Gentleman Jack

See other Advice articles filed in ‘General motorhome advice’ written by Gentleman Jack
   
Do you dream of living full-time in your motorhome or enjoying a long-term trip, but worry about the practicalities? Gentleman Jack shares his top tips

Want to use your motorhome for more than just a few weekends away, and/or for two or three weeks on an annual holiday? We are here to help!

We've combined a number of frequently-asked questions to form a comprehensive, Q&A-style guide to long-terming. Let's get stuck in!

What is full-timing, and what is the difference between this and long-terming or extended trips away?

Ask three experts and you’ll get three different answers. Having said that, these terms have recently changed their meaning somewhat.

It’s now widely assumed that full-timing means that you permanently live in your motorhome, and don’t retain any sort of fixed, conventional home.

Long-terming, meanwhile, is using your motorhome to live in, but retaining a home, somewhere to come back to if you become tired of living in a ’van. Frequently the bricks-and-mortar residence is let out to provide an income.

Some long-term trips are of a fixed length, especially if you are able to get six months or a year’s sabbatical from work. Other adventures are more open-ended.

An extended trip could mean anything longer than three weeks away, but usually refers to a trip of between six weeks and six months. The norm (usually for home insurance reasons) is three months.

Do all who live in their ’van use it the same way?

No – quite the opposite, in fact. Broadly speaking there are three main types of usage.

First, there are those genuine nomads who tour all – or almost all – of the time, rarely spending longer than a week anywhere.

Second, and the biggest group numerically, are those who move seasonally. The most frequently encountered proponents of this type of motorhome transhumance like to see out the winter in southern Spain or Portugal, and spend the rest of each year on sites in the UK or elsewhere in northern Europe.

Finally there are those who ‘stay put’ on the same pitch on one campsite, usually in sunny climes and subject to a long-term rental agreement or outright purchase. I would argue that this is caravanning, rather than motorcaravanning, because the motorhome rarely (if ever) moves.

Of course, some full-timers mix and match, and others alter their lifestyles as their needs change.

A young UK family that we met recently home educated their children on the road, but when the eldest child reached secondary school age, they decided to stay on one site in Spain for the duration of the children’s education. They will resume full-time touring afterwards. In the meantime they go for extended trips in the long school summer holidays.

What’s the most important thing to consider when making the change to living in a motorhome?

We’ve lived in a motorhome in the past, but currently just go on extended trips. Based on our own experiences, and after discussions with fellow motorcaravanners, we’ve come to the conclusion that the most important thing to consider isn’t the motorhome or the type of usage.

For couples and families, it’s their relationship with each other. We had to work at this, but emerged closer than ever.

Many flounder because they aren’t used to spending so much time in each other’s company. Therefore you should do separate things at least once a week for a whole day and evening.

Don’t give up hobbies, pastimes and interests: you’ll just vegetate. And always allow others some privacy. Relationship breakdown is frequently cited as the reason why people give-up living in a ’van.

Do most people sell a home to go full-timing? Plus, I'm frightened of selling up completely. Any suggestions?

Some people finance full-timing by selling their home, but it’s an often-voiced misconception to say that everyone funds their chosen lifestyle this way.

A sizeable number of full-timers we have met didn’t own their previous house anyway. Many, for example, had retired early and managed to get their hands on a lump sum.

If you are frightened of selling your bricks and mortar completely, then don’t! We took a ‘Grand European Tour’ as a young family. To do so, we sold a house in an expensive area and bought a much smaller property in a cheaper part of the UK. We then withdrew the available equity to finance it, and still had a base to which we could return if we wanted to.

Do people work while living in their ’van?

Many do. Popular commercial activities are travel writing, seasonal agricultural work and hospitality – everything from guided historical tours to casual bar work.

A good number of people work part-time on the campsite they are staying at, either for the management or on fellow motorcaravanners’ ’vans/cars and so on.

Some with a portable skill, such as decorators, carpenters and gardeners, advertise in the local ex-pat newspaper and/or on websites.

Of course, if people can they will work from a laptop, especially those in IT who continue in the career they’ve just left, but on a freelance and part-time basis.

Do people give up quickly?

Some find out in a couple of months that they’ve made the wrong decision. but a surprising number have been doing it for decades.

Giving up full-timing or curtailing an extended trip shouldn’t be viewed as a failure. At least you won’t wonder whether you missed an opportunity!

How do I know which ’van is best to live in?

You won’t until you try it! Unless you are going to be ridiculously cramped – with, say, four of you in a VW campervan pop-top – I’d start off in your current motorhome (or if you don’t have one, a cheap used model).

Then, when you’ve decided what’s important to you, you can buy something that ticks all your boxes.

A significant number of people buy a very expensive motorhome to live in, but quickly find out that their actual usage isn’t the same as their anticipated usage!

Surely a huge RV is the most suitable?

Reader Michael Thomas presented the arguments for and against this very succinctly.

“My (now ex) parents-in-law purchased an American RV to full-time in when they retired. They were planning to spend summer in the UK and head over to sunny Spain for the winter.

“They’d never owned any kind of ’van prior to that purchase. They assumed that bigger was better, particularly as they wanted to accommodate visiting relatives and so on.

“Here’s what they learned about the vehicle:

Plus points:ˆ

  • It has lots of room, slide-outs and a fixed rear bedroom;
  • It offers loads of storage;
  • They can put guests up;
  • There are no payload issues;
  • It’s easy to tow a small car.
      

Minus points:ˆ

  • Their dream of travelling from site-to-site became a nightmare because the RV was too big to get into a lot of places;
  • It costs a fair bit to run (although they did have a gas conversion for better running costs while driving);
  • Being a secondhand American RV, they had some problems with replacement parts when glitches arose;
  • They also had licensing issues.

   

“I believe they’re happy with the lifestyle that the RV has allowed them to have, but it is different to that which they originally envisaged. They pretty much drive to Camping La Manga in southern Spain during September, and head back to the UK in around March or April.

“Also, in the UK they have to pay an all-year charge on the pitch to guarantee it for their summer stay.”

All of which is great advice – thanks, Mike!

My advice is to buy the smallest ’van you are comfortable in, not the biggest you can afford. It’s equally applicable for those contemplating spending occasional weekends at a high-facility holiday park in Southend as it is for those planning a full-time tour of the world.

Personally, I would love to be able to afford a 28ft RV, and welcome any donations!

Just go for it!

Full-time motorcaravanner and Practical Motorhome reader team member Donna Garner o„ffers her opinion.

“Which is best: full-time or long-term travel? And should you sell up and full-time, or rent out your property and travel for a pre-determined period?

“It’s a personal choice and depends on many factors, including finances, children, grandchildren and health.

“Our first taste of being homeless-through-choice was on the sea. Phil and I had, when married to our previous spouses, each owned yachts for many years. When we became a couple, we decided that we should fulfil our joint desire to actually live aboard a yacht.

“We planned to take two of my three children with us; my eldest son had already left home. The thought of perhaps renting out the house for a designated period and going away for a long-term tour (albeit on the water, not on four wheels) was never in our game plan. We simply wanted to cut our ties and live on board full-time.

“I’m not sure whether this was because we were adventurous or naïve! Whatever the reason, we bought a yacht that was big enough for the four of us to full-time on, sold the house and most of the contents, and sailed o„ff into the proverbial pale-blue yonder.

“That was in 2003…††‡. By 2007†‰, the two children had flown the nest and we made another decision. This time we sold the yacht and bought a motorhome.

“That wasn’t as scary a thought as selling the house had been, probably because we'd realised that one doesn’t have to own bricks and mortar in order to be happy.

“The idea was to continue the lifestyle we had on our yacht, but with the advantage of being able to tour through countries, not just round the coast.

“Monty the Motorhome came into our lives in autumn 2009, and since the spring of 2010 we have toured extensively in Western Europe and around much of the UK.

“We still have no intention of going back to what might be considered a ‘normal’ life. We also have no regrets about selling the house and being full-timers.

“We love living in Monty, but sometimes take a break from life in close quarters by renting an apartment. We’ve done that for three winters so far, each time for a period of three to four months.

“We also house-sit occasionally, which gives us the advantage of living in a house, without the bills!

“There are certain practical issues that have to be thought about carefully before becoming a full-timer.

“The right motorhome is imperative. And perhaps only time lets you know that the ’van which suited you as a holiday vehicle might not be practical for either long-term or full-time use.

“Other issues, such as insurance, mail re-direction, coping with not seeing one’s family and so on all have to be dealt with. But none are insurmountable.

“On a personal level, spending long periods away from my children is probably the most di—fficult part of full-timing. But modern technology does mean that we can keep in regular contact.

“I think my children also find a certain kudos in being able to say airily that Mum is 'somewhere in Europe'!

“Occasionally Phil and I discuss the possibility of settling down, either in the UK or elsewhere in Europe. Then we agree that the time is not yet upon us, and hopefully won’t be for some considerable years to come.

“May Monty continue to travel for many more years!”

And you can follow Donna and Phil's adventures online.

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