Using our Campervan in Winter: Tips for Keeping Cosy

Camping in our campervan, known affectionately as the Blue Bus, is a year-round hobby. Our ‘van is where I am most happy and I need regular nights away to keep my contentment equilibrium in balance. We also spent a lot of money buying our ‘van and it feels like a waste to only use it from Spring to Autumn.

It is frustrating that so many campsites close in the colder months of the year. I appreciate that campsite owners might need some downtime so that they can go on holiday themselves or carry out maintenance but there should be a rota! It is also clear that there are campsites that just don’t have the facilities for cold and wet weather camping because they either have grass pitches or facility blocks with no heating [although this doesn’t stop some opening]. In winter we will happily use a warm shower block but a Certified Location with no facilities is often a good place to stay as this means we have no expectations of getting a roomy hot shower and we just use our onboard facilities.

Water Matters

We drain the water out of our campervan as soon as the weather gets near to chilly, usually in November. We don’t fill the underfloor tank again until spring, unless we are on a site with no facilities, or we plan to be away for more than three or four days and the weather forecast suggests it won’t be below freezing. Our Truma boiler dumps the water when it detects temperatures below 3C when the campervan isn’t in use and, as I live my life constantly thinking of ways to save water, just throwing away litres of this precious liquid really goes against the grain. For our short winter camping trips, when we are using onsite facilities, we use water from a portable 10l container. This holds enough for drinks, cooking and washing for one day. If we don’t have on-site showers and are just away for a couple of nights we will boil the kettle and crank the heating up for a full wash at the sink.

Head to Toe Warmth

It is easy to keep warm in our campervan, although its insulation isn’t brilliant. In the winter we put extra carpets on our ‘van’s vinyl floor, as this makes a massive difference to how warm it feels. We have cosy Heat Holder slipper socks to wear inside our Blue Bus that keep our toes toasty. Our Truma heater works on gas, electric or both and this keeps the ‘van as hot as you could want it. For extra hygge, we have some soft woollen blankets and even a small hot water bottle. In October we change to our thicker 10.5 tog duvets and we will use these until March. Along with the blankets and silk sleeping bag liners as back up, this is usually enough for even the coldest night when we are chipping ice off the inside of the ‘van windows. Just occasionally we have used sleeping bags plus duvets! At night, if it is very cold we will keep the heating on low through the night and along with snuggly pyjamas might wear a hat to protect every bit of us from the cold!

Drying Gear

In winter, more than summer, it is important to have outdoor gear that will keep you warm and dry. We like to get out and stretch our legs and explore while we are away and this is more fun if you are not going to return to your campervan or motorhome soaking wet and cold. Many people can dry their wet outer layer in their bathroom, if they have a heating vent. Our bathroom doesn’t have heating but what we do find useful for drying wet weather gear is a row of four plastic hooks that fits between the two shelves above the passenger and driver seat [where a rear view mirror would be if we had one]. Waterproofs can hang here between the cab seats and drip onto the cab floor and gradually dry. This is the sort of thing I mean. If we need it, we also carry a low wattage fan heater to dry our kit.

Boots or wellingtons can get wet and / or muddy in winter and be a pain to store in a small campervan. Our solution is large zipped bags. We have a large wellington bag that fits two pairs and a ski boot bag that fits both our walking boots in. This means the muddy footwear can be shoved in the bag, zipped away, stored on the front seats and forgotten about until the next day or when we get home. If we have any newspaper, we will roll it up inside the boots to soak up the moisture. If possible we would prefer to allow the boots to dry out if they have got soggy during the day but we tend to prioritise the clothing and leave the boots to dry slowly overnight, so they aren’t cluttering up the space in the ‘van during the evening.

Long Winter Evenings

It is dark in winter as well as cold and the evenings can feel long. We either like to be within walking distance of a pub with a roaring fire or we make sure we have plenty of books, games and things to watch to entertain us during the evening. Dominoes is a favourite game and we always travel with a quiz book. Another favourite thing we share is that while the evening meal is being prepared and cooked the non-cook will read out loud, usually from a non-fiction book we are both interested in. We don’t have a TV in our campervan but we always take a laptop with downloaded programmes to keep us entertained. We are currently re-watching all the Parks and Recreation series and laughing at the jokes all over again!

Along with a glass of red wine, on cold winter evenings we often treat ourselves to a warming tipple and an essential in our campervan is Jägermeister. This German digestif is packed with herbs and spices that mean it must be good for you and it certainly reaches the parts other drinks can’t!

Winter Treats

Winter camping is a different experience than the summer and I certainly anticipate the warmth and lighter evenings impatiently. Even so, the winter brings its own special moments. A night of gentle snow falling on the van roof is precious, frost on the windows makes pretty patterns and sitting inside the Blue Bus watching deer pottering around a quiet campsite is unforgettable. At these times I remember that it is fun to be out all year.

2021 Spending Reviewed: Despite Rising Costs we Have Stayed Below Budget

It is the start of another year and time to share how much money we have spent in the last 12 months, revealing our spending habits in all of their immoderation. I divulge our expenditure for interest and accountability, as we aim to stay within the budget we set when we retired in 2017. Our spending is peculiar to us and comparisons are not always helpful but it does show you don’t need gold-plated pensions to have a good time. Any comments and observations are gladly received.

In 2017 we aimed to live on less than £27,000 a year for the foreseeable future and despite high inflation we spent under that figure for the fifth year running. In 2017, as new retirees, it was a generous amount for us that was around the average UK household spending but was less than we had spent while we were working. Although we had been tracking our spending for years, we didn’t really know how our retirement spending would pan out and, of course, as two vegetarians with no mortgage and a campervan there is nothing average about us! In 2020 we almost spent £27,000 but then there was nothing normal about 2020. In 2021 life was still strange but I am pleased that we have spent a comfortable £4,000+ below our budget. Our annual spending has tended to be a rollercoaster, with expensive years followed by frugal years and this trend, although it makes little sense, has continued.

As in previous years, expensive home improvements that we consider one-off are kept separate and not part of the headline figure. On top of the budgeted expenditure in the usual categories [see below], in 2021 we also spent £2,780 on new garage doors and a living room carpet. Even if this was included we would still have spent under £27,000, so I feel we have done pretty well. Our home improvements spending would have been more and we would have replaced our faded bathroom by now but have you tried getting a bathroom fitter recently?

Here is how our budget breaks down into my different categories:

Essentials – total £8,730 [38% of total spending] [2020 £9,833 / 38%]

Food – £4,142 [2020 £4,703] – We all know that prices have gone up in 2021 so I have closely monitored this spending line through the year and I am surprised it is lower than 2020. We continue to use discount supermarkets for the majority of our shopping and generally cook from scratch. The figures don’t lie and our supermarket spending seems to be inversely related to how much we spend in cafes and restaurants. In 2020 we hardly ate out at all and so food prepared at home was a bigger chunk of our costs. In 2021 we have spent more eating out so I suppose we could expect to spend less in our local supermarkets.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow – £3,854 [2020 £4,463] – I am also pleasantly surprised that we spent less on our bills in 2021 than 2020 but there is an explanation that isn’t totally about being frugal. We now have two full years in the bungalow to compare our spending on this essentials category. In 2020 some bills were initially more as providers got used to the amount we would use, not realising how frugal we are! For example, our water bills started off at over £30 a month and have now settled down to £18 a month, a better reflection of what we use. We also paid more in Council Tax in 2020 as we had a few months when we didn’t pay anything in 2019 after moving. The January to April lockdown meant that we were home all the time, not something we would expect to do in a normal year. As soon as we were able we were away from mid-April to the end of June and so using no water or energy at home. We did manage to trim some of our bills in 2021 finding better deals for our mobile phones and our boiler servicing contract. In addition we complained to our previous boiler servicing company [British Gas] and received compensation after some shoddy service.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £734 [2020 £667] – In lockdown we paid for some online tai chi classes to support our teacher and keep us healthy. In person classes re-started in September and we have attended when we can. Most of this money has been spent on new prescription specs and dental check ups.

The money we spend on the essentials above are, in theory, the minimum we need to survive, if nothing goes wrong or wears out and we didn’t own a campervan and never went anywhere!

Stuff (electronics, books, newspapers and other kit) – £3,170 [14% of total spending] [2020 £7,175 / 27%]

Household spending [everything from glue, newspapers and books to bird food, gardening stuff and parts for the bikes] – £2,506 [ 2020£6,189] 2020 was the year of DIY! 2021 has been more about getting out and about. When we do buy furniture we continue to try and buy second-hand and in 2021 we have sourced some fabulous items that will last the rest of our lifetimes. It is hard to call the G-Plan large chest of drawers a bargain at just under £200 but they are beautifully made and the drawers glide in place. A second-hand wine rack and a small cupboard were other good buys from our local GB Antiques emporium. We search out second-hand books in charity shops and the warren-like Pier Bookshop in Morecambe and, even better, when we can we borrow books from our local library for free!

Clothes & accessories – £664 [2020 £986] – Again, I am pleased we haven’t spent more in this category. There have been a couple of essential purchases. My partner wore his hiking boots up lots of hills but eventually the sole lost contact with the body of the boot. Some glue kept them together during our holiday in Ireland but we did have to purchase more this summer. We both also needed new walking shoes and after mine caused massive blisters and bruising on my feet I complained to the manufacturer. They sent me replacement shoes but I am not convinced they were faulty and think it is a design issue and I haven’t dared to wear them yet. In the meantime I had purchased a pair of Vivo Barefoot walking shoes. I love their shoes but hadn’t tried their more substantial styles before and I am really pleased with them. This palaver does mean I bought two pairs of walking shoes in 2021! More frugally, while we were in Ilkley this summer I spent some time in the excellent charity shops in this well-heeled town and purchased some good quality second hand items I needed, including a soft and floaty summery frock for a few quid that is perfect for the four or five days a year it is warm enough to wear such a thing.

Experiences – £9,517 [31% of total spending] [2020 £8,336 / 31%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £3,634 [2020 £2,834] – As well as plenty of nights on campsites, other holidays are in this category. Having had so many plans disrupted in 2020, we were determined to make the most of spending time with friends in 2021 and have had a couple of lovely weekends in hotels in the Lake District. In 2019 we paid for a self-catering cottage holiday with friends in Scotland for 2020. This was obviously postponed to 2021 and, due to another lockdown, has now been postponed to 2022. Is this a record for the longest wait for a holiday?

Restaurants & cafes – £2,225 [2020 £1,309] – After a woeful 2020, our 2021 spending in this category is nearer to our 2019 spending, although we haven’t got back to the regular meet ups and meals with friends in Manchester. We did manage a sociable night at Manchester’s Christmas Market and paying a small fortune for a mug of warming gluwein felt like a massive treat!

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £1,280 [2020 £2,093] – It has been a cheap year for the van. No doubt the Blue Bus is saving up for some expensive new parts it wants in 2022!

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,261 [2020 £1,227 ] – We travelled to northern Scotland and across Northern Ireland to Donegal but certainly haven’t put the miles across Europe on the campervan we would normally do.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £589 [2020 £403] – By the autumn of 2021 we felt ready to attend events and gigs again. We attended a Manchester Literary Festival events and saw Chantel McGregor and Turbowolf live. I have missed live music and it was so amazing to immerse myself in it again for an evening. We have been to see Morecambe FC a couple of times too, where you win some and lose some. In the spring many venues weren’t open but by the time we travelled to Wales in September we could visit a bevy of castles.

Public transport costs – £528 [2020 £360] – Most of this is the cost of going to and from Manchester by train.

Giving – £1,352 [6% of total spending] [2020 £937 / 4%]

Gifts & donations – £1,351 [2020 £937] – Another discretionary spending line that we enjoy spending but try and keep under control. In terms of donations, we have given to some favourite local and national charities throughout the year. Our gift giving has been more extravagant in 2021 due to so many disappointments in 2020. The most expensive gift was treating our son and daughter-in-law to a weekend away in a Lake District hotel. The downside for them was that we came too! Time with them is very precious and worth every penny.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2021 – £22,769 – I am very pleased we have kept the spending low this year and still enjoyed ourselves and will indulge in a small pat on the back!

Over my five years of retirement we have spent an average of £24,744 a year.

We are gradually spending our savings but our expenditure doesn’t all come from the money we have squirreled away. As well as my side hustle travel writing income, in 2020 my small NHS pension began. This is based on my many years of part-time and full-time NHS work and is the equivalent to 12 years NHS service. These both help to reduce what we take from the ever-diminishing savings pot. Although retiring early was fantastic, for me, saving was never just about being able to give up work before we were in our mid-60s, it was also about us having the financial resilience to survive whatever ups and downs life threw at us. Let’s hope we continue to stay afloat and thrive.

Camping the Night Away 118 times in a Campervan in 2021

In comparison to 2020, 2021 was a triumph! Okay, 2020 isn’t hard to beat but 2021 was certainly less of a disappointing camping year than 2020, mostly because we were only [although using the word only here isn’t right] in lockdown for 14 weeks from 1 January until 12 April. Those 14 weeks rolled slowly by in a blur of hot drinks, local walks and jigsaws. The day we could go camping again was momentous and on the first day of freedom we rolled into Burrs Country Park Caravan and Motorhome Club [CAMC] Site with plenty of other people who clearly were raring to get out and about.

In 2020, here in Lancashire we had less than 25 weeks when we were allowed to go camping. With the luxury of around 38 weeks to play with in 2021 we managed to fit in 118 marvellous nights away in the Blue Bus. Let’s hope in 2022 we have all 52 weeks to go out and play in!

Those 118 nights were in 59 different places and I didn’t need a calculator to figure that this is a very round average of two nights in each place. We always keep moving and the longest we stayed anywhere in 2021 were the five nights we spent at Buxton CAMC site. This was unusual and we mostly stayed two or three nights before moving on.

We travelled up and down the country for these 118 overnights but did have a tendency to travel up! Turning left onto the M6 and heading north is our default. We spent a month in Scotland in May and June and we took the ferry across to Ireland for three weeks in the summer, exploring Northern Ireland and County Donegal in Ireland. Our time in Donegal was our only trip abroad in 2021, so we had no chance to stock up on wine but we did spend some of our stash of Euros! Our trip around the peaceful lanes and stunning coastline of Donegal was a particularly memorable highlight of the year.

We did head south a few times, touring the Peak District for three weeks in the spring and spending a few nights in the handsome city of Cambridge. In the autumn we toured around Pembrokeshire and explored one of my favourite cities, Cardiff re-visiting old haunts and meeting up with old friends.

2021 had plenty of happy sociable times. We met up with friends with campervans on campsites, attended a Devon Owners meet in the autumn, met up with editors from MMM and Campervan Mag [one planned and one accidental] and we spent a lovely evening over a bottle of red with a fellow travel writer for those two magazines when we both found ourselves in Ullapool. In two of those instances it was the immediacy of Twitter that got us together, so social media isn’t all bad.

Those 118 overnights range from a lay-by in Scotland to a campsite with a heated indoor swimming pool, from simple Certified Locations and campsites where the facilities remained closed to sites that have sanitary blocks with underfloor heating. They also spanned the price ranges, from nothing to a staggering £40.50 a night [due to the pool and it was a birthday weekend]. I like the variety of places our campervans takes us to, from peaceful spots to being among rows of other ‘vans on a club site. We have had huge pitches, such as at The Paddock overlooking Rutland Water where our nearest neighours were not even in shouting distance and we could bird watch from our pitch and we have stayed on pub car parks hemmed in by cars and both sides. At Barrow upon Humber we had the idyllic small site to ourselves whereas at the popular Tollymore Forest Park near Newcastle in Northern Ireland we were almost bumper to bumper with vans packed with families enjoying the sunshine.

The graph below shows the ups and downs of our campervan years. Not surprisingly the most nights we spent in our campervan was 2009, when we were living in the ‘van full time from April and into 2010. Work got in the way of our camping trips until 2017 when the number of overnights took a leap following our retirement. 2017 was only disrupted by the Blue Bus being off the road for over two months after the Greek tragedy. Everything went fairly smoothly in 2018 [apart from the power steering giving up the ghost in northern Spain] and we made the most of our freedom to travel with 155 nights away in the ‘van. In 2019 moving house disrupted our flow and then Covid-19 messed up everyone’s lives. If in 2019 we had known what was on the horizon the following year we would probably have travelled more but we thought there were certainties and the trips we wanted to do could wait until the following year! If I have learnt one thing from Covid-19 it is to never put anything off again.

Happy travelling in 2022 everyone!

The number of overnights in our three campervans by year