BBC Radio: travel feature

Just did a segment for the MacAulay & Co show on BBC Radio Scotland, on travelling by camper van. And hello to any listeners who’ve been routed over here for more info. Here’s the extended version of our Q&A:

Q. Campervans seem to have been around for eons – but there’s definitely more variety on the market nowadays? Yes, there are a pretty bewildering choice of different vans and conversions around these days, ranging from a dirt cheap ex-delivery van conversions to mammoth motorhomes that have showers, heating and even satellite dishes.

Q. What’s the difference between a mobile home and a campervan? There isn’t really any difference. And some rental companies will use the terms as interchangeable, simply defining them as vehicles with a living space, that allow cheap and easy living on the road. But purists might say that a modern motorhome gives you more space. There’s generally a divide between the cab and living quarters in a motorhome and the kitchen area and facilities are more elaborate than a campervan but that said, some of the latest campers come with enough gadgets, gizmos and mod cons to challenge a hotel. A new company called Wicked Campers, for example have vans that come with iPod docks, booze coolers and pop out two-man tents so you can sleep up to five, albeit two not in the van. They have depots in Edinburgh and Dundee and offer week’s rentals for around £600 over summer.

Q. What are the advantages over a caravan? The cool factor, clearly. And they’re more compact. You can treat a camper a bit like a beefy car. You don’t need campsites or special parking spots.

Q. Are they heavy on fuel – how far would you get on a gallon of fuel? A general rule of thumb is that the smaller the vehicle, the less fuel they consume. Asking around, VWs seem to do anything from 15 to 40 miles per gallon, depending on age and engine efficiency. But some are built to be very fuel efficient for their size. For example, a company called ecocampervanhire.co.uk (based in Bradford, West Yorkshire) have two small modern two-berth Peugeot campervans converted to run on LPG (half the price of petrol) as well as petrol. Rental costs £550 for a week in July.

Q. How many do they sleep? It varies but campers tend to sleep four, motorhomes can fit six but some conversions and pop up roofs allow for more in both types of vehicle. There’s a company based in Glasgow, Car Rental Scotland, that offers vans that sleeping up to six, in three double beds. They have depots in Edinburgh, Prestwick and Glasgow.

Q. Presumably you don’t have to park in campsite…the beauty of them is you can park where you want? Exactly. How about hiring one from Glasgow based company, Scotlandbycamper. They have two 1970s converted vans, sleeping up to four people. From Glasgow head out half an hour to Adrossan to go island hopping – Arran, Islay and the like. And the Loch Lomond & Trossachs park is within easy reach – there’s a good week of open-roading to be had there. Unless you get away this weekend you’ll miss the Highland games in Stirling but there are a ton of festivals to visit – surely the spiritual home of the camper. I love the sound of Loopallu, that advertises itself “a festival held late September, in a remote village on the west coast of Scotland, 60 miles from the nearest town.” Doesn’t seem to have put people off as it’s now in its 7th year, and has pulled in big names like Mumford & Sons and Franz Ferdinand this year.

Q. How do they compare price-wise with hotels? When you factor in the fuel costs and insurance, they might not stack up too well against B&Bs or self-catering properties but when you factor in food costs in hotels and transport of getting there… it’s not bad. Rates seem to range from £500 to £800 a week. For example, ScotlandbyCamper offer both its vans (sleeping two adults, two kids) for £575 for a week in summer. From 1 October to 31 March, they are £85 for a day, or £235 a weekend, and £435 a week. Minimum one-week rental in summer.

Q. What type of facilities do they offer? Most will come with basic cooking utensils – just like a self-catering property would. Some come with fold out chairs and CD players. Mobile homes often have a shower/basic loo. Some are cleverly decked out. Like the Toyota people carriers adapted by a New Zealand company new to the UK called Spaceship rentals. They rent four-person vans that looks somewhere between an easyJet hire car and a safari vehicle. All bright colours and company logo but a tent on the roof and a ladder leading up to it. Cost £80 per day in July.

Q. Are they widely available to rent as well as to buy? They are. And in fact, there’s far more varieties available for purchase than for rent. For example, as far as I know you can’t rent an Airstream Trailer in the UK – one of those gorgeous shiny American 1950s mobile homes. But you can buy one. Strictly speaking these are caravans albeit extremely glam’ retro ones. Is there any reason we not buy one? They are expensive. Expensive enough for most of us to then have to consider making this the main holiday for the next few years after buying one. And while we love the idea of the open road, the reality is, flying off on a plane to guaranteed sunshine might start to seem pretty attractive after a few August’s spent in traffic jams or parked up in a lay-by. Unlike cars though, classic VW campers, for example, more or less hold their price.

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