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Deciding on my first home-on-wheels

Category: My first slide-on campervan. Published: 23 Jun 2009

Having decided I wanted to live in a home-on-wheels, how did I decide what type I wanted?

I had never owned or even hired any type of caravan or campervan so this was a difficult decision to make and I had no experience to help me to make that decision. In my previous travels I had often stayed in on-site vans in caravan parks, so I had a rough idea of what I needed to live in one, but had no idea about travelling in one.

Before deciding on the type of van I wanted, I needed to think about where I was going, what I wanted to do and how I was going to live.

What are my needs?

My travel would include cities, towns, country, outback, bush, deserts, beaches, mountains, rain-forests and any other type of landscape I could find. I needed something that would handle main roads but also be capable of going off-road, although nothing too adventurous, so I needed something reasonably flexible.

I enjoy visiting National Parks and other state and regional parks. A lot of these parks have camping grounds but I'd never before had the facilities to be able to stay in any so a high priority was to get something that would now enable me to do so.

I would also be spending a lot of time in caravan parks. When I get to a new location I like to have a good look around, to find out about where I am and to visit all the local attractions, so it was likely that I would be stopping in each location for a reasonable time. I wasn't keen on the idea of having to pack up my home every time I wanted to go for a drive, so I would need a means of transport that was separate from my accommodation.

Cooking facilities were important. I'm not a big meat eater and not overly keen on barbecues so I needed good cooking facilities in the van. This included a full stove (with an oven), a decent-sized fridge, and some sort of food preparation and storage areas.

A comfortable bed is important. I'm not keen on the types that have to be folded up every day to make the seating arrangements.

Although I would spend some time outside I would generally be living in the van, so I needed a reasonable amount of comfort, but not anything too luxurious.

Power needs were an important consideration. I do a lot of work on my computer so having power for that was a high priority, as was having Internet access. I like listening to music so a radio/CD player were required, and I would probably have to have a TV (for the cricket!).

Toilet and shower facilities were not important. I would be spending a lot of nights in caravan parks so would use their facilities. When bush-camping I could go without a shower for a couple of days and a lot of camping grounds have toilets of some description -- or I could "dig a hole".

Heating and cooling were not a consideration. I don't have a problem with the cold -- if it gets cold I just put more clothes on, or go to bed early. I can't cope with the heat but I wasn't planning on staying in hot places for long -- and I would visit the hot places at the coolest time of year. My transport would be likely to have air conditioning so if my accommodation didn't I would drive through the hottest part of the day.

What are the options?

To find out what the options were and to see what was available, I:

  • Did some research on the Internet.
  • Visited all the second-hand caravan dealers in Canberra.
  • Went to the Camping and Caravan Show in Sydney
  • Read a few magazines.

From this research I found that there are lots of different types of homes-on-wheels, which can be broken down into three basic groups:

  1. Fully self-contained, including motorhomes, campervans and converted buses -- called motor caravans in Great Britain.
  2. Those that you tow, such as caravans, fifth-wheelers and camper trailers -- called travel trailers in North America.
  3. Then there are slide-ons (or truck campers in North America) for people who like to carry their home on their back like a tortoise.

Then within each category there are different sizes and styles:

  • Big ones and little ones and every size in between.
  • Off-road or highway.
  • Fold-down, pop-top or full size.
  • Some have slide-outs, awnings or annexes.

There are also the options of buying new, second-hand, ex-rentals, or I could build my own, or at least convert an old bus.

In each case it is most likely that I would have to make two purchases: with a caravan, fifth wheeler or camper trailer I would then have to decide on a vehicle to tow it; or I'd need a vehicle to carry the slide-on; or large motorhomers (that's people with large motorhomes, not large people with motorhomes) tend to tow a smaller vehicle for their shopping and day trips while they're camped somewhere. More decisions -- is this other vehicle a 4WD or 2WD?

What would suit me?

I needed to find a balance between something big enough to live in and small enough to drive around. I also decided that a 4WD would be required to get me to some of the areas I wanted to go.

  • A campervan would be good to drive but too small to live in.
  • A motorhome would be good to live in, but wouldn't necessarily get me to some places that I want to go. It has the hassle of having to pack up everything inside every time I wanted to go anywhere or if I towed a small car there's the hassle and extra costs of registering and maintaining two vehicles -- and towing another vehicle adds to the overall length and limits flexibility.
  • I didn't have time to convert a bus -- and it would have the same problems as a motorhome anyway.
  • A caravan or fifth-wheeler, added to the length of a car, is long and cannot be taken to some of the areas that I wanted to go.
  • A camper trailer is not much more than a tent and is not suitable for living in.
  • A slide-on has the same advantage of a caravan in that it is able to be left behind when I go somewhere, but without the length and hassle of towing a caravan, and doesn't require registration.

So I decided on a slide-on campervan and a 4WD.

1000s of travel guides and maps. Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, LUXE, Frommers, Michelin and many more.

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