Caravanning made easy: Expert tips Part 1

Catherine Lawson & David Gilchrist — 18 July 2016


If I had to list my top 100 Aussie camps, it would be chock full of remote Kimberley bush camps, unmissable west coast beach sites and loaded with national park campgrounds. While I don’t mind brief caravan park stays as I pass through towns and cities, our self-sufficient setup frees us to escape to the most scenic locations and utilise our own supplies of power and water for weeks at a time.

To maximise your onboard power supply, install solar panels (including a mobile panel that you can shift to follow the sun), invest in a micro wind generator, wire up a generous bank of deep-cycle batteries and then take stock of everything draining your power. Purchase the most energy-efficient white goods you can afford, switch to LED lights, insulate your rig well, and check that you have good seals on your fridge and freezer.

To stretch your water supply, install low-flow taps and water-saving showerheads, and ensure your grey water tank is large enough to accommodate prolonged stays in free and low-cost camping areas.


You can make huge data savings by seeking out free wi-fi zones as you travel, and limiting your daily internet fix until you hit those spots. A surprising number of local Aussie shires and city councils offer free public wi-fi, sometimes limited to popular recreation zones or centrally-located malls, but there are some great surprises, too.

On Western Australia’s mid-west coast, the Pilbara’s network of Welcome Rest Stops offer free solar-powered wi-fi at 18 overnight and day-use rest areas from Exmouth to north of Port Hedland, including at remote Hamersley Gorge in Karijini National Park. Some mobile phones will automatically pick up when there’s free wi-fi about but, otherwise, libraries, tourist information centres, shopping centres and some fast food outlets are good bets.


With so much online information at our fingertips, who stops at tourist information centres anymore? I do, for the simple reason that there’s nothing like local knowledge when you are searching for new and authentic experiences in an unfamiliar place. Staff at tourist information centres can give you real insight into local events, free and low-cost camps and road conditions.

I always ask the staff I talk to what they like to do for fun, and usually walk away with directions to some secret local swimming hole or favourite fishing spot or the time and date of a recommended show, restaurant, festival or fitness class. At the very least, you’ll find out where to access free wi-fi.


How often do you pull into a roadside freebie to find the rubbish bins stuffed to overflowing? The lids won’t close, rubbish is blowing about in the breeze, and the flies and the stench are unbearable. Birds have rummaged through the excess of bags stashed alongside and some sneaky sod has left a dead battery and a rusting gas cylinder, too. It always makes me wonder what camp rangers and council workers must think about travellers’ grubby habits!

That said, nothing endears you to fellow campers faster than cleaning up the scene. Once our rig is set up and everyone has a cold drink in their hands, we take a little walk around camp with a plastic bag, picking up broken glass, cans and other litter to not only make our stay nicer, but improve the camp for those who follow. Our clean up excursions always attract a bit of attention and we meet new friends and sometimes helpers, too.

If the campground bins are full or don’t allow for recyclables, carry your rubbish bags on to the next available bin. Never throw non-combustible glass, tin and plastics into the fireplace for the next camper to deal with, and clean your camp of small items that are easily discarded: plastic bread bag ties, bottle tops and cigarette butts.


We all love the excitement of travel – the open road taking you here today and off to somewhere else tomorrow. And I’m told the best way to enjoy that degustation of delight is to face the day from dawn chorus to last light.

So to get things off and running bright and early, try putting the alarm clock on full volume and out of reach. Alternatively, hit the snooze button and lay still a little longer – not to sleep but to give yourself a pep talk before facing the day with gusto. Otherwise, try putting a mint beside your bed for an early sugar hit before your breakfast.

Or, perhaps, work on the basis that you’re in for a ‘wicked’ holiday and ‘there’s no rest for the wicked’! Getting up early means you’re in the running for the best site later on, enjoying the best of the day and collecting the most ‘wicked’ stories to tell.

Go on – join the dawn chorus of caravanners packing up, car engines roaring to life and loud greetings between fellow travellers. Embrace the day. Just don’t wake me as you leave…


It’s a camper’s dream – spending private nights under quiet stars. The trouble is, when you pull up to a campsite in a landscape of endless horizons, someone is bound to pull up beside you. Before you know it, you’re surrounded by a gaggle of campers, living in a village of thin walls and canvas where sound travels a long way.

So set the standard. Try to keep your voice down and your noises low. Think of others and they’re likely to think of you. And while privacy blinds on windows help block out stray glances, remember you’re possibly sleeping just metres away from strangers. So keep covered when you’re moving about – ditching modesty for freedom’s sake won’t convince anyone you
value privacy.

Meanwhile, enjoy mingling with your neighbours. It encourages people to give you privacy when you need it.


When it comes to vanning, everyone wants to be your support actor, stagehand or critic.

You know the scenario. You haul your caravan into life’s mini stage – the caravan park. Beyond the proverbial bleachers, on the sloping banks that are effectively the cheap seats of the van park is an ever-changing cast and crew that sit in their canvas chairs, sipping quietly on their chardy, watching you line up your van, reverse, argue with the awning or search for this or that. For the moment, you are the lead actor in a nightmarish theatre-in-the-round.

Be wary here; don’t mistake their overt curiosity as a sign of camaraderie. They are nosy and you’re the main attraction. Whatever you do, don’t add to the act with a loud script full of harsh words to your partner, your kids
or your dog.

Accept that the process is treacherous and that you’ll draw plenty of attention and maybe some help – especially if you’re inexperienced.

My advice? Face arriving in a caravan park with Shakespeare on your mind. Saunter on to that stage as if ‘going once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’. Listen to advice, sort out the dross that is sometimes offered and, above all, show no fear.


We all need a little time to ourselves – to read, to fish, to swim, to clear the mind, or to fill the mind with the most magnificent ideas. It’s essential, really.

Then we go caravanning and the performance art of living in a confined space makes finding a little time for ourselves troublesome.

Don’t worry. Living in a confined space is tricky for even the least reclusive of us, no matter how much you love your partner. Finding ways to get your space is especially difficult when circumstances aren’t favourable – such as in bad weather or when the grandkids join you for the weekend.

The key is to remember the honeymoon is over, so offer your partner time alone. For example, he offers to do the shopping while she goes fishing or plays cards with fellow travellers during happy hour. It’s about keeping the relationship, as well as the van wheels, rolling.

Expect tension. Remember, it’s a dance we all find difficult and there are no dance studios playing never-ending romantic medleys to help. Good luck and try a quick step then a slow waltz. Find time to give time.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #549 March 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month! 


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David Bristow