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Using the camper van

Updated on September 4, 2009

All set up

1st time camping with the van

Well this weekend we got the chance to use the van for the first time. We were attending the Transitmania show for all marques of the infamous Ford Transit van.

We were booked for 3 days at Billing Aquadrome in Northamptonshire. A beautiful campsite that is set in enormous grounds in and around 7 lakes. They have some great facilities and it was extremely busy with 3 shows on and a bank holiday weekend.

We had taken along a large 6 man tent in addition to the camper van as there were 7 of us staying for the weekend, logistically, not ideal for a first attempt.

After a 6 hour drive down due to roadworks on the M1, we arrived and started to pitch the tent. I had taken the time to check out the manufacturers website and found a video of how it should be pitched. In fairness it was pretty simple and self explanatory and certainly a tent I would recommend for the larger family. For this weekend it would sleep 2 adults, 2 tennagers and a baby in a cot with plenty of room for everyone. My wife and I would sleep in the camper.

Erecting the tent in the rain and wind wasn't a huge issue and certainly helped speed things along but we managed it and attached the porch area to the side of the van to keep everyone together. The rain didn't last long and before long we were unpacking the sleeping bags and air beds.

The two teenagers would be using some newly bought and untried self inflating airbeds. These take around 10 minutes to inflate on their own just using the surrounding air pressure. Whilst they did what they said they would, the fact that there were no stitched and separate air pockets meant they weren't particularly comfortable to sleep on according to the boys.

Settling in

Once unpacked we started to think about getting something to eat and get organised. By this time it was around 8.30 and the sun had gone down. The lights in the camper were put to use and then our first mistake surfaced....we had no lights for the tent.

We took a walk over to the take away shop and treated ourselves to fish and chips all round and got our first taste of chaos in the van. Living in a small space requires a lot of discipline in keeping tidy as things can't get into a mess pretty quickly and then you start to feel a bit claustrophobic.

The first night

 We had a wander around the enormous campsite and ended up in the amusement arcades.  Here we bought a light up sword/light sabre that would suffice as illumination for the tent as a temporary measure for the night.  It actually worked quite well and gave enough light to allow the boys to sort their beds out and get undressed ready to sleep.

We set our bed up and got the quilt out for our first night in the van ever.  The bed was very comfy and we watched tv for a little while before settling down.  Outside one of the vans in the show was putting on a disco for all the other van club members but the noise wasn't too intrusive and we eventually fell asleep about 1am.

Now I wish I had bought that portapoti as the few cans of beer we had made me wake up around 5am busting for a loo.  I couldn't hold it any longer and had to get dressed and take a walk to the camp toilets.  Luckily they were only about 200 yards away.

We had both slept well and were warm and comfortable, if a little tired from our early morning call of nature.  The day had dawned beautifully and the sunshine was warming things up right from the start.  We tied our little dog up to the back of the van and started to have a bit of a tidy up and figure out where everything was.

One of the things that occurred to me during the night was the need to add some ventillation. It felt like the air that we were breathing out was not circulating properly and was adding to to condensation that appeared on the windows of the van overnight. That may have just been me but I thought a roof vent would have been a good idea to keep the air fresh in the van any way. Something to add to the jobs list.

A good tip is to take some bin bags with draw strings. This meant we could hang the bin bag up outside the van and dispose of our rubbish as we went along but without the smell or unpleasantness in the van itself.

We had a wander round the camp site and spoke to a few of the van club members whilst looking at the variety of vans that had attended.

 It became evident that we had rushed our packing a bit and forgotten quite a few bowls for the milk and cereal that we did pack.  No dog dishes to feed and water the dog even though we packed the dog food. And stupidly, no cups despite bringing all the drinks etc. We cheated and bought bacon sandwiches and cups of tea from the nearby facilities for our first breakfast.

Making a list and leaving it in the van to be checked off before setting off next time was the lesson learned.  You have to make some mistakes to move forward though and this was our first time.

We bought a few supplies from the camp shop to top up those things that we were missing and planned what we were going to do for meals.  As there were 7 of us in the group, we had bought a large disposable BBQ and we settled on using this for lunch.  We had packed frozen pork chops, burgers and sausages into two cool bags as we had no onboard fridge.  These had stayed very cold up to lunchtime and cooked very well on the BBQ.

After checking out the rest of the camp site we looked round the shops, had a chat to a few more van owners and played football with Billy the dog for a few hours...until he was totally exhausted.

 Saturday tea time we decided to try the local pub as they had a special meal deal of 2 meals for £10.  We left the tent pitched up and drove the couple of miles in the van.  The food was brilliant and we all felt very full after a slap up meal that hadn't cost very much.  We drove back to the camp site and let the youngsters loose in the amusment arcades for a few hours.

Returning back to our pitch we mingled with the van owners in the disco tent and made a few new friends in the process.  The conversations were pretty much Ford Transit based but thats what we were there for and so it was expected.

We headed back to the van quite late and settled in for our second night.  This time we ensured we had paid a trip to the loo beforehand and we now had our emergency bucket in the bathroom should we really need it.

 The following morning we woke at around 8am having had a really good nights sleep.  The curtains in the van had done a really good job of keeping the light out as it had dawned a very bright and sunny day at around 5.30am.

We performed our morning oblutions and settled down to some breakfast in our new bowls and were suprised that the cool bags had kept the milk fresh and cold for the last 2 days.  Looks like a fridge isn't high on the priority list still.

We had been told by the shows organiser that the vans would be lined up for judging etc at 9am, so I took the opportunity of the earlyish rise to get the polish out and make sure she was looking her best.  The wife had a good clean up inside and was pleased that I remembered to pack the dust pan and brush. Another top tip there to keep things clean.

We were ready to show at 9am but not many other vans were.  I think quite a few owners had over indulged the night before and there were some late risers all round the camp.  By 10.30 the first set of vans began to line up and we took our place in the number 10 spot.  Some friends we had made the day before parked next to us in their self built transit camper so we had some direct competition.

 Judging for the show would be done by the public as well as the van owners. All the owners completed an information sheet showing which category they were in and what type of van it was along with a number that people could vote for.  Then everyone who came to look at the vans rated each van 1, 2 or 3.  We were absolutely amazed that we actually won a trophy!

2nd place in the best camper van category, which included all of the coach built campers.  Out of 60 or so vans that attended I was very pleased with the result.

As we had spent quite a long time in the show and shine, checking out other peoples vans and their solutions, we hadn't had chance to have anything to eat. So as soon as the show was over we packed up and headed off for a pub tea.

We found a really nice 2 for 1 pub and enjoyed a very nice evening meal before driving back home.

The weather had been great, the van had been wonderful and the show was amazing. We had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves but it was all over too quickly. When we sat down the next day to review what we were going to add and change on the van, we also booked the following weekend at another campsite to do it all again. The bug has bitten us.

Check out the video at the end of this hub for details about next years show.



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