Buying a Caravan for the First Time. What Features and Fittings are Best?

Buying a caravan for the first time can be an exciting but daunting experience. Before making a purchase, it is important to consider what features and fittings are essential for your needs.

Some things to consider are the size of the caravan, the number of beds and sleeping arrangements, the kitchen and bathroom facilities, and the storage capacity. Plus, the capability to go off grid if desired.

A caravan with features and fittings suitable for your needs will make camping much more enjoyable. They can also be expensive and add unnecessary weight to your caravan.

But where do you start when you have never owned a caravan before? This post will get you started.

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First caravan

Buying a Caravan for the First Time

How Much to Budget for Your First Caravan?

How much to budget for a first caravan depends on how much you can afford and the age, size, make, and model of the caravan you want to buy. A new caravan costs $60,000 or more. Used caravans can be a more cost-effective option, costing from $5,000.

Out on the road, there is every spectrum of camping budgets travelling Australia. Whether your first caravan costs less than $10,000 like ours or you spend a lot more, it does not matter, do what you can afford. Some travellers have sold their homes to buy their caravan (even if it is their first) to travel around Australia.

The other costs to consider are insurance, registration, roadside assistance and maintenance when budgeting for a caravan. In summary, set a budget, research caravans thoroughly and eventually, you will find one that fits your financial means.

New v Used

Buying a new caravan comes with the advantage of getting the exact model and features wanted. Additionally, a new caravan is likely to come with a warranty. There is often a hefty price tag on new vans and as a depreciating asset can decrease significantly in value as soon as the new owners take possession.

Friends bought their caravan new at a reasonable discount by purchasing a demo model. The compromise was it did not have all the features they wanted but most of them.

Buying a used caravan, especially for a first time buyer, is a more economical option. Used caravans may have problems or need repairs, so know what to look for when buying a used caravan to tour Australia to avoid costly issues.

What Features and Fittings are Best in a Caravan?

Buying a caravan for the first time opens your eyes to just how many different types, makes, models, configurations and so on there are. At the beginning of our caravan buying journey, the number of choices and decisions about what we wanted was overwhelming. 

Here are some ideas of where to start: 

  • Also, do some practical research by:
    • Speak to family, friends or anyone you know with a caravan and get their feedback on useful and less needed features.
    • Visit caravan sale yards and caravan camping shows and look at many caravans. Sit them, open and shut everything, get under them and ask questions of the salespeople. Get a feel for different caravan layouts and features, as it will help you to decide what you want and do not want. 

Give yourself as much time as you need to decide what you will need and want in a caravan. Some caravan features to consider are below:

Pop Top v Full Height Caravan

Pop Top caravans are usually cheaper and lighter (weight) than caravans of the same age and length. They cost less to tow. Sometimes the lower height makes them easy to tow. 

The roof of our pop top caravan had a leak that Daryl fixed. Sagging of pop top caravan roofs can also be an issue, especially in older vans and are expensive to repair. 

Full height caravans more readily have an ensuite, are better insulated, meaning that they are easier to cool down in summer and warm up in winter and hold up better in poor weather. 

They are also more expensive to tow, usually need a large towing vehicle and more height clearance. 

Caravan Axle: Dual v Single 

After travelling Australia with a dual axle caravan and having had tyres blow, I would never have a single axle caravan. The other reasons to have a dual axle are:

  • easier to reverse
  • are better for weight distribution
  • better stability when towing

Of course, you do you if a single axle suits you better. The dual axle has proved to be the safest option for us. 

Caravan Frame: Aluminum v Wooden

Read a few caravan renovation posts and blogs; it soon becomes evident how often wood rot is a problem in wooden framed caravans. If buying an older caravan, consider getting one with an aluminum frame. It is one of the best decisions we made.

Caravan Length

Most caravans in Australia measure 10′ to 24′ or 3 to 7.5 metres. The longer it is, the more features it is likely to have. It is also probably going to weigh more. 

Also, the longer the caravan, the more layout variations there are. 

When we searched for our first caravan it helped significantly to understand lengths and the different layouts available by looking at several in sale yards. It is a way to conceptualise the space inside a caravan and what size you will need. 

Caravan fittings and features

Off Grid Capability: Solar v Gas v Generator

Setting up a caravan to camp off-grid allows for greater flexibility and freedom in choosing a camping location and to free camp. Mostly means for us, we do not have to stay in caravan parks.

By having a solar, battery and inverter set up, we can camp without mains power and still have lights and can charge devices. Additionally, we use gas in bottles for cooking. 

There is also the additional option of a diesel generator. Not something we needed, but our caravan does not have an air conditioner. 

Related read: 10 Ways to Keep Your Caravan Cool on Hot Days

Caravan Cupboards and Storage Spaces

Storage space in a caravan is a feature there can never be too much of. If you are like me and cannot stand clutter and need everything to have a spot it lives, then caravan storage should be high on your priority list when buying a caravan for the first time. 

When researching caravans to buy, look for storage such as: 

  • Low and high cupboards, including in pop top caravans
  • Under chair storage cupboards
  • Under bed storage
  • Bedside cupboards and or drawers
  • Caravan boot 
  • A fridge is a suitable size for your needs to store food

Internal Ensuite v External Toilet and Shower

An internal ensuite with a shower and toilet in a caravan is a tremendous convenience. Some caravans have a single shower toilet unit. Other, larger vans have each separate. Also, it is not unusual for free camps to require a shower and toilet on board, so this is something to consider if camping off grid and free camps is how you will camp. 

That said, we have travelled for nearly six years, full time, around Australia in our pop top caravan without an ensuite, free camping off grid. We have a portable chemical toilet with an ensuite tent we set up when needed. Or we used public amenities. 

Bed Type: Island v East West v Twin v Other Beds

What type of bed/s in a caravan are best? Everyone has their preference:

East West Bed: These beds run across the caravan, with only one side open for getting on and off the bed. The main issues are the second person in the bed has to climb over the first to get in and out, and the bed may not be long enough for a tall person. 

Twin Beds: These are two single beds with a walkway between them. Some couples prefer separate beds. The other advantage is twin beds give the inside of a caravan a more open feeling. 

Island Bed: This is a bed with floor space around the side and foot of the bed. It allows for each person to get in and out on their side. It also means that there can be cupboards for storage on each side. Our island bed has under bed storage. 

There are also bunk beds, folding beds, lounges that convert into beds and other caravan beds. Then like us, some need a bed for their dog in their caravan

Whatever bed you choose, it is well worth the effort and money to ensure it is comfortable. We replaced our hideously uncomfortable caravan mattress with a memory foam mattress we cut to fit. Other people add a topper or pay for a pillow top mattress. Getting a good night’s sleep is necessary even when travelling.  

Caravan Appliances

Caravans, like homes, have appliances. It is personal preference, budget and that will decide which you will have in yours. Also, keep in mind the overall weight of the caravan. 

The most frequent appliances featured in caravans are: 

  • refrigerator 
  • stove and or an oven
  • air conditioner
  • washing machine
  • television or entertainment system
  • microwave

The only appliances in our caravan are a fridge (actually, we have two) and a stove with a grill. We had a microwave but never used it. It is possible to make do without needing every possible appliance. Again, it is personal choice.

Related read: How Do You Do Laundry While Camping?

Buying a caravan for the first time can be a rewarding experience. Prioritise your needs, budget accordingly, and do thorough research to find the perfect caravan for your camping adventures.


Buying a caravan for the first time

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