Minimalist Family Camping

Camping in a Campervan and Top 5 Essential Campervan Kit

Campervans are in high demand, but what’s all the fuss about? We decided to find out. After years of perfecting the art of micro camping, packing light for simple escapes in our tiny tent, during the pandemic last year we bought a campervan.

Why buy a campervan?

I admit, as a firm camping minimalist, I had quietly tutted at the idea of campervans and mobile homes being a suggested as a solution for a better camping experience. Big, heavy, slow and full of stuff… the opposite of what I wanted for my carefree wild adventures.

However, with foreign travel off the cards due to the pandemic in 2021, I was wondering how on earth to make the best of a summer stuck in England. Buying a camper felt exciting and somehow cool. After poking my nose into a friend’s VW Transporter I was suddenly hooked. The cute kitchen, the pop up beds, the dinky gas hob and sink… it was just like the Fisher Price Camper Van toy I’d had as a child and I loved it. A campervan seemed like the perfect recipe for adventure and I had visions of myself and my children on spontaneous weekends away, road trips, extended days out with the ability to sleep anywhere we liked for free!

To be honest, it was also a desperate attempt to cheer my children up during lockdown and the misery of home schooling. They were absolutely thrilled at the idea and once I had casually mentioned it I felt there was no going back.

Being self sufficient as we travelled, able to avoid people and the potential covid risks also seemed like a practical step for safe, cheap and easy holidays.

Which campervan is the best?

After some brief research and discovering a VW Transporter could cost a whopping £40-£50k I considered a Mazda Bongo instead (£8k for the van, £12-18k converted). The Bongos I saw on sale near me were old a bit shabby inside, a far cry from the sleek luxury of a Transporter so I wasn’t sure. It was one extreme to the other. Then a van I’d never heard of popped up on Facebook Marketplace for less than £18k, just a mile away from us. A Nissan Elgrand. It was retro, beautifully converted and heavenly to drive, so I bought it and we named her Kiki.

Nissan Elgrand Campervan Conversion Costs

Nissan Elgrands are 8-seater Japanese imports which tend to be converted to campervans in the UK. prices for the van range from £5-15k and it costs c. £3k to add a pop-top to the roof for sleeping in, plus c.2-3k to get some seats removed and a kitchen fitted by a professional conversion company. Ours had been done beautifully by North Star Conversions.

Nissan Elgrand Camper Conversions

Kiki was a Nissan Elgrand White E51 S-Rider which basically means it has a low spoilers – its looks gorgeous but you have to be careful not to scuff it on curbs and speed bumps! It has a pop top and a rear kitchen, so the back row of seats had been removed and a permanent kitchen. fitted across the full width of the back. A leisure battery at the back powers the halogen spot lights, usb ports and electric coolbox and as it had been recently converted it was immaculate, and less than half the price of a VW. A table pops up between bench seats for dining and flattens down to make a sofa space.

Despite my worries about driving a large vehicle it was a dream.. a purring V6 petrol engine, automatic gears, two parking cameras and rear parking sensors made it remarkably easy to park and just lovely to drive. For the first couple of months we took picnics everywhere and drove to local beauty spots after school just to hang out and eat tea in the van. It was great. We did have some great adventures last summer, including a road trip to Alton Towers and several nights camping in her while we rented our home out on Air BnB. We went to Cornwall, Devon, hung out in Dorset where we live, up to York, even London.

How many people can sleep a campervan?

Our little family of 3 fits perfectly. My kids are 9 and 12 and so one sleeps in the roof and the other beside me inside the cabin. Its much warmer and more comfortable sleeping on the folded down seats with thermal blinds on the windows reflecting our body heat, rather than up in the roof. And the roof is a bit tight for two children, so I think a family of four might find it a bit of a squeeze. If its raining or windy we cant use the pop-top, so the 3 of us can snuggle up on the flattened seats below.

How much space is there in a campervan?

Ours is actually smaller than a tent! Once the seats are folded flat to make a double sized bed that’s the whole van filled, other than a couple of small cupboards in the kitchen area, so all our bags and clutter fill the front seats. Although you could use the roof as a fantastic storage space if there isn’t anyone sleeping up there.

I had made the decision NOT to have a side tent, I still like speed and convenience so pitching a tent felt like unnecessary hassle and more stuff to carry. A pop-up pup tent would work beautifully though as a quick and easy place to chuck stuff. It is great in the morning when you wake up just hopping in the drivers seat and off you go.

So in terms of what we took with us, it was the same, or less than our minimalist family camping kit. There just wasn’t room to store lots of stuff in our campervan.

What’s so great about campervans?

We were always warm and dry in our van, whatever the weather, and that was a marked difference from some camping experiences we have had. Although I know what to bring to keep us all warm, tents can still leak if the rain is heavy enough so not having to worry about the weather was wonderful. The rear kitchen was delightful, you can stand under the open boot and make hot drinks or simple one-pan meals whatever the weather.

Why my campervan is for sale

A year on, with the Nissan Elgrand as my only vehicle, I have reluctantly decided to sell her. Although she is wonderful for day trips and camping, its doesn’t make sense for us day-to-day.

Campervanning is not cheap and staying ‘for free’, if you can find somewhere to park overnight, is likely to have cost you a fair bit in fuel to get there. It is really fun at times and definitely great for adventures but I have realised that I don’t like driving holidays. Trawling along a motorway just cannot compare to strolling through a field or sitting under a tree. I found with the van I would spend my time on campsites sitting inside and although it was warm and comfortable, I wasn’t outdoors! I wasn’t unplugging or rewilding, we were watching films on tiny screens… watching telly not clouds!

So it’s goodbye to Kiki, we loved having her, we will all be so sad to see her go, but I am looking forward to a small speedy car with a compact camping kit thrown in the boot. Watching the weather for a sunny weekend then whizzing off after school to a wide open field or forest to quickly pitch up, run around as the sun sets, watch the stars and remember the healing power of simply being outside.

Top 5 Campervan Essential Items

With less space than you may think, it’s worth giving careful consideration to what you carry in your van. The following suggestions are affiliate links but we only chose great products we actually use! Here are a few of our favourites:

Thermal Blinds – the most efficient way to keep warm at night. Foil backed, to either reflect heat out or back in, these really make a difference and the van was so much warmer and cosier inside. We chose a full set to cover all the windows, leaving off a couple to make the most of the view wherever we parked.

Window Blind Kit To Fit Nissan Elgrand E51 (2002-2010) Full Set Reversible and Thermal

Electric shower – easy way to shower off after a swim to rinse out your wetsuit by the beach, or for washing your dog! Simply put one end in a bucket of water and plug into a 12v socket. Instant shower! Rolls up nice and small in a bag for storage.

LIEBMAYA 12V car cigarette lighter portable shower electrical pump

Wee bags – Not glamorous but can be very useful if you have a small van with no toilet.

OTraki Disposable Urine Bags 600ml Super Absorbent Sealable

First aid kit – A compact first aid kit can live under a seat, consider adding a tick remover which is cheap but incredibly useful on people and dogs if they are unfortunate to get a tick!

Mini First Aid Kit, 92 Pieces Small First Aid Kit – Includes Emergency Foil Blanket

Bluetooth receiver – Brilliantly simple way to link your phone to the car stereo in an older vehicle. We use ours for google maps navigation and playing music from my mobile. Or if the kids are watching a movie on the journey they can play the sound through the van’s speakers!

Cocoda Bluetooth FM Transmitter for Car, Blue Ambient Ring Light Wireless Radio Car Receiver Adapter Kit with Hands-Free Calling, Dual USB Charger

Share the Post:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Related posts