there’s one thing most avid travellers have in common, it is
this: a cherished childhood caravan holiday memory. My first
caravan holiday was in my cousin’s one at
Juniper Hill Holiday Park in Portstewart, Northern Ireland. The
fact that my aunt and uncle owned a caravan – a home on wheels! –
versus our soggy family tent, made them royalty to me. I loved
every inch of it, from the bunks we slept in, to the vast curved
beige sofa and secret cubby-holes that stashed windbreakers and
To me, caravan life evoked escapism, adventure, freedom and
enforced minimalism. Caravan life smelled like barbecues and salty
sea air, and tasted like sweets from the tuckshop. Perhaps the
primal spirit in me bristled with pride that in our little mobile
cave we were fully self-sufficient: we could cook, sleep and
entertain ourselves. Everything we needed was contained within
these four fibreglass walls.
Every holiday park is a mini community, a pop-up village, and, as children, you make friends fast on a caravan site.
Caravans were comfortable and, to my 12-year-old eyes,
positively luxurious, but they were also thrilling. I immediately
became hooked on Mortal Kombat in the games room, and spent all my
money on 15p Curly Wurlies and Frazzles. One of the boys I met
playing minigolf took me fishing and I caught a mackerel, which we
cooked over a barbecue that night, even though it didn’t pair well
with the bangers and mash my aunt dished out. Every holiday park is
a mini community, a pop-up village, and, as children, you make
friends fast on a caravan site.
This year, I’ve learned that adults make fast friends on a
caravan site, too. Late last summer, during a weekly coffee session
where we supported each other through the ups and downs that the
Covid crisis had thrown into our career paths, two friends and I
hit upon the idea of buying a caravan at our local caravan park and
making it fabulous. Emma Jane Palin is an art consultant and
interiors stylist; Whinnie Williams is an interior designer with
her own company, Poodle
We’d been in a WhatsApp group for ages, sharing pics of
mid-century homes in the likes of
Palm Springs, LA,
Tucson and Germany.
Then, one day, I got a text from Emma: “Hey, wanna buy a caravan?”
As soon as I read those words, I knew that this was a solid-gold
We wanted to show what could be done with some creativity and
craziness and a caravan. We wanted people to know they could have a
fabulous holiday in dreamlike surroundings – even if they couldn’t
fly abroad. We also wanted to inspire travellers to consider
holiday parks over
a holiday-home rental industry that – in oversubscribed areas
such as Margate in summer – removes properties from the rental
market and drives up prices for locals. When we bought our
three-bedroom 2010 Willerby Bluebird, it simultaneously felt like
the wildest and wisest decision we’d made during the pandemic.
So, our winter lockdown project began, in evenings and weekends,
around our full-time jobs, stripping, painting, and lovingly
converting our Bluebird into a decadent mid-century design den with
echoes of the desert modernism architecture of 1960s Palm Springs.
We each designed a bedroom, taking inspiration from the most fun
themed hotel on the planet, the
Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California. Whinnie opted for a
pink cowgirl moodboard, with her own Poodle and Blonde wallpaper on
the walls and a vast light-rimmed, heart-shaped mirror to reflect
the fabness. Emma went for all-out Studio 54 glamour, with a
sequinned disco room and a mirrored ceiling. If Emma’s room takes
people to 1970s New York and Whinnie’s takes people to an Arizona
ranch, mine throws some kitschy tropical vibes into the mix.
Based loosely on Elvis Presley’s Jungle Room at Graceland, it’s all
bamboo and ridiculousness, and I feel transported across the world
when I step into it, which is how I want guests to feel. After all,
winter 2020/2021 felt pretty low on joy and fun and adventure, and
this project kept us all sane.
I felt sure we could be part of a wider and long overdue caravan
revival. In recent years there’s been a proliferation of
independent caravan manufacturers, such as Barefoot Caravans, which
hand-builds adorably curvy, space age-esque towable pods, Dub Box, whose unashamedly retro
caravans gleam in hues of chocolate brown, orange, mustard and
teal, and Rocket
Caravans, which sells a range of diminutive aluminium homages
to the great American Airstream.
While I couldn’t travel last year, I’d happily built up a robust
memory bank of inspiration from visiting amazing trailer parks
around the globe. In America, where I road-tripped around
California, it was clear that caravans had been thoroughly revived:
for creatives in cities like LA and San
Francisco, a vintage aluminium Airstream is the most coveted of
possessions. I made pilgrimages to hipster trailer parks like
Hicksville in Joshua Tree,
where Lana Del Rey filmed her recent White Dress music video,
Meadow in upstate New York and Kate’s Lazy Desert
in Joshua Tree, both owned by the former B-52’s singer Kate Pierson
and her artist wife, Monica Nation.
Perhaps the coolest trailer park in the world, though, is
El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas,
which was created by the brilliant hotelier Liz Lambert. Every year
it hosts a music festival (the last Trans-Pecos Festival of Music +
Love was headlined by Orville Peck). El Cosmico is an almost
utopian vision in this artsy desert enclave, with guests wafting
around in a dreamlike state fresh from yoga, or making a beeline
for the coffee cart or taco stand.
Back in Britain, however, caravans and caravan parks remained
beige, both inside and in the public consciousness. Caravans are an
anomaly because in recent years camping has become glamping,
mid-range hotels have become boutique hotels and even treehouses
and shepherd’s huts have been pimped up, some to the point of
becoming as aspirational as a night in Claridge’s. But Britain
actually has a truly glorious caravan heritage, which I researched
thoroughly as soon as I became a caravan owner myself.
As long ago as the 1900s, caravan holidays were a go-getting
holiday choice for a particular breed of bohemian gent, the
so-called “gypsy gentlemen”, who would have caravans transported by
train to their holiday destination for what was called a “stay-put”
holiday. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Riley family’s Eccles
Caravans cannily marketed the new concept of car-pulled caravans
and began making them on a commercial scale. After the Second World
War, during the 1950s and 1960s, everything became bigger, better
and more design-oriented: caravans began featuring awnings to add
space, and bunks as well as fold-out beds.
By the 1970s, static caravans – now affordable to the masses –
were being modelled after holiday chalets, with companies like
Bluebird, Willerby and Silverline producing models with pointed
roofs, oral interiors and mock-teak panelling. In the 1980s, it was
all about comfort, with carpeting, upholstered everything and
chintzy floral furnishings. Caravan design continued to evolve, but
even for caravan-loving travellers like myself, caravan holidays
somehow sunk out of our daydreams, supplanted by more glossy
offerings abroad like music festivals in Croatia, city breaks in
Kraków and detox retreats in Thailand.
Now, the comeback of the caravan feels much like an old rock
band suffering a couple of decades of being dismissed as uncool
before winding up back on t-shirts and festival line-ups again.
Millennials like myself, and younger travellers, are more connected
to nature, perhaps, than previous generations, and more mindful of
community impact. We also have a sense of adventure and thirst for
novelty (and nostalgia) that makes caravans suddenly shine. As a
caravan superfan, I’d say caravans have always been cool… but
now, in 2021, we’re finally ready for them.