Of course it is. We’re not daft enough to think we can move into a road vehicle, be it for a weekend or indefinitely, and not understand there are going to be some trade-offs to make because the reality is, everything in a motorhome is a compromise – it’s the nature of the beast.
We’ve taken some time to consider some of the main compromises of motorhome and campervan living – our focus is, as always, on motorhome skiing and touring in winter but many of the points we cover here are universal and will equally apply to you if you’re travelling in summer.
So we think it’s time to stop selling the ‘home from home’ marketing BS and start selling the real dream – the one where the compromises are fun (rock, paper, scissors for who’s going to empty the toilet cassette) – and living a life more connected to your consumption is actually quite refreshing.
Our generation wants a simpler life to escape to every now and then.
Don’t get me wrong, during our journey across the Alps in winter, we saw some motorhomes that make 2 bed luxury riverside apartments over-looking the Thames look like nasty holes, but the vast majority of motorhomers, particularly those who tour in winter, live a life of compromise. If you don’t like the following realities, you probably ought to stick to chalet life!
Here we cover our top 5 motorhome compromises:
- Water consumption
- Waste disposal
- Size (it does matter)
If you’re new to vanlife in general, you’re going to grossly underestimate the impact that water availability (or lack of) is going to have on your life. Double that if you’re planning to travel in winter – particularly if you want to be off grid and it’s no use claiming that you’re not going to shower – that’s not even your third biggest water related compromise you’ll face.
The H2O Compromise: Not having endless flowing fresh hot and cold water. Do you even know how much you use a day?
You might be surprised by what you actually need water for – it’s all very well looking at the list below and thinking it’s so blummin obvious – but try being without running, flushing and hot water for even a few days in winter and you’ll probably find yourself going down a rabbit-hole of thoughts where you’re in danger of popping out of it a bona fide eco-warrior.
- Teeth brushing
- Rinsing and washing kitchen equipment – even on a campsite you’ll want to swill stuff out in your van
- Flushing your toilet (BTW – a compositing toilet is not advisable for winter motorhoming for a whole load of reasons – that’s the official line from Winterized plumbing pro, James).
- WASHING YOUR HANDS – do you really want to trudge to the campsite facilities (if you have them) to wash your raw chicken fingers?
- Having a shower! Ooo what luxury – but if you have one in your van, you want to use it!
We hear cries of…
Argh but I can do most of these things with bottled water
Ok, you do that. You lug kilos of water from the supermarket or even the nearest tap and store it somewhere inconvenient in your tiny home. Trust us on this one – as people who were over 70 days without running water on board in 2018, this is not the way to do it!
The fact is, there’s no real reason to be without water if you have a properly winterized motorhome or have invested in exceptional insulation on a van conversion. The occasional Baltic snap might catch everyone out but for the most part, really good planning; lots of help from people in the know; and some strategic Plan B’s, should enable you to circumnavigate being without water for too long.
Empty is empty
You have a tank – whether it’s 20 litres or 200 litres (the Elddis is 100 litres – most conventional 3.5t motorhomes are around this as standard), when it’s empty, you have to fill it back up and that means one of you has to move – you or the van.
Moving the van requires some preparation – putting stuff away, taking out cables, removing screen covers… it’s not a small list. Moving you probably means backwards and forward with jugs or watering cans or bowsers, and in winter it’s a full waterproof get-up for you too. Either way, it’s effort. The only way to avoid this is to stay on campsites with plug in water or whopping great hoses and where’s the fun in that?
So – how much water do you need, and how often do you want to exert the effort to refill your tank? Simple equation. That’ll give you your consumption/day and you can work the rest out yourself.
To give you an idea of what is possible – with a completely knackered water system, James jerry-rigged an internal bypass from and to our water tanks, enabling us to install 10l water containers, of which we got through two a day. An wholly inadequate shower cost about 7l so that was considered a special day and required a certain amount of collaboration!
Waste water disposal
What goes in, must come out. You know when you flush the toilet at home that stuff goes somewhere right? If you’ve got a septic tank you know all about this but it’s out of sight, out of mind…
Well in a motorhome, it’s very much front and centre. James actually apologised once for taking 3 dumps in one day and insisted that even though it was my turn, he had to empty the loo because he filled it.
The same goes for the rest of the stuff that comes out of the tap or a bottle…
Compromise: Off grid living with running water and a flushing toilet means you’re limited to the capacity of your waste collection tanks and you have to dispose of the contents responsibly.
In our experience, a standard Thetford cassette will fill in a few days if you’re using it as designed (2 people, regular bowels) so that’s more likely to be your limitation. You can dispose of them at lots of points (Flot Bleu, some public toilets and specifically designated black waste points) but you have to time it right – best not to travel up or down switch backs with a cassette that’s more than two thirds full.
Normal waste disposal
Gotta love France. Mountains don’t have personal refuse collection – say that back to yourself.
In the UK, someone comes and takes all the crap you generate and the stuff you chuck out and takes it away for you so you don’t have to think about it. What a crock of 54!7.
In France, you’re responsible for your own waste disposal. You use your legs and you take your waste to a service point (probably no more than 50 metres away). You sort your own recycling and as long as you keep on top of it, you never have a smelly bin in your house or on your drive etc. Imagine?!
Compromise: You have to use your legs.
This is another thing you will probably find refreshing if you’re a fairly regular householder in the UK. In Europe, you will find it far easier to avoid unnecessary grocery packaging so this daily chore can really be quite a doddle. What we would suggest if you’re new to motorhome skiing is you think about how you’re going to store your waste storage between visits to the refuse areas – before you leave. Motorhomes are notoriously crap at waste management and you don’t want to be leapfrogging bags of plastic every time you try to use the bathroom.
A huge bathroom
We had an actual shower and an actual toilet and as you can see, the two are separated by carpet and a sink. It’s an awesome layout. Especially for people living full time in a motorhome engaging in athletic activities on a daily basis. But…
We have a metric tonne of kit. We chose skis and boards and boots and tools over knickers and shoes. The Elddis, like many motorhomes is designed for clothes and bits and bobs and not for snow kit. So we put all our kit in the shower when not in use and outside when it is. We had a snowboard tucked behind the toilet and bindings stored where toothpaste should be.
Compromise: multi-purposing spaces
If we’d had a pimp heated garage for our snow kit we wouldn’t have a pimp bathroom and still be under 7.5m and 3.5t (and James is a bit precious about his skis anyway and likes to be able to see them at all times and cuddle them if they’re feeling sad).
Showers and baths
Showering can be a bit of an arse in a motorhome and it’s certainly not the steamy relaxing experience you’d get in a chalet or even the most bijou of ski resort apartments. If part of what makes your ski holiday experience special is that post-ski, pre-dinner bubbly soak with a glass of vino on the side and the chance to shave your legs without twating your head on the wall, motorhome skiing isn’t for you.
One way around this is to book onto a campsite – either for your entire stay or periodically as we did. With full facilities, you’ll be able to have a shower (not often a bath) and maybe even dry your hair without blowing the electrics!
Van life compromise: So you want a proper dip to ease your aching muscles? Most of the bigger resorts have a public swimming pool with, at the very least a jaccuzi, and even many of the smaller ski stations like Vaujany have a spa that you can book into for a good wash and brush up.
A place to work
In this motorhome we had galley facing sofas in the living area (not sure if that’s what the marketing people call them but you know what we mean). This means that both James and I could work at a table. We’re both at computers a lot and we weren’t just away for a wet weekend in Wales. Away for months and months and for our posture and health, we needed to be sitting like grown-ups. It also means we had somewhere ‘proper’ to eat.
Compromise: If we wanted to sleep in the same bed, we had to make it up each night. It’s no biggy. In fact, it was part of our evening ritual and it took 30 seconds. It also means our van changed shape every day and that’s nice too.
Weight and length
This is a big one for us. James can’t drive anything over 3.5 tonnes without an expensive licence upgrade and a bunch of time and admin. Limited weight essentially means there’s only so much you can take and only so big your van can be.
Compromise: We looked (and still do) at vans with epic garages and belly lockers and slide-outs and double height fridges and 50 inch plasmas and we don’t really want any of it (apart from the garage).
It’s not really a compromise to have a smaller van. We couldn’t have visited half the places we have if we wanted to go any bigger and with a focus of being off the beaten track from time to time, this is one time when bigger definitely isn’t better for everyone.
If you’re considering taking your first motorhome ski trip and you think that it’s all going to be bluebird days, epic views and snuggly nights tucked up watching Netflix Originals then you need to adjust your mindset a touch. All of those things are true much of the time, but there’s also admin and labour involved and that’s the price you pay. You do need to turn the tap off when you’re brushing your teeth; you do need to schedule your travels around filling up with water and fuel; you will find yourself grumbling as you do the late night stomp to deal with the bin you forgot to empty after dinner; and you will pretend that you don’t fancy a bath anyway.
However, when you move back into your house from your motorhome, be that from a weeks ski holiday or a season long tour, you’ll have to compromise on freedom; waking up to different views each day; and not being able to reach everything you need from where you’re sat.