Our Caravan Buying Journey
First thing, this article does not contain expert advice on how to choose your caravan. I am definitely no expert on such matters. It is the story of how we came to purchase our first caravan Josephine a 1994 Viscount pop top caravan, from the seemingly infinite choices available, for our wayfaring life around Australia.
Caravan v Motorhome v Camper Trailer
There are of course pros and cons with all these options, none of which I am going to specifically discuss but instead say why we ruled out the motorhome and camper trailer as the options for us:
Motorhome: A motorhome is your home and vehicle which was not what we wanted. We wanted to be able to set up at campgrounds and have a separate vehicle for sightseeing and so on. There is the option of towing a small car behind a motorhome, not something we felt we wanted to do.
Camper Trailer: Given we would be living on the road I wanted something that would give me a good sense of having a home not just a shelter to sleep in and from the weather. I just couldn’t see how the set up of a camper would meet this need.
That is how we quickly came to a caravan being the best option for us.
Researching Caravan Options
Having never owned a caravan before we started with researching the options available. I had no idea there were (are) so many. Too many!
Our research started with the internet. We joined and read caravan and camping forums. We read caravan reviews. We read lots.
We also spoke to friends, foes and family, anyone who had a caravan getting their thoughts on the caravans they owned past and present. What they liked, what they would do differently and what their dream caravan would have in features and so on.
Our most effective research was getting out and physically seeing caravans in sale yards and at a caravan and camping show. We sat in them, opened and shut everything, went under them and over them.
After months of researching we came up with an idea of what we wanted in our caravan and our budget.
Initially our budget was $5k when we first had the idea to purchase a caravan, quit our jobs and travel. If the use of the caravan was for holidays and or we were willing to invest time and money into renovating we would have kept to our $5k limit, instead after doing our research we decided to increase our budget to $10k, still not significant by any means when buying a caravan. This budget put us in the market to buy a used caravan of 1990s vintage.
Eventually we bought Josephine just under budget for $9.5k including a year’s registration.
Used v New
Our budget of $10k meant our only option was a used caravan. This was perfectly fine with us. We have never bought a new car, built a new house and most of our clothes, furniture and so on have been second hand.
Private Sale v Sale Yards
We were open to buying either privately or from a sale yard. As buyers of a used caravan, our research informed us that usually private sales were better value and sellers were usually negotiable. In the end we purchased Josephine from a private seller. She was listed for $11k and as noted above we paid $9.5k. We are happy with what we paid having had seen similar caravans in sale yards listed for $13k+ on sale.
Pop Top v Full Height
The question of weather to buy a pop top or full height caravan was decided for us partly due to our budget as pop tops tend to be cheaper. Also we wanted a caravan that was light and easy to tow and we, given we are still young (despite what our children think!) setting up a pop top isn’t difficult it became the obvious choice.
Initially, and this will probably make a few big lappers and full timers laugh, thought we would get ourselves a 12-14′ caravan to travel around Australia indefinitely. One weekend of looking at caravans soon had us realising we would need something bigger as caravans of that size just didn’t have sufficient storage, usually had east west beds which Daryl wouldn’t comfortably be able to sleep on and they felt cramped.
So, Josephine is 17′, definitely not huge however those few extra feet addressed those few issues. She has ample storage for our needs, has an island bed and feels cosy but roomy. For the two of us, she is just what we need.
Frame: Aluminum v Wooden
Honestly after reading caravan renovation forums, blogs and web pages and seeing the wood rot that can occur in wooden framed caravans, an aluminum frame was a must.
As our caravan is our home and thus has to be able to hold all our belongings (along with our tow vehicle) we need for our life on the road. It was essential we found a caravan with adequate storage space.
Josephine has under bed storage. She has cupboards each side of the bed, under the seats, in the kitchen area and a number overhead. We have made use of the available storage without any of it being overly cramped or packed; we have been able to adapt to the space available.
Internal Ensuite v Outside Toilet and Shower
We live in our caravan and we knew we would be when we purchased Josephine so it may surprise others to hear she doesn’t have an ensuite. We have a chemical toilet, a hand held electric pump shower and an ensuite pop up tent and we have never used any of them. This is simply because we make do with using public or campground toilets or if bush camping we dig a hole. For bathing we either use public showers or bathe out of the sink (a quick wash with soap, water and a washer really is sufficient).
We are well aware our toileting and bathing choices are not for everyone and we get that but it works for us. In our favour we never have to clean a bathroom!
Bed Type: Island v East West v Twin
Daryl and I decided against an east west or twin beds for the reasons:
East West Bed: With Daryl being a little over 6′ he wouldn’t fit comfortably. Also it would soon get old having to have one of us climbing over the other to get in and out of bed. So not for us.
Twin Beds: We ruled out twin beds as it these don’t reflect our marital sleeping arrangements.
So, Josephine has a double island bed. Downsizing from a queen to double has not been an issue. Appreciating a good night’s sleep we replaced the standard foam mattress with a memory foam one which cut to shape adding a couple of inches to the length for Daryl. We are both super happy with our bed and mattress choices, maybe a little too so as we both struggle to leave its warmth and comfort in the mornings.
Axel: Twin v Single
Daryl’s insisted we have a twin or dual axel caravan based on his research that caravans with a twin axel are:
- easier to reverse
- are better for weight distribution
- can be more stable
Josephine as you probably gathered has a double axel and so far so good. With good ground clearance height she has been able to get over most terrains (within reason), she tows extremely well and Daryl has been able to reverse her into all sorts of camp spots although this is very likely to be more of a reflection of his exceptional reversing skills.
Off the Grid Capability: Solar v Gas v Generator
Being able to free camp and not be reliant on powered sites was a must for us. Our power needs are a few lights, charging a laptop, mobiles and batteries as well as running a fridge and cooking. Our research informed us that solar and gas would be best for meeting our needs.
We, or rather I ruled out using a generator because I dislike them passionately. I am tolerant of them being used by other campers as long as they are used short periods and during reasonable day light hours.
Josephine has gas cooking and refrigeration. When we purchased her she had a 50w solar panel which was insufficient for our needs so we upgraded to a 250w panel. Thus far we have been able to manage off grid without running out of power.
Overall Condition: Brakes, Bearings and Other Necessities
Honestly this was Daryl’s domain. He was the one that spoke to others and did all the research on what to look for when inspecting a caravan to purchase. He had to decide if the structure and functioning of the caravan was up to a safe standard.
Since purchasing Josephine we have had to do some maintenance such as replace the tail lights, replace tyres, replace the gas struts for the pop top roof and some other minor repairs like re rivet the lid over the stove top. Given her age and the fact we live in her meaning she is used all day everyday and has already done over 12k kilometres since we bought her, she is holding up very well. Important thing is nothing major has malfunctioned.
What We Would Choose Differently Next Time?
There isn’t too much I would specifically do differently next time. Those I would are:
Layout: The most significant difference I would want for any caravan I purchase in the future would be to have a layout reverse of what we have now. This would put the bedroom area at front end and the kitchen and lounge/dining area down at the back. This would allow for the lounge area when the caravan is reverse into a spot overlooking a river, bay or similar we can sit at the back and enjoy the view. Daryl will tell you I am always about the view.
Full Height: Daryl’s height has meant that in our pop top caravan he regularly hits his head one of the light fittings. We are looking at changing the light fitting but when purchasing another caravan in the future we would take his height more into consideration.
Ensuite: Not having an ensuite hasn’t bothered us but if we were to buy another caravan it is something we would consider. That said if I found the caravan with the layout (noted above) I would really like and it didn’t have an ensuite I would forgo the ensuite to have the layout.
Oven: Josephine has a gas stove top and a grill but no oven. We also use a Weber Q BBQ for cooking. However since being on the road Daryl has discovered he rather enjoys cooking and baking (this works brilliantly for me) and having an oven would be ideal. We are looking at the option of buying an oven to install in Josephine sometime soon.
Electric Tap Sink: Currently we have a hand pump and I hate it because despite being replaced it never works properly and even when it does it is tedious. Thankfully we have purchased an electric one and are waiting to get to a friend’s who can fit it for us.
That is how we came to be the caravan owners of Josephine. Previously when Daryl and I camped we used a swag and we loved it but it just wasn’t practical for living on the road, although there are some things like sleeping directly under the night sky I miss about the swag. Overall both Daryl and I are very happy with Josephine. She isn’t a 100% perfect but is most definitely more than adequate and we have become attached to our little home on wheels.