know there were chemicals in it. He literally picked the van up and drove off with no instructions.

This poses real concerns that rental companies are not giving clear instructions to the holiday makers. A little bit of education about not emptying grey water in a car park, not emptying you toilet where you feel like it and about the responsible way to conduct yourself could make all of our lives a little easier, especially in the tourist areas that these people are visiting. With people choosing to holiday closer to home post covid, the popularity of vanlife keeps growing.

Litter

Often, campervan and motorhomers get tarred with leaving litter. In fact it rarely is us – we are just more noticeable perhaps. Many of us are used to litter picking at places we stop and clearing the area. We apparently are responsible for leaving toilet paper and faeces in the car parks. However we have toilets on board so I can’t see that it is motorhomes or campers. It is more likely to be car drivers, hikers, motorbike riders etc.  

With regards to rubbish, in a recent excursion we parked at the rear of a car park on a hill. The town was about a ten minute drive downhill, with the road being barely used except for farmers and people want to use the car park. We were very surprised when cars appeared about 9pm, emptied loads of bin bags from their boot and drove back off again.

Be accountable

Not an isolated experience either. It is too easy to blame motorhome and campervan drivers for the mess the locals are leaving. I am not defending bad behaviour. If ANYONE litters and it is witnessed then I firmly believe they should be held accountable, however, pictures of waste that has clearly come out of a house can not, and must not, be blamed on visitors when all the bin bags are the same make (easily identified as the same brand in a picture we saw) and looked like it was a house clearance. Vanlifers just don’t do that.

Post after post are appearing on social media about the dumping of rubbish by motorhomes and quite frankly we are concerned/frustrated and angry. During the covid pandemic we all marvelled at how the lands were healing. Yet as the first sign of lockdown easing the beaches were trashed, picnic spots were trashed and no regard whatso ever was given and this was not down to irresponsible motorhomers. This is a problem across all walks of life.

Where does this leave us?

compass

Right now, the community is fighting for the right to resume traveling safely. None of us want to break any rules and have observed the guidance from the government with full time van lifers finding places to park up. Now that travel is allowed, we are free to move once more in line with the law. We are campaigning for the ability to install Aires in suitable locations and provide facilities for people to use. Motorhomes and campervans are here to stay and as mentioned above, the demand for them is clear.

If governments can see the potential goldmine they are missing out on and agree to install water, chemical disposals and appropriate car parking in appropriate locations then maybe we can all work together. Maybe who ever is leaving rubbish, will use the bins. Perhaps having chemical waste points will stop people from leaving faeces in the woods (although I still think this will continue due to it being other people) and perhaps local economies that are struggling to recover post covid, will get a cash boost from vanlife and tourism, helping to rebuild the towns they are so proud of.

What can we do?

Have a look at your towns, contact your MP’s and try to calmly explain that the motorhome and campervan community can be a real benefit to them in the future. Perhaps in this new post covid world, vanlife will finally be recognised as a positive thing and not frowned upon. Look at the facebook groups dedicated to promoting responsible parking and camping as they often have templates of letters that you can use to send to your local MP.

As always, camp responsibly, ensure you leave no trace, and give back to the locations you visit.

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