Happy new year! Now, on to holidays…

Is it time to book a summer holiday yet? Can we, please?

Because a cursory glance in the fridge reveals that, once again, it’s salad for dinner.

Most of us are struggling to even stand up straight thanks to a new-fangled fitness regime (in my case just one class a week).

And dry January was a terrible, terrible idea.

BUT. The days are getting longer. Summer is a mere 143 days away. Surely it’s time to think about the next sun-filled mini-break? Yay!

Having spent the last 9 years exploring the southern hemisphere, we are now testing the lovely waters around the UK (I understand – they are not always sun-filled but it’s the start of a new year and my glass is resolutely half full).

So, where are the best places to take a campervan? Which campsites would you recommend?

We love North Devon in England’s south west and once we’d arrived back in the UK last year, one of the first places we headed to was Croyde Bay.

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Croyde is LOVELY. It’s got a fabulous sandy beach. Coastal walks. Great surf.

But let’s face it. The main reason any of us go to North Devon is the cream teas. Warm, fluffy scones smothered in homemade jam and clotted cream. And with every café, pub and beach shack serving their own special version, it would be rude not to try at least one every day you’re there.

That’s surely enough to get us through three months of lettuce.

Campsite review – Ruda Holiday Park

On our most recent visit to Croyde, we stayed at Ruda Holiday Park, which we’d watched being built before moving to Australia. Nestled in a perfect spot behind the sand dunes, Ruda offers a large campsite, touring pitches and a number of lodges.

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Still campervan-less, we tried out one of the lodges. Aside from the price, which – despite being outside school holidays – would easily rival the cost of an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean, our Clovelly Lodge was fantastic. It was light, bright and spacious and had literally everything we needed for a week’s stay, including high-spec fittings and appliances. Granted, it did officially sleep 6 and there were only 2.5 of us (6 would have been mightily cosy) but compared with my vision of a glorified static caravan, it was impressive.

There’s a well-stocked grocery shop onsite, a large swimming complex which our toddler loved and regular evening entertainment if that’s your thing. On the downside, there’s no 3G coverage and the wi-fi is only available in the bar area, where it was very temperamental.

Also, the eating areas were not overly inspiring – maybe a bit too child-friendly to allow for a civilised evening meal if you’re a group of adults. (Of course if you do have children in tow then the sight of a few chips on the floor might just make you relax about the prospect of your own carefully chosen kids’ meals being flung around. Nope? Just me then.)

Reading the reviews on TripAdvisor, the actual camping facilities at Ruda aren’t always rated very highly. But if you’re using your own campervan facilities (or are staying in one of the lodges) you can’t beat the location.

The beautiful beach could not be any closer. The cliff-top walk to Baggy Point is just around the corner and the pretty village of Croyde is a few minutes’ walk away. (And those few minutes would definitely justify another cream tea while you’re there.)

Campervan Converts - Baggy Point, North Devon

In the evening, try the lovely local pub, The Thatch, for dinner, or drive the short distance to Braunton for some amazing fish and chips at Squires.

So Croyde is definitely on our travel list for 2016. We could almost buy a new campervan for the cost of a week in a lodge though, so we might need to focus our efforts in that regard.

Okay, over to you. Where are your favourite spots to get us reacquainted with the English coastline?

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Campervan food essentials to inspire your camping kitchen

Imagine a world without lists.

Even if you’re able to make regular escapes in your campervan or caravan, running through a quick checklist before you dash out the door will always pay dividends when you pull up at your destination.

Well fellow campervanners, it’s time for another list! And this time we’re talking campervan food.

Campervan Converts - campervan food, a stocked pantry

As much as I love the philosophy of hunting for fresh seasonal produce at little roadside huts, the doomsday prepper in me can’t leave civilisation until the campervan pantry is bursting with some bare essentials.

With a bit of creativity you can produce loads of meals just from these ingredients, or you can supplement with fresh fish, meat and extra veggies as you go along.

Campervan Converts - campervan food, Greek salad

Campervan Converts - campervan food, prawn stir-fry

Campervan Converts - campervan food, couscous

Campervan Converts - campervan food, veggie curry

So here’s the list of basics that you’ll always find in our campervan kitchen. It seems extensive when it’s typed out, but we manage to fit everything in one large plastic tupperware box (which is easily transferred to and from the house) and a small fridge. Plus we have a ‘tea and biscuit cupboard’ which houses the rest.

And while you’ll rarely use everything here on a weekend break, when you’re reaching the end of your trip and only have a few fresh ingredients left to play with, a squeeze of lemon juice or a quick garlic and parsley butter can really liven up an old field mushroom.

Campervan Converts - campervan food, lemons

Campervan Converts - campervan food, garlic

Campervan Converts - campervan food, olives

Campervan Converts - campervan food, mustard

LIST OF CAMPERVAN PANTRY BASICS

DAIRY / FRIDGE

Butter

Milk

Yoghurt

Cheese (usually have cheddar, feta, sometimes haloumi and a small block of parmesan)

Mini pots of Philly (good for a quick sauce)

Eggs

Bacon

Meat (usually buy fresh as we go)

Fruit (selection)

SAUCES / CONDIMENTS 

Balsamic or red wine vinegar

Soy sauce

Sweet chilli sauce

Mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

Tomato ketchup

Sachets tomato paste

Branston pickle (of course)

Mustard  (usually have Dijon and wholegrain)

Dried herbs and spices (a selection, but the following are always there: oregano, chilli powder, ground cumin, paprika, ground coriander, sesame seeds)

Extra virgin olive oil

Carton ready made stock and a couple of stock cubes

Honey

DRY GOODS

Breakfast cereal (small box, also porridge sachets take up little room)

Bread/rolls (we actually rarely take bread with us – it takes up too much room in the fridge and doesn’t last long in the cupboard, particularly in the summer)

Biscuits / snacks / cake

Flour (only a small amount in a tupperware / ziploc bag – useful for a quick sauce thickener)

Pine nuts

Pasta and/or spaghetti

Risoni (great for a quick camping ‘risotto’)

Rice

Noodles

Couscous (small sachets are good – am currently addicted to Ainsley Harriot’s)

TINS/JARS (mini tins where possible)

Tuna

Mixed beans / kidney beans / chickpeas

Baked beans

Beetroot

Capers

Olives

Curry paste

Coconut milk

Chopped tomatoes

Pesto

VEGGIES

Peppers

Onions and spring onions

Garlic / ginger / chilli

Lemons

Tomatoes

Mushrooms

Ready washed baby spinach

Potatoes and sweet potatoes

Avocado

Broccoli / bok choy / green beans / snow peas (easy to stir fry)

Bunch fresh herbs (whatever’s in the garden – mint / basil / coriander / rosemary / parsley wrapped in a paper towel)

DRINKS

Tea (many kinds!), coffee, sugar

Bottled water

Squash / juice cartons

Wine

________

Campervan Converts - campervan food, chilli con carne

Campervan Converts - campervan food, steak

Campervan Converts - campervan food, risotto

Campervan Converts - campervan food, prawn stir-fry

So all you need to do is fill a large tupperware box with some pantry basics like those in the list above, and there’ll be no excuse for serving sausages every evening – you’ll be creating fabulous camping meals that are the envy of all your neighbours. Recipes coming soon!

Happy campervanning!

I love campervans and all the associated memorabilia. But there are only so many caravan cards you can buy for other people before they think you’re a bit obsessed. How could I resist this one though? It has gingham – and bunting! So I bought it to hang up anyway.

Caravan birthday card

Happy weekend everyone!

Gourmet camping meals – finding a balance

I read a post a few weeks ago about the brilliant spontaneity of campervanning, and the romantic freedom it gives you to drive off into the sunset at a moment’s notice.

It is possible, that the post appeared on my own blog.

I haven’t yet managed, 100 per cent, to put my very useful advice into practice.

Keeping a separate set of camping cutlery, I can do. Remembering to fill the water tanks the night before – fine. The one tiny step I fall down on is ‘throw some food in the fridge and you’re off’.

The trouble is, we’ve been so excited to go away in our campervan that we’ve treated every trip, even if we’re only staying down the road, as a mini holiday. Equally every meal that we can eat outside on a rug instead of at a dining table has become a picnic.

Of course, holidays and picnics are wonderful. But the reality does come with its own stresses.

Who wants to eat their every day cereal on holiday? It’s a time for treats! Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Grilled mushrooms on sourdough. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmmm. And as soon as a packed lunch becomes a picnic, your rather pedestrian tuna sandwich and a KitKat are replaced with wicker hampers overflowing with wild rice salad and honey-glazed chicken.

But this was requiring an inordinate amount of planning and food preparation every Thursday before we left. The spontaneity was disappearing in a flurry of lists and pre-chopped crudités.

I once spent the night before frantically flicking through a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller for some inspiration. (I know Gourmet Traveller’s reputation isn’t founded on the quality of its camping recipes but who’s to say you can’t be more adventurous than a tuna sandwich just because you’re staying in a field?).

Anyway I thought I’d struck gold with the first article: a twist on the humble toastie. Perfect. The photos looked simple yet sophisticated. I started scribbling notes for the first recipe.

Unfortunately there is nothing humble about a Gourmet Traveller toastie.

Step 1. You will need to start this recipe two days in advance.

Two days??

For a toastie? Doesn’t that contradict the whole principle of toasties?

Maybe that was the twist.

It was the final straw and from then on, I decided to be very strict. For the next trip, I threw a few basics in the fridge and transferred our usual box of pantry ingredients into the campervan. There were no lists. No pre-mixed spicy chickpea burgers. No homemade organic lemonade. And the whole experience was much more relaxed. Almost spontaneous! Paul’s happiest moments of the whole weekend were when I produced cornflakes for breakfast and he found out lunch was a cheese and pickle sandwich.

As it happens, I am now writing an article for a magazine quite similar to Gourmet Traveller (similar in that it’s about travelling, dissimilar in that it’s about travelling in caravans), and the article is focused on quick and easy camping meals. So I am looking for inspiration.

Fellow campers, caravanners – what are your tips for your favourite camping recipes? Meals that don’t require too much forward planning and can be rustled up with just a few basics? I’ve already got cheese and pickle sandwiches!

What to pack in your campervan?

One of the most popular search terms to find this blog recently has been ‘what do I need in my campervan?’ I wrote a post a few months ago about 10 campervan essentials you need to pack for your first trip, but if you’re after a full list, here’s an inventory of pretty much everything we take for a weekend away. And because it’s always nice to have a nosy through other people’s cupboards, a few photos of how we store it all in a very small space.

Kitchen

Our main kitchen cupboard has three shelves, which we’ve lined with some rubber grip matting to stop things sliding around, and everything is stored in large plastic tubs. Some things stay in the campervan all the time, other things we move into the house when we’re not using them, so it’s much easier when they’re in boxes. One of the tubs acts as a mini pantry to keep all the (non-refrigerated) food together, meaning there’s less chance of finding a stray onion lurking at the back of the cupboard in 12 months’ time.

Cutlery

Colourful knives, forks, spoons

Two sharp knives

Bread knife

Speed peeler

Two tongs

Mini whisk

Serving spoon

Spatula

Can opener

Crockery

Two small plates

Two large plates

Two bowls (cereal or pasta)

Two mugs

Two large wine glasses (Saturday night)

Two small wine glasses (Sunday night)

Two water glasses

Pans and other utensils

Three saucepans (varying sizes)

Two frying pans (large for a fry-up, small for pine nuts)

Three thin chopping boards (probably one too many but they are very thin!)

Two tupperware tubs (handy to decant a large tin)

Mini colander

Stainless steel mixing bowl (useful for all sorts)

Small measuring jug (for mixing salad dressing or just measuring)

Miscellaneous

Whistling kettle

Kitchen towel

Oven glove

Place mats

Two tea towels

One hand towel

Two place mats

Napkins

Small picnic bag

Ice block

Thermos flask

Cleaning / utilities

Surface wipes

Jay cloth

Scourer

Washing liquid and dishwashing brush

Microfibre cloth (useful for everything)

Soap

Bin bags

Ziploc bags

Two green enviro bags (handy for a quick supermarket shop)

Living area / bedroom

Two pillows and pillow cases

Bottom bed sheet

Top bed sheet (summer)

Quilt and cover (winter – this stays out during the day)

Two towels (double up for beach/shower)

Clothes

We have one drawer for both our clothes, which didn’t seem much at first, but thankfully Paul is very economical with his packing so I can actually fit a lot in. I’m borrowing an idea that my brother-in-law uses for short family holidays, where everyone can fill just one shopping bag with clothes so they all fit neatly in the boot. I found a nice large M&S food bag does the trick.

We also have a narrow cupboard for shoes and flip-flops; jackets go over the backs of the driver/passenger seats.

Bathroom

There’s actually loads of space in the bathroom (relatively speaking, of course), plus we have two drawers and a cupboard in the vanity.

Toilet roll

Soap

Hand towel

Hand wipes

Sunscreen

Insect repellant

Citronella candle

Insect bite cream (always needed in spite of the above)

First aid kit

Large Cath Kidston wash bag (me), toothbrush (Paul)

Outside

Most of our big items are stored in the space behind the front two seats.

Two camping chairs

Folding camping table

Beach umbrella

Rug

Body board (stored in the bathroom)

Awning (attached to van)

Inflatable kayaks (there’s no storage for these so they stay outside)

Two life jackets (always kept in the bathroom cupboard, only used if we take the kayaks out, or if there were a HUGE flood, I suppose)

Entertainment

Most of this (and the miscellaneous items below) is stored at the front of the van, which is quite spacious and has a few cubby holes and glove boxes.

Playing cards

Travel Scrabble

Mini telescope

CDs

Portable speakers (for outside)

Cross stitch (still to be attempted)

Miscellaneous

Fire extinguisher

Sweeping brush

Window shades for driver/passenger windows (there are no curtains in the front of the van)

Sunshade for windscreen

Curtain tie-backs

Mini fan

Torch and batteries

Various chargers

Matches

No-peg washing line

Tissues

Map

Sat-nav

.

So here it all is!

Reading the list back we seem to fit a lot in. There’s an equally long list for food so I will cover that in a separate post. Is there anything I’ve forgotten??

10 campervan essentials* to pack for your first trip

*may be subjective.

One of the best things about campervanning is the spontaneity. The potential to escape the city at a moment’s notice on a Friday afternoon for an impromptu mini-break, knowing that everything you need is already packed up and waiting to go. As someone who can easily spend a full day packing a suitcase preparing for every eventuality that could befall us the minute we leave suburbia, this really appeals.

So it’s worth taking the time to pack your campervan properly before your first trip, then the next time the sun appears you just have to throw some food in the fridge and you’re off.

Along with your bedding, lightweight clothes and a few good books, here are ten essentials you shouldn’t leave home without!

1. Everything in miniature

Unless you’re travelling in one of these, storage space will be at a premium so you might need to get creative with your range of kitchen utensils. The great news is that picnic crockery and camping gadgets fit the bill perfectly and are easy to find. I spent a very happy afternoon stocking our campervan kitchen, choosing plastic plates, mugs and bowls and miniature pans from Robins Kitchen – they had a fabulous selection. And if you choose brightly coloured items… they can match your cushions!

These are the pans I’m hoping will inspire me to create some hearty camping fare, although given their size, nouvelle cuisine might be a more appropriate description. We have a two-burner gas stove so a saucepan, frying pan and colander should be sufficient. I also couldn’t resist the tiny red milk pan, which is probably too small to be practical (the first time I placed in on the stove, a gust of wind whipped through the campervan and blew it off) but it might come in handy for a little hollandaise.

Nb sometimes it’s just not possible to find smaller versions of everything, for instance unfortunately I could only find bucket-sized wine glasses.

2. A whistling kettle

The quintessential camping accessory. Continuing the theme of miniature, I found this fab little kettle:

But when I got it home, it was devoid of a whistle! So we now have a proper camping kettle, which will join all the other whistling kettles in the campsite to proudly carol out cup-of-tea time.

3. All-purpose microfibre towel.

We hang this by the campervan door and it’s so useful for dusting off feet, wiping up spillages and drying chairs. Being microfibre it dries very quickly. Ours was from Kathmandu.

4. Long-handled broom

This was a last-minute purchase before our first trip but is one of our most useful items, particularly when camping near a beach. It takes no effort at all to sweep out the sand; much easier than crawling around with a dustpan and brush.

5. Pretty tea light holders

What’s an al fresco dining experience without flickering candle light? These will add a spark of colour to your outside table and provide a bit of light in the evening without attracting the mozzies. Surprisingly these came from Bunnings – one of those trips where you just go in for a few bolts…

Number 5 was originally going to be ‘portable washing line’, but the photo wasn’t very inspiring – particularly on the back of numbers 3 and 4, ‘broom’ and ‘mop’.

Nevertheless, what a washing line lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in practicality, and is really handy for drying small items. Such as zip-loc bags.

Note this is not our washing line, but that of a neighbouring campervan when we were travelling in NZ. I thought it was very admirable. (Note to self: pack more zip-loc bags.)

6. First aid kit

This is one of the essentials that is…well, more essential than previous items, particularly if you’re venturing off the beaten track. You should also know how to use everything in your kit. So far we haven’t strayed far from civilisation, and I’m hoping that relocating our daily weekend routine from house to campervan won’t be dramatic enough to suddenly necessitate an eye bath or splint, but it’s there just in case.

Given the propensity of some of Australia’s more lively creatures to inflict any potential harm, we also have a comprehensive wildlife book to identify everything that could possibly join us on our voyage. I’d recommend not even flicking through this before you set off.

7. Novelty tea towels.

This is the perfect opportunity to use all those tea towels that you really, really love but for some reason have never been displayed in your kitchen at home.

8. Evening activities

So you finished your book during your afternoon siesta, but before you start hyperventilating at the thought of spending even a night without tv/dvd/dailymailonline, there is still much fun to be had with an old-fashioned pack of cards and the ubiquitous travel Scrabble especially if you try rude scrabble. Our next trip will be very exciting because we boosted our activities box over Christmas when Paul got a mini telescope and I got… a cross stitch!

9. Citronella candle and insect repellant


It’s a fact. Scottish highlands or Queensland hinterland, mozzies love camping. Some people naturally attract them more than others, so your best defence is to travel with one of these people. That’s what Paul does. Hmmm. You can’t avoid them completely but burning a citronella candle outside your campervan and dousing yourself in Aerogard will take the edge off.

10. Unconventional cutlery
Whether you’re picnicing in a meadow or huddling under your awning, all outdoors meals can only be improved with the addition of a stripy knife and fork and gingham spoon. These came from Robin’s Kitchen. Love that shop!

So there you have it. Our ten essential items to stock in your campervan. Is there anything I’ve missed that you can’t leave home without?

The minimalist guide to camping – set up your site in five simple steps

1. Arrive at campsite and park under shady tree.
2. Unfold camping chairs.
3. Open bottle of wine.
4. Decide on red or green Pringles. Mmmm.
5. Sit back and watch the proper campers next door wrestle with tangled ropes and inadequate foot pumps in the midday sun. If you’ve got any left, maybe offer them a Pringle.

And so began our first trip in the campervan. It’s probably not a purist’s view of a camping weekend but (in our limited experience) a brilliant alternative.

We took the ferry to North Stradbroke Island – the second largest sand island in the world and a beautiful spot. It’s very accessible from Cleveland so we’ve been lots of times, but this was the first time we didn’t have to rush for the last ferry home.

Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island

We stayed at the Adder Rock campsite, right next to the beach near Point Lookout. Surprisingly, ours was one of the only campervans amidst an entire village of tents – and these were not your average two-manners, but mini canvas empires with dining rooms and adjoining corridors – all very swish. And a few metres from our pitch was Home Beach which is just lovely: a small bay which is perfect for swimming and then a sweeping stretch of white sand.

Home Beach, Point Lookout

Once we’d sussed out our surroundings and entertained ourselves with our new toys (an ergonomic broom for the wooden floor being the highlight) we were quite content to just kick back and enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

Yes our awning would have been very effective.. if we’d parked the other way round. Tsk – amateurs.

Our very subtle Christmas decorations (particularly subtle when compared with our neighbours’ fairy light extravaganza and lifesize inflatable reindeer).

We were very taken with our little van. It turned out we had heaps of storage, and lots of nooks and crannies so that everything had its place. The seats were comfortable (hurrah!) and the bathroom was fabulous. Unfortunately the gas wasn’t connected due to our plumber going awol the day before, so there were no cups of tea this trip – a bottle of bubbles stepped in at the last moment to toast our maiden voyage. And it was so hot I don’t think anybody (i.e. Paul) even noticed I served the same trio of salads for each meal. As soon as the stove’s working though I’ll have to consult my campervan cookbook and try to conjure up some cuisine worthy of competing with the other delicious aromas drifting around the site at 6pm.

We’d planned the weekend as a kind of test run to see how everything worked and whether another trip to Bunnings was required (it usually is) … but all I wrote down was ‘more bin-bags’ so it turns out we were quite organised.

View from the car ferry on the way home.

We were only away one night but it felt like a proper break – apparently that’s the start of the camping bug. Since we returned we’ve surrounded ourselves with maps and brochures to decide on the next destination. All recommendations welcome!