It’s amazing what can happen when you drink champagne; we went from first-timers to full-timers in two bottles of champagne!
We were already feeling a little irresponsible; celebrating the accidental purchase of our first caravan. We christened her ‘Kismet’ which means ‘Fate’. Half way down the second bottle, we had an even more stupid idea. “We could rent out the house and tour in her full-time!”
It was one of the best decisions we have ever made.
People go full-time in their caravans for many reasons. We both lost our jobs; but adding up redundancy, savings and rental income, we calculated that full-timing would allow us to live cheaply enough to manage without working. It would also enable us to indulge our passions for travel, windsurfing and skiing – and having our own accommodation made it easy to tour with our Fur Family; Cavapoos, Kai, Rosie, Ruby and Lani.
This is our fourth year of full-time touring in Europe. As caravan ‘First-Timers’, it was clearly a steep learning curve. However, we are quick learners and whether you choose to stay in one place or tour, I will share with you my best tips on the practicalities of going ‘Full-Time’ in your caravan or motor home.
1. Budget & Funding
A. How Much Money do you Need to Support the Lifestyle that you Want?
Not one person who has asked about our ‘dream’ lifestyle has ever been able to answer this question.
We had kept a detailed record of our expenditure for over a decade. Call us obsessive (and many have!) but if you don’t know what you spend and on what, you won’t know how much you need to get by – or where you can make savings. We discovered that we were spending £100 per month on Costa Coffee – almost £1,200 per year. I dare you to add up what you spend on the little things that you barely notice. You will probably get a £BIG surprise.
B. Site Costs
We budget an average £20 per night per pitch when touring. Budget or Seasonal Pitches or certain countries can be significantly cheaper than this – we have paid as little as €8 on a French Municipal Campsite and £10 per night in Romania. Peak season in popular holiday spots such as the French Riviera or Lake Garda in Italy can cost significantly more – up to £50 per night.
UK Campsite lists sites with seasonal pitches. The main UK camping clubs C&CC and CMC offer seasonal pitches to members – but book early. Both clubs also list small, privately-owned ‘Certified’ or ‘Certificated’ sites which are often cheaper but may have limited facilities. The Friendly Open All Year Under £15 Sites is a Facebook Group which does what it says on the tin. A web search may also yield results for similar small, inexpensive sites at home or abroad.
C. Annual Budget
We are fortunate that we no longer need to work. Living in a permanently-sited caravan should be no barrier to having a conventional job, however. Technology now makes it easier than ever to work remotely while you travel. Follow the links for ‘The Expert Vagabond’s’ ideas on ‘The 40 Best Travel Jobs to Make Money Travelling the World’ and ’38 Creative Side Hustles to Make Extra Money’.
2. A Residential Address
With a caravan, home is where you park it. However, officialdom is not too accepting of “No Fixed Abode” or “A Caravan Somewhere in Europe”. To function in the modern world, dealing with banks, insurers, the DVLA etc you WILL need a fixed, residential address. An understanding relative or friend can be very useful. Go paperless and they shouldn’t be inundated with mail. They can also make sure that you don’t miss important items, such as replacement bank cards etc, which we find sometimes turn up unexpectedly!
Alternatively, mail forwarding companies, such as Boatmail or Mailbox UK can provide you with a UK residential street address. Mailbox UK will even forward parcels if you order online and the supplier doesn’t deliver to your location.
3. Beware The 28-Day Rule
A campsite is legally obliged to allow you to spend NO LONGER THAN 28 CONSECUTIVE NIGHTS in your caravan, after which you must spend a minimum of 24-hours off site; some sites may also require the caravan to be removed. Stay longer than 28-nights and you become liable for Council Tax.
Compared to the very smallest house, even the largest caravan is a very small space! You won’t have room for 200 different outfits, all your kitchen gadgets, mini-gym, home cinema and all the myriad items that are seen as ‘necessities’ for modern life. If you plan to live in a caravan, like us, you will have to pare down your possessions to a minimum. Click the links for advice on decluttering, ‘How to Cram Your Life into a Box on Wheels’ and ‘Tips on eBay Selling
Let’s talk ‘payload’ – the carrying capacity of your vehicle. When you live on wheels, it’s not just size but weight that matters. To tow legally, our caravan can carry 150kg of contents. That’s 75kg each for EVERYTHING that we need to live – clothes, shoes, toiletries, bedding, tech, sports equipment, crockery, pans, BBQs, picnic table & chairs, sun-loungers, awning, wheel & hitch locks, water-carriers, waste-masters, food and everything else.
When we move site, we have a well-rehearsed system for packing up heavy items to transport in our tow vehicle. We tow with ‘Big Blue’ a 3.5T panel van to give us plenty of space and payload. Motor homes often have a higher payload than caravans, although it is still not vast. Click ‘Loading To Be Legal’ to clarify the confusing array of weight specifications in your caravan handbook.
The weight limits described above relate to towing; when sited, it is unlikely that you will exceed the loading specification of your caravan or motor home.
5. Living Together in a Small Space
If you set out to confine yourselves to a tin box 24/7/365 – YOU NEED TO GET ON! Whatever your lifestyle, challenges will always arise, but it is how you cope with them that will make or break domestic harmony. If you argue, there is nowhere to slink off in a huff. Being together 24-hours per day has never caused us a moment’s problem, but it is something to consider very carefully before you take the plunge. ‘The Perils of Proximity’ relays my own experience of retiring to live in a caravan.
6. How to Be A Good Friend to a Full-Time Caravanner
We mentioned earlier about postal addresses, but here are two other things that a good friend can do to help a full-timer;
A. Let Them Use Your Washing Machine
If you don’t have a good friend who lets you use their washing machine, you will find that many larger campsites do have laundry facilities or you can use a launderette, however costs can add up. We were spending around £20 per week on laundry. We bought a Costway portable washing machine for around £100, so it paid for itself in just over a month. The machine is a twin-tub, which weighs about 16kg and the drum and spin dryer are just large enough to take a polycotton Super Kingsize duvet cover. It has to be filled with hot water and drains by gravity. The washing machine received many a look of envy from seasonal pitches but my favourite thing about it is that Mark enjoys using it, so for me, laundry is a thing of the past!
We also use a non-detergent eco-ball, which saves water, since lightly soiled laundry does not need to be rinsed and clean rinse-water can be re-used to wash the next load. Check out my post Zero Waste Caravanning – Save Money, Weight, Space & The Planet! for tips which apply at home as well as on wheels.
If you can’t carry something of this size, the simplest ‘washing machine’ is a dry bag filled with soapy or clean water, sealed and squished around to wash or rinse. A small spin dryer is probably worth the weight and investment, as this will accelerate laundry drying time. There are many manual and electric portable washing machines and spin dryers available on Amazon.
B. Let Them Use Your Bath
I have no regrets whatsoever about going full-time in a caravan, however the one and only thing that I do miss about being ‘in the brick’ is a long, hot, luxurious bath!
For more information on living in a caravan, check out my Tips section.
To read more about our European travels, click here.
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