What’s Vanlife like in Winter?
This Winter’s big freeze may be coming as a bit of a shock for those staying in a motorhome or campervan. As temperatures continue to plummet and the thermometer showing -5C, we ask the question what’s vanlife really like in Winter?
For many people experiencing the first bitterly cold Winter in several years, this may come as a reality check. Already, temperatures in some parts of the UK hit -15C during the past week and it’s only December.
Whilst over in Europe, the extreme cold has seen temperatures of -17C. Much to the appreciation of our son, who’s been skiing in the French Alps in incredible snow conditions.
Spending our Winters in a Van
So in 1989 we bought our very first van, which back then was a touring caravan. Although wisely, we never used this in Winter.
I say wisely, because it had no heating, just single glazing and a foot pump for cold water. Strangely enough, despite it being basic, we did have a portable toilet in a separate cubicle.
During the 1990’s when we really got into touring caravan travels, we still put the caravan away for Winter.
It wasn’t until we swapped tourers for motorhomes in the early 00’s that we began using our motorhome all year round, regardless of the weather.
Nigel had a thing that because a motorhome cost so much more than a caravan, we’d have to use it in Winter too. Of course, he was right, but it was a really big learning curve from day one, despite having lots of experience from years earlier.
Living in a Van in 1990 – What’s Vanlife like in Winter?
Our first encounter with living in a van came before we were married, which many of you may not know. Back in 1990, we had a caravan in North Wales, which we lived in for 2 years. The experience was both good and bad, but above all it was a steep learning curve.
Despite our caravan being brand new and a static, featuring all the mod cons of its day, it was nothing like living in a house. Although, it was certainly our home for the duration and we enjoyed the time we had in it.
However, the worse bits were ones that stayed with us to this day with so many lessons learnt. For example, during our first Winter, not only did our pipes freeze when the temperatures dropped, but then we couldn’t defrost them!
I still remember, Nigel and my Dad crawling under the caravan trying to do something to help but to no avail. Luckily, that cold stop didn’t last long. The big thaw came a few days later without a burst pipe, but that was just luck. Afterwards, we were able to lag the pipes underneath a bit better but it didn’t help with the worry of it freezing again.
The Van was Swaying
Not only is the freezing conditions awful, but gale force winds are simply terrifying when living in a van. I’m not quite sure how our caravan didn’t blow over, but somehow it stayed in situe throughout the worst gales imaginable.
Maybe that’s because it was tied down with the biggest chain you’ve ever seen. Otherwise perhaps we would have ended in the sea below our pitch or at least on its side. The van was swaying so bad, I’d feel sea sick!
Condensation is a Menace – What’s Vanlife like in Winter?
Then, the other big problem of condensation is really not good. Our windows would be covered in it. Then, of course, we’d have ice inside at times which would freeze.
Although the most awful part of condensation, isn’t the windows but the inside of cupboards. It wasn’t long before we had mould and when it gets into your clothes and fabrics it’s just horrid.
As for being warm, our caravan wasn’t too bad, as long as the heating was going, the warmth stayed in. However, as soon as the heater went off, the temperature dropped rapidly. There was little in the way of good enough insulation to keep the warm air in.
Gas Heating Drinks the Gas
Our first Winter travels in a motorhome was similar to this one – bitterly cold with snow for our Christmas away in Scotland. Although it didn’t put us off, it did cost a small fortune in time and money.
That’s because the gas bottles which we had to use as it only had Truma Gas, would run out every 4 days.
Yes, the van may have been warm, but the gas used was ridiculous and sourcing bottles in the snow was a nusiance. After that we bought a small electric heater to take and plug in, but this meant having to use campsites.
Motorhome with No water and Frozen To the Pitch
18 years ago we took our first ski trip abroad in our motorhome. Typically, I haven’t any photo’s to hand of our Swift Bessacarr frozen solid. Yes in terms of technology, times have changed!
Our motorhome water tanks had long since frozen up before arriving in the Alps and it wasn’t just the fresh tank. Just about everything froze. Including inside wastes in the sinks and the fresh water tank, which was actually internal in the garage.
Luckily, we were staying on a campsite, otherwise, we’d have had to call it a day and just go home because the water never defrosted, despite our best efforts.
Wet And Warped
Not only that, but we had terrible condensation inside too. So our bedding was wet and eventually the wood warped because of it.
Last but not least, when we came to move off the pitch, we had frozen solid to it! After lots of de-icing, the site tractor eventually got us out.
The Carthago coped with Bitter Cold Winter
Our Winter travels improved no end from 2008, when we bought a Carthago Chic motorhome. This was superb and totally fit for bitter cold winter travels. So much so, that we never looked back and didn’t have any more frozen pipes. The Aldi heating was fantastic, it’s so good having a silent system too, but we still used loads of gas.
Even the condensation was eliminated, the only wet stuff being inside the huge windscreen.
But, this doesn’t mean we didn’t have horrific weather, far from it. Winter’s were bitterly cold at times, especially in Europe, where the salopettes were worn without a ski resort in sight.
Winter is Cold, Dark and can be Dismal
To be honest, when people ask “what’s vanlife like in Winter”, I think about so many good experiences, but also some really off putting ones too.
There’s all the times we’ve searched high and low for the basics, such as water. Either taps have been frozen solid or turned off by authorities and that’s without finding a place to empty the loo.
When the weather is cold, everything is more of an effort. Even finding a place to park can become difficult, as the nights draw in and pitch darkness descends.
Then, your’e in such a small space for so long with no hope of sitting outside until Summer comes calling again.
Short days and Deserted Locations
With short days and Summer locations deserted, Winter travels just don’t have the same appeal. That’s why, after years of spending Winters in cold weather, we decided to change our travel habits when we bought our new campervan 7 years ago.
Instead, we started going to warmer climates in Winter. First, escaping o the coast of Spain, before venturing to the Southern Hemisphere to Australia and New Zealand, where we also had a campervan.
Going Full Circle – What’s Vanlife like in Winter?
We feel like we’ve gone full circle. From absolutely loving motorhome and vanlife in Winter, to now feeling it’s better spent in our house. With plenty of space for family and room to spread out, it feels good to potter in our bricks and mortar home for change.
Having said that vanlife has its addictive element and there’s no doubt, there will be more Winter van travels to come. However, to where, for how long and when will take a bit more thinking about, because the big appeal for us has to be warmth in Winter.
In Europe, this means there’s only really Spain, Portugal or Morrocco for guaranteed Winter Sun. Due to the 90 day rule effecting our own travels and with our current van insurance not covering Morrocco, it’s a matter of watching this space for now.
In the meantime, it’s time to make a cuppa and make another hole in our frozen pond. So wherever you are, enjoy the fresh chills of Winter and have a Very Merry Christmas!