Phil Archer

Can You Work in a Caravan?

A laptop on a temporary able outside a caravan
Moveable office?

Since January 2000 I have worked from home. As the children continually remind me, my work involves nothing more than sitting at a computer all day and, since a caravan is meant to be a home away from home, is it possible to work from a caravan?

In theory, yes. In practice, it ain't so simple.

More and more campsites offer wi-fi. The Camping and Caravanning Club, for example, offer it at all their sites. It's not free — but you can pay by the day, by the week and, as I have done, by the year: a subscription that should make it possible for me to get online from any CCC site without difficulty.

I tried to test this out at New Year. I bought my annual subscription for CCC site wi-fi at Kingsbury Water Park near the NEC last September and we spent New Year at the CCC site at Polstead. What do you know? We were so far from the wi-fi transmitter that there was no signal on our pitch and so I couldn't test whether a subscription bought at one site would be valid at another. We were only there for a short time, it was cold and wet and, well, I didn't put a lot of effort into getting online. I should have been be able to though.

This week, half term week, we wanted to take the children to a couple of places 'down south', namely Hever Castle (childhood home of Anne Boleyn) and Legoland (home to one of my son's enduring passions). Since I have "a lot on at work" at the moment, I can't take the week off so let's see if we can find a campsite that:

  1. is within easy reach of Hever Castle and Legoland;
  2. is child-friendly;
  3. has wi-fi.

Our search revealed exactly two: the CCC site at Chertsey and Sumner's Ponds near Horsham. We have stayed at Chertsey before. It's a perfectly OK site and we may well return one day but we like going to new places and so plumped for Sumner's Ponds.

On our first morning here, the family prepared to head for Hever Castle and I headed for the reception block/café, the only part of the site covered by wi-fi. I spoke to the warden and asked if there was somewhere that I could sit out of harm's way but within wi-fi range and, not unimportantly, near a power socket. Just such a location was found and I fired up the laptop.

To my delight the signal strength was excellent and I began to think about what I most needed to do that day. I noticed, however, that my laptop was taking a long time to find an IP address. My phone likewise.

It soon became obvious that the excellent wi-fi signal belied the fact that there actually was no internet connection.

And so to the crux of the matter.

A Shot of the CCC site at Kingsbury Water Park
Kingsbury Water Park where the wi-fi worked for me on all but one occassion (photo from the Caravanning and Camping Club)

I mentioned that I'd first signed up for a year's wi-fi at the Kingsbury Water Park CCC site. When I signed up all was well but on my next visit, the system was down. I asked the warden about it but he was less than concerned. I paraphrase only because I can't remember his exact words but the message was "That thing's always on the blink. They came last week to fix it but it never works properly. It's run by an outside company so it's really not my problem."

At Sumner's Pond I went back to reception to point out the problem with the wi-fi. "Oh that's always on the blink it's not reliable. I'll turn it off and on again…". That made no difference.

Now, in fairness, after I'd rung the service provider directly, the Kingsbury System did begin to work again and I did have some good connectivity there later on that occasion and subsequently. But the point is that wi-fi is not a priority for campsite wardens. The important aspects are things like:

Wi-fi is not a core service and it's not a priority. This is not surprising. A cursory glance at campsite reviews will tell you about a site's toilets and showers, and the local amenities, but will rarely mention wi-fi.

End result: I spent 3 days working on my mobile broadband dongle. Broadband? I was on a campsite in the countryside, not the city centre so, not surprisingly, there was no 3G connection, just a basic GPRS. The signal wasn't bad — as long as I sat outside the 'van and faced the right way.

Screenshot of the description of the facilities at Sumner's Pond with the wi-fi provision highlighted
The facilities on offer for caravanners at Sumner's Ponds

My plea is this: if you advertise a service, any service, you should ensure that it is available. If you advertise that wi-fi is available at your campsite, please recognise that some people will choose your site specifically for that service… and will be unlikely to return if it doesn't work.