The first few weeks of owning a motorhome were adrenalin charged. I took a friend with me to the handover so that there were two sets of ears to hear how everything works. The handover chat was about two hours, with a lot to remember and plenty of silly questions from me, as I haven’t owned a motorhome before.
Then came crunch time—time to drive away! The dealer had arranged for me to spend a night at a nearby campsite. The site didn’t have a toilet and shower block, the idea being to encourage you to use the kit in the motorhome and establish if there are any teething problems or question you forgot to ask. It’s a great idea and one that many New Zealand dealers also provide to new buyers.
I will never forget that first drive to the site. The vehicle felt huge and I was terrified, but it all went well. The experience brought up a few questions that I needed to clarify with the dealer, so I popped in the next day and came away feeling ready to go. My advice is that there really are no ‘silly questions’, if you have something you’re unsure about, just ask. You’ll feel so much better driving away knowing you’ve asked all those niggly questions.
Going through the paces
Over the first few weeks, I stayed within a couple of hours’ drive of the dealer while I continued to get more kit and try everything out. I tried a range of sites from a pub carpark and a five-van field, through to large, fully serviced, sites (some in cities). I tried surviving without electric hook-up for a few days to see how that went.
About a week after I got the motorhome, I took a manoeuvring course, which proved invaluable to me.
It included a driving assessment by an instructor (on real roads in your own vehicle), a bit of theory and information about the law and motorhomes, practical tips from experienced motorhomers, lots of practice at manoeuvring in tight spaces (forwards and backwards), and width perception tests. It was also a chance to meet other people with similar goals.
It was an enjoyable but exhausting day.
The course helped my confidence and after that, I began to travel more widely and felt able to negotiate various friends’ driveways.
Highs and lows
Top of the list of highs would be completing the manoeuvring course and acing the width perception and road tests, followed by being able to get the motorhome onto my mum’s driveway for the first time.
Once I relaxed and got used to the driving, the feeling of freedom started to kick in and the sheer variety of things to see and do was made more achievable with the combination of a bike and motorhome. Also on the list of highs was the great locations and facilities of the campsites. It’s amazing how quiet they are at night. And last, but not least, was meeting lots of friendly and helpful people.
My biggest low point was being told that motorhome manoeuvring is a two-person activity. It’s not what you want to hear as a solo traveller. And while there’s no doubt it is easier with two, it’s not impossible with one (and there is often someone around who is willing to help). Another low moment was when my reversing camera failed after the first week—it took a long (scary) trip back to the dealer to get it fixed.
Getting in the groove
I drove about 2000 miles around England and Scotland in the first eight weeks of getting the motorhome. I have covered many areas from the Peak District up to Loch Lomond in Scotland. There is a lot to see and do. I have reconnected with friends and relatives and I have now started to travel more widely and do my own thing, visiting places rather than people. Mostly the weather has been kind and I have explored by foot and bike, sometimes using public transport to head into cities such as Glasgow to do the art galleries.
I’ve settled into routines that mean I can buy supplies and fuel at the best spots, and am in a fully serviced site once a week to do laundry. The two main UK clubs are both good, and the standard of the campsites is high, but if I don’t need full facilities, I opt for the smaller and cheaper certified sites. These just take five vans and range from farmers’ fields to country estates, and you often have them to yourself. I have started to book some fully serviced sites about a month ahead now as we head into the main summer holidays. A recent bank holiday weekend had me scrambling to get a site in the area I wanted.
Although I haven’t fully completed the process of buying in the UK and bringing it back to New Zealand, I can offer a few pros and cons of the experience so far:
- There is a big range of models and dealers to choose from.
- The ability to negotiate good deals because of the competition, combined with saving of VAT and depreciation allowance means it may be possible to sell the motorhome for close to what you paid for it (after travelling and returning to New Zealand).
- It’s a great way to combine a European holiday and effectively get almost free accommodation for up to a year.
- There is a huge range of travel options in the UK and Europe and the motorhome can be used for a year before exporting under the PES scheme.
- Because you haven’t bought in New Zealand, you don’t have a relationship with a New Zealand dealer for ongoing support and back-up.
- It is very complicated—there are lots of extra steps involved.
- The cost of insurance, shipping, and New Zealand compliance needs to be factored in, as does the exchange rate.
- There is a risk that the motorhome model/base vehicle may not be suitable under New Zealand law, so good research is essential.
- It takes a lot longer so it won’t suit anyone wanting a motorhome to use immediately in New Zealand.
- It’s quite hard to know full costs until the process is complete, and capital is tied up during this time.
- There are few automatic transmissions available at short notice.
What's in store next
I am now starting to plan some longer trips around the UK and am developing a skeleton plan for Europe. Must get those ferries booked soon! Bring it on!