Recently we have just celebrated the four month mark of our trip as well as clicking over 20,000km’s travelled in the Troopy. For the majority of this time we have been towing my parents caravan. I sweet talked Mum and Dad into lending us their caravan for a month to begin with and here we are now…luckily they love us. The caravan is a tandem axel 17 foot ‘Deluxe Comfort Tourer’ pop top from Regal Caravans that my parents purchased second hand a couple of years ago. They have done a couple of trips away in it but yet to venture to far from home just yet.
The van has a setup to run two main scenarios, the first being when you are able to connect the van to 240V power and a freshwater source with the van functioning like a little house; you have power points, lights, a microwave, air conditioner, gas stove, the fridge runs off the mains power and the kitchen has pressurised water. The second scenario is when you are independent from outside water and power sources, where you lose the luxuries of the microwave and air conditioner; however everything else remains very much the same. You are now running all lights of a 12v battery setup and the fridge runs off gas along with the stove.
As we said when we wrote about our Troopy setup, we are always interested in how people have setup their rides to tour Australia. There is no right way for everyone which is the cool thing about it, but we are pretty content with the way we are setup with Mum and Dads van; for a trip this long we think you’d be seriously mad not to have a caravan. Regardless of if it is raining, blowing a gale, freezing cold or stinking hot we can pull up to a spot and within a couple of minutes be setup and out of the weather. We wanted to run through the features of the caravan to explain why they work well or how they could be improved from what we have learnt and picked up from other people along the way.
Depending on how long we are staying in a spot determines how setup we get. If it is just a quick pull over for a night’s sleep before moving on the next morning all we have to do is park the car and van and pop the caravan roof, that’s it. The caravan is a pop top which basically means the roof pops up about a foot to give you enough headspace inside. This is simple as, 4 latches on the outside to hold the roof down and with a little push from the inside and the roof pops up. I personally think this feature is unreal and question why all vans aren’t pop top. All storage is at the right height to reach, so nothing is needed in that extra space, zip up windows are built in to the canvas pop top and that’s about it. The foot of height that you save when driving is massive, it brings the vans profile below the troopy reducing wind resistance. Some caravans on the road are huge in comparison to the cars that are towing them and would create massive amounts of drag.
If we are unhooking the caravan we will then wind down 4 stabiliser legs on each corner of the van to stop the rock and roll you get from the caravans suspension. The caravan has a built in awning, so depending on where we are parked, the angle of the sun and how long we will be in one spot for, will determine if and how we set it up. The awning has 3 basic setup positions; the first being not out at all and rolled up against the van. We use this setup the most actually which has surprised us as it is less effort and doesn’t make any noise through the night if it is windy.
The next position is where the awning is erect yet the legs are still attached to the caravan; this is quick and easy to do but if there is any kind of wind about it doesn’t hold up.
The final position is when the legs are removed from the van and pegged down to the ground. In this position there are walls that can be fitted to the awning that turn this into a fully enclosed annex. We left these behind to save weight as you would only ever set up the annex if you were in one spot for a really long time.
We are always setup first, sitting down enjoying a beer watching while our friends in their camper trailers or roof top tents are mucking around getting poles and roles sorted.
12V /240V POWER
With the exception of the 2 times when we stayed with relatives we have been off the grid from a power perspective for the entire time. The caravan is setup to run off 240V power from the grid or from a personal generator. It is also setup to run off a 12V battery setup however there are limitations to what you can run off 12V. The caravans 12V setup is as basic as it could be; one battery that is charged from the cars alternator that will run a few lights and power a cigarette lighter socket that we can charge our phones from. We are able to piggyback off the Troopys battery system and can get a couple of days before the batteries are low and we need to drive the car to recharge them. Ideally the caravan would be independent and have 2 batteries and its own solar setup to keep them charged. We are not big on the idea of inverters, heaps of people have them but as we said in the Troopy blog you can get carried away wanting to run unnecessary 240V appliances that will inevitably drain your batteries. Having power isn’t as important as you’d think; worst case scenario is you use a couple of torches for lighting yet some people have the most elaborate of setups. We do not run a generator as we don’t really need to and it is a big, heavy, noisy piece of kit. The benefit of having a generator is you could charge up you battery setup in a couple of hours throughout the day if you didn’t have a solar setup or if it was overcast for a number of days. Some people want to run their aircon, TV, foxtel and microwave so they use a generator but what is the fun in that.
The water supply for the caravan either comes from mains water that is hooked up via a hose to the caravan or from the 100L on board water tank. The water tank has a super basic foot pump system at the kitchen sink which you pump down to feed water through. This feature sounds old and labour intensive but it is fool proof and not reliant on a 12V pump so even if you are out of power you can still access water. We do not drink out of this on board water tank, we solely use it for washing up. We filter our drinking water and it is kept in a 20L container that we also use in the Troopy; it has a perfect spot by the door on top if the air-con unit. The waste water from the sink or ‘grey water’ drains down a pipe and either straight onto the ground or into a bucket which we empty every couple of days. Most vans have an on board grey water tank for the times when you are not allowed to simply drop your grey water on the ground. This would be a handy addition to the caravan as we have had to be sneaky a couple of times when staying in places that state you must be “fully self contained” meaning you have onboard grey water and black water storage tanks – black water being sewage waste. Being fully self contained is an interesting point that we will speak about further.
“Fully Self Contained Vehicles Only”
There are a number of places that are free to stay but only for self contained setups. This means you must have a toilet on board with built in waste storage tank. You must also have a storage tank for your grey water from your kitchen sink. This eliminates everyone that is camping in tents, their car/van, roof top tents and even camper trailers. Even if you are self contained with regards to waste but you are in a camper trailer or roof top tent you will not be allowed. It is pretty much a way of saying no backpackers and young people. These places will be at boat ramps, show grounds etc and by all rights we are not fully self contained but we look like we fit in. The caravan doesn’t have a toilet or shower built in on board; we use the portable setups that we discussed in the Troopy blog, but from the outside we look like we fit in so we get away with it.
Well this is where the caravan comes into its own, it has plenty of cupboards but storage space can be your best friend or worst enemy. The van has ample storage; in the kitchen, for your clothes, under the bed and whatever else you need there are cupboards galore. We have filled all of them and don’t really use half of the shit we brought with us. Weight is a massive factor when towing and we have always been conscious of that. We are way lighter than most vans on the road yet if we had our time again we would bring even less. The cupboards have buttons that when pressed in, lock the door so nothing falls out when you are moving (took us a few weeks to figure this out the hard way). The great thing about the excessive storage space is that you are not constantly pulling things out to find something hidden in the back of a cupboard like you are when you are in the Troopy, there is a designated space for everything in the caravan… yet I still can’t find anything.
The kitchen in the caravan is arguably better than the one we have at home. I’ve spoken earlier about the sink setup and that is pretty self explanatory, the water on demand is a great thing, no need to be tipping in water from a 25L container to wash the dishes. The gas stove is unreal, 4 gas burners and a grill all hooked up to two 9kg gas bottle that is on the drawbar of the caravan. The gas also powers the three way fridge and we have been surprised about how efficient it runs; we are getting about a month per bottle. Cooking inside care free of any weather condition is brilliant. The worst thing about the Troopy was having to pull up in the rain and cook dinner under a makeshift tarp setup.
No shower and no hot water – I think a brilliant addition to the van would be an outdoor shower plumbed up with pressurised hot water from a gas hot water system (if anyone knows a plumber/gas fitter that could hook that up let us know). We have seen heaps of people along the way with the awesome compact gas hot water systems plumbed into their water tanks. These are relatively cheap and easy to install so I think it will be one of the first improvements to the van once we get back.
The 12volt setup needs to be overhauled; it works and gets us by but looks a little like a dog’s breakfast. Two new batteries and a portable solar panel would top it off nicely.
The main downside to the caravan is the fact you are pulling this big rig along behind you. It slows you down and increases your fuel consumptions. We are not in a hurry so that’s ok but for some people that is why they will lean towards camper trailers and roof top tents over caravans. If you are looking to go down some rough/tight tracks or camp up in the sand dunes then a caravan may not be for you (but we still made it work). We have rarely missed out on doing certain things we wanted to do because we are in a caravan;if it is too hard to get the van in somewhere we simply drop it off and go and do day trips (sometimes a couple of days) in the troop carrier. This caravan is not specifically built to be an off road caravan so we take it extremely easy when we have it off road but compared to most of the off road caravans that sit on concrete slabs in caravan parks plugged into 240V power their entire lives this thing works a treat. We see heaps of these flash new off road vans with independent suspension and big mud tires but the reality of these truly getting tested is unlikely, it is pretty clear when you see the cars that are towing them (haven’t we turned into car snobs all of a sudden… but seriously if you’re not driving a land cruiser then we don’t want to know ya ;))
We look forward to returning the caravan to Mum and Dad (one day..) and helping them with some small improvements so that they too can get the most out of the caravan and we can go on trips away together. They are in fact meeting us on our last leg of our trip in QLD for a week in Seventeen Seventy where we get kicked out to sleep in the Troopy, with the bonus being that they are towing up my tinny so we can go fishing! We could have done this trip without the caravan but it would not have been as comfortable that’s for sure. So a big shout out and much love to my Mum (Elesia) and Dad (Danny) for their generosity, we will be forever grateful!