Want to embark upon some exciting travel adventures, but also concerned about your personal safety? A campervan holiday can offer you the best of both worlds – so long as you take a few sensible precautions.
By adopting a safety-conscious attitude to planning, driving, pitching and vehicle security, you will help keep your family safe on your motoring holidays. That will make for a far more relaxing trip, and some very happy and carefree memories.
Read on for our guide to the safety basics, including keeping your vehicle roadworthy and making sure it’s covered with the most suitable insurance for your campervan.
Maintain your campervan
Your campervan is an investment. Maintaining it will not only preserve its useful life, giving you many more wonderful holidays, but will also keep it safe for you and other road users.
Get it serviced on a regular basis by mechanics who understand campervans. That should keep the essentials in order, such as brakes, windscreens, electrics and tyres, and hopefully prevent any breakdowns.
Keep an eye out yourself for any issues that might arise between services: eg any signs of damage to the body of your vehicle, or strange noises or smells.
Get them checked out by your garage before your travels – you certainly don’t want to be trying to find a garage in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language if you can help it!
Double check that your appliances and electric cables are in a good state of repair. Connector hoses for gas cylinders should be replaced every few years – check the manufacturers’ guidelines.
Of course, if you see any deterioration in the hose before that date, turn off the gas immediately and replace the hose as soon as possible.
And don’t forget to choose your campervan insurance wisely. Make sure you know exactly what is and isn’t included, such as breakdown cover, and pick the most suitable policy for your budget and your requirements.
Plan your journey
Campervans give you a wonderful degree of freedom, allowing you to travel easily around the UK or Europe. But to do so safely and smoothly does require an element of planning.
First, make sure you know your campervan’s dimensions. This may sound obvious, but plenty of drivers have come a cropper trying to squeeze a large vehicle into a small space!
So check there are no bridges, overpasses or tunnels on your journey that are too low or narrow for your vehicle.
Avoid planning a route that involves travelling too far down narrow lanes: it’s one thing going forwards, but quite another passing other vehicles, turning round or reversing!
Consider your campervan’s power: can it really handle the hills on your route? If you’re in an old van without much oomph, an Alpine trip may not be such a great idea.
You also need to know your vehicle’s permitted pay load. An overloaded campervan is harder to handle, especially round corners, and could also invalidate your campervan insurance policy.
And finally, do check the UK government’s travel advice for the regions you’re hoping to visit. While most of Europe is usually considered safe, there may be warnings in place that you should heed on issues such as health, security and potential natural disasters.
Kit out your vehicle with emergency supplies
When packing your van, you’ll need to make some space for supplies that you hope you’ll never need. Some are even legal requirements, depending on the countries you are travelling in.
Fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors can save lives. Check they’re in working order, and aren’t blocked by any luggage. In larger vans, it’s best to keep one extinguisher in the cabin and one in the living area.
A spare wheel, hi vis jacket and warning triangle will be crucial if you break down. Check you know what action you should take in different scenarios, like if you break down on a motorway or on a blind bend.
Pack a first aid kit. You can buy one that’s already made or put one together yourself, but do check you’ve covered all bases and that you know how to use the contents.
Make sure you’ve got all your emergency paperwork in one place, from travel and campervan insurance policies to passports and vehicle documentation. You need to be able to grab it in an emergency.
Vehicle spares such as headlamp bulbs are a great idea, particularly if you’ll be travelling to remote areas or have a rare vehicle. Don’t forget your spare tyre or repair kit, plus essential tools!
A fully charged torch and mobile phone are also crucial to enable you to stay safe and get help in the case of emergencies.
Make your pre-journey inspections
No matter how many safety features your van has, you still need to carry out some basic checks before any long journey to ensure it’s in tip-top condition.
Tyres are a key area. Before you set off, check for bald patches, bulges or cracks on the tops and sidewalls of your tyres.
Make sure there are no stones or objects wedged in the treads, and check that the tyres are fitting snugly in the rims. Test the tread and the pressure, and make sure you’ve got a spare tyre handy.
Check your vehicle is topped up with water, oil and windscreen wash, too.
Lock all cupboards, and make sure any movable objects are stashed away – you really don’t want them flying around the cabin when you brake or go round a corner.
Close off all gas cylinders before each journey and transport them in an upright position, secured with straps.
It’s wise to empty out your water tanks, too, as sloshing liquid can make your campervan harder to handle when you’re driving.
A van is only ever as safe as its driver, so make sure you’re fit for the journey.
Don’t drive when tired. Pull into a service station regularly for a break, and swap drivers if possible. Remember to plan in some stops, and don’t overestimate how far you can travel in one day.
Stick to speed limits, and make sure you know the driving rules for any country you’re visiting. Drive according to the road conditions, drive slowly in bad weather or poor visibility, and remember that mountain roads are not race tracks!
And it shouldn’t need saying, but don’t drive under the influence of drink or drugs. Remember that you can still have alcohol in your bloodstream the morning after a drinking session, so plan in a rest day after an evening’s partying.
Take note that Scotland has a lower drink drive limit than England and Wales, and in some eastern European countries it’s illegal to drive with any alcohol in your bloodstream at all.
Finally, keep your doors locked while driving. While carjacking is a rare crime, it is a possibility if you’re travelling slowly or are stopped at red lights.
Keep an eye on the weather
You might be heading south for some sun. But never assume that your vacation will be blessed with clear skies throughout.
Take care when travelling in very bad weather. High winds can cause your vehicle to sway, while heavy rain or fog limits visibility. Even bright sunshine has its downsides, as it can dazzle you. It may even be better to just have a relaxing day when it is raining in your motorhome.
Campervan cover will cover accidents, but of course it’s far better to avoid them in the first place.
If the weather’s truly awful, it’s best to stay put. However, even then, there are risks.
Storms are common in the summer in many areas, and can damage your van. To minimise the risk of lightning strikes, avoid camping under a tall or isolated tree, on an exposed hilltop, or near a metal fence.
If you’re inside an all-metal vehicle during a lightning storm, you should be fine – unless you’re connected to an electricity supply or your jack is on the ground. Pop-up campers with fabric sides, or vehicles constructed with fibreglass, are less safe.
Some areas are prone to natural disasters such as wildfires, landslides or flooding. These are likely to be clearly signposted, but keep an eye on any local warnings.
Of course, if you’re advised to evacuate a campsite, you need to follow instructions as quickly as possible.
Storms are not the only thing to consider when pitching. While campervan holidays are riskiest when you’re on the road, there are a few precautions you should take when deciding where to spend the night.
Choose your campsite carefully. Going off-grid for a bit of wild camping may feel like a proper adventure, but it does mean that it’s harder to get help if things go wrong.
However, busy campsites also have their hazards. In a poorly laid-out or cramped site, there can be dangers from other vehicles and drunken campers, for example.
After hours cooped up on the road, your children and dogs will be eager to stretch their legs and explore.
It’s hard to keep an eye on them when you’re setting up your pitch, but it is vital. Keep dogs on a lead, and make sure your kids run around only in areas free of vehicles and camping stoves.
Another risk is opportunist thieves, who may target busy campsites with poor security. Take care when leaving your van for the day: hide all valuables, close your windows, and make sure all doors are locked.
If you are unfortunate enough to be targeted by thieves, you might be covered by your campervan insurance, depending on the policy you’ve chosen.
Remember to take care with campfires and barbecues. Not only do they present obvious fire risks, but they can emit carbon monoxide – and that’s potentially fatal in an enclosed space.
Whichever site you choose you’ll need to take care when pitching up. Pick hardstanding wherever possible, or you might struggle to leave!
Level up carefully: not only does this make campervan life more comfortable, but it also protects you against accidents such as saucepans of boiling water sliding off your stove.
Extra protection against break-ins
Even once you’ve carried out all the security steps above, you might still feel your van looks vulnerable.
Since it’s not only your means of travel but also your home, it’s vital that you and your family feel personally safe while inside.
So why not beef up the security – or at least, the appearance of security? The devices listed here will not only help to protect you and your vehicle, but some might also gain you benefits on your insurance for campervans.
Portable door locks and alarms are easy to buy and set up, and will put off many would-be intruders. Make sure you choose items that are certified to a high standard.
‘Dog on board’ stickers placed in prominent places will deter many casual thieves, particularly if the animal pictured is a breed known for its guarding abilities, such as a German Shepherd!
You could even get a dog – though of course, that would bring with it a whole set of other demands, so it’s not a decision to take lightly.
Even if thieves do break in, you want to prevent them driving off with your vehicle. Wheel clamps, electronic immobilisers, clutch or pedal locks and steering wheel locks are all easy to install and pretty effective.
They’re generally very visible and come with stickers that you can place on your campervan windows, so should put off many would-be thieves.
Finally, fitting a tracking device means that if the worst comes to the worst and thieves do drive off in your van, you stand a better chance of being reunited eventually.
from Motorhome Protect
To reduce stress while you’re on the road, it pays to plan your holiday wisely. That includes choosing the most suitable campervan insurance for your requirements and your budget.
At Motorhome Protect, we arrange cover from a panel of leading insurance providers to suit your needs. We can find you policies covering vehicles with a value of up to £150,000, and with cover for camping personal effects of up to £3,500.
Policies can cover up to 365 days per year, with unlimited travel around the EU also available. Breakdown cover can be included as an optional extra.
We'll also consider applications from drivers with previous claims or convictions.
Get a quote from Motorhome Protect today, and look forward to safe, happy travels.
Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.