When we bought our first caravan we forgot one very important thing and that was how fast a child grows between the age of twelve and eighteen. We bought our family friendly four berth Swift Challenger 530 and had some amazing holidays in it… for a year, but quickly we realised that we were going to out grow it very soon. There is no point struggling on with a layout that doesn’t fit your family. The caravan is a recreational unit, something that you use as a family for fun and enjoyment, it shouldn’t therefore be a cramped awkward to use space.
For us it became apparent that our Son (who is 13 as I write this and almost as tall as me) wasn’t going to be able to fit the dinette bunks and sleep comfortably. We considered giving him the awning annex as a ‘den’ but that only works in the good weather. Also the pop up bunk which our daughter used is way too close to the top lockers and made it so she couldn’t roll over without clattering herself.
So we sold our Challenger (sad because it was a beautiful van) and set about looking for a more suitable layout. Our first choice was the two fixed bunks with the rear corner dinette layout. While we realised we would end up with the same issue over the bunk length, we figured the corner dinette made into a slightly wider single and would give our growing teen more space to stretch his legs.
Our layout is in short supply
It seems that every one and their dog wanted this layout, all the vans that I spotted in the various caravan sales websites were either sold already or were ‘Sale Agreed’ by the time we were ready to buy. Our previous van was a 2007 model and we wanted something newer, our top budget was £14k so actually we were restricting ourselves to a budget window of £10 – £14k and while there are a lot of vans for sale in that bracket non of them really nailed the ‘family of four who’s kids are growing fast’ scenario. I’ve now come to the conclusion that I probably need to switch my layout choice to the fixed single beds, end wash room type, as there seems to be a bit more choice in that range at the moment.
So why did I come to the layout choice of single beds? Well ideally I would like a fixed double bed, but when you look the font benches in this configuration, they aren’t long enough for singles and it’s not fair to ask siblings to share a double bed after a certain age. The side dinette is a non starter for us, the layout with bunks and rear corner dinette is rarer to find than an Unicorn (OK bad choice of analogy as there are lots of Unicorns made by Bailey!) so single beds are really our only option.
(Layout icons courtesy of Caravan Finder)
How would I design a layout?
All this got me thinking, I understand that the vast majority of caravaners ‘typically’ are over a certain age and don’t necessarily have four big bodies in their van, but as I have looked around campsites I see that more and more young families are caravaning these days. For families with young children there are plenty of layouts to suit their needs, but when they get to the situation we are in they will either sell up and move on or make do with a layout that they don’t really want. So what is the solution? One movement is to make the caravans bigger. Elddis have made a stunning Avante layout that is 8ft wide, I have been in this van and it would suit us to the ground… but it’s out of my budget and it’s a big and heavy van. Every revision of the big 4×4’s it seems is making the big tow car smaller and lighter, this is good for fuel efficiency but not so great for weight matching to your caravan. Making vans bigger therefore may not be the way to go.
After owning a caravan I can say that there are things that I have never used and areas that I think are not needed. For example, we never use the shower. Why would we? The sites we go to have excellent facilities. Using site showers means I’m not going to run out water half way through, I’m not going to fill my waste water container up and I have all the space I need to get dressed. The main table in our van was never used, in fact we used to leave it at home, we either ate in the awning or split ourselves into two’s and used the dinette and the center chest pull out table top. But now a I think about it, if you are going to use the center chest pull out table top, why not have a table top that pulls out further? What do you use the center chest drawers for anyway? Ours is full of attraction leaflets, colouring books and playing cards, so loose the drawers and have a bigger fold up table. Hinge technology has come a very long way (just look at the furniture adverts on telly where a small table melts into a large table just by pulling the legs) so why cant we have a bigger pull out table here? And, going further why not loose the side dinette? You see with the side dinette which is often opposite the kitchen means you have to have a kitchen that is long and all down the one side. That puts the sink, the cooker and the fridge all on one side (bad for weight distribution I should think), so, if the side dinette was gone, you could split the kitchen and position the sink, fridge and a cupboard one side and the cooker/hobb and cupbards on the other Just think of the extra work space you would gain. This kitchen arrangement would then allow you to have longer bench seats in the lounge which could be the length of single beds.
Moving back in the van, you can keep the double bed as in most layouts, perhaps transverse or even end bedroom. The washroom (in my opinion) needs to loose the shower cubicle and enlarge the sink. I’m a fan of the onboard loo, it’s useful in the middle of the night or for when it’s raining and you just don’t want to make the walk to the shower block. If you are getting rid of the shower however I think then there is a case for a bigger sink. Sometimes you need a quick wash – or you need to wash your hair and the washroom sink is not big enough currently for this. So if you are loosing the shower, what do you do with the space? Well make it into a wardrobe and cupboard space.
I’m no layout designer, and I’m sure I’ve over looked something obvious, but to me it makes sense to give a lot of thought to the things that are and aren’t required in a caravan and I think there is a lot of wasted space at the moment. I firmly believe that more space needs to be found for single beds, then if the kids are sorted and Mom and Dad are sorted then satisfaction of the van will increase.
I love caravaning but I have to say the one thing I dread is going to sleep, not once have I had a comfortable nights sleep in our van and that’s down to the fact that the layout just isn’t right. I am about to spend up to £14k on a new van and I do worry that this layout won’t suit me either.
If any manufacturers are reading this – I’d love to be involved in your next caravan layout! – Ian
By day I used to be a self employed website developer running my company www.designconscious.co.uk but now I have flipped my career on it’s head and I have retrained as a caravan engineer servicing caravans and motorhomes. I can be found at Telford Caravan Services I am also the author of Make Camp. I along with my family love caravanning and time willing we go as much as we can. I have two teenage children so their hobbies and social life take precedence but when we can we are off in our Land Rover Discovery to ‘make camp’ in our Swift Coastline Esprit.