You’ve heard of shoe porn, right?
Well, I have a problem…
I can’t stop looking at Caravans!
Over the last 12 months I have looked at thousands of vans online, made several visits to the local caravan sales yards and wandered endlessly through a variety of van shows. All in the name of finding our perfect match.
And I think we are just about there.
However, what we are now looking at getting is a vastly different from what we originally thought we would like! So, how did we narrow down the field?
1. What kind of Nomad are you?
Firstly, it’s important to think about the type of travel you plan to do. Are you hoping to do it totally on the cheap, like the new breed of international van-packers? Are there little people included in your adventure plans? Are you just going for the occasional long weekend trip with the hoards and masses?
Or, like us, are you planning on making a home away from home, living permanently on the road? The answer to this first important question is a great place to start. Knowing this could potentially mean you already have a very good picture of what it is you need for your perfect adventure, but if you are anything like us, this idea might change the more you look! We found that the more we drilled down on certain factors, the clearer we got about what type of RV would suit our needs. So here are a few other questions that could help to get clarity about how the style of travel you will be doing can affect the RV you choose.
2. Think about the amount of time you will be in your RV…
So, perhaps the only time you will be in your van is to sleep, and as a crazy young traveller, who knows if you’ll be doing much of that in between all the late night partying and early morning surfing. If this is the case, a simple ‘bed on wheels’ campervan or wagon set up might be all you need. Apparently the humble station wagon is the vehicle of choice for the van-packers these days, selling like hotcakes on Gumtree from one to the next as they leave/enter the country.
My days of sleeping in the back of a station wagon are now in the rearview mirror, though. Even when we go camping for a weekend, I have now progressed to a decent camp mattress and a tent you can stand up in to get dressed! And knowing we will be long-term travellers means we will probably spend a fair chunk of time in the van. Even if we head for sunnier climes, there will be winter months where a solid wall caravan will offer us some protection from the elements. Perhaps if our plans were less permanent, we might’ve settled for something smaller that encouraged us to spend most of our time outdoors, but for us we wanted to comfort of an interior with some room to move.
The weather is another important part of this question. If you are only travelling in the hotter parts of the country, then having the airflow of a canvas camper trailer might be a factor. But also consider how hot tents can get in the midday sun and whether you need a particular grade of canvas. They even now have Tropical Roof tarps, which create airflow over your camper and have a reflective coating to deflect some of the heat.
You also need to consider the wind factor of the places you are travelling. We decided not to go with a pop-top caravan. Short term, I think the extra air flow of the canvas would be good, but the thought of spending many nights listening to the wind flap and tear at the canvas made us steer away from this option.
3. What’s at the end of the road?
The kind of places you intend to stop at the end of the day is probably the biggest factor in what inclusions you need in your RV. If you plan on free camping, for many places now, you will need to be self-contained. There is a lot of debate over exactly what this actually means, but generally, it is understood that you will bring in your own water and fuel supplies and take out all of your waste, including your rubbish and grey-water. “Leave No Trace” as they say. Being the cheapest form of accommodation, it is very popular and they are cracking down more and more on people who don’t respect and care for the areas they are visiting by protecting the environment. You will also need to consider your power consumption and options with no access to 240-volt mains power. For us having a van and fridge that runs on 12-volt, and a good solar panel and battery set up is a must! The longer we can last off the grid, the better as far as we are concerned. This also meant we had to consider what sort of toilet/shower facilities we would need and how much water we could carry to support having these extras on board with us.
This would be vastly different if we only ever intended on staying at caravan parks where there is access to town water, mains power and fixed showers and toilets. We might’ve gone for a smaller van that focussed more on living area, and didn’t include an ensuite and would, therefore, be lighter to tow.
If you plan on spending a lot of time actually on the road driving, you might like the convenience of Motorhome or Campervan, where a roadside stop is all you need. You can quickly and easily pull over and with no setup time at all you are in the back and making yourself a cuppa.
Or it may be important to think about how much of your trip you plan on doing off-road. While many free camps can be easily accessed by most vehicles and RV’s, some of the best-hidden secrets are off the beaten track. You may need to look at a Caravan or Campertrailer which is specifically designed for 4wd or off-road adventures. These are generally much dearer (and heavier) due to the extra engineering and strength in the chassis and suspension, so you want to be sure that you intend to make use of them before you go down that route. Our research has showed that we don’t really need to spend the extra dollars to go to most of the places we want to go.
4. What about the front end?
As I was saying, while you may need to consider the end of the road, it’s also important to think about how you are going to get down the road. What type of vehicle is going to get you where you want to go? Obviously, a campervan or motorhome is the whole deal. Originally we were really keen to get a motorhome and, in fact, looked at lots of them when we first started thinking about our Grand Plan. However, as we came to see this was going to be a long-term (indefinite) working holiday, we realised how important it was for us to be able to set up our site, leave it to go to work, and possibly even go off in separate directions to each other at times. We would need a vehicle of some kind and preferably something 4wd to give us access to more remote locations. We did consider the idea of pulling a small vehicle behind a motorhome, but for us, this wasn’t cost effective. We also considered adding a small motorbike or learning to rely on the treadlies (pushbikes), but Crispy really needs a vehicle which can carry some tools. So that’s how we decided a caravan was the best option for us.
A big factor we are currently learning about is the towing capacity of your vehicle. It’s all great to go for the biggest and the best caravan, but unless you have a vehicle that has the power to tow it you could be looking at a very costly mistake! When we bought our Holden Colorado last year, we did so because it has one of the highest towing capacities out there, but you also need to be aware of the GCM (Gross Combined Mass – the total of you car and your van), your Payload (how much stuff you are allowed to carry in the ute tray or the van interior), your Towball weight, the distribution of your load across the axles and many other factors to ensure you are not overloading your vehicle. It makes your ride unsafe and imbalanced, can affect your fuel efficiency and also your warranties. These factors should be considered when thinking about what size van you should buy.
5. Visualise living in it. Does it suit you personally?
When wandering at the expo’s, we found after a while all the vans began to look the same. If you buy new, they are extremely customisable and many times it comes down to personal taste as the differences can be very subtle. Due to our budget, though, we were looking at buying secondhand, so we needed to know we could live with whatever it was we found. So it comes down to little details like the seating arrangement or the position of the bed. With Crispy’s back condition we had some health concerns which factored into our decision. We didn’t want to have to squeeze around a table to sit down as this awkward shuffling movement is not good for him. We also need to factor in the cost of a good quality mattress on the bed for his back, as well as something that accommodates his 6ft length when lying down.
We wanted a separate shower to the toilet if we could find one in our budget so that we could go at the same time as each other if we needed.
And we were hoping for a light interior colour scheme as we found some of the older vans were very dark inside, making it seem much smaller and more cramped.
For us, we considered the type of cooking we wanted to be able to do. If you plan on living on rice and 2-minute noodles while travelling, then maybe this might not be an important factor as a $20 gas burner will do the job. Many many travellers we talk to tell us they thought they would need an oven and a microwave and a thermal cooker and a bread maker and the list goes on, but as it turns out they do most of their cooking outside either on their BBQ or camp oven. We might find this to be the case too once we get out there but wanted to have the options of the oven and the microwave available to us.
Answering these questions helped us to really narrow down exactly what sort of RV was going to suit us.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my por… I mean, search.