Demand for campervans has boomed during the pandemic. So how can you find one and how much do they cost? Here’s everything you need to know
There’s nothing quite like a campervan holiday. Throw everything you need into the back and hit the road, going wherever the wind takes you. The feeling of freedom that comes from following your nose. The joy of drifting between pretty bays and fairy-tale forests, with the ability to pull over and make a cup of tea whenever you please.
If all of that sounds like it’s right up your alley, you’re not alone. The demand for campervans has sky-rocketed since the first lockdown eased, and that interest has only strengthened in 2021. Campervan rental company Bunk Campers (bunkcampers.com) says it saw a stonking 236pc increase in Irish web traffic throughout 2020 compared to 2019, as people saw the appeal of taking to the country roads in their very own roving accommodation.
That’s not to say that all hope is lost for this summer. Despite the surge in interest, there is still availability, even in the peak months of July and August. The Irish Volkswagen camper-hire business Lazy Days (lazydays.ie) would ordinarily be fully booked for the season right now, but were only about 75pc full as we went to press.
That’s mostly down to the hesitancy of Irish holidaymakers — people have been reticent about finalising bookings without clarity on reopening dates. However, as more clarity comes for summer travel, they will be snapped up quickly. “As soon as there’s any definitive announcement, we will be bombarded,” says owner Susan Best.
While bookings would usually be set in stone by now, this year there also seems to be a lot of rescheduling and cancelling taking place, so your chances of scoring a last-minute booking are decent. One operator I spoke to had taken a cancellation for July just a few minutes before we spoke, which would ordinarily never happen. If you can’t see any availability online, give the rental companies a call — most will have a waiting list for the season ahead, and will be only too happy to keep you in the loop.
The other big factor is the lack of international guests. In previous years, summer bookings were dominated by the international market, with customers beholden to set flights and concrete travel plans. Prior to Covid last year, Irish guests accounted for just 8pc of the Ireland bookings for Bunk Campers, for example. Since March 2020, around 90pc of their new bookings are from Irish guests.
So, once you’ve managed to score a camper for the summer, it’s on to the second most important topic: where do you go? As with any kind of domestic holiday, things are going to be very crowded around the coast, and in popular spots like Kerry and Connemara. If you want to avoid the masses (and learn how to manoeuvre a campervan without an audience watching your every turn), then head inland, or to some of the lesser-visited destinations.
One bonus of booking with a small Irish company is the insider tips they can provide on where to go. Two recommendations from Lazy Days include the Glen of Aherlow park (€28 per night for two people and electricity; tipperarycamping.com) with spectacular views out over the Galtees in Co Tipperary, for instance; and the Curraghchase Caravan Park (from €30 per night, as above;
curraghchasecaravanpark.com) in Co Limerick.
If you want the comfort of certain facilities (electricity hook-ups, spacious berths, playgrounds and the like) then you’ll have to go to a campsite. You usually pay a flat rate for the pitch, then a rate per person and an additional fee for electricity. Budget at least €30 per night for two adults, with kids charged at an additional lower rate.
While it does take away the bohemian sense of spontaneity associated with a campervan trip, you’ll definitely need to book a spot this summer. And be warned — as with camping and caravaning, pitches are selling up fast.
“We usually operate on a first come, first served basis, so while bookings are not required, they are advised,” says Kieran Farrell of the caravan parks in Sligo’s Strandhill and Rosses Point (sligocaravanandcamping.ie). “With Covid, we have had to rely more on bookings this year, in an effort to manage the volume and frequency of people coming and going. In June and September, we are more likely to have availability, but July and August will book up fast.”
While we may all love the idea of pitching up on a beautiful beach and flinging open the van doors to the sound of rolling surf come morning, sadly, you can’t just park where you like. The legalities of this are confusing, and though campervan companies told me parking up for the night is widely tolerated, you need to be sure it is allowed in the area you choose, not on private land, and of course, be conscious of your safety and security.
That said, you don’t have to be restricted to campsites every night. The free Motorhome Parking Ireland app (motorhomeparkingireland.com) is great if you prefer a middle ground. There are over 1,400 locations listed all over Ireland, from fully serviced campsites to free overnight parking spots, as well as bars and restaurants that welcome motorhomes. For the latter, a bit of common decency applies — if you’re going to park up by a restaurant for the night, go and eat your dinner there. Firing up the barbecue in their car park isn’t a good look.
On that note, we all know how expensive things can get if you’re eating out for every meal (especially as a family). So stock up the camper with cereals, pasta, or anything that can be whipped up on a small gas hob. But don’t get too carried away — storage space is usually fairly limited, and it makes more sense to buy as you go. After all, unless you’re parking deep in the wilds of Donegal, you’ll never be too far from a shop. Ireland’s takeaways, food trucks and meal-kit culture have taken a huge step up during Covid, too.
If you’re a seafood fan, get chatting to the fishermen hauling in their catch — there’s nothing quite like scoring fresh lobster or crab right from the fishing nets. Some of the best meals of my life have started with a chat with the fishermen by Garretstown Beach in Kinsale, and ended with gleaming mackerel flashed on the pan with nothing but butter and a wedge of lemon.
For the love of all that is good and holy, make sure your rental includes adequate insurance. The vast majority do, but double check exactly what this includes (usually it’s only one driver) and upgrade the policy if needs be. I recently heard a horror story that involved a campervan, a novice driver and a low bridge, culminating in the words “and the roof peeled off like a tin of sardines”.
If you feel more confident in a smaller vehicle, there are some cool alternatives available. Companies like Buckled Wheel (buckledwheel.ie), which launched in December, offer adventure trailers and roof tents that you tow behind your car, which are ideal for those wary about driving a large scale motorhome. Our Fab 50 list of the best places to stay in Ireland this year also included Burren Rover Camper trailers from the Burren Farm Experience
(burrenfarmexperience.ie), and the West Clare Explorer, a converted campervan being designed by the Armada Hotel in Spanish Point, Co Clare (armadahotel.com).
It’s important to really think about what size you’ll need from an interior perspective, too. A six-berth camper might be fine if your kids are little and happy to sleep in bunks or overhead compartments, but putting six adults in may be a bit of a squash, depending on the vehicle. If you’re travelling with teens or older kids, consider bringing an additional tent to pitch up next to the van.
When you’re checking out the campervans on offer, it’s easy to get seduced by the jazzier models. But while you might be wooed by all the elaborate bells and whistles, you really don’t need a flat-screen TV or swish speaker system. The luxury that is worth considering for 2021, however, is a van with a toilet and a shower — and not just to prevent those pyjama-clad sprints to the toilet block at 2am. In response to Covid, some campsites are limiting access to their public washrooms, and some are only allowing campervans that have their own facilities inside.
Whatever van you choose, it’s important to check exactly what you’re getting — most rentals will include crockery and cookware, for example, but not bed linen, the average price for which is around €30 per set. If there are three beds on board, that cost can add up, so save a bit of cash by bringing your own.
On the subject of packing, bring the bare minimum. Trust me, you’ll likely end up wearing the same hoodie and shorts every day anyway. Don’t forget to bring warm layers for the evening, as well as wet-weather gear, because… well, we all know the realities of an Irish summer. And don’t even think about bringing suitcases — allocate everyone a backpack each, which they can fill with all the clothes they need. Those thin gym or Turkish towels come in really handy, too — they dry extra fast and take up far less space in the van. Remember, most campsites have laundry facilities, so you can chuck a load of washing on halfway through your trip.
Most importantly, when you’re driving around the most beautiful spots in Ireland, you want to ensure that you’re doing your best to keep them that way. The best campervan companies will educate you on the concepts of Leave No Trace, but the most important elements are fairly obvious. Be mindful of your waste and the local environment, and leave your camping area exactly as you found it. That way, your dream holiday spot will be just as heavenly for the next campervan that pulls up.
1. The Wicklow based Lazy Days currently has availability in a VW camper for July and August, from €1,085 for a week; lazydays.ie
2. Prices for the adventure trailers from Buckled Wheel start from €76 per night in July and August; buckledwheel.ie
3. A week-long break in a six-berth campervan starts at €1,500 with McRent, picking up from Dublin or Newcastle West in Co Limerick; mcrent.ie
4. Bunk Campers has seven nights in a Nomad or Ranger VW Camper (sleeping four), from €1,015 in July or August; bunkcampers.com
5. There’s still some availability in June for the smaller vans from Ireland West Motorhomes, based in Castlebar, from €150 per night; iwmotorhomes.ie
NB: All prices subject to change/availability. Always check T&Cs and Covid-related flexibility before booking, in case travel restrictions change.