With the myriad of makes, models and styles of caravans on the market these days it can be difficult for someone with no prior experience to make informed decisions about what to buy.
Deciding to buy that first caravan can be a very exciting time. Dreams of life on the open road, the freedom to do your own thing, and the casual carefree lifestyle all make for an intoxicating mix of emotions. However, you have to be careful that those emotions don’t distort the rational decision process to get the best rig for your proposed travel plans — and at the right price.
In my experience, there can be a strong temptation to head off to the nearest caravanning and camping show or the local dealership just to ‘see what’s out there’ — but this is not the best place to start.
Rather, for your first step I suggest sitting down with your family and discussing future travel plans, along with the budget. Make sure you understand where you want to travel, for how long and on what sort of roads. It’s also essential that you’re clear on whether you want to mainly free-camp or just hop from one caravan park to the next. This will help determine the right type and style of caravan. The range of choice these days is unlimited, from the simple camper trailer to the luxury of a custom-built off-road palace on wheels. Other considerations include the choice between a caravan and a motorhome or to buy new or second-hand. As you can see, it’s not an easy process to get right — and it can be particularly confusing for the first-time buyer.
OUR FIRST CARAVAN: THINGS TO DO WHEN CHOOSING YOUR FIRST CARAVAN
10 years ago we were first-time caravan buyers. We researched for 18 months before coming to a final decision. Being newbies, we were concerned about spending a bucket of money on something we knew little about. Making the wrong first choice and having to sell and buy something more suitable is both very expensive and stressful. Fortunately we got it right.
ASK YOURSELF HOW AND WHERE YOU WANT TO TRAVEL
One way to start is to open a ‘design file’. In our case, this included sub-sections such as:
- ‘Where we wanted to travel and for how long’ – outback, travelling country dirt roads or mainly stay on the highways.
- ‘How we want to travel’ – mostly free camping or staying only in caravan parks and what level comfort we need. For example, consider a built-in shower and toilet versus shower tent and portable toilet. Note that free camping can save considerable costs on caravan parks but usually requires additional capital costs for things like extra water carrying capacity and power generation. These are important for your budget.
MAKE A SHORT LIST AND RESEARCH YOUR CARAVAN OPTIONS
Once you have a fair idea, make a short list of possible makes and models, research caravans on the net, join caravan forums and ask caravan owners for feedback on their rigs. Tour caravan parks and camp sites in your area looking for owners of models on your short list and ask them for their thoughts on their rigs.
LIST CARAVAN FEATURES IMPORTANT TO YOU
Start a ‘wish list’ of items you would like included in your future van: air-conditioning (or not); L-shaped lounge versus dinette-style dining layout; under-bed storage; twin versus single gas bottles; aluminium cladding versus composite / fibreglass; off-road hitch versus ball hitch, and so on.
TALK TO EXPERIENCED CARAVAN OWNERS
When your short list gets shorter, talk to experienced owners who have toured the sort of country you want to travel in. This is the best feedback you will ever get.
Once you’ve got this information — then you should have a clear idea on what to get.