Be it suburbia or the outdoors, lifestyle is very much influenced by our personality, our needs, and — perhaps most of all — our budget. Fortunately, in affluent countries like Australia, the diverse range of mobile accommodation options allows us to travel virtually anywhere we choose both comfortably and economically.
What suits me, though, is not necessarily going to be your first choice, nor are your preferences likely to match those of your close friends or relatives. Result is, all segments of the camping and RV markets are doing quite nicely.
Of course, at the budget end of the accommodation spectrum, tents are always high on the short-list of options, particularly for lovers of true outdoor freedom. On the other hand there are those who simply must have a few creature comforts, while still maintaining some degree of independence. This latter group is likely to opt for either a fully appointed caravan/travel trailer, or motorhome.
For the rest of us, somewhere along that cost/comfort scale our ideal niche is there to be found. Keep in mind, however, “ideal” is really a sneaky way of saying “acceptable compromise”. After all, no matter what your choice — tent, tent trailer, camper trailer, caravan, campervan, or motorhome — compromise will be necessary between the key deciding factors of cost, comfort, self-sufficiency and mobility. The trap is, only you can balance that mix!
Nevertheless, to help you identify your personal niche, here are a few of the essential differences between the popular options among nomadic travellers today:
Camping under canvas has always attracted a strong (and growing) band of devotees. Tents are relatively inexpensive, available in a vast range of sizes and complexities, and allow the outdoor lover to retain complete freedom, flexibility and mobility.
With tenting, though, the biggest drawbacks are the time it takes to get your camp set up, and the relative vulnerability to weather extremes. Together with sleeping, cooking and other equipment, a lot of vehicle space is required, and frequent changes of location become quite a chore with daily set-ups and pack-ups.
Moving up the budgetary scale, tent trailers might be your next consideration. These are essentially a small trailer with a built-on, collapsible frame-tent. Generally, they are more robust than regular tents, far easier to erect, and your bed (and some floor area) is raised above the ground. With a raft of optional awnings and add-ons, a tent trailer can become a canvas castle!
Keep in mind, though, towing a trailer of any kind does impact, to some degree, on campsite accessability, although heavy-duty and “off-road” models minimise this effect (especially if towed by a 4×4).
Another advantage is the freeing up of most of your vehicle load space, although you should also anticipate a quantum jump up the financial scale. (But if you already own a sturdy box-trailer, it may be adaptable.)
Even a low-spec camper trailer represents a further — significant! — hike in potential outlay over tent trailers (though the huge second-hand market is worth exploring). Even so, you stand to gain a considerable boost in comfort levels, particularly for long-term camps or extended touring.
Certainly, camper trailers still require setting up in camp, but this is a fairly quick and painless operation. Towing, too, remains reasonably stress-free considering their low profile and lighter weight compared with full-size caravans. Even so, bush mobility and manoeuvrability does suffer over tent or tent trailer outfits. And don’t forget those extra costs, such as insurance, registration, and increased fuel consumption.
For long-term or fulltime nomadic lifestyles, a full-size motorhome provides optimum comfort, convenience and all-round security. No towing is involved, while driving and parking is a breeze (except in very narrow streets and parking lots). Making camp, and moving off in the morning, is the easiest of all possible options.
Their main disadvantage is the high cost (in motorhome rather than campervan configuration), and the fact that every time you move — even to the store for milk or bread — you have to pack-up your “home”. And if repairs become necessary out on the road, you may be faced with motel costs.
Little brother of the motorhome, the campervan, has a similar set of pros and cons but is far less expensive to buy and operate, and considerably easier to get about in. For two people they represent an excellent all-round compromose for long-term touring, but get very “tight around the shoulders” for a fulltime lifestyle.
For the best balance of all between space, comfort and security, it’s hard to beat a reasonable size caravan/travel trailer. For lengthy stays at a “base camp”, while getting out and about in your car or 4×4, they are ideal. There are sizes, makes and models to suit most family needs and all budgets. And the pre-loved market is endless.
Here again, though, mobility on backtracks can be greatly curtailed (even with some of the 4×4-rated rigs), and generally speaking, driving is more tiring, costly and slower. Visits to major towns, with tricky parking or tight turn-arounds, often become a real pain in the tailpipe.
So what do I recommend? Well, unfortunately there’s no simple answer! For example, depending on our plans, our camping and travelling alternates between lightweight touring (sleeping in our 4×4), and towing our home — a 16 foot caravan. Every so often, we use a canvas tent for lengthier bush camps while visiting the high country.
To my mind, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. But if you’re planning to embark on a fulltime traveling lifestyle, my advice would be to identify — and carefully examine — your personal needs and aspirations, then set yourself up to suit the destinations and activities of most interest.
Best part is, you have plenty of options.