Here at Horton Common, we have guests arrive in all different shapes and sizes of caravans, motorhomes and campervans. As I get to see so many different campervans and caravans each year and talk to their owners I’ve been asked on several occasions by people who don’t own such a vehicle which is best? Its a simple question to ask but a very complicated question to answer. However, that’s what I’m going to try and do with this post. In the simplest terms its about working out whether a caravan or campervan would suit you best as an individual. Each has its own positives and negatives, pros and cons. The choice simply revolves around thinking about where you want to go with the vehicle and how you want to use it.
So just to be clear with this post, this is purely a discussion about campervans vs caravans. With regards to what I’m referring to as a campervan, we are talking about a relatively basic small van with a kitchen/bed layout up to a panel van conversion. I’m not discussing the merits and comparisons of a full-on coach-built motorhome compared to a caravan. I’ll discuss that in a future post. If your not sure what a panel van conversion is compared to a coach built motorhome please read my post on motorhome classes and types.
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Introduction on Campervans vs Caravans, Which is Best?
Below I’ve referenced two videos on the topic of which is better a campervan or a caravan. First is the more ‘casual take’ from the motoring TV show Fifth Gear. The second is from someone who pretty much lives and breathes campervans, motorhomes and caravans on a daily basis, Andrew Ditton. With the Fifth Gear perspective their opinions are based from a perspective of using neither a caravan or campervan frequently (if ever). Therefore, their opinion is formed from just a few days of use. To counter that you have Andrew Ditton’s comments on campervans vs caravans. Andrew provides a much more in-depth analysis based on his many years of experience using and reviewing such vehicles.
The ‘Casual’ Perspective on Campervans vs Caravans
So the first video I wish to reference is from the motoring show Fifth Gear. In this campervan vs caravan comparison, they have a Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo vs a Caravelair Antares 485. They set a total price of outfit figure of £60,000. This covers the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo and Antares 485 being towed by a Volvo XC60.
I’m not going to comment on the finer details on the comparisons made in the video above, as I’ll do that more with Andrews video below. However, they discuss the general points you need to consider between the two. These include the difference in interior space and storage, how easily and quickly you can commute to and from your campsite etc.
It’s commented with the campervan it could be used more frequently for everyday use, school trips etc. However, while that’s not true of the caravan its self that would also be true of the tow car included in the £60,000 budget comparison. Though it is true that residual values will be high on a campervan (slow depreciation) which does have its merits. While learning how to tow a caravan can be daunting to learn at first being properly prepared with a route thoroughly planned means many of the towing related concerns can be reduced. However, it does have to be acknowledged that some people do find towing very stressful. Therefore, that may be a big tick in the campervan box just for that reason.
So What Was the ‘Casual’ Fifth Gear Conclusion on a Campervan vs a Caravan?
The Fifth Gear conclusion was to opt for a caravan. This is definitely at odds with other mainstream motoring shows (Top Gear). They concluded on a cost to value comparison you get a better deal with their car and caravan combination over the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo. They also determined that while the commuting experience was better with the campervan (not having to tow) the on-site experience was better in the caravan due to the additional space and facilities (toilet and shower). These are all valid points and a reasonable conclusion. However, I do want to make a few points.
There are cheaper/more affordable campervan options than a Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo. For instance, a new Nissan NV-200 campervan can be purchased for around £20,000. Secondly, the ‘use case’ they showed in the video was identical. Now, if you are a couple (no kids) who is interested in long-distance commutes around Europe, the campervan may have more appeal. As a campervan will be able to go down any street and park in any space suitable for a typical car. That’s obviously not the case with a caravan and tow car. Hence, a real/in-depth comparison of whether a campervan or caravan is best for you is more nuanced. In other words, there are many, many factors you need to consider.
An In-depth Comparision on Campervans vs Caravans
So now we have seen the basic perspective on the comparisons of a campervan vs a caravan from the presenters of Fifth Gear, we’ll now look at a more in-depth analysis. Andrew Ditton has been caravanning for most of his life. As he puts it on his about page, he’s been caravanning since he was ‘knee-high to a jockey wheel‘. I’ve been aware of Andrew’s work in the leisure industry for many years through his articles in various magazines and more recently his YouTube channel. While Andrew owns a caravan he does get to try, test out and review other leisure vehicles such as campervans. Hence, he produced the video below about his thoughts on campervans vs caravans which I think is the most thorough comparison available.
Basic Campervan vs Panel Van Conversions
I do want to acknowledge that in Andrews video above he is comparing a panel van conversion (toilet/shower included). This is different to the comparison that Fifth Gear did with the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo. I’d personally refer to the Marco Polo as a true ‘campervan’. There is much more internal space typically in a panel van conversion than a basic campervan. Is a panel van conversion, therefore, a campervan or a motorhome? I’ve had guests to Horton Common who would argue both sides. Personally, I think panel van conversions can be either-or. I regard a panel van conversion as a campervan with no toilet/shower/wet bath. If a panel van does have these facilities then I personally regard it as a motorhome.
The vehicle that Andrew uses for the comparison in his video is a Sun living V60SP. Does it feature a dedicated toilet and shower space, yes it does. Therefore, while I personally regard such a vehicle a proper motorhome, for the sake of this post its a campervan. Where it gets even more confusing is because you can’t differentiate campervans and motorhomes purely on a cost bracket. Because the Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo (campervan) used in the first video is £60,000 while the larger Sun living V60SP with a toilet/shower is just £42,000. However, as with the Fifth Gear video Andrew has chosen a caravan (Adria Altea) which at £16,000 with a suitably matched tow car will add up to around the same as the Sun living V60SP at around £42,000.
10 Advantages of Campervans over Caravans
Now I’ll run through the 10 advantages of a campervan which Andrew discusses in the video above, with a few of my own comments. Again, as Andrew states, its not about which is best a campervan or a caravan in all circumstances. Which is better for you will depend on your own circumstances and intended use for the vehicle. If the 10 advantage of a campervan below particularly ‘speak to you’ then a campervan may be your best option.
1: You Do Not Have to Tow
Now, I’ve known several caravan beginners over the years that have told me they thought they were going to find the process of towing a caravan much more stressful than it really was. However, I also know several of our guests who own a campervan or motorhome and the idea of towing does not appeal to them at all. Therefore, if the idea or concept of towing does put you off completely, then a campervan (or motorhome) would obviously be your best option. You also won’t have to go through the dilemma of choosing a 2WD vs 4WD tow car.
2: Quicker Set-Up Times
From observing our guests I would say in general it is quicker to set up and level a campervan than to set up and level a caravan. With a caravan, you may also have an awning which takes additional time. However, even without an awning, with a caravan you need to uncouple the hitch and lower the corner steadies (once level). You then have to fill up the Aquaroll with freshwater and position the Wastemaster. Though obviously not on Horton Common with our fully serviced pitches :). But the general point being, yes, typically it takes longer to set up a caravan on-site than a campervan.
3: Winter Touring and a Warm Living Space on Arrival
If you do wish to do winter touring it is a different experience in a campervan compared to a caravan. As the cabin and the habitation area of a campervan are as one they are the same warm temperature once you reach your campsite. Furthermore, if you have an alde heating system in a campervan/motorhome you can have a heat exchanger which captures heat from the engine while driving to add additional heat into the living space. With a caravan when you first arrive on-site in winter it can be pretty cold. However, it is worth noting, modern caravans heat up much more quickly. This is due to improved heating systems and better insulation, more about that below.
4 and 5: Cheaper on Ferry Crossings and Toll Roads
This is an example where a particular way you intend to use the leisure vehicle can partly be a determining factor when you make your choice. With a campervan, you are only having to pay once instead of twice for a car and caravan combination. How significant this cost difference would be is obviously relative to how many times each year you would be making such a ferry crossing. The same will typically apply when travelling on toll roads across Europe for instance. Where you will typically have to pay more for car and caravan over a campevan.
6: Significant User Payloads
The example camper van Andrew uses in the video has a huge payload of over 500kg. To emphasize how significant that is with a caravan you will typically have a user payload of only 150kg. However, adding features such as motor movers can reduce a caravans payload to even less. Essentially the payload is how many of your belongings you can load while staying under the vehicles legal limit. As Andrew states, with a car and caravan, there is a payload allowance within the car as well. I would also encourage you to read my post on how to weigh a campervan.
However, I’m not aware of any car/caravan combination for around £42,000 with a combined payload of over 500kg. What such a high payload limit means is you are very unlikely to pack belongings within that space that would exceed that limit. A quick caveat though. That 500kg payload limit is not present on smaller campervans, or even that £60,000 Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo. Therefore you do need to understand weight plates.
7: Much Better Suited to Wild Camping/Off-Grid
A couple of reasons for this one. The main reason is to do with accessibility. By its very nature, wild camping off-grid involves going to locations more remote and with smaller narrower roads. Hence, with a car and caravan along those same roads, you may get stuck. When caravanning you tend to have a planned route to your intended final location to avoid issues. For instance, I know many people fret about having to reverse a caravan. Well, if you plan on going wild camping with a caravan in tow you better be confident in your reversing abilities. Wild camping in a campervan is a much simpler endeavour. With a solar panel and a larger onboard water tank you can pretty much go where you want (where legal).
8: Easier Storage
Storage is something you have to think about carefully when considering purchasing a campervan or caravan. Do you have the space to store it on your drive at home, or can you even legally do so? Some properties actually have covenants attached which specifically state a caravan cannot be stored on-site. I’m not sure how common these covenants are, but I have heard about them referenced in the past. Well, a campervan may not actually fall under the same restriction. You can pay fees for a storage yard. However, you have to carefully consider such an option. You would also want to discuss storage options with both your property and vehicle insurance provider.
9: Easier to Enjoy the Journey and Explore
With a campervan, you are much more free to go where you want as and when. To take more random and obscure routes to your final location. To stop along the way at a small village cafe for instance. With a caravan, your journey is much more about getting from A to B with as little hassle and stress as possible. Even with modern caravan sat navs, they are not guaranteed to not get you stuck and take you down a road where a car towing a caravan shouldn’t really go. Hence, as Andrew states in the video, if you are as equally interested in the journey to your destination as the destination itself, a campervan may be more suitable for you.
10: Your Facilities are Always with You
With a campervan, you always have your facilities with you. If anyone in your group has certain dietary requirements, or you need quick/easy access to your own toilet/bed then a campervan can provide that. Now, this does obviously depend on the campervan in question and its specific facilities, but the general principle stands. This can however also be regarded as a disadvantage, more details below.
10 Advantages of Caravans over Campervans
So now we’ll discuss the advantages of a caravan over a campervan. Reading the points below as referenced by Andrew in his video strengths of one vehicle become the weaknesses of the other, and vice versa. How you perceive that strength or weakness depends on your individual circumstances and needs.
1: The Separation between the Commuting Space and Living Space
Above with regards to winter touring its acknowledged that a campervan provides the benefit of providing a warm living space upon arrival. However, as Andrew states in the video. If you have been on the road for many hours towing a caravan it is nice to be able to completely separate yourself from the car. As a caravan is purely a leisure space and not a commuting space, it can be an easier environment to relax in. As Andrew states, once you get out of the car and into the caravan you ‘leave the business part of the experience behind’.
2: A More Comfortable Driving Experience
Ok, if the idea of towing gives you cold sweats this isn’t necessarily true. However, generally, a car has better suspension and handling than a campervan which is typically based on a commercial vehicle. So generally with a car, you will get a quieter and smoother experience. This is conditional on a caravan which has been loaded correctly and is not pitching or swaying. Furthermore, your caravan stabiliser is working correctly.
3: Significantly more Space
Now there are classes of motorhome with much more space than a typical campervan. However, when comparing your average campervan and entry-level caravan, the caravan is going to provide you with much more living and storage space. That additional space means fewer compromises with how you use the living space. It also means you can accommodate more people.
4 and 5: Your Tow Car Can Be Used as Just ‘a Car’
In other words, once you arrive at the caravan site and you have uncoupled the car and caravan you can travel around in your car even more freely than in a campervan. When commuting in a campervan you have to make sure everything is put away before you set off etc. Going to the shops is obviously going to be a lot easier in most cases with a car instead of a campervan. Something I would quickly add though is a point about towing mirrors. When your car is not towing the caravan you must remove the towing mirrors to comply with the law.
6: Caravans can be Warmer in the Winter Months
While a campervan will provide an instantly available warm living space when you arrive on-site, its not going to hold that heat as well as a caravan. A caravan as a coachbuilt vehicle typically has wider walls which contain more insulation. A campervan/panel van conversion is a compromise. Its using the existing floor, walls and roof of the base vehicle. Therefore, generally its not possible to fit in as much insulation, so they lose heat more readily. Therefore a campervan may cost more to heat and you may use more gas. That’s why for instance several of our guests have upgraded to refillable gas bottles, to reduce their gas costs.
7: Caravans are Generally Cheaper to Maintain
In this instance, let’s presume a campervan would not be your only vehicle, you would have a car as well. Hence, with a campervan having an engine, four brakes, full suspension system it will cost more to maintain. You would need to carry out tasks such as servicing the brakes and changing the fuel filter etc. Now, a caravan, including the brakes does also need servicing. But as a caravan is not an independent vehicle in its own right, its generally simpler, easier to maintain and therefore cheaper.
8: Caravans Commonly have a Three-Way Fridge
A three-way fridge in a caravan can be powered off either 12V from your car, the mains hookup when you arrive on-site or from a gas bottle. Campervans are typically fitted with a compressor fridge which cannot run on gas (LPG). Hence, if you don’t have access to a site hook up compressor fridges can quickly drain a leisure battery. However, some modern tow cars are actually creating some fridge problems while towing. If you want to learn more I’ve written a post discussing 2-way vs 3-way fridges.
9: Flexibility to Update the Car and Caravan Independently
From personal experience, we have guests that return each year and frequently change their tow car but have kept their caravan for many years. Likewise, I have guests who have an older but reliable tow car but like to update their caravan every couple of years. This is an advantage of the separation of roles between the car and caravan. With a campervan that not possible. You’re not likely to change the engine to give you more power and performance. Sure you could try a remap, but that’s about it. With a car and caravan, there is just so many more combinations and options to choose from.
10: Caravan Security
This advantage is very subjective in terms of whether a caravan is more secure than a campervan. Sure, with a caravan you can fit a hitch lock, wheel lock and even leg locks. However, are your possessions more secure inside a caravan than a campervan? debatable. However, I think the point around security is more to do with context. Leaving the majority of your possessions in the caravan on a campsite which may have onsite security measures in place may be a safer option. Say you want to travel to a city centre. I generally think most people would feel more comfortable with their possessions in a caravan on a campsite than in a motorhome on an inner-city carpark.
Conclusions on Campervans vs Caravans
Hopefully from the videos above and my own comments its clear there is no outright winner in all circumstances. Whether a campervan or caravan is best for you depends on many different factors as you can see above. We have guests to Horton Common who over the years have swopped from a campervan to a caravan and vice versa. We also have a few guys who own both a campervan and caravan and choose which to use depending on where they’re going and what they want to do when they get there. If purchasing a new caravan is not possible there are obviously second-hand options. Likewise, you can purchase used campervans, with some of the best deals available via private sale. If you are interested in a caravan I have a post on caravan layouts you may wish to read. You may also want to check out my post on campervans vs motorhomes. Also, if you are totally against towing you may be interested in my post on the best teardrop caravans which can be towed behind a campervan.
Anyway, once you have made your choice I hope you consider coming to visit us here at Horton Common to experience our fully serviced pitches. As you can see from the images on our website, each pitch has stunning views over the Staffordshire Moorlands and Peak District National Park. 🙂