I bought a campervan: an unexpected adventure

After I sold my house in Ireland earlier in 2022, I had two things in mind. First, to use the proceeds to buy a small house, probably overseas (to minimise any future mortgage) and, second, to buy some kind of van, whether an old Sprinter to convert or a finished motorhome.

>There is a video which accompanies this blog – click here to open

People who know me for a long time may have found my conversion to the cause of #vanlife a surprising turn of events! In fact, more than one person has raised their eyebrows pretty high! However, over a number of years, I became an avid #vanlife watcher on YouTube, from how-to videos through to tours of numerous tiny homes on wheels. As an accomplished overplanner, the idea that someone might up sticks today and be somewhere utterly different tomorrow was compelling; a caged bird admiring the flits of the sparrow beyond the glass.

I left Ireland to take time out to recover from the pressures of a house sale and a big move. I toured some bigger French towns, staying out of the bigger centres, enjoying Laval, Angers, Poitiers. How I would order, how I will order these coming years was on my mind, but not yet, pushed back by a thought that this might be a rare moment when I didn’t have pressure to decide. Then a call came, from my brother… he had seen a van that might meet my requirements. And I thought to myself, why not take a punt and see where this thread of the tapestry leads. I booked a cheap ticket from Nantes to Dublin, told my Airbnb host I’d be gone for two days and set off on an adventure.

With Ryanair from Nantes to Dublin

The Maybe Van

I saw just one picture of the prospective van before I left for Ireland. It was a Mercedes Sprinter, which was a big tick. However, it was some years older than I wanted and the mileage was pretty high. It had been converted by a charity for “day use” – they used it as a mobile consultation space meaning they could get closer to their clients in town centres or rural zones. At first glance, the conversion sounded like an ideal starting point for the novice van fitter… the walls were covered in carpet, there were multiple leisure batteries and plug sockets had been fitted. There was a separate room built into the rear, which was used for small meetings.

But the closer I looked, the more I could see that these ‘great bonuses’ were in fact problems. We couldn’t tell if the walls had been soundproofed and insulated before the carpet was added. The battery system had been installed over ten years previously and they were huge. The configuration of the rear was suited to its current purpose but was too small for a bed. So most of the rear of the van would have to be ripped out and start over with updated components, better suited to my needs… and that meant that, if I were to build, it would be easiest with a newer, empty van.

Since Covid, getting your hands on a decent second-hand vehicle of any kind has become… well, problematic. And they are expensive. The components for a fit-out have also become expensive. I thought carefully about this next decision… I do not have the skills to design and build out a van myself. I could learn some things, I’m sure, I’m game for that… but the electrics, plumbing, solar… I’d want to make sure they were done properly and suddenly the dollar signs were whirring in my eyes.

This journey back to Ireland set in train a series of decisions to be made. I decided to take my own professional advice: pay people for the skills they have that you do not (as you expect to be paid for your skills).

I diverted my brother away from The First Van and asked him if we could visit some campervan retailers who deal in finished or coach built campers.

The First Retailer

As if fate were guiding us, the rural road we were driving on came to a T-Junction, and right in front of us was a campervan retailer, I’d never even seen online. We drove into the yard to see a long row of campers. Naturally, I zoomed towards a Sprinter conversion (not shown) and the interior was so tightly laid out, there was no way I’d be able to turn around in it and find it comfortable. By comparison, the Pilote (based on a Fiat Ducato) – see the picture below – was beautifully laid out, despite the tight space in the back. However at over £70,000, the price was much too high.

The Benimar camper (see below) at £61,000 seemed a better option, with a quality awning, a deep garage and a drop-down bed (I’d love one of those). I was unsure about the Ford chassis and would have preferred a Mercedes or Peugeot engine.

There was a third option with this retailer (see the Eldis Accordo below). Although I’d had to really readjust my price expectations (in a major way) versus buying a van to build-out, this seemed almost reasonable. The interior was sparkling and had barely been used, but it was just a little too small and the toilet was in the shower (like many tiny motorhomes). But we were starting to get closer…

The Second Retailer

I was more familiar with the second retailer as I’d seen their stock online before. I went through some options on my phone with my brother… the name ‘Bailey’ came up. He said “oh, Bailey is a great name – higher end product, well-made”, so we marked our cards to look at that option. We checked out a couple of other campers first and the stock was similar to the first retailer. Then the salesman produced the keys for the Bailey Autograph 68-2. A 2018 model with low miles and, again, in super condition inside.

I thought there was a good trade off between interior space and size, in that it felt it would be manageable to drive and manoeuvre, but there was still room for 4-5 people to sit at the table for dinner. Not that I was intending to have dinner parties, but I knew I’d need some space for computer and camera gear and to set up an office.

Something felt right about this particular motorhome…

Meet Barbara Bailey

In the video (linked below), I say I used the 54321 technique… which may sound like wise mindfulness or a bonkers approach to decision-making! I mean I simply took a deep breath and made a decision. And my choice was to step off the edge, into the future, with a ‘yes’.

While this was a hugely expensive purchase, I could either have hedged my bets that I would learn the skills to manage a van build (and find the time to do it), or start my #vanlife travels more or less immediately. I chose to travel, as I always do.

There will be a further video showing the interior of Barbara Bailey, and lots more content to come from life on the road. I’m writing this blog in the back of the camper on a campsite in Holland! So the adventure is already underway. I hope you’ll enjoy this new way of exploring Europe and the Big Trips as I make them. Don’t forget to enjoy the video linked below.

Patrick x

The Video