There are a few things that make camping that bit better, here’s how to win at van life with these top 10 must-have caravan accessories for 2020
1. A 12V portable fan
A portable fan is one of the most popular accessories on the market. While it’s great to have a full-blown aircon unit, that only works on mains or generator power. Usually very quiet, the 12V fan can be mounted somewhere to maximise airflow in the van, or moved as a portable unit. It offers more flexibility in cooling, draws less power is much cheaper than installing an aircon unit if you don’t have one and is transferrable if you have to change your environment (van). Buying a rechargeable fan unit means you have more options.
2. Wheel chocks and levelling ramps
Levelling your van is essential for sleeping peacefully, draining sinks, etc. and ensuring a gas-powered fridge works correctly. These handy little items can take a couple of forms, and while it’s easy to pop down to the local caravan supply shop (or wait for ALDI to have a sale), you can utilise timber for almost the same effect. The difference is that the plastic items are shaped to do the job, weigh less, pack neater and are not likely to disintegrate like untreated timber might. Now, the only drama is leaving these behind can become expensive, so make sure you have your departure checklist sorted and buy the brightest colours you can! You also have technology available with one of these.
3. A reversing camera
Not everyone travels with a spotter, or someone that can help with the manoeuvring a van, a camper and a motorhome require. And of those that do, the said maneuvering can result in, er, differences of opinion. While it’s a great idea to carry a pair of hand-held UHF radios to talk to each other during this process, a reversing camera gives real-time vision as to what is in your way or a clear path backwards. You can specify a camera be installed when you order your van or RV, or there are plenty of aftermarket versions available. With the array of cameras available, there are options for the display in the tow vehicle to be in the rear-view mirror, the dash console, as a standalone unit or even on your Smartphone. Some models offer recording to add that extra level of accountability in the world of insurance. With many tow vehicles fitted with cameras as standard that are great at helping you hitch-up, it’s logical to take your vision options to cover all your extremities.
4. Stackable or collapsible items for the kitchen
Travelling light is a catch-cry of our lifestyle to maximise space and your payload capacity. Backpack carrying adventurers have had their stuff pack down tiny and lightweight for years, but now the caravanner can choose from everything from a washing basket or sink to cereal bowls, to save space and weight in the van. Plastic or rubberised construction means they’re not going to break on rough roads, but sturdy square pans are available from Smartspace that stack because the handle is removable. Neat, self-contained plate stacks with holders are a breakage saver too.
5. Towing mirrors
Relying on a curve in the highway, or a roundabout to see what’s lurking behind your caravan or trailer is a very sketchy way of doing things. With no clear guidance from state and territory authorities other than advising towing mirrors be used when you can’t see down the sides and beyond your van it’s no wonder many people don’t bother using them. The reverse should be the rule if there’s anything bigger than a box trailer back there; fit mirrors. Why should you be forced into a common-sense decision? You can invest anywhere from under $100 for a set of clip-on mirrors, up to a few hundred for a permanent and engineered solution for your vehicle. The extendibility of these mirrors is their party trick, just remember to push them back in when you’re unhitched. If you don’t tow often, then the portable sets are the go but just make sure the method of securing them to your vehicle mirrors is substantial enough for them not to get sucked off by a passing road train.
6. Towball scales
This one is straightforward and affordable. Depending on where you shop, a set of towball scales can be had for between $50 and $100. Why do you need them? Your tow vehicle and your caravan have had maximums or advisory towball weight limits placed on them by both manufacturers. All need to be observed: When you buy the van, to check what load it places on the car when van and vehicle are empty, and when loaded with your gear, or just with water tanks full. Having a set of towball scales on hand will mean you can set-up your combination with a degree of accuracy to remain legal in terms of mandated limits and to ensure the best handling rig. Too heavy a load and the vehicle will suffer in steering and braking; too light and the van could be a nightmare to tow.
7. An RV-suitable tool kit
Tools are similar to the recovery equipment required for off-road driving. It’s best to carry the absolute necessities, even if you’re not confident to use them. While that might sound like dodgy advice, dangerous even, it’s better to have the gear or tools on hand and wait for assistance, in the event of a breakdown, because then you can properly equip the rescuer without them having to rely on their gear to help you. That might amuse the NRMA crew. Conversely, even if you’re an unconfident spanner-twirler, at least if you have the tools you might be able to get yourself home by having a go. Just be careful as to what jobs you attempt with too much false confidence as desperation can fuel ‘talent’. And it can fuel inspiration. In the current environment your tools might be spread all over the house to tackle other jobs, so make sure the tool kit on the list of must-haves before you head off out of lockdown – even if it’s only up the road.
8. First aid kit
The first aid kit carries all the same reasons for inclusion as the tool kit. It’s best if someone in your party is trained to use it, and this need increases the more remotely you intend to travel. As do the needs of the kit itself. The further away help is, the more self-reliant you need to be. At the very least, you should always have a basic travel kit in the glovebox, but extend that to cover more eventualities. Don’t overlook your personal health needs in terms of medical conditions, and that you carrying a good kit means someone may be able to treat you with your kit in the event of an accident and not leave their own supplies short. That’s kinda important if they’re heading out bush.
9. Outdoor camping furniture
If you have ever forgotten an outdoor table, it’s a pain. Forgetting an outdoor chair is doubly annoying and will become an expensive way of filling your garage with cheap camping chairs. Yes your caravan is equipped with a table and seating, and you can cook in there, but we go camping to enjoy being outside. A table will help with the meal prep and provide a focal point for dining, playing games, planning and possibly a sandboard should the need arise to slide down dunes. A comfy camp chair can do everything form hold your butt off the deck to hold your drinks, and no-doubt charge your phone (that’s an assumption). You can relax and recline at happy hour with the throne of a camp king or take it down to the water’s edge to catch dinner or recover from the setting up. Either way, you will only forget your favourite lounger once. And no-one will hear the end of it.
10. An understanding and patient attitude
2020 is a year that’s going to go down as a memorable one for the wrong reasons. Now, the minute we can revisit the rest of our compatriots around the big island we’re going to need to remember a few things. The bushfires from last year. So many regions and people were traumatised and haven’t gotten the help they’ve been promised to rebuild. They wanted us to visit some parts of the county, to aid economic recovery, and then we were locked off from doing so. Besides, the COVID-19 outbreak has sidelined government and charitable recovery assistance, meaning that even now, these communities are still emotionally and financially shaky. Things may not be what you expect them to be when you roll into town. Then there are the drought-ravaged communities.
And you! Let’s not forget that insidious, unseen enemy of emotional trauma that this prolonged uncertainty has brought on for almost all. We need to travel for release, literally and emotionally. Travel slowly, and be kind to yourself, mates, you’ve deserved it.