It was now time to repack everything into the hire car, leave the hotel we'd called home for a week, and go swap the hire car for a campervan. Both excitement and some nervousness was felt by both Clancy and myself regarding this changeover. Was it going to be too big? Too small? Warm enough? Toddler proof? Be able to drive into all the places we wanted to go? Have enough storage space for all our stuff? Easy or difficult to cook and eat in? Comfortable to sleep in?... The only way to find out was to go get it, and use it!
Which campervan / motorhome to choose
I'd done what I thought was a fair bit of research surrounding campervans, trying to answer all the above questions and stay within budget, before committing to any one van. The budget we'd set, and having two children requiring car seats and safety whilst sleeping, very quickly narrowed our options. It then came down to, did we want to pay the extra for a bigger more cumbersome vehicle with a shower and toilet included that we'd have to empty... or go with a smaller vehicle that would be easier to drive, likely be able to get into more places, but need to camp more at caravan parks for the use of their amenities. I showed the options to Clancy, who then decided on the smaller, cheaper option of hiring a 3+2 Trail Finder from Tasmania Campers.
Looking back on it... something else that we probably should've done, would have been to go and physically look at and clamber through similar style vehicles available for hire here in Perth. That would have been the best way to really get an idea of what it was we were getting ourselves in for, and would've helped us to choose slightly more wisely, before having to part with any money. Turned out not too bad, but it would have been really nice to have had that better understanding of campervans/motorhomes from previously being in one.
Picking up the campervan - & - Sleeping arrangements
When booking the car and campervan, I'd planned it so we had two hours between the campervan pick up time, and the car drop off time. We didn't end up needing this amount of time, but it was great to not have to rush. Especially considering we not only had to refuel the car, but also had to give it a good wash after our visit to Hastings cave and thermal springs. The Tasmania Campers depot was on the way out to the airport, and very easy to find. I'm not exactly sure, but it seemed like Tasmania Campers was being operated out of the owner's home. It was a house beside the road, with a lot of campervans parked in the yard behind it.
I forget the name of the person we dealt with, but he was very friendly and extremely helpful. After I'd mentioned the ages of Sonia and Kaden in my inquiries before booking, he'd said he could make up a safety guard rail for the top bed so the kids could safely sleep and play up there without falling out. Clancy and I could have slept up the top with the kids down below, but considering the slight difference in width and length, having to get up during the night to deal with waking children, and general space in the van itself... we thought this would be a great option to try. Turned out extremely useful.
He'd drilled a hole in each side of one of the bed base boards so that a regular safety bed side rail that you can use for kids on regular beds, was able to slide into the holes and stand up rather well. It held up to quite a bit of pushing and pulling from both Sonia and Kaden during the time that we had the van. If they really wanted to, they could pull it out or climb over it... but we set down strict rules about being up there, and made sure they only went up when one of us was also in the van. Not only that, but we never fully extended the top bed to it's full length. They slept side by side no problem, and half the bed length was plenty long enough for Sonia's height. This also meant that if for whatever reason they did fall over the edge, they'd land on the bed below (Never happened thankfully!). It also came in very handy as a storage area during travel, and a play area for the kids so we could organise things, and prepare a meal down below without stepping on them.
He also washed our hire car for us!! While I organised and rearranged everything to fit all our stuff into the van, Clancy and the Tas Campers guy hosed down the hire car. Did a pretty good job too, considering how bad it'd been covered with dirt and mud. I was extremely grateful for that, as it greatly improved the timing logistics for the day! I then vowed that when it was time to return the van, we'd return it as clean as we could get it both inside and out. And so we did. We'd planned a day or two to catch up with my high school friend and her family when we got back to Hobart after tripping around Tassie, before we flew out for Perth. So one of those days turned into a massive cleaning day. Thanks again to both Tasmania Campers and the Rabe family!!
Storage, and space in general
The kids seats effectively locked two storage spaces, and cut the corners off the bottom double bed. So in the first few days of figuring out what would be used all the time, what would hardly be used at all, and the morning and evening set up/pack away routines, a lot of thought went into how we would deal with them. Would we leave them permanently in place? or remove one each night for access and foot space? They weren't that hard to put in or take out, just time consuming. Clancy ended up deciding we'd leave them in, and remove them for access only when really needed. So what was very rarely used (extra sleeping bags and towels etc), went into those storage compartments.
The distance between the front and back seats was too great for us to pass anything to either Sonia or Kaden whilst driving. So we very quickly learnt to ensure they had a drink bottle, something to play with, and something to eat, within easy reach when strapping them in. If they then dropped anything, they'd have to wait till the next stop before we'd be able to pick it up for them. So for Kaden, I soon figured out how to shape a towel over his legs and around him, to act like a mini catch table/tray. It wasn't long before Sonia then wanted the same! For sleeping, Clancy and I just had enough room to be able to put our feet between the two seats and stretch out that way.
In regards to overall space... at the beginning, it totally felt like there was none! Reorganising and figuring out the best method of getting things to work to their potential in a van was.... interesting to say the least!! Involving a fair bit of frustration from Clancy, and numerous attempts at trying to explain things from me! I think both of our personal preferences and histories had a lot to do with this, which also affected our overall feelings towards the time we spent in the campervan.
Personal histories / experiences
As mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy traveling and camping. I'm the eldest child of six, and while growing up we'd done a fair bit of travel with our family, driving across or around Australia every two years or so. At first using tents, then using swags beside the road as we got older. Mum and Dad figured out the packing, and morning and evening routines, then delegated different jobs to all of us, resulting in a rather quick, efficient, and smooth trip. Then once leaving home, I continued with extensive exploration and travels on my own, utilising more varied methods depending on when and where I went. Preferring a modified swag method (Even in winter Canada!), but happy to tent, sleep in the car, or stay at a backpackers/hostel if need be.
Clancy on the other hand does not really like camping (or travel for that matter!) generally much at all. He has one sister, and only really traveled as a child when they had to move house. He did once drive around Australia with his parents when he was about 14 or 15 years old, where they mostly stayed at caravan parks or rolled their swags out in the back of his Dad's truck. He then didn't travel or camp again till joining the army, which he says is what finally, totally destroyed camping for him. Throwing a swag out beside the trucks wasn't so bad, but camping under a 'hutchie' (plastic sheet slung up like a tent) was definitely not fun apparently. North Northern Territory, mosquitoes, heat, rain, more mozzies, humidity, wind, dirt, still more mozzies... Not Clancy's idea of fun! (I've done this plenty of times in the same climatic/geographical areas too, and enjoyed it. Just made sure I lathered myself in insect repellent, or slept under a thin sheet. But then again, that's me!) With all of these experiences, there was also generally plenty of space available, and he only ever really had to worry about himself. Personal set up, pack up, organisation etc. No limited space, or interrupting children involved!
So yes, interesting times!
Organisation and daily routines
The stuff that was already in cupboards and came with the van needed rearranging to more economically use the space available, and then a lot of thought and discussion went into what would go where. What we thought would very rarely get used went under Sonia and Kaden's seats, what would sometimes be needed went under the bench seat/bottom bed, what would be frequently needed either went in cupboards in the kitchen area, or up on Sonia and Kaden's bed during travel, or transferred onto/under the front seats during sleep time. It was then time to start thinking about morning and evening routines. After about 3 days of travel, we thought we'd pretty well worked it out. From that point on, everything continued to improve and go smoother and faster.
- I get up a little earlier, toilet and get dressed.
- I breastfeed Kaden while Clancy toilets and dresses himself and Sonia, packs up our bed from under me (I'd start feeding sitting in one spot, then move to where Clancy'd unmade the bed, or sit in one of the kids seats), sets up the table, and organises his and Sonia's breakfast.
- I then organise mine and Kaden's breakfast.
- Bit of a slow down to ensure enough is eaten by everyone!
- One of us packs up the table and does dishes, while the other packs up the kids bed and transfers everything from the front seats back up onto the kids bed (Clancy's bag, raincoats, washing bag, mine and the kids pyjama's and change of clothes for the following day etc.).
- Dress the kids and organise clothes ready for that night and following day.
- All in... off we go!!
- Clancy preps tea/dinner while I unpack the kids bed, transferring stuff onto the front seats, and feed Kaden.
- Eat tea/dinner (whatever you call it!).
- I bath kids - Mostly in laundry tubs, while Clancy does the dishes.
- Make our own bed, and let the kids play for a bit while one of us showers.
- Story, toilet, bed for Sonia.
- Shower for the other while getting Kaden to sleep.
- Bed time for us!!
If we were able to camp somewhere that had a good indoor camp kitchen available, it greatly helped the whole proceedings. As did a private en-suite. More space for us to work in, and allowed the kids to move around and play more. Plus we could leave stuff in the kitchen or en-suite ready for the morning rush. We also found it beneficial to camp close to the next days planned activity. Do the activity in the morning, then drive towards the next thing and hopefully be able camp relatively close.
If we wanted to camp at a caravan park, ringing ahead to book a spot was also required by atleast mid afternoon, as many places were either closed for the season, or would shut their reception early. Most places also had to give us a key or password for their amenities, and let us know where we could set up camp. We free camped about twice from memory. I found it ok and didn't mind it, and Clancy put up with it, but we both thought having power and hot showers available was positively nicer. Staying in one place for more than one night was also good, but we still had to pack up all the beds and everything to be able to drive anywhere.
We found that we had to stay relatively rugged up in the van, but were nice and cozy when in bed for the night. This could've been dramatically improved if we'd remembered where the heaters were stored. We ended up finding them during our big clean up of the van on the day we were to return it! I'd taken my extra warm sleeping bag however which fully unzipped so we could use it as a blanket, and only really had to use it about 5 times. The kids were well and truly warm, snuggled together with a knitted/crocheted blanket under their bottom sheet, and another between their top sheet and quilt/doona. If you ever find you're getting cold despite having a large number of blankets on top of you, I'd totally recommend putting one (preferably wool) underneath you as well. Makes a huge difference. Getting up to go outside to the toilet, and getting up in the morning however was freezing!!! Sonia, Kaden and I thought so anyway! Clancy didn't mind it so much, but then he thoroughly enjoys the cold.
Other bits and pieces
After we'd picked up the campervan, but before leaving Hobart, we swung by to pick up some extra things that my high school friend had offered. These included: crochet/knit blankets, kids jackets, beanies and gloves, toys, books, paper and pencils, and some lovely home made bottled fruit. I'm glad we did, as we ended up using all these items. Unlike some of the extra things we requested when we booked the van. We used the camp chairs and power converter (when it worked!), but didn't end up utilising the camp table or side awning at all. We weren't ever camped in one spot long enough to warrant the hassle of putting it up. It would've been nice to have it set up during rain for entering and exiting the sliding door, but the big umbrella we'd bought from Woolworths did the job just as well.
Some other things we found helpful... a shallow fruit box that we used for ferrying food related items between the van and picnic tables or camp kitchen, and remembering to shut the roof top vent and power outlet/inlet cap, and turn off the gas before taking off for the day!
The Campervan According to Clancy
"It was Poo!!" That was the immediate response to my question on what his thoughts about campervans were for this blog. (And yes, I do get him to proof read these posts before I actually post them). Trying to then get him to elaborate on that comment took some time, but with different, more specific questions, some details were obtained.
- Too cramped - Especially with an injury
- Very difficult to do anything.
- Had to twist into a knot to pull anything out of the cupboards
- Close quarters with kids - Would be much better, more enjoyable if no kids!
- Hard to keep the inside clean
- Driving - Top heavy and slow up hills but that's expected, so generally ok to drive
- Sleeping - Not enough leg room with kids seats in the way
- A bigger vehicle would've had more room, but would've used up more fuel, and been troublesome to park
- Campgrounds were better than free camping - Hot showers and power!
When asked for atleast one positive thing about the campervan... this was his response: "The battery never went flat, it started when I turned the key, it was easy to drive, it wasn't pink!!"
And finally his summary: "Overall... Don't do it! It's all bad. Hotels or a swag on the side of the road would be better."
On the whole, I'd say it was ok. Yes it did take us a while to get things working the way we wanted them to, and there were definitely times I wished we hadn't chosen that mode of transport and accommodation... but then I'd think of the money we were saving and the benefits of being able to drive and camp pretty much anywhere, without having to worry about food or rain like we would tenting or swagging in winter with kids, and be glad we'd made this decision. Would I do it again... Yes, I'd be quite happy to, but it wouldn't be fair on Clancy so I think some sort of compromise would have to be worked out.