Unless you’re on the road regularly on a Big Lap or a similar adventure, you’re probably like most caravan owners – an irregular traveller.
Your travel is probably limited to Christmas, Easter and school holidays if you have kids, but anytime other than those times if you don’t! And in between those purple patches, the caravan or pop-top you spent so much time researching, buying and setting up for the regular travel you planned, languishes in a caravan port, or perhaps under a cover somewhere.
So when you rediscover the caravan before the next trip, you’re strangers and need to bond all over again.
There are two parts to this bonding experience – your van’s general fitness to travel and your own personal list of things that you need to pack in it for the perfect holiday. First the boring but essential stuff…
FIT TO TRAVEL
I’m not going to bang on with all the usual ‘nanny’ stuff about checking the condition of your tyres (both the inner and outer walls and their pressure), jacking up and rattling the wheels to feel for bearing play and checking the condition of your hitch, wiring and trailer brakes with a 10km test trip before the dog or cat have gone to their holiday home and you, the kids and all their caboodle are onboard and already asking ‘are we there yet’.
I’m sure you’ve already done all that, along with ensuring the gas bottles are full (a tap on the side with a spanner will give you a sound feedback) and your caravan battery is still healthy and capable of accepting and holding a charge from your tow car or solar panel/s.
If you’ve not done that yourself, you’ve no doubt entrusted such things to your local caravan dealer, repair centre, or perhaps the person who stows your van. It’s amazing how tyres left exposed to the burning sun for months on end can deteriorate, developing wall cracks that can open up at inconvenient times.
Instead, I’m going to give you some more practical van prep advice, such as:
- Open up your van, pop-top, or camper trailer after a dormant period and check for ant infestation, spider webs and eggs and – depending where you live in Australia – perhaps worse: evidence of possums or snakes. A spray can of Ant Rid or similar, and the spider equivalent of Agent Orange, are your weapons here, along with a brush or broom.
- While it’s all open, check the fridge. If you’ve left it closed, it’s probably got mould inside. After it’s clean, connect your van to power, freeze some fresh ice blocks (for that drink after you arrive after a long drive when the wine/beer is not cold enough), as most fridges don’t really get cold enough on the first day running on 12V alone. We use simple rubber ‘bungee’-style straps to ensure the door stays shut over corrugations and caravan park speed humps. If you have an ensuite, a similar system is ideal for keeping the shower door closed.
- Flush out the water tank to ensure nothing is growing there and re-fill with drinking water. If you have a water filter or purifying tablets, that’s ideal, but we carry at least 20L of drinking water (usually 40L) with us in separate containers to ensure we don’t acquire a taste for bore water coffee!
- Check all your cupboard latches, folding chairs and tables, etc., and lubricate them well. Unsurprisingly, your van becomes an oven when it’s in storage and things dry out and stick. I use an excellent dry film lubricant made by CRC called Dry Glide that doesn’t leave an oily mess. Other general lubricants like WD40 and RP7 are great for loosening up ball hitches, wind-down corner legs, etc.
- Finally, do a full pre-travel inspection, making sure that all cupboards/doors are locked inside, the folding or drop-down step is retracted, the pop-top (if you have one) and awning latches are secure and the hitch and plugs are properly connected.
THINGS YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT
Now we’ve got those boring chores out of the way, it’s time to pack the things that we really need. They are easily identified – they’re the ones you realise you need/want when it’s too late! It may sound a little over the top, but I highly recommend you make a list and leave it in the caravan to refer to in future trips.
Here’s what we take:
We never leave home without our Weber Baby Q. Reasons: It cooks meat, and just about everything else beautifully, without burning it; the flame is fully-enclosed so it isn’t affected by wind; but, most of all, because you can shut the lid and pack it away as soon as it cools down and clean what little mess it leaves at a convenient time. I just hate having to clean a greasy barbecue in the morning when packing up to travel!
If we’re going to be accessing a powered site, we take our portable coffee capsule machine and companion milk frother. If we’re free camping or in a national park, we revert to a plunger, which we always carry as there are few inverters that can handle the wattage that a capsule machine requires. But there are some new 12V capsule machines on the market (which we have yet to try) that may come to our rescue.
Because of all the appliances that need recharging these days (phones, tablets, laptops, satphones, camera batteries, etc.) plus other appliances (TV, portable radio, etc.) that need to be connected to 12V, we always take a bag of various plugs, connectors and cables. There is nothing more frustrating for a techhead than discovering that a vital cable is back at home!
Some things can be charged via a solar panel and we also carry a PowerFilm USB+AA (rechargeable) battery solar charger, which is sold through Engel. First, you charge the compact folding panel’s two NiMH or NiCad batteries by unfolding the panel and leaving it in light – a dash top is ideal. Then plug in your phone, etc., to the USB port to get a 5W charge. Note that it will take a long time to charge an iPad, which requires a 10W charge – you’d be better off charging that via a regular inverter and your caravan’s battery. We always carry a compact 150W inverter.
We always pack a spare plastic tarp, a couple of guy ropes, pegs and two expanding poles so we can find some extra shade – or privacy – if we need it. This is ideal for outdoor showering as well. We also carry a collection of bungee cords and tie-downs for similar needs we haven’t thought of yet.
Speaking of outdoor showers, we have created our own for warm-weather camping. We simply plug a length of hose and a trigger spray to the drawbar water tap of our caravan, stand in a cheap laundry bowl to avoid muddy feet and wash off the sea salt or whatever else we’ve walked through. Put your smalls in the bowl and trample while showering for a combined and very cheap laundry service. Cleans up camping feet beautifully too!
As we’re sundowner junkies and also like a little comfort while viewing/reading, we always carry a pair of low folding beach chairs that I hook over my shoulder in their bags to carry to pleasant lunch or pre-dinner locations.
We each pack a pair of thongs and cheap Croc-like sandals. The thongs are for wearing whenever we take communal showers – I don’t really like to think of my towel accumulating all the stuff left on shower block floors for later use on my face – while the Crocs are for wading into rocky water.
Finally, I always bung an axe, some old newspaper or firelighters, matches and a short shovel in the caravan’s boot. The axe, paper/firelighters and matches are for lighting the fires we love to sit around in the evenings; the shovel and matches are for life’s other necessities when there are no suitable facilities!
I’m sure every other traveller will have many other items to add to this personal list, such a head torch, a cool bag for carrying drinks to great places, etc., but we may have added a couple to your usual list.