During our lives we have owned and travelled in many different types of motorhomes, caravans, tents, camper trailers and other assorted setups.
This information is an attempt to set down our thoughts on different types of rigs and the pros and cons of each one.
We aren't looking at different brands here but at different types of travelling setup and giving you our opinions from the experiences we have had with each one.
Also, we won't be looking at the different accessories that can be added to each type of rig. This is purely about the rigs themselves and their potential.
The isn't a comprehensive list be any means but it might help if you are thinking about travelling long term around Australia.
PART - 1 TENTS (INCLUDING SWAGS AND 4x4 AWNINGS WITH ANNEXES)
Let's start with the most basic of setups, the good old tent.
There are so many types and sizes of tents available that it is impossible to give a clear run down of all the different styles. They vary in price from as little as $60 to well over $1000!
The type we favour is a large 4 or 8 man tent with a steel frame. They are large and bulky to carry but they are very strong and will stand up to almost all but the very worst winds. They also give a lot of living space which is very important if the weather turns wet and rainy.
For the purposes of this video, tents include things like swags, tent cots and side awnings for 4x4s.
They all have very similar characteristics.
1. Tents can be set up just about anywhere.
2. Tenting puts you closer to nature (but this could just as easily be a bad thing)
3. New tents usually come with micro mesh. Make sure you get one with this as it keeps out even the smallest insects.
4. Generally you don't have as much space to carry gear when you go tenting. You will need bedding, a mattress, a cooker and cooking utensils and some way to keep the food cold but generally speaking, this is a simpler way to travel.
5. Tenting is probably the cheapest form of accommodation. Setup costs are usually lower than other styles so this is a great option for many people just starting out.
6. Tenting has a unique atmosphere not available in ANY vehicle except perhaps camper trailers. Waking up under 'canvas' is a really unique experience.
7. There are no additional license and insurance fees as you can get about in your everyday vehicle.
1. You are subject to what ever weather is around. If it is hot, you are hot, if it is cold, so are you. If it rains, well, your comfort could be considerably less in a tent.
2. Tent walls don't keep noise out. If you have noisy campers around you, you are going to hear everything, like it or not.
3. Some tents are too flimsy if the wind comes up. Be sure to read reviews about tents before you buy them and find out how they handle wind.
4. Setup and pack up times are usually longer than many other styles of rig.
5. Comfort levels are quite low.
6. Tents do not offer virtually no security.
Tents can also be an excellent 'shed' to put all sorts of bits and pieces in when you are camped in one area for an extended period in another type of vehicle.
We do this ourselves and we have seen many other travellers adopt the same practice.
With tents you can go a simple or as complicated as you like. Everything from a backpack or cycling setup to tenting gear that would fill a trailer.
The comfort you need will depend on your own personal preferance and of course your age. The older you get the more comfort you will want - trust me on this, I know!
PART 2 - CAMPER TRAILERS / WIND UPS / HOME MADE CAMPING TRAILERS.
The purchase price of camper trailers varies from as little as $4000 for an older second hand model to around $70,000+ for the latest new models. The hybrid style half caravan half tent like a Jayco Swan is considerably more expensive with good second had ones fetching in excess of $20,000 for quite old models.
These can be anything from a 6x4 trailer with a fold up canvas top, a forward fold trailer with quite a comfortable interior and even a half caravan, half tent style like the Jayco Swan series. They vary in quality and complexity and some of the top end off road models are quite amazing and also quite expensive.
There are models available that can carry a boat that does not need to be unloaded when the canvas top is unfolded and this can be very important if you are carrying a boat and are regularly stopping overnight at different places.
The true camper trailer is really a tent fitted into a 6x4 style trailer while the wind up caravan style is half caravan with a solid roof and canvas sides. These offer a higher level of comfort than the traditional camper-trailer and are much more like a caravan in design and features.
1. This can be a good way to get to more remote areas if you get an off-road model.
2. They are generally more light weight than a conventional caravan.
3. Setup MAY be easier than a tent BUT avoid camper trailers with soft floors if you can.
4. Built in fixtures mean less to carry in the car and even extra storage space in the trailer.
5. Easier to tow and therefore safer to tow than a caravan.
6. Better fuel consumption than towing a caravan.
7. Low wind resistance.
8. Can be left set up in camp while you tour in the tow vehicle.
9. Cheap to license.
10. Beds are left made up making it more convenient than tenting.
1. Like a tent they may be uncomfortable in bad weather although generally being larger than most tents, you have more space to move around.
2. Less privacy and like tenting there is no escape from other people's noise.
3. They have limited carrying capacity and usually less storage than larger RVs.
4. Fridge usually limited in size to around 60 litres but that is changing on some of the more modern camper trailers.
5. They are a total pain to pack up or set up in wet weather.
6. Little or no security in the main living area but generally have lock up areas in the trailer.
7. External shower and toilet needs to be set up.
Having owned a soft floor camper trailer, we would advise against this style. It is much harder to set up and pack up than a hard floor of forward fold model.
Apart from commercially available camper trailers and hybrids, it is possible to create your very own design by starting with a bare bones trailer.
That was what I did and a covered 6x4 trailer was turned in to something we could take away with the 4wd and do some camping in more remote areas.
Essentially two 4x4 side awnings with annexes were attached to the sides of the trailer and a few other items such as a solar system, lighting, water tanks, hot water heater and a fold out shower were added.
We have been using it for a couple of years and it is fairly simple to set up and quite comfortable if it is used in fine weather.
PART 3 - CARAVANS.
We will include 5th wheelers in this section as they are more like caravans that morothomes even though the method of towing is somewhat different.
The name 5th wheeler comes from the turntable style hitch that these vehicles use. The hitch looks like a wheel and RVs often have 4 wheels so this is the 5th. Hardly an accurate name in all cases but we are stuck with it.
Caravans are still the most popular form of touring. They far outnumber every other type of touring vehicle and are very versatile.
Purchase price varies from as little as $5000 for an older second hand model to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the latest new off road models with all the bells and whistles.
There are even commercially produced houseboat models that can offer some really different experiences when you are travelling.
Caravans come in two basic types, pop-up or full height although you now also have vans with fold out ends and push out sides.
Pop-up caravans Vs Full height vans.
Pop-up caravans usually have a section of roof that is attached to the main body via a skirt of canvas. When travelling, the roof is lowered to reduce wind resistance and when stopped the roof is pushed up into position to allow proper head room inside the van.
The advantages of these vans really come down to two things.
Less wind resistance than full height vans, although this is not really significant, and the fact that pop-tops can fit under lower car ports and into sheds whereas full height vans usually are too high.
Disadvantages of Pop-Up vans
1. The canvas is subject to wear and over time they all develop leaks eventually.
2. If is very difficult to have a roof mounted air-conditioner.
3. Noise from outside is increased and in many cases we have seen owners of this type of van drop the roof EVERY night in noisy areas.
4. It is harder to keep the van either warm or cool as canvas is not insulated.
5. It is more difficult to put solar panels on the roof due to the added weight.
6. The canvas section and supports can be very noisy in windy conditions.
7. Cupboard space is reduced.
8. Some older models are badly designed and you can easily bang your head on overhangs.
9. Care must be exercised if connecting an awning to the roof of a pop-top as they are not designed to handle the added stress in strong winds.
Pop-up vans seem to be the very popular but we have noticed a marked increase in the number of full height vans being produced in recent years.
There are some pop-up vans around such as Pratlines, that overcome some of the problems mentioned above as the pop-up section of van is all solid. They drop down very low and thereby reduce wind resistance a great deal but the upper cupboard space is somewhat reduced.
This is also a very old type of van and not widely available on the second hand market. Most are not in very good condition these days.
Single axle Vs Tandem wheel vans.
The simple difference here is that tandem vans are heavier and they can carry more. They are also much more stable to tow and are more stable in strong winds when parked.
We have had both styles and we like the fact that a tandem van gives more peace of mind with regard to getting tyre punctures.
In general, single axle vans tend to be less than 18 feet long and tandems are usually from 18 feet and up.
We regard any van greater than 24 feet long as something better suited to life as a fixed dwelling in a caravan park. We have seen huge tri-axle vans being towed around but if you want to go for a large caravan style vehicle than a big 5th wheeler would really be a better alternative.
1. Generally wide enough and high enough for most people to be comfortable.
2. They can be towed by many vehicle types but larger vans are best towed with large 4wds.
3. Easy to put a boat on a roof rack of the towing vehicle.
4. Fit easily into most campsites (depending on caravan size).
5. Ability to live in the caravan while the towing vehicle is repaired.
6. Cooking facilities usually good.
7. Reasonable storage space.
8. Can fit a spilt system air conditioner.
9. Cheap to license.
10. Possible to have an internal shower and toilet.
11. Hot water system can be fitted.
12. Good gas bottle storage (usually 2x9Kg).
13. Usually they are cheaper to insure than an equivalent motorhome.
1. Not as stable on the road as a motorhome or bus especially in high winds.
2. Caravans tend to be very flimsy.
3. Water tanks on smaller vans tend to be too small.
4. Generally can't load more than 250Kg in a single axle caravan.
5. Usually limited to porta potty or cassette style toilet.
6. House battery storage limited especially in single axle models.
7. Not as sound proof as a motorhome or big bus but much better than tents or camper trailers.
8. Larger vans with big wheels have expensive tyres to replace.
9. Weight distribution is very important.
10. Special towing gear may be required.
11. Can be very noisy when it rains.
12. Caravans tend to develop leaks in the roof more easily than motorhomes.
Towing a caravan
As there are a wide variety of caravan sizes there are a range of cars that can be used to tow them.
A rule of thumb for keeping the right weight on your tow ball is to have 10-15% of the weight of the van on the tow hitch. This can be checked by many caravan dealers and there are weighing stands you can buy.
There are a variety of towing aids available (called anti-sway bars) that make towing much safer. They are designed to help shift the weight slightly forward along the vehicle and to prevent unwanted side to side movement of the van.
It is vital to spread the weight in the van out evenly and to not overload the van.
Bigger caravans are almost always towed by large 4x4s. The weight of the towing vehicle helps keep the van under control but using a properly adjustable tow ball will help give you the right towing position.
Our 20' van did once get out of control and began to sway violently back and forth across the road almost to the point of taking complete control of the car. Thankfully we were on a straight stretch of road with no oncoming traffic and I was able to get into the centre of the road and gradually increase power until the van come under control again. The van threw itself about badly enough to burst a tyre and it was a very unnerving experience. After that I increased the tension on both the anti-sway bars and the friction bar and it didn't happened again.
In this case the sway was set off by a strong cross wind as we came up on to a ridge.
So what about 5th wheelers and how do they stack up against caravans?
Well they are far more stable to tow on the road than a caravan and that is all due to the method of towing.
5th wheelers are much more like a semi trailer with regard to how they attach to the towing vehicle.
The disadvantage is that you need a specific kind of towing vehicle, usually a ute or a truck, to tow a 5th wheeler.
This is probably why they are less popular than caravans, that and the fact that they are generally far more expensive to buy.
For those with deep pockets, 5th wheelers can make a great home on wheels. They tend to be very up-market and ones we have seen are like being in a high class hotel rather than being in an RV.
There are all sorts of motorhomes available today and we have a few examples below to give you an idea of what you can get.
Purchase price varies from as little as $7000 for an older second hand model to well over $700,000 for the latest big new models with all the bells and whistles.
At the smaller end of the motorhome scale are the campervans known by those who camp near them as Whizz-bangs.
The sliding door on the side of these vehicles should give you a clue to how they got that name.
These are basically a standard long wheel base van that has been turned into a motor home. Because they are small they have a lot of limitations.
Purchase price varies from as little as $6000 for an older second hand model to around $130,000 or more for the latest new models although getting a new model these days seems to be a bit problematic as the focus has shifted to larger vehicles such as Merceedes Sprinters.
You can get either solid roof versions or pop-up roof versions. The negative aspects of these are similar to pop-up caravans. Check out episode three for a discussion on pop-tops.
4 wheel drive versions of campervans are available but purchasers need to be aware that these are NOT serious off road vehicles and they will not take the rough roads as well as a real 4x4. If you want a smaller off road motorhome then think seriously about something like a converted Toyota Landcruiser Troop Carrier if you want to go to remote areas.
So what are the advantages and disadvantages of campervans?
1. Doesn't require a special driving license.
2. Can easily be used as a daily vehicle and can park anywhere
3. Probably the cheapest type of motorhome to run
4. Parts readily available for most models
5. No problems getting it towed when broken down
6. Can fit into all campsites
7. Easy to turn round if you take the wrong road
8. 4 tyres to replace instead of 6 (or 8).
9. License fees generally about the same as a normal car.
1. Very limited storage and living space
2. Not enough head room for taller people in solid roof models
3. If the side annexe is up you can't move
4. When you leave your site for a short time you have to leave something there if you intend coming back or someone will pinch your spot.
5. Not able to tow very well due to lack of engine power.
6. Almost no space for extra water tanks (standard tank usually 20 litres)
7. Positively claustrophobic in wet weather.
8. Cooking facilities cramped and limited.
9. Difficult to fit a room air conditioner.
10. Limited to porta potty.
11. Cannot fit an internal shower.
12. May not be enough room for a hot water system.
13. Gas bottle storage usually limited to 4kg.
14. Limited space for house batteries.
15. Limited capacity for modification.
There is a huge variety of small motorhomes on the market today and they range from slide on designs and cab over Winnebago style to top end Mercedes Sprinters.
Older models in this category like the Bedfrod CFs can be picked up cheaply but be prepared to do some mechanical work and general tidying up before taking off.
Most motorhomes in this category compare reasonably well with the facilities offered by small caravans. The main problem is the amount of food and water storage available.
Not many motorhomes in this category tow a second vehicle and this means leaving your campsite every time you go into town. The amount of water they can carry is limited to around 2 weeks worth at most. This is fine if you only want to stay in any one site for a maximum of 2 weeks but if you want to stay longer then leaving your prime spot on the beach may be a bit of a headache if others are just around waiting to pinch it.
Medium sized motorhomes offer a compromise between the smaller Coaster bus and Sprinters and the huge Winnebagos and Swagman models.
Most are based on a light or medium truck chassis and have a cab over bed. They are generally quite expensive with even older second hand models commanding prices of $45,000 and upward.
The major advantage we see in this style of motorhome it the option to tow a small second vehicle and having a reasonable amount of space for storage and living area.
Pretty well everything we say shortly about buses also applies to large motorhomes. The main exception being that most buses are heavier and far stronger than any large motorhome.
In general a bus has a much higher carrying capacity as they were originally designed to carry large numbers of people and lots of luggage.
Large purpose built motorhomes like the Swagman, are horrendously expensive. Half a million dollars these days won't even buy you a top of the range model. These prices are simply crazy as you can still buy a house and land for far less in many places. To be honest, anyone who pays this sort of money for something that will only depreciate over time has more money than sense.
There are a large number of small buses that get converted to motorhomes with by far the largest number being Toyota Coasters and Mazdas.
Purchase price varies from as little as $7000 for an older second hand model to around $150,000 or more for top of the range conversions.
1. Short wheelbase models can just about be used as a daily vehicle and can park in most places
2. Cheaper to run than bigger buses
3. Generally cheaper to repair
4. Easier to tow if broken down
5. Can tow a second vehicle or trailer
6. Quite stable on the road
7. Spare parts readily available for all but the oldest models
8. Can fit into most campsites
9. Cheaper insurance and registration
10. Can fit a room air conditioner.
11. Possible to have an internal shower.
12. Hot water system can be fitted.
13. Reasonable gas bottle storage possible (9kg)
14. Reasonable space for house batteries
1. MR class license may be required
2. Too narrow to put a bed sideways
3. Not enough head room for taller people
4. Limited living and storage space
5. If the annexe is up you can't move
6. When you leave your site for a short time you have to leave something there if you intend coming back or someone will pinch your spot.
7. Lack of space for big water tank.
8. Replacing tyres is still expensive
9. Not so good when the weather turns nasty and you are stuck inside.
10. May be limited to porta potty size toilet.
Converted buses (large 30 feet and over).
A converted bus or coach will carry more than just about any other type of motor home. Some can be fitted with large roof racks and under floor storage and most are quite capable of towing a large trailer.
In general terms buses are stronger and heavier than large custom made motorhomes.
Purchase price varies from as little as $8000 for older second hand models to over $500,000 for the newer second hand ones. If you want one that is brand new then you have to have very deep pockets indeed.
Be very wary of buying older buses or like us you may find it very difficult when it comes to getting spare parts.
1. Plenty of space for living and storage.
2. Very stable on the road.
3. Ability to tow a large second vehicle.
4. High capacity for modification.
5. Easy to live in when the weather isn't so good.
6. Ability to fit good size water tanks, (400 litres or more)
7. Enough room for a decent sized fridge even 2 door models.
8. Tend to be more secure than smaller vehicles as the windows are up high.
9. Space to install shower / toilet / laundry.
10. Room to fit many solar panels on top.
11. Can fit a room air conditioner (or two).
12. Room for a full kitchen.
13. Choice of cassette toilet or black water tank.
14. Extensive gas bottle storage possible. (3x9kg or more)
15. Plenty of space for house batteries.
1. Very large vehicles can be hard to park.
2. HR class license required.
3. Difficult to move when broken down.
4. Expensive to repair - more so than smaller vehicles.
5. Expensive to run.
6. Not always able to get in to caravan parks and campsites
7. Require you to have a second vehicle to get around in.
8. Specialised vehicle required to tow when broken down.
9. Parts can be difficult to get.
10. Can't hide from the council ranger.
11. Cannot get in to some campsites due to size or weight restrictions.
12. Difficult to find places to turn if you take the wrong road.
13. Replacing a full set of tyres is EXPENSIVE
14. Expensive to license and insure.
15. Older models tend to be slow on the road.
16. Special regulations governing axle weight, length, height, overhangs etc need to be looked into
If you are thinking about a new conversion then purchase price isn't a consideration as you must already have very deep pockets. Older converted
trucks are quite rare as this is probably one of the least seen types of motor home.
There isn't going to be anything stronger or able to carry more than a truck like the one shown below. Choice of fuel is going to be limited to
diesel and fuel consumption will never be exactly economic but you will probably be the envy of all other travellers.
Off Road Motorhomes.
These are usually highly specialised conversions done lovingly by their original owners. Prices vary considerably but they are almost always more
expensive than similar sized conventional motorhomes.
Building your own rig isn't within the scope of this guide but the real advantage of being able to undertake a project like this is to get everything
just the way you want it.
People we have met with these specialised rigs seem to be engaged in an ongoing series of larger and smaller jobs so that the actual work on the rig
never really comes to an end.
This type of motor home is gaining in popularity as it combines many of the advantages of a caravan with the stability on the road of a large standard motor home.
Fifth wheelers tend to be more expensive than caravans and they vary in size from fairly small rigs to monsters like the one pictured below.
The one disadvantage we can see with fifth wheelers is the difficulty in carrying a boat on the towing vehicle unless you opt for a folding boat of some sort.
There are a few hybrid caravans being built that combine the van with a houseboat. There is even a commercial version available but most are still
being custom built for their well off owners.
I have to admit the freedom of launching the cara-boat at the local boat ramp and sitting for FREE in a nice sheltered river or estuary really does
appeal but leaving the tow vehicle on its own could be a bit of a concern in some places.
Towing a second vehicle.
When we were using the big bus a second vehicle was an absolute necessity. We had to find work and once the bus was parked up somewhere we didn't
want to use it to go exploring or even to get supplies. Whether you need a second vehicle will depend to a great extent on the size of your motor
home. Anything 24 foot and under and you might very well get away with having only one vehicle, but over that size it becomes a real pain to park
in shopping areas and to get down and turn around in a number of places you might want to explore.
Our one experience with a one vehicle set up was when we started using a Toyota Coaster and trailer combination. This would have been fine if we
were just doing stop-start travelling but in this case we were camped in one place for an extended time and having to pack everything up every time
we wanted to go into town became an enormous hassle.
Your choice of a second vehicle could be anything from a moped or pushbike to a big 4x4 but we would say that having a second vehicle is not just
a luxury, it is a must for many people.
There are three main ways to transport a second vehicle (and in this case let's assume your second vehicle is a car.) and these are:
Trailer: This is what we did, but we made the wrong choice of trailer and went for something far too light weight to stand the rigors of carting
the car around when we travelled on unsealed roads. A good trailer will have light truck tyres and some form of automatic braking system. The main
problem with a trailer is that it costs extra to insure, license and maintain. Yes it stops the odometer whizzing round in the car as it would if
you 'A' framed it but is all the extra weight and expense really worth it? We don't think so having done things this way ourselves for far too long
but a good sized car trailer can give you a lot of extra storage space as well.
There is a small type of trailer called a car caddy that allows you to drive one set of wheels of the car up on to it while the other two trail on
the ground. These are suitable for smaller vehicles but heavy duty models may soon be available for larger cars.
In general trailers and their contents cannot weigh more than 4.5 tons.
'A' Frame or Car Caddy: Currently the legalities of 'A' framing vary from state to state (this is soon to be addressed) but it is becoming a common way to tow a second
vehicle. Not all vehicles can be 'A' framed as they need a sub-frame to attach the tow hitch to, but if you select a small 4x4 like a sierra or even a bigger
4x4 then 'A' framing is very much an option. If we were able to start again and plan better then this is the way we would have set up our towed vehicle.
A 'car caddy' is just a small trailer that the front wheels of the towed vehicle sit up on. It is probably a preferable way to tow compated to and 'A' frame
but in most senses the setup is very similar.
Inside: Some bigger buses are set up so that a car can be driven up and in to the rear of the bus. This isn't an option unless you have a bus
that is already set up this way or you want to convert your bus to do it. It is done mainly for speed reasons and we can't really see any good reason to do it this
way except for the fact that you can travel faster and turn around more easily.
This method greatly limits the size of your second vehicle.
As we wanted to work our way round Australia we decided that we wanted a vehicle that could carry lots of gear and was going to be big enough to be comfortable living in over a long time.
Being rather green we really had no idea what types of motor home were available but we quickly ruled out towing a caravan as we thought our budget ($20,000) would not stretch to a
caravan and a 4x4 that would be required to tow it. We also believed (somewhat mistakenly) that a caravan big enough to be comfortable in was going to be too big to tow - more on that later.
With a limited budget we looked around at converted buses and ended up purchasing a 1962, 30 foot Bedford bus with a petrol / gas engine. The price was around $16,000 but as we fond
out later, old buses are hard to fix because of scarcity of parts and they do tend to break down a lot. We bought a car trailer (that turned out to be too light weight) and put our
old Barina on it as we didn't have enough money to buy a small 4x4.
In the end we travelled and worked our way round in the bus for 5 years before it became just too expensive to drive (and repair).
We still miss the old bus as it could carry so much gear and it was very comfortable to live in. Nothing we have had since has been quite as good for long term living. We had to make
the choice between putting more money into the bus (which by this time had soaked up some $34,000 including it's purchase price) or moving to a completely new set up.
When we retired the bus we purchased a campervan. This was a huge mistake as you really can't take very much gear in one of these small vehicles and we tried to alleviate the problem
by purchasing a trailer and filling it with the gear we wanted to take.
If the engine in the campervan had been bigger this would have been a slightly better alternative but it was never going to work for us long term.
Campervans are just too small to be a serious way of living long term on the road. Even though we have met a few people who have spent months at a time in a campervan we now regard
them as suitable only for a long weekend away or a month at the very outside. The setup we ended up with including a trailer is shown in the 'Campervan' section above.
From here we found a very cheap short wheel base Toyota Coaster. This was bigger in every way than the campervan and even had an internal shower. We did a fair bit of work on it to
get it the way we wanted it and then took off up north for three months towing the trailer along behind.
The Coaster had good storage space and with the trailer behind we could pack all the gear we wanted and take the boat as well but what could we do to launch the boat? We certainly
didn't want to take the annexe down every time we went fishing. In the end we had to limit our choice of campsite to one where we could camp next to a boat ramp and move the boat by hand.
The Coaster also had a bed placed across the vehicle and the width inside the vehicle meant that head or feet (or both) would touch the windows and this became a big annoyance.
I am not that tall (at around 5'7') but anyone taller would have a very hard time in a Coaster with an east-west bed.
After three months of packing up camp every time we wanted to go into town we came home and thought about how we could resolve this problem without towing a second vehicle.
The Coaster was big enough to go away in for a reasonable length of time and small enough to take to the local shopping centre but we didn't like packing up camp every time we
wanted to go somewhere.
We ended up buying a 14 foot caravan to tow behind and set off on another trip. To start with this seemed like it would work for us but soon we started having mechanical
problems associated with a big engine and a small clutch. (The Coaster was a hybrid with a 4 litre Falcon engine and the original Toyota clutch designed for only a 2 litre
engine.) After this experience we would recommend that people stay well away from vehicles that have been modified like this as mechanics tend to wash their hands of them.
This, combined with the fact that we couldn't think of a way of carrying a boat with this rig, put us off the whole idea and we started looking for a new solution.
In the end we sold the Coaster (for a profit!) and bought an old Land cruiser to tow the caravan. We had by this time turned full circle and ended up with a rig that
we had dismissed very early on.
After two years an quite a lot of time in the small 14 foot caravan we decided that a bit more room might not be such a bad idea. A 14 foot caravan is quite small and
looking at the big vans others were towing we thought that something in the range of 18 feet with tandem wheels for better stability would be the next evolution. In the
end the van was 20 feet and we were happy with the choice but the poor old Land cruiser had a lot of work to do dragging it around.
We kept the 20 foot van until we decided to move back to a more sedentary life and found it was almost as good as our old Bedford bus to live in. There really is no substitute
to a bus for long term living but a big caravan can be almost as comfortable even if you can't carry as much gear with you.
We no longer had the space to keep the big van so decided to change to something easier to store and easier to tow.
For a while we kept the old Landcruiser and we went away several times with that and our Jayco Swan Outback wind up
camper. This has been a good combination in dry weather but wet weather really causes trouble when we want to pack up and move.
When the Landcruiser started to rust away we changed the tow vehicle to a Toyota Prado
and this turned out to be a good combination. We did quite a few trips in this combination but the difficulties of moving the Jayco on grass in the
back garden and the hassles with wet weather made us start to reconsider our options yet again.
Our latest (and hopefully last) vehicle is another Toyota Coaster Motorhome.
We have teamed this up with a small lock-up trailer but we have already had a number of mechanical 'challenges' to overcome
including re-building the engine in the Coaster. (We don't have much luck with vehicles).
It is because we have made a number of expensive mistakes when buying various vehicles and other associated products that I decided to finally sit down
and write this guide.
Hopefully it will save others from making some of the horrific mistakes that we have made over the years.
The choice of fuel.
At one time there was only the choice between diesel and petrol and at that time the choice was easy as diesel was cheaper and you went further on it per litre.
Now with LPG entering the equation it is a little harder to make a choice. City prices don't mean much to travellers as we tend to be away from major centres most of the time.
At the time of writing the cost of LPG in remote areas is over $1 a litre, diesel is $1.80 a litre and unleaded a little more.
LPG conversion has been made very attractive for those with petrol powered vehicles with government rebates meaning it can be done free or almost so but this, like all good things,
will only last a short time. (Federal subsidy has been slated to end 2008).
The disadvantages with LPG are that it is slightly less powerful than petrol, it runs dry meaning a special lubricant needs to be added, you get less kilometres per litre than
with petrol and finally, it is not available everywhere yet.
Diesel engine vehicles tend to run cooler and therefore are better to run in hot conditions. Diesels have better pulling power and are better for heavy vehicles or those towing.
Diesel engines are cheaper to service (you can easily do the servicing yourself) but they can be far more expensive to repair if something major goes wrong. They also tend to last
longer than petrol engines. In our experience a petrol engine will need to be rebuilt at around 175,000 kilometres and a diesel at around 350,000. This is not always the case but
it is a good yard stick.
Our advice at this point in time would be to look at a petrol / gas engine for any vehicles with a combined weight of under 4.5 tons (including trailer) and for diesel for anything
heavier. Having said that, we did run round in a petrol-gas powered 9 ton bus for 5 years but we also had major overheating problems in hot weather and at 2 kilometres per litre it
cost a fortune to run.
Fuel is never going to be cheap again so it comes down to how many kilometres you can get to the litre no matter what weight your vehicle is.
Weight is something that people worry about a lot and while it is important not to exceed the vehicles' capacity (or the axle capacity for that matter) we don't have any problems
loading up with everything we want as long as we stay under the legal weight limits. We certainly do not try and keep weight down to a minimum because when living on the road long
term, you simply have to carry a lot of gear in order to live a comfortable life.
For long term living where you will be moving to an area and staying there for lengthy stays then it is very hard to beat a big bus or motor home that flat tows (or trailer tows)
a second vehicle for getting about in. It is possible to take everything you need with you without compromising very much. It is easy enough to take a boat as it can be put on top
of a trailer or on top of the car if you decide to flat tow. The BIG disadvantage with a bus is its size but size is also an advantage at times. Everything about buses is expensive,
from repairs to towing to fuel. You need to travel slowly or have deep pockets. Many people traveling in buses have to work as they move around to have enough money to keep going.
Those in big expensive motor homes don't have the same financial constraints as many bus owners but this is still the most expensive way to get around.
Coaster and Mazda size motor homes are just too small to be comfortable in for long periods of time. Many people who travel this way also do a lot of house sitting which relieves
the stress of cramped living conditions. We found the Coaster too small even for short trips of 3 months. Having a Coaster as a tow vehicle for a small caravan seemed to solve
some of our problems but we were unable to take our boat with us. People do travel in this style of vehicle for extended periods but it is always preferable to look for a long
wheelbase model as this will give you the extra room you need for long term life on the road.
A campervan is strictly a touring vehicle and we believe that short term touring is the only real use for these tiny motor homes. Some people manage to go away for months at a
time in campervans but they are simply too small to be comfortable in. Campervans are by far the cheapest way to travel as you only have one vehicle to insure and license. They
tend to be easier to maintain than big motor homes so they still have some minor advantages and are a serious consideration if you are on a budget. If you are thinking about buying
a campervan then go and look at one on a rainy, cold, miserable day. Close it up and sit inside, then imagine living like that for days or even weeks at a time. If you are still
happy then go ahead and buy one. (Actually it is always best to look at any motor home in rainy weather as you will quickly discover where the leaks are.)
A caravan is obviously the most popular way of traveling in every country. Big caravans (over 20 feet long) are difficult to tow unless you own a truck. Small caravans are a bit
pokey but they are better than a campervan. We believe the best size for a caravan that you want to tour with is about 18 feet. Bigger models tend to include hot water systems,
showers, air conditioners and all the luxury you will find and top end motor homes. Caravans are not as robust as motor homes but they offer great flexibility and a good deal of
comfort at what can be bargain basement prices. Older caravans 1980-1990 tend to be better constructed than many more modern vans. From our recent experience these are some of the
things to look at when considering buying a caravan:
1. Aluminium or fully galvanised chassis (Light and strong - less corrosion)
2. Plywood floor and bed bases (Never get a van with a chipboard floor)
3. Wind out windows (sliding windows are useless when it rains). - Recent experience has taught us that at least one sliding window may be useful if you stay in an area with very high winds.
4. Front kitchen (Generally gives you more working space.)
5. Four Seasons hatch (Good ventilation)
6. Fridge mounted above floor level (Saves bending down so much)
7. Check inside all cupboards for leaks (look when it is raining hard)
8. 4 Burner stove (2 burners just aren't enough).
9. Oven (Optional but it is nice to have a roast in the bush).
Things to check when buying a caravan:
1. Open all wind out windows and make sure they will close again without trouble.
2. Make sure window catches all lock properly.
3. Crawl around underneath and check for any cracks in welds or any sign of floor damage, rust or water seepage.
4. From our experience it is a good idea to take a ladder along so you can see the condition of the roof.
5. Check any annexe VERY carefully. Look for broken zips etc. If the van has a pull out awning, make the seller shows you how it works and MAKE SURE you see it pulled out and put back.
6. Look for woodwork inside that shows signs of splitting, this is a sure sign of water getting in.
7. If buying privately make sure you test ALL internal and external lights before you decide to buy.
8. Likewise check stove for correct operation.
9. Test air conditioner if fitted.
10. Wind down any stabilisers and make sure they all work.
11. Test all cupboard and draw catches.
12. Check carefully in all roof corners (especially inside cupboards, for signs of leaks.
13. Check there is at least one spare tyre.
14. Check all fly wire for damage.
15. Make sure fridge(s) are working.
Make sure bed bases and seating bases ARE NOT made out of chipboard or that if chipboard is used that it is at least half an inch or more thick.
If possible try to find a van with a house battery and solar panel to charge it. This is much better than having a trailer plug connection to the towing vehicle's battery.
Motor homers and caravaners tend to be two very different types of people. This rule doesn't always hold but for some reason we have found that people who decide to travel
in a motor home are just different to those who travel by caravan. We have motor homes and caravans so perhaps we now have get split personalities??
NOT a pop top!
Pop top vans are supposedly easier and cheaper to tow but they have a number of disadvantages over full height vans. The ones we have come up with are:
1. They aren't usually much shorter than a full height van anyway so wind resistance isn't a big factor.
2. It becomes difficult to install air-conditioning as you can't put one on the roof.
3. Pop top vans are less rigid and therefore not as strong.
4. They let all your noise out and everyone else's noise in.
5. It is harder to heat or cool a pop top.
6. Putting solar panels on top can be a problem as it makes it harder to lift the roof and can damage the supports.
7. They a very squeaky and noisy in windy conditions.
8. They reduce cupboard space.
Personally I would never consider buying a pop top van (he said eventually buying what I suppose it the ultimate pop-top in the form of a Jayco Swan.) Lesson : never say never !
What would we pick?
So what do we think when everything has been considered? Well we eventually came full circle. We originally thought that a big bus was the only way to go, but now, for
sheer ease of use and flexibility, we think that the ultimate touring package would consist of:
18'-20' tandem full height caravan with the following:
4 burner stove, grill, oven
Mostly wind out windows
Double bed with seats that will convert to singles if needed
Separate living and sleeping area
12/240v fridge (as big as you can find)
Big water tanks (100-150 litres)
Electric water pump(s)
Standard sized sink.
Lots of draws and cupboards
Roll out awning with walls or fully enclosed annexe
Sail track on both sides if possible as well as front and back.
One or two 4 seasons hatches.
Solar panels, regulator and deep cycle batteries
Sine wave inverter (at least 800w)
Internal shower / toilet. This is a great luxury and means not having to set up an external shower in bad
TOW VEHICLE (for those on a budget)
Large 4x4 such as a 60 or 90 series Landcruiser, GQ Patrol etc. with a 4 litre standard
diesel engine or a 3 litre with turbo.
Good strong roof rack or a decent boat loader like the Rhino version.
Heavy duty winch.
A good early 00s model 4x4 will cost around $16,000 depending on mileage and condition. Having originally opted for a non-turbo vehicle and now
having a turbo diesel, we now think having a turbo is the right choice.
Hints when buying a diesel (or expensive lessons we have learned)
1. Run the engine and take off the oil filler cap on top of the engine block. If the engine sends out puffs of smoke then the rings are stuffed - IE. don't buy it.
2. Make sure you can test drive the vehicle in 4x4 low range and make sure it works well and doesn't jump out when the going gets tough.
3. Look for signs of rust damage especially around window sills and (in the Landcruiser) around the roof.
4. When you buy an older vehicle change all oils and re-lube everything and change ALL belts.
5. Check springs, shackles and bushes.
BOAT (if you want to go fishing)
11-12 foot aluminium dinghy with 8-15hp motor.
Folding boat trailer of some sort.
A boat and folding trailer can cost up to $6000 new but second hand can be picked up for around $3000.
Hints on the type of boat to look for:
1. Get the biggest boat you can cope with. This will give you more flexibility in fishing different conditions.
2. Get a boat with as much depth as you can. Flat boats are wet boats.
3. Get the biggest engine you can cope with. Getting out quickly to spots several kilometres away saves wasting time and more importantly getting back in
quickly if the weather changes is a good idea.
It is easy to see why so many people choose to use this type of set up. It offers comfort, ease of use, flexibility and to top it all off it is one of the
cheapest ways to get set up and go travelling. (I am assuming here that you are buying an 80s model caravan and 4x4 not all brand new stuff that will set you
back $150,000 or more.)
This setup cost around $45,000 (that's car, caravan, boat and trailer) which these days isn't exactly breaking the bank for most people. There are certainly
bargains out there and if you can do mechanical work yourself you can get a good setup for about half what we have paid.)
Current notes (2014)
In the end we stopped travelling full time on the road and wanted something that would allow us a reasonable level of comfort but also allow us to get to places
we could never dream of in the big van.
We ended up with an automatic Toyota Pardo 90 series, 3 litre turbo diesel with a Jayco Swan Outback wind up van.
This combination was great for short trips but it is not great in wet weather and although the Jayco does stand up to very strong winds, it is a far from pleasant experience
trying to sleep in it during those times.
The Prado is a pure joy to tow with. It has a ton of power and is much more quiet than the old Landcruiser. We hope it lasts at least as long as the old Toyota did and is as
tough and reliable. We call it the 'plastic fantastic' due to the number of plastic panels on the outside.
We eventually got away for a few long trips using this combination and the Prado did quite well. I have to admit that it is a much 'softer' vehicle than the old HJ60 in every sense of
the word. It held up reasonably well but there were a few problems that needed sorting out but all were fairly minor on the trips with the Jayco in tow.
The nasty surprise came when we weren't towing and on the way back from a few days in Albany. If you are ever driving a vehicle and the steering suddenly starts to feel tight, STOP!
The following video shows you what happened just after the steering started to feel a bit odd :
Yet Another Change (2016)
Well we have done it yet again. The Jayco was great fun but the difficulty we had moving it around in the back garden (combined with my deteriorating back) caused us to
We have now acquired an older model Toyota Coaster (1988) that, despite its age, seems to be in very good condition. It was only converted to a motorhome in in 2012 and
the interior design is excellent.
The Coaster now has its own page on this site where we share info on its capabilities and report on any changes we make to it. So far
we have had a number of problems to overcome but we are determined to stick with this vehicle as it is our last option for travelling around.