So you want to buy a caravan, camper or RV…….What is the best option for you?
Choosing your rolling home……..
There is absolutely no correct answer to that question. There are so many choices and each family or individuals needs and preferences are different. In this article I don’t wish to persuade your choice in any direction I just want to point out the fundamental differences and my thoughts on the Pro’s and Con’s of each. And just remember, no matter what you choose- EVERYTHING has a compromise!
Let’s start with a tent!
A tent is a perfect choice for singles, couples and families who wish to travel light and enjoy the absolute basics of camping. A tent can be as simple as a 2 person dome tent to a 6 bedroom mansion. Tents are the cheapest option and offers room and flexibility that the others don’t. If you plan on getting into bush camping, a tent can be carried into your campsite where vehicle access is impossible. If you have kids, tents seem to offer that ‘unique’ camping feel for them- blowing up an air bed and crawling around inside is great fun.
The downside to a tent is its lack of amenities such as kitchen, power and furniture/bedding. You will have to add all of that yourself. The other major downside to tent camping is the vulnerability to the weather. Strong winds and heavy rain can quickly ruin a tent camping adventure. A tent is great choice but it takes a certain person to travel in a tent long term- A tent is really more suited to short term camping trips.
- · Inexpensive
- · Huge range of sizes include large tents for large families
- · Flexibility to camp in remote places where vehicle access isn’t possible
- · Authentic ‘back to basics’ camping experience
- · Light weight
- · Vulnerable to bad weather
- · Need to bring all your camp gear with you (water, kitchen, bbq etc.)
- · Hard to keep warm inside on cold nights
- · No internal lighting
- · Needs to be packed up dry
Next step up from a tent is a camper trailer. A basic camper trailer is a canvas fold out tent mounted on a 6×4 trailer. Trailers vary in size and also come in off-road models. The canvas section usually folds out in one piece and is pegged down into the ground. The internal poles form a frame and erects fairly easy and is commonly a 2 person job. The best features of a camper trailer is there is a bed ready for you to sleep on, usually mounted on top of the trailer top. An instant room(s) for the kids and to setup camping gear or simply some room to sit in bad weather. A very roomy option if you are after plenty of space.
Some camper trailers can get pretty fancy (and expensive) and include hard floors, kitchen setups, power and water on board- the sky is the limit (or at least your budget is). I’ve seen some on the market for the same price as a full sized caravan! We have a soft spot for camper trailers. We started our journey in one and loved it. We could tow the trailer almost anywhere. It wasn’t heavy and we had ample storage inside the trailer itself. Our only negative was they are still quite vulnerable to bad weather particularly strong winds. It’s also important not to pack up the camper when wet- on the road, sometimes this is unavoidable.
These make a great option for families and those who want to get a little more remote yet keep to a modest budget. If considering buying a camper trailer make sure the trailer is of strong build and there are good dust seals around the trailer top and tailgate. Try and get a water tank installed and some 12v power for lights. All other accessories are personal preference for convenience. A good quality canvas tent section is also important- don’t get cheap rubbish. There are some good Aussie made canvas options as well as the range from OZtrail which is what we used for 18months straight full time and held up very well in the elements.
- · Value for money
- · Plenty of storage
- · Easy setup and perfect for families
- · Can be equipped with extras (power, water, bbq, lighting etc.)
- · Lightweight, easy to tow and can go off-road
- · Vulnerable to strong winds
- · Hard to keep warm on cold nights
- · Access to kitchen etc. not as convenient as that of a caravan
- · No lounge/seating, table etc.- need to carry that as well
- · Must be packed up dry
Wind-up Camper trailer
A wind-up camper trailer is a cross between a conventional camper trailer and a caravan. We now own a Jayco Eagle Outback and find it a great option for families. It’s a step up in comfort from our old soft floor camper and still lets us get off the beaten track when we want. Wind up campers come in various configurations but the most common is the ones with the pull out beds ends. Ours has a queen bed one end and a double the other. The table and lounge also folds down for more sleeping area. We have a club lounge, dinette, fridge, a basic kitchen with some bench space and a small amount of wardrobe and storage space. These are a great compromise- they get you up off the ground for living and sleeping and give you basic kitchen, power and water amenities.
They are very roomy and usually have more room inside (useable) than full sized vans. If we were to choose a full size van with bunks for our family we would be looking at a huge, heavy van with a big price tag. We would also be limited to what roads we could travel on.
The wind up campers are still small to tow behind most vehicles and can get off-road a little. Sleeping space is crucial as well as living space for rainy days. It’s nice to come inside and close a door when it’s cold but the wind still blows the canvas section around a little. They are easy to setup (around the same as a camper trailer). For those who really want a few extra comforts, lots of room and the flexibility to explore- then a wind up camper is perfect. See our Jayco camper here
- · Convenience of kitchen, fridge, lounge etc.
- · Plenty of room for sleeping
- · Easy to setup on your own
- · More comfortable in bad weather than a camper trailer
- · Lots of storage
- · Easy to tow
- · Expensive in comparison to a camper trailer but still cheaper than a full sized van
- · Still vulnerable to strong winds
- · Still needs to be packed up dry
Full Sized Van
A full sized van is limited again by your imagination and your budget. From a small van with single beds to full mutli-axle vans with queen beds and bunks. They are great if you like top-class comfort and security and safety from the weather. Most modern vans have an extraordinary interior comparable to a luxury unit or resort room. Larger vans can come with their own ensuite and washing machine.
For families to comfortably live for any longer term in a caravan you would need one with bunk beds. These are generally large vans with high price tags and heavy weight. In saying that if money is no problem and your tow vehicle is up to the task of towing a heavy van then a full sized van will give you ultimate enjoyment and comfort. Just remember that you may not be able to take it to all those little bush camps the camper trailer guys get into.
- Very comfy
- Completely secure from the weather
- Can be air-conditioned
- Can have full bathroom and laundry
- Lots of bench space and storage
- Can have large fridge
- Very little setup and pack down required
- Vans with bunk beds make great choices for families
- Limited to where you can tow them (off road, bendy tracks, steep hills)
- Heavy, impact greatly on fuel economy for most cars
- More maintenance required for upkeep
An RV or Motorhome
A motorhome is great choice for those who would prefer the ultimate ‘sleep and drive’ type adventure. Almost no setting up required and you are able to pull up almost anywhere to make a cuppa or to have a snooze. A lot of people will choose a motorhome because everything is self-contained and accessible and there is nothing to tow (although some people still prefer to tow a small run-a-bout for town driving, particularly if they own a larger motorhome thats not so CBD friendly).
- Convenient with everything inside ready to go and self sufficient- some even have an ensuite!
- Can pull up almost anywhere and have basically nothing to set up
- Nothing to tow (but most motorhomes have the power to tow a small vehicle if needed)
- Generally better on fuel than having to tow a large van
- Only a single registration required
- Can get large motorhomes with 6+ berths for large families
- They can be expensive to purchase (but there are expensive options across all options)
- Everything must be packed up inside (and out) if you want to go for a drive- unless you have a tow vehicle
Small car-based campervan (Hiace, Delica, Tarago etc). Similar to the Backpacker vans
These small campervans are great if you only need a small amount of room and more suited to singles and couples. Usually a simple layout inside with the basics. A lounge that converts to a bed and a small fridge or butane stove. These are a great budget option that many younger travellers enjoy using. They are good on fuel if you get a modern version (preferably a diesel). Because of their small size they can nip into small campsites and go down a few more back-roads than a vehicle that is towing or their larger motorhome cousins.
We jokingly refer to these vans as ‘whizbangs’ mainly because the sliding side door is used as the main entry and exit point. On a quiet night at 2am some doors can be heard opening a closing for miles as the occupants do their middle of the night call of nature!…the sound of whizzzzzzBANG can be heard ringing through the campsite!
- Small, lightweight and convenient
- Single rego, easy to drive and modern diesel versions are great on fuel
- Can get into smaller campsites
- Are able to pull up and sleep anywhere (that’s legal)- minimum setup required
- Can be purchased quite cheap especially from backpackers who have finished tripping around as they prepare to fly out of the country
- Suitable for singles or couple (which isn’t really a con if you are a single or a couple)
- Small and “cosy” inside
- Limited storage for clothes, food and other camping gear.
- Needs to be packed up if wanting to go for a drive.
A converted bus or coach
These are in a league of their own. Many will purchase a retired school bus or coach and choose to fit it out just how they like it. Its great fun customising a bus and turning it into a motorhome to suit your needs. If doing so, you will need to have some basic skills in woodwork, metal work and be prepared to pay an electrician to do any 240v wiring and perhaps a plumber too depending on how much converting you are doing. Buses make a great option for large families and for those who just love the room to move about. Plenty of storage and generally you can equip them with normal sized household appliances like a large fridge and stove. Full lounges suits and standard beds also can be installed making it truly ‘home away from home’. In saying that, many people will choose a bus as they plan to live on the road full-time as see it as their home so they want to have all the conveniences.
Converting a bus is actually a dream of many- to fit it out and customise it for travel. Its a big job and unfortunately many start but never finish- which is great if you are in the market for one. You will often find them for sale as an ‘unfinished project’ and there are some great bargains to find. Depending on the size of the bus and the state where you live, you will probably require a special licence to drive one and if you haven’t driven a large vehicle before you may want to get some lessons or at least plenty of practice before hitting the highways in one. Just like a motorhome, it’s not uncommon to see a small tow vehicle being pulled behind.
Being a bus, parking is an issue in some towns and the reality is they may not fit in some caravan parks so you may be limited to finding suitable campsites which can add to your planning. Like I said above, everything is a compromise- with the comfort, room and convenience of a bus, also comes the challenge of finding suitable areas to camp. We have met a few families who travel full time in a bus and they love it!
- Lots of room for families
- Lots of storage space
- Can be customised to suit your needs
- Can be purchased cheap as an unfinished project
- If fitted out well and looked after can be sold for a profit at the completion of your travels
- Large size means access to places is restricted- physical size and weight may limit you on certain roads and bridges.
- Usually very un-economical fuel wise due to weight and size
- In some states its hard to get compliance and registered with lots of red tape for registration purposes.
- A special license may be required and driving such a large rig may be more tiring on big drives.
Our final thoughts: As you can see, lots of options available for you to choose from. The obvious things to consider when making your investment are:
- What is your budget
- How many people will it need to sleep
- Amount of setup/pack down required for each camp
- Amount of storage required for all your gear
- Type of travel- ie: Offroad adventures, bush camping or mainly caravan park stays
- Requirement to be self sufficient (water, power etc)
- Cooking facilities
- Size of rig in terms of your ability to handle it on the road (large buses aren’t for everyone)
- Fuel economy, insurance costs, registration costs and special licenses required
- Quality of manufacture- remember this is an investment and a reliable and quality choice should be made.
The great thing about RV’s, caravans and camper trailers are they generally hold their value well if looked after. That’s great if you own one and want to sell,, not so much if you are in the market for one though. For this reason sometimes buying new is not much dearer than a good quality second hand model. And you get a warranty and perhaps choice of colours etc.
If you do some research into recommended manufacturers try reading blogs and real reviews found online. Never take the word of the manufacturer, they will tell you what THEY want you to hear. From time to time, genuine bargains pop up in the second hand market but they don’t last long- if you aren’t in a hurry to buy start looking now and wait for something to pop up.
Lasting remark: If you are unsure of which option will suit you the best, try renting or hiring and trying it out for a weekend or short holiday. You will soon learn what suits you and your family. You will either love it or hate it! ***images sourced from Google Images