Why choose caravan holidays for your UK staycations?
With staycations the order of the day for 2021, how can you book a family holiday in the UK on a budget? The weather may or may not be your camping friend and holiday cottages are so expensive.
If a real bed, indoor toilets and running water are on your essential holiday items list, then tents are out and caravan holidays are in!
And if you last visited a caravan park as a child, you may be picturing swirly carpets and gloomy club rooms but think again. 2021 brings you palm trees and cocktail bars by the sea. Staycations can look more tropical than you’d imagine!
How to choose your dream caravan holiday?
The sheer number of holiday parks and caravan options can be somewhat overwhelming. And if you pay the brochure price, they can set you back over £1000 for a week in the summer.
Having navigated the caravan booking system in the UK for the last 13 years, as my kids have grown up around me, this could be my specialist subject on Mastermind. Here is my essential guide for what to look for in a holiday park and a caravan, how to bag one on a budget and booking top tips for a happy holiday.
What to look for in a caravan holiday park
Your first job is to choose a park. But which one? Go for pools, terraces and location, location, location.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #1
Start with the big names. Haven and Parkdean have put the work in and chosen to perch on the edge of some of the nation’s very best beaches. These caravan big hitters pull in enough money to keep their parks in tip top condition. They replenish their caravan stock regularly and can offer luxury stays with kids’ bucket list activities and waterparks to match.
And, importantly, provide a brilliantly oversized deckchair for your holiday album.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #2
Go for a pool – it will rain (probably) and this is the answer.
Slides are even better! Hang on to your cozzy as you and your tribe whizz round the not so lazy river at Ruda in Croyde, shoot down the super speedy tubes at Hendra‘s waterpark in Cornwall or bomb down the bumpy slides at Devon Cliffs in Exmouth.
Outdoor pools will make you feel like you’ve gone exotic, and you may even be lucky enough to have the weather to use them.
Surf pools: Golden Coast at Woolacombe has the ultimate water feature, a surfable standing wave installation.
Space Bowl: Haven Thorpe Park has a space bowl where you can live life as a human marble for a day, rattling round the bowl like a two pence coin.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #3
Is it near a beach?
Access from site?
Go for a holiday park with direct beach access – no one wants to drive if they can help it. It also raises the possibility of a sunset tipple.
Check how steep the beach path is as it may not be accessible for the whole family. Grandparents might have to wait the café in Devon cliffs or Perranporth where the inclines are not for jelly legs. Nor are they for those who like a lot of equipment on the beach.
Challaborough and Ruda however are on the level so bring all the nick-nacks you want.
Pick your coast line - black, gold, white or orange?
What is your family’s dream beach? Are you rock pool pootlers, dune runners of dramatic cliff fans? Pick a park near your fave.
Interesting rock pools
Treyarnon in Cornwall kindly lays on a huge rock pool at low tide and Ilfracombe’s tunnel beach comes with spectacular black crags.
Golden sands and dunes
Who doesn’t love a traditional golden beach? They all look good on the websites, but research non-brochure beach pictures for sand quality.
Go South: Heading to the South West, the sand generally becomes yellower and the water clearer, the further you get past the Bristol Channel. The coast and sand both turn a corner at Ilfracombe.
Estuaries: Be aware that estuaries may come with mud. Kidwelly in South Wales is like sinking sand but Rock and Exmouth are pleasingly sandy.
Sand dunes are an added bonus for hours of wild leaping and don’t get much bigger than Saunton Sands or Perranporth.
Check out the best beaches to go for in my Best beaches UK post.
Cliffs are available in all the colours along the south coast – white from Dover to Durdledoor, turning a honeycomb at West Bay before going all out Uluru orange at Exmouth.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #4
How big is your ideal caravan holiday site?
Does your family want a bigger site with all the facilities or a bit of peace and quiet?
Devon Cliffs is huge, with pools, activities galore and 2 fabulous cafe terraces but it can get busy and it’s a trek from the back of the site to the beach if you get an unlucky back row caravan.
Croyde is smaller with fewer bells and whistles but generally less hectic. Sites that also cater for campers have more of a back-to-nature vibe.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #5
Caravan density: Check the site map to see how closely packed the caravans are. It’s nice to have a bit of room for playing out or a BBQ without being right on top of your neighbour. Also, ideally, you want your view not just to be the side of another caravan.
Landscaping: Check website pictures to see if the park has made a bit of effort with the landscaping. The addition of a few palm trees can add a touch of the tropical to a staycation.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #6
- How many play grounds are there and are they conveniently next to the café so you can have a coffee/beer whilst the kids are entertained?
- Sand or grass underfoot tend to be more forgiving on the knees and eye than tarmac.
- Check the map for open spaces for ball games, kites, general running around for older kids and adult picnics.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #7
Some sites are like a PGL holiday.
We have tried our hands at a whole alphabet of activities from aquajets to zorbing and zip wires by way of climbing walls, canoeing, crab handling, inflatable pool parties, fencing, football, roller discos and trampolines.
Devon Cliffs are offering segways – which are next on my family’s wish list!
If the sun shines you may not need the activities, but they can be super handy if the sky decides to deliver the other kind of weather.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #8
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #9
Are there any towns/theme-parks/ headland walks nearby when you zoom out on Google Maps?
From Riviere Sands you can visit the fabulously outdoor Minack Theatre, take a boat trip from the cutesy St Ives and even walk a llama. Check out our visit here.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #10
Cafe Bars - with views
For a proper job holiday experience look for a site with a bar and outdoor terrace, preferably with a sea view. Holiday park entertainment hubs can have a fondness for TV’s and kids’ shows. There may be Bingo and no windows. You might need your own escape zone.
Top terrace bars can be found at Devon Cliffs and Perran Sands holiday parks.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #11
Reviews- don't believe the hype
It’s always worth a quick Google images /Tripadvisor review search to see if people agree that the park lives up to its website photos. They all look good on paper.
What to look for in caravan holidays – The park #12
How far are you prepared to carry your luggage? Can you park right next to the van or is there a communal parking bay? The latter can be a pain but gives more space for BBQ’s etc. in your little “garden”.
What to look for in a caravan
Having chosen your dream park with its pools, beach access terraced bars and adventure play opportunities – which type of caravan are you going to be calling home for the holidays?
What to look for in your caravan #1
Caravans all seem to have holes cut out of the floor – something important to do with ventilation and fire I’m sure, but the wind whistles right through them especially in March/ April/ October school holidays. We have seen our breath at the breakfast table in one unheated March caravan in the Lake District.
Either choose a site where all caravans have heated bedrooms or add this as an upgrade in the booking process.
What to look for in your caravan #2
10-foot and 12-foot wide caravans don’t sound very different – but those 2 feet can save the holiday. If you have a bit more room to manoeuvre you will fight less. This is an upgraded 12 foot Challaborough caravan from a Sun holiday.
What to look for in your caravan #3
Somewhere to sit in the sun for your morning/evening cuppa can transform your holiday!
A decent sized decked area can practically double the size of the usable space – a second al fresco living room at your disposal.
It also triples up as a washing line for a family of sodden wetsuits (which are tricky to house let alone dry inside a caravan).
What to look for in your caravan #4
The living room option: You can sleep 6 in a 2 bed caravan, but you all have to go to bed and get up at the same time and the unlucky living-room occupants have nowhere to put their gubbins by day. Or change. Handy for budget conscious, minimlaist packing synchronised sleepers.
Luggage room: Cupboard space and room for bags are somewhat limited on any caravan holiday. Even if there are only 4 of you, a spare 3rd bedroom for luggage is a luxury worth considering.
Top tip – bring collapsible not hard backed bags.
What to look for in your caravan #5
Chalet/pre-erected tent/lodge – should you book one of these caravan alternatives?
Chalets vary wildly in design from detached wooden bungalows to what essentially look like blocks of flats. Check the pictures carefully for the different types offered by your chosen site, and don’t assume you’re getting the one on the cover photo (although we once did – it was great!).
Safari tents are great in the sun, less fun for midnight loo trips in the rain.
Lodges are fabulous – luxurious and roomy but pricey.
What to look for in your caravan #6
Pet friendly caravan
Don’t go for these if you do not have a pet unless you are partial to the aroma of damp dog.
How to book cheap caravan holidays
You have your site and your caravan but don’t want to spend £1000. What are your options?
How to book cheap caravan holidays #1
The Sun newspaper runs Sun Holiday promotions several times a year. You can book a caravan on pretty much any site in the UK from £9 – £15 pppn for a 3 night (Fri-Sun) or 4 night (Mon-Thur) stay.
This this has been the main source of UK family holidays for nearly every family I know. AT these prices you can afford to go 2 or 3 times a year.
How does it work? - Collect tokens
For your first trip you will need to buy the paper and collect 10 daily codes (or Google them online).
For subsequent promotions you will receive a priority booking code which enables you to access the website a day before everyone else so you have a chance of getting half terms and bank holidays
Pre booking research
In the run up to the opening date for booking, check out the caravan parks and dates on offer on the Sun Holidays website. Only the very start and end of the school summer holidays are available.
Top tip: Have a few additional dates and places in mind so you don’t have to undertake emergency panicked research if your first choice sites/dates aren’t available.
Service charge - the budget gamble
Look out for these non-optional extras which some sites will add to your bill to cover water/electricity. The more swanky sites will usually require you to pay a service charge, pushing the price of your holiday from £40/£60 to about £120.
On the other hand, if you opt for the no frills £9 pppn sites with no service charge, you are taking a holiday gamble. You may get a lucky last minute upgrade to an unbooked prestige caravan but you are more likely to get a budget range caravan (possibly with cigarette burns in the carpet) on a site with limited facilities.
Factor this into your park choice and budget.
Online booking system
Be ready with your 10 codes and the names of your top 4 holiday parks and 4 potential holiday dates when the booking website opens.
The site will offer you a selection of available parks and dates, some of which may match your search criteria.
If you don’t want to go with the options presented on the first round you can go back and try another search. But the longer you take, the more deals are being snapped up by others so the holiday pool is diminishing. The options presented to you on round one may well have gone if you try to go back to them later. No pressure.
Top Tip: Allocate the most decisive person in your party to booking duty
The holiday park will contact you directly with confirmation. A few days before you travel they will contact you again for check in. If you do not hear from them – do call them to check they still have your booking (they have been known to get lost in the system and not have a caravan for you when you turn up).
Insurance/cancellation - boring but important
You can add insurance as part of the booking. Check the latest cover offered by the promotion carefully in light of Covid. Haven lets you cancel for free if you or your party has Covid, but not change party members if one can’t go.
How to book cheap caravan holidays #2
Sun caravan holidays booking tips
Here are a few extra tips, tricks and lessons learned to get the most out of your Sun holiday booking. Why not travel with friends or extend your holiday? And don’t forget to book the pool!
Caravan holidays booking tip #1
Before Sun booking lines open, set up a Whatsapp group with the lead booker in each family and agree a time to rendezvous online. Go as early as you collectively can – but 6am is not for everyone.
Having all entered the same search terms, pick a joint favourite from the options presented and all press “buy” at the same time.
There is always a risk that one of you won’t be able to proceed with the booking if the others have bagged the last places by a nano-second. This day has not yet come but I am sure it is in the post. I’m not going to lie, it can be quite nerve wracking.
Once you have booked (and done a little celebratory dance), you can contact the site to see if they can reserve caravans close to each other. Some charge a £20 fee for this in which case we just take our chances with the caravan allocation lottery.
If you have young children and want to have an after hours BBQ/drink with your pals, then neighbouring caravans with a shared garden area are going to be essential.
Caravan holidays booking tips #2
For groups of 4, if you book for a party of 5 it will cost you an extra tenner but you may be blessed with the Holy Grail 3rd bedroom for your luggage.
Caravan holidays booking tips #3
Upgrades - go on, you know you want to...
For Sun holidays, accommodation is allocated on arrival. What can you do to maximise your chances of getting a premium caravan?
Choosing a £15 site with a service charge is likely to put you on a better park with an overall higher standard of caravan.
As part of the online booking process some sites offer guaranteed upgrades if you pay a supplement. It tends to be cheaper to upgrade here than directly with the site after the booking is made.
I have yet to regret adding a wider caravan or decking. Only last weekend I found myself looking longingly out at neighbours drinking wine on their terrace through my deck-free caravan window.
Caravan holidays booking tips #4
You can book more than one holiday with your tokens. Why not add a 3 day weekend to your 4 day break for the full 7 days? Or, add on another site for a 2 centre caravan holiday?
Caravan holidays booking tips #5
Once you have booked through the promotional site you deal directly with the Holiday Park who can add optional extras.
Top Tip: Watch out as often sites will sneakily add entertainment passes and bedding by default. Check your booking confirmation and remember to remove any you don’t want.
For about £16 parks will provide bedding so you don’t have to
a) fill up your car with duvet covers or
b) have a mountain of washing when you get home.
Some sites even make the beds up for you, especially if you have gone for an upgrade. This will save you an hour of your life fighting sheets in confined spaces.
Entertainment passes can cost anywhere from £2 to £30pp and give you access to arcades/pools/evening shows etc.
If your kids are older and you are not so interested in shoot-em ups and swimming yourself, you might want to save money and not buy these for the adults.
If travelling with other families – we quite often ditch these altogether if the weather is looking promising.
- If you have action-kids look out for activity bundles where you can buy a discounted package of activities which works out cheaper than booking them individually.
- In school holidays, sessions can sell out before you even get to the site. It is best to book in advance if you really want to do a particular activity.
- These days you need to book a pool time slot, so do this from the comfort of your speedy home wifi to avoid disappointment.
Caravan holidays booking tips #6
Booking lessons learned the hard way - what to avoid
Big roads or railway tracks between the caravan site and the beach are as unattractive and annoying as they sound.
Stag and hen sites
Some sites particularly near Newquay in Cornwall are geared to the party crowd who will wander noisily through the family field in the dead of night and again at 11am with a can of lager.
When caravan parks open for the season in March, chalets which have languished unused for several months can be a bit damp. Caravans might be a better bet.
Caravan holidays booking tips #7
Post-pandemic you can book campsites on the continent through the Sun promotion at the same bargain prices. The site also allows you to secure discounted ferry travel at the same time. We were able to snag a half term week in France including a ferry for £400 all in.
The caravan parks on the continent are total A listers and outdoor pools really come into their own.
Packing for caravan holidays
I always forget one small but essential item – from a pyjama bottom to a left shoe or a spade. Be better than me and read the list you have made. For a bit of inspiration to jazz up your break, you might want to include some green fire and a party speaker. Check out my gift ideas for campers.
Don’t forget your masks!
Booking caravan holidays summary
Caravan holidays can be cheap and cheerful in the best possible way. They have revolutionised in recent years from 1970’s throw backs to cutting edge theme parks. Your family can go to the caravan ball and staycation in luxury.
Sun Holidays can be a bit fiddly, but the pay off is a fabulous beach side caravan holiday for a fraction of the usual cost. Look out for my Best Holiday Parks in the South West post coming soon for the ultimate UK caravan holiday staycations.
I wish you sunshine to go with your raspberry spritz. Vive la revolution comrades. Let me know how you get on in the comments!
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