Tagline: ‘Tour smarter. Go further. Live your dreams.’ (Best. Tagline. Ever.)
Who is this magazine for? It’s hard to answer this question, as you don’t often get to see the people who buy motorhomes. That’s because you’re either stuck behind them, longing for some masked bandits to descend on the roof with the bags of tar and feathers, or speeding past them so fast their faces are a blur.
I’ve never actually been in a motorhome before. I’ve seen plenty of them, mostly from the rear, puttering down country lanes. The main reason to buy a motorhome, apart from getting the chance to experience the heady whiff of chemical toilets on a regular basis, is obviously to fulfil long-held fantasies of leading a parade. That parade might be comprised of angry people calling you a zip-locked bastard, but hey and excuse me, a parade is a parade.
Incidentally, magazines in general seem to love the adjective Practical. This feels like a massive missed opportunity here. I, for one, would much prefer to flick through a copy of Whimsical Motorhome.
What did you get for your £3.99? Practical Motorhome is split in to four sections: Talk (letters from readers and a subscriptions advert that is emphatically not ‘Talk’), Travel (accounts of trips made in various behemoths), Advice (what to do when your motorhome isn’t broken down) and Tested (lots of reviews).
‘Talk’ features correspondence from people who feel the need to name their motorhome. This is something I struggle to understand. I don’t know of anybody who would call a house Elsa or Monty. So why bother for your house on wheels? Clearly, Practical Motorhomes is for the truly committed trundler. By committed, I mean people who for some reason feel passionate about the correct use of an apostrophe to correctly describe a ‘van. My ignorance is such that I’m not clear what word the apostrophe is being used to cover for here. ‘Camper’, perhaps. Or ‘Sad’.
The tone of the mag is chipper, with exclamation marks sprinkled with a happy abandon. Alongside some wordy but well-written features and letters full of sentences like ‘The Esprit and Bessacarr 494 and 462 willl not get a side exterior locker door,’ you’ll find a good spread of pictures showing large tin boxes despoiling beautiful landscapes. Here, at last, the appeal of living in a motorhome becomes clear. It’s the only place you can sit and admire the splendid view without finding it obscured by a ‘van.
Towards the back of Practical Motorhome the pleasant travelogue pieces recede to be replaced by the heavy breathing section – hot young ‘vans, waiting for your pension pot. Your bog-standard ‘van, which is to say, one with wheels, some gas hobs and all the pine-effect laminated chipboard you could ever want, will set you back in the region of 25 grand second hand. Your Elysian, a 9.1-metre beast at the top end of the market, will cost you £165,000 on the road. You might argue that’s more than a family house in some parts of the country, but I would counter that the Elysian would piss all over that in terms of miles per gallon.
Features: When it comes down to it, the first half of Practical Motorhome is a travel magazine. Sure, Clare Kelly ‘loves travelling by motorhome’ through Portugal, but in an article long enough to wedge in a couple of paragraphs on custard tarts there’s bugger all mention of her trusty Auto-Sleeper Kingham until the very end, where it’s mentioned in passing that the ‘van is ‘fabulous’.
Donna Garner’s piece on Spain is similarly quiet about the wheels, at least until one night, when a 5am leak pisses rainwater all over their bed. Donna and her husband have to cut the tour short. To me, this sounds like the typical description of life with a motorhome. A pleasant trip, rudely interrupted by the startling realization that you’re in a motorhome.
This impression is strengthened by the second half of the mag, and a glance at the advice section. This is seven full pages dedicated to helping readers out when their ‘van shits the bed. It starts with advice from Gentleman Jack, who responds to a reader’s query as to whether to purchase a classic Fiat camper off eBay by saying – I paraphrase only slightly – ‘for Christ’s sake don’t, it will ruin your life.’
Adverts: Clare and Donna’s cushy little trips have to be subsidized somehow, so Practical Motorhome carries plenty of advertising.
Most of this is exactly what you would expect – ‘vans, and various sites to plug ‘vans in. Even in the adverts however, something’s off. Towbars, insurance, greasy men who want to buy your used motorhome and sell it on for big, big prices; there’s still this vague sense of unreliability lurking under the covers.
The adverts also reveal how owning a motorhome requires (or forces you to develop) a warped sense of comfort. In a box titled ‘Unrivalled luxury…’ found on a double page spread for the rather sexy Auto-Sleepers models, the marketeers work their magic, boasting of a gearbox, a window, a colour-coded front bumper and mud flaps. You know, like a car.
Letters page: Practical Motorhome treats their readers properly and puts the letters right at the front. Unfortunately it undoes all that good work by offering the star letter a prize of Milenco leveling ramps.
The letters are the usual ragbag of stuff praising the mag and its principal advertisers, complaints, and shout-outs for nice stops (including one in Oldham, which seems highly unlikely). Nice to see a bit of spice about the Scottish independence referendum creeping in though, with one reader calling out our old friend Clare for whipping up anti-Caledonian feelings. I imagine the Scots are generally fans of the motorhome. It’s a great way of avoiding visitors.
I liked Practical Motorhome. Parts of it really did make me want to feel the wind in my hair, to travel free and easy as a wanderer across Europe’s sunnier shores this winter.
All I need to do now is pack my towbar, bed, gas, toilet, cushions, fuel, warning triangle, awning, clothes, passport, insurance, generator, CO2 alarm, insulation screen, LED lights, torch, snow chains, BBQ, blind, solar panels, bike rack, and bike into my enormous leaky car.
Footloose and fancy free.
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