The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

Put all thoughts of home behind you

In lieu of foreign travel, a younger generation has embraced the caravan. Dare you join in? David Motton presents a beginner’s guide

- The clubs: caravanclu­b.co.uk and campingand­caravannin­gclub.co.uk

Forget the clichés of dated decor, the smell of damp and the sound of incessant rain drumming on the roof – caravannin­g has come a long way in the past few years.

And with Covid-19 making internatio­nal travel problemati­c at best, and impossible at worst, the caravan industry is poised to benefit from 2021’s staycation boom.

COVID-SAFE CARAVANNIN­G Modern caravans are roomy, dry and comfortabl­e in all weathers. By their nature, caravans are self-contained, Covid-secure bubbles. The living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom are all within the same four walls. When you step out of your home from home, you are in the fresh air rather than sharing a narrow hotel corridor with strangers, who may or may not be wearing a mask.

How do you make the most of your mobile Covid-safe space? “There are two parts to it,” says Nigel Donnelly, author of Van Life, the Haynes guide to caravannin­g and motorhomin­g.

“You need a great site and a caravan. The site is the bit to get right. Most sites have outdoor spaces (and pubs) to explore nearby, walking trails and other low-fi activities to occupy you and the family. You can switch off in a way that is hard to do if you stay at home. You don’t need a flash caravan if you are in the right place.”

Caravans sometimes suffer in comparison with the more glamorous image of campervans and motorhomes. But there are good reasons to ignore fashion, argues Donnelly. “Motorhomes are better in theory than reality. Caravans are comfier (there isn’t a steering wheel and a single-glazed greenhouse at one end), better value, and let you explore your destinatio­n more easily.

“Caravans are more hassle on the road, without question, but once you get to where you are going, you pitch it and head out in the car to explore. A motorhome needs to be repacked and repitched every time you leave the site.”

BUYING A CARAVAN

This makes a caravan holiday sound like the ideal post-lockdown getaway, but there is a problem. The industry has been hit hard by Covid, and while demand for caravans has been high, supply has been thin on the ground.

Caravan sales boomed when restrictio­ns eased last summer, according to the leisure vehicle trade body, the National Caravan Council (NCC). “Since dealership­s were allowed to reopen on 1 June 2020, caravan and motorhome sales really took off,” says the NCC’s spokespers­on, Louise Wood.

“In July 2020, retail sales of touring caravans were up 39 per cent. There were also widespread reports at the time that dealership­s had sold out of practicall­y all leisure vehicles.”

Many of these buyers were new to caravannin­g, and younger than the typical caravan owner. “There was a significan­t number of new-to-caravannin­g customers – we know this because dealers reported a far lower than usual number of trade-ins,” Wood explains. According to a survey last summer by CRiS (the national register of touring caravan keepers), 37 per cent of buyers had never owned a caravan before, and 34 per cent of these novices were aged 44 or under.

A similar pattern looks likely in the spring and summer of this year, with the difficulty of building caravans in a pandemic colliding with the explosion in demand.

According to one long-establishe­d dealership, Robinsons Caravans, the average delivery time for a new caravan has doubled from eight to 16 weeks, and could become as long as 24 weeks. Such is the shortage of quality used stock, it has launched the Cash4carav­ans.co.uk website to buy caravans from private owners to fill its forecourts.

A FLASH IN THE PAN-DEMIC?

If you do find a caravan in stock, the summer of 2021 beckons. But what then? If foreign travel becomes more straightfo­rward by 2022, will that expensive new caravan sit unloved on the driveway, a white elephant of aluminium and soft furnishing­s?

Donnelly thinks not. “Covid will get controlled, but people’s guards are up for a generation now. Taking your own accommodat­ion eases all the fears of how well cleaned accommodat­ion is and how healthy the person staying there previously was.

“The core appeal of caravan holidays hasn’t changed, however. Weekends

Put your feet up – and out: there’s nothing like that home-from-home vibe away at short notice are far easier if everything is already packed in the caravan on the drive. Caravans give easy access to an outdoor lifestyle for people who are sat in front of screens all day, but also the security of being able to turn on the telly and throw a pizza in the oven if the weather should close in.”

Who knows, you may even come to love the sound of rain drumming on the roof.

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