If you are thinking of buying a family caravan read our list of 10 things that you might want to consider before you buy.
As you may know, we've undertaken a challenge by the Camping and Caravanning Club to visit 10 Treasure Houses and 10 English Gardens within a year (...well, just less than a year! eek!).
To do this, we're using a Compass Casita 586 caravan, which we've nicknamed Casper.
So now that we've been using a caravan quite a bit, here are our thoughts on things to look for in a family caravan.
5 Essential Things to Consider When Getting a Caravan
We're going to miss out on the obvious of checking that your car can tow the caravan and that you have somewhere to store your caravan.
Instead, we'll jump into the caravan's features that we've found really useful.
1. Caravan Layouts for Families
First off, we really like the layout of the Compass Casita 586.
We had spent some time looking at different caravan layouts and knew this layout would suit us. And it has.
The kid's beds are permanently in place, with two fixed bunk beds at the back of the caravan. Plus, they love the fact that they have their own little area.
Not having to pack away their beds every day is a great plus.
In addition to the two bunk beds at the back, we can add an additional set.
Yes, we lose one of the tables, but we can still put the table up at the front of the caravan, or, if it's warm, we use a table in the awning anyway.
As well as giving us more space, it keeps the caravan cleaner if we eat in the awning 😉
The front part of the caravan converts into a double bed. If we have the awning in use, we keep this set-up once pitched, but it's no too much effort to put everything away, as there is plenty of storage underneath the seats.
For us, this layout works really well.
Compass do a larger, 8-ft wide Casita 866 Caravan, which has won an award.
However, although that caravan is larger, we do prefer the layout of the 586.
Some caravans have a fixed double bed. These look good if you are just a couple or maybe with just one child, but the bunk bed layout works best for us.
2. A Caravan Awning - a must for extra space
The Caravan Awning provides us with a lot of extra space, and we can fit a table, additional chairs, an inflatable sofa, and the dog crate.
We have been using the Vango Kalari caravan awning and got the additional double bedroom that zips onto the awning.
With that, technically, Casper can sleep 8.
We certainly wouldn't want to do without an awning if staying more than a night. It provides lots of extra living space - essential for a family - plus somewhere to keep our muddy boots!
We didn't realise how heavy and awkward we found pitching it compared to tents. Click here to read our experiences with the awning.
Although we love the size of the awning, a slightly smaller one might have made our lives a whole lot easier.
As a family, you'll always need plenty of storage.
It's taken us several trips to start using the storage in our caravan better. I think that's something that you need to try and work out what goes better when you travel more.
Check that your potential caravan has plenty of storage. Usually, lockers are all around; if you lift most seats or beds, storage is underneath.
The one item we still struggle with is where to put muddy shoes. However, as mentioned above, this is where the awning is really useful!
4. Check the Heating, Cooking, and Electrics
Having occasionally used electric hook-ups when tent camping (though we prefer to 'keep it wild'), the convenience you get with a caravan is much greater.
In our caravan, there are plenty of power sockets (though the kids always want more for their gadgets), you have a proper hob, grill, and even an oven, plus the heating is built in. There's also a microwave oven, which has been extremely helpful.
A nice feature on the hob in the Compass Casita 586 is that one of the rings is electric. This can save you gas when you are on an electric hook-up.
Although there's a gas grill, we still bought a low-wattage toaster and a low-wattage kettle, of course! 😉
These are all things to look at in your potential caravan.
Does it have sufficient facilities for your family? Are there sufficient power sockets for a toaster and kettle, especially in the kitchen area?
5. Water and Toilet
Connecting up the freshwater is straightforward, as well as changing the wastewater.
We have found that we're using much more water in the caravan than when in a tent. Maybe because it's on tap rather than having to carry it?
You will need to get a water roller and waste water container.
We have noticed many caravanners using two water rollers. If you have the space to store them, this looks like a good idea, as if you should run low on fresh water, it's quick and easy to swap the water pump to the full roller.
As for the shower and toilet, we generally use the campsite facilities, though we have stayed somewhere that had none, and so had to rely on both the toilet and shower in the caravan.
In the Compass Casita, the toilet works well and doesn't smell. It has an alarm when it needs changing.
The shower, on the other hand, I'm still working out. It's much more powerful than I was expecting, and in the Casita 586 is a full-size shower cubicle. However, I don't appear to get hot water for very long. Something I need to practice more with.
Having a full-sized bathroom is certainly nice, but if you are always staying at a campsite with facilities, then question how important it is.
Oh, and if you need the loo in the middle of the night, it's certainly nice to have one so close 😉
5 Extra Options to Consider
While we're extremely happy with Casper, we have noticed that a few extras could make things a little easier or more flexible.
Fortunately, these are either things that are very easy DIY jobs or extra options you might want to consider when purchasing a caravan.
1. A Bike Rack
We've seen some caravans with a bike rack fitted on the back. I'm not sure if this is an option for all caravans, but it appears to be a good way to get bikes to the campsite.
A popular bike rack is this one from Fiamma that fits to the back wall of a caravan.
The Compass caravans can have the Fiamma Universal Bike Rack fitted, which takes two bikes.
The alternative, of course, is a bike rack for the car's roof. However, it can be not easy getting adult bikes up there if you have a tall car.
The downside of having only the bike rack on the caravan is that you have no bike rack with the car if you want to drive to a cycle route or mountain bike trail.
It's an option to consider, though.
Another valid point made by Kathryn W is that having bikes on the back of the caravan could affect the stability when towing. (Thanks, Kathryn!).
2. Minor Fixtures and Fittings
I have a whole new respect for caravan manufacturers.
They are trying to create a home from home that can be towed by a great many cars. This means people want a lot, but it needs to be light.
Materials have to be light. However, they need to be tough for a family of active kids!
Fortunately, Casper has held up well, though don't expect your caravan to be as sturdy as a house.
I would make a couple of additions to Casper's interior. Both of these are easy DIY jobs.
- A few hooks for hanging clothes in the bathroom
- A curtain screen for the front of the caravan for when the double bed is out.
3. Outside Electrics
It would be great to have an electric point to run power into the awning. This would be especially useful for longer stays, making it more of a living space, and for the cooler months, as you could run a heater to warm it.
If this is something you think you'll need, see if it is an option for your caravan, or it might influence you to go for a higher-spec model.
4. Outside Gas
Our caravan has a couple of big gas canisters, but to use our portable BBQ/Griddle, I have to carry a separate gas canister. It would be great to plug into the caravan's gas supply.
Again, we've seen this feature available on some caravan models.
If you are buying a second-hand caravan, you can get an external BBQ point or a caravan service centre to fit them for you.
5. Outside Shower
Wait! This isn't as bizarre as it sounds, and we've seen it on some motorhomes.
Something that can spray warm water to quickly clean muddy or sandy kids or cold water for boots and bikes.
I would have this on the opposite side of the awning, though 😉
So there you have it. We've found some good or extras that we would consider when getting a caravan.
Of course, there are many extensive caravan buying guides, but we wanted to share our thoughts and experiences of using a caravan as a family.