When we started searching for a caravan we were so overwhelmed, there were so many choices options and brands. We had never travelled in a van so how could we possibly know what we needed?  It was definitely a tricky time as we navigated the world of first-time-caravan-buying! (Read here about how I went from 5 star to Caravan lover!)

Fast forward to now and after looking at hundreds of vans over the years, (combining when we were looking to buy our own plus all the shows we attend each year with our Family Travel Journals & Caravan/Camper Log Books!) and we have now seen a lot of good, bad, amazing & ugly rigs. Yep, I think we’ve almost seen it all!

So if you are searching for your first caravan where do you start? There are so many questions that you need to ask yourselves, here are just a few.

  • What type of van do we need?
  • Do we want an ensuite?
  • Should we get bunks?
  • What size bed do we prefer?
  • Will we require a washing machine?
  • Will our van go off-road?
  • How long is this van? Where will we store it?
  • What capacity can our car tow?
  • Is this van in our budget?

Yep, all these questions and more! As people who’ve ‘been there, done that’ there are a few pointers we came across that might come in handy for you.

4 things to establish straight away:

  1. What car are we going to use to tow?
    We needed to know it’s towing mass – no point looking at vans that were too heavy for our car…or do we buy another car? Eeeeek!
  2. What style/type of van do we want?
    Full van, pop top, camper trailer, motorhome, off road? Ensuite? Bunks?
    This list can get quite long but you need to have a checklist to make the right decision.
  3. How much can we afford?
    Do we buy brand new…or second hand?
  4. Where can we store it? Great plan to buy a van…but where are we going to store it?

These are the four questions that will shape your purchasing decision. Once this framework is in place your decision will actually become simpler as your parameters of search will definitely have narrowed!

Here’s more thought provoking questions to consider that fall in under question two!

How much time will you spend in your van?  Is the interior that important?
For us, the answer was yes. Having a few comforts started to become important (despite that we began our thought process as that ‘we’d just need a basic bed!’) when we realised we were travelling with children who could be in the van for an extended period of time.  What if the weather turned and we were all stuck inside? We were very new to the experience, and had never camped before, so we started to take a bit more notice of the ‘space’ inside and how it would work for our family. All of a sudden some creature comforts seemed more important than we had realised! Were we soft? Probably, but we had never really ‘roughed’ it before…

Do you need head room?
The biggest issue we faced was surprisingly one we had not thought about.  Hubby Wayne is 6’4 tall and many of the vans we looked at saw him knocking his head or hunching over…. so ‘head room’ was added to our list of musts – seriously, I couldn’t have handled the whinging!

How long are you prepared to spend setting up?
For us, the purpose of our caravan was to get away quickly and at every chance we could.  We are not big lappers (yet…) and no plans to set off for a few months (yet…) so we needed a van that we could set up with minimal time.  We have watched a few friends set up their camper trailer and tents and sometimes this can take hours.  This is more than fine if you are setting up for a few days, but most of our planned trips would only be 1-2 nights. For us, time was of the essence and the quicker the better. For this reason, we ruled out most pop tops and camper trailers.

Can you live without a toilet? Or ensuite?
We went around in circles for months about an ensuite! Did we really need one? Such a luxury for caravan life! A few friends with caravans told us they wished they had a toilet when their kids were younger.  In the end, we were still on the fence…but the van that we loved just happened to have an ensuite and that’s how our decision was made. (In truth, we have loved the ensuite, having the toilet has come in handy, especially when we have stayed at a park where the facilities have been a long way away.) The girls and I like to shower at the park, it is a novelty for the girls and part of our caravanning fun! Wayne likes to shower in the van. Another bonus is when we travel in the winter (we try and use our van all year round…) we can shower and pee in the comfort of the van…. hahaha. Nobody likes a cold behind!

Does this van have good storage?
Where are you taking the van? What will it be used for? If you only want a van for a quick getaway you may not need all the bells and whistles. If you are buying your van to do big trips then storage is the key. Cupboards up high, cupboards down low. Cupboards everywhere. You can never have too much storage for all your belongings on the road.

Look at the outside of the van. Does it have a front boot? Or does it have a tool box on the A-Frame? What about a tunnel boot? Our tunnel boot doesn’t go all the way but it is perfect for a couple of camping chairs, 2 pool noodles for summer, fishing rods and tackle box for the girls, annex and posts if we need to take them. Storage is a sanity saver – make sure you know your storage needs!

Interior layouts?
As a family we obviously needed bunks. Many of the manufacturers now will cater for two or three bunks. Make sure you consider are they sturdy, secure and have a good ladder up…all-important factors with little ones.

Do you like an L or U shape couch around the dining table or do you like the ‘café’ style? We currently have an L shape, but the more vans we go in to, the more we like the café style.  Although, in the end, we can count on one hand how many times we have eaten at the table – we are always outside. Funny how something you think you need may not even be important once you get on the road!

Appliances or not?
Do you need a full size fridge? With 4 big eaters in our family, this comes in super handy and you’ll need to establish how much food you’d like to store or will you shop daily? Do you want a washing machine? We weighed this up – washing machine vs storage space…we chose storage and I don’t regret it for a moment! Talking about laundry: have you seen our Australian made Pegless Clothesline? A must have on the road!

Décor and design?
I didn’t think this was that important in the beginning…but truth be told you do have to look at it every day! You can always add some colour and flair with throw rugs and cushions if you want to bring some personal touches! I prefer the light and bright décor but whatever you choose make sure you can live with it, even better if you love it!

And the list goes on! But we hope this is a starting point that makes your decision a little easier. What have we missed? What were your families MUST have additions when you were choosing your rig?  

UPDATE:  Check out WHY WE CHOSE VACATIONER CARAVANS HERE:

Other articles you might be interested in:  Caravan Packing Tips and Handy Items we always have in the van

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