Do we regret not getting a Caravan for our lap of Australia?

We’ve had our Lifestyle Reconn R2 Hybrid Camper for well over 3 years now, and some time ago we decided that we were going to take it on a lap of Australia rather than buying a Caravan. This was done for 3 primary reasons:

We can’t tow anything heavier

We’re at the limits of our Isuzu Dmax for towing anything heavier. Whilst we still have some room for GCM, our axle weights and GVM are at their limits, and trying to tow anything heavier would just be stupid. There is zero chance we’d get a double, or triple bunk off road van that weighs less than 2.5 tonnes loaded, and that’s about our limits.

We actually headed to a weighbridge prior to leaving on our lap, and were overweight by a tiny amount, which shows how close to the limits we are.

That effectively means we’d need to sell our Dmax, and get something that can tow a heavier trailer easier, which isn’t a small feat. If you’ve built a 4WD for touring, you’ll know exactly how much time, effort and money goes into it!

Caravan at Fitzgerald Bay
If we purchased a caravan, we’d need a different tow vehicle
Our Reconn R2 at Hall Bay
Our Reconn R2 and Dmax are at their maximum limits

We didn’t want the extra financial commitment

Going on from the above, having to sell our Reconn R2 and purchase a caravan would have cost us a pretty packet, especially with what has been going on with used caravan prices and wait times, and that’s without considering the need to upgrade our tow vehicle to something to suit the van.

We could afford to do this, but it would hurt our finances significantly, and we’ve both worked too hard to jeopardise that. I wonder how much extra enjoyment you get on a Lap of Australia for every 50k that you spend on your setup. Sure, it might be a bit, but is it really worth it? I reckon there is diminishing returns.

We paid 51k for our Reconn R2 more than 3 years ago now, and to get the same unit new today you’d be looking at closer to 80k, and more if you wanted an off road caravan.

Our decisions are often made with sensible financial well being in mind, and Sarah and I are both unconvinced that spending the extra money would add enough value to our travels to warrant it being done.

Tucked into Carrow Wells
You can spend a fortune on a setup for travelling Australia, or put that towards your lap

We love going to remote, 4WD accessible only places

The idea of getting to camp sites that are 4WD access only, remote and pristine is hugely important for us, and a caravan is often too big, or too heavy to do this. Whilst our Reconn R2 is heavier than I’d like, its about as light as you can get for something suitable to live out of full time, as a family of 4.

One of the reasons behind this is its one of the few Australian Made Hybrid Campers (and they’re always lighter)

It’s physical size means that I’m happy to tow it anywhere our 4WD will go, and overhanging branches, tight tracks and sharp changes in angle are rarely a problem. This makes me far more comfortable, but also allows us to take the camper where you physically cannot get (or aren’t allowed to) a caravan.

Now, I will fairly point out that you will get a caravan to a lot of places, and a lot of people are happy to leave their van and tent for periods of time, but we wanted something that we could live out of in remote, hard to access places and a van does not tick this box.

Magic Pool Camping
We love being able to go to places where caravans can’t fit

There are a lot of places that you don’t need a hybrid camper for, which means you compromise a lot for a small number of places where you actually need one, but you can’t make a full size caravan any smaller when you want it to! If you’re looking at buying a Hybrid Camper, we have the ultimate guide for you.

Memory Cove camp site number 4
We love the fact that we can take it where caravans are not allowed, or wouldn’t fit, like Memory Cove in Lincoln National Park

What else do we love about the Hybrid?

It’s easy to tow

I often chuckle at the size of our Reconn R2 against big, full off road caravans. The size, and weight makes it really easy to tow. I don’t have to watch out for being too close to the centre of the road, I don’t have to watch out for tree branches, or anything else that we might take out, and it will go basically wherever the 4WD will take it.

It’s great on fuel

There’s no beating physics, and when you go to a big caravan, you pay more in fuel. When that’s more than $2 a litre, having something small and aerodynamic is awesome. We probably average about 14L/100km, which is a huge improvement on the 18 – 22 that you’d get towing a heavy, off road van.

There’s less cleaning and mucking around

We have very little interior space. There’s basically 4 beds, a tiny bit of flooring, and that’s it. We don’t have much to clean, which makes for a pretty easy life in that regard. Of course, not having those luxuries is its own downside, but we enjoy not having to spend much time wiping and cleaning our little home on wheels!

Do we regret not getting a Caravan?

We could have easily gone out and purchased a Caravan for our lap of Australia. It would have had to have been a semi off road to stay legal, or we’d have to swap our vehicle out for something more suitable for towing heavy loads. Do we regret not getting a Caravan?

Not overall, but there are certainly occasions where we’d love to have one:

We could have recorded some hilarious footage of us at the Bunda Cliffs, trying to have an outdoor shower whilst the wind wanted us to retreat to our camper in shame.

Sarah was holding the shower tent down for me to shower our two boys, and when it came time for us to shower, I decided using the tent was just too hard, and we both ran out starkers, had a freezing shower in the wind and rain drops, and came rushing back into the camper (where we thankfully had the diesel heater to warm up), still dripping and covered in the dust that was blowing around.

Bunda Cliffs
We had some magic weather at the Bunda Cliffs, and some insane wind too

At Point Brown, when we woke to about a thousand mosquitos outside our camper trailer wanting to eat us alive and had to skip any hot drinks or breakfast in the morning to pack up in a hurry and move on, we’d have loved a van.

Point Brown Mosquitos
Escaping Point Brown in the morning with a heap of mozzies still on the bonnet

On the Eyre Peninsula, when the wind was so foul that you couldn’t even stand outside at times without getting a face full of dust and dirt that was being picked up a van would have been nice.

When you spend the entire day with wind blowing, its amazing to step into your own sanctuary and have some time out. We can do this in our Reconn R2, but if you put all 4 of us inside its not overly comfortable, and we generally avoid spending a lot of time in the van together unless we are sleeping!

One has to wonder how many places you’d actually miss out on by having a large van. Is the access reduction worth it for the increased comfort? I bet a lot of people would say it is, but we’re happy for the mean time to enjoy our R2. 

As I stood next to our R2 the other day, while the rain started to fall and soak our already filthy Cgear mat, and everything in the kitchen (which is outdoors), I thought to myself ‘Gee, it’d be nice to have a van right now’, and then a few moments later I thought nah, its actually pretty good, and the ultimate compromise between comfort and accessibility. It could certainly be worse!

Muk mat at Perlubie Beach
We ended up with a very filthy camp site on Perlubie with all the rain

Even the thought of going back to a soft floor camper trailer makes me shudder; our R2 is so amazing and comfortable in comparison, and it really is relative to what you know, and what you don’t.

The wind and weather are the two main reasons when a van would be nice, but we live with it, knowing we can and do get to lots of places that you’d never get a van.

I have no doubt that we will end up with a caravan at some point in our lives (our kids will eventually outgrow their current bunk beds), but for now Sarah and I are happy in the R2, and it makes sense to keep on using it, so that’s what we’re doing!

So, do we regret not getting a Caravan for our Lap of Australia? Sometimes we do, but most of the time we don’t, and we feel we’ve made the right choice for us, and you can’t ask for much more than that!

Update after 15 months on the road

Yep, we’ve been on our Big Lap of Australia for 15 months now, living out of our tiny hybrid camper. Overall, our thoughts haven’t really changed. Life in a tiny space can be chaotic and harder at times, but we still love the unit, and don’t feel like we regret not getting a caravan for our lap of Australia.

Did you start off with something else, and then move to a caravan?

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  1. Hey Richard,

    Sounds like a great van, and yep, your original setup is was nowhere near big enough for a compressor fridge!

    Sounds like you’ve got it all sorted now though!

    Thanks again, and safe travels too

  2. Hi Aaron
    Yes we looked long and hard for an off road van to meet our needs and eventually bought an ‘On The Move’ 18’6″ van which was the actual one that one ‘van of the year’.
    The construction is good and have had no problems structurally but don’t let anyone tell you that a 100Ah lithium battery with 300 watts of solar running a 180 Lr compressor fridge freezer will never run out of power. We had that unfortunate experience as soon as we got to northern WA and NT in july / August on the first trip we did with it. It just can’t handle the heat. I had to use our generator nearly every day if we were parked and if we moved on the battery was only good for a few hours on stopping.
    So we had to change things. We now run a 300Ah lithium with 450 watts solar and changed the regulator system, the brand I will not discuss, and now run all Redarc gear, which runs without a hiccup and I can’t speak highly enough of this product.
    So now we are confident enough not to be concerned of the power supply and I have even thought of selling my 2.4kw generator, can’t remember the last time I used it.
    This may help some of your readers if they are contemplating a van with lithium. In my opinion 300 Ah is a minimum and 600 watts solar is essential.
    I enjoy reading your unbiased reports. Keep up the good work. Enjoy your travels and happy New Year to you and your family.

  3. Hey Pete,

    It’s certainly a changing world, and I often marvel at the size of vans and some of the little tow vehicles pulling them along!

    Sounds like you’ve got it sussed!

    All the best

  4. Great article, to many big vans on the road people have lost the plot. We gave a 14.5ft offroad jayco expanda, its small, it has a shower/toilet and an air cond. Keep it simple and enjoy the adventure 🙂

  5. Hey Richard,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Its funny how things evolve over time.

    We also looked at a Trakshak camper a long time ago, and were keen on getting one but the only one I could find had been used for mining exploration and was absolutely shot.

    We are heading east now, and can see what you mean about things being a bit ‘precious’ at times.

    Your van sounds great; what brand and model is it? Most are much heavier than that!

    I suspect as you get older comfort becomes a much more important factor, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I know I wouldn’t go back to a swag after living out of a hybrid!

    Sounds like you guys have had lots of amazing adventures, and the memories live on for ever.

    Cheers again, and take care

  6. Hi Aaron,
    Interestingly your comments and thoughts about your setup are very similar to ours.
    We started camping with a 2-room tent (NZ made sunshine) We had 2 young girls in those days and as with you needed the space. Had a lot of fun and went everywhere but it took quite a while to set up and pack up. We had a dual axle 7 x 4 trailer for all our gear.
    After many years our girls grew up and moved on to their own lives and we invested in a soft floor camper trailer, a Trakshak made in Sth Aus. It had an enormous amount of room with a fully enclosed annexe running the full length of the opened camper Absolutely the bees knees in those days. We had an enormous amount of fun with it over the 13 years we had it. It just followed our Patrol anywhere and set up was quick. When I look back at the $11000 cost, thinking at the time that was exorbitant. Then looking at the costs of one today, some over $50k it probably wasn’t that expensive.
    Move forward some number of years and retirement arrived. We thought maybe a small offroad caravan would work for us. We purchased a single axle Aussiewide 16′ pop top serious off-road van. Light, only 1760kg’s, from memory, so we could tow it with our Prado that we had at the time. Set up time, as with your R2 was quick. Open the door, pop the roof and you’re basically done. This van was low enough for going bush without taking a lot of foliage out etc. We love finding and camping at those ‘out of the way’ places. Caravan parks have their place, and we do use them at times but off road free camping is for us.
    Whilst over east we noticed that a lot of places are becoming, in our minds, a bit precious and caravanners must be self sufficient. So with great sadness we sold our van and purchased an 18’6″ dual axle off road, of course, full height van. This van weighs 1950kg’s which is not bad for a van with shower, toilet, washing machine, grey water tank and we tow it with our Mazda BT50. We needed to have a 2″ lift as the original suspension was poor and had a 3″ exhaust installed, which has given a bit more power and definitely better ride.
    We still go off road, but not to the extent that we used to but I agree with you, Aaron, that there are pro’s and con’s of every camping situation. Although having a caravan in inclement weather is as good as you can get, we also remember all those other times ‘under canvas’ in the rain and wind, and you know, that was great fun too.
    We have enjoyed all the types of camping that we have done over the years from our beginning sleeping in the canopy of our FJ45 landcruiser, tenting, camper trailer and caravans. They’ll have their merits and failures but at the end of the day we’ve enjoyed every minute of it

  7. Hey Stewart,

    Yep, we certainly did. They are a great bit of kit, but trying to live out of one with 4 people would be a stretch in our opinion. They also have a lot of canvas, which we’ve learnt to hate when it rains!

    I also suspect that their setup time would be much longer than our Reconn R2, which becomes a major factor when you are moving every day or two.

    For two people though, they are an awesome option

    Cheers for your comment, and all the best

  8. Hey guys,

    Awesome to hear from you. A caravan still allows you to see a massive amount of Australia; I don’t think you miss out on much when you consider where you can get to, but certainly anything where the tracks are tight, or the sand is soft, or you need huge clearance it becomes an issue. We can only tow our Reconn R2 so far as well; the tow vehicle is usually the limitation!

    You have to choose what is most important to you, and there’s nothing wrong with comfort being at the forefront of that!

    We will be staying with family south of Adelaide this year, and hope to squeeze our camper onto their front or back lawn!

    Thanks for your amazing support and kind words, and we hope you are both well!

  9. Stewart R Corfield says:

    Did you consider the Ultimate Camper?

  10. Torsten and Jane Lietz says:

    Hello Aaron, we bought a van after travelling Tasmania, which was cold and rainy, but like you said, we cant go to the really beautiful and remote places Australia has to offer. We still dont regret it , as its some kind of comfort. Whatever your lifestyle is. In our age comfort is more important ;). Enjoy your Tripp, love seeing your posts and videos. Merry Christmas to you and your family (would love to see how you do xmas on the road XXX) Torsten and Jane

  11. Hey Adrian,

    Thanks for the comment, and kind words! You are right; finding something that balances all of your wants and needs is super important, and the R2 seems to pull it off really well!

    We often look at other people’s setups and think about how they would suit us, but we’ll be sticking with the R2 for a while yet!

    All the best

  12. Thanks for all your blogs Aaron. They make great reading.
    My fam and stepped up to a R2 from a soft-floor, about 3years ago aswell.
    I totally agree with you. They are just about the right balance to do everything really well.
    Have a good one