The Alexanders are obsessed with homes on wheels, to date Penny’s family have owned a VW T25 campervan and a Swift 6 berth caravan. They recently hired a motorhome to tour the highlands and islands of Scotland on a trip bursting with happy memories. Today, in our third camping survival guide, Penny shares some tips for planning a successful family motorhome road trip.
Reasons to road trip
Living with your family in close quarters sounds like it could be a challenge, but we always find the opposite is the case; days filled with wandering and exploring outdoors, followed by evenings snuggled up together playing games, reading and sleeping – there are too many distractions to argue. Smaller living quarters brought our family closer together, as we realised we had to slow down, react less, help each other and truly work as a team. The sense of adventure and discovery of a road trip was like nothing we had experienced before, plus the sense of satisfaction and the geographical perspective a road trip gives you is quite mind-blowing.
It’s practically brilliant too. Need a wee? A nap? A quick sandwich? A cup of tea? The great thing about your own home on wheels is being able to stop wherever you like, and have everything to hand.
Preparing to go on a family motorhome road trip
1. Your camper van or motorhome
Whether you are buying or hiring a camper, think carefully through how different layouts will work for your family and the age of your kids: while travelling, throughout the day, at bedtime and after they have crashed out from a day of running about in the fresh air and you want some peace. If you are buying, think ahead, children grow up fast, how will the van grow with your needs?
2.Plan your route
Don’t be too ambitious with a van you haven’t driven before, keep the first stop close to home or your pick up point. Think about destinations, but also think about places on route that will break up long stretches. Plan in some downtime as driving and sightseeing can be tiring. I have learnt from experience as the non driver, that the driver is much happier if the passenger keeps the kids occupied, or takes them off while the driver gets some shut eye!
We enjoyed having a couple of nights in each place: a night to chill out after a drive and before a day sightseeing, plus a night to recoup after our adventures. Use a SatNav with a motorhome option to ensure you won’t hit any roads that are impossible in your van, TomTom offer this option and Bunkcampers were able to hire out SatNav with the vehicle. The Camping and Caravanning Club also offer advice on planning your own trip, tailor made trips and escorted trips, to the US, Canada and Australia, more information here.
3. Choosing Campsites
While road trips are spontaneous in spirit, travel with kids, especially in school holidays, is worth planning and booking ahead, at least for some of the trip. The coolest campsites can book up very quickly, plus a clear plan can leave you more room to enjoy the ride. We used Camping and Caravanning Club sites in Scotland because we knew we would welcome a warm, clean and spacious family shower room after a busy day exploring or driving. You have everything you need to wash and cook in your van without hook up, but if you are wild camping, then you may need to intersperse your stops with sites with facilities so that you can refill with water, charge your leisure battery, empty the chemical toilet, make use of washing facilities (and sneak onto wifi).
There really is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. Make sure everyone is fitted out with a waterproof jacket and shoes (and waterproof trousers in some seasons) and you really can take on anything. Crocs may not be cool, but they are brilliant for camping because they are light, washable and dry immediately. Layers are great, we love fleece jumpers because they keep you snug in the evenings but are lightweight and dry quickly. We also invested in walking boots for our kids (7 and 9) this year and they found them so much more comfy than wellies, but wellies are great for little ones to pull on quickly when playing in dewy campsite grass.
Three tops to every pair of trousers is a good ratio, generally appearance is less important when camping try to pack a clothes that will mix and match with anything – I loved being able to pull on a regulation stripy t-shirt and fleece each day instead of making wardrobe decisions. Camping and Caravanning Club sites have washers and dryers which is always a great fallback.
Electric hook up cable, gas, Sat nav, road map and OS maps, print outs of things to do or guide books (in Scotland wifi was too patchy to rely on), waterproof trousers are handy if you do need to leave your van in a rain storm, head torch and torches.
Camper van storage cupboards can be as magical as Mary Poppins bag, but the joy of a road trip is escaping your stuff. The less you take, the less time you spend tidying ready to move off. Keep toys to a minimum and select things with storage containers and without lots of little parts. Kids are great at finding things to play with on the journey, on beaches, in forests and gift shops.
Part of the joy for us was picking up local treats to eat on route, but if you are heading to remote places or being a bit spontaneous, it’s important to meal plan a little.
- Tins of beans and soup, pasta and sauce make easy and satisfying meals when you are hungry in a hurry.
- Things we always forget to buy that you can pack from home: tea, coffee, sugar, peanut butter, ketchup, herbs and spices, salt and pepper.
- Sandwich bags or food containers are handy for picnics or leftovers.
- BBQ or disposable BBQ, foil for cooking.
- Kids get hungry outdoors, pack high energy snacks like nuts and flapjacks.
7. Home comforts
Our motorhome had really effective heating but a few extras like hot chocolate, hot water bottles, snuggly blankets, lanterns, mini torches, favourite bears can enhance that cosy feeling and help kids settle at night.
8. To be tech-free or not to be, that is the question?
We always have this dilemma! If you are new to driving and operating a camper van definitely don’t feel too guilty about bringing gadgets that will allow you to drive stress free. We found our kids spent so much time outdoors that they had limited time for gadgets and were more self regulating than at home.
Screen free entertainment tips:
- If you want to go screen free, story CDs are great, and kids can still appreciate the views.
- Make a family playlist with a few songs from each member of the family.
- Road trips are also the perfect time to learn some new car games – print off our top ten favourites here. Mine are still playing Mini punch three months later!
- Evenings are a great time to bond over family games, we loved travel Draughts and Yahtzee, Bananagrams, Dominos, Happy Families and playing cards for their portability.
- Pack sports equipment for entertaining the troops outdoors – skipping ropes, bats, balls, frisbee, swing ball, bikes if you have a rack.
- Puzzle books, pencils and a little crafty box are great to have on board for rainy days.
- Loch Ness Shores campsite offer ranger led activities for children, including den building.
9. Getting to grips with your van
Spend some time before you leave, preferably with the kids distracted, really getting to know the ropes of your van. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions or for a repeat explanation. Make sure you have relevant instruction manuals, contact details in the case of a hire van and a recovery service in place.
10. Safety Tips
Pack or check a hired vehicle has a first aid kit, a carbon monoxide detector, a fire extinguisher and take out insurance. Ensure you are adequately insured to drive the van, it is well worth paying a little bit extra with a hire vehicle to reduce the excess – small scrapes can be costly, and are more likely in a larger, unfamiliar vehicle. I am proud to report we returned from Scotland completely unscathed, but the peace of mind was good.
Try our awesome Scottish route!
This was a trip full of awe inspiring scenery, it takes in the length of the great lochs spreading east to west, the great glen, castles, The Isle of Skye, the pretty village of Luss and an uninhabited island in Loch Lomond. Starting in Edinburgh, we drove up to Loch Ness, across to Skye via Eileen Donan Castle, then down to Glencoe and across to Luss on the shore of Loch Lomond before returning to Edinburgh. We flew from Nottingham to Edinburgh and back with two large suitcases and a rucksack each – but do check what storage your van has for cases if you are hiring after flying.
We spent 2 nights in each place bar Glencoe, and had a night in Edinburgh at each end in a hotel, which was a lovely way to start and finish the trip.
Totalling up your driving hours in your satnav or google maps helps with the planning also.
Start here for video, words and pictures of each stop of our Scottish Trip.
Penny worked in collaboration with Visit Scotland, Camping and Caravanning Club and Bunkcampers, staying at Loch Ness Shores, Skye, Glencoe and Loch Lomond club sites. She has her eye on hiring a RV in the US, or her husband’s birthplace Canada next…