Covid changed the way we holiday. Are there six more obvious words in the English language in 2021? But let’s skip on the regurgitated negativity and, instead, focus on the silver linings. In the last year we’ve not only saved cash that would have been spent on exorbitant transcontinental flights, but been reintroduced to the UK as a legitimate summertime destination. Indeed, the pandemic turned that divisive thing, the staycation, into something of unimpeachable glory. Hordes headed to the coastline, Instagramming their respective vignettes with captions that riffed off: Cornwall or the Caribbean? Plenty more to fields, around which boots and bikes stomped and sped.
When lockdown one lifted, the predictable among us clamoured to book an Airbnb. So long as it bore no resemblance to where we’d spent the previous months, we weren’t fussy. A room overlooking the M1? Sure. We'll take it. Campervanners, a growing and ever more fashionable breed, looked on and laughed, pitying our desperation and pathetic reliance on others. For their trips weren't contingent on anyone or anything, bar a van. One that at some point, had been converted from a tradesman’s runaround, to a thing of dazzling function and form.
Over the last year the rental business has boomed. According to Camplify, the “Airbnb of Caravans”, in June 2020, bookings increased by 1000 per cent, followed by a 367 per cent increase in February of this year. In addition, rental site Fat Llama says the average age of renters is now between 28 and 33. Covid might have forced us to holiday on home turf, but in 2021, campervanning is far from a last resort, second-class holiday.
Charlie, 30, a startup founder, and Mina, 29, who works in fashion, had always been keen on the idea. “In April 2020, when a family friend said they were selling an unconverted 2018 VW T6, we couldn’t resist. With the world on pause, it was the perfect time for a project,” recalls Mina. In the intervening months, the couple have installed a sofa which folds out into a double bed, a pull out breakfast bar with a gas hob, a fridge and a roof rack. “It's definitely a work in progress, and the more trips we go on the more we modify and add bits, stealing ideas from people we’ve met along the way. Van people are very proud and chatty – we often ask for a snoop,” she says.
Impressive as that DIY project may be, the spec of vans gets almost unbelievably better, especially where professionals are involved. “We fitted a projector screen for movie nights in a van the other day,” says Emily Cotgrove, co-founder of Van Life Conversions, a company whose waitlist since the pandemic has reached 15 months. “Our conversions start at £30,0000, and have us fitting sinks, proper showers, tiling, solar panels, heating and WiFi - there’s not much we can’t do, and it’s just as well, because our clients are asking for more and more.”
Instagram has undoubtedly fuelled the fire for campervanning. The 10 million plus posts under #vanlife sell a romantic rendering of simplicity and freedom. While belongings are scant, quality of life is rustically rich. “You really can't beat waking up in incredible places with no one around, preferably by the sea, making a cup of coffee on the stove. It's pure magic,” coos Mina, a true #vanlife disciple.
Yes, it’s a far cry from Chloe Zhao's triple Oscar-winning Nomadland, though the film’s ode to wanderlust has propelled many to consider some kind of off-grid, self-sufficient plunge, whether for a long weekend or for good. “That film sparked something within me,” said Tallulah, a 31-year-old brand consultant from Balham, who spent all of her childhood holidays in a campervan. “I’d always thought it was a bit naff, especially when my friends would talk about their European holidays, but I look back now and think it’s the coolest thing.” After spending the most recent bank holiday on the Isle of Skye in a rented campervan with two friends, Tallulah, originally from Wales, is considering investing. A nostalgia-hunter, she likes the idea of a VW Type 2, but knows it’s not the most practical. “I’ll probably rent a few more before deciding,” she notes.
While Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand monopolise the geotags on the likes of @VanLifeDiaries, an Instagram account that’s amassed a 467,000 following, Britain has plenty to offer too. It’s something that Harriet Haskell-Thomas, Global Head of Styling at Net-a-Porter, does a sterling job of showcasing on Instagram. If the below post doesn’t sell you on the idea – charring dinner on a fire pit atop a cliff edge in Wales, admiring the sunset with a beer – then I'm not sure what will. Even familiar places hit differently in a camper van. “Despite us both spending a lot of time in places like Cornwall, Devon and Dorset growing up, we’ve explored totally different parts of each," says Mina. "Now we’re ticking off new places – we’ve already visited more of England than our parents.”
As holidays hang in the balance, campervanning provides the sort of stability that's become vanishingly rare. An opportunity to bed down somewhere new every night, against spectacular backdrops under star littered skies. The only problems, it appears, are that you won't consider any other holiday, and that as a fully fledged member of the campervan community, you won't be able to shut about it. To tell all who will listen. Well, half listen, while they scramble to bag the last cottage in Cornwall.