If money grew on trees, we’d all be travelling in Lexus 4WDs towing top-end caravans, with satellite dishes, chandeliers and personal chefs.
For many of us, that is sadly a pipe dream. A limited budget, however, does not have to mean limited adventures. If you are prepared to adjust your expectations and to explore your options among the thousands of rigs developed each year, you’re sure to find the right van for you.
In this article, I’ll detail the pros and cons of buying the two main types of recreational trailer, caravans and camper trailers.
Caravans, with some exceptions, cost more than camper trailers. If your budget is somewhere around the $15,000 mark, start falling in love with the idea of buying a basic camper. True, you could buy a 25-year-old caravan for this money, but it’s almost guaranteed to have problems, from rusted-out suspension to wood-rot.
Again, it’s about your expectations. Instead, you could purchase a brand new soft-floor camper with a factory warranty for this money. On the other hand, to get into a new, single-axle, ‘bare bones’ caravan, you’ll need to write a cheque for around $40K-$45K. That same money, by the way, could buy you a mid-range hard-floor camper trailer with quite a few trimmings.
Unlike most soft or hard-floor camper trailers, caravans offer more internal living space, including internal showers and toilets, as well as a kitchen, and even bunks for the kids. It’s effectively a hotel room on wheels, with an emphasis on comfort.
If you’ve ever trudged through the dark to a drop dunny or waited for your turn to use a holiday-park barbecue, you might appreciate the convenience of a caravan.
Furthermore, there is very little set up involved. Arrive, unhitch and, if you feel like it, unroll the awning. You’ll be sipping on red wine while others are still wrestling with tent poles.
But convenience costs. And I’m not just talking about the upfront purchase price. Generally speaking, caravans weigh (a lot) more than camper trailers. This means acquiring a tow vehicle legally up to the task if the one in your garage lacks the required ‘muscle’.
That extra weight will also translate to increased fuel consumption and potentially more-frequent vehicle services.
There is also the question of towing – are you confident towing a larger rig in small towns and on the open highway?
Whether hard-floor, soft-floor, forward-fold or side-fold, camper trailers all have a couple of things in common: relatively lightweight and low towing profile. These traits make camper trailers easier to tow (especially when passing through or stopping in towns), and cheaper at the bowser.
Because they are lighter than the typical caravan, there is a much wider range of vehicles available for towing duties, too.
The downside: all camper trailers (except for hybrids) will require a certain amount of setting-up, with entry-level soft-floor campers requiring the most. There’s a distinct possibility that, one day, you’ll look at that caravanner drinking their red wine and feel a stab of envy as you tackle sheets of canvas.
That said, camper trailers almost invariably encourage outdoor living. With external slide-out/swing-out kitchens, external showers, portable hot water services and a BYO dining table, camper trailers offer a ‘back to nature’ camping experience – and for many, that’s the best part.
Storage capacity, however, does not compare to that of a typical caravan. While many camper trailers offer plenty of storage in the ‘tub’ of the trailer, along with a few side compartments, the ability to organise your clothes and food into permanent cupboards, your cutlery and plates into permanent drawers, is almost non-existent.
It’s fair to say that touring in a camper trailer calls for a higher degree of organisation, compared to a full van, with much of your gear packed into the tow vehicle instead of in the trailer.
There are a number of high-end camper trailers available with price tags in the $50K-$60K bracket – these are offroad weapons with enviable reputations.
However, they still don’t offer caravan convenience. If you’re touring with kids, you’ll still be setting up tents or portable bunks and cursing your way to the amenities block in the dead of night.
So what is your budget? $10K-$30K? If so, I would recommend investigating the many great camper trailers available in this price range. If it’s between $30K and $40K, you can start looking seriously at decent secondhand caravans and even new, smaller single-axle caravans.
Above $50K, the question is much less about the money and more about your preferred style of travel: camper trailers for a closer-to-nature camping experience, and caravans for home comforts.
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.