It’s the million dollar question: What is better to travel in, a caravan or a camper trailer? The answer might not be what you think…
After three years travelling as a family around Australia in a camper trailer we’re now travelling New Zealand in a caravan. As a result we’ve had so many people say to us “I bet you’re finding life so much easier now that you’re in a caravan!” And surprisingly the answer is no… not really.
We can honestly say we don’t think one option is superior to the other. It depends greatly on where you’d like to travel, how you like to travel, and your own personal choice/circumstances. There’s pros and cons to both options, and neither is a perfect choice. But there are a couple of things to think about to help you make your decision.
We loved the camper trailer because it would go anywhere, which as far as we were concerned was necessary in Australia if you want to see more than just the places on the highway. But that offroad ability is less important in New Zealand, so we felt a caravan was a more appropriate choice. However we’ve still had multiple times when we’ve driven on a road in the caravan and thought “s**t, was this a good idea?!”, which was something we never really had to worry about with the camper trailer. Which makes offroad ability, and it’s subsequent flexibility and accessibility a definite advantage of a camper trailer over a caravan.
Set up/pack up time
Of course the set up and pack up time is less in a caravan. Well at least, it seems that way on the surface, after all you’re not having to put the canvas up and down every time you stop. But in reality you’ve still got to do all the other things, such as unhitch, chock wheels, level caravan, unpack chairs/tables, unpack other items etc.
Of course no matter what you’re travelling in (and particularly with kids) you end up with crap everywhere that then needs to be put away and secured again when you leave so things don’t fly around the caravan as you travel. In fact when we travelled with friends we often found we’d be set up or packed up much quicker in our camper trailer than we were in their caravan. Honestly in our experience it’s an overall difference of about 15 mins, which is negligible in the scheme of things.
But in saying that not all camper trailers are made equal – some are a giant pain in the butt to set up/pack up, and it’s those campers that give camper trailers a bad name in this department. So do your research wisely when choosing your particular brand and style of camper – ask people who are already using the camper how they find it, get personal recommendations, give it a trial run if you can (hiring one for a short trip is a good idea) and don’t always believe everything the salesman tells you.
Where the caravan does win out is during daytime stops. With our camper trailer we could easily slide out the kitchen to make lunch, and access water, cutlery, dishes etc which was great. But we’d still have to find shade and a suitable place to sit and eat. Whereas with the caravan we just open the door and we have our own space to make and eat our lunch ready to go. Plus we’ve been doing a lot of beachside swim stops en route during the day, and it’s great to be able to just jump in the caravan to get changed before and after a swim. So that’s a definite win for the caravan.
One thing that’s both a pro and a con is the outside kitchen. We loved cooking outside with our camper trailer, but we were very vulnerable to the elements. In particular if it was super windy that could present some difficulty when cooking (rain was less of an issue as we had a great awning).
Our caravan on the other hand has an indoor kitchen which is great on cold mornings when you can roll out of bed, put the kettle on and eat breakfast in your jammies without ever going outside. But it can also get super hot in there when you’re cooking a meal of an evening, particularly on a summer day.
We do really miss that sort of forced outdoor lifestyle that comes with a camper trailer. We saw a lot more sunrises and sunsets in the camper. We spotted a lot more wildlife. And we spent a lot more time looking at the stars. With the caravan we tend to just end up spending a lot more time inside.
Now you can mitigate this a bit by having a separate outdoor cooking option, and by getting into the habit of spending more time outside even when travelling in a caravan. But in our experience caravan owners tend to naturally spend more time inside with the doors closed, whereas camper trailer owners are outside seeing the world go by, and by extension spotting more wildlife and meeting more of their neighbours too!
Wet and windy weather
Wet weather is another thing people commonly cite as a disadvantage to a camper trailer. But in my experience this is more of a quality thing than a caravan vs camper trailer thing. You can have leaky roofs and dodgy awnings in both caravans and campers, and it’s more a reflection on quality and workmanship than anything else.
We really had no problem with wet weather in our camper trailer and were always warm and dry even in the biggest of downpours. Wind on the other hand is a slightly different story. Wind can be a bit of a pain in campers not just because of outside cooking, but because canvas can get a wee bit noisy in high winds. We’ve stayed at some pretty wild windy places in both caravan and camper and it’s definitely a whole lot quieter in the caravan (although our caravan still does a surprising amount of rocking about in high wind!).
Again, the potential for damage in winds comes down to quality and workmanship more than anything else. Our camper trailer coped just fine in wind from that perspective, and we rarely felt like we had to rush out and bring our awning down to prevent damage the way most caravan owners do.
So really, what’s the best option?
I guess the short answer is this; both camper trailers and caravans are great ways to travel. We loved them both, and we think we’ve made the right choice each time. The camper trailer was fantastic for Australian conditions, and the caravan was the right choice for us in New Zealand.
Everyone always seems to think that the choice they’ve made is best, whether it be caravan, camper trailer, rooftop tent, motorhome, bus or something else. And they’re probably right… that choice was right for THEM. But that doesn’t mean it will be right for you. So I guess the point is that there is no one superior option for travelling, and don’t let anybody tell you there is. You need to go through the pros and cons of each, look at lots of different options, and work out what is best for you, your family, and your travels. And even then you’ll realise that no option will be truly perfect.
We’ve travelled long term in backpacker vans, a soft floor camper, a hard floor camper, and a caravan. And we loved them all. Because at the end of the day it’s about this fantastic journey, and you’ve just gotta get out there and enjoy life, and our beautiful planet, any way you can!