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Am I bonkers? can you give me any advice

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    Am I bonkers? can you give me any advice


    This is my first post so please be gentle!

    I have a unique set of circumstances which mean I am considering getting a small campervan (ford transit or slightly smaller, a conversion type rather then traditional looking camper - think stealth camper)

    I live in Portsmouth with my hubby who is based there with our 2 children, although our oldest is at boarding school. I start uni in September on a 2 year course, but come next summer we are moving, I cant transfer the course or uni due to its nature. Because we get boarding school funding we have to take a married quarter in the new area (likely Somerset) as our main home.

    So I am left with 7-9 months depending when we move in Portsmouth, We cant afford to take on another flat, even a studio and its impossible to get a house share as I will have my then 3-4 year old with me.

    Now we are regular campers and we are saving for a trailer tent for next year, but now I am thinking if we could push the budget to £5000 ish and get a smallish camper, I could stay midweek in Portsmouth travelling down Monday morning and going home Thursday or Friday evening. It would be me and my youngest, as my course has long hours she would be in nursery until 6pm as I am in placement, so really its just a place to crash in some comfort over night and to have a breakfast and maybe a evening meal.

    I am not too worried about places to park up, especially as it will be outside the main summer season. I am concerned about batteries getting flat for lighting/charging phones, although will be using uni/placement plugs as much as I can to limit camper van electric use. I have mates in the area so getting water and a shower isn't a issue, but not sure what to do with a chemical loo!

    We are not a fancy family and quite happy without all the comforts at a modern house so that doesn't worry me, but am I being sensible is this possible or do i have big rose tinted glasses on? I have just seen a bedford bambi for sale (although not buying till next year) and its perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so that kinda thing

    and once my course is done, instead of a trailer tent we have a camper we can use for weekends away, and maybe add a tent section to it for longer trips

    anyway any advice for me?
    Last edited by sjadja; 18-08-2015, 14:32.

    Originally posted by sjadja View Post

    Now we are regular campers and we are saving for a trailer tent for next year, but now I am thinking if we could push the budget to £5000 ish and get a smallish camper, I could stay midweek in Portsmouth travelling down Monday morning and going home Thursday or Friday evening. It would be me and my youngest, as my course has long hours she would be in nursery until 6pm as I am in placement, so really its just a place to crash in some comfort over night and to have a breakfast and maybe a evening meal.

    anyway any advice for me?
    Hello and welcome to the SMH site!

    Now, it's the little 'un I'm thinking of here, but out of season it's very cold overnight, so you will need some kind of electric hook up. Could be someone at the Uni will know of somewhere you can stay, where you can hook up a cable and then you can get an oil filled mini radiator to keep on overnight. Then that's sorted. Your battery will soon go flat in the winter, as you will be using the lights so much more than in the summer. But you can get lights like the Rolsons ones, which use household AA batteries and last a long time. Hot water bottles are going to be a must!

    I am not too worried about places to park up, especially as it will be outside the main summer season. I am concerned about batteries getting flat for lighting/charging phones, although will be using uni/placement plugs as much as I can to limit camper van electric use. I have mates in the area so getting water and a shower isn't a issue, but not sure what to do with a chemical loo!

    Please do be concerned about places to park up, especially with a little 'un onboard. All sorts of people come out at night, and some of them are not up to much good, so be careful. Hopefully you will be able to find someplace as above, where you can get EHU, then a battery charger will see you ok on the battery front. You can empty a chemical loo in an ordinary loo if its connected up to the main sewer system... that is in fact where most of the chemical waste facitilies onsite are connected to as well. What you can't do is empty it into a grid that is a waste water drain, that's a big no-no with chemical waste, although waste water from your sink can usually be disposed of that way. In fact, you might be better on a campsite altogether, and it won't be much out of season. If you go for a small one with minimum facilities, then it won't cost a lot per week/part week.

    We are not a fancy family and quite happy without all the comforts at a modern house so that doesn't worry me, but am I being sensible is this possible or do i have big rose tinted glasses on? I have just seen a bedford bambi for sale (although not buying till next year) and its perfect!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so that kinda thing
    and once my course is done, instead of a trailer tent we have a camper we can use for weekends away, and maybe add a tent section to it for longer trips...

    I'm biased, but I would say that a Bedford Bambi would be too small for what you have in mind. They are also very old and a lot of them leak. Mechanically speaking, not much to go wrong, but something always does. Sorry if that upsets anyone, but it's MHO. You would be better off with a MH that is a bit larger than that TBH.

    To sum up, I would consider 1: a MH a bit larger than a Bambi and 2: explore the possibility of not wild camping and staying on a site with EHU (then you can double your space with an awning!). It might be worth joining the C&CC Club, as their campsites only charge per person, so in theory at least, it might be cheaper to stay on one of their sites.

    Good luck and let us know how you get on!


      As a seasoned year-round wilder, I think this is a great idea. If you have a reasonable leisure battery and are only using it for lights and the water tap pump then you should be fine providing you drive the van during the week. I would change any lights to LEDs and then the power consumption is almost negligible.

      It will be cold at night but if you can spend most of your day at Uni and your daughter is in nursery then there are only a few hours to kill in the evenings and by the time you've cooked a meal then you will probably get into the habit of having early nights. Ensure good ventilation to avoid damp in your van, invest in good thermals and a 4-5 season sleeping bag plus hot water bottle and you should be fine. In an especially cold snap you have the option of moving onto a site or CL with the benefit of a mains hook-up.

      I've camped in -18 in an uninsulated panel van without heating etc and survived. Similarly, as a child I was reared in a bungalow without any heating and from just a few months old spent my days outdoors in the northern winter in my pram so heating is not essential.

      If you're buying a van to adapt then I would consider insulation to be essential - Kingspan in ideal for use in a Transit/Movano/Trafic type van or Herdwick wool. Some Transit stealth-campers also hang Herdwick wool blankets over the doors or anywhere there could be a draught. Side windows are handy for observation and can be fixed or opening but I would definitely fit some Fiamma 400 or similar roofvents for ventilation.

      Good luck. I am envious


        Hello and welcome. You have come to the right place.

        I have many years experience of caravans, campers, contracting and living away from home in them.
        I would highly recommend you get something like this:

        These Talbot Express based motorhomes are plentiful, so don't just rush out and get that one, it is just the first one I saw on ebay. You can get a decent one for £5000. If you are going to have children with you, you will need a model with an over-cab bed, i.e. 2 double beds, one above the cab and the other is the converted lounge seating.
        If you agree, and decide to go looking for one your priorities when viewing should be as follows:
        1) Body condition. They go rusty around the bottom of the windscreen corners. Also look underneath, and expect a full year's MOT. For £5000 you would not buy one which has had obvious body patching up. Also the motorhome part of the body. If you have one, take a damp meter - you can get this from B&Q for a small amount - is it £5 or £15? I can't remember. However do give it some leeway. It squeaks and/or lights a light when it detects damp. A certain percentage of damp is OK and nothing to worry about. Look and poke with your finger tips around the corners of the roof inside, and inside the cupboards. If it feels squishy or if there is any mould, run away. There will be another one that is perfect.
        2) Do check that all the appliances work. For £5000 you will expect a fridge, room heater, water heater, hot/cold taps at the kitchen sink and bathroom, a shower and toilet. Don't worry about not knowing how to use the toilet, the people selling it will show you. In principle, I mean, not in practice.
        3) Check that all the cupboards open and close properly and the hinges are not loose and falling off. The best quality ones were German, then French, then - well at that sort of age, any of them might be suffering from the elements a bit. Just get one that is intact and dry.
        4) last on the list would be things I would call 'service items'. In other words, if it needs a new exhaust or tyres, that would not be a show stopper, just a motivation to negotiate on the price. Pay a couple of hundred for them and that's the job done. Contrast that with the situation if there is damp. £7000 later, it will be fixed and you will be distraught. More likely you will be scrapping it.
        Remember that these are commercial vehicles, built to do 300,000 miles before needing an overhaul. If you see two, one with 90,000 miles in lovely condition, and another with 30,000 miles with worn upholstery and knobs falling off, go for the high mileage one. Find out when the cam belt was last changed, and if it was more than 30,000 miles or five years ago, allow £150 or £200 to have a new one fitted.

        Lastly I would add that you will face the same compromises that we all do: When stationary you want the biggest thing possible. When driving you want the smallest thing possible. These Talbot Express based motorhomes in my opinion offer the best compromise: a lounge to rest in, small kitchen to cook in, toilet/ washroom which is essential, and a large bed to sleep in, over the cab - and the lounge makes up into another double bed if you need it. You can use a camper of this size both to live in and to drive round as a car.
        Best quality German ones include Burstner, Dethleffs, Hymer, Hobby
        French ones: Rapido, there are others, but as I am Of A Certain Age for the life of me at the moment, I cannot recall the makes.
        English ones: Autosleeper is far and away the best quality, with oak furniture and brass hinges and knobs. A 1993 one is little different to what it was new, and many would say is far better made than the current models from the same maker.
        See this Transit:
        I bet everything in it still works.
        Swift, Compass and Autotrail are all English makes worth looking at.

        Forget anything based on a Volkswagen. 80% of the cost will be for the name badge and 20% for the actual product that you want. For the life of me I cannot understand why those old air cooled VWs fetch the price they do. They struggle to reach 50mph, and there is no room inside. I cannot think of anything to recommend them. That's just my opinion, for some people they seem to find a use for them, but I am blowed if I know what it is.

        Any more questions? just ask here and you will be inundated with advice. Good hunting.
        We're here for a good time, not a long time.


          I agree, you need something a bit better than a Bambi, lovely and cute as they were when new they have not survived the course very well, judging from ones I've seen. If you like the layout of the Bambi and think it will be big enough then a Romahome C15 would be a better bet.

          Whatever vehicle you go for, at that budget you will be looking at vehicles that are at least 20 years old so you need to check very carefully that they are solid underneath. It would be worth paying for an inspection e.g. RAC charge from £99.

          I can camp warmly in winter in my van without EHU because it has gas heating & water heating, I don't use hot water bottles! However, if I'm on a site which has electric available I use it and run an oil radiator for background warmth with a fan heater to top up the heat when necessary - that works out more economical than using the gas. In summer I rarely go for EHU - the leisure battery holds up for lights, water pump, TV for a couple of hours, phone charging, laptop charging etc, but I do have a solar panel on the roof and if you are moving regularly of course the engine charges it.

          Places to stop - I'd recommend staying on cheap sites sometimes at least, to empty the loo - although you can empty it down any toilet providing you don't use chemicals. Many "wild" campers use biological washing liquid for this reason. A lot of sites do off season rates from October to March which can work out quite reasonable.


            I absolutely second all the GasGas has said in his post, and also Caz re. RAC inspection, especially underneath. My mum has an 18 year old Talbot Rambler which is an Autosleeper conversion. Everything in it works, and is still in pretty good nick. She has camped in it with my nephew often and there's good storage space though they usually do take a pup tent for keeping damp stuff or bikes or whatever in. It has a fantastic kitchen - better than my much newer VW - good bed layout options, and a reasonable shower/loo. It goes pretty well, handling motorway and rural roads without too much strain, even towing a boat.

            HOWEVER even though bought from a dealer it still turned out to have some pretty poor underbody repairs, which had to be redone properly. At one point she was wondering if they were ever going to find anything sound enough to attach the repairs to! Once that was done, it has been a super little van. Other stuff it needed over time was a new clutch - the old one didn't fail, but it was worn, and the new one apparently revolutionised the driving experience! Plus the handbrake cable had to be replaced and a problem with the brakes sorted out. Not a huge bill, but they do all add up and if you buy an older vehicle - any vehicle really! - you should expect to have to budget for some reasonable maintenance costs. And it is why I would definitely endorse Caz in that you should have it very thoroughly inspected, ESPECIALLY UNDERNEATH AND BEHIND THE BUMPERS even if you're buying from a dealer.

            That said, if you get a good one you will have a load of fun with it and it will last you very well.

            My website and My blog, which includes 'On Location' trip reports.


              Hi, many thanks for your all advice its much appreciated, you are right its a delicate balance between wanting space and wanting something small to drive and park and well look less obvious especially in the city. the Talbot express does look very good and has rear seat belts which we must have, that's as big as I would like to go (also like the romahome) I think I have to come to terms with the big old look of a motorhome, but I don't want to pay for the name of a VW and waste money which I don't have.

              I must say I have been surprised at the price and how old a vehicle I will have, but then my car is a 2000 and its low miles and 100% sound and very reliable but yes as you say you must have a budget for repairs and I will certainly get a inspection, I know from experience how expensive welding and body repairs can be, over £1000 in welding for the MOT of a VW Golf - which got wrote off when someone reversed into it a month later

              I think I will use your advice and mix between both wild camping and sites, looking on the C&CC site there is a site down the road that's basic but only £4 a night! and ones with EHU for £9-12 a night considering I am only going to be out 3/4 nights a week and mostly out of season then its going to be cheap enough and well worth joining C&CC

              there are a few nice streets out the way around where I live I know are good places to stop and many motor homes stop around them, quite excited about our little adventure

              I don't mind water bottles for helping heating beds and will invest in 4/5 season sleeping bags, a smaller heater (electric) should help in the winters coldest months.


                i'm sorry to say I think you'll find this a pretty tricky operation, all in ......

                I should first say that I am not a motor-homer, but a caravaner and ex-canvas camper, but have given your case some serious thought.

                ( I think, first of all, you must appreciate you, and your daughter aren't going for a fun summer break in the campervan !)

                The first step, getting a 'van, is naturally not a simple operation - and I think it will/should be a rather more complex job because of your needs( as will organising a site that will be there each week without fail.)

                With the little on in the vehicle, things like reliability will be extra paramount, as you'll need to be covering what seems like a fair old trip with her at least twice a week on a regular basis, after 6.00pm in all weathers - including picking her up on time from nursery !
                What you won't want is the two of you stuck on the 303, in pouring rain, in the dark - breakdown cover will help, naturally, but it's still time,and hassle, then paying/organising any repairs if the guy can't fix it then and there.
                (A breakdown is the extreme, I know, but in your circ's, has to be considered)_

                Comfort, including reasonable peace and quiet, and "security of part-time tenure" for your stays will also be an absolute must - you may be OK nestling down in a small van in the winter, but I can't help feeling a 3-4 year old might find it hard/boring/confining after the excitement wears off. Especially if the weather is poor for any length of time - the van will get very small, and things will get damp !
                And packing an awning up and erecting it each week wouldn't be much to look forward to if you used one ....
                If we were in Southern France things would be different, outdoors would still be a viable playground etc,,,, !
                All this, and all the obvious problems you'll have finding a regular safe site,things like loos, baths/showers, activities to occupy her in the nights away, ability for you to concentrate on your course work in comfort, and looking after your daughters needs, security of your site, power supply, cooking, all seem to me to present very real problems that should be thought hard about .

                I am sorry to be a gloom-mongerer, and if it was just a case of a month or so, I wouldn't be so concerned, but this is a fairly long term commitment, with a fairly rigid regular timetable, for you and your daughter, and there's no way it'll be easy.

                Have you explained your predicament to the the university at all ? Their welfare department may well have some ideas, especially about accommodation and child-care. They will also be able to help in organising assignments etc,, in your specific situation, I'd have thought.

                I suppose what I'm doing is thinking of all the negative aspects, rather than the fun side of things, but you aren;t holidaying, but effectively neeeding to work out a new way for you and daughter too live for, basically, half the week !

                Anyway, apologies to all if I'm being boring ! But, to be honest, i think juggling so many balls at once sounds a fraught proposition,frankly....

                But I do have the best intentions, honestly !

                Good luck whatever you decide .


                  If you are planning on using the camper for family holidays after your course, then 4 seat belted travelling seats will be needed, I wouldn't think a Bambi would have 4, usually just 2 in the front. Have a look at something like an autosleeper harmony or symphony some have 4 travelling seats and a separate toilet room.



                    Originally posted by rugmike View Post
                    i'm sorry to say I think you'll find this a pretty tricky operation, all in ......
                    I replied a few hours ago but it doesn't seem to appear, I will try again and hope it works this time!

                    I don't think your bring a gloom merchant rugmike, I think you have very valid points. if my course was a more traditional course where you dont have much time in uni I would noway consider it because me and my daughter would frankly go crazy with cabin fever. But I am in uni 9-4 Monday to Thursday/Friday or placement working from 7-6 4 days a week, so really by the time I have got her from the nursery and we have eaten it will be time to put her or both our heads down, But its certainly a very valid point its not a big space for a adult and young child long term, even for half the week. But you are right although I do realise its not going to be easy I am not quite appreciating how hard it could be with my daughter.

                    The uni are aware even though of what's going to happen, they do have limited student flats suitable for small families but its still £600+ a month and they have such a small amount i am very unlikely considering I am local to be allocated one, I guess technically as me and my hubby aren't living together 4 nights a week I could apply for a flat in the area and use the benefits system but that doesn't sit right and would feel very wrong and a little doggy, there is no way we can afford to run 2 houses/flats Portsmouth is a very pricey area. In many ways I don't see many better options, I have found alot of open all year round sites in the area that are from £4-£11 a night and open all year, nothing fancy but has what you need. yes its not the most ideal situation but I think it could be a workable solution in my circumstances.

                    Depending where hubby goes (90% Somerset but could be 2 locations, one is 90 miles away and one is 140 miles away) if its the 90mile one I may considering commuting again not ideal but to be considered.

                    what I tried to reply to before was, yes I can see that although the little bedford bambi is nice and small and compact and great for the city, I think something bigger would be better, I quite like the Talbot that was linked, and its not to big - like has been said its a compromise between wanting space and wanting ease of driving/parking. I think the talbot is a size I will look at if I go this way and would work for holidays after my course. They just look so well motorhome - if you know what I mean, but at my budget something fancy and something less obvious looking isn't a option, I see that now

                    I will 100% get a RAC inspection, I have been burnt in the past with a old golf that needed £1000 of welding for a MOT and was wrote off 1 month later when someone reversed into it when parked, and I got £800 from the bloody insurance.

                    I am surprised if I am honest how old you have to go for £5000 which I consider a large sum of money, but its my first time looking at them so I am now aware of the value they hold.

                    I just want clean, fully working, not damp and reliable, (haha doesnt everyone) but I mean I am not worried if its old (its going to have to be isn't it) as long as its sound - my car is a 2000 and had done 56000 miles and cant fault it.

                    Before posting I was thinking of just parking up, there are lots of places within a few mins of my house where people do it and its very quiet and they aren't bothered by anyone but I think now after talking to you all and after looking at the C&CC I have seen just how cheap a pitch can be especially as its not summer time and its certainly worth paying £12-30 a week for the extra safety, security and facilities especially in bad weather.

                    Thanks again for all your help and advice I am very grateful


                      Just an observation, if you go down the campervan/motorhome route rather than the stealth-camping plan, bear in mind that it might be harder to find overnighting spots in a motorhome. Few people give a stealth-self-build a second glance and it can be much easier to find good places to park, particularly as you'll be overnighting regularly within a probably fairly small radius.

                      I know many who do this, full-timing in all areas of the UK - they enjoy the lifestyle (as I would too) and they have no difficulties. The usual difficulty is finding a shower but you have already addressed this one.

                      Lots to think about...



                        I might be the only person here who has actually done this. Not quite the same situation but similar. Many years ago, I joined the Peace Camp at Molesworth and was there for a few months up to mid- December. I bought a cheap transit van and a friend of mine put in insulation, a bed and also a small wood-burning stove. I had my 5-year old son with me. I now have my lovely romahome C15 so can compare and contrast.

                        What I found was that as we went into winter, two aspects became predominant that affected me a lot. Firstly, it gets DARK earlier and earlier - which is quite depressing and demoralising - as at that time, it was just candles and a paraffin lamp. Secondly the damp!! It was not possible to keep the stove on 24/7 so as it just seemed to get damper and damper in the van and COLD. HOwever my son being 5 was not bothered by any of this - they are so resilient at that age, however he developed a persistent sniffle (which I think was to do with the damp). I ended up going to bed really early most evening to keep warm. The difference between the summer and winter months was just phenomenal. Other people living there had better solutions or were just hardier!. My god, I was so envious of the family who had a double-decker bus and a generator.

                        So getting back to the issue, now I have my Romahome, I think I could just about do what you are proposing, given that I have a solar panel, heating and water. My choice would be to stay on a site close to town, using van as car for commuting. You do need hook-up. You do need an awning. Put child in luton at night. Then you have space to study, watch tv, cook etc. Also it makes such a difference having decent loo and shower facilities.

                        Personally I think its great for kids to have experiences like this. All 3 of mine LOVE camping and are happy to go basic, also my 2 grand-kids who I am just about to go camping with. My son has extremely happy memories of being with me in the van before the next two kids came along!!

                        good luck


                          have been following thread with interest. My grandchildren (aged 4 and 8) would drive me demented if confined to van for any length of time....much as they love camping with me/sleeping in the van when I visit, I could not cope with their bouncing around for 7-8 months☺ Maybe your child is very quiet☺. Having said that, the previous owner of my tiny van lived in it full time with a child of about ten for a year.

                          You would need to be very sure about places you can safely park up, sure that your friends won't tire of letting you use bathroom and laundry facilites as well as electric if you need to re-charge batteries. Small porta pottis need emptying frequently!

                          With an old van you will need a contingency plan for if it breaks down and needs to be in a garage for more than a day!

                          All negatives aside, if you want or need to do things this way, you will manage. Good luck to you!


                            sjadja, glad you didn't mind my wet-blanketing !

                            Anyway, had a few more thoughts .......

                            Re: the 'van, I've always used a few simple first steps buying used vehicles, of all sorts, and I've had/bought a lot !
                            The good thing about motorhomes is they usually have lower mileage than normal use cars, and probably decently looked after, hence the often high seeming prices - if it's a conversion job, with a high mileage, it may have been a delivery/trade van in a previous incarnation, so take care there.
                            So, my 1st tip is ....look for a low mileage, which will be a plus in the reliability column.
                            2nd is , wherever possible, service history - the more bits of paper, including MOT cert's and reports, and the further back it goes, the better !
                            ( A sort of 3rd, and rarely likely, is to see if the seller is the original owner - again, very rare, but I've been lucky twice, and if so, huge good mark! )
                            4th is to walk around it a good few times with an eagle eye, and from different angles - it's amazing how many past "dings" come to light looking along the side with the sun on it !
                            After that it's the usual, MOT, etc... and Trade or private, makes not a huge difference, I've found, but, naturally, trade is generally dearer, but does mean you have somweione to back to and shout at and use the Trade Description Act on !
                            Hope that doesn't sound like lessons on egg-sucking to grandmothers .....
                            Next thought was, alady who worked for us used to let her spare bedroom out for 4 days a week to someone who worked in the town, but spent long weekends at his own home up country, much like your timetable - pretty rare, but she saw a Wanted notice in the local paper ! So, a "just possible but not likely" thought, really !
                            When I mentioned the university, I meant telling them about the "part-time accommodation" possibility, by the way, not a "proper" tenancy - again, a thought, that's all, you never know.

                            Very lastly (honest!) is the thought of literally "booking " into your site for an extended "in advance" stay, as it were, which might be possible, and would give you the security you'd need - do it for, say, a month or two at a time, for the 3/4 days a week - and would make life easier, 'cos you'd knowwhere loos/showers were etc,,,. and, how they work best ! I don't know if you could do that, but you also might get it on a slightly cheaper deal ? Especially in the winter ....

                            That's me lot .......... if any of it's helpful, great .... if not ..... so wot !

                            Hope all turns out for the best, anyway - I used to think my life was complicated at times, but I see now I wasn't really applying meself as well as you have !

                            Very best wishes, and congratulations on your get up and go spirit !!


                              PS - gasgas, that Tranny looks in very decent nick, I must say ....... simple yet functional, I'd say ....

                              bit like me I s'pose ....

                              well, the simple bit at least ......


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