Camper vans

The Big Road Trip: Camper vans and RVs

Motorhome heaven

My autumn treat was a trip to the National Motorhome and Caravan Show in Birmingham last weekend.

OK, I can hear some of you laughing loudly and falling off your seats in disbelief… but titter ye not!

The show is a bit like the new Bond movie – honest!

It arrives firing on all cylinders with more thrills, large vehicles and gadgets than Daniel Craig in Skyfall, the latest 007 film.

This is the blockbuster of the year for motorhome, camper van and RV fans… especially if you like your homes on wheels on the big side.

Home from home

Inside the 5h wheel bedroom

Bling attack – inside the bedroom in a 5th wheel truck

The show is great for monster-sized RV trucks and American style fifth wheels, complete with marble floored lounges, giant leather sofas, walk-in fridge freezers and the obligatory pull-outs.

Some of the rooms are bigger than those in my house.

Funny, how their lounges always have crystal glass fruit bowls, highly breakable objets d’art and ceramic vases on display.

They’re the perfect stylish accessories to modern living when you’re whizzing along the motorway at 70mph in your truck, swaying from side to side in the cross-winds.

At the other end of the spectrum there’s the smallest of caravans like the Eriba, a tiny structure that looks like it was designed for a very small snail.

Some vans were even smaller – like miniature doll’s houses. I was constantly challenged to think how you could fit two people into these amazing living spaces without the help of a contortionist.

Tony and caravan

Tony and the world’s smallest caravan

Also, and this may seem a delicate question… where’s the loo?  It’s best not to ask really – better to make a hasty retreat before an enthusiastic sales rep grabs a porta potty from under the sofa and demonstrates the toilet!

Those with pretensions and big pockets should head straight over to the airstream caravans with their dazzling silver body work and stunning, well-crafted interiors which are straight out of Design Monthly.

I could live in one of these vans – although I’d be worried about somebody dinting its perfect, shiny external skin.


Airstream – styled for the discerning traveller

Further along in the one of the vast display halls, there were medium sized, everyday camper vans for the regular Joe and Josephine.

Some of these trucks had novelty features and gimmicks, but not all were successful.


Tony tests the exotic ‘paradise’ shower

One truck boasted a waterfall shower which popped up from the back of the van when you opened out the doors.

It came complete with a green astro-turf  carpet to create the illusion of being on a paradise island.

In reality it was more like taking a shower under an artificial water slide at Butlins.

Another truck featured bizarre ‘luxury’ gadgets including a coffee making machine that descended from the van’s roof at the push of a button (hopefully not when the driver is swerving around a roundabout whilst the passenger pours a quick cuppa!).

For the ‘ladies’ there was a strange vanity cabinet with a lighting design straight out of  the Windmill dressing rooms in London, resplendent with rows of make-up and perfume bottles.

With its subdued, ‘sexy’ lighting, I was expecting a tiller girl or lap dancer to emerge from the wardrobe at any moment.

Weird but true – this van had a huge vanity cabinet but no discernible loo or dining area!

Gadget man

If you’re a gadget fan the motorhome show is definitely the place to be – from the latest in satellite dishes and sat navs to specially designed tent poles, pet houses, mobile scaffolding and outdoor cooking pots.

Cheese grating display

Cheese grating – a national obsession

We had a great laugh looking around the stands and watching what Tony calls ‘the snake oil sales men’.

I’ve never been sure what he means by that expression except that it’s something to do with their hard-sell tactics and slick patter.

I’ve never seen one selling a snake or any type of oil-based product!

‘Cheese grater man’ was in the far corner of the main hall showing everyone how to grate cheese faster than your Aunt Betty with a space-age device that looked like a cross between  a  1960s rocket and err – a cheese grater.

“Bought one last year, didn’t work too well,” said one cynical granny walking past the stand.

Cheese grater man grated on, wowing the crowds with his dexterity and the gadget.

My favourite stand was the Dickie Bag dog store (next door to Mr Cheese Grater) with its poo bags presented with a touch of Barbie’s style!

When your dog has to defecate, don’t be embarrassed – try a Burberry style bag or a tartan mini-tote to scoop the poop.

Part of me wished they’d pitched this idea to Dragon’s Den… in fairness, the quality of the poop bags was good and the store was packed with people and their poopers, proving there is a demand for niche canine accessories.

Dog Poop shop

For those pooping moments…

Beyond the stalls, there’s the crazy cookery demo with top chefs advising on how to be the host with the most in your motorhome (my advice – don’t try flambe dishes in the van without a fire extinguisher).

Best of all, there’s the caravanning and motor home debate with a group of earnest-looking gents who are experts on van sprockets, security systems and driving abroad in foreign countries like – France.

Camper van experts

Camper van experts discuss surreal stuff

On a similar note a pleasant woman from an escort agency (no, not that sort) advises on how escorted travel guides in vans can help you drive a motorhome in Canada without coming to grief.

After all, you wouldn’t want to run into a grizzly bear, a man-eating bird or an actual Canadian.

Living spaces

If vans aren’t your thing, there’s also plenty of alternative living spaces at the show from mobile homes to huts and camping pods.

Scandinavian hut

Scandinavian hut

My favourite was the Scandinavian hut with its fluffy sheepskin rugs, fondue salon and centralised cooking stove.

Or how about a Hawaiian Tiki hut which would look great outside your house on a cold, English evening?

A more sensible choice could be a living pod, a sort of tent with solid walls and a decent-sized space for a bed and stove. I liked this idea very much but it had one limitation – it’s static and doesn’t have wheels!

There was endless debate about the merits of all these living spaces and what sort of camper van would work best if we bought a new one.

What size, shape and layout should it have? A rear lounge, a U-shaped middle sitting area or a front dining space?

Airstream interior

Airstream interior – cool and stylish

Then there’s the overall type of van – coach built, A class motor homes, panel van conversions, pop-tops… the list is endless.

Add to this a multitude of sleeping options from drop-down beds, fixed beds and made-up bunks, and my head started to spin.

In the end, there was only one ‘home from home’ that I really wanted – the Vantage Sol camper van which manages to combine  a little bit of luxury in a small but well-laid out space.

It is smart and sleek with a decent width which makes it drivable down narrow lanes but without losing too much of the spacious layout inside.

This became my dream van…

Just one problem – I need to save up enough money to buy one!

Vantage Sol

Advantage Vantage – inside the Sol

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