Family 'vanning has been a mainstay of Australian holidays for decades. And, while bold and bright luxury units now make accommodating everyone a breeze, family trips away were often accomplished with much smaller units.
The same still applies today, says Wayne Park, Relationship Manager with finance brokerage Credit One. Park deals with RV owners every day trying to decide the best style of RV for their preferred method of travel, and he has found there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to it.
“Family RVs can be anything from a camper trailer, right through to a dual axle 22-foot caravan,” he says. “They can be configured in many different ways, depending on the size of the family and how many beds are required, as well as how the family likes to travel.”
Obviously, budget plays a big part in deciding your purchase, as does the type of travelling you want to do, whether that’s caravan park hopping or serious off-grid adventuring.
Here, Park offers some sage advice to those who are now in the market for a family RV, whether you’re parents who are new to the caravanning lifestyle, about to start a family and thinking ahead or maybe even a grandparent who wants to take the grandkids out on adventures.
REST YOUR HEAD
Of course, you need to start with the basics — where will everyone sleep? Caravans and motorhomes come with a multitude of sleeping arrangements and layouts, including fixed beds and dining tables that convert into sleeping quarters at night. Hybrid caravans and camper trailers usually offer one main fixed bed or perhaps dual sleeping at both ends.
But Park says not all bedding arrangements need to be permanent to suit a travelling family.
“Many camper trailers come with additional rooms and smaller vans can be sold with annexes too, so you can easily put the kids in collapsible bunks or even in swags in either of those spaces,” he says.
Looking at bigger caravans, there are certainly more options than ever before for buyers, and family bunk vans are very common.
“A lot of the families who choose the bigger vans will often go for a third bunk option even if they only have two kids, which can either be used for storage, or if the kids want to drag along a friend,” he says. “So it's quite diverse, and there are usually a number of options available with the internal layout.”
TODDLERS & TEENS
The age of the kids in your tribe is of equal importance. Smaller children will need somewhere safe to sleep (ie not on a top bunk) and can be pretty happy bunking in together. But, as Park says, as kids age it can become a bit more problematic to house everyone harmoniously in what is inevitably a small space.
“Sometimes, when the kids get a little bit older, they actually don't want to sleep in the same bed together anymore,” he says.
“That happened to our two girls. They got to the age where they didn’t want to share a bed anymore in the van and would say things like, ‘She's touching me. I can feel her breathing on me.’ All parents will tell you they have heard that one before.”
At some point kids may need not just their own bed, but their own private space and areas of their own to store possessions (out of reach of pesky younger siblings).
WHERE YOU OFF TO?
The style of travel you want to do will inevitably dictate your decision-making about the rig you buy. Offroading? You’re more likely to get a rugged, go-anywhere camper or an offroad semi-offroad van. Happy to stay in parks? That opens you up to a whole new world of on-road vans and possibly motorhomes.
“Everybody is different and will choose something that will suit their needs,” says Park. “A lot of families don't want luxury, and the ones that are jumping into camper trailers are generally campers already and used to the lifestyle.”
How often you want to set up and pack down will also play a role. If you have a ‘Taj Mahal’ setup with multiple rooms for a camper, an annexe or elaborate outdoor dining, it is likely you’re happy to stick to the one spot. These are people who love camping and generally have the same spot booked every year for their holidays. Something easier, less time consuming, for those who want to pack up for a quick exit and roll onto the next destination will suit those who prefer to be on the move.
“Are you going to go more off-grid? Are you going to do more beach work?” Park asks. “If you are planning to do a round-Australia trip you might think a caravan will be far easier because you haven't got the setup time that you might do with a camper trailer.”
However, Park says that it also depends on how much you want to set up for duration of your stays.
"There are new products coming on the market all the time which will speed the process up and make setup time a much easier experience,” he says.
STUFF, GLORIOUS STUFF
Travelling with a family of four or five obviously means you need much more stuff than a touring couple. By their very nature, RVs have limited storage, so you need to work out the minimum space you need to pack in your essential (and can’t-live-without) items.
And, like every caravanner, the temptation is there to jam your rig with all the comforts of home. Park’s advice? Be a minimalist and don’t buy an RV that will get too heavy too quickly just because you can't resist taking a mountain of stuff away with you.
“Even though your kids have got a thousand and one things they want to take, you've really got to pare it back,” he says.
Overweight caravans are a serious issue in Australia, and it’s a common mistake to load up the van with kids’ toys, bikes, a kayak, sports equipment, extra camping gear along with the coffee machine for the parents.
Park says if you plan to tow a camper or caravan, don’t count on being able to add extra weight in your tow-tug.
“Cars have limited load capacity as well, and as soon as you start putting four bodies into a car, throw a couple of cartons of beer and all of the leftover stuff you can’t carry in the caravan or camper, all of a sudden it's not just the camper that might be overweight but potentially the car too,” he says.
Park says modern caravan parks offer a huge range of family-friendly facilities that may reduce the need to pack so much gear, from water parks and jumping castles to games rooms and bike and kayak hire.
“They cater to the families and that's what their target market is,” he says. “The activities that caravan parks are now offering do fill a big void, so you don’t have to take as much stuff.”
BATHROOMS AND KITCHENS
Here’s the big question: do you need an ensuite? Consider your comfort levels very carefully before committing to an RV.
If you’re fine to use bush toilets (or take a porta-potti) and set up an external hot shower at camp, a camper trailer, hybrid or small caravan is a great fit for you. If you can’t stomach the thought of having to go outside to do your business, perhaps an ensuite is a necessity.
While ensuites are convenient, dumping the toilet cassette is never a pleasant job and more of a chore than anything else. (Perhaps save that as a punishment for when the kids are naughty?)
Feeding a family means you’ll probably need more fridge space and a decent cooking setup, whether that’s a cooktop inside, an external kitchen or a portable barbecue or Weber.
“People can do everything from baking cakes right through to your full big steak veggie meal on barbecues these days, but if you like the idea of having an oven inside the van, then you’ll need a unit big enough to accommodate it,” Park says.
Caravan park barbecues are an easy way to avoid dragging along even more gear if you don’t need to, says Park, but an extra fridge may be required if the one included in your RV is small, or you just don’t have the room for a larger model.
“We used to have to take a portable second fridge when we went away because our caravan’s fridge had only a very small freezer,” he says. “These can be set up in the back of your tow vehicle, but again, be wary of the weight.”
KIDS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN!
Park says parents can sometimes overthink it when it comes to buying an RV to suit family travel. If you want all the bells and whistles in your van or camper, then go for it, but simpler setups can work just as perfectly as memory-makers.
“You can 100 per cent over-plan a family caravan holiday, because at the end of the day, whether it's an older-style family van that you have, or a camper trailer or a state-of-the-art caravan, the kids will have just as much fun,” he says.
At campsites and in caravan parks, kids will make instant friends and disappear for hours, then return with a swag of new mates looking for a snack. Parents should prepare for inevitable socialising of kids — and their parents, too.
“It’s not uncommon for families to start to mix when they're caravanning,” he says.
"Families seem to join up when you've got the kids — all of a sudden, the parents are having a beer together, and next thing you know all of the camp chairs are out.”
Interested in climbing aboard the RV bandwagon? Credit One has access to a large number of financiers that can tailor a loan to suit your individual needs. Having flexibility inside the loan to make extra repayments or to terminate the loan early is fast becoming the preferred option for many borrowers while keeping costs down. The Credit One team has a strong history of getting more people into this great lifestyle with a tailored loan as they deal with industry professionals daily.
For more information about financing your dream or to obtain a pre-approval prior to negotiating with a dealer or private seller, call the Credit One team on 1300 273 348, 07 3420 7030 or visit creditone.com.au.