Deciding to give up our jobs and go off travelling in a campervan was a rollercoaster ride. Van life preparation took over our lives, from the first few ‘if only’ conversations shared between the two of us over a bottle of red, to the scary ‘we’re leaving’ announcements made to employers and friends, followed by the odd ‘this is just too difficult’ and ‘are we crazy?’ meltdowns, the endless ‘to do’ lists, through to that amazing day, months down the line, when we finally handed back the keys to our home and drove off into the wilderness…well, actually, we drove down the street and went for a sleep in the car park as we were exhausted! When we were younger, we would have packed our rucksacks at the drop of a hat and been on our way the very next day but it definitely required more planning and organising as fortysomethings with fortysomething responsibilities. If you are thinking about hitting the road, here are our tops tips on preparing for van life.
Get Your Van ASAP.
The more time you have to get to know your van before you set off, the better. We got our van, Molly, in September but didn’t start travelling in her full time until April the following year. This meant we were able to do some practice weekends away and get a feel for how we would live in her and what sort of stuff we would need to have with us. It also gave us time to do some modifications to the inside to make it right for us and our animals.
Learn How Your Van Works.
If you aren’t familiar with the workings of a campervan, get a professional to show you, it will save you a lot of time and frustration once you are travelling. We went to our local caravan sales yard and had a lesson that covered pretty much everything we needed to know about the workings of our van, including what hoses to connect where at caravan parks, how to fill our water tank, changing gas bottles, cleaning out the toilet cassette (the worst thing about van life!), what we can run off our house battery and how to set up our awning.
Kit Out Your Van Wisely.
No matter what size of rig you get, it will be smaller than where you currently live so you are going to need to downsize…a lot! You need to embrace minimalism but also know what you can and can’t live without. For me, the coffee machine was the essential that had to be fitted in no matter what. Be practical in your choices about what to carry with you. Luckily, Ali is very handy and practical when it comes to van maintenance, DIY, etc so she insisted that we made room to carry an air compressor, a small generator and a basic tool kit. Things that I probably would never have thought about but that have come in very handy so far! You can almost definitely cut back on the amount of clothes, shoes, towels, linen, food and kitchen equipment that you are thinking you will need.
What To Do With The Rest Of Your Stuff.
So what do you do with all the stuff that you aren’t taking in the van? We are moving to Europe at the end of the year so we have put some furniture, personal belongings and paperwork into storage with a company in Perth. They will then ship it for us when we are ready. Storage can be expensive and is normally charged by volume so, if you are going to do this, try to only store the minimum, the stuff that is really precious or essential.
We sold or gave away the rest of our belongings. We found Gumtree and the local Buy&Sell pages on Facebook were good for selling larger items, especially furniture. We did a Swap Mart and a couple of Garage Sales to get rid of the smaller stuff and gave the rest of it to a couple of charities that we support. It will take much longer than you think to get rid of stuff though so be pro-active and start advertising as soon as you can.
Keeping In Touch.
Mobile phone reception in Western Australia ranges from excellent to non-existent so we had to be prepared to be out of contact at times and advise family, friends, etc. that this would be the case. Telstra provides the best coverage at present. Apart from some bigger towns and Telstra Hot Spots, we have not found anywhere that provides free, reliable wifi so we have a Telstra prepaid dongle so that we can access the internet, Skype, etc. It is definitely worth checking out what the mobile phone and wifi coverage is going to be like in the areas that you plan to travel to and think about how you will keep in touch with people.
We recommend getting a two way radio installed in your vehicle. Thankfully, we have not needed ours yet but it is a comfort knowing that we have it, especially on the long drives between towns in the north of Western Australia, where there is no phone reception at all. All the road train drivers are on Channel 40 so it’s worth tuning into this when you are driving. The banter between them can be very funny, as long as you don’t mind excessive use of the F word and, on a serious note, listening to them will alert you to any dangers or problems nearby, such as debris on the road or a road train with an oversized load that you are going to have to make way for.
Start To Put A Basic Itinerary Together.
For us, campervan life is all about freedom and being able to go wherever we want but it helps to have a rough idea of where you are heading and what you want to see or else you can end up drifting from place to place, without seeing the best of them. Reading guidebooks, looking at maps and watching travel programmes were all part of the planning fun for us.
Apart from places that really interest you, other things to consider when planning your itinerary include:
- Weather. If you are travelling somewhere with extreme temperatures, like Western Australia, think about how you would cope with scorching heat, endless days of rain or freezing cold nights and plan your trip around what you, and your pets, will be comfortable with.
- Public Holidays and School Holidays. Popular campsites and caravan parks will be booked out in holiday periods so it’s worth planning ahead and either booking your site well in advance or planning to be in a quieter, less popular, spot during these times.
- Time. How much time have you got for your trip and how do you want to spend that time? How many hours a day are you comfortable driving? How much time do you want to have in each place? We initially planned on doing the lap around Australia but, after a bit of research, realised that, for us, it would be too much driving each day and wouldn’t give us enough time to explore places so we opted for a slower placed trip around Western Australia.
- Budget. Don’t worry, we aren’t suggesting that you pull out your spreadsheets and plan every penny but your budget will have a big influence on your trip. Do you want to pay $30-$50 every night to stay in private caravan parks with power, hot water, showers, BBQs, etc. or are you happy to consider cheaper options such as shire run caravan parks, stations, farm stays and free camps? Be realistic about how much money you have for your trip and how you want to spend it.
- Pets. We love travelling with our pets but it does mean that we are restricted in where we go. Plan ahead to make sure that the places you want to visit and the caravan parks you want to stay at are pet-friendly. The biggest factor for us is that pets are not allowed into National Parks in Western Australia, so that crossed a lot of WA’s ‘top spots’ off our itinerary straight away.
Planning is part of the adventure, so enjoy it. You will most definitely have stressful moments and you won’t get everything right first time but that is all part of a traveller’s life…it sure beats another week in the office!