Vitali cooks breakfast in Alphie’s ‘kitchen’ on the campsite – without using superglue!
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After All: Bring the salt but leave behind wine and superglue!

Image credit: Christine Bohling

With the rules for holidaying abroad still uncertain, our columnist founds an online 'Campervan Owners Society’ and shares his tips for successful camping.

“Time you spend fishing is not included in your life span,” Chekhov once wrote.

If so, then time you spend ‘campervanning’ actually prolongs your life. Why? Because nothing can compare emotionally with that blissful feeling of freedom when, having neatly packed all your life into a compact vehicle in the morning, you roll off into the sunrise in search of new adventures.

I got addicted to that incomparable adrenalin-enhancing feeling since acquiring a second-hand ‘grey-import’ Toyota Alphard campervan (aka Alphie) last September – a retirement present for myself designed to propel us (moi, my wife and our dog Tashi) smoothly through the periods of enforced Covid-related immobility. I shared my first experiences of ‘campervanning’ with E&T readers in my September 2020 After All.

Rather unexpectedly, that column (which, among other mishaps, described how Alphie’s flat battery was brought back to life by a kindly aircraft engineer, who happened to be camping next to us), generated a huge readers’ response – a  testimony to the fact that, just like myself, E&T readers did not succumb to the all-permeating gloom-and-doom of the first and then second lockdowns and were continuing to travel – if not in real life, then at least in their memories and imagination.

Your emails carried multiple recollections of your own campervan adventures. They also contained some useful driving and camping techno tips. One reader rightly told me off for the tangled coil of the cable connecting Alphie to the campsite’s electricity supply point and resting on the grass python-like, which he spotted on the photo accompanying the column. It was unsafe, of course, and I have been trying to watch the ‘python’ ever since.

So warm and helpful was your reaction that it made me think of starting a campervanning society for readers, in lieu of my virtual book club held on this page during the lockdowns, when the only travels we could enjoy were literary and vicarious.

With the rules for visiting foreign countries from Britain (and vice versa) still uncertain, we are now at last free to roam anywhere inside the UK and some other countries where E&T readers reside. So, it looks like the perfect time to set up After All’s own VVCOS – Vitali’s Virtual Campervan Owners’ Society, which every existing or potential campervan, caravan or camperhome-owning (or dreaming-of-owning) reader is invited to join. Membership fees are immaterial and are limited to periodic sharing (with me and other members) of campervan- and camping-related experiences and techno-advice.

Call it cheek, but after nearly nine months of (interrupted) campervanning, I feel ready to offer you some of my own hardship-generated ‘tips’:

  • Do not get obsessed with weather forecasts, which tend to vary. Go for the most optimistic ones – usually by ‘BBC Weather’ – which generously promise sunshine when other sites predict showers and snowstorms.
  • With space and weight of the things you carry being crucial, buy a small and relatively cheap toilet tent and set it up next to your camper. With most campsites having adequate toilet and washing facilities, you can use it as a storage tent where you can pile up your clothes, bed linen etc during the day; a changing tent; and even – as testified by my wife – a make-up application tent! It is much easier and more practical than carrying and having first to set and then to dismantle all those awful (heavy and hard-to-set-up) awnings.
  • Do not put up your toilet/storage/changing/make-up tent too close to your campervan, for you will keep stumbling upon its support (or guy) ropes in the dark, as I did repeatedly until I bought myself a head torch – a useful and undeservedly ignored camping gadget!
  • Always bring ample supplies of batteries, lighters, torches, and tent pegs, which tend to get lost easily. Carry a spare hammer, for, as my experience shows, it is often one of the hardest-to-find objects on a campsite, closely followed by salt, sugar, mustard and tent pegs. By lending the hammer to your campsite neighbours, not only will you gain the reputation of nice guy (or girl), but will also make jump-starting of your van’s dead battery (as a return favour from the neighbour) much more likely of a morning.
  • When on campsite, do not drink good wine, which requires proper glasses (not mugs) and certain temperature conditions, or you will be disappointed bitterly (in the true sense). Stick to simple, yet warming, drinks – and I don’t just mean tea or coffee...
  • Invest in an extra-storage box on your camper’s roof, but do not try to carry your pets and/or spouses in it, for you can easily lose the box when entering a low tunnel.
  • Invest in a solar-power battery maintainer – a small gadget that will help you top up your empty battery when your camper is stationary (and as long as the sun is shining) without relying on kindly campsite neighbours (see above).
  • Last but not least, do not try to mend your campervan with superglue! Laugh as much as you like, but I did once try to use superglue to fix Alphie’s front panel, misplaced by a particularly nasty country road pothole. The mechanic who later had to deal with the damage, inflicted not so much by the pothole as by my clumsy repair attempt, promised to have me quartered and not to waste any superglue to put my body parts back together, if I ever tried to do it again!

So, long live our freshly created VVCOS – Vitali’s Virtual Campervan Owners’ Society!  As a founding member, I promise to report to you regularly from the road which I am about to hit. This summer Alphie will be taking us to Northumberland, Scotland, Yorkshire, Wales and some other parts of the UK. I will of course be awaiting your campervanning impressions too!

As readers John and Eileen Hammil wrote in response to my first campervanning column: “More than 30 years ago we discovered that the Caravan Club sites had centrally heated shower blocks, and so we never stay anywhere else. We wish you and your wife many happy adventures in your van, and don’t forget the salt!”

Email Vitali via engtechmag@theiet.org, mentioning ‘After All’ in the subject line.

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