Heading Off on Holidays
Take Your Accommodation With You
Many of the baby boomers of Australia now have a new name – Grey Nomads. Actually the name has been around for a while.
The definition of a Grey Nomad could include the following:
- People over 50 years old
- Travel independently within their own country
- Travel by caravan, motorhome, campervan or converted bus
- Travel for at least three months (although the reality is that some have been travelling for several/many years)
- Are not part of a commercial tourist operation.
Those who were born during the euphoria following the end of World War II are now approaching or have reached retirement age. Many are cashing in on their superannuation and heading for the open road. Many do the 'big lap' travelling round the entire continent. Some 60% of caravans are purchased by people over 50, people who have worked long and hard and who are now ready to live the dream. As most grey nomads are older and wish to travel for more than a few weeks, tents will not discussed in this article.
There is a number of factors to be considered before taking up stakes and heading for the open country.
One of the first things to be considered is what type of rig will suit your purposes. The mobile home industry is now big business. Price will definitely be a factor for most but for every pocket, there are still several options.
Slide-on or tray-top campers
These are often favoured by those who want to go off-road and maybe tow a trailer and/or boat. The unit simply slides on to the back of the utility (pick-up, in the US) when you're ready to set off. If you already own a utility, these slide-on units allow full use of your vehicle in between heading off on holidays.
Camper trailers come in a variety of models from those suited to two people through to big family-size versions. They may be two- or four-wheelers. Camper-trailers can be collapsed down into an easily towed, low profile unit. Most include a built-in bed and a functional kitchen. The kitchen generally folds out or slides out from the tailgate and is effectively 'outside'. Storage space is limited. Improvements are continually being made to the basic design. Solid floors may fold up to form a hard roof when travelling. This means the living space is off the ground which can be a godsend during winter. It is also easier to keep opportunistic wildlife out of the camp. Compared to a standard caravan, camper-trailers are low profile and lightweight.
Fold-out camper trailer (above)
A special type of camper-trailer is the folding type. These are often constructed of lightweight material. On arrival at a camping site, the roof section is raised and the ends slide or fold out to create sleeping areas. This type of accommodation is generally more popular with younger travellers. They are normally quite small, maybe too small for road trips of longer duration. However they are also more affordable, easy to tow and cheaper to tow.
Pop-ups are like standard caravans. On arrival at a campsite the top section 'pops up' to create a normal-type caravan. The downside is that there are no overhead cupboards and they may require slightly more maintenance. As there is less drag due to the lower profile, they are easier to tow. Pop-ups are usually restricted to about 17 feet (5.2m). Both on- and off-road types are available. Being lower, they can be stored in areas with lower clearance.
Full-height caravans come in myriad different configurations. They are comfortable, private and secure and many come with all the mod cons you could desire. If travelling as a couple, the bed can be left up, the unit may be equipped with toilet and shower, there may be robes for clothes, air-conditioning, and fully screened annexes or awnings for comfortable outdoor living. Two, three or four axle models are available and there are on- and off-road versions. Anything over about 18 feet (5.5m) has a double axle to improve stability. Fully packed, a van of this size will weigh about 1500kg. This weight is best carried on four wheels. Not everyone is comfortable with towing a large caravan and fuel costs will be higher. The towing vehicle also needs to be adequate.
The advantage of camper trailers, pop-ups and caravans is that once you get to your destination, the towing vehicle can be separated from the unit and you have a 'normal' vehicle again.
Campervans include the typical Kombi type vehicles similar to delivery vans but fitted out as camping units. Much like a mini motorhome they contain the basic facilities but are a bit tight on living space. Campervans can have a solid top or pop-up top. There is a good range of sizes available and it is possible to buy a unit which incorporates a shower and toilet. They are easy to drive and park, no special licence is required and they can double as the family car. They are far more economical than a motorhome as regards fuel. Maybe try before you buy in case you find them too claustrophobic.
Kombi Campervan (above)
Motorhomes are mostly built on a truck base. The smaller ones can be driven on a normal licence but a truck licence will be needed for the larger ones, some of which are really luxurious. Top of the range models have all the mod cons of a modern home – and sometimes more. Motorhomes provide a great degree of self-sufficiency and often more space than that afforded by a caravan. Some motorhomes are equipped with sections which slide out to the side, enlarging the living space within. However the bigger ones are difficult to park and every time you wish to move at all (to the shops, restaurant, cinema) you have to pack up the whole unit. This can be overcome by towing a small vehicle or investing in bicycles.
Bus conversions are quite popular with those who can turn their hand to such things but such a project should not be undertaken lightly. There are many specifications and regulations regarding gas, electricity and drainage which need careful consideration.
Fifth-wheelers are relatively new on the market in Australia but are fast gaining in popularity. The hitch for a fifth-wheeler is inside the tray of a ute or truck so the overall length is not as long as a car and caravan. The fifth-wheeler has several advantages. It has excellent towing stability, has a much smaller turning circle than other configurations and is easily detached. Hitching up can be done by a single person.
So take time to consider your needs and maybe hire something you think you'd like. Try it out for a week. This way you won't waste precious dollars buying something that you find doesn't suit.