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Latest News Guide to living in a campervan or motorhome

Guide to living in a campervan or motorhome

Guide to living in a campervan or motorhome

Why do people choose to live in their motorhome?

Owning a campervan or motorhome can be an immensely enjoyable and rewarding experience, leading some people to wonder if they should take the leap to living in it on a full-time basis.

People’s motivations vary, but one of the most common reasons mentioned is a desire to escape the city life and the associated pressures and hassles it brings and live a more easy-going existence.

The allure of the open road can also be strong, even for people who are settled in their home, and the chance to spend an extended (or in some cases permanent) period exploring the UK and Europe can be a strong enough motivator to encourage them to make the transition to camper life.

Others may see it as a way of gaining the work life balance they’ve always dreamed of, embracing the digital nomad lifestyle whilst finding an alternative to an increasingly unaffordable property ladder.

Is it legal to live in a motorhome or campervan full-time in the UK?

The short answer is yes, it is legal to live in a motorhome or campervan full-time in the UK if you want to. There are of course some criteria that you must meet to do so though –

  • You must have a British passport or be legally allowed to live in the UK
  • Your vehicle must be fully road legal, so it must meet all the usual criteria such as being registered with the DVLA, have valid tax, an MOT certificate and insurance, as well as being generally roadworthy.

Picking the right size vehicle

If you don’t already own a vehicle it’s useful to consider the different types available. You’ll also need to make sure you have the correct driving license for your vehicle.

A key factor will be what size vehicle you want. Obviously, this comes down to personal choice but it’s useful to consider a few things when making your decision:

Costs – as a general rule a bigger vehicle will cost more to buy in the first place and more to run, including increasing your outgoings on fuel, insurance, and road tax.

Parking – you’ll find that owning a smaller vehicle gives you more parking options than a larger one.

Road access – a large vehicle could limit you to only being able to drive on certain types of roads. For example, if you exceed the weight limit or can’t fit under a low bridge. Some European roads charge tolls if your vehicle is above a certain category, so planning ahead can help avoid unexpected costs.

Storage – the more stuff you have, the more storage space you’ll need. Being able to make some ruthless choices about what you do and don’t need before you buy a vehicle will help narrow down your choices.

Furniture – do you have the patience to make up the beds every night or would you prefer something set up permanently? Is a fold down bed really going to be comfortable enough in the long term? Do you want a comfy sofa to relax on in the winter when sitting outside isn’t an option? And where will you eat your meals?

Electrical appliances – think carefully about what you want in an ideal world, then what you really need and decide if you’re happy to make a compromise. Do you need a full oven and a hob, or will a hob and a microwave do? Do you need a full-size fridge, or can you make do with something smaller?

Cleaning – it may seem obvious, but the larger the vehicle the more time you’ll spend cleaning it, both inside and out.

6 questions to ask yourself before you decide to live in a motorhome or campervan

Who are your travelling with? Can you live in a confined space with your partner on a full-time basis, or manage alone if you’re travelling solo? What about travelling as a family with children or pets? Trying to replicate your current home life is unlikely to work as your living situation will be radically different, so think about how you would make it work.

What’s your motivation? Are you clear about why you’re thinking about living in a campervan or motorhome full-time? Think carefully about what your goal is and what you’re looking to achieve.

Have you considered the costs? Living in a motorhome has different expenses which you might not have considered. Although overall it should be cheaper than living in a house or flat, don’t think you’ll be getting a free ride. Make sure you budget carefully and think about how you can make money on the road if you’ll still need to be receiving an income.

Will you miss your family and friends? Whilst it’s never been easier to keep in touch with loved ones, are you sure you’ll be comfortable being away from familiar people for an extended period of time?

Are you ready for a life on the move? While you’ll experience a sense of adventure and see new places, having no fixed abode can be a problem when you want to access services such as a doctor or dentist.

Have you arranged a postal address? You’ll need to arrange somewhere that important documents can be delivered to, such as your insurance policy. Bear in mind though that even with a postal address you might find that you forfeit your right to vote.

Travel light

The key to getting the most from your motorhome is working out what you need and what you can do without. It’s worth asking yourself if each item you’re planning to pack is genuinely something you feel you’d miss if you didn’t have it. Don’t be afraid to be ruthless as you’ll thank yourself for it later.

Another incentive to minimise the number of things you pack is the extra weight they add –  extra weight means extra fuel consumption which is something you’re sure to want to avoid.

If you can’t bear to part with your possessions but don’t want to take them with you, you can always pay for a storage facility. Costs vary but it can be a useful way of gradually letting go of your former life, or ensuring that you don’t have to start entirely from scratch if you decide that life on the road isn’t for you.

Some little extras to give van life a lift

Aside from the standard campervan kit there are a few little extras that could make your life on the road more comfortable while maintaining the minimalist ethos –

  • Folding furniture takes up minimal storage space and provides the flexibility to enjoy dining al fresco.
  • A folding BBQ can be a great addition if you enjoy the outdoors life and can also be used to keep warm outside in the colder months.
  • A good quality kettle and torch will also prove to be worthwhile investments as they’ll last for years and save you the hassle of having to replace cheaper ones when they quickly break.
  • If your vehicle doesn’t have one installed it’s worth getting a motorhome sat-nav, even if you’re a fan of map reading. More expensive models double up as a multi-media system.
  • Electrical chargers are a must for a life on the road. Try and keep these to a minimum by buying a universal charger that works with multiple devices.
  • A door mat may sound obvious but it will help keep the inside of your van clean and reduce the time you spend cleaning.
  • A handheld vacuum is another obvious addition and it could be worth considering a window vac for removing condensation too.
  • High togs duvets are a must if you’re living in your van during the winter, but you could also consider investing in a heated blanket.

Where do you park your motorhome or campervan when you live in it?

If you decide to live in your campervan, you’ll need to be careful where you park as most places will have some level of restrictions in place, so make sure you do your research before you head off.

There are laws that protect private land, so you’ll need to make sure you have permission from the owner before you use it. The Highway Code is a useful point of reference and the park4night app is a useful resource for finding places to stay.

Even if you’re parking in a designated car park or at a campsite it’s always worth checking that your campervan or motorhome doesn’t fall foul of any access issues due to its dimensions, such as height barriers or encroaching on multiple spaces.

For a comprehensive guide to parking laws and wild camping check out our article on parking laws in the UK.

What about wild camping?

If you decide to go wild camping in the UK, you need to make sure you have the explicit permission of the landowner before using their land, without it you could be breaking the law. If you decide to camp in a National Park remember that not all of them allow it and the ones that do will have areas that are out of bounds.

Vehicle security

Whether you’re a long-term owner or a recent convert, having made the investment, you’ll want to keep your motorhome safe and secure. There are steps you can take to reduce the chances of your van getting broken into or stolen:

  • Anti-theft devices – there are a wide range of devices that you can use to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to steal your campervan or motorhome.
  • Alarms and immobilisers – Thatcham accredited alarms are the industry gold standard so it’s advisable to look for their certification when shopping around. Immobilisers have been a compulsory feature for new vehicles in the UK since 1998, but if you own an older model, it’s worth looking into whether you can have one fitted.
  • Key finders – if you lose track of your motorhome keys you’ll be in trouble, so it’s a good idea to add a GPS tag to your keyring so you can easily locate it.
  • Trackers – if your motorhome is worth £50,000 or more most insurance policies will require you to have a Thatcham Category S5 tracker fitted. It is worth investing in a tracker regardless of the value of the vehicle, and having it fitted by a professional mechanic.
  • Steering locks – a good quality steering lock is another tried and tested method to avoid having your vehicle stolen and provides a useful visual deterrent.

Other safety devices to consider include clutch claws, gearbox locks, and wheel clamps. In recent years, a surge in the price of precious metals has caused catalytic converter thefts to increase, so marking your converter on the metal shell might make it more difficult for it to be sold on, and help authorities to identify it as yours. Protective devices are also available which utilise a steel shield that fits over the converter or a cage that uses high-strength steel that is difficult to cut.

Working on the road

If you’re already working remotely on a full-time basis, life on the road won’t present many challenges for you. However, if not, you’ll need to assess whether you still need an income whilst on the road, and if so, how you will generate it.

It may be that your current employer will allow you to work remotely, in which case you’ll need to ensure you’ll have access to reliable Wi-Fi and a suitable set-up to work from. If not, looking for job adverts that allow remote working is a good option if you want a reliable monthly income, or you can take a more flexible approach to picking up ad-hoc jobs whilst travelling. Your approach will largely depend on the skills you have, and the amount of income you need to sustain your lifestyle on the road.

What sort of insurance do I need if I’m living in my motorhome or campervan?

It’s a legal requirement to make sure you have appropriate insurance for your vehicle when driving on a public highway. Make sure you’re open and honest about your plans with your insurer as otherwise you might end up with an invalid policy. You’ll also need to make sure you have a permanent fixed address for correspondence to be sent to, even if you view your vehicle as your main residence.

Even so, you may find that it is problematic to get insurance for your vehicle when you plan to live in it full-time. Your insurance premium is based on the risk presented at your usual storage location, which in most cases would be your home address, so if you live in your motorhome you’re unlikely to spend much time at that location, which can be problematic for insurers.

Another issue to be aware of when you get an insurance quote is the level of contents insurance you’re getting. Even if you aim to live light, you’re still likely to have more in your vehicle than someone who’s heading off on holiday for a week, which means that a standard contents limit is unlikely to cover all of your possessions. You may find that your home insurance also offers cover for contents away from the home, but for this to apply you would need to have a property, with a home insurance policy in place. It is best to speak to your home insurance provider to check what would be covered in your vehicle.

Finally, if you’re retaining a property that you plan to leave empty while you’re away, as opposed to renting it out for example, then make sure you check that your home insurance will provide cover for this. Many insurers will have a limit on the amount of cover they’ll provide for an unoccupied property, normally up to 90 days, over this time you may find your cover is restricted, or that you have none at all. If you are planning on leaving your property unoccupied you must inform your insurer.

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