You’ve decided to go caravanning but you don’t know where to start. Whether the car or the van comes first is as confusing as ‘The Chicken and the Egg’. Here are a few pointers that we’ve learnt the hard way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of retailers and manufacturers and do your research. Hit the online caravanning forums, subscribe to a few caravanning magazines and eventually it will all make sense. Above all enjoy yourself, this is a lifestyle choice, it can be an adventure and it is fun.
Decide what type of van suits your needs
The best first step is to go to a Caravan Show. Most major Australian cities hold one or two shows per year. Even if you don’t want to buy a new van put aside a day to look at what’s available and which kind of camping suits your taste.
Will you free camp and what level of comfort do you require?
Do you want to go off road and by off road I mean down bush tracks? Or, will you be staying on bitumen and country gravel roads? If you love fishing in remote spots then maybe off road is the answer. Keep in mind that there is an awful lot of the country that can be explored on reasonably good roads.
Perhaps you have a low garage roof, too low for a caravan but perfect for a pop top or a camper trailer.
Do you need a bathroom? Or will a Porta Potti answer nature’s call in the middle of the night? Will a toilet / shower tent suffice for the daily ablutions? Of course the nice thing about having a bathroom on board is the hot water service that comes with it, no more boiling kettles to wash the dishes.
Do you want an inside kitchen or do you prefer to cook outside? Some vans provide both options.
Are you intending on making the RV your home for the next few years? If so fifth wheelers are worth considering and come with all the comforts of home. Their size may preclude some caravan parks but they are usually welcome at show grounds.
How will you handle wet weather? Even at the best of times rain will catch you out.
Look at all the options available, even those way over your budget as it will give you an idea as to what features will become standard in the future. I remember when car radios were an expensive extra.
Camper Trailers can be erected quicker than ever these days and some come with push button features. Stand back and watch it do the work.
Time to think about the tow vehicle
Choose a car that can tow the van within the legal requirement.
Once you have settled on the type of van and the approximate size and weight then you need to consider a car that can handle the ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass) of your proposed RV. The ATM can be found on a compliance plate inside the front boot of a standard caravan. One point to remember is that this is the weight of the unladen vehicle with empty water tanks. Every litre of water weighs one kilogram, so for example, a van with two 90 litre water tanks you will need to add another 180kgs to your calculations or more if you have a grey water tank. Add on clothes, food, appliances, tools, firewood, perhaps a fireplace and if you are so inclined a generator and you’ll see those scales rising.
What extras do I need?
This is the camping and fun part and you probably can’t leave home without:
- The WikiCamps app on your phone and or iPad, so that you know where on earth, be it caravan park or free camp paradise, you are headed.
- Set of Towing Mirrors for your vehicle, so you can see who’s sneaking up behind..
- A GPS because you will be out of range of phone coverage before you know it even on Highway 1. It’s also like having your mother in law in the back seat and tremendous fun.
- A 15 amp Power Cord for plugging into power at a caravan park and a 10 amp to 15 amp Power Adapter Cord (Amp Fibian is the popular brand) to charge your van batteries from your house power before leaving home. Caravans and Caravan Parks have 15 amp power points whereas your house has 10 amp points. Available from good hardware and caravan accessory stores.
- A Drinking Water Hose (usually blue or white) and assorted Hose Fittings for hooking up to park water taps, you’ll soon learn that most states use a different size, thankfully we don’t have many states.
- A Sullage Hose for the disposal of your grey water.
- Chocks, so that the van doesn’t roll off a cliff with Mum in it.
- Ramps, it’s hard to get a perfectly level camp site and even harder to sleep when you feel like you are rolling out of bed.
- Outdoor Chairs to complete that picture of relaxation.
- Outdoor Table
- BBQ of course.
- Outdoor matting. Available cut to order at good camping stores or packaged at Aldi.
- Beer Fridge, Esky. Either 12 volt or ice box, anything to keep the beer outside of the caravan. Remember food inside, beer and shoes outside. The Missus does not want kangaroo poo on the bedroom floor! Happy wife, happy life.
- Awning De Flappers and guy ropes to keep your awning stable in light breezes.
- Step ladder, so that you can reach the awning arms to attach the de flappers.
Can I go now?
No. Pay a visit to your local towbar and suspension expert. You’ll be shocked at the price of a good towbar and levellers but trust me it will be worth every single cent.
They will weigh your rig, fit the correct towbar to your car, fit an Anderson plug to your car, fit load levellers to your caravan drawbar and they can also fit an electronic braking system. The Anderson Plug will supply power from your car to the van to keep your fridge and freezer working whilst you are travelling. The Load Levellers (also known as Sway Bars) will provide extra tow points to your car and reduce sway. The Electronic Braking System provides controlled braking to your van when you depress the brake pedal.
What you will get is peace of mind. A rig that stops when you want it to. A rig that is level and doesn’t sway like the vans of your childhood and one that is economical on fuel. It is without a doubt money well spent.
Remember whenever you change either your tow vehicle or caravan, and you probably will, you should get your suspension system checked as it may need to be updated accordingly.
To make a free camp really feel like home
Solar Panels if not already fitted
Fire Pit, Oz Pig or flat pack fire place
12 volt water pump to pump fresh water into the van tanks.
And a really cool checker plate Box to fit all this dirty stuff in.
Ok, you can go now and don’t forget to have fun.