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Camper trailer or caravan? There's a tricky question…

Choosing whether to buy a camper trailer or caravan can be tough when you're planning your trip around Oz. Especially if you haven't camped much before the trip, or if you have always had a tent set-up. The options most families consider are:

  • Swing-out camper trailer (canvas set-up on a modified box trailer with a hard or soft floor)
  • Wind-up camper trailers (e.g. like our Jayco, or other brands like Corrimal)
  • Caravans (pop-top, fold out beds, or fully hard-bodied)
Our camper is the same height as our car when towing, so it doesn't have a big impact on wind resistance or clearance (in car parks and under trees)!

And tents?

At the other end of the spectrum, a tent gives you absolute freedom, but generally way more set-up and less comfort. A tent also severely limits your car storage space, unless you carry it all on a trailer anyway. I think for an extended trip around Australia, a tent is generally not a viable option for families with children – which brings it back to camper trailer or caravan.

Is there one 'right' solution?

I'd love to say "yes". But after all my campfire conversations, I have decided that there is no "one size fits all" approach to the question of camper trailer vs caravan.

Certainly, we love our own wind-up camper trailer and the freedom it gives us to go where ever we want. A caravan is even less set-up with more creature comforts, but there are some restrictions on where you can travel with them.  Then there are traditional swing-out camper trailers, which take more time to set-up but are easier to manoeuvre when towing.

There are also other styles of camper trailers, like Kimberley Kampers or Ultimate Off-Road Campers, but I'll leave those out since they're more specialised, and I have not experienced a family travelling in one.

Here are some factors to consider…

Use this comparison table to see what you can usually expect with each type of camper trailer and caravan, but check on the specific model before you buy.

Swing out camper trailer

Axles: Single

Height: Lower than vehicle

Weight: <1 tonne

Towing: Easy

Set-up time: Medium – long

Off-road: Suitable

Power load: Low – medium (+fridge)

Fittings / other:

  • Outdoor kitchen/sink
  • One bed fixed
  • Storage space provided but can be difficult to access

Wind-up camper trailer

Axles: Single

Height: Same as vehicle

Weight: 1-1.5 tonnes

Towing: Medium

Set-up time: Quick – medium

Off-road: Suitable

Power load: Low – medium

Fittings / other:

  • Full kitchen
  • Fixed beds
  • Built-in fridge
  • Shelves/cupboards

Optional extras:

  • Outdoor shower point
  • Microwave
  • Gas hot water
  • Air-conditioning

Caravan

Axles: Single or multi*

Height: Higher than vehicle*

Weight: 2+ tonnes*

Towing: Difficult

Set-up time: Quick – nil

Off-road: Some limitations*

Power load: High

Fittings / other:

  • Full kitchen
  • Fixed beds
  • Built-in fridge
  • Shelves/cupboards
  • Gas hot water
  • Air conditioning
  • Microwave

Optional extras:

*Some roads restrict vehicles over a certain weight, height and number of axles. These can sometimes be significant touring routes, and tend to be gravel roads (although not necessarily 4WD).

There are SO many choices of model and brand – where do I start?

Now that is a really personal question! My opinion (and it is just that), is that you should go with a well-established, Australia-wide brand unless there is a really excellent reason not to. Here's why:

  • The big brands have their faults, but they also have strong presence throughout the country.
  • They have a certain build quality you can expect, and parts are usually easier to get.
  • You are more likely to find forums and information online about them, including any known problems.

There are also a number of specialised, boutique companies making custom built camper trailers and caravans. If you decide this is the right option for you, I recommend checking the company out thoroughly and talking to other customers before making your final decision. Take a few camping trips and look out for their make and model, to see how popular they are and to ask some independent questions.

Whichever way you go, it pays to be extra-cautious before you buy.

Camp grounds are a great place to get real feedback on different set-ups.

Ultimately only YOU know what you really need for your trip. If you can, do these three things before you make your final decision on your camper trailer or caravan:

  1. Talk to lots of people about what they like / don't like about their set-up.
  2. Take your time and mull the decision over for a while.
  3. Try before you buy and hire or borrow the model you'd like and go away for a weekend.

Camper trailer or caravan? The hard truth is...

You can't go everywhere with a caravan, you can't have every creature comfort with a camper trailer. Work out where you fit along the spectrum and make your choice from there. You'll probably be spot on.

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