Overseas travel restrictions has seen an increase in caravan purchases and Aussies looking to get out and discover their own backyards. I’ve heard of incredibly long waiting lists, even up to a year, for people wanting to buy new caravans. With quite a few factories having to close during the worst of the Covid outbreak it’s not surprising that there is a backlog, especially when you realise that 90% of production of Australian vans takes place in Melbourne.
It’s easy to see why the caravan and camping lifestyle is booming for all sorts of reasons in 2020, including the peace of mind in having your own accommodation wherever you go and not having to be concerned about the hygiene and sanitising practices of other types of accommodation. There is also of course the wide open spaces that these types of holidays offer. Free camping can give you the option of choosing a site as far from others as you want and even a lot of caravan parks are pretty spacious with room on your site to set up outdoors to eat and relax.With so many people new to this type of holidaying, and many buying second hand vans for the first time, I thought I’d put in a few tips.
BEFORE YOU GO
Have a Trial Run
If you have bought a second hand van, the best thing to do if you are new to caravan ownership is to figure out how it all works before your first trip. Set it up at home, including the awning and annexe if you intend using it, so that you’re not standing around scratching your head and looking for poles and ropes at crunch time. Most people do a ‘shake down’ trip, not too far from home at a quiet booking time, so that they can know the processes involved in setting up. It doesn’t take long to get into a routine for setting up and packing down again. It’s a good idea to have a handy checklist too, so that until it all does become routine, you remember to turn off gas bottles, check all cupboards are latched, hatches and aerial down, windows shut and latched etc…before taking off.
There’s No Hurry
When travelling to your destination no one wants to get stuck behind a slow moving caravan so if you notice a line of cars building behind you, pull off the road where and when it’s safe and let them pass. You need to think safety at all times though and travelling to conditions is the most important aspect. Slowing down and knowing the feel of towing is better than barrelling along and risking sway.
How you load your caravan is very important, keep heavier items like pots and pans and heavy food items low down and any other heavy items near the axles, medium weight items towards the ends of the van and light items like plastic containers in top cupboards. In the fridge, pack food from the bottom up and don’t overload the freezer. In fact a good idea is to only pack light when it comes to groceries if possible and buy at your destination to save on caravan weight, get fresh produce and support local businesses.
I’m just as guilty as the next person of taking too much in the van because there is space, but believe me it’s not all needed. Take for instance the time I couldn’t find a can opener packed in but did have crab eating tools and swizzle sticks! The moral of the story is pack for purpose. Think about where you are going and if you’re not going to need certain items, store them in a labelled box somewhere until they are needed for a different getaway.
Clothing is another thing we tend to over pack. No one on holidays is going to care that you have the same clothes on rotation. Be comfortable and take clothes that wash and drip dry easily and can be worn in lots of different combinations and layered.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Others are Happy to Help
You’ll find plenty of people happy to help when you do go to a caravan park (sometimes whether you want it or not) especially if you are new to it. Caravanners are a helpful bunch in general I think and we’ve all had times when an extra pair of hands helps. Especially at times when the weather is conspiring to ruin your day and turn your annexe into a sail, or there are more poles to hold than hands available.A good idea is for everyone to have certain jobs (including the kids) that they do as a routine and then setup doesn’t take long and keeps everyone busy. In our case, most of the outside setup is done by my husband (levelling, wheel chocks, awning, water connection etc…) and the inside of the van is up to me (checking cupboards and fridge contents are settled, setting up kitchen and bathroom etc….).
Respect for Others Space
Sometimes it’s not possible to get from one place to another without going through someone else’s site in a caravan park and in cases like that we need to appreciate others space. It isn’t cool though to cut across where people are actually set up with chairs, tables etc… If there are paths or roads to take that will get you to where you need to go, then that is what you should use. This is an important bit of etiquette to teach kids too, as there’s nothing more dangerous than bikes or scooters whizzing through your site.
Usually if we are free camping we rarely would leave the van because the destination is what it’s all about but sometimes you may want to and in that case it’s a good idea to pack items back in the van if you are leaving and put a lock on the tow hitch too. In most free camp sites we have found that the other people using them are only too happy to keep an eye on your site and belongings, for the time you’re away. Always trust your gut feeling before setting up in a free camp and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t stay. We have pulled into some, where there have been signs of graffiti, broken glass, or it just feels too isolated, so go where it feels comfortable to you. Having some other campers / caravans nearby can give you a sense of security.
Hair ties, Caps and Dry Shampoo are your Best Friends
This is especially true if you are free camping and intending to do so for a stretch of time. If your van is self-sufficient with water tanks you will be wanting to conserve water for washing dishes (do it once a day), (quick) showers and hand washing so a big tip for ladies is to use dry shampoo in between washes (it works a treat) and if your hair is longer, tie it up in a ponytail and throw on a cap and you’re done.
Have a Well-Stocked First Aid Kit
This is a must for any camping and caravan trip and good basic sets can be bought in many places these days or you can make your own with a tackle box and a few necessary inclusions such as: crepe bandages, instant cold packs, nitrile gloves, non-adherent dressing, band aids, saline solution, scissors, betadine, tweezers, eye drops, stop itch or stingose and wound dressings. Other items to consider would be pain relief tablets, gastro stop, toothache drops and antihistamines too. These are just a few handy items that will help save a trip from turning into a disaster. Always have sunscreen and insect repellent in too.
These are just a few tips for first time caravanners to think about before hitting the road. Have fun!