It’s that turning time of year when we start to look towards the horizon, yearning to head off somewhere – for sun, sea, mountains, anything... So what’s stopping us? Well, according to Peterborough-based Bumble Campers, nothing at all. Toby Venables spoke to them
I have a vivid memory from one of my first major camping trips. I was trying to erect a tent in a gale, somewhere on the west coast of Ireland. The campsite itself was stunning, but neither the weather nor the ground were playing ball. There were rocks wherever I went to put pegs. The tent canopy, to which I clung like grim death, was threatening to whisk me off the cliffs in an impromptu and, probably, short-lived act of hang gliding. As I stood there, soaked to the skin and being lashed in the face by the whipping tent flap, I looked up and saw an entire family framed in the window of a camper van. They were watching me as they ate their dinner, sitting around a table in t-shirts. The advantages of camper-vanning were immediately obvious.
Best of all, it means you can just get up and go – when you like, where you like
Camper-vanning has gained hugely in popularity over the past few years. It’s great for everything from a weekend festival to a mega-European road trip and offers a sound base (or fall-back position) if you’re a reluctant camper like me. And best of all, it means you can just get up and go – when you like, where you like. While getting set up to do this used to mean the purchase or hire of a costly, new purpose-built vehicle – or the refurbishment of a hardly less costly, trendy vintage one – Peterborough’s Bumble Campers have introduced a refreshing new approach which opens it up to a whole new crowd. James, founder of Bumble Campers, explains how it all came about.
‘It started when we were on holiday in Australia, where camper-vanning is huge. When we got back, I bought a van from a friend, then I converted the back of it into a camper, to use through the summer. I realised there could well be a market for it, but we went more down the route of converting MPVs and smaller vans. We wanted to find a bit of a niche, really.’
There’s no reason why you couldn’t use it as your daily car as well, even more so with the 4/5-seater camper option
Bumble Campers can actually give you conversion options on any vehicle you care to bring to them (‘we’ve even done small hatchbacks; you’d be amazed what you can get a bed into…’) but it turns out there are good reasons why an MPV can be the best starting point. Ex-working and commercial vans, after all, are rarely built for comfort, and have often led pretty tough lives.
‘MPVs (“people carriers”) are generally much better looked after, even though they may be older. That makes them cheaper as well. They’re often no bigger than a large estate, they’ve got windows all around, most are automatics and they are much more comfortable, so they’re perfect for cruising around Europe.’
James regularly sources, good condition MPVs for conversions, and while their mileage may be relatively high they tend to come from careful owners and have plenty of life left in them.
So, how much can you actually fit into an MPV?
‘Well, we say everything including the kitchen sink!’ laughs James
‘The 1991-2000 model Toyotas, in particular, just go on and on, which is why we use them on our rental fleet, and are our preferred conversion.’ And because they’re such a pleasure to drive, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use it as your daily car as well, even more so with the 4/5-seater camper option. That means whether you’re into recycyling, upcycling or just saving cash MPVs make a great camper-vanning option. So, how much can you actually fit into an MPV?
‘Well, we say everything including the kitchen sink!’ laughs James. ‘Generally now we put the kitchen at the rear, so you’ve got the sink with running water, cooker and fridge and an optional DVD player. There’s a leisure battery so everything is run from the vehicle without it affecting the engine’s battery – and you’ve also got a 240-volt socket so you can charge a phone or plug in a laptop. Then you’ve got your bed as well – which during the day is a sofa – and a table in the middle.’ Bear in mind that every conversion is bespoke, so almost anything can be adapted to your needs – or whims.
‘We try to keep our prices low, from just £19 a day. On the quirky side, they’re bright yellow and black, and the black is chalkboard!’
When it comes to rentals, Bumbles’ vehicles come equipped with everything you need to go camping – all cookery utensils and bedding as well, so are ready to get in, and bumble about! ‘Insurance and European breakdown cover is also included,’ says James.
‘We try to keep our prices low, from just £19 a day. On the quirky side, they’re bright yellow and black, and the black is chalkboard!’ This, James describes as ‘a kind of back-of-a-beer-mat idea’, but it’s since become one of the most recognisable features of Bumbles Campers’ vans. ‘It’s a hit with both the kids and the adults – people can draw and write all over it, take a photo and put it onto Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. It’s just like having your own status update on the camper! A lot of people who buy our converted vans for themselves now ask if they can have the chalkboard option.’
Bumble Campers rental options
2-seat 2-sleep – two seat-belted seats up front leaving the rest of the van for lots of accommodation space, with a large sofa that turns into a full-length double bed at night.
4-seat 2-sleep – two seat-belted seats up front, two 3-point seat-belted seats in the rear and a lap-strap middle belt (so its actually a 5-seater). When you’re parked up at the campsite, there’s comfortable seating for 4 with a table in the middle; at night the setup creates a double bed for two. Bumble will happily throw in a small pop-up tent for your other campers too, if you need one.
4-seat 4-sleep – the same as the 4-seat 2-sleep, except that ‘upstairs’ theres a Maggiolina wind up roof-tent which creates sleeping space for another two adults or children. Just pop up the tent in less than two minutes, grab the steps and you have a room with a view!