Setting up & planning for your Big Lap adventure? – buy a van and drive away right? Um…not quite! There are lots of things to consider and every family needs & wants for different things – what will work for your loved ones? We asked Laura and the gang from Little Van Trip about their research and set up and if they got it ‘right’ after a couple of months on the road…
Real Stories | Real Families…
Eight weeks ago we set off on our adventure of a life time; and what an amazing eight weeks its been. But to be honest, I feel like we’ve needed this break because we were so busy getting organised over the few months prior to our departure. We spent endless hours researching cars and caravans and contacting other travellers to ask questions about their set up. There are some great articles out there written about peoples set up but as everyone is so unique, so are their set ups. So we thought we’d share a bit about how we’ve set up our car and caravan.
Buying a new car for our trip was one of the harder decisions we had to make. Do you get a ute or wagon, new or old, Ford or Holden etc.
We chose to buy a Holden Colorado Z71. A big reason for buying our ute is for its sturdiness, with a 3500kg towing capacity and 350kg tow ball weight. Yet, the interior of the Z71 still feels like a luxury family car. The bonus of keeping the ‘dirty stuff’ in the tray and out of the cabin was a big plus.
One of the most time consuming and biggest learning curves preparing the car for the trip was installing the dual battery system and accessories. Any plumber thinks they could be an electrician, right! We (Sam – Laura wouldn’t dream of getting her hands dirty on the car) installed the second battery (120ah) in the tray of the ute inside a battery box. The battery box is set up with different 12V outlet sockets (which is great to charge phones and iPads etc.) and anderson plugs. It’s also fitted with a dc/dc battery charger.
For extra storage and the ease of taking food with us, we have a 50L Waeco fridge on a slide that runs permanently off the second battery. We’ve also fitted an air compressor which runs off the second battery, super handy for beach driving!
To get our ute ‘big lap’ ready we needed to install some accessories. It was hard to draw the line at our ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ as there is an endless amount 4X4 gear on the market. Some of the first accessories we knew we needed were a steel bulbar, a slide out tray drawer, roof racks, towing mirrors, LED spotlights, dual battery and a car fridge. Planning our trip, we knew that we would do a lot of beach driving and wanted to make it as easy as possible. For this we purchased an awning, compressor, set of maxtrax and the 4×4 recovery gear to get us out of trouble. Although we haven’t had a need for them yet, over our lap we may add things such as a UHF, Telstra car antenna and all terrain tyres.
Fitting a brake controller was our first instillation on the ute, we went with a Red Arc Tow Pro Elite and can’t fault it.
Rather than changing the cars trailer plug to a 12pin socket we opted to stay with the more common 7pin socket but to add two Anderson plug connections for the van. One powers the fridge, whilst the other charges the vans battery when towing.
The utes tow ball needed to be lifted significantly to get the van to sit level on the road. We did this by installing a Hayman Reese drop shank upside down on our weight distribution hitch.
We purchased our caravan second hand so we didn’t have the option of getting any custom extras added on, but we truly couldn’t fault our van! It had the majority of the bits and pieces that we need. We chose a triple bunk, ensuite, 24ft Retreat Daydream as our home on wheels. It has some of the luxuries that we were use to but with the off road capabilities to get us around this big country of ours!
One of the must haves for us was a washing machine. With two small boys washing is never ending and the thought of paying around $4 to do a load of washing was scary, especially when that could easily add up to over $600 a year! We have a pegless clothes line that hangs under our awning which is great for wet bathers but for towels and bigger loads I use our Spinifex Portable Clothesline. I would honestly use that daily!
We had read mixed reviews about people using a foldable outdoor table but we love ours and use it every day. We have actually taken out our indoor table to create more space. It’s currently tucked in under a bunk and has only been used on a couple of rainy days. We generally eat breakfast inside (thank goodness for a wipeable leather couch!) and all other meals outside at our table.
Bringing our bikes along with us this year was a must – and we’ve used them quite a lot. This meant that we had to buy a bike rack and attach it to the back of the van. It took us a few goes to find a bike rack that would fit around the break lights, number plate and the spare tyre but with a bit of custom work, we got it to fit!
We have a large toolbox fitted on the caravan drawbar in between the van and gas bottles. It’s used to store our set up gear, sway bars, jockey wheel, levelling ramps and chocks as well as our hoses and leads. We find the extra storage so handy for a few reasons; it’s so easy to access everything when hitching up, it frees up our tunnel boot for the rest of our gear and perhaps the best reason is that it keeps the wet and dirty hoses separate.
We think having the caravans 12V system set up for off grid camping is a necessity. It allows us to free camp for however long or little we like. Not only is it good for the budget, it’s where we’ve found some of the nicest and most enjoyable places. Our van has two fixed solar panels on the roof which charge the 120ah deep cell batteries. We we unsure when we left if we would need an extra battery or portable solar panel to get by, but have found our set up more than enough. The van is set up to run 12V appliances rather than 240V with an inverter. We find the 12V TV and the cirocco fans we installed excellent, they use such a small amount of battery for their output. It generally takes an hour of sun in the morning to completely charge the battery.
When we started researching we read mixed messages on what cooking equipment we would need. We chose a full oven/grill/hotplate combo along with a Baby Weber Q. Although we have only used our oven a few time, it’s has been a saviour when it’s raining or it’s too windy to light the BBQ.
The Baby Weber Q is the perfect size for the four us. It fits perfectly in the tunnel boot and sits on a BBQ slide. The slide saves having an extra table or stand to set up. An external bayonet point plumbed to the vans main gas bottles is great and saves lugging an extra small bottle for the BBQ.
We hope that this has helped you with some of those lingering questions about your own set up but if you have any questions, feel free to get in contact with us via our littlevantrip Instagram page. We’re happy to share any more tips or advice to help out our fellow travellers.
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