Motorhome Modifications - A Luxury Outdoor Tent Or Home Comforts? - Solar Panels and Refillable Gas Systems On Our Christmas Wish List

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Monday 28 December 2015

Motorhome Modifications - A Luxury Outdoor Tent Or Home Comforts? - Solar Panels and Refillable Gas Systems On Our Christmas Wish List

It's official. We are rubbish motorhomers! Well, ok, perhaps that's a little harsh, but we did feel a little silly spending a day recently parked close by to our generous German neighbours enjoying the benefit of their 310W solar panel and the 7.7Amp output that was being redirected into our own limping leisure battery.  Are we the only motorhome in Spain without a solar panel? Probably not, but some days it certainly feels like we are as the steady stream of beach parking motorhomes all seem to be sporting their own rooftop power generation. So, after being kindly topped up by our a fellow motorhome via 2 sets of jump leads, I felt moved to spend a moment reflecting on why we haven't gotten round to installing our own sooner, along with a few other 'essential' modifications that seem to be cropping up in most self-sufficient motorhomes we meet.

There have, in fact, been a few signpost-like encounters of this nature in our motorhoming lives over the past few weeks, with several wonderful people we have met both inspiring and dazzling us with the extent of their on-board wizardry and delightful DIY modifications. Features such as rooftop solar panels, refillable gas systems, LED lighting, extra toilet cassettes, petrol or alcohol power generating units, mini solar charges for electrical devices, high wattage-pure sinewave power inverters to provide 230V outputs....even height adjustable tables!.......the possibilities for adding a little more comfort and convenience seem to be endless.

And in the biggest smack in the face is that all of those same people with the ability to generate abundant free power also have every single clever power saving modcon as well. They not only have a continuously full battery, they don't need one either! Our German neighbour with the 310W solar panel had 3 110Ah leisure batteries, an alcohol burning generator and was shocked to find out we didn't even have LED lighting like he did let alone having a solar powered torch.

Why then have we lived without all of these for the past 18 months on the road. Why do we continue to live in Homer like she's a big rolling tent?

To give some examples, during the past week or so that we've been enjoying the peace and quiet of this beautiful Spanish beach camping we've been pretty mindful not only of minimising use of our water pump to save power, but also minimising use of gas. The reason for this is that we don't have a refillable system, don't have space to fit standard Spanish gas bottles in Homer's gas cupboard and don't fancy spending a small fortune on the smaller CampinGaz ones either. Instead we're hauling 2 extra French 5kg bottles with us, one of which is living in the habitation and we have to move around it throughout the day. However, since this has to power our fridge we're in full gas conserving mode, not only cooking some of our meals on a meths burner outside (which gets enough funny looks) but also showering in the frosty, but free, beach showers close to our parking. In fact, use of any warm water whatsoever in Homer is strictly off limits for the foreseeable future! And don't even think about the heating either if it gets chilly, we've got extra coats for that.

Coming back to the water pump, after our scare with the leisure battery and top up by our kindly neighbours, we're also now acting the role of 'tap' for each other by pouring water from a plastic bottle over each others hands or any crockery that needs a rinse when it comes to washing up.

It would also be nice to make more use of our 2 electric kitchen appliances. Instead today I found myself using our hand blender as masher to make our humus for dinner as our little power inverter was squealing in complaint of not enough juice in the battery. I'm not sure that's in the instruction manual.

Then there's our use of night-time lighting, or should I say lack of it. We have a torch in our bathroom for those nocturnal visits that require more than the moonlight shining into Homer, but so far candle-light has been the standard evening routine after 6pm which, although we quite like it by choice, can get a little tricky for fine detail (and is my excuse for any typos in this post as well!)

Like I said, a big rolling tent. But why?

In part the answer is quite straightforward. Firstly, since we took off on our adventure so quickly after deciding we were going, in just several weeks, and having chosen just the third motorhome we viewed we never really stopped to plan or make any modifications in the first place. We were so busy getting on the road and then touring we just didn't stop to think about it until now, more than a year and a half later. We've met many people who have spent a good long time considering buying a motorhome, having trial trips in their chosen one, identifying things that bothered them and then sorting them out before trying a longer trip etc. We didn't do any of that. We just bought and went.

Secondly, probably as we've had quite a lot of experience wild camping in tents the transition to taking cold showers, not using the taps or heating very much and putting on extra layers instead of heating came quite naturally. Frankly, not having to build our home was a step in the direction of luxury and the novelty still hasn't really worn off. Similarly, as we were in 'touring' mode so much of the time, driving relatively often and spending most of our free time out of the motorhome, often in the mountains, the minor discomforts when we were in were more than made up for by having a spacious base to come back to at all. Basically the whole time we were racing around in pursuit of happiness at the top of the next col or mountain peak, simply having a motorhome was more than enough comfort to compensate for an occasional cold shower or having to put up with the chilly morning air. Also, when it came to battery, the short but frequent driving, occasional stops on campings or stumbling across aires with hookups in combination with our low power requirements (i.e. we never use the TV and always chose candles from time to time) anyway meant running out of power just never came up.

However, that said, in the past few months as we have started to take our foot off the accelerator a little more and slow down into a more sedate routine that involves spending more time 'at home', reading, writing and generally enjoying the 'comforts' Homer has to offer, the necessity to finally get around to making some of those modifications is starting to become apparent. We haven't stayed on a camping since August and that was only for a few days to recharge the battery when we had stayed put somewhere so long we needed a jump start! Plus, apart from our 2 big drives to Holland and then back to Spain the rest of the time we've barely driven at all so have started to really notice our discomforts a little more, especially power use for the first time.

I suppose what we are starting to realise is that we have 2 basic modes of living in Homer and both lend themselves to a very different kind of motorhome set up. During the times we've been 'touring' we really just didn't need a solar panel and barely noticed the other discomforts either. It might have added a little more ease and comfort or slight cost saving to have refillable gas for instance, but we never felt any sense of lack. It just wasn't an issue. However, now we've really started to enjoy staying in one place but have had to consider moving simply to get power and in both extreme cases we were 'rescued' by an alternative power source we are feeling the urge to make a change.

Are these changes absolutely necessary? I can only speak for us, but in my opinion no, as the past 18 months proves. However, now that we are increasingly finding ourselves wanting to stay in one place for longer without the need to move or rely on any external power etc. there is something beautiful about the self-sufficiency that is possible.  Being in a sunny country and having to plug into mains when solar power is becoming so accessible and affordable is almost a shame in itself.

Of course, as we realised long ago, there is no 'right' way to motorhome. Everyone is entitled to and enjoys their own way of motorhome touring and that is exactly how it should be. But that doesn't mean we can't learn from others either. Would we change a single moment of our adventure leading up to this point and swap any of the discomforts that have come before? Absolutely not. Not for a moment. Not only have they been some of our most fun memories but without them we would have also missed encounters with friendly people, such as our neighbours just the other day. Other motorhomers even came over to offer their surplus solar power as well.

But changes may well be afoot in the months ahead. In the meantime I'm off to start work on the first of them. I'm planning to make a sign saying "Naive and needy. Any spare solar power?" for our window.

Novelty Christmas candles are coming in especially handy!

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