Driving & Caravanning

Caravanning: It’s easier than you might think!

Apr 24, 2024
Source: Discovery Parks

For every Starts at 60 reader who’s embraced the life of a nomad, there’s another who aspires to, but holds back.

If you’ve dreamed of an adventure on the open road, rest assured you’re in great company; Australia’s over-55s are already enjoying more than 21.5 million nights a year in the great outdoors — and it’s easier than ever to join them.

Like any new experience, there is a learning curve, but this is easily overcome by choosing your first adventure wisely. For those considering hiring a caravan and sampling life on the open road, here are a few ways to ensure your first trip is the start of a beautiful new journey.

Start small, then work your way up to a bigger adventure

One overwhelmingly common piece of advice from the nomads in our Travel at 60 Facebook group: do a trial run.

Before you plan that grand bucket list trip across the Nullarbor, start with a simple night in your backyard or a small weekend trip close to home. It’s a chance to refine your setup/packup routine, learn what you actually need to be comfortable, and get a better feel for the practical realities of caravanning.

A short “staycation” at a local caravan or holiday park, such as one of the 85+ Discovery Parks located throughout Australia, can be another great starting point. Here you’ll get to practice and build confidence with simple steps like parking in a shared space. It’s also a safe place to make a few “rookie errors”; you’re likely to find friendly advice from staff members or fellow travellers who have been there, done that.

Click here to find a Discovery Parks location near you.

Once you’ve built up this initial confidence, you’ll still have time to sneak in a winter getaway with a longer 2- to 3-week road trip. The Classic East Coast (Sydney – Cairns), Savannah Way (Cairns – Darwin) and Red Centre (Alice Springs – Uluru) are all newcomer-friendly, easy-to-follow options ideal for that first “proper” expedition.

Click here to learn more about each.

Only take the essentials

Packing for a trip can feel overwhelming for a first-time caravanner. On one hand, weight and space are both precious commodities. On the other, you’ll want to be prepared for any unexpected situation. Where do you draw the line?

Once again, the value of a close-to-home trial run cannot be understated. When you see first-hand how little you actually use (and how important weight is when it comes to saving fuel), conservative packing will soon become second nature.

That said, some essential items are all too easy to overlook. Don’t leave home without these practical necessities:

  • A powerful torch (one per person, with – and we cannot stress this enough – spare batteries)
  • A can opener and bottle opener
  • At least two extension cords so you can make the most of a powered site.
  • Insect repellant
  • All things sun safety: hats, sunscreen, UV resistant shirts… the works!

And of course, there are emergency provisions to consider:

  • A fire extinguisher and fire blanket
  • A complete first aid kit
  • A basic tool kit
  • Food and water supplies
  • Repair essentials (as recommended by your caravan provider)

As with any outdoor hobby, there are always tempting “bells and whistles” on offer: the gadgets, accessories and other indulgences that promise an easier trip. Remember that you can gradually move towards these in later trips — by which point you’ll have a much better idea whether they’re needed.

Consider your comfort levels as a driver

Researching ahead is absolutely vital. If you’re looking at camping sites or national parks, be sure to find out whether this requires any off-road driving, and whether the entry is suitable for the type and size of your caravan.

If you’re unsure about this step, a holiday park can help you maintain the adventurous spirit of camping without losing a few home comforts like hot showers, bathrooms, laundry facilities and easy waste disposal — not to mention space for any four-legged friends.

Keep your trip slow and flexible

Nomadding is about enjoying life at a more relaxed pace. This isn’t just philosophical advice; when you’re towing a large impromptu home along a highway, a slow and steady drive is vital for preserving fuel.

(Of course, other drivers might be in a little more of a hurry, so check your rear view mirror frequently and be generous when it comes to pulling over!)

Life on the road is also about surprise discoveries and spontaneous decisions; it’s important to plan around this realistically. Start with a rough itinerary of the main places you wish to visit, but give yourself plenty of time and room for error.

Surprises will happen: a road may be closed, weather may change, or you may simply wish to extend a stay. It’s all part of the adventure. You’ll quickly find that the most memorable experiences come from deviations to the plan.

Don’t assume you can use your phone

On the open road, a strong signal can’t be taken for granted. Even if you’re on the Telstra network, and even if you’re relatively close to a major populated area, Australia has its fair share of unexpected “dead zones”. Many popular phone navigation apps, including Google Maps, will give you the option to download specific maps to your phone before the trip, allowing you to continue navigating even when offline. But for extra peace of mind, you can’t go wrong with a good old fashioned printed map.

If you’re heading further afield (and once again: don’t underestimate the value of that trial run closer to home!) a satellite phone and sat nav are well worth considering. Like any insurance policy or “just in case” measure, it’s a personal choice based on your unique situation — but the peace of mind can be a godsend.

Use communal kitchens to your advantage

You can save considerable storage space by researching ahead and learning about park and campsite facilities.

Chances are every kitchen implement you’ve packed is already free to use at your next communal camp kitchen. Most Discovery Parks around Australia will offer a camp kitchen (or two) fully equipped with stovetops, microwave ovens, utensils and bench space you can comfortably share with fellow travellers.

These shared spaces are generally also among the easiest places to make new friends among fellow nomads — some of whom you may find yourself bumping into again down the road.

Be open to advice

The Aussie nomad community tends to be very friendly and welcoming to newcomers. After all, many fellow caravanners have only embraced lifestyle in retirement, and those early days may still be a recent memory.

Everyone will have their own advice to give (which will sometimes contradict what you’ve already heard!), but some pearls of wisdom are timeless. Here are just a few tips shared by members of our Facebook community:

  • Lynne: “Don’t stress. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. Be flexible.”
  • Robb: “First trip or with a hundred trips; you’ll learn something every time.”
  • Lorraine: “Don’t rush. Pull over at the latest at 3pm. You then have a few hours to check out the town, buy rations, etc.”
  • William: “Make sure you let traffic pass wherever possible.”
  • Wayne: “Get everything out that you want to take. Then halve it, and halve it again. You will now have everything that you will need. People carry way to much that they don’t need.”
  • Gail: “Don’t panic. It takes time to be confident in towing the caravan. It takes time to know what all the switches do, it takes time to find the best caravan parks, the best experiences happen with the least planning. When you get home, you will realise what fun you had.”

The best bits can’t be planned. Whether you’re doing a close-to-home trial run or a , there are more than 85 Discovery Parks locations around Australia to call home along the way. Click here to find one near you.

More Experiences, For Less

Planning a trip around Australia? A holiday on the road with Discovery Parks is a total gem! With incredibly spacious sites, and top-notch company, it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy your surroundings.

Book now