Dave Smith grew up travelling in a caravan with his family in the 60s. Since retiring as a painter, Dave and his wife Ellen have gone into a full-time nomadic lifestyle. His first purchase was a pop-up camper.
“It was an experience. Obviously, it was very hot, very dry. The thing did not have any air conditioning at that time or any sort of comfort so at night time you were basically at the mercy of the hot weather up that way.”
Dave and Ellen quickly realised they needed something bigger. They eventually settled for a caravan with extra bits and pieces fitted in for greater comfort. They managed to stay dry during Cyclone Debbie weathering 800 millimetres of rain in three days with no leaks and no problems.
“It had everything pretty much we needed - the solar, the bathroom, toilet, shower, washing machine and it was only 22 feet long and it fitted into our price line. Now we’ve got satellite TV and we’ve got a full annex plus awnings. We can have so many different configurations outside for living in the heat or the rain.”
Dave and Ellen decided to live their retirement on the road while they're still young and able. It was necessary for Dave to spend more time out in nature after years of toxic exposure to asbestos as a painter.
“We’ve just done this lifestyle so that we can do what we want when we want. If we’re not happy somewhere, we just pack our little caravan and car up, and move somewhere else. What we’re after is freedom.”
They’re many retirees venturing out in an RV. In fact, the 55 plus demographic accounted for nearly half of Australia’s total domestic caravan and camping nights in the year ending March 2017.
Jason Plant from Caravanning Queensland says most RV users are looking for rigs that make it easier for them to use the vehicle.
“Easier and safer items like caravan movers and powered jockey wheels. You can get these caravan movers, which once you get to your destination, you can unhitch the caravan and the caravan mover or jockey wheel – it’s motorised and it will move the caravan into place for you. A lot more people are also including kitchens outside: so a kitchen that slides out from within a storage compartment under the caravan and it will have a sink and a gas cook top in it.”
And safety is a priority for solo travellers in particular.
“Electronic stability control, weight distribution devices make it a lot easier and safer to tow the product, reversing cameras. People are looking for increased security within their vans, so you can have security screens installed in the caravan as well or motorhome.”
Not everyone needs a super motor home. But Christopher Whitton from Wallaby Motorhomes says the things people care the most about are the brand, comfort, and built quality; and solar power is a must.
“Gives people the opportunity with the power to be able to stay off the grid for a longer period of time so they can free camp or they’re not necessarily tied down to motor parks. It just gives them more opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors without having to worry about where are they are going to get the power from.”
Dave Smith advises setting yourself up with what you need rather than what you desire.
“The trouble with most caravans nowadays is people want everything in them. They want coffee machines, and air-conditioning, and some of them want spas and bathtubs, dishwashers. Well, that all creates a fairly big load to carry and a lot of the modern cars that can pull these things are much lighter than the caravan; and my family and my grandfather, the first thing they taught me was never pull anything when your car is lighter than your caravan, because the car has to be the master, it has to be the one controlling the load otherwise you’ll have trouble.”
Dave says driving a beast on the road takes a lot of getting used to. It’s best to minimise the weight you carry for safer travels.
“People haven’t experienced pulling caravans. On some of the roads we’ve got in North Queensland at the moment, they still haven’t done a lot of the repairs into cyclone, and the roads are extremely rough, so your concentration levels are so high and you get so tired.”
Christopher Whitton says at the end of the day, recreational vehicles are only supposed to be used as a hotel room on wheels.
“The reality is as long as you’ve got somewhere to sleep, somewhere to use the toilet or shower, then, that's basically why you wanted it. You don't own a motorhome to live inside it, you own a motorhome to be outside it. You’re supposed to be having fun outside, not living inside.”
Tourism Research Australia data shows a 7.5 per cent increase in international visitors taking up a caravan and camping holiday in the previous year.
The rising Chinese middle class tourists contributed a staggering 112 per cent growth. Whitton says many of his customers are locals from multicultural backgrounds who’ve done the hard yards and ready to enjoy a more relaxed retirement lifestyle.
“Caravanning and motor-homing has been around for 80 odd years, and plus, in the old years, there was gypsies touring around, drifting around. I think it's the freedom that you get when you don't have to report back to anyone. It’s about being able to get out on the road and put yourself in the general direction and end up somewhere else. That's the exciting part and I think that's in everyone’s blood.”