We don’t know about you guys, but we’ve spent more hours than we care to admit looking at – and often drooling over – other people’s rigs. Don’t worry; we’re talking travelling rigs! There are so many great setups out there that it can be hard to choose where and how to spend your hard-earned dollars.
We’ve taken an extended trip around Australia towing a caravan and are now travelling in a 4WD without any tow vehicle. Without a doubt, both styles of travel have their pros and cons. While our own experiences won’t mirror those of every traveller, we’ve had a crack at comparing how caravanning versus 4WD life has been for us.
What did we like most about travelling with our caravan? Without a doubt, the home comforts and conveniences were tops. On frosty mornings, we loved being able to roll out of bed and pop on the kettle without braving the elements. When pulling up to a roadside stop late at night, we truly appreciated the permanently made up bed with its innerspring mattress. On wet and windy days, it was a warm and cosy shelter we could actually walk around in. Even better, we could bake yummy treats using our oven.
Storage space was also a big plus and allowed us to travel with heaps of water, two 9kg gas bottles, enough food for a month or more, and add new bits and pieces – fishing rods, extra solar panels, surfboards – to our travel kit without a second thought. We even had a bookshelf.
Going for day trips was a walk in the park because we could unhitch and be on our merry way without having to pack anything up. It also made travelling with our dog easier because he was really comfortable in the caravan and, dependent on weather and other factors, we could leave him safely on his own for a few hours while we went exploring.
On the flip side, navigating parking when we just wanted to pop in the supermarket could sometimes be difficult, stealth camping in populated areas was near impossible, and while the storage space was a blessing in many ways, it did sometimes tempt us into travelling excess stuff, and more weight, than we really needed.
Tackling 4WD tracks also required finding safe and affordable storage. While this usually wasn’t a problem, it did stop us contemplating longer or more remote tracks because we would have had to double back. Hitching and unhitching, while not a huge inconvenience by any means, at times required both patience and strength.
Plus, while we had a backup vehicle to rely on for shelter when things went wrong (which they did on a couple of occasions), we had to factor in the upfront costs of purchasing and registering two vehicles, as well as higher ongoing maintenance, insurance and, of course, fuel costs. We also stayed in caravan parks more frequently when towing, which meant dollars spent on accommodation.
Discover More: the great Australian road trip
4WD (no tow vehicle)
Without a doubt, there’s plenty of awesome stuff to say about travelling in a 4WD. Primarily, we love the mobility. Everywhere and anywhere we go from roadside stops to desert tracks, we always have our full kit with us. Whereas our caravan was like a mobile apartment, the Troopy is more of a camping experience. When we’re up, we’re usually outdoors, which equals more campfires, stargazing and interactions with nature.
Living in such a small space makes us evaluate, and value, everything we have. To accommodate the limited storage, we’re gradually doing away with excess items. More and more, everything we have is carefully chosen to fulfil a purpose or three. It’s energising to know we’re keeping a handle on the malignant creep of accumulation.
Visiting parking areas (except those lower than 2.2m!) is a breeze, and we’ve been able to visit friends in cities for days at a time without panicking about finding a spot for the caravan and then moving it every few hours to avoid fines. Further, having just the one vehicle cuts our day-to-day running costs and reduces (although by no means eliminates – touch wood!) the number of things that can go wrong.
All that said, there are some cons to living out of a 4WD. Because we don’t have a second ‘home base’ (i.e. a caravan!) to leave things at, packing up the car each time we want to go anywhere can be time-consuming. There are also days when it’s pouring rain or blowing a gale and we’re trying to cook on our Troopy’s outdoor stove, or mornings we’re in our 1m-wide bed trying to horizontally wriggle ourselves into our clothes so we can go outside without scaring the neighbours.
Funnily, the smaller space also often means things are less accessible and convenient. For example, although our stove is outside, some of our cooking gear and all our food is stored inside. As much as we try to unpack everything we need before we start cooking, we find ourselves climbing in and out of the car continuously, which can be a bit treacherous when the stove is out.
We’ve also noticed an upswing in the amount of outside we bring inside. After making peace with the constant stream of sand and dirt making its way into the car, we now content ourselves with one or two sweeps per day coupled with more detailed empty-and-cleans every few weeks. The battle against dust is a constant, and one we know we’re not going to win.
Do we have a preference? Honestly, probably not. We loved caravanning when we were doing that, and we love the 4WD travel we’re doing now. On the last trip, we enjoyed a slower pace and more home comforts. This time we plan to cover ground more quickly and are roughing it a bit more.
Caravans and 4WDs aren’t the only options out there. There’s also vans, camper trailers, buses and so much more – each with its own set of positives and compromises. We’d love to hear if your experiences have differed greatly to ours as we’re always on the lookout to learn more about the nomad lifestyle!
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