This Caravan Life

RV sage Tim Smith offers some words of wisdom for newcomers to the world of caravans, camper trailers, swags and motorhomes.


What is it about a caravan that is so appealing? I think I fell in love with them as a child, sitting rugged up in bed listening to my dad reading The Wind in the Willows. I can close my eyes and remember it now. Let me set the scene.

Ratty and Mole had dropped in on Mr Toad. “There you are!” cried the Toad, straddling and expanding himself. “There’s real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here today, up and off to somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing! And mind! This is the very finest cart of its sort that was ever built, without any exception. Come inside and look at the arrangements. Planned ’em all myself, I did!”

As it turns out it was just a passing fad for Mr Toad but the Mole fell in love with that caravan and, I must admit, so did I.

Caravans are adventure, a magical teleporting holiday house that can be in the mountains one day, and by the sea the next. You can travel all day, see a nice spot, pull over and get into your house. Your neighbours may change every day or maybe not (if they are going your way) but they are all fellow explorers, seasoned or inexperienced, all with their own tales of adventure and advice. Most are more than happy to while away a few happy hours with you before you pop off to bed, your own bed, surrounded by your own stuff all in its own spot. If you like a place, stay a while, if you don’t, move on. You are the master of your own destiny, the captain of your own ship. If you own one you know this already, but if you are thinking about getting involved, read on.


Nowadays we are lucky, there are so many of these amazing houses on wheels to choose from but you have to start somewhere, so here are a few quick questions for the bill-payers.

Caravans have a spacious interior with everything you need at your fingertips. No fuss, no muss.

How many folk are you going to provide beds for? This should always be worst case scenario, if you think it’ll just be you, the better half and the kids, think again. There is a never-ending stream of freeloaders waiting to jump on board the fun train. Mums, dads, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbours, workmates… the list is virtually endless. Sure, you can’t be expected to house everybody but let’s face it, if you take along your mum and dad, who do you think will be sleeping in the good bed? Quick answer, not you. I have met too many older couples who are up-sizing their vans to accommodate the grandchildren. What a lovely problem to have.

Where do you want to go? This is just simple logistics, if you want to go up the side of a mountain along a fire trail to some godforsaken spot, get a sturdy, offroad setup. If you are cruising along the coast from beach to beach staying in caravan parks, then get something more laid back. If you are not sure, there are some very comfortable crossover units out there that offer you a bit of both. Whichever you choose, it’s no real problem. If it’s not right, change it.

New or second-hand? You can throw a tonne of money at this little slice of freedom, and new is nice; however, second-hand doesn’t mean second best. In my experience, RVs are generally treated well by their owners, and the ones that aren’t… let’s just say it’s pretty self-evident (my rule of thumb, if it looks bad, it probably is). Your first purchase should always be a ‘suck it and see’ experience. You are on a fact-finding mission to work out what you really want in a movable dwelling.

What you need and don’t need, how big or small it is, how easy is it to tow and set-up, will it fit in the driveway or under your carport and above all, what you love and hate about it. My tip is to go preloved, but be careful, try not to buy someone else’s problems. Research, research, research.


Motorhome, caravan, camper trailer, tent or swag? Let’s look at each one.

The swag: This one-person sleeping bag cover is by far the cheapest of your options, it is the most portable, and the easiest to store, transport and erect. Used and recommended by most single guys at ute musters and hippies who like to ‘sleep under the stars’. This smelly lump of canvas offers little to no storage and will become your least favourite possession after you bed down for the night on a bull-ant’s nest.

The tent: This small, flimsy, fold-out nylon cabin offers you all the misery of the swag with the added bonus of being able to share it with others. It takes time and effort to erect, they have replaced all the doors and windows with zippers and Velcro, and it never seems to fit back into the bag it was unpacked from. Generally speaking, if it’s cold outside a tent, its cold inside a tent and the soft floor construction ensures that whatever sharp object the tent is pitched over can cause injury to any or all of the occupants. Tent manufacturers advise users to avoid folding and storing a wet tent which, in my opinion, seems cruel, because that’s the very time I’m packing up and heading home after being totally rained out and drenched for days on end.

If you’re going up the side of a mountain along a fire trail, you’ll want to look at a camper trailer.

The camper trailer: Now we are starting to get serious. This is a hard-core super tent bolted to a trailer that is easy to erect and fold up. These go-almost-anywhere bad boys, can come with hard floors, heaters, heaps of storage space including solar panels, tanks for fresh water, air tight compartments, their own refrigerator, roll-out cooktop and sink, permanent bedding, electric lights, hot water service and shower.

There’s even room on top for a small boat. They are easy to tow and, if you have the clearance, will follow your tow vehicle wherever you point it.

The downside, you will have to set it up. You can’t just pull over and instantly enjoy your facilities. Even the newest, most expensive camper trailers need time to set up.

Caravans: The original and the best. There are just so many to choose from, you’ve got your big long houses on wheels that contain every conceivable luxury which are bigger than my first flat, to your compact offroaders that can give your camper trailers a run for their money. They have bathrooms, inside toilets, TVs, washing machines, everything you could need, ever. The thing I love the most about a caravan is pulling over in a truck stop or scenic spot, getting out of the car and into the van, putting on a coffee, getting stuff out of the fridge and making a sandwich. Sure, there are lots of other great things caravans offer but I really rate that coffee sandwich thing. Try and do that with a swag, impossible.

Motorhome: Someone stuck a motor and a steering wheel in his caravan, so you see a lot of these big boys driving around towing small cars, it seems a weird reversed logic to me. But hey, whatever floats your boat. I guess in really bad weather you don’t even have to go outside when you pull over for your coffee and sandwich. So that’s good.

So what am I waiting for? I don’t know, this adventure starts at the end of your driveway. And there is no time like now.

Tim wants to see your van! Email your pics to and they might appear in a future article!

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Tim Smith is a comedian, writer, and TV and radio presenter. He has also caravanned around Australia as the host of the TV show Discover Downunder.