Living on the Road

Which caravan or motorhome should I buy?

Jill Palmer5 comments2539 views
Our first rig 2009

I’ve been asked dozens of times which rig to buy for an Australian road trip. We’ve spent more than three years on the road in a variety of rigs, so I’m happy to share a few bits of advice, but first, a little note about peanut butter.

Have you ever seen a new brand of peanut butter? Maybe it costs less and you like the look of it? You need four jars because you are making a mega batch of biscuits as gifts. But you’re not sure about the new brand. So you buy one jar, go home and make a mini batch and then make a desision.


What does this involve?  Well, it involves two lots of cooking instead one of one. Running the oven twice. Two trips to the shop (with associated purchases you didn’t know you needed).


But. Maybe it was still a good idea. What if you’d bought four jars of the new peanut butter and it was yucky, and you made a quintuple batch of biscuits and they were yucky. Aaaargh!
Well then, you wasted not only the peanut butter, but all the other ingredients. And you still have to go to the shops again and cook again and run the oven. Again. Plus you feel either bad for throwing away the yucky bikkies, or really glad you have undiscerning chickens.
Of course, the new peanut butter might be great. The biscuits might be great. And the gifts might all work out.
You never can tell.
Do you see where I’m going with this??
We keepers-of-the-home are used to doing research and being cautious even with small decisions like $20 worth of peanut butter.


But when it comes buying a rig, we really often don’t research enough. Or acknowledge the gaps in our own knowledge. That is, we don’t even know enough to know there’s so much we don’t know.
And a $40 000 family caravan costs 10 000 times as much as the peanut butter, it really does pay to try before you buy and it’s not going to cost you $10 000 to try before you buy.

“Anyone who wants to do a big trip in a caravan, should  do a little trip in a caravan first.”

So, try before you buy. Hire something, and go for a trip!!

Keep in mind all these things

  • tare weight, ball weight, can your car handle it?
  • on-road, off road, semi-off road
  • resale value
  • warranty, location of service centres
  • length, height (will it fit in your carport?)
  • licence required (ours requires a medium rigid)
  • insurance, licensing requirements
  • set up for free-camping or for caravan parks only
  • number of beds, seats, fridge space, water tank capacity
  • extras like bathrooms, air-con, solar systems
Here are some commercial hirers of caravans in Australia












Of course I recommend hiring from another family, it’s cheaper, and the chat you have on their front lawn while you hook up will be so valuable!  Here are agencies that list people who rent out their own rigs.
and of course


Maybe you’re thinking of a campervan, motorhome or bus?

Try before you buy!

This is even easier than hiring a caravan, as you don’t need a compatible tow vehicle.
No one is going to hire you their 40’ bus to drive, but here is one you could stay in for a weekend, to see what its like to live in. There are plenty of caravans on this site too.  But to actually drive and camp roadside in a van, rv or motorhome, there is no better option than  Imoova.


Sign up to Imoova’s relocation emails list and pick up a van for $5 a day!  You just have to deliver it to another city, and get yourself home some other way. It’s a brilliant and cheap way to practise living on the road. Sometimes they even kick in for fuel, and sometimes you can buy extra days and extend your trip.
If there’s nothing suitable at Immova, you could book a camper or motorhome from discovery or campertravel or camperhire. It will cost more, but you’ll have no time or location limitations.

So, how does this help me choose my own rig?

Your trial trip is all about practice. Practice putting up and down the beds, filling the water, emptying the loo, showering the children, cooking the dinner, moving the solar panels around, finding things in the pantry and not driving off with the cupboards open.
Then try it all in the dark.

Then try it all with a tired baby on one arm/or a muddy toddler/ or with a migraine or whatever constitutes a tricky day for you. Try getting organised enough to get up for a sunrise viewing. Try drying wet clothes. Try not shopping for three days and still eating well.

Is it going to work? What changes are needed?  How easy is it to make these changes? For example, installing a bathroom in a caravan is very tricky, and messes with your payload. But making a double bunk out of a triple is not so hard. Changing ugly curtains is easy peasy. Moving the oven or fridge can be tricky.

Is this really necessary?

Hiring something and learning all these things for yourselves is so very useful.

Don’t balk at the price, $400 for a weekend is not a lot to pay. It might save you $5000 that you may lose on buying the wrong van and reselling it at a loss.  Or $2000 in interest on a loan to buy a different van before you manage to sell the first one. Or 6 weeks in a caravan park paying top rates, while you make changes and fix things and argue about warranties. (I can hear so many people nodding at this point)


Hey, do it more than once! Instead of hiring something fancy, hire an older or simpler set up, and ask youself ‘what additions could make this work?’  It might be that an oven really matters to you, or having a loo onboard, or separate bunks for the children. Or maybe none of that matters as long as there’s a good fridge and somewhere to strap the surfboards on. Maybe you really need flyscreens but aren’t fussed about hot water.


Start with a simple rig and ask what you’d like to add to make it work. Don’t start with a luxury rig and asking what you could do without, its much harder to simplify. And its expensive not to!


There are other ways to find out what rig you want.
  • Go to a caravan park at beer o’clock and wander slowly saying hi to folks. As you get chatting, ask them what rig they are in and why. Write notes later.
  • Follow a few blogs or travellers on instagram. (Here’s us) Maybe one bus family, one caravan family, one camper trailer family, one without a bathroom, one with. Or one with a dog, or a FIFO worker, a single parent family or whatever it is that matches your situation.   Write comments and get to know the families.  Ask questions. If you ask nicely, people will often even share their travel budget  and how they keep to it!
  • Join facebook groups and read back through 6 months worth of posts. What are the themes? Most common hassles? Most often repeated advice? Then ask any specific question you might have. This is a good forum for families, and this is good for budget travel on the road.
  • Set an alert in gumtree for example ‘caravan bunks under 35 000’.  Or ‘camper-trailer, solid floor under 15 000’ or ‘motorhome WA registration’  And watch what comes up until you are ready to buy. Go have a look at at least 12 options.
  • Go to the caravan and camping show. DO NOT BUY ANYTHING. Just learn learn learn.


Finally, once you’ve done all that, shoot us a question or two, and we’ll do our best to help.
Honestly, try before you buy, its worth all the peanuts. 


  1. This is probably one of the best bits of advice I have ever read in regards to choosing the right ‘rig’. We started with a tent, graduated to a camper trailer and after two years of looking we have just ordered our first van. As it is going to be home for at least 7 to 10 years we wanted to make sure we got it right first time!

  2. Totally agree!
    In our 2 years away in the northern hemisphere we lived in a caravan for a year, travelling Europe and Scandinavia and the UK…we saw hundreds of caravans and RVs before settling on ours. We had done a lot of camping before and I had lived in a stationery van and you need that sort of real life experience before choosing your new home!
    Don’t be seduced by the new shiny (smaller for your $) model…the layout is everything, the shininess not so much. Trade shows can be dangerous because of the lure of the “latest model”.
    Now we are home in Australia we have just bought a “new van” – a 1978 Viscount! Perfect layout for us and an aluminium frame for ease of renos.

    Great to read about your new adventures over here on the new blog : )

    1. Hi Tracey, great to hear from you!! We looked at the lovely old Viscounts too. So simple, but kind of exactly what you need.

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