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kimberleyallen

kimberleyallen

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Hi there. I’m at the research stage and going around in circles! I want to travel around Europe and I’ll be on my own so I want something small, able to be parked anywhere and go relatively unnoticed, so I’ve been looking at VW conversions versus VW Californias.

As a solo traveller a huge consideration for me is safety so I want to be as stealth as possible so that it’s not an obvious campervan when parked, putting all my belongings at risk, or if I’m not sleeping on a campsite, putting me at risk! Also my son in law is a Fireman and has attended many RTAs. It’s always stuck with me that he once said anything loose in a car is a potential missile in an accident and he’s witnessed fatal injuries from the smallest of items. Obviously furniture in the back would be fixed but I do wonder what would happen to it in an accident.

So the seemingly obvious answer is a converted VW Transporter panel van with a bulkhead. That would provide protection and privacy. However that would also mean that there would be no cab access from the back and should there be a problem I wouldn’t be able to jump in the drivers seat and make a quick get away. I expect it’s also a pain when it’s raining or cold but on the other hand there wouldn’t be any give away condensation in the cab.

So then I’m looking at VW vans without a bulkhead, conversions and Californias. The benefits are that if it was a panel van there would be light from the cab area. Whether a conversion or a California, a swivel front passenger seat would open up the area and also I’d have the all important cab access. However windscreen and passenger window blinds/covers would be a no-no for stealth camping so I’d have to find some way of dividing the cab from the back, perhaps with a thermal curtain. That would also hide the interior contents from view when parked. Anyone done this successfully with a professional installation? This however would provide absolutely no protection from the items in the back if there was an accident.

Anyone got any ideas, comments? Am I overthinking it?! My head is spinning and so I’d really welcome feedback from those with experience.
Many thanks :)
 
WelshGas

WelshGas

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Hi there. I’m at the research stage and going around in circles! I want to travel around Europe and I’ll be on my own so I want something small, able to be parked anywhere and go relatively unnoticed, so I’ve been looking at VW conversions versus VW Californias.

As a solo traveller a huge consideration for me is safety so I want to be as stealth as possible so that it’s not an obvious campervan when parked, putting all my belongings at risk, or if I’m not sleeping on a campsite, putting me at risk! Also my son in law is a Fireman and has attended many RTAs. It’s always stuck with me that he once said anything loose in a car is a potential missile in an accident and he’s witnessed fatal injuries from the smallest of items. Obviously furniture in the back would be fixed but I do wonder what would happen to it in an accident.

So the seemingly obvious answer is a converted VW Transporter panel van with a bulkhead. That would provide protection and privacy. However that would also mean that there would be no cab access from the back and should there be a problem I wouldn’t be able to jump in the drivers seat and make a quick get away. I expect it’s also a pain when it’s raining or cold but on the other hand there wouldn’t be any give away condensation in the cab.

So then I’m looking at VW vans without a bulkhead, conversions and Californias. The benefits are that if it was a panel van there would be light from the cab area. Whether a conversion or a California, a swivel front passenger seat would open up the area and also I’d have the all important cab access. However windscreen and passenger window blinds/covers would be a no-no for stealth camping so I’d have to find some way of dividing the cab from the back, perhaps with a thermal curtain. That would also hide the interior contents from view when parked. Anyone done this successfully with a professional installation? This however would provide absolutely no protection from the items in the back if there was an accident.

Anyone got any ideas, comments? Am I overthinking it?! My head is spinning and so I’d really welcome feedback from those with experience.
Many thanks :)
I’m afraid you are overthinking it, to some extent.
The California and any Conversion can be like chalk & cheese.

The California is built from the ground up as a full on Campervan and tested and sold as such by VW.
A Conversion, as it’s name suggests, is a vehicle built, tested and sold for a different purpose. It then has a non-crash tested seat/bed added, wooden furniture fitted and other bits and pieces and then a large hole cut in the roof to fit an elevating roof.
If done properly and correctly this conversion can be as safe as a California but it will cost and is still a vehicle adapted from one purpose to another.

As far as a Blackout Curtain in a California. It has been done both professional and DIY.

If you are a lady travelling alone then @GrannyJen has the answers.
 
OGII

OGII

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A fun problem to be thinking through.

It sounds like stealth/security/non obvious camper is just as high a priority as the loose missles safety issue.

Many, many people in Europe use non-converted VW vans as campers, so whilst you'd stand out less than a full motorhome you wouldn't necessarily be completely stealthy. There seems to be more acceptance of that type of vehicle though rather than the sometimes snooty attitude to self-conversions/ vans that some UK sites have. The network of cheap aires/ kamperplatz helps with this and means security is less of an issue overnight.

My last VW was a self converted lwb panel van. Before the pop up roof was added it was fairly anonymous, just windows beind the cab like in a Kombi. The bulkhead had been removed and it was easy to stealth camp with a simple black curtain to screen the rear.

One angle to think about is ventilation. It can get very stuffy without windows open. Leaving the cab windows open an inch but hidden by rain deflectors can help but not enough for a hot mid European summer. Adding a marine hatch to the roof is a neat way to get light and air into a stealth panel van camper.

Is a Transporter size van right for you? If travelling solo and not wanting to stand out would a conversion based on a lwb Caddy be for you? There's a post about VW's version here, it could make a cheaper, less obvious option.

As much as your fireman has a valid point if well constructed and things are stowed carefully and with thought the interior of a camper can be just as safe as any other vehicle,. I'd avoid the claustrophobic effect of leaving a bulkhead in, it's so good to be able to open and close cab windows, see the view out of the windscreen etc. even if you lose some security.

Good luck.
 
GrannyJen

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As I have been "mentioned in dispatches" by @WelshGas :) .....

Firstly the loose missile issue: Not just a camper van problem, I had a friend have his neck broken by a fold-up umbrella flying off the parcel shelf of his car when he was involved in an accident. A bit of a freak occurrence and with a fortunate ending as the spinal cord remained intact but lesson learned.

Stowing loose items and not being concussed by flying debris is quite feasible in both conversion and purpose-built but @WelshGas makes a valid point regarding the structural integrity of the Cali.

As regards stealth: Why be afraid of window blinds? If someone is actually going to notice that it is an occupied camper van then that would be after more than a passing glance anyway, and even should it be noticed as such the identity, shape, physique of the occupant is not obvious.

I have camped on my own, in casual places, for seven years and my worst incident was on a campsite anyway but otherwise I have always felt safe.

Rule one is to park up so you can get away, not easily blocked in, which means parking up with space behind as well as in front. If unsure keep the drivers seat facing forwards, roof down, keys handy and phone to hand. Make sure you have something to hand that makes a lot of noise, I have a high decibel attack alarm that I can just throw out of the vehicle if necessary. Light and noise are the two key elements to a successful outcome, a three ton van, ability to get some momentum behind it (hence space front and rear) attack alarm, headlamps on main beam, Job's a good'un unless it is a very determined assault by multiple attackers which is unlikely.

As for black out curtains, I would be opposed to having anything between me and the drivers seat in the event of an emergency. I would want to be in that seat, lights on, engine on, hand on horn and attack arm blaring as soon as possible when perhaps having to get there in the dark, after waking up from a deep sleep and the last thing I would be wanting to do is to fight with any obstructions such as curtains.

I would stress that the above considerations are born from common sense and not a response to any particular incident. I feel as safe, or safer, in my Cali than I do in my own home where there are multiple points of entry away from my own bedroom and door locks that perhaps are not as secure as the vehicle locks on the van.
 
kimberleyallen

kimberleyallen

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7
Location
Lancashire
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Looking to buy
A fun problem to be thinking through.

It sounds like stealth/security/non obvious camper is just as high a priority as the loose missles safety issue.

Many, many people in Europe use non-converted VW vans as campers, so whilst you'd stand out less than a full motorhome you wouldn't necessarily be completely stealthy. There seems to be more acceptance of that type of vehicle though rather than the sometimes snooty attitude to self-conversions/ vans that some UK sites have. The network of cheap aires/ kamperplatz helps with this and means security is less of an issue overnight.

My last VW was a self converted lwb panel van. Before the pop up roof was added it was fairly anonymous, just windows beind the cab like in a Kombi. The bulkhead had been removed and it was easy to stealth camp with a simple black curtain to screen the rear.

One angle to think about is ventilation. It can get very stuffy without windows open. Leaving the cab windows open an inch but hidden by rain deflectors can help but not enough for a hot mid European summer. Adding a marine hatch to the roof is a neat way to get light and air into a stealth panel van camper.

Is a Transporter size van right for you? If travelling solo and not wanting to stand out would a conversion based on a lwb Caddy be for you? There's a post about VW's version here, it could make a cheaper, less obvious option.

As much as your fireman has a valid point if well constructed and things are stowed carefully and with thought the interior of a camper can be just as safe as any other vehicle,. I'd avoid the claustrophobic effect of leaving a bulkhead in, it's so good to be able to open and close cab windows, see the view out of the windscreen etc. even if you lose some security.

Good luck.
Thank you for your reply. I think it’s the right size. I’ve always driven Jeep type vehicles or people carriers (large family) so I’m used to it plus I like the height and visibility.

How did you install your cab curtain? I’ve looked and looked online but haven’t found any professional looking installations and VW don’t appear to make anything.

Going down the conversion route I was thinking of a marine hatch for ventilation and light if not adding a pop top but then how difficult is it to get dressed and function without a pop top?! Presumably you felt a pop top was necessary. If you’re stealth camping though you wouldn’t put the pop top up so you’re right, rain deflectors wouldn’t be enough, you’d bake without a marine hatch! Another dilemma! Although I intend to go to cold climates too.

I was also thinking for a solo traveller I could configure it to my needs and have U or L shaped bench seating with memory foam cushions that would double up as a single bed rather than having to carry and store toppers. Also leaving more floor space in sleep mode, but with the possibility to extend out to a double bed. I don’t need extra rear belted seats for travelling and the faff of that rock n roll bed just doesn’t appeal! Kitchen, fridge etc doesn’t worry me as I’d probably eat out most of the time anyway and it’s easy to take a camping stove set up with all you’d need just in one box and I think a 12v cool box would suffice.

So I talk myself into a conversion, a panel van, sign written, and I couldn’t care less what people think, I’m more bothered about it suiting my needs.. but then I look at the California and think that would be easier, all fit for purpose, would hold its value better and a good conversion would probably cost as much. Or the Kombi / Caravelle and install some of the Van Essa mobile camping kits. They do a surfer split bed system. Rear kitchen side slide out etc that look good, but then I’d still have to insulate and I don’t need all the seats. I tell you.. I’m driving myself daft!

I’ll stop gabbling and driving you daft too!
 
kimberleyallen

kimberleyallen

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7
Location
Lancashire
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Looking to buy
I’m afraid you are overthinking it, to some extent.
The California and any Conversion can be like chalk & cheese.

The California is built from the ground up as a full on Campervan and tested and sold as such by VW.
A Conversion, as it’s name suggests, is a vehicle built, tested and sold for a different purpose. It then has a non-crash tested seat/bed added, wooden furniture fitted and other bits and pieces and then a large hole cut in the roof to fit an elevating roof.
If done properly and correctly this conversion can be as safe as a California but it will cost and is still a vehicle adapted from one purpose to another.

As far as a Blackout Curtain in a California. It has been done both professional and DIY.

If you are a lady travelling alone then @GrannyJen has the answers.
Thank you for your reply. If I was going to do a conversion I’d use someone reputable but I take your point.

Thank you for the introduction to GrannyJen. I’m a granny too so I look forward to ‘meeting’ her.
 
Peter Roberts

Peter Roberts

Messages
508
Location
Carmarthenshire
Vehicle
T5 SE 140
When we started looking around 6 years ago we didn’t know if we wanted a small motor home or a camper van. We started by looking at conversions but the prices were just as much well nearly for a used VW van an around £15k for the conversion..But after looking at the California we decided that was for us. We have a 2015 140 se and it cost us 42k new..Seems like an absolute bargain now as I’ve seen them still selling for the very high 30 thousands for that year...Absolutely no regrets but it all depends if you want to outlay 60k for a new one today...It’s a lot of money..but if you can afford it why not..
 
kimberleyallen

kimberleyallen

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Lancashire
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Looking to buy
As I have been "mentioned in dispatches" by @WelshGas :) .....

Firstly the loose missile issue: Not just a camper van problem, I had a friend have his neck broken by a fold-up umbrella flying off the parcel shelf of his car when he was involved in an accident. A bit of a freak occurrence and with a fortunate ending as the spinal cord remained intact but lesson learned.

Stowing loose items and not being concussed by flying debris is quite feasible in both conversion and purpose-built but @WelshGas makes a valid point regarding the structural integrity of the Cali.

As regards stealth: Why be afraid of window blinds? If someone is actually going to notice that it is an occupied camper van then that would be after more than a passing glance anyway, and even should it be noticed as such the identity, shape, physique of the occupant is not obvious.

I have camped on my own, in casual places, for seven years and my worst incident was on a campsite anyway but otherwise I have always felt safe.

Rule one is to park up so you can get away, not easily blocked in, which means parking up with space behind as well as in front. If unsure keep the drivers seat facing forwards, roof down, keys handy and phone to hand. Make sure you have something to hand that makes a lot of noise, I have a high decibel attack alarm that I can just throw out of the vehicle if necessary. Light and noise are the two key elements to a successful outcome, a three ton van, ability to get some momentum behind it (hence space front and rear) attack alarm, headlamps on main beam, Job's a good'un unless it is a very determined assault by multiple attackers which is unlikely.

As for black out curtains, I would be opposed to having anything between me and the drivers seat in the event of an emergency. I would want to be in that seat, lights on, engine on, hand on horn and attack arm blaring as soon as possible when perhaps having to get there in the dark, after waking up from a deep sleep and the last thing I would be wanting to do is to fight with any obstructions such as curtains.

I would stress that the above considerations are born from common sense and not a response to any particular incident. I feel as safe, or safer, in my Cali than I do in my own home where there are multiple points of entry away from my own bedroom and door locks that perhaps are not as secure as the vehicle locks on the van.
As I have been "mentioned in dispatches" by @WelshGas :) .....

Firstly the loose missile issue: Not just a camper van problem, I had a friend have his neck broken by a fold-up umbrella flying off the parcel shelf of his car when he was involved in an accident. A bit of a freak occurrence and with a fortunate ending as the spinal cord remained intact but lesson learned.

Stowing loose items and not being concussed by flying debris is quite feasible in both conversion and purpose-built but @WelshGas makes a valid point regarding the structural integrity of the Cali.

As regards stealth: Why be afraid of window blinds? If someone is actually going to notice that it is an occupied camper van then that would be after more than a passing glance anyway, and even should it be noticed as such the identity, shape, physique of the occupant is not obvious.

I have camped on my own, in casual places, for seven years and my worst incident was on a campsite anyway but otherwise I have always felt safe.

Rule one is to park up so you can get away, not easily blocked in, which means parking up with space behind as well as in front. If unsure keep the drivers seat facing forwards, roof down, keys handy and phone to hand. Make sure you have something to hand that makes a lot of noise, I have a high decibel attack alarm that I can just throw out of the vehicle if necessary. Light and noise are the two key elements to a successful outcome, a three ton van, ability to get some momentum behind it (hence space front and rear) attack alarm, headlamps on main beam, Job's a good'un unless it is a very determined assault by multiple attackers which is unlikely.

As for black out curtains, I would be opposed to having anything between me and the drivers seat in the event of an emergency. I would want to be in that seat, lights on, engine on, hand on horn and attack arm blaring as soon as possible when perhaps having to get there in the dark, after waking up from a deep sleep and the last thing I would be wanting to do is to fight with any obstructions such as curtains.

I would stress that the above considerations are born from common sense and not a response to any particular incident. I feel as safe, or safer, in my Cali than I do in my own home where there are multiple points of entry away from my own bedroom and door locks that perhaps are not as secure as the vehicle locks on the van.
Hello GrannyJen,
Thank you for your response. I’m glad your friend was ok, very much demonstrates my son in law’s point, everything is a potential missile.

Some great safety advice there from you, thank you for taking the time to go through all of that. I guess I just don’t like the idea of someone peering in whilst I’m asleep, I wouldn’t relax, and although I would use campsites I might not always be near one and be tired. I would also want to be able to leave it parked and go off for the day and worry that if it looks like a campervan any opportunistic thieves would deduce that there may be things in it worth stealing.

Just wondering. Have you travelled around Europe? How have you gone on with replenishing your gas?
 
Peter Roberts

Peter Roberts

Messages
508
Location
Carmarthenshire
Vehicle
T5 SE 140
Hello GrannyJen,
Thank you for your response. I’m glad your friend was ok, very much demonstrates my son in law’s point, everything is a potential missile.

Some great safety advice there from you, thank you for taking the time to go through all of that. I guess I just don’t like the idea of someone peering in whilst I’m asleep, I wouldn’t relax, and although I would use campsites I might not always be near one and be tired. I would also want to be able to leave it parked and go off for the day and worry that if it looks like a campervan any opportunistic thieves would deduce that there may be things in it worth stealing.

Just wondering. Have you travelled around Europe? How have you gone on with replenishing your gas?
The gas cylinder for the California is about half the price for a refill in France and Spain compared to UK prices..
 
OGII

OGII

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T6 Beach 150
Pop tops are great, but add complexity/cost etc. Many use Transporters as day vans or campers without ever needing the extra height, we did for a couple of years before adding a pop top mostly to add an additional bed for a growing child. The van certainly looked better without it, it wasn't as flush as the Cali one. I guess your own height and flexibility influence it too.

There is a lot to be said for coming up with a design that suits your own needs. The rock n roll beds are an aquired taste, I disliked the way they were often fixed and blocked cargo room, not so easy to carry a bike in the boot for example. Our diy conversion had seating /double bed behind the cab made up ontop of low storage cabinets with a pull out section to make it bigger at night time. The van had cupboards on one side only, a lovely integrated SMEV sink and stove we learned that we rarely used etc. It was flexible and suited our needs which is all that counts.

Our cab divider curtain was on a stretchy net curtain type cable and was just a couple of Primark black fleeces sewn together. Effective and made it look like the van was unoccupied.

Our journey to a Cali Beach came from a desire to upgrade after 10 years of great fun and a better overall package to suit 2 plus a man size teen on some trips.

There's a lot of fun to be had from a reliable old van done your way, they all hold their value to a lesser or greater extent. For simple steath campinf I'd resist the urge to go full fat Cali straight away, unless your finances make that an easy choice. Have fun.
 
kimberleyallen

kimberleyallen

Messages
7
Location
Lancashire
Vehicle
Looking to buy
When we started looking around 6 years ago we didn’t know if we wanted a small motor home or a camper van. We started by looking at conversions but the prices were just as much well nearly for a used VW van an around £15k for the conversion..But after looking at the California we decided that was for us. We have a 2015 140 se and it cost us 42k new..Seems like an absolute bargain now as I’ve seen them still selling for the very high 30 thousands for that year...Absolutely no regrets but it all depends if you want to outlay 60k for a new one today...It’s a lot of money..but if you can afford it why not..
Thank you for replying. I wouldn’t buy a new California.. I just can’t help thinking that 60k would get you an awful lot of very nice hotels! They’re so incredibly expensive now. A new VW panel van starts at £27,626.

Do you use it as daily car too? How do you find fuel consumption?
 
westfalia

westfalia

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California is the one to get, you wont regret it,
sleeping behind a bulkhead whilst your van gets nicked
can't be a nice experience :Nailbiting
 
kimberleyallen

kimberleyallen

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7
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Lancashire
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Looking to buy
The gas cylinder for the California is about half the price for a refill in France and Spain compared to UK prices..
Pop tops are great, but add complexity/cost etc. Many use Transporters as day vans or campers without ever needing the extra height, we did for a couple of years before adding a pop top mostly to add an additional bed for a growing child. The van certainly looked better without it, it wasn't as flush as the Cali one. I guess your own height and flexibility influence it too.

There is a lot to be said for coming up with a design that suits your own needs. The rock n roll beds are an aquired taste, I disliked the way they were often fixed and blocked cargo room, not so easy to carry a bike in the boot for example. Our diy conversion had seating /double bed behind the cab made up ontop of low storage cabinets with a pull out section to make it bigger at night time. The van had cupboards on one side only, a lovely integrated SMEV sink and stove we learned that we rarely used etc. It was flexible and suited our needs which is all that counts.

Our cab divider curtain was on a stretchy net curtain type cable and was just a couple of Primark black fleeces sewn together. Effective and made it look like the van was unoccupied.

Our journey to a Cali Beach came from a desire to upgrade after 10 years of great fun and a better overall package to suit 2 plus a man size teen on some trips.

There's a lot of fun to be had from a reliable old van done your way, they all hold their value to a lesser or greater extent. For simple steath campinf I'd resist the urge to go full fat Cali straight away, unless your finances make that an easy choice. Have fun.
Thank you once again. You’ve understood where I’m coming from and I think a conversion is probably more suited to my needs but with cab access! @GrannyJen has made me realise that. Just need to find the right conversion company now!
 
GrannyJen

GrannyJen

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Hello GrannyJen,
Thank you for your response. I’m glad your friend was ok, very much demonstrates my son in law’s point, everything is a potential missile.

Some great safety advice there from you, thank you for taking the time to go through all of that. I guess I just don’t like the idea of someone peering in whilst I’m asleep, I wouldn’t relax, and although I would use campsites I might not always be near one and be tired. I would also want to be able to leave it parked and go off for the day and worry that if it looks like a campervan any opportunistic thieves would deduce that there may be things in it worth stealing.

Just wondering. Have you travelled around Europe? How have you gone on with replenishing your gas?
until last year 75% of my travels were outside of the UK.

No problems finding gas.

Even less problems feeling safe. The profusion of "Aires", limited facility parking spots, in mainland Europe makes it so easy. Very rarely have I parked up and not had neighbours. The feeling of comfort by having fellow campers around is profound. Also campers parked up in town squares, car parks or whatever is so common place you simply do not feel exposed.
 
M

MattC

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56
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Just a couple of points to throw into the mix, (and in support of conversions since I chose one...)

When people talk about the lack of a crash tested seat/bed and other potential structural weaknesses of a conversion over a factory-built cali, that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. It depends on the converter. The more reputable will have gone for Full Type Approval for their vehicles which involves putting them through a series of DoT regulated crash tests and other safety checks.
See e.g. https://www.jerbacampervans.co.uk/vw-registered/safety-quality/

And on the subject of gas, and it's availability (and safety aspects), there are alternatives. In our conversion we went for a Wallas combined diesel hob/heater. This gives a 2 ring ceramic-style hob to cook on, and also provides blown warm-air heating which is really effective even in winter - similar to the Webasto heaters many have fitted except that the heat comes out at counter-top level rather than floor level. It's really frugal to run, and the fuel is drawn direct from the vehicle's diesel tank so as long as you have fuel to drive you also have fuel to cook/heat the van. It means you have no gas on board and none of the safety regulations regarding travel on ferries or through tunnels. If there's a downside it's that it takes the hob a few minutes to warm up to operating temperature, and there's a short shut-down process too, whereas gas is instant (except when you have to change or disconnect the bottle!), but we haven't really found that to be a problem.

Not sure if that helps or simply introduces extra confusion!!
 
Zebedee

Zebedee

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As a single lady I have a California and have stealth camped both in the UK and abroad. The option to have the roof up is very welcome depending where you are. Many municipal campsites in France have Aires attached but to be honest the campsites themselves are dirt cheap anyway and can be very good. The heater is essential if you want to camp all year round. Never had any problems. I’d go for comfort. If concerned take the awning off so not so obvious you can always use a sail type one if you need it. Go for it you won’t regret it. I’m desperate for my daughter to go off to uni so I can have more fun....just hoping she doesn’t get first year learning from home on zoom!
 
stephen watson

stephen watson

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222
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Cumbria
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T6 Ocean 150
If you get a Cali, when we sleep downstairs and want minimal organization/quick getaway we close all rear blinds, leave front blinds open/seats facing forward. I bought an XL black decathlon microfibré fleece towel which when draped over both front headrests provides a quick and effective curtain from drivers cab.
 
Elly Swanson

Elly Swanson

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I had a search as I knew I’d seen something on this before.
Grumpy Grandad did this with swish curtain track (Ignore that it seems to be about lights, it was just in that thread)
 
Elly Swanson

Elly Swanson

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I had a search as I knew I’d seen something on this before.
Grumpy Grandad did this with swish curtain track (Ignore that it seems to be about lights, it was just in that thread)
Also Auberg-ine did a “stealth” curtain. If you contact him he’ll be happy to help, he does loads of interior hacks
 
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