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How to plan for your big caravan adventure

About Dave

The Adventures of Dave and Ellen as we travel this big place they call Oz. You can follow us at justmovindowntheroad.com is to travel the roads of Australia in a safe manner to explore and see what and when we want and meeting others doing the same..

Part two in the series on how to plan for a grey nomad lifestyle.

My advice for you is, just do it!  Even if you go for just six months to try the lifestyle, you will live like never before and be able to say you made the trip of a lifetime.

Caravan, camper or motorhome? This is probably the most important choice you'll make.

Caravan, camper or motorhome? This is probably the most important choice you'll make. Picture: Shutterstock

Planning your trip before setting off 

It’s wise to create a checklist that you can mark off before you leave. A carefully made list will ensure both safety and enjoyment.

Taking pride of place on your checklist should be insurance. Specialised caravan and RV insurance can insure your caravan, motorhome, camper trailer, and other RVs against storms, hail and floods, accidental and malicious damage, theft, fire, and electrical motor burnout.

Insurance gives you a peace of mind that should anything go wrong, you’re covered. It's an absolute must when setting off on the road.

If you’re planning on being gone for some time, you need to arrange to have your mail forwarded, or have someone collect it on your behalf. Receiving mail can be a challenge when on the move, but Australia Post will happily bulk-send to a temporary address at your request.

Unused camper trailers and caravans are great little hideouts for Australian wildlife -- and nobody likes the idea of sharing their holiday with an infestation of spiders or ants. Consider having a pest controller give your rig a quick spray, or don’t forget to pack some cockroach spray or Ant Rid.

So, the planning starts and the first thing to consider is the van. The van is first because it will dictate  what you can actually take, according to the amount of room you have. And remember, this is about need, not want.

While we're using a van, you may decide on a motorhome, or just a camper or pop-up -- either new or second-hand, with all those extras fitted and ready to go.

We decided on second-hand, with the things we needed and with the payload to carry it, but everyone is different.

Choosing the van first is important because you are going to live in it, so it needs to be right. It also must meet the pulling capacity of your car -- it's no use having a car that can only tow 2500kg, when your choice of caravan needs a car capable of hauling 3500kg.

Then you'd be in trouble and would have a horrible choice -- downgrade the van or upgrade the car. The one we chose was upgraded to carry a 790kg payload, due to the dual-axle being replaced to carry a lot of loads. It also had all the extras, such as solar panels, extra batteries, toilet, shower, larger brakes, semi-offroad, and ​12-volt lighting.

Now I'm not saying you need those things, but we're glad to have them. The semi-offroad means the van is higher than a standard van and has a few extra features that we wanted. It's not that we wanted to go off-road, but just wanted the extra things.

Where you intend to take the caravan is part of the planning. We didn't want to spend lots on an off-road van and never go down a dirt road that will take time, so the type of van your choose can be significant. Do your research and get one to suit your lifestyle.

So now you have the van you require, you need to look at your car -- and decide whether yours is suitable, or needs an upgrade. I won't tell you what car to have, but it needs to be something that will be nice to ride in and safe, plus be able to pull your van with ease.

Most dual-cab utes are OK, but are limited in what they can tow -- and can be uncomfortable to sit in for extended periods.

And you will get those who say no, but I have asked people who have gone from utes to sedans and they say they enjoy the smoother drive, so be careful what you choose.

I haven't mentioned fuel costs because this is for you to decide and should not be the first thing to consider, as you will spend a lot of time in this car.

So it has to be comfortable first up, as a car that gives you a bad back or is too light is not a good idea just to save $10 a week on fuel. Again, the fuel type you get is what you think is right as each one has merit.

Some people are happy to keep it simple and cheap by sleeping in swags, others like to travel in million-dollar motorhomes. You can get a cheap second-hand caravan or camper trailer like ours for under forty grand, but you can pay over 50 grand for a top-of-the-range camper trailer, and over 100 thousand for the best caravan around.

The good news is that no matter what setup and budget you have, you will enjoy yourself. You will see other configurations and be jealous of some, and others will be jealous of you.

Once you have got your camping setup and vehicle sorted, there are still other significant costs to think about. Will you be set up well enough to be able to stay in free camps?

Or will you have to pay to stay in powered sites in caravan parks? Prices vary dramatically across the country, but you will be paying between $20 and $90 a night to stay in caravan parks. Maybe more in some places. Or you can do as we do and look out for house sits in areas we are traveling to.

Then there's fuel. If you're not prepared to pay $2.10-plus for a litre of fuel in some places on your travels, then moving around Australia by vehicle is NOT FOR YOU.

These outback fuel stations and roadhouses charge so much because they have to, not because they want to screw you over. A lot of them have to generate their power, struggle to find staff and have enormous freight costs. In short, fuel is going to be expensive.

So how are you going taking notes .... are you mentally planning away, or have you given up already? Don’t, or you will be disappointed for the rest of your life.  It will haunt you that you never did it and in later life, you are just too old or unable to enjoy the freedom.

JUST DO IT! Even if you go for six months and try the life, you will live like never before and be able to say you made the trip of a lifetime.

So next time we'll chat about what to take with you, and it may not be that coffee machine unless you are using one now, because you may use it for a time but it will end up in a cupboard, and you will go back to your old ways.

My motto is Take What You Need, Not What You Want.

Dave Smith

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