Help Steve choose the perfect van

Steve Farmer — 13 December 2011

HAVE YOU NOTICED how our RV needs change as we move through life? In our early 20s my wife and I were happy with a tent and a small sedan. We slept on an airbed and cooked on a single-burner gas stove. An ice box, folding chairs and a homemade folding table completed the list of essential getaway gear.

In 1987, with accumulated holiday leave, we were planning “the big one” – five months on the wallaby circumnavigating Australia. Of course, the little tent just didn’t cut it for an extended trip and we began hunting for a suitable secondhand van. We knew next to nothing about caravanning, so we had no preferences in make or layout. Eventually, limited supply in our price-range saw us snap up a neat little 14ft Millard pop-top. It wasn’t exactly palatial, but for a couple it was cosy enough to be home for the months ahead. And the layout worked surprisingly well. The double bed against the rear wall was a bit of a pain, but the double decker bunks folded down to a lounge across the front which proved ideal for relaxing after a long day on the road. Hitched to a Nissan 720 4WD with a boat on top, that rig gave us what was probably the most memorable five months of our lives. Of course, our only complaint was that five months was no where near enough time to see this great country.

After our quick trip around the block, children arrived and the little Millard continued to provide sterling service. We enjoyed shorter trips around north Qld, laying the foundations for family caravanning holidays for years to come. Mind you, bedding down three billy lids each night was a major logistical exercise. Carmel often took the kids for a walk around the park while I converted the lounge to bunks and dropped the table to form a third bed. With gear stacked on the floor there was barely room to move.

As the kids grew it became more and more difficult to maintain some level of sanity in the 14-footer and we inevitably decided to upgrade. This time we knew what we wanted, but our perfect family caravan proved to be scarcer than hens’ teeth. We eventually found a pre-loved 21ft Viscount complete with three permanent bunks, a double bed and air-conditioning. I fitted a new fridge and did a complete reseal on the van and we headed off for two months' touring through Qld and NSW. It was great to be on the road with the kids, sharing the sights, experiences and special moments that caravanning allows.

After many trips, the kids grew into teenagers and developed interests which limited our holidays. We reluctantly parted with the family van which had given us so many happy memories. We’ve been vanless for more than two years now and are pining for the freedom of the open road.
But these days buying an RV is no longer a process made simple by the ignorance of youth.
We know what we want – sort of – but the choice is complicated by the fact that we are stumbling through another of life’s crossroads.

Let me explain. Thanks to the GFC, the reality is we’ve probably got a few more years in the workforce before throwing off the shackles and joining the grey nomads of whom we’re so envious each winter. So the question is: do we buy a smaller van (or camper trailer) suited to shorter trips which we are more likely to take while working?
Or do we prepare for retirement by lashing out on a larger rig with all the bells and whistles, in which we could comfortably tour for months or years? We are certain that our ultimate rig would include single beds, an ensuite, a comfortable lounge, large fridge, air-conditioning and a roll-out awning. True: it’s a far cry from that carefree young couple, happy to snuggle up on a double airbed in a tiny tent – but that’s life. So, if you’ve already cruised through these crossroads, let me and your fellow readers know what did and didn’t work for you.
Whether it’s the size, style or layout of your proven or dreamed-about RV, please share your experiences and help us make the right choice.


purchase buy a caravan help steve Review Travel Adventure Outback Equipment Vehicle 2011


Steve Farmer