We weight up the considerations in the age-old debate: Caravan or Camper Trailer?
If you’re looking for recreational vehicle to take camping, is a caravan or camper trailer better? Choosing between the two is a question of how close you want to get to the elements, how far you want to go and, ultimately, what lifestyle you want to lead while you’re on the road.
SET-UP TIME AND CONVENIENCE
Quick and convenient set-ups tend to boil down to the person(s) doing the setting up and what it is you’re doing. Some caravan owners might just chock the wheels, drop the jack stands and be cooking dinner within minutes, while others will have awnings, annexes, power, toilet cassettes and kids to organise before they can relax.
Likewise, camper trailer owners may just need to wind-up the roof or fold out the frame and they’re cooking with gas in no time, while more involved set-ups may require the clearing of the camp area, an annex to be assembled and pegs to be hammered into the ground.
WHY CHOOSE A CAMPER TRAILER?
- Lower mass: a typical camper will weigh between 600-900 kilograms; much less than the average caravan. This ensures that they are generally easier to handle on the road and, of course, that they can offer better fuel-efficiency than caravans do.
- Lower profile: further aiding fuel-efficiency, the lower profile of a camper trailer means they offer much less wind resistance.
- Space-efficiency on the road: because of that lower profile, you’re able to stack a bit of gear on top of your camper. Some manufacturers even offer fold-out boat racks designed to carry and deploy small boats.
- Space-efficiency in storage: this is a big issue for many people and one that some might not consider until it’s too late. Camper trailers offer a great balance between function and space-efficiency. Most campers will have a smaller footprint, not to mention a lower profile, than that of a typical caravan.
- Access: all of these factors combined mean that the off-road camper can go places that even the best off-road caravans can’t go to.
WHY YOU’D STICK WITH A CARAVAN
- Weather protection: assuming water-tightness, there’s no denying that a caravan is always going to offer superior weather protection than even the best camper trailer. This is particularly true with extremes in temperature.
- Comfort and convenience: modern caravans have reached a point where they carry all the comforts of home, such as washing machines, home theatres and the trusty toilet
- Security: no caravan is going to stop a determined thief; however, with four walls and a door, a sturdy caravan will deter the opportunist. On the other hand, a camper trailer offers little or no security while it’s erected.
- Setup: we’ve already discussed that this is highly-dependent on the experience of the user and what they want to do, however, after a long drive, it’s a joy to be able to jump straight into a caravan’s cabin, especially if it’s raining.
CARAVAN VERSUS CAMPER TRAILER
In the end, deciding between a camper trailer and a caravan means choosing between the camper trailer’s versatility, flexibility and freedom and the caravan’s outright comfort. The choice is yours. Whether you choose a caravan or camper trailer, here’s how to tow it.
Towing a caravan for the first time can be daunting, but a little advice and experience will help make it a positive experience.
A new caravanner faces a steep learning curve, from how to hitch it up and making sure it’s loaded correctly, to understanding how to operate all of the appliances found inside.
And the big one: towing the caravan safely. When you’re at the wheel with a caravan hitched up, how you must ‘read’ the road and react to various traffic conditions is significantly different to when driving unhitched from a caravan.
It would be naive to expect that towing a caravan is much the same as driving a car unhitched.
It just isn’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do it. A bit of advice and plenty of practice will go a long way. Here are some of the things to expect when towing a caravan for the first time…
In many instances, a fully loaded caravan will weigh more than the tow vehicle. It stands to reason, therefore, that a longer stopping distance will be required. Sure, unless your loaded van weighs less than 750kg, it will have its own braking system (either electric or override, depending on the weight of the van), but a caravan and tow vehicle combination will nonetheless never pull up as quickly as a car.
It would therefore be wise to maintain larger gaps than usual when in traffic. How much of a gap will vary according to the conditions, so proceed cautiously and with a healthy dose of common sense.
Towing a large rig on a highway is one thing, but towing one on secondary roads or suburban streets, even at low speeds, can get a little hairy. Cars parked on the side of the road or pulling out of driveways, overhanging branches and careless pedestrians will conspire to fray the driver’s nerves.
Be vigilant, check your extension mirrors, and remember that you might need to take a wider path around an obstacle to ensure the caravan clears it.
The tight corners you are likely to encounter can also present a challenge. A trailer will always take a shorter path around a corner. This ‘cutting in’ could result in the trailer swiping a tree, a signpost or worse. Again, a wider path may be necessary.
Additionally, bear in mind the outward sweep of the trailer when turning – the last thing you need is for the rear of the van to strike something.
Come to terms with the fact that you are not going to accelerate as quickly as you might be used to. Even the twin-turbo V8 Land Cruiser 200 Series will take a little while to really get going when hitched to 3500kg worth of caravan.
It will depend on your setup, but it’s highly likely, too, that you won’t ‘cruise’ at 100km/h on the highway. Every caravan/vehicle combination has a highway ‘sweet spot’, whether it’s 85km/h or 95km/h.
While it’s important not to slow down traffic unnecessarily, try not to feel pressured by following traffic to travel beyond a speed that is legal and which you feel is safe for you and your rig.
THE STRESS FACTOR
If anyone says that towing a large, heavy caravan in traffic, or even at speed on an open highway, is not stressful, they are lying.
The truth is that it requires a heightened state of awareness. You will be constantly on the lookout for obstacles that could damage your vehicle or van. Is that overhead sign a little low? Will my van clear it? What about those tree branches?
You will also be constantly assessing how the van ‘feels’ on the road, quietly judging each small yawing and pitching motion, ever-alert to the possibility of developing an uncontrollable sway.
With experience, this will all become second nature and you’ll develop a sense of the dimensions of your rig and how it performs under tow. The stress factor will die down – but it never goes away completely.
Therefore, it’s important to take a lot of breaks when towing. Stress is tiring, and there’s little benefit in pushing your nerves to breaking point just to save an hour of travel time.
You will quickly discover that safely manoeuvring a tow vehicle and caravan combination in tight spaces is far from easy. Avoid them wherever possible, at least until you have developed your proficiency and confidence.
Supermarket carparks are a case in point. When you need supplies, park your caravan in an open area or on a side street. This may mean that you’ll have to walk a little further than you would prefer to get to the supermarket, but it’s worth it.
TAKE IT EASY
When you are at the helm of your rig for the first time, take it easy. There is no rush. After all, you’re on holidays.
Stay alert to all possibilities, proceed with caution and, as you pull up to the caravan park, don’t be afraid to ask for help when getting your van on site!
For more information about how to travel safely under tow see our article on the top five caravan safety features!