what to pack
My husband Kev and I have owned several campervans over the years with varying amounts of storage, so we’ve learnt how to pare down our packing. The key when deciding what to include is to focus on the things you need. It might help to imagine that you are packing for a camping trip in a tent rather than a break in a holiday home. There will be many items that you would like to take with you, but non-essentials only have a place in your van if they are going to help you enjoy your holiday more. You don’t need perfume or aftershave, and neither do you need a bottle of whisky, but one of those will go very nicely with a campfire and a sunset.
First, a little about the type of van holiday we go on so you can understand where my packing advice is coming from. In general we tend to wild camp, perhaps staying at a campsite every few nights if we haven’t managed to find a shower elsewhere. Due to work we often go away in spring and autumn, when the weather is colder, rather than summer, and our trips tend to be activity-based, focused on mountain biking and hiking. We try to keep to a budget – we’ll eat the majority of our meals in the van. We don’t eat out in nice restaurants so we don’t need lots of different outfits and I don’t bring a hairdryer, straighteners or much make up on our trips. Our focus is on being comfortably dressed for van living and being outdoors in all weathers.
We found that the Toyota Alphard had a surprising amount of storage given its compact size, and that we had room to spare even after adding in quite a few items on our ‘nice-to-have’ list.
Scottish weather is unpredictable, even in summer, so you do need to be prepared for four seasons in one day! The biggest space-hogging trap to avoid is the duplication of similar items. Don’t take 14 pairs of pants for a two week holiday; take five pairs and wash them. One pair of jeans will be enough. You might have to relax your usual rules – wiping off a stain rather than washing the full item – but if you really can’t cope, a lot of caravan sites will have a laundry where you can quickly wash and dry items halfway through your trip. Underwear can be washed more regularly in the sink in the van or at a campsite, and dried outside during the day. Try hanging items off the wing mirrors or spreading them out on a picnic bench!
My top five essential clothing items for a Scottish campervan holiday:
- Waterproof/windproof jacket (plus waterproof trousers if you want to go walking)
- Warm jacket
- A pair of warm socks
- Shoes that cover your whole foot (not flip flops or slip ons which aren’t great in the rain/cold)
- A cosy hat and gloves
Other than that, I would pack a couple of jumpers, three or four tshirts or tops, a pair of jeans or trousers, a pair of shorts/a skirt (just in case!) and underwear.
These can take up a surprising amount of space. Decant your shampoo and conditioner into small travel-size bottles, and minimise any product crossover: conditioner can be used as a shaving gel on legs; shampoo and shower gel do the same job. On one trip we used the same product for washing our hair, bodies, dishes and clothes! Companies such as Lifeventure produce soaps that are biodegradable which are good if you want to try washing yourself or your clothes in some of our refreshingly cold rivers! Use your van trip to escape your usual daily routine – wear less or no makeup and let your hair dry naturally – hats are your friend in van!
The Cairngorm Campers vans have surprisingly large fridges which you should think of as a cupboard as well as a fridge – store non-perishable goods in it to save space elsewhere. We were able to comfortably fit two days of food for two people in the fridge with room to spare. Wherever you take the van in Scotland there will be supermarkets or village shops selling a good range of supplies, so you don’t need to do a week’s worth of shopping before you leave. The Highlands of Scotland are full of craft food and drink suppliers so it’s also nice to be able to shop as you drive, your next meal guided by the speciality of that particular area. Think fresh seafood on the west coast, or prime beef if you head east.
bedding and towels
When it comes to bedding you have two options: sheets and duvets or sleeping bags. If you’re bringing your own bedding, a single sheet fits the downstairs bed, and a double duvet is the best option. If you’re planning to use the awning to sleep in, remember to bring an airbed or camping mat.
So that’s it! My advice on what to take on a van holiday and what to leave at home. You always need less than you think, so try to be strict on yourself when packing. You’ll enjoy your holiday more if everything fits tidily into the van storage as it means when you want to stop on the road and make a quick cup of tea you won’t waste five minutes moving things around in the back of the van to make space. It’s an unfortunate fact that it does rain quite a lot in Scotland so you can’t always rely on being able to store things outside the van, even for a tea break. If you’re really struggling, we’ve found plastic storage boxes with lids to be really useful in the past as you can move them around inside and outside the van with no worries. For example, we might put all of our biking clothes, shoes and helmets in a box so that when they get muddy they won’t make the rest of the van dirty.