How do caravans and camper vans compare?

By: Sean

So, you've decided to take the plunge and set off on your very own great Australian road trip, soaking up the sights and seeing all that the country has to offer. Amazing! Before you head out on your adventure in leisure, there are a few decisions that you'll need to make. One of the biggest relates to your accommodation on the road. Are you going to tow a caravan, or would you prefer an all-in-one campervan (also called a motorhome) solution?

  • Defining the difference

    We've come a long way from the flimsy, cramped caravan builds of yesteryear. Nowadays, there's virtually no limit to the mod-cons that can be fitted into a van. Luxury caravans can be equipped with ample kitchens, bathrooms, and solar provisions. Modern caravans can also be reinforced for off-road capabilities. The only real limit depends on how you decide to finance your purchase.

    By comparison, campervans tend to offer less in the way of bells and whistles. But what they lack in amenities they make up for in convenience. Upscale campervan models may also surprise in terms of the features they can pack, with clever use of space creating impressive storage solutions - and some even including toilet and shower facilities.

  • What's your current car capable of?

    Your existing vehicle can play a big part in determining which direction you should go. If you decide on a caravan - you're going to need a car that's capable of towing it. Depending on the weight of the van, and where you want to take it, your current ride may not be up to the task. If you need to upgrade your car to tow a van, the total cost of financing the purchase might outweigh that of a campervan.

    Alternatively, if your current car is up to spec, it may not make sense to add the costs of a second vehicle to your expenses. It's also worth considering that if you're planning on returning to an urban environment after your trip, campervan solutions can be difficult to drive and park in the city. Whereas a caravan can be detached and stored until it's needed next.

  • What kind of trip are you planning?

    If you intend to be on the road for a long time, a caravan has a lot to offer in terms of comfort. Having said that, there's a lot more set up involved when you get to your destination. You'll need to park the van, unhitch, unpack your gear and go from there. Although if you're planning on spending extended periods of time at the one location, this may not be an issue. A van also means that once you're set up your main vehicle is free to use, a great advantage if you're going to treat your campsite as a base from which you can explore surrounding areas.

    Comparatively, a campervan couldn't be easier to set up. Just find a space to park and you're good to go. If you're anticipating moving from site to site frequently, then a campervan is a great choice. An all-in-one van solution will also allow you to go further off-road, as a campervan will be able to tackle tougher terrain than a towed caravan - a big plus if you're hoping to explore remote areas. It is worth considering, though, that if you need to move a campervan it will mean packing up your entire site - even if it's just a quick dash to the shops or a short trip to a nearby attraction.

  • Other considerations

    Fuel efficiency is a tough metric to compare because there are so many variables that impact consumption. Caravans tend to be made of lightweight materials to boost efficiency, but their individual shape, length, and weight can vary massively - all of which will have an impact on fuel use. It's a similar story when it comes to campervans ¬- it's going to come down to the kind of vehicle you're driving. A brand-new luxury campervan is likely to give you better value in terms of fuel than a '70s Kombi restoration.

    If security is a priority to you, a modern campervan offers more functionality in terms of features like engine-immobilisers and alarms. A parked caravan without an accompanying vehicle on-site is also a clear sign that it's unattended, while a campervan with tinted windows is a little more inscrutable to would-be thieves.

    When it comes to exploring Australia by road, both caravans and campervans represent great choices. Weigh up your options before taking the plunge, then hit the highway and embrace the freedom of the road.

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