Secrets to successful family vanning

By: Sharon Smith, Photography by: Sharon Smith


The Smiths have crossed Australia with caravan and kids in tow. Get the inside scoop on being ready for family travel.

Secrets to successful family vanning
Tips for successful family vanning
IT TOOK US AROUND six months for us to find the perfect van.

Fussy? Maybe. But considering it was to be our family home for 12 months, we didn’t want to compromise much.


Layout of the interior was perhaps the biggest consideration. As the kids are so young, we wanted to be able to section them off at night. That way, they could sleep and we could read or watch DVDs without disturbing them too much.

Weight was also an issue. We didn’t want anything too heavy, as our Patrol only has a 2.8T towing capacity, and we need to be able to carry lots of stuff.

We finally settled on an 18ft Coromal Corvair PC546 pop-top. It has a double island bed for the parents and bunk beds for the kids.
The top bunk bed is hinged so it can be swung up during the day to create extra seating space. The dining table converts to a small double.

Unfortunately though, the van didn’t have partitioning for the kids. So, with the help of my mum, we hemmed some ready-made blackout curtains, and altered the rail slightly, so it comfortably slots into the pop-top handles. With a little modification, we got the privacy we were after.


Storage space and accessibility were big considerations for us, too, particularly when setting up our new van. We utilise all the easy-to-reach cupboard space with everyday items and appliances, such as the kettle, the toaster, food, cutlery and plates. Stuff used less frequently, like extra sleeping bags, emergency water butts and beach toys, takes up less accessible storage areas, such as under the bed. Where possible, heavy items are centered over the wheel arches.

It pays to be creative to improve storage and access. For example, we put all sharps and kitchen utensils in a snap-lid plastic container. This secure storage avoids nasty surprises, in which knives fly out of cupboards after a day of corrugated towing. Another idea is to use stubbie holders to protect glasses and jars, preventing spillages and breakages inside the van.

We couldn't find an obvious use for a particular tall, narrow wardrobe. After some thinking, this is now where we store all the kids' clothes, folded into two colour-coded bags, stacked on top of shoes and other assorted kids' bits. We could have added some shelving here, but the cupboard is deep and we didn’t want to start drilling holes in the fabrication.

Externally, the van came with the spare tyre hitched on the rear of the van. We wanted to take our bikes, so the wheel is now mounted on the A-frame, with a four-bike rack mounted to the rear bar. Also, it helps that the van wheels are the same size and type of our 4WD, so we effectively carry two spares for everything.


Inevitably, there is no such thing as perfect planning, and we made a couple of purchases on the road that have proved invaluable.

Flexible plastic buckets can be used for storing shoes and outside toys, or as a laundry basket, a shower bucket, a kid's bath, and a transport container for food items to camp kitchens, or shower items at bath time. We bought two of them, and they have been endlessly useful.

Initially, we weren’t prepared for showers while bush camping, but have since bought a black shower bag to stick out in the sun to heat up water. This is then emptied into a bucket for recirculation with the 12V shower, which gives greater pressure and flexibility than the attachment that comes with the shower bag.

Doing laundry at caravan parks can cost a small fortune, so we also bought a travel washing machine. This sits neatly under our dining table when on the road, and doubles as a dirty laundry basket. A portable washing line has also been great for tea towels, swimmers and face washers.

Lastly, we have bought a rechargeable lantern, mostly for those early morning calls of nature. The kids also have head torches, which are a novelty for them and incredibly useful at night.


Three months into the trip, we are pretty happy with our van. The setup time is minimal, and we have the storage just how we want it. I only wish we had an extra foot of length, because I’m tired of climbing over the bed to get to storage cupboards.

We also plan to get a stovetop coffee pot, as several days without a good coffee is just too much to bear.

Water capacity is a limiting factor when going bush, and if we'd thought of it before the trip, we would have increased our storage capacity. Another addition to consider is solar panels, and also a regulator to supplement the battery system.

As our journey continues, our travel confidence is growing. Doing more with less equipment and being reasonably self-sufficient is the key. You can never over plan, but even the best planners will find gaps. Accept that you can’t think of everything, but also remember that you can usually do without for a while, or acquire helpful things along the way.

Pics: Our Coromal rig at Talia Caves on the Eyre Peninsula; these plastic buckets proved surprisingly invaluable; the kids' bunk bed area partitions off, thanks to these modified curtains; moving the spare from the rear of the van to the A-frame allows us to haul our bikes.

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