Modern technology and manufacturing standards ensure greater comfort at the extreme ends of the thermometer than ever before. And visiting even the most familiar place out season always gives a fresh perspective.
For most people, camping and caravanning is undertaken at a time when there is the promise of sun and warmth, the prospect of some sea andsand perhaps, or opportunities for lazy al fresco lunches and afternoon siestas in the shade.
For others it’s the excuse for a winter adventure: an escape from the comfortable humdrum, the chance for a fresh take on familiar sights and places, and a simple way to avoid the massed hordes of high summer campers.
Camping and caravanning during the winter months can mean either warm, unfamiliar sunshine at the time of year we least expect it at home. Or it can mean crisp, frosty landscapes and splendid isolation, or even a chance to open the ‘van door and tumble straight into a pair of skis.
Either way, it’s a very different type of holiday experience from the more usual summer holiday. As such it calls for a different set of criteria whensearching for that perfect site and the rules of engagement are quite different when it comes to preparing for the trip.
Expect the expected
It’s really not rocket science, and it shouldn’t be seen as dull, but it does pay to plan ahead to get the most from your trip. Do a little homework and arrive with a good idea of what to expect. Consider all implications of your trip, from door to door, and then you can really relax and enjoy the journey.
What facilities are there? Wherever you end up, it will be out of season. So as a rule, the numbers of visitors on site will probably be low. Unless you are quite happy huddled in your ‘van all holiday, save for a dash to the local shops, it is worth checking what facilities are open on site. A decent bar, maybe café or restaurant, make all the difference and form a social hub. And a small shop selling basics is welcome for the convenience and helps the feeling of community.
Hardstandings? In wet, muddy conditions hardstandings are often preferable, especially for motorhomes. Check in advance if they are available.
How to get there? Out of season, consider the route you’ll be taking. It could be very different to the most obvious route in high summer. Bear in mind weather conditions, average driving speeds,
What’s on the doorstep? Again, unless you want to be marooned, a nearby town or village adds interest, activities, shops, restaurants. overnight stops (not all sites are open in winter of course).
Public transport? And if you can hop on a bus to get there, then so much the better. You’ll feel like a local in no time.
Fancy some winter sports? If planning some skiing, do your homework and check what’s available. Make sure you know about the equipment hire, where to get ski passes and so on.
Discounts for long stays? And don’t forget to check for special offers and discounts if you plan to stay for a while. Some sites will offer attractive discounts when you stay, say, at least 14 nights, making it a really keen nightly rate.
Preparing for the big freeze
Taking practical measures is vital and makes a huge difference to the success of the trip, so do consider every aspect. Carrying out repairs in icy conditions is no fun for anyone. And be sure to think about arrangements at home too.
Sub zero camping It’s certainly not ‘typical’ but heading off with your ‘van into the icy wilderness is not as foolhardy or unnecessary as perhaps it once was. With sensible precautions and proper planning, it’s just another journey. Apart from the basics (proper insulation, decent warm bedding, spares etc) try to envisage some of the details that you can prepare for.
Take some long pegs – always useful, even if snow and ice hamper the job of pegging out.
Awnings are invaluable of course (especially for muddy boots in foul weather), but be sure to check snow or rain does not gather and risk bringing it crashing down.
If snow falls heavily, keep any cables clear with a good shake from time to time to prevent icing in.
Keep snow away from any air ventilation outlets and flues (special covers are available for fridge vents for example).
Keep key moving parts like the jockey wheel well oiled – you don’t want these to seize up.
Pack some grip tracks or even a piece of old carpet – useful if you do get stuck on ice.
An insulating blanket or similar for the aquaroll is useful (raising it off the ground helps too).
You’ll need propane gas (see John Wickersham’s article elsewhere in this magazine) as butane does not vaporise sufficiently at low temperatures.
It’s worth emptying waste water containers at night.
Consider the need for snow chains – they could be invaluable.
And finally don’t forget to think about what you’re leaving behind. If the house will be empty for a length of time consider the usual winter precautions regarding heating, damp and frozen pipes, as well as the more usual domestic arrangements.
When the snow falls…
Think skiing of course! There are a number of sites which are popular with winter sports fans – you can step out from your cosy caravan straight into your skis. The slopes are not far away along with ski hire, lifts and passes. In these instances, the campsite will normally be a great source of information.
Alpine walking Mountain walks offer fantastic scenery, whatever the season and there are routes to suit all levels of fitness and ability.
Huddle up and hunker down There’s nothing quite as snug as a toasty caravan pitched up on a site covered in snow. It’s probably something to do with the muffled silence.
Russell has worked in the camping industry for over 28 years and was a director at Alan Rogers for many of them.
He now works for various tourism organisations as a marketing consultant but continues to write top-quality content for us. His content often covers European and worldwide travel, arts and culture, and history.
Can you point to Europe’s only desert on a map? Do you know where you can stand with your feet in the snow while looking at Africa? Guess where you can find castle-crusted crags, stranded in time, yet only an hour’s drive from bustling seaside resorts? Fancy skiing this morning, followed by a dip in the sea this afternoon?