There are some small things that you can purchase that seem to make a big difference to your caravan and camping lifestyle. They reduce the number of steps in your set-up and take-down, or just make life easier in general.
We’ve always been reluctant to let “stuff” into our car or caravan unless it would make life easier, or reduce the steps in our set-up and pack-up.
Even though we’ve been on the road for over 9-months, this list is constantly evolving depending on where we are on our journey:
Tyre Sealant in a Can
Imagine you’re driving along, and you get a flat tyre. It’s hot out. You have to empty the boot to get everything you need to change the tyre. The kids all have to get out of the car. Doesn’t sound like much fun does it?! This is EXACTLY what happened to us at Lawn Hill National Park. Thinking “what have we got to lose”, I hooked up the aerosol can.
It sealed the puncture, got the tyre up to 25psi, and got us all the way back to Gregory where we changed to the spare. That’s 90km on rough, corrugated road. The true test was when we took the punctured tyre in to get repaired, and the guy was “no problems, we just clean it out”
If there is one app every single traveller in Australia should use it’s this one. It’s helped us find camp spots, the reviews have helped us choose between different options (and work out which places you really don’t want to go to), see how much people are getting charged, and the user photos have helped us see whether or not we’d get our van to fit.
One of the best functions of this app is the ‘filter’; we use it find exciting things like potable water and dump spots. That being said – you can filter out camp spots that are free, so the first time we used it we saved more than the few dollars the app cost. It’s something we use to track our progress too… we like being able to see on a map how much of the country we’ve travelled as well as what the future has in store for us.
Mounting a 5cm long spirit level, which shows if the van is level both side-to-side and front-to-back, saves a lot of yelling to each other during the caravan set-up process! Our spirit level was inside the caravan on the benches next to the sink (which I can understand why). What’s funny though is that if I held a spirit level on the drawbar and it was completely level, the inside was a bit off. So… whenever we pulled up somewhere new, it’d be a case of Natalie being inside the caravan and shout out to me whether or not the jockey wheel needed more winding.
So… we got the van completely level one day, put a dollop of silicone on the draw bar, and then lined up the new T-Level until it matched. Now, it’s a lot easier to know if we need the wheel levelling chocks to level us out side-to-side (Natalie can jump out and look at the drawbar while we’re moving into the site). Also, it’s a one person job to wind up the jockey wheel to the right height… Natalie can be off doing her thing, while I’m levelling it out. No shouting or divorce papers involved!
Electric Blow Heater
These little things are grossly inefficient for heating a house, but, for a small space like a caravan, they are gold. Yes, they’re no good for when you’re freecamping and having to rely on a battery (or generator), but the moment you roll into a powered site these things make life all warm and fuzzy. When we were travelling through the southern states, at $19.95 this was without a doubt our favourite purchase for less than $20.
Seriously? A hose bag? Yep. Packing up and leaving an awesome campspot, when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, is bad enough. But… you know what’s worse? Packing up from a dirty, muddy, and wet campsite. Rolling up a hose that’s trying to behave like an octopus, get your hands all manky, then cramming into it’s storage compartment and contaminating everything else just makes it works.
Getting one of these – being able to coil it up through the top of this mesh bag and then store it neatly – was life changing. I wouldn’t say it makes it a pleasurable job, but these bags certainly make it way less worse.
An Octopus Clothes Hanger
You know you’ve made it in life when you get excited about things to hang your washing on! But… even though this thing is compact, you can hang quite a bit on it. It hangs pretty easily on anything too – a rail in the bathroom, the awning, a branch.
It really is a must as a traveller. Unlike hanging stuff on the line, if you have to pick up and move, and your washing isn’t quite dry, you can carry this thing in, complete with the clothes still on it.
A Bucket with Screw-On Lid
When we set-off on a lap of Australia we had a mini washing machine. This was pretty good if we were in one-spot and kept on top of things. But, because of its size it was surprisingly labour intensive to catch up if we’d gone several days without washing. We still needed to use the caravan parks’ washing machines to do do bedding, so, after persevering for over 5-months, we got rid of it in favour of just using the parks’ machines. We naturally found ourselves actually resorting to handwashing, not because of cost, but because of the inconvenience of waiting for a machine to be free at some parks just when we needed one, or having to wait around to get it out if we wanted to go do stuff.
So we “upgraded” from a collapsible tub to a bucket with a screw on lid. So now we use this as the laundry basket, then fill it with water and some detergent when we need to do a load. If we are about to go anywhere, we just screw the lid on so it’s watertight, and voila, the driving does the washing for us. When we get where we’re going, we just give it a rinse. I’d heard about this way of doing it before but it sounded pretty old school, but to be honest, it’s actually working out the best for us even as a family of 5.
Baby Formula Dispenser
These are the miniature plastic containers which have separate compartments with a mini funnell on the top. This is a must-have for the parents of little ones who are bottle-fed. Being able to pre-load the right amount of scoops is a godsend when you have a baby screaming for milk at 3am, and also means when you go out on a day-trip you can take multiple serves without having to take a whole tin of formula.
Combination Bike Locks
Getting three of these and setting them all to the same combination (which is 1234 in case you’re wondering), has been really handy. Why? We use these to lock the kids’ bikes up, and they can unlock them by themselves each morning, but there’s no keys to lose.
We use the same locks to chain up the Weber Baby Q overnight, or the table/chairs when we’re leaving a campsite for the day. Because they’re all the same combination, it doesn’t matter if they all get mixed up.
Suction caps with hooks on them. Not the little suction cups that just fall off, but the bigger ones with a push-button in the middle to make them really stick. How much can they hold? Well, we use these to hang wet beach towels on the side of the caravan, or use them to hold the handle each side of a shopping bag so we can create a bin just outside of the door.
Velcro? Whatever you may call it (hook-and-loop fasteners, hook-and-pile fasteners, or touch-fasteners), oh yeah, I’m addicted to this stuff! To me, the best ‘stuff’ you can bring into your life is the stuff that makes it easier. So where is the velcro?
It’s anywhere that reduces the number of steps in setting-up or packing-up. We have velcroed the alchohol hand-gel to the wall so it can live there all the time, but can be grabbed if needed. The remote controls are stuck next to the tv. Chloe’s iPod is on the bunk wall. The whiteboard marker is stuck to the whiteboard. An added bonus? Everything has an obvious home, and little hands tend to put things back where they belong!
Travel Australia With Kids (TAWK) Membership
Hate paying the extra fees for kids when you stay at a caravan park? It’s hard to believe that the little ones use an extra $10-$25/night each in resources isn’t it? As a family it definitely shapes which parks we stay in. This would be the single most cost-saving item we’ve purchased.
For less than $15 it has literally saved us hundreds of dollars, as participating supporter parks offer 2 free nights accommodation for kids. This program really does create a win-win… we stay at supporting parks more, and they receive income when their sites would otherwise be sitting empty. The most we’ve saved in one use is $60!
I don’t think I’ll ever caravan again without using gardening gloves. They come in pretty handy especially when packing up – rolling up hoses and power cords, folding the ground mat, as well as hitching up the vehicle.
Sure they’re a bit dorky, but you know what’s more dorky? Being that guy who empties their toilet cassette with bare hands, all the while “stuff” is splashing up all over their legs. Blows me away how often I see this (like, pretty much every time I go to a dump point!).
A roll of this stuff only costs a couple of dollars, but is so useful when your house is on wheels. We have it lining our pantry to stop our cans of food moving around, on shelves to keep our kettle and fruit basket in one spot, and my favourite – using it as a protective layer between pots, pans, etc. It stops them from sliding around everywhere, but also helps keep non-stick frying pans non-stick.
When you’re free camping, you wake up, it’s daytime but raining… the last thing you want to do is go outside, take the lid of the caravan battery box, hook up a solar panel with alligator clips, and then close it up again. The worst thing is that it’s the cold and miserable days like this that you need to get up as soon as the sun peaks over the horizon, because you need every bit of solar you can get.
Connecting an Anderson Plug to the caravan battery and having it there permanently just makes life that little bit easier. It’s much easier to get out and connect the panels, and because it’s less of a rigmarole, it makes it easier to do it as one of the first steps when pulling up to a new campground.
These are everywhere in our caravan. It seems like every flat vertical surface is at the mercy of either these things or velcro. You really do have to make the most of space in a caravan, and it really does make life easier if there’s a place for everything and everything’s in it’s place.
You know what’s even better than where they are now? The fact that I stuffed up with a few of them (and there’s no holes from a misplaced hook). We use these for hanging hats just inside the door, the kids’ torches, our whiteboard, my sleep headphones (that’s another story!), and even the fire blanket.
This is the little double-male-sides hose connection… it’s almost quite laughable how much value I get out of this little thing. And I don’t even use it to join hoses! So what’s it used for?
Well, when you unplug your house from the tap and the caravan, it’s still filled with water. I hate that. It’s heavy, and water goes everywhere in the storage compartment. If you try to blow the water out of the hose straight from the hose fitting, you can’t get a good seal. By putting this little bad boy in, instant good seal, and out goes the water! Then, as an added bonus, you can join both ends together to make a sealed circuit. A light, empty hose where no water can leak out.
LED Combination Torch and Lantern
This thing cycles between being a LED torch, to a super-bright LED lantern, to a quite dim orange night light. This thing was an unexpected surprise. We bought this just because we needed a new torch that was AA sized (to fit our suite of rechargeable batteries), and it gets used all the time.
Handy for walking around at night, and outdoor table light when sitting around having a nightcap (which is hot chocolate of course), or a night light for the kids.
Wireless Weather Station
These are the things that have a digital display, plus a Bluetooth sensor you put outside. With caravans and camper trailers having such a small space inside, they’re really sensitive to temperature changes. Opening a door unnecessarily can let the freezing or blistering-hot air in pretty quickly.
Knowing how the outside temperature compares to inside means you can better regulate the cosy climate you’ve created for yourself inside, and also let you know if it’s time to open it all up and let the fresh air in. They pretty much save on heating and cooling power, which is especially important when you’re off the grid.
Waterproof Mattress Protectors
We learned the hard way that these are needed in caravan just as much, if not more, than at home. We learned this very early on. When there’s small kids you can almost guarantee that every week there’ll be an accident, a nappy comes loose, there’s vomiting, or a whole bottle of milk is spilled. It throws the whole caravan into chaos, especially if it’s the night before travel day. A simple trip to K-Mart or Big W is your friend… it makes washing a lot easier, and avoids stinky mattresses.
I was reluctant to buy one of these heading up the East coast. There’s an abundance of petrol stations. It seemed a lot of hassle to maybe save 1-2c per litre. It’d take years to make it’s cost back. Moving around Western Queensland and central NT though… wow. We worked out that by having an extra 20L to get us between places with literally a 22c/L difference, one day it saved $16 in one go.
UPDATE: When were visiting Uluru, we filled up in Alice Springs and diesel was $1.53/L… and then $2.21/L at the one petrol station in Yulara. I wish I had more of these things!
Having a white board inside the caravan has been a godsend. We use it all the time. Travelling full-time is deceptive. We use it to try and buy out an itinerary for a week or two in advance (which never goes to plan anyway!). You think you’d be lounging around in deck chairs drinking beers at 12:01pm, but the reality is you want to do something, so does your partner, and then when your kids start rattling off everything they want to do today all of a sudden being at a 9-5 sounds pretty serene. We use it to list the things we want to do each day as a bit of a reality check, but also use it for things like homeschooling, and the kids keep themselves entertained with it.
Anti Vandal Tap Key
Controversial! Why? Well, that’s what it’s called at Bunnings… everywhere else it’s called a thief-key! Some places remove normal tap handles to (apparently) avoid vandals turning on the taps and leaving them running. Personally, I think vandals are too busy smashing windows and graffitiing to worry about messing with taps. This modification is really to stop us gypsies from stealing 115L of water at a time!
So even though I haven’t even used this thing, and WikiCamps has never failed to show us where we can get water without stealing, I figure it’s a good insurance policy
Sometimes less-is-more, but with these items, we’ve found that more-is-more.
What are your favourite items under $20? Anything we’ve missed?
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