So you’ve got the itch for adventure and you love the freedom of the open road. You’ve admired campervans for a while, but it feels overwhelming to know where to start. Do you hire or is it a better investment to buy? How big should your campervan be? What do you really need in a recreational vehicle?
There are some serious questions you’ve got to ask yourself before you hit the road for a serious adventure. In this buyer's guide, we're going to focus on what to look for in a campervan.
We'll discuss the benefits of campervans versus other recreational vehicle models; we'll consider the options for hiring and buying in Australia, give you some hot tips on budgeting for your new home-on-wheels, and help you plan your first on-road camping adventure!
Campervans vs. caravans vs. motorhomes vs. camper trailers
There is a vast variety of recreational vehicles, so a good place to start is knowing the differences between them to determine whether a campervan is right for you.
It first boils down to two main categories:
- Vehicles complete as both the transport and sleeping accommodation
- Trailers towed by your vehicle complete with sleeping and living quarters.
The former applies to campervans and motorhomes. Both tend to be much pricier because of the mechanics involved (you're buying a van or truck as well after all). Vehicles of this type have the benefits of an overall shorter length and ease of driving.
Motorhomes are the larger version great for families of 2-6 while campervans conjure up images of small compact vans, generally suitable for 2-3 people.
Motorhomes tend to have all the bells and whistles but there is definitely a higher price tag associated, whether it’s owning or renting. Campervans vary greatly in amenities, size, and price, making them a great choice for smaller groups of keen travellers and campers.
The other type of ‘home-on-wheels’ is pulled by a vehicle you already own, so it’s important to know the towing capacity of your vehicle before you buy.
First, there’s the camper trailer, which is more or less a trailer with a pop up tent section. It’s lightweight, very affordable, and adds luxury to those accustomed to sleeping in tents regularly. Since they don’t have solid walls, these are best for summer trips and usually shorter weekend camping getaways as opposed to a six-month journey.
Caravans are solid enclosed trailers with more amenities such as a hot shower. Great for longer trips and a cheaper investment for people who already own a vehicle with good towing capacity.
So now that you have a vague idea of what the differences are, you have to ask yourself a few key questions:
Where are you going and for how long?
Will you be doing mostly weekend getaway trips (to the Great Ocean Road, for example), or are you planning an epic tour across the outback for many weeks or months?
What amenities do you need? Do you need a shower or will you be staying at nice holiday parks that will have them readily available?
Or will you be freedom camping a lot and need a large water capacity?
Knowing how you will be using your RV will help you determine first whether a campervan is the right choice, and if not, whether you should be taking a closer look at camper trailers, caravans, or motorhomes.
But then comes the next big question…
Hiring vs. buying a campervan
If this is your first time using a campervan, you may want to rent one just for the weekend before you commit to buying one. Even just a bit of experience will help guide you in what you’ll want to look for if you feel ready to make the big purchase.
How often you plan on using the vehicle should be a big factor in buying. If you only want to use it one week of the year in summer, perhaps it’s not worth the hassle of insuring it, storing it, and maintaining the campervan. Hiring one might be the best route.
Campervans come clean and are generally supplied with linen and cutlery, ready for you to take off on your adventure.
Buying a campervan is a great investment if you plan to use it relatively frequently. Or perhaps you’re planning a grand extended tour across Australia and don’t know when you’ll get back home. There are obviously more costs associated with the initial set up of the vehicle, but it's much more cost-effective in the long run than renting if you like to get out of town once a month or so.
Hiring a campervan is ideal for people who live in cities and find the expense of storing a vehicle cumbersome. If you don’t have the time or energy to maintain one, it’s truly easy to hire a campervan and then simply return it when you’re done.
Or perhaps you want to fly across Australia and have a road tripping holiday from your port of call and don’t want to be hassled with driving the vehicle cross-country? Hiring is a great option for people who want quick adventure without the long-term commitment.
Buying a used campervan
If you feel prepared to enter the exciting world of RV ownership, you must then ask yourself if you want to buy a new or used campervan. It seems obvious but it's worth mentioning there is a big price difference between the two.
Buying new is of course the most reliable option. But you will have to pay for it.
Retro campervans look cool, just make sure you know the vehicle's history before you lay down cash on an older model.
Used campervans vary greatly in price depending on how well the previous owner maintained the vehicle. Some retain their value exceptionally well because they've been used infrequently, have been well looked after, or have had modifications made to improve their value (such as satellite TV).
Buying a used campervan is a really great option for a first-time buyer, but you have to know what to look out for. Make sure you:
Check the roofing to see if you can see any signs of leakage.
Make sure all the appliances are working as the owners say they do.
Look underneath the vehicle and check the tyres to see if wear-and-tear matches the mileage given.
Is there paperwork of all the services the vehicle received and is everything up to date? Whether the seller is an independent person online or a company selling and servicing a fleet of vehicles, it’s worthwhile to check everything yourself and not just take a person’s word for it.
Websites like Outdoria offer an unbiased marketplace for a variety of sellers so you can scope out price and amenities across the board.
Another solution: if you just want to look what’s available but internet photos aren’t enough, check out a local expo in your area. Thousands of sellers and a variety of vehicles offer the chance to walk around and suss them out for yourself. You might be tempted to buy "in the moment" at a dealership. An expo takes the pressure off, offering a great opportunity for window-shopping if you’re still on the fence about what you really want.
Hiring a campervan doesn’t mean you don’t have to check everything, although in general, companies service these vehicles quite regularly. It does pay off to do research in advance and go with reputable companies with good reviews. Call them up and ask questions as well. Find out about service problems on the road and know what to expect when you show up ready to travel.
Whether you decide to hire or buy, it’s important to do some research in advance and feel confident and comfortable with what you decide to put your money into.
Budgeting for a campervan
Unfortunately, one of the most important factors in deciding which campervan to get is your budget.
Your budget needs to take into account more than just the cost of the van itself: insurance, repairs, and future add-ons can add up pretty quickly, so it’s important to keep this in mind. If you spend all your savings on getting a top of the line brand new campervan, you won’t have the money for the petrol to drive it anywhere. It sounds silly but it’s true.
If you’re looking at a used campervan, it's a good idea to learn what repairs might need to be done in the near future (like new tyres) or what you might like to improve yourself; installing solar panels, for example. If possible, check the history of the vehicle and see what’s already been worked on.
Has the suspension line been fixed a few different times? Then the entire suspension system might need to be replaced instead which is so expensive, it might completely outweigh the benefits of buying the van.
It’s wise not to blow your entire budget on the vehicle itself. There are many other costs associated with the trip as well like food, holiday parks, petrol, and fun activities. If something is out of your price range either prepare to let go of some amenities or perhaps wait a year or two until you can afford exactly what you want.
Buying a campervan is a truly rewarding investment, but it’s a long-term commitment. Impulse buyers might be better off hiring a few times to understand what it is they truly need.
Tips for Travelling Australia in a campervan
You did it! You either bought or hired the campervan for your epic trip! Now what?
1. Set your travel budget
How much money can you put into this trip? How much will you realistically spend on food and entertainment? How much do you expect to spend on petrol? Creating a basic itinerary and doing kilometre math will help guide you. Keep in mind, finding a place to park isn’t always free (if you are looking for great free campsites, look no further than our guide).
Will you need to hook up to electricity some nights? That's going to cost as well. Crunch some numbers and keep this guide with you as you go. Creating a spreadsheet and tracking your purchases as you go will help you see if you’re on track (or need to cut back on the beers).
2. Plan a route
How long is this trip? Where is your end goal? What do you want to see along the way? Remember to keep an open mind and itinerary so you can pull over whenever you see an interesting place: choose your own RV adventure! And don’t pack your travels with crazy-long days; part of the beauty of campervan travel is taking the time to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
3. Pack as little as you can
There are Laundromats abound and grocery stores galore: don’t overfill your space-precious campervan with too much stuff. It will not only weigh the vehicle down and push the cost of petrol higher, but it can get messy really quickly in such a small space. You’ll thank yourself later if you learn to live by the mantra, ‘less is more’.
4. Enjoy the great outdoors
Bring some camping chairs and a little table if possible and sit outside and enjoy the sunset. You got this thing to enjoy Australia so make the most of it and breath in some fresh outback air. Disconnect from technology and connect with your travelling partner: that’s what this trip is all about.