42 Things You Need To Know About Living In A Caravan Full Time During Your Big Lap

by Rose Foster
Table of Contents

1. Vans are Small!

If there’s one thing that will become immediately apparent when you start your Big Lap, it’s that caravans are small. No matter how big your van actually is, you’re likely used to living in a house, so you’ll feel a little cramped, especially at first.

Although you’ll get to know your van and become more used to the limited space, you’ll always be aware of just how small your van is and how restrictive it can be.

It will affect some more than others. In fact, not everyone can handle living in such a small space. For others, although they are aware of the small space, they will thrive in it; they take advantage of the space they have, embrace the wide outdoors and become smart about their storage solutions.

2. It’s Not Always Smooth Sailing

When you’re hitting the road to do your Big Lap around Australia, don’t expect everything to go to plan. From superficial damage inside the van to a broken axle, the number of things that can (and will) go wrong on your van will be numerous. So the best bet is to just expect the unexpected.

Don’t stress out when your van is out of commission for a few days. Don’t worry if you can’t get to the next place by the time you wanted to get there.

Just like with any home, things will break periodically. But unlike living a normal stationary life, the small things can seem to make a huge impact on your experience on the road. Just take it as it comes and you’ll be fine.

3. You’ll Run Out Of Stuff (& Learn It The Hard Way)

When you first set out on the road, you will run out of certain things quicker than you expected them to. All the things you would normally take for granted like water, power and gas will abruptly run out when you least expect it, even if you think you’ve properly calculated how long things will last.

You’ll run out of power when you’re in the middle of the bush. You’ll run out of water halfway through shampooing your hair. And you’ll run out of gas just before you wanted to make dinner.

The first few weeks and months are all about learning about your van’s capacity.

You’ll start to learn how many days you can go off the grid before your batteries die. You’ll learn how much hot water each shower takes and you’ll limit yourselves accordingly. You’ll roughly know how many dinners you can cook before your gas is out.

Unfortunately, you’ll just have to learn most of this the hard way!

4. You’ll Be More Conservative With Consumption

As a result of the above, and your lessons learned when running out of things, you’ll constantly be thinking about your consumption and doing what you can to lower it.

If you go off-grid for a few days, you’ll think twice about haphazardly leaving a light on or using electricity where are you don’t need it. You won’t spend more than a few minutes in the shower, nor will you be wasteful of water because you’ll know exactly how much your tank can hold.

It’s important to note that after the first few weeks or months of figuring this out,  it becomes less of a conscious thing and something you’ll just subconsciously do. So don’t be worried that your concern about consumption is going to ruin your trip!

5. You’ll Constantly Be Searching

When you hit the road, you’ll soon learn that you’ll constantly be searching and your Google search will be filled with queries such as…

  • Where is the nearest dump point?
  • Where is the nearest fuel station?
  • Which are the best free camps in the next town?

And the list goes on!

As you venture into each town, you’ll pick up your phone for a new set of searches. As time goes on, you’ll get better at finding what you’re looking for and more efficient too.

6. Emptying The Toilet Never Gets Nicer

Ok, don’t get us wrong, when you empty the toilet in your van, it’s not like you’re really exposed to the waste (sorry if that’s TMI), but the concept can be a little, well, gross! If you’ve never emptied a caravan toilet before, there are a few things you’ll need to know:

  • You need to find a dump point to empty the toilet (you can’t just dump it anywhere!). Most caravan parks have one of these and they are dotted around the country too. Australian Dump Point Finder is an essential app if you have a toilet on board.
  • To empty the waste, you’ll either take the waste tank from inside your van, or remove the cassette from a special door on the outside of your van
  • You can get special chemicals to put in your toilet to keep it as clean as possible.

7. Caravans Can Get Stinky

And speaking of toilets, you should know that your caravan can get a little stinky.

Ensuring your bathroom door is closed, making sure you put the toilet extractor fan on and adding some special portable toilet-freshener tablets to your toilet will keep the smells to a minimum.

If you don’t have a toilet in your van, you still won’t escape the caravan pongs! Since your van is such a small space, smells of all kinds linger. From delightful cooking odours to the smell of your teenager’s dirty socks, if it has a scent, it will be amplified in your van.

8. You’ll Get Used To Van Life

Living in a van comes with its own special set of nuances that are often alien concepts to many. But know this: no matter how strange van life seems at first, you will get used to it and living the van life will become second nature.

You’ll start to understand the limitations that come with van life and make peace with them. You’ll start to get into your own routines, understand what it means to live in a van and get to know your caravan’s own unique quirks.

9. You’ll Never Get Used To Van Life

By the same token though, you’ll probably never fully get used to van life! There will always be things that you just can’t get used to no matter how many times you’ve done them or how hard you try. That is just part and parcel with van life.

There’s not one particular thing that we can unequivocally say that you won’t get used to; it’s a personal thing that will depend on you and your van.

10. White is Your Enemy

When it comes to choosing towels and bed linen to your van, think dark colours. White really is your enemy when you’re on the road, and having white towels and white or light coloured bed linen is never a good idea.

Obviously we’re not saying that you need to be dirty or grubby whilst travelling Australia, but you will face the daily challenge of bringing outside dirt in. And the lighter your towels and linen, the most you’ll see it!

And what’s more, if you’re using shower blocks at caravan parks, your towels are likely to pick up more dirt that usual.

Dark coloured materials show the dirt less and don’t discolour over time like white sheets and towels, so opt for dark blues, browns and blacks.

11. You’ll Get Quicker At Setting Up and Packing Down

When you first start out on your Big Lap, setting up and packing down always feels like a bit of a palaver. But don’t worry about that too much – as you go on and get more experienced at travelling, setting up and packing down you will get much quicker.

You’ll get to a point where, when you arrive at your destination, you’ll hop out of the car and set up your camp in no time. And the same goes for packing down. Every time you do it, it will feel easier and easier.

That said, it will never fully feel like a walk in the park and will probably always feel like a bit of a chore. At the end of the day, your set-up and pack-down time takes away from any adventuring or relaxing time, right?

12. You Will Need A Pack-Down Checklist

Speaking of packing down, you will definitely need a checklist to help you remember all of the things that need doing when you pack down and leave your camp. No matter how many times you do it, there will be a time (or multiple times) that you forget to do certain things, so having a checklist makes sure that you don’t arrive at your next camping spot only to find that you’ve made an error that will delay setting up or cause an issue.

Here are some things that should be on your camping checklist:

  • Are all the drawers cliped in properly?
  • Have you turned the fridge to the right power setting? If it’s on AC, turn it to DC.
  • Did you shut the bathroom door?
  • Have you wound down your TV aerial?

And there will be multiple things that you will have on your camping checklist, so make sure you add them when you come across them.

You could also create a set-up checklist but these are less important since if you don’t do something, it is usually just a mild inconvenience (eg, you turn the TV only to realise you haven’t put your aerial up).

13. Doing Laundry Doesn’t Need To Be A Chore

When it comes to doing laundry, it doesn’t always have to be a pain in the bum. At some caravan parks, it’s really difficult to do your laundry without hassle because the facilities aren’t amazing. Or, at some bigger parks, you’ll find yourself trekking all the way to the laundry with heavy loads of washing. At free camps, you obviously won’t have a laundry at all. But there are way you can make this easier for yourself.

If you don’t have a washing machine in your van (and even if you do, you won’t use it for everything), you can get easy camping washing machines that you can quickly and easily use outside – the kids can even get involved if you make it a fun activity.

14. You’ll Constantly Be Saving Dollar Coins

Many laundry machines at caravan parks take $1 coins. And there is a range of other places where your small change will come in handy. If you’ve done any amount of travelling, we are willing to bet you even have a dollar coin jar

15. Your Clothes Line Will Never Be Big Enough

One of the biggest bugbears of life on the road is that you will never feel like you have adequate space to dry your clothes and towels. Many people choose a single clothesline when they begin travelling which constantly seems to be filled with drying towels and laundry.

You can actually get a portable Hills Hoist clothesline which can mitigate this somewhat though.

16. Your Fridge Doesn’t Work The Same As At Home

The first thing that most people learn about their caravan is how their fridge works. Many caravan fridges are three-way fridges meaning they operate on 240 V 12 V and gas. You’ll use gas when you’re travelling

17. You’ll Stop Planning So Much

The excitement of planning where you go and where you’ll stay is something that drives a lot of newbie Big Lappers to meticulously plan at least the first part of their journey. But when you actually get out on the road, you’ll realise that you won’t actually want to have to plan such a rigourous itinerary for you and your family.

You’ll realise that spontaneity and flexibility is your friend.

You’ll discover that not every single place you want to visit, nor every single thing you want to do will be in nicely packaged up in your Google search.

Your Big Lap is all about finding the hidden gems and your research isn’t always going to show you that. You’ll likely find things by chance.

18. You’ll Need To Plan More

That said, there will be some things though that you realise you need to adopt the exact opposite mentality.

If you’re heading to certain places during busy periods, especially school holiday periods, and you have your heart set on a certain camping spot or caravan park then you need to book in advance. The same goes for booking events etc.

If you’re not fussed either way and you’re happy to turn up and just make do with what’s available, then you don’t need to worry too much about booking ahead, but there are certain times that you do need to consider: Christmas and Easter holidays. Many caravan park their prices for enforce a minimum stay of 1 to 2 weeks.

Another thing you’ll have to book in advance for the Spirit of Tasmania if you’re planning on heading over to Tassie. Sailings book up fast, so make sure you figure out when you’ll get over there and plan accordingly.

19. You Need A Spare Key

While this may seem obvious, you should have a spare key for both your car and your caravan. Make sure you keep your spare caravan key in your car and your spare car key in your caravan. Again it may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often people get caught out by not doing this.

20. You’ll Forget To Secure Things

Even if you are the most meticulous about ensuring everything is packed away properly, locked up and tied down, we guarantee that at some point or another, you will arrive at your caravan or camping site only to realise that you have overlooked this step before taking off.

From accidentally not locking in a draw to things in cupboards that have just gone everywhere, walking in to a deshelvled van is a part of fun! And although it will be somewhat irritating, it won’t surprise you when it happens again and again.

21. You Will Spend Most Of Your Time Outside

While you spend quite a bit of time in the planning and making sure your van, on the inside, is homely and cosy, the reality is, the amount of time that you’ll spend in your van won’t be as significant as you were expecting. Most caravanners spend so much time outside that the van just becomes a place to sleep and shelter. The space outside your van essentially becomes you new lounge room!

The likelihood is that you will sit outside even during your downtime. Some people don’t even use the kitchen inside their van and opt to cook on the barbecue outside every night instead.

And while you may think ‘spending your time outdoors’ means that you’ll be spending all your time exploring, the likelihood is that you will end up just chilling under the awning of your caravan more often than not. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your Big Lap is all about taking life easy and relaxing as much as it is exploring and adventuring.

22. Everyone Will Have Their Jobs

While at home, each member of the family may have had their own chores or tasks that they did to keep the household running smoothly, this will be amplified when you’re in your caravan.

Keeping a tidy caravan and having a good van life routine requires a good deal of organisation and cooperation between whoever is travelling. From knowing exactly who does what during set-up and pack-down to knowing who empties the bins and when, everyone will have their jobs and it will just become a natural part of the way you live.

The thing about living in a caravan is that you soon learn that if you don’t do your part of the job, it impacts you as well as everybody else. So, if you’re worried about your kids not pitching in, when they realise that their involvement – or lack thereof, affects not only the family but them personally, they will soon get the picture.

23. The Big Lap Community Is Super Friendly

Setting out on your Big Lap may come with some nervousness and trepidation. For many, it means leaving the support of their friends and family behind to live a life of solitude on the road. Granted, you’ll have each other, but most of us will need a little more than that.

Luckily, the Big Lap community is super friendly and supportive. You will make friends wherever you go. From large caravan parks to small free camping spots, if you’re looking for someone to chat with or invite over for dinner you’ll definitely find someone. And since many people are quite like-minded in this community, it won’t be hard to find someone you get along with.

The other amazing thing about the Big Lap community is that everybody knows they’re in this together. Essentially, that means that if you’ve got a problem or need help, somebody will help you. From helping you back your van into a tight spot to helping you fix a mechanical issue, there will always be someone around who will attempt to give you assistance in any way they can. And you’ll find yourself doing the same.

24. Caravanning Can Be Exhausting

If you’re setting out on your Big Lap expecting everything to be super relaxing and enjoyable, then think again. Caravanning can actually be pretty tiring, so scheduling down days is absolutely necessary. From the long driving days (and to be honest, even the short driving days) to the va maintenance and everything in between, caravanning can really take it out of you.

At first, you may feel a little guilty about having a rest day and not checking out the local area. But you can’t constantly be on the go and you shouldn’t feel like you have to constantly be exploring.

25. There Is No Right Way To Travel, Just The Right Way For You

If you’ve ever had a baby you know that the amount of people giving you advice about how to do things can be overwhelming and you don’t know which to follow and which to ignore. The same can be said about caravanning: you’ll read so much information and be given so much advice that it will sometimes seem a little difficult to know which way you should be doing something.

Much like having a baby though, you’ll soon come to realise that the only way to do things, is your way. There is no right or wrong way to do things, just the right or wrong way to do things for you.

26. You’ll Realise You Don’t Need Much Stuff

Many people pack their van to the brim with clothes and other ‘stuff’ they think they’ll need along the way. In reality, you’ll probably live in one or two sets of clothes and many of the things you thought you’d use and end up gathering dust. Van life helps you realise that you don’t actually need that much stuff to live a comfortable life.

Some people find it difficult to know what to cull though, even though they know they don’t need everything they have in their van. There is a little van life hack though that many Australian travellers use to determine what they should keep and what they should get rid of. And there’s no Marie Kondo in sight!

The idea is that you stick red dot stickers on all of your items (obviously not things that you use on a daily basis). Each time you use an item, remove the sticker. If you don’t use the items within an allocated amount of time (usually 1-2 months), you’ve proven that you don’t actually need it. So, you can get rid of it either by throwing it giving it to charity or selling it on a platform like Facebook marketplace or gumtree.

After two months, you can go through your whole van and just get rid of all the items that still have a red dot on them

27. You’ll Become A Decluttering Pro

And speaking of decluttering, after you’ve done your first cull, you will become a pro thrower-awayer when it comes to getting rid of that has accumulated in your van. In fact, you’ll probably become skilled in the art of not collecting clutter in the first place!

Unlike when you’re on holiday, travelling around Australia full time is a lifestyle, so you’ll quickly stop buying souvenirs and unnecessary trinkets and only bring things to your van that you have an actual need for.

28. Cleaning Is Quick

Embarking on a journey on the road full time means that you will downsize significantly from your home. While this does have a few downsides, one of the major upsides is that it is super quick clean. Most people can clean top to bottom in less than an hour.

But you do need to keep on top of cleaning and do a little most days.. As quick as your caravan is to clean, it is equally as quick to get messy in the first place. So a daily sweep out and tidy up is all it takes to keep on top of the mess.

29. You’ll Learn Caravanning Is A Lifestyle, Not A Holiday

The fun of your Big Lap will mean that when you first set out, you’ll potentially start living like you’re on holiday, not just living your life. But eventually, you’ll start to ease into things and everything will become the new normal. So, while you’ll begin feeling that certain aspects of caravanning seem to be fun novelties, they will soon lose their shine. But that’s not a bad thing, it just means you’re settling into van life.

You’ll stop buying souvenirs

You’ll stop trying to cram an activity into every day

You’ll stop eating junk

…or maybe you won’t! But you will settle down on the holiday-style living!

30. Personal Space Is Not A Thing

As we’ve already established, space is limited in your caravan meaning personal space is non existent when you’re on the road. 90% of the time, you’ll be within touching distance of your family (and sometimes, closer than you want to be!).

31. You Need Alone Time

And on that note, scheduling alone time can be the key to a happy van family. There’s nothing wrong with spending an afternoon apart and you’ll feel all the better for it. If you’re getting irritated by the sound of your partner breathing, it may be time for a little ‘you’ time!

32. Caravan Parks Can Be Very Loud

Hands up, who thinks caravanning is super peaceful? Hmmm… if you think you’re embarking on a life of peace and tranquility, you’re only half right. While many places you stay will leave you wonderfully relaxed and in awe of the serenity, others will be the exact opposite! Caravan parks can be LOUD and free camping spots (with no specific curfew rules or onsite management) can be the worst offenders.

It’s all fun and games when you’re invited to the party, but when you’re trying to sleep, it can be pretty annoying. And it’s not just the fun and games of the parks that can be noisy – people equal noise, so the more people, the more you’ll hear!

33. Lack of Routine Can Be Stressful

Although you might be excited about a life with nowhere to be, we, as humans crave routine. So getting used to a life with no routine can be a little stressful. You don’t need to have an intense routine, but something as simple of having breakfast every morning may go some way to mitigating the uneasy feeling you might have without some semblance of normalcy.

34. You’ll Become A Hacker

Big Lappers are the ultimate hackers! Simply put, you’ll constantly be coming up with ingenious and inventive ways to solve an problems you face as a full-time traveller. From storage and organisation to things that just make your life easier, you’ll become somewhat of a caravan McGyver!

Luckily, you don’t have to come up with these things on your own. Check out ‘camping hacks‘ or ‘caravan hacks’ on Pinterest to see what travellers have come up with.

35. The Weather Can Put A Dampener On Your Experience

Since you will be spending a lot of your time outside, wet weather can really put a dampener on your day. While you probably think that you can handle a little rain, running back and forth to amenities blogs and even just grabbing something from the car is not the nicest of experiences.

And it’s not just the rain – the extremes of both heat and cold can affect you too. Living in a van can sometimes feel like you can’t get away from inclimante weather.

36. It Always Takes Longer Than You Think

Google Maps telling you it will take 4 hours? Plan for 6!

Between stopping for toilet breaks, unexpected roadworks and adopting a more cautious towing driving style, things always take longer than you think they will.

37. Staying On Top Of Maintenance Is Key

It’s really important that you keep on top of maintenance for both your car and your van as doing so will ensure things last longer and little problems don’t become bigger problems.

While ensuring you service your car and van regularly will help you keep on top of maintenance to a certain extent, you should always be vigilant of things that are on their way out and get them fixed as soon as you can.

38. You’ll Want To Be Comfortable

Travelling around Australia doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up all of your creature comforts. At the end of the day, you are LIVING on the road and you won’t want to feel like you’re camping all the time. So, make sure you bring the things you need (within reason) that will keep you comfortable and make things as homely as possible.

To this end, you should also make sure you have comfort in mind when you’re choosing your camp chairs and other such items.

39. Sometimes 12v Power Sucks!

If you’re off-grid, your power will generally not be good enough to run power-hungry appliances like your air-conditioner. Charging your phone off 12v power is slower. You can’t plug in any of your 240v appliances (unless you have an inverter, of course). Now, it’s not the end of the world, but it can be sucky sometimes!

40. A Long Shower Is A Luxury

When you find a nice, hot shower, you’ll take a little longer than usual standing under the water. While using the shower in your van (if you have one), you’ll always be conscious about the amount of water you have in your tank and how long it will stay hot. Most of the good caravan parks though have lovely amenities, so take that long shower when you have the chance!

41. Grocery Shopping Becomes A Space-Issue

Your fridge and pantry space will be limited (just like everything else in your van!) so when you go shopping, you’ll not only look at the food you want, you’ll assess whether it will fit in your van too!

For the same reason, you probably won’t do a full week’s worth of shopping either.

42. You’ll Know Your Numbers

When you live in a van full-time, you’ll know all your numbers off by heart. Your caravan’s length (and its length including the drawbar). Your caravan’s height. Your car’s height. Your registration number. The list goes on.

You’ll need to know these numbers to figure out if you’ll fit into certain spot, make it under an overhead obstacle and let the caravan park know all your details off the cuff.

Already travelling? Let us know in the comments what you’ve learned by being on the road and living full-time in your caravan.

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