Australian caravans are available in a seemingly endless array of configurations. Here are some of our favourites, as well as a few tips to help you find the right layout for you.
There are numerous possible layout configurations available in Australian caravans. That’s one of the beauties of buying a new van – the chance to choose a layout or living space that will best suit your needs. And make no mistake, a caravan’s layout is more important than you might at first think.
Having reviewed caravans for more than 10 years, I’ve developed some layout preferences and opinions that I’d like to share in hopes they might save you some time or, worse, pain, later on.
For single or tandem-axle caravans of about 18ft 6in to 22ft in body length, one layout stands above all others in terms of practicality and liveability: the forward bedroom/rear bathroom layout.
Suitable for couples only, this layout typically comprises a queen-size bed in the nose of the van surrounded by wardrobes and overhead lockers, an amidships dinette on the nearside adjacent an offside kitchen, and a bathroom that stretches across the width of the van in the back.
This layout can suit rear-door and front-door models and, above all, it makes good use of the available space. Sure, it’s a little unimaginative; however, it provides distinct living ‘zones’ and places heavy items such as the fridge above or very near the axle group.
Usually, a family van will be a little longer than the equivalent couple’s touring van – for obvious reasons. Without doubt, the most popular family layout incorporates a front bed, an amidships kitchen and dinette, and a rear ‘bedroom’ area with two or three bunks on one side (typically the offside) and an adjacent bathroom on the opposing side. Often, there will be a tall wardrobe on the rear wall, between the bunks and bathroom. If the van has a washing machine, this is where you will usually find it.
This layout provides privacy for the adults and – importantly – gives the kids their own space. Tip: if the manufacturer doesn’t include USB charging points and a 12V fan for each bunk as standard, have them fitted as extras. Your kids will thank you.
In sub-18ft vans, neither of the above layouts would work particularly well. That’s why in compact rigs you will often find a kitchen filling out the rear wall, a dinette on the near- or offside, and a bed up front.
The fridge will, almost without exception, be on the side opposite the dinette, so that its weight is nicely supported by the van’s axle. If the layout incorporates a bathroom, you will probably find a moulded fibreglass combo unit in the rear offside corner, squeezed in next to the kitchen.
Smaller vans tend to involve greater layout compromises. Less kitchen bench space is one of the big trade-offs, and it’s likely the fridge will be smaller too. If it’s a pop-top, it’s possible that it will have an under-bench fridge rather than one of the large home-style units you’ll find in an 18ft-plus rig. However, many pop-tops do offer reasonably large fridges which sit as high as possible within the confines of the lower (closed) ceiling height.
No caravan layout is perfect and, unfortunately, it’s likely that you’ll only notice things that bother you after living in the van for a few days. Here are a few to think about as you inspect your layout options:
- Microwave height. For reasons best known to the caravan manufactures, microwaves tend to be placed above the average eye-line – often above the fridge. In practical terms, this makes little sense. If you were short in stature, attempting to pull a hot plate of food out of a microwave positioned high in the overhead cabinetry is to invite an accident and potential scalding. Consideration should be given to any layout that incorporates a microwave positioned more sensibly, in my opinion.
- Caravans that have rear kitchens sometimes have their cooktops within or uncomfortably near the entrance. Picture a pot of water boiling on the stove, its handle slightly protruding. Now picture a child bolting into the van, collecting the handle on their jacket, and hot water spilling onto the child. Or it might just be that you’re at the stove, cooking, when somebody tries to squeeze past and accidentally knocks your hand into the gas flame of a burner
Fortunately, manufacturers seems to have cottoned on to this – newer vans with rear kitchens tend to have their hotplates positioned as far from the door as possible.
- Toilet position. Thankfully, most caravan manufactures locate their vans’ toilets on the offside. This means removing the cassette to empty it can be done more discreetly, away from the nearside where people are trying to relax. However, I have seen plenty of vans with nearside toilets – beware!
One final tip to help you get your layout just right: why not consider having the manufacturer position the control for the onboard space heater (if applicable) within arm’s reach of the bed? That way, you can stay warm and comfortable in the morning while the rest of the van heats up!
MEET THE AUTHOR
Max Taylor has been caravanning since he was a kid and was the editor of some of Australia’s most well-known RV publications for almost 10 years.