How Has Motorhome Life Changed In 20 Years
So, just how long have you had your motorhome or campervan and how has motorhome life changed in that time? This year, marks 20 years since we began the transition from travels by touring caravan to a motorhome. It seems like only yesterday since we took a month-long trip to New Zealand, hiring a motorhome in 2002.
The following year we returned, hiring another motorhome before returning to the UK and selling our beloved caravan. Soon, we were the proud owners of our very first motorhome – a Swift Bessacarr with a rear garage and transverse fixed bed. At the time this was an unusual layout for a British van, but it’s an arrangement we’ve never really parted from.
Are you a Newbie or an Old Timer?
If you’re new to owning a motorhome then welcome to this wonderful world of travel! Isn’t it exciting planning those first trips away and getting ready to drive the road less travelled. Hopefully, you’ll soon find your motorhome feet and with plenty of van travels ahead, the memories created will last a lifetime.
Motorhome life can be incredible, bringing rewarding travels and so much freedom. However, there have been big changes over the past 20 years and they’re not all for the better.
Any newbies won’t necessarily know the difference in how things used to be, so what we’re going to divulge may come as a bit of a surprise! Then again, if you’re an old timer like us, you’ll certainly know exactly how motorhome life has changed.
How Has Motorhome Life Changed – Still love exploring
If you’re thinking about buying a motorhome , hopefully you’ll make the right decision on your new investment. If you do take the plunge, I’m sure you’ll soon be exploring far and wide in your holiday home on wheels.
The thrill of the drive, getting to see new countries and incredible sights is still all part of the dream. For us, we still love exploring although the thrill is no longer there, for several reasons.
#Vanlife – How Has Motorhome Life Changed
Vanlife – this is the term which started in America and soon crossed the Atlantic into Europe, it’s hard to believe it was only in 2011 that #vanlife began.
We created our own Instagram page @vanlife4x4 using #vanlife4x4 when we ordered our Sprinter campervan in 2015. That doesn’t seem that long ago, but there were hardly any other vanlife users then incomparrison to now and certainly when it came to the 4×4 side, these were indeed rare.
The Instagram Thing
If you’ve bought your first motorhome in the last 5 or 6 years, you’ll have seen big changes taking place. Typically the surge in this vanlife movement is in part due to Instagram and the images capturing beautiful campervans in stunning locations across the world.
It probably took many vanlife followers a while to realise that more often than not the reality of motorhome, campervan or vanlife can be very different to the Instagram thing.
That’s because many vanlife photo shoots are just that – staged or made to look glamorous, even when in reality they probably weren’t. It’s now easier to distinguish reality from fiction, but rewind 5 years and things were a little less clear! Especially for us, even as old timers, we were just a little naive!
The Vanlife Effect – How Has Motorhome Life Changed
The explosion of #vanlife has been huge and has contributed enormously to vanlife appeal and popularity. Now, the volume of campervans, motorhomes and vans of every description on the road is just massive.
So much so, when searching for official ownership figures, the true number is hard to find.
Official Motorhome Figures
If you compare the amount of self-build campervans on the road to 5 years ago the difference is staggering. Ultimately, the NCC estimate of 225,000 motorhomes here in the UK is probably not even close to real figures.
Of course, this NCC figure doesn’t take into account other vehicles that people sleep in overnight. We see a whole range of vehicles, from self-conversion day-type vans to cars and people carriers. There’s no doubt this is one of the biggest ways in which motorhome life has changed in recent years.
There’s also far more people living in motorhomes now, as the dream of van travel and desire to swap bricks and mortar escalated. It will remain to be seen if this trend continues to grow or if living in a van becomes less appealing or the trend decreases.
When most of Europe put themselves into a lockdown in March 2020, the surge in motorhome ownership grew even greater. The prospect of having a holiday in your own motorhome seemed a good way of still getting away at a time when air travel was grounded. As well as helping stay away from other people, and the dreaded virus that terrified many.
As air travel returned in 2022, maybe the trend for a motorhome purely to get a holiday could well be over.
VW Campervans – How Has Motorhome Life Changed
Back in the 1970’s, the VW Campervan was on the wish list of many aspiring camper. Personally, I absolutely wanted the bright yellow one that glistened in our local VW dealership. Unfortunately, my parents hated everything there was about camping, including the appealing VW campervan!
Fast forward to the present day and there is well and truly an explosion of VW campervans on the scene. They are everywhere! We come across them all the time in places where you never used to see them camping.
It seems there are more VW campervans than a desert has sand! It may have been an original campervan to the scene, but the volume is something new altogether.
There’s also a huge number of other small day vans on the scene too and the popularity has exploded amongst all nationalities.
A VW Campervan On An Aire Was Unusal
It’s hard to imagine now, but you rarely saw anything other than factory built self-contained motorhomes on an Aire. It was so unusual to see a small campervan that we actually remember the first time we saw one!
This was a vintage VW in pale blue with a blue and white striped pop up tent and it was really lovely! Luckily, the occupants happened to be British so we were able to have a good chat without a language barrier. As for the location, this was an Aire on the Atlantic coast of France and the year about 2009.
Afterwards we kept coming across the cute blue camper as it drove the same route as us. Suddenly, it vanished, becoming resigned to our “remember when” box of travel diary memories.
A T5 And A Plastic Bottle
6 years later, we were staying the night at a different French Aire. I’ve no idea where it was, but remember it vividly, because this was the first time we saw a T5 campervan on an Aire. Equally as unusual were the young children playing outside the van.
In those days, it was really unusual to see young children on Aires, little did we know it would become the norm.
Our next encounter with a VW T5 came 4 years ago on a motorhome Sosta in Northern Italy. Next to us was a British T5 and it wasn’t long before we had a good chat with the owners.
For some reason, we got on to the subject of public loos! I think it was because we couldn’t find any in the Roman town. It was our first trip to Italy, so we hadn’t realised this was quite normal!
The owners then showed us a plastic bottle under the seat of their T5 campervan. “This is what we use pee in”, they excitedly announced! Sure enough, the next morning, we watched as they poured the contents down the motorhome dump!
As you’ll imagine, we didn’t like to ask what they used for number two’s!
When it comes to “Wild Camping” there is just no comparison to then and now.
Those were the days without annoying “no sleeping overnight” signs, “no motorhomes”, height barriers, ranger patrols or police visits. Best of all, coming across a place to park for the night by chance was so exciting. We’d be ecstatic, as if we were Christopher Columbus discovering the new world!
Not only was it exciting, but keeping the location a secret was even more special. Soon, there were two very big advances that would change this forever – the smart phone and mobile data.
Looking back, this era was such a fabulous time to travel by motorhome. We’d drive along and come across amazing locations to park overnight without anyone sharing to the world on an App.
It was simply unique and you could pretty much park up anywhere. The saying was – “head to the water, you can always park there” – and guess what – Yes, you could!
The Biggest Wild Camp in Europe
The most memorable “Wild Camping” spot for us was at the biggest Wild Camping location in Europe . I’m sure you can imagine what that was like.
Here, the sands of the French Mediterranean would be filled for miles around with motorhomes and caravans. Many were parked up for the Summer, wedged into the sand dunes and dotted across the flat white sands. We’d never seen anything like it and never will again. It’s hard to describe -incredible springs to mind.
Respect For The Environment
Looking after the environment may be a hot topic today, but it doesn’t mean habits have improved.
When we first came into vanlife, enjoying nature in peace and quiet, using our own facilities and leaving no mess was obvious.
At the end of the day, respect was key and and motorhome owners were really good at abiding by the unofficial rules of the road.
Fast forward a couple of decades and respect for the environment seems worse than ever.
Loo-Less Vanlife – How Has Motorhome Life Changed
This year, we have seen more disgusting habits than ever before. Going to the toilet in nature is now common place abroad and in public view on Aires and wild camping spots. It’s so bad, the sweet smell of dried pee often fills the air, as well as the tell-tale loo paper and rock placed over the brown stuff symbol.
It’s not just bad toilet habits either. We also see people showering, brushing teeth, washing dishes and doing other personnel hygiene tasks in the great outdoors. Anything goes out there and inhibitions aren’t priority.
When people sleep in vans or cars with no facilities on board, they still have to pee, poo, wash and wash-up. In reality, waiting to find a public loo isn’t always going to happen, so consequences are seen and smelt more than ever before. Here in Europe, there aren’t toilets at motorhome areas or in nature, like in other parts of the world.
In Australia and New Zealand, where we’ve toured extensively, they’ve also experienced a surge of loo-less and non-self contained vehicle camping.
However the big difference is that both countries have public loos everywhere. They may often be drop toilets, but at least they provide them. In fact they even have toilets in the middle of the wilderness and on hiking routes. In other words, there’s no excuse for spoiling nature with human waste products.
Social Media and Mobile Internet
If we think back 20 years, it’s really hard to believe the difference in technology. To be honest, in many ways motorhome life was much more enjoyable without the instant gold fish bowl we’re now in.
Back then mobile phones were only capable of a shortened text message, in almost code like format. The only way to access the internet was to log onto a public computer in an internet cafe or tourist office. We spent many a time looking for a computer to check work e-mails!
There was no data roaming because smart phones were an un-known thing of the future!
Remember having to turn your phone off and keeping it off to avoid huge charges? Everything was really difficult in terms of communicating whilst on the road.
The Invention of Data Roaming
It was only about 6 years ago when we got an inclusive data roaming packing for use abroad. That was when Three introduced it and we swapped phone providers to use their new incentive.
As for social media, this has just catapulted everything to do with vanlife into the stratosphere. Mainly thanks to the combination of technology providing mobile data use and the sheer volume of people that have bought a motorhome or campervan in the last few years.
Unfortunately, for us, this has left behind the wonderful element of surprise and amazement as we drove around every corner. That first sight “Wow” factor has gone – because we’ve not only seen it on our phone screen first, but looked at the photo’s and read the reviews too!
It doesn’t matter if it’s a place to park up for the night, a landmark, attraction or landscape. The element of surprise has gone, as everywhere is now instantly available to see wherever you are.
Apps For Overnight Parking
Nowadays, we all share locations, parking places and overnight spots on one or more of the various Apps. It may be convenient but people the world over can search the App for locations near and far. Ultimately, there’s nowhere left undiscovered – or so it seems!
Whilst instant photo’s, sending and sharing are a great tool, it means the locals at your once secret wild camp spot are on the prowl too. Not forgetting, they also know about the parking Apps and where in their locality to find those vans parking up for the night.
So you may think you’ve got away with a great little parking spot for yourself, but you haven’t seen a fed up local snapping you on their smart phone! The evidence is immediately shared to their local police or council offices and before you know it – yes, there’s a “no overnight” sign.
Then, there’s official parking places such as Aires and campsites and everything in-between. The mass community of vanlife, campervanning and motorhomes means there’s lots more vehicles needing a place to park the night.
In recent years, even Aires increasingly have a paid barrier entry and a more regimented set up. As more Aires close or become part of a barrier system, the freedom of staying a few hours before deciding to move on to the next Aire has gone. That’s unless you don’t mind paying every time.
The Motorhome Wave
Who remembers waving to every motorhome that passed? Maybe it’s because there weren’t many motorhomes on the road to wave at that it become the norm.
It didn’t matter which country you drove in, there’d be a frantically waving fellow motorhome owner to great us. The strangest thing is, as soon as you stopped the engine, they were never as keen to talk as they were to wave!
The Aires Book
Before the days of technology, all we had to find an Aire was a French Aire Book without any pictures at all. We bought our first one at the NEC Show and a couple of years later a new British book came on the scene – All The Aires France .
This was such a novelty, although it was quite thin in the early years but it had photo’s! They were really bad ones though, so much so that we sent a load off to them on a disk, in hope to improve the appeal of an Aire.
I don’t know if they ever used any, but the Aires book was a brilliant progressive way forward for us motorhome community.
A really important point to make is that at the beginning of these books came a resource library of rules on Aires and what to expect. It not only gave everyone the full picture of what an Aire was, but also made it clear how they should be treated and used.
Something that’s really lacking in today’s world of the APP, where any newbies may not know that there are rules and etiquette to abide by.
We used to love Practical Motorhome Magazine dropping through the letterbox every month. Not only did it educate us on all aspects of motorhome life, but it also lead to me writing articles for them which I still do!
Another motorhome magazine, MMM was also a regular to our coffee table. A combination of both these magazines gave us inspiration for travel, knowledge of the latest motorhome layouts and models and great tips on problem solving and technical advice.
Today, they are still going strong. Although, there’s also a mass of information available from other sources which never existed.
This has to be our biggest bug bear, simply because although many people won’t know the difference, we certainly have seen it.
Freedom from motorhome travel used to be unimaginable compared to today’s standards. As there were so few of us on the road. It used to be unusual and definitely not cool to have a motorhome.
So, we basically had the place to ourselves. There was always plenty of empty places to park overnight, where no one would batt an eyelid.
Despite having big motorhomes back then, parking wasn’t really an issue. There was no competing with other motorhomes for a place to park unless you were in a top tourist area in the height of Summer.
Even then, other motorhomes would move to make room for you, there was a mutual love for the hobby and wanting to enjoy the location together.
Low Emission Zones – How Has Motorhome Life Changed
Finally, there’s the future to consider with the drive for Net Zero seeing Diesel vehicle production stopped at the end of this decade.
It will remain to be seen if this will bring more regulation or restrictive use for diesel vehicles already in existence. We can’t help but feel it very well may do.
Already “Low Emission Zones” seem to be creeping into more and more towns and cities across not only the UK, but Europe too.
At the moment our vehicle is Euro 6 and exempt from low emission zone fees, but it didn’t stop us receiving our first fine this month. This happened leaving the Caravan and Motorhome Club Crystal Palace Site in London. It’s a site we’ve been to numerous times before, taking the same route home.
A week or so later, a fine from Transport for London dropped through the letterbox. Fortunately, after lengthy communication and a letter of conformity from Mercedes, we will hopefully see the fine dropped but await to have confirmation.
20mph Speed Limits
Here in Wales the, Welsh Government this Summer passed a law to reduce speed limits to 20mph on current 30mph roads throughout Wales. This will take effect in 2023.
It will be up to local councils to decide which roads if any will stay at 30mph. This could make travelling through usually pleasant scenic or coastal routes boring, lengthy and unappealing, whilst the emphasis is concentrating on the speedometer and sticking to a sluggish 20mph.
There are already some 20mph restrictions in other parts of the world, for instance in New Zealand they have these outside schools but only during term time and during certain times of the school day.
Elsewhere across the UK and Europe, there are reduced speed limits in some residential areas of cities and indeed outside schools. We’ve yet to drive anywhere where such low speed limits cover a country or region the size of Wales. Watch this space if it remains unusual or if the Welsh Government law will be the first of many.
Motorhome Layouts and Models
So one of the most important decisions you make has to be which layout and model to buy. Strangely enough, we think on the whole, there’s not much change on this front.
Most British motorhomes still have beds that need making up, like an end lounge layout. They’ve never really made the big transition into the transverse bed with a garage, that dominates the European markets.
One of the big layout changes came with the Island bed and increase in A-Class motorhomes into the market. The most obvious difference though is panel vans. The past 6 years has seen almost every manufacturer introduce a panel van range – they are ultra popular.
Pop Up Roof Tents
Then the most recent trend is a pop-up roof on a panel van. We can’t understand why this is so popular.
After all, why remove a roof on a van that you can stand up in to add a roof tent? Especially as a roof tent potentially has a limited life cycle. It’s also cold off-season and has to be put away to move the van.
The increase of pop up roof tents on vans that you can’t otherwise stand up in is also literally through the roof!! Ha ha..pardon the pun!
When we ordered our Sprinter 4×4 in January 2015, there was hardly any choice available from manufactures offering this option.
Back in 2002, we had a very basic camera with a film reel inside – remember those? So, we had to take our film to be developed and hope for the best, like everyone else on the planet.
Luckily for us, we also had a Sony camcorder, so we could make film of our adventures if we remembered to take it with us!
Soon, we’d have a digital camera and we could store photo’s on a CD – Wow! Then came a digital camera and memory stick option for storage.
The procession to a phone camera was ages away and it wasn’t until we bought one of the later iPhone’s that our camera phone was good enough to match a camera.
Then along came the GoPro, we’ve had a couple of these and found them great, but we’ve not yet progressed to a Drone. Simply because, it’s all so time consuming!
Now we use a Panasonic digital camera and the latest iPhone’s, all instantly showing and sharing travels to the world.
2002 To 2022 – What a Journey – How Has Motorhome Life Changed
So going back to where we started in 2002, we’re obviously still here with a motorhome and van travels. It’s been an incredible couple of decades for us. Having a motorhome enabled us to see the most incredible parts of the world. In fact most of which we wouldn’t have seen without.
Not only did we make it our business, having a motorhome hire business for 9 years, but campervan life also lead to some of the most amazing years of our lives.
From Australia to New Zealand And Europe
Without it, we wouldn’t have driven across Australia. Buying a Toyota Hi-Ace van and converting it into a campervan out of IKEA stuff!
Then, we travelled to New Zealand, where once again we bought a van. This time it was an LDV van, before converting it into a campervan and spending our Winter there – until NZ closed its border.
Only for New Zealand’s exceptionally long lockdown – they remained closed when Europe re-opened, we would still have our NZ campervan. Unfortunately, with no end in sight to returning, we sold it.
Lastly, here in Europe, we’ve travelled extensively through countries and regions beyond our imagination. We’ve had a wonderful time exploring. In particular, the early days brought a chance to gain experience without the distractions of technology.
It was a chance to absorb every little detail of what was going on around us. We’d be immersed in the magazines, reading, learning and educating ourselves on every aspect of motorhome life.
Fellow Motorhome Experts – How Has Motorhome Life Changed
When we first started out, the people we spoke to who also had a motorhome really knew their stuff. They were part of a unique group, because there were so few out there owning a motorhome, those that did were pretty much hard core and dedicated.
We learnt so much from talking in person with people, whether we met them on an Aire or a campsite or through a club. They shared their experiences and knowledge and we listened and learnt from them.
Now, there are so many vanlife people on social media, with vlogs, blogs and podcasts. Probably only a few have real in depth knowledge and expertise, but they are good at the technology to give great inspiration.
From those who live in a campervan or motorhome to others travelling the world or just going on a weekend away – the internet has brought social media influencers the world over.
Too Busy Filming, Writing, Sharing
So back to the modern world of motorhome travel and vanlife. We love sharing our adventures and writing about them too. But, this is one of those love-hate relationships that we’re never too sure about.
It used to be so simple, how motorhome life has changed with the advances in technology. We’d drive off into the sunset, enjoying every moment without any distractions from modern technology.
Now, we sometimes feel as if we’re travelling and seeing through a lens. Instead of absorbing the journey with our eyes alone.
Years ago, we wouldn’t be reaching for the smart phone every minute, downloading photo’s. Let alone sharing on social media and reading other peoples posts.
It’s the worst distraction of all and one aspect of motorhome life that we’re torn with. Trying to limit time sharing our knowledge and travels helps. Often though, we feels it’s all too consuming.
Many times we’ve thought about not sharing. However, it’s not only inspiring for others but good for friends and family to see too.
How Has Motorhome Life Change – The Future
Finally, how do we feel about vanlife now? Well, we’d love to go back to the days when places were undiscovered by the masses. Though, it’s also great to remember just how good it used to be and how fortunate we were to have experienced those times.
Now, we’re hoping to continue the great hobby that started all those years ago, but it’s time to re-ignite the flame. For us, without sounding ungrateful, the tame travels of Western Europe feel too ordinary. Although there are wonderful places to see, they just don’t have the thrill that our Australian trip gave us and this is what we crave.
We need to find real adventure again, places to get out of the comfort zone and bring back a “Wow” factor. We have the van to go anywhere, which is why we bought it, so now we need to use it to it’s full potential!
So, with a little motivation and off the beaten track regions we can hopefully find some lesser-motorhome populated areas to explore. Let the research begin and fingers crossed they’ll be a brighter future ahead for us and our “Dreamcatcher” name campervan!