Ready, set, tow… a nomad’s starter kit
It can be exhilarating to throw caution to the wind and do something spontaneous. But take spontaneity a step too far and you can quickly find yourself on shaky ground.
Just like the young couple whose marriage was in strife so they decided on a whim to increase the mortgage, buy a bigger house and have another child.
Not the wisest remedy for an ailing marriage, one would have thought, but it must have seemed like a fine idea at the time.
If you are contemplating life as a grey nomad, be prepared for some serious planning and contemplation. Act in haste and you will have plenty of time to repent at leisure on the road.
To begin with, there is the rig.
Like any good marriage, the caravan and the tow vehicle need to be a good match. The maximum towing capacity of the vehicle constrains the choice of caravan.
It goes without saying that a small town car will not tow a palace on wheels but it could do just fine with a lightweight pop-top.
The weight relationship between vehicle and van is important for safe towing.
As a rule of thumb, the tow vehicle needs to be at least as heavy as the caravan being towed.
If not, the tow vehicle will have a tough time controlling a wayward caravan in the face of cross winds, sudden braking, or a rough road surface.
However, the one-to-one ratio is a bare minimum weight safety margin. For added safety, particularly if you are a novice, aim for a tow vehicle that outweighs the caravan by a good 30 per cent, when both are fully laden, including passengers.
For towing specifications, check the vehicle’s manual or the manufacturer’s website.
If trawling through manuals and technical specifications is not your bag, take a shortcut and call the experts at the RACQ. They publish a list of towing specifications for a range of popular vehicles and are happy to provide advice to members.
Make sure the towbar and towball are compatible with the vehicle. If not, the weakest link in the towing setup will determine maximum towing capacity and as a result, choice of caravan.
If you are in the market for a new tow vehicle, work through the practicalities carefully. By all means go for the big powerful American import or perhaps a Toyota Tundra or a Land Cruiser Sahara if you have deep pockets and are planning to be on the open road for months at a time.
But if high maintenance costs make you blanch and getting into the underground carpark at the local supermarket 11 months of the year is important for you, perhaps it is best to leave the Chevy Silverado on the showroom floor.
The car market offers nothing if not choice, so with a little time and care you will find the perfect vehicle to suit your pocket and your purpose.
Having determined towing capacity, let’s turn our attention to choice of caravan.
According to my good mate Big Wheels, your first van is just a stepping stone to the next, so don’t stress if you don’t get it just right first time round.
Caravan and camping shows are a good place to start, but Big Wheels, who has done more miles than the Indian Pacific, recommends going straight to the experts – the nomads themselves.
Pull up at a roadhouse or take a stroll through an RV friendly caravan park, he says, and just start chatting. After all, who doesn’t love being asked for a bit of advice?
When it comes to loading the van, bear in mind that there is a maximum on-road weight limit set by the manufacturer. This limit must not be exceeded.
Everything in the van, plus after-market accessories, are counted, so try to try to leave a little leeway. Pack to the max and you could end up in strife with authorities at the weighbridge or void your insurance in the event of an accident.
Start with the essentials – food, clothes, bedding, cooking equipment, tool kit and basic spares, gas, generator and water.
A hundred litres of water adds a hefty 100kg to the payload, which just goes to show how quickly the weight limit can be reached.
No amount of anti-sway technology will compensate for a poorly packed caravan. Imagine your van is a boat.
For stability, aim to distribute the weight as evenly as you can. Don’t put all the load in the front or all the load in the back. Spread it out and secure it well.
A final word of advice from Big Wheels: Never hesitate to ask for help.
In the world of the grey nomad, even the most seasoned traveller needs a hand once in a while. Helping out is just extending the courtesy of the road.
Why? Because doing good does you good. Well said, Big Wheels.