The true cost of “van life” – Part 2: The operational essentials

Okay okay, I own a caravan and not a hip converted van so I don’t know if I’m allowed to use the phrase “van life”. But the principle is the same and there is a lot of content within this post series which will apply to true van-lifers, caravaners and campers alike.

Since picking up our caravan in early May, we have spent hundreds of pounds on things that I don’t feel like are publicised enough. I grew up with caravan holidays so I did have a vague understanding of the costs involved, but I wouldn’t want others to jump into the adventure without being fully informed regarding the costs!

This is the 2nd in 5 posts that plan to write, if you missed the first one – “Driving off” – you can find it here.

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The biggest piece of advice I can provide for this post is make sure you test that everything works before your first trip! The last thing you would want is to arrive to at your pitch and not have equipment that works – Holiday. Ruiner.

If you’ve recently driven around with your caravan in tow, then your battery should be charged enough to power the caravan for a short while. Ours for example, can last a night at a service station. But much like car batteries, caravan batteries can deteriorate and therefore it’s good to get familiar with the quality before you rely on it! From a Google search it looks like you can pick a new battery up for between £100-150.

For a more permanent electricity solution, you’ll need to purchase a hook up cable for approximately £20. I can’t seem to find where I saw it, but I recall reading that a 20m cable is the norm as the hook up points have to be within 20m of the pitch (if you have an electric pitch of course). Regardless, we’ve got a 14m cable and seem to be doing fine with that for now. When looking for a cable, you’ll need to make sure you have a cable with 2.5mm cores as these are most suitable for the 16A supply that you’ll be getting from a pitch – you’ll notice cables with a 1.5mm core are a lot cheaper to buy.

The Caravan & Motorhome Club has a great guide to hooking up your caravan to the mains here. To test your cable, it’s also a good idea to get a 13-amp converter – so you can plug into your home whilst the caravan sits on the driveway. I have seen these on Amazon for £8. Now you have power to your caravan, it’s a good idea to check all your lights & electrical appliances are in working order before your first trip!

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Next, you may wish to consider your water supply. You’ll need both a freshwater hog & a grey water waste tank. You can pick these up in a bundle set for anywhere between £80-£120. A popular brand is Aquaroll/Wastemaster, who have released an “economy” range made from recycled materials. The idea is that these are a little less durable – but also come at a lower cost.

In case you’re not familiar with the terminology, the water from the taps will come from your freshwater hog, and once the water is “used” and goes down the plug – it’ll get spat out of the back of the caravan into your greywater waste tank. Depending on where your caravan’s output for water is, you may need some piping to direct the flow of water into your tank – but this is relatively cheap and can be purchased for £10.

To get your freshwater into your caravan you’ll need a “Whale” water pump, and this is dependent on the caravan model but generally sells at the £50-60 mark. This tripped us up when we tested our caravan before our first trip – which is why I advise so heavily for testing before you go! We nearly had a weekend with no running water because of a faulty pump…

Next it seems relevant to move onto the bog! We have a cassette toilet in our Elddis, so I can only really provide experience from this. You’ll need pink & blue toilet chemical for your cassette toilet. The blue liquid gets poured into the bowl, to break down any solids and keep the toilet smelling as fresh as possible. The pink liquid is the flush. Reasonably simple! Toilet chemicals are quite commonly available, I recently saw some in Aldi! They seem to vary in price, but you can pick up a set of two for anywhere between £10-25.

Gas is the last thing you’ll want to check in your caravan. We operate with a 6kg propane bottle, which costs about £30 to refill and would probably last the two of us at least a week. I can’t claim to know a lot about using gas in a caravan, so I’ll leave this one to the experts at CALOR to explain. Your caravan should come equipped with a gas bottle, but if you have to buy a new cylinder it could cost £60. As for fire safety, you should also purchase a fire extinguisher for your caravan – and the Caravan & Motorhome Club also have guidance for the correct extinguisher here. On Amazon you can pick up car-sized extinguishers for £15-20.

If all goes well, everything your caravan is working and you’re nearly ready for your first trip! You may wish to consider access to your caravan at this point. We picked up this single step from Wow Camping online for £12.99 in the sale and it seems to be doing it’s job just fine! There are plenty of different shapes & sizes of steps out there, so shop around if you’re looking for something a little sturdier. With that, everything discussed in Part 2 of this blog series totals to potentially £466 at maximum. Added onto the amount totalled in Part 1, the additional costs to buying your caravan now amount to over £2,000!

Up next: Part 3 – the non-operational essentials!

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