There comes a time in life when travel on the road as a grey nomad becomes very desirable. Many couples, who are no longer concerned with offspring at home, decide they would like to explore the country. Australia offers plenty of opportunity for getting away from it all and plenty of destinations to entice the older generation to travel.
But for those who have not travelled the outback before, this might be a daunting prospect trying to match desire to travel and explore against lack of knowledge and experience.
Where does the beginner grey nomad start?
Recently I had a friend pose just that question. The time of life is right and they have the 4WD. Tick those boxes. But they have never travelled like that before. So I am offering some advice here for all those wishing to be grey nomads and are just beginning their journey to adventure.
The vehicle and its preparation
First the vehicle – this should be a 4WD, as they are built for the road conditions that are often encountered on the outback roads. There is room inside to carry all the necessary gear. They are very good towing vehicles. On gravel roads, using 4WD can add to the stability of the vehicle. Also there are times you might need low range, so a 4WD with a transfer case really adds to the flexibility.
Although AWDs and 2WDs are also capable vehicles, they don’t give the overall capacity and capability that a 4WD can.
Camping, camper trailer or caravan?
The next big decision is the style of travel you will adopt for out there. Will it be a tent or caravan or camper trailer?
The tent offers the most flexible style, ideal if you want to cross the Simpson Desert or try the Anne Beadell Highway. But when you are on the move, tents must be set up and put away frequently.
There is a lot of equipment involved in tent based travel, not just the tent but also sleeping bags, air mattress or swags, cooking equipment, gas bottles, etc, that you have to stow somewhere in your vehicle or on a roof rack with all the other gear you are travelling with. These would include tables and chairs, lights, tarpaulins, spade or shovel and a ground mat.
Many travellers prefer the caravan or camper trailer options and both should be capable of offroad travel. Road conditions vary and that highly desirable destination might be at the end of a rough and corrugated road. The offroad campers and caravans are built to handle just such terrain.
The camper trailer is a good option as they are small, easy to manoeuvre and more nimble than a caravan. They provide a bed, kitchen facilities and some storage space, which is often filled with extra canvas for additional rooms for longer stops. Also a trailer might come with a water tank, gas bottle, spare wheel and places for 20 litre containers. Camper trailers do require some setting up, but this is usually a quick job.
Again, trailer users would need table and chairs, lights, tarpaulins, spade or shovel and a ground mat for extra comfort.
Caravans are well equipped with cooking facilities, kitchen sink, fridge, table and chairs and of course a bed. Caravanners will also need tables and chairs so they can sit outside their van. And cooking outside on a barbecue might be preferable particularly on a warm evening. Tarpaulins, a spade or shovel and a ground mat are also handy items to pack.
Finally, caravans offer more comfort for the grey nomad, with more room inside and less setting up than the camper trailers. They are not as easy to manoeuvre and will usually cost more at the bowser to tow.
Offroad caravans are built with firmer suspension and are more capable of handling rougher conditions encountered on many gravel roads. If the caravan is not rated for offroad use, the owner should stick to the bitumen. They will still be able to travel to many great destinations, leave the van in a camp ground and explore the many scenic highlights in their vehicles.
Vehicle setup for camping
Now that the accommodation is decided, the next step is to prepare the vehicle for travel. If you have chosen a caravan or camper trailer as your choice, you will need to prepare your vehicle for towing. Obviously you will need a tow bar and hitch for towing. Trailer brakes for added braking support are a wise investment.
Next, travellers usually add an extra battery to the vehicle. This is particularly useful when camping away from a power source. The second battery will support the main battery and run fridges, lights, inverters and other chargers.
The most useful accessory in a vehicle is the cigarette lighter. This is not used for lighting cigarettes (or anything for that matter), instead the 12 volt adaptor provides the umbilical chord for the fridge or inverter or charger connection. In fact, we have three 12 volt adaptors in our vehicle and often have all three in use at the one time.
The second battery is usually installed under the bonnet if there is enough room. Beginning grey nomads should talk to an auto electrical expert about fitting both the second battery and extra 12 volt adaptors to the vehicle.
Storing the camping equipment
First into the vehicle must be the fridge. Caravans will come with a fridge, but caravanners might choose to carry a smaller one in the vehicle as well. Tenters and trailer users will have one in the car. The size required depends on two things – how many items you like to have in the fridge at any given time and available room in the vehicle.
A two-way fridge, that works on 240 volt and 12 volt, is the best option. There are several good brands available, each with a choice of size. The fridge can plug into one of the 12 volt adaptors installed in the vehicle.
Tenters will need a roof rack for all the extra gear, including the gas bottle and jerry cans for extra fuel. Caravans and campers do have an advantage here, in that there is storage for camping extras inside.
And with all the other things that might be packed in the vehicle, including clothes, food and water, any other camping gear, cameras, books, it’s a good idea to install a cargo barrier in case of something going horribly wrong. Barriers can be installed either behind the front row of seats or behind the second row.
In all, a lot to think about before you start out on the great adventure. It might be worthwhile visiting your local caravan and camping show just to get an idea of what is available before making your choices. Our DVD Savannah Way: Across the Top shows a convoy of travellers with all these options in action – offroad caravans, camper trailers and tents and rooftop tents all featured.
Next time I will discuss the other stuff that you should probably include on any touring adventure.