Normally my special features are reserved for hotels and vacation rental accommodation, but last weekend we did something a little different. We’ve been travelling up and down the UK to attend our sons’ sailing events for a couple of years now, and have often contemplated what it would be like travelling in a campervan or motorhome as an alternative to staying in hotels. Your automatic reaction to this might be that this isn’t exactly travelling in luxury, but actually there are some exceptionally luxurious motorhomes out there, and just being able to spend quality time with family, not having to drive to and from the hotel when attending these events, and the children (and adults!) being able to socialise with others doing the same is, in many ways, a luxury in itself.
On this occasion, we got to drive a 7.3-metre long Fiat Ducato Auto-Roller 707 motorhome, supplied to us by the UK distributor Auto-Trail.
If truth be known, we didn’t have a good journey, encountering lots of roadworks and traffic around the Knutsford area. Having never driven a motorhome before, I was still getting used to driving the vehicle so probably travelling much more slowly than I might have done had I been more accustomed to it all, adding to an already lengthy trip. As a result, when we eventually arrived at Northampton – the location of our next sailing event – we already had the mindset of ‘this isn’t for us’. We parked up, along with a handful of other motorhome owners, who were all admiring the vehicle since it was much newer (a 66 plate) than their own. We really didn’t know what we were doing but found all the controls fairly intuitive and easy-to-use – we hadn’t thought about using ramps to keep the vehicle level, but our neighbours were able to help out in that regard and lend us some spare ramps.
Inside, we found the layout worked rather well for a family of four, with a central living space and plenty of storage cupboards so that we could keep everything tidy.
This motorhome can actually sleep 7 although I think this would be a little optimistic and would argue that it is better suited to a family of 4. We slept on a double bed that came down from the ceiling at the press of a button, and similarly went out of the way during the day when not in use, without the need to re-make the bed each time.
The cupboards go up and down with the underside of the bed, ensuring efficient use of the available space. What we also liked was that when the bed was down, we could still use the table if one of us chose to go to bed before the other, and the same was the case if one of us was to get up first in the morning.
Our children slept in bunk beds towards the rear of the vehicle. These were generous in size (particularly width-wise) and beneath the bottom bunk is a huge amount of storage (enough to take the entire contents of our rather full Volvo XC90 when we picked the motorhome up and transferred our luggage).
We slept really well in the vehicle, helped no doubt by blinds that block out the light, and a three-part sunscreen that attached to the windscreen and the driver and passenger windows.
During the day, when our children were sailing, we were able to use the table in the motorhome to do our work. Normally we would be doing this in the sailing club, but the nice thing about this was that we could leave our laptops and work laid out whenever we decided to stretch our legs or help our boys in or out from the water, meaning more efficient use of our time.
As you can see, the table also unfolds to give a larger workspace (or dining area) if required.
Also, our view was such that we were also able to keep an eye on the sailing and see when our boys were next coming in off the water.
The motorhome also has its own kitchen.
The hob is concealed beneath a hinged work surface and runs off a gas cylinder accessed through a compartment on the vehicle’s exterior.
We used it for simple things like bacon butties in the morning, and heating up a chilli con carne that we’d pre-cooked and brought with us.
The oven beneath was handy for cooking garlic bread to accompany the chilli. There was even a fridge and freezer too.
Additional facilities included a lavatory and shower (yes, a shower!), but these didn’t get much use as we had the convenience of the facilities of the sailing club to hand. The vehicle had a laminate flooring throughout and other hidden pockets that helped keep belongings out of the way.
A display panel above the rear entrance showed us how much battery power we had (on both the vehicle and the leisure battery), how much water, and so on, and a separate dial allowed us to control the heating. We were rather cautious at first because we didn’t have electric hook-up and wanted to be sure we didn’t use all the battery straight away, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that our usage made only a small impression. Indeed, the next morning, we noticed that our power was back up to 100% thanks to the solar panel on the roof, so a lack of power was never an issue for us… I think the lowest I ever saw the battery get to was around 80%.
On the rear of the vehicle was a bike rack capable of holding up to 4 bikes… but also perfect for drying wet gear after a long day of sailing!
With greater driving confidence and less traffic on the way back, we got home much quicker, but by then our initial reservations had already evaporated. We hadn’t had to get up as early (the starts with sailing are often quite prompt) because we were on site, and we hadn’t to carry work and wet sailing gear back and forth to the hotel. We’d even been able to enjoy a drink or two in the evening, without the need to drive anywhere, whilst our children played with others sailors who were also staying on-site. This convenience, combined with the comfort of the vehicle itself, had left us converted – even more so when I spoke to other motorhome owners and gained awareness of how else they used their vehicles. One that I spoke to said he regularly used his as a ‘guest room’ when they had visitors at home, and even drove it to friends when invited round for dinner parties, negating the need and expense of both a babysitter and a taxi – interesting ideas that I hadn’t previously ever considered.
Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by Auto-Trail.