In the second of his series of blogs ahead of The Caravan & Motorhome Show, Martin Dorey tells us about his favourite campervan gadgets and why you shouldn’t pitch up without them.
Some people love gadgets. They simply can’t get enough of them. Happily, at The Caravan & Motorhome Show, gadget lovers will be more than catered for with gizmos, widgets and thingumajigs galore. I can hardly wait to do a bit of rummaging myself. Who doesn’t love a wind up wotsit or a solar powered doo dah?! I do!!
But, when it comes down to it, what are the top bits of kit you shouldn’t live without? What are the things you’d hang on to long after you’ve recycled Billy the Bass to oblivion or stuck the electric marshmallow toasting fork into your own foot? What if you had so little space that you’d forsake all other gadgets in favour of a lucky handful of essential bits? What would you take?
There’s always been a conflict between space and stuff in my camper van. It’s probably to do with me being unable to control the glee with which my daughters pack their bags or how many pairs of shoes find their way into the darker corners of the cupboards.
Even so, there are still a few bits of wizardry that I always take with me. And you might be surprised. Not all of it runs off the 12v or requires a 5 year old to operate.
1. The 12 volt multi charger
Look. I am as realistic as the next man when it comes to my need for a phone. It’s just that everyone has one. And each of them is different, with a different adaptor. It’s infuriating dealing with lots of cables in the van. So, when I had finally had enough of rummaging around in my ‘useful box’ for a charger and then waiting for one of my passengers to get more than 25% so I could plug it, I got hold of a 12 volt multi charger from The Caravan and Motorhome Club. It’s like an octopus that plugs into the 12 volt charger on the dash and can charge up to 3 different devices at once. What’s really great about it is that the arms are only a few inches long, so if my passengers want to charge something they have to relinquish it for a little while. And that means they haven’t got anything to distract them from chatting. It’s a win-win gadget for parents looking to spend a little time recharging their relationships with their teenage progeny.
2. The mini dashboard spirit level and chocks
Can you sleep on a slope? Me neither. I can’t stand it when I wake up in a pile at the end of the bed. And I don’t even have satin sheets on the bed! Honestly, even if the van is just a few degrees out of level I can’t get to sleep. I’m like a princess with a pea under the mattress.
I have therefore concluded that the only way to guarantee a decent night is to carry chocks and a mini dashboard spirit level and to make a real meal out of levelling up. I want it just so and I’m not afraid to have a few goes at it, no matter who’s watching.
Mind you, we all know the truth about chocking up, don’t we? If you don’t do it meticulously and painfully, then everyone on the campsite will know you haven’t done your homework and are still a bit green around the gills. Better avoid such judgments and use the chocks anyway, even if the bubbles tell you that you are already true. That’s what everyone else does.
3. The camper van library
While you might not strictly call them gadgets, I always carry a selection of books and maps in my van. They get used over and over again, unlike a lot of the useless gadgets we can get lumbered with in the name of convenience. I carry the RSPB Book of British birds, a book about British wildlife, a book of wild flowers and a field guide to British trees so I can ID and understand the landscape I am travelling through and the things I see along the way. I also carry a few recipe books.
Also, I wouldn’t think about going anywhere without a local map too. I hope I don’t have to stress the importance of carrying maps – as opposed to relying on the incompetent wizardry of your average sat nav – because maps are wonderful things. They contain the key to where you are, where you need to go and what you’ll find when you get there. A sat nav might be able to tell you where you are in a funny voice but only a detailed OS map can help you get the full picture in glorious 1:50,000 detail.
4. The Swiss Army Knife
I lost a Swiss Army knife once. I was bereft because I’d had it for years and years and treasured it more than anything I have ever owned. That knife saw me through my travels in Asia, India and an awful lot of surf trips and campervan escapades. I bought another one soon after as I couldn’t bear to be without one, and now, after ten years of being together, I know I’d be lost without it.
I went for the Victorinox Swiss Champ. It’s a beast of a knife, with just about everything I could ever need, including a mini screwdriver for tightening up the hinges on my glasses, a pen and a thing for doing stuff I never even knew about. Actually, it’s got a lot of stuff on it that does stuff I don’t know about, but at least I have it if I need it. I use it all the time, actually, mostly for tightening up the gas nozzle on my Cadac (pliers), for opening bottles and cans and for cutting my nails (the scissors are really sharp). Mostly it’s in the van for reassurance. If I know it’s there I know I’ll be ok, because no task is too great with a Swiss Army knife on board. No sir.
5. Wind up lantern
I don’t like buying batteries, so a wind up / rechargeable lantern is the only option. It plugs into the 12 volt, but can also be wound up, so doing away with the need for being reliant on a power source. That means you can always rely on it to work. You might have to wind it up often to get the brightest light out of it but at least you’re getting some exercise while you’re at it.
6. Ecoffee refillable coffee cup
Goodness knows how many disposable coffee cups get thrown out each year. They are hard to recycle so mostly they go to landfill. If you are travelling a lot then you could go through a heck of a lot of cups on a long trip. The simple solution? Get yourself a refillable. Mine is a bamboo cup from Ecoffee and I keep it in the van at all times so I can stop leaving a trail of waste in my wake whenever I go anywhere. Just like your landfill-friendly cardboard (and plastic cups) it’s got a re-sealable lid and a thing around it so you don’t get hot fingers. And you get money off when you use it at Starbucks or Costa. Money saving, but obvious, no? ecoffeecup.eco
7. The Cadac Carri Chef
I bought my Cadac some time ago for doing cooking demos, simply because you can cook a lot of stuff on it at once. The cooking surface of the skottle plate (it’s like a very flat wok) is huge, allowing you to cook up a full breakfast, stir fry, burritos and all kinds of great camper van fodder without having to swap pans or cook in batches. The BBQ grill will enable you to BBQ without lighting charcoal or resorting to those awful (and very dangerous) disposable things. It cooks pretty well too. On hot days and European trips it’s perfect for cooking outdoors and can be used anywhere. Impress them with a paella, pizza, full English, griddles veg, perfect steak, stir fry and just about everything else you can think of.
8. The length of hose
Actually, I’d like to specify that it should be two lengths of hose (one very long bit and one short bit, packed separately) and a collection of universal tap adaptors. This is for taking care of all the fresh and waste water needs, which is, frankly, more important than any DVD player or plug in USB charger. The long hose is for filling up the fresh tank, because you never know how far away the camp site tap is going to be from the van’s filler nozzle. The short bit, of course, is for swilling out the portapotti (and never the twain shall meet). The universal tap adaptors are so you can connect to any tap, anywhere, in any way necessary. Essential, no?
9. The Kotlich cooking pot and grill
If you want to really look the part on the campsite then a Kotlich is the bit of kit you need most. It’s very low tech, requires no power and looks amazing. I have used mine in the Arctic, cooking a chowder at minus 10 degrees, so I know it’s a great bit of kit.
But what is it? A Kotlich is an enamel cooking pot from eastern Europe that looks a bit like a witches cauldron, hanging off a chain from a tripod over a fire pit with removable legs. Also available is a grill that will hang off the chains so you can BBQ over the fire pit as well. Because the fire pit sits around 6 inches off the ground it is particularly useful in places where it would be unwise to light a fire because of the damage it could cause. Once you’ve finished cooking you can remove the tripod and stoke up the flames for marshmallow toasting. Perfect for summer nights.