A UK caravan adventure

By: Lisa Jansen, Photography by: KAREN NISBET/LISA JANSEN


Travel writer Lisa Jansen meets up with a fellow youngish solo traveller, to hear about life in a caravan and a recent three-month trip around the UK

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The idyllic parish Chatsworth

You may have already heard of Karen Nisbet, also known as ‘Travelling K’. Karen lives full-time in her caravan and also has a YouTube channel with thousands of followers.

Karen and I have met up a few times now and always have a great time exchanging stories and tales from the road. We caught up again in February after she had recently returned from doing something many other RV-ers are talking and thinking about; a three-month caravan road trip around the UK.

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Harlech Castle

But let’s start at the beginning. How does a young woman in her 30s come to live in a caravan? For Karen, it was a desire to own her own home without needing to save for years for the deposit.

In 2017, Karen was living in Auckland after several overseas stints, feeling ready to settle down. But as everyone knows, buying a house in Auckland on one income is a challenge and Karen thought it was out of reach.

"I was at that point where I wanted my own home, but I couldn’t see how I’d be able to save a deposit anytime soon. I started watching videos about ‘van life’ and tiny houses on YouTube and warmed up to the idea of living in a small space."

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Karen in her caravan

In the end, Karen chose a caravan as her tiny house. "I liked the idea of a caravan. It would mean I would not only get my own home, but I could also easily travel around in it, which would help with the itchy feet I seem to get every time I spend a long time in one place. And unlike a motorhome or campervan, I would still have a car I can use to get around towns easily." So off she went, exploring the country while working remotely as a graphic designer.

Having spent over two years travelling around New Zealand and getting used to caravan life, Karen decided she was ready for the next adventure: a three-month road trip in the UK. "I spent some time living in London, and I was keen to experience caravanning in the UK. I also saw a UK trip as a great opportunity to grow my YouTube channel. Because I have a UK caravan, I already had a lot of UK followers, and I thought if I spend some time meeting locals and other YouTubers, it would help take my channel to the next level." It did just that. Starting with just over 5000 subscribers when she left for the UK, her channel has now grown to over 16,000.

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Karen’s rented caravan in the UK

Once the decision was made to go to the UK, the next question was where to get a caravan to travel in while she was there. But with the right connections and a bit of luck, Karen found the perfect solution. "My original plan was to buy a second-hand caravan over there and then potentially bring it back here afterwards. But another YouTuber connected me to UK caravan manufacturer Bailey. They not only offered to lend me a caravan in exchange for me producing video content about it, but also connected me to Peugeot who offered to lend me a tow vehicle. So that worked out really well." In late June 2019, Karen got on a plane and made the trip to the other side of the world. She picked up her borrowed caravan and tow vehicle in Bristol and hit the road. 

Over three months, Karen travelled north through the Peak District and Lake District, over to Barnard Castle and then Whitby and Hull on the east coast before heading west again to Snowdonia and then to London via Cotswolds.

From London, she continued down to the south coast stopping in Brighton and New Forest before taking the ferry across to mainland Europe to attend the Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf, Germany, and then on to Belgium and the Netherlands.

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Whitby Houses

Most of the time, she would stay at a campground for 3-4 days and explore the surrounding areas before moving on. "It was a great trip. I loved exploring the small towns and villages. There is so much history there that we just don’t have here in New Zealand."

But, of course, it wasn’t without its challenges. "The most challenging part for me was driving through small villages. You have these modern motorways and two-lane roads where it’s really easy to drive. But then you get into the villages and all of a sudden the roads get really narrow with stone walls on either side and not enough room to pass. Some of the entry roads to campgrounds were really scary." But Karen always got there in the end and managed to return the caravan and the car without a scratch.

However, she does say her number one tip for others planning a UK caravan trip is to prepare. "I generally found that caravanning in the UK requires a bit more planning. You have to plan your route and make sure the GPS actually takes you where you want to go and have a think about what the roads will be like. I would also recommend booking your campgrounds in advance as it does get busy."

I was surprised when Karen told me that finding campgrounds was a bit of a challenge at times. It turns out the UK does not have an app like CamperMate that shows all campsites. "The closest to CamperMate is a website called searchforsites.co.uk. It shows all the campground options, but is super clunky and painful to use. They now have an app but you need to pay for it." 

There are two main RV clubs in the UK, Caravan and Motorhome Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club, and they each have their own holiday parks. "Most of the locals seem to be members of one of them and mainly use those parks, which they find on the association’s website. But there are also other general campgrounds and a few private ones that are more like the Park Over Properties (POPs) we know here in New Zealand." 

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Vinny during his makeover
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Karen getting hands-on

Back in New Zealand, Karen was ready for her next challenge. And a challenge she found. In late 2019 she bought a vintage caravan that she is now restoring herself – and although she doesn’t have any experience, she says she’s always dreamed of building her own mobile home. "Building a mobile home was a daunting prospect, so I decided to buy a cheap vintage caravan and use it as a practice project. I’ve already learned a lot – mainly through the mistakes I’ve made." 

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Vinny, Karen’s vintage caravan

As someone who also dreams of building her own home one day, I admire Karen’s can-do attitude and commitment to just give it a go. I can’t wait to see how she gets on with it. Luckily, she will be sharing every step of her journey on her YouTube channel so it will be easy to keep up with what she’s doing and probably learn a few things along the way. If you want to learn more about Karen’s adventures, in New Zealand or the UK, or her vintage caravan project, make sure you check out her YouTube channel: Traveling K.

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Longleats Caravan Park in the UK
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Sunset in Te Aroha

 

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