[tl:gallery index=0 size=103×155]Our Gentleman Jack Bancroft is an irredeemable motorcaravaning enthusiast. His family have been camping, caravanning and motorcaravanning since 1928. Jack and his wife Flora are now on their tenth motorhome, a 2003 Auto-Sleeper Pollensa on a Ford Transit base. They have toured extensively at home and abroad, including a period of full-timing. Here, Jack answers your motorcaravanning queries:
Q: I was widowed four-and-a-half years ago, just as we were planning what to do when we retired. I’m determined not to give up on the plans and want to buy a motorhome, but it seems a bit daunting.
I feel confident about the habitation area but I am unsure about the engine, heating, water systems and so on. I have a budget of up to £25,000 and want a low-profile coachbuilt. My daughters have young children just now, but will no doubt start camping again before long and it would be nice to have room for the family.
My other concerns are that, being petite, will I be able to drive a vehicle that is probably designed for a male driver? How hard is it to erect an awning if you’re 5’1” tall? Do many women travel alone?
Initially, I’d like to be able to stay overnight at folk events as I now belong to a clog-dancing group and there are a lot of festivals over the summer. In the long term, I’d like to travel abroad, but am not sure how easy this would be on my own.
Sarah Wakely says:
[tl:gallery index=1 size=300×200]I frequently tour alone, both in the UK and widely across Europe, and have never once encountered any problems. As long as you exercise reasonable caution (such as ensuring you’re never the only vehicle parked up at an overnight spot), you should be fine.
I have stayed on aires on my own in a motorhome before, with other vehicles alongside, and have never felt concerned. When alone, I prefer to be in a ’van with full facilities – that way, when I park up, I can lock the doors, draw the curtains and no-one need know that I’m travelling solo.
As for your height and build – well, I’m 5’5” tall, but have never struggled to drive a large vehicle – the only thing you might have an issue with is reaching the handbrake (these are generally located low down on your right), but this is easily remedied by fitting a handbrake extender (quick and fairly cheap to do).
Gentleman Jack says:
I agree with Sarah. There are many lone female travellers: my wife has travelled alone for years and has been around the world herself since retirement.
Regarding personal safety and security for our belongings, we all know what to do to keep safe, it’s just that we forget to do it! Most petty crimes occur when we feel safe, not when we sense that we need to be alert.
There are two distinct areas that you are concerned about:
1. Motorcaravanning as a lone novice
I’m pretty sure that you are not as much of a novice as you think. You are already researching the subject by reading Practical Motorhome and by asking around, and you have a good grasp of the terminology. One idea might be to hire a motorhome first for a short period to see if it is really for you.
Driving any motorhome made in the last 16 years should not present a problem. If you can drive a car, you can drive a (1995 onwards) motorhome with no more physical effort. Modern commercial vehicles are easy to steer and stop, because these systems are power-assisted. What you will have to get used to is the size, and especially how to reverse a vehicle that will have restricted or no rear vision.
I’d recommend having a rear-vision (reversing) camera fitted and make full use of the external mirrors. Apart from this, and being able to find the brake and clutch pedals without having to look at your feet, there’s little to worry about. I always suggest that anyone who is new to any vehicle practises slowing down and stopping first – away from traffic.
A motorhome (especially a coachbuilt) will roll more than a car on corners, so take it easy at first. Most folk are surprised at how easy driving a motorhome is and after just an hour behind the wheel can’t even recall what they were worried about.
That said, I know quite a few good drivers of motorhomes who lacked confidence at first. When they began, they all benefitted from some professional tuition and/or from someone else experienced accompanying them. You could ask a knowledgeable relative or friend. Both the Caravan Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club run motorhome manoeuvring courses nationwide. These are well worth the modest cost involved.
You mentioned camping at folk festivals and I note that you now belong to a clog dancing group – good for you. It would be great to start off motorcaravanning by staying overnight at such events, because you’ll be with friends.
Now to specifics. I wouldn’t buy an awning until you’re sure you want one. The less you put up at the beginning of a weekend, the less you’ll have to take down at the end. Many find a wind-out (roof only) awning is all they need – it provides shade from the sun and some shelter from the rain.
It can be extended and retracted in a jiffy by anybody of any height, including wheelchair users, although you may need a portable folding strap to reach and lower the integrated awning legs. This will also come in useful if you are putting sides up, or a tent-style annexe. And remember, the awning has to be tall enough not to snag on the entrance door.
I suggest you join either the Caravan Club or The Camping and Caravanning Club at first. If you have friends or relatives who camp under canvas, then the latter will be the best bet if you wish to go away together.
Both clubs offer a network of sites they own and/or manage. These sites have friendly, knowledgeable staff who will be able to offer advice. Furthermore, the clubs divide the country into areas according to place of residence. These are known as District Associations (C&CC) or District Centres (CC). Both hold rallies on farms and at events. Here you can join like-minded member enthusiasts and pay just a few pounds per night.
Both clubs and commercial organisations, such as GB Privilege, organise escorted ’van tours at home and abroad. You travel in your own ’van, but with the security and social advantages of being in a group. Also, think about joining the Phoenix Camping Club, set up for those who tour solo.
2. Suitable ’vans
Be sure to test drive any ’van before you buy it. From your requirements I’d suggest:
• 2000-2004 Hymer T Classic
and T-Class (575 or 655);
• CI Carioca 644 (Fiat);
• CI Cipro 55 (Mercedes-Benz);
• McLouis 261/361(Fiat).
All will be powered by a turbo-diesel engine that will offer effortless cruising.