Caravan, Motorhome or Camper Trailer?

A COMPARISON OF RECREATIONAL VEHICLES & TRAILERS - Introduction & Motorhomes

caravanners huddled around rest area
  1. Introduction, Motorhomes
  2. Caravans & Fifth Wheelers
  3. Campervans & 4WD Campers
  4. Slide-On Campers & Camper Trailers
Introduction

For Grey Nomads 'doing the big lap' is still considered a rite of passage. Often flush with funds, retiree's are buying a touring outfit and hitting the highways in greater numbers than ever before and the caravan, motorhome and camping industry is the fastest growing domestic tourism sector in Australia.

But it's not just the Grey Nomads filling the highways and backroads with the obligatory 4x4 and caravan in tow. These days the mobile tourist is represented by a whole cross section of the community. From young couples or families (often accompanied by the dog) to solo travellers and small groups of Europeans and Australian kids holidaying between study and work. More than ever, we encounter single women in their fifties, sixties and beyond who have purchased a motorhome and hit the road in search of exploration and adventure. It seems that the wandering traveller can no longer be defined by one group

And they're doing it in a wider range of vehicles than ever before. We are going to ignore the bicycles, long distance tractors, camels and wheelbarrows (all of which may be encountered on the road) and have a look at the most common means of getting around.

In the U.S. all vehicles that support a sleeping arrangement are lumped under the RV banner (recreational vehicle) although one tends to think of a massive, over the top Winnebago when one pictures an American RV.

Whether you choose a caravan, campervan, motorhome, camper trailer or fifth wheeler all these mobile domiciles, to some extent, are a form of camping. A picture perfect day for the average rolling tourist consists of an unhurried, meandering drive across a new landscape and a meal and beverage beneath the stars. Top it off with a comfortable nights sleep inside the mobile home and head to a new destination in 1 to 5 days.

The camping aspect arises from the desire to spend a certain amount of time in the great outdoors, engaged in those everyday activities such as cooking, eating, sleeping or socialising. It's this level of outdoor engagement and your overall expectations that can best guide you towards choosing your preferred means of transport. A motorhome may suit someone who loathes towing and wishes to cook indoors, just like at home, while an adventurer crossing uncharted outback landscapes may require a 4WD camper.

Any choice of recreational vehicle will bring about some sort of compromise. Big fifth-wheelers won't negotiate deep hungry sand in search of a secluded beach hideaway while someone in a camper trailer will probably endure the rigours of bush toilets and flies with their barbecue. Everything is a balance between comfort and flexibility. The more comfort you require the more cumbersome your rig becomes while the truly nimble off road traveller, who never retraces his tracks, is destined to bed down in less comfortable surroundings. It's horses for courses and there is no one answer for everyone. Many travelling folk, after experimenting with one particular style of travel, end up exchanging a caravan in favour of a motorhome or vice versa. All choices involve compromise, adjustment and fine tuning - even more so when there is more than one traveller involved.

Motorhomes
Typical Motorhome

The motorhome craze sprang from the minds of intrepid nomads who modified old buses in order to pursue their wanderlust. In essence a motorhome comprises a number of sleeping berths with an accompanying kitchenette and a washroom adorned with shower, toilet and basin. Fittings can range from mild to wild including complete home entertainment systems, electric recliners, dishwashers, laundries and even onboard garages that house a small sports car. Prices start at $70,000 and head into the stratosphere (the 'Featherlite Platinum Plus' is a cool 2.5 million).

A base level motorhome begins at around 20 feet or 6 metres long and is equipped with a similar level of fit out as a comparably sized caravan.

Most owners will want some sort of awning attached to the side of their motorhome. Even the largest of these homes on wheels aren't comparable in size to a regular house or apartment and an awning affords the opportunity to shake off any claustrophobia and relax in the shade.

It's not uncommon to see motorhomes with a small all-wheel drive vehicle in tow behind. Most motorhomes are two wheel drive only and having a small all purpose vehicle along for the ride means having the ability to use the motorhome as a 'mothership' and use the AWD as a commuter, perhaps even engaging in some moderate four wheel driving.

Companies like OKA and Amesz produce true four wheel drive motorhomes equipped with all the convenience of a 2WD model and most of the versatility of 4x4. Weight and wheelbase work against them in conquering terrain that, by comparison, a Toyota Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol would dance through.

Motorhomes offer the convenience of selecting a parking spot and having camp set up instantly. Moving on is just as efficient, turn the key and drive off, no need to even make the bed. They become inconvenient when a quick trip to the shop for a litre of milk is required while many people don't enjoy manoeuvring these slightly cumbersome rigs around town or into tight parking bays. For their ability to access the living quarters while on the move or create a home like atmosphere with most of the creature comforts - they're hard to beat.


Pros

  • High comfort levels.
  • No need to tow anything but able to if required.
  • Onboard toilet and shower can be a game breaker.
  • Relatively good levels of security.
  • Single licensing fee.
  • Good weight carrying capability.
  • Minimal set up required.
  • Generally better fuel consumption compared to a 4WD towing a large van.
  • Living quarters can be accessed while mobile.

Cons

  • Potentially large initial outlay.
  • Inability to separate the 'house' from the 'ride'.
  • 2WD motorhomes are capable but don't really enjoy rough outback roads.
  • Cumbersome around town and when parking.
  • Can act like an anchor - restricting your versatility.
  • Larger units require a light truck drivers license.
  • Raised beds above the cab aren't for everyone.
  • Can have roof clearance issues.


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