This is always an interesting topic. Everyone has their own personal preferences, however “Geezer_David” from CaravanForum has provided his thoughts on choosing a new van.
I’ve taken the liberty of reformatting his comments to make them more readable.
“From 30+ years of caravanning, and having lived full time in caravans for a total period of 10 years at different periods of time, this would be my specification for a caravan for two people.
Full height van no bigger than 20′ and preferably 18′ 6″. Many buy vans over 20′ and then want to come back to the 18′ 6″. A well properly designed layout caravan to live in full time can comfortably be 18′ 6″.
Tandem wheels and normal load sharing spring suspension is fine with shock absorbers
15″ wheels as you can get better rated load tyres compared to 14”. Other advantage 15″ ride better and don’t have to be inflated to high pressures to carry load. Only one spare wheel.
Prefer door at front of van than rear of caravan.
Glass windows a must and NO padded pelmets or ancillary upholstery that creates a nightmare when you want to get new curtains or dinette recovered.
NO carpet all quality vinyl sheet. Use Walkatex or similar for mats on floor. Walkatex is well worth chasing down from carpet shop. Can be cut easily to fit, never curls or lifts at edges, can be scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. We have some fifteen years old still going strong.
Must have a shower – consider using a porta-potty in the shower in preference to an installed toilet. Besides been much cheaper, they are easily and cheaply replaced, easily emptied like a cassette toilet, if the plastic scratches or stains on the Thetford or the Thetford needs difficult to expensive repairs, with a porta-potty you just buy a new one. If you do have a toilet installed, then the Dometic VT2500 vacuum toilet is the go and takes up less space in the shower. I would never have a separate shower and WC as to much wasted space. Shower to have extractor fan and window.
Hot water system – Trauma is without a doubt the best all stainless steel, uses substantially less gas proportionately than other brands. Attwood is also all stainless steel tank, but gas system is agricultural/crude compared to Trauma – hence why Trauma uses so much less gas. Stay well away from Suburban hot water systems, have expensive anodes that have to be constantly checked and changed, get all the junk from the anode through your hot water system, have to drain the hot water system when not in use to stop electrolysis.
Gas – must have 2 x 9.0kg bottles
Water tanks 2 x 80L with independent fillers. Ball valve tap on front of A frame so this can be converted to use for filling tanks. There are other plumbing modifications you will need to do yourself – being able to suck directly with your 12v pump from a 20 litre container or bucket etc.
Stove must have an oven and a 12v Range hood.
Microwave – No. If you are dedicated free campers like we are and so many others, they use the microwave as a bread cupboard and for storing other items like the first-aid kit.
Fridge 150L Waeco or Vitrifrigio compressor fridge, or if you go down the path of a Dometic 3 way, then make sure and *insist* it is a Climate Class ‘T’ – Tropical rated. My preference is a 12v fridge. Whatever fridge you install, you must insist that the fridge is installed 100% to the manufacturers specifications. Jayco and many other caravan manufacturers have no idea how to read a Dometic fridge installation manual. One of the few caravan manufacturers that installs fridges correctly is Evernew. Once you go over 150L in a fridge compressor type or 3 way, they use significant amounts of fuel, regardless of solar panel, power on 12v or gas. Large 3 way fridges running off gas use a significant amount of gas and yes, it does get expensive to power them.
Solar system with adequate solar capacity to power everything in winter.
Lighting look for the 22w 12v fluoro lights installed as the main lights and powered from a 240v – 12vDC power supply when connected to mains. This will give you great lighting when on 240v and 12v and saves having to add extra lights.
Stay well away from any halogen lights anywhere. They are useless as bed lamps as the heat given off makes them not useable. A 13w ‘U’ tube CF fluoro over the bed underneath the overhead cupboards is the go.
Dinette where the seats are opposite each other in preference to an ‘L’ shaped dinette.
Don’t waste money on a Wineguard TV aerial as they are not suitable for all the new digital channels, do not do vertical polarisation which is approximately 50% of locations. Use Digimatch Explorer aerial with 12vDC Kingray MHW34GLV aerial amplifier.
15″ LCD TV with Humax 12v/240v F2-1010T STB (Set Top Box) – don’t buy a STB that does not have a Phillips tuner.
Car radio with CD and remote control – for value for money and especially reception performance Sanyo presently is hard to beat from Strathfield.
Make sure TV and radio etc. can all be viewed and operated from bed.
NextG/CDMA Marine type fold down aerial for mobile phone and mobile Internet.
Where they have the extra seat opposite the dinette which is seldom used get cupboards and large draws installed in its place.
Get the double bed made 100mm higher than standard. Gives more space for bulky items like doona etc. under the bed, makes the bed easier to make and get into, and if you don’t have a shower a full sized porta-potty will fit under bed in porta-potty – check height dimensions.
Air-conditioning, don’t put a roof top air conditioner in, fit a domestic inverter air conditioner. The Air Command and like roof air conditioners just don’t work satisfactorily, noisy, leak and generally poor quality and way over-priced for what they are.
FourSeasons hatches, minimum two – no other hatch substitutes. FourSeasons hatch doubles as pressure vent/hatch on front of van when on gravel roads.
Must have separate wiring circuit with suitably located 240v outlets for 12vDC to 240vAC pure sine-wave inverter. DC wiring and plugs to suitable locations. Outside 240vAC and 12vDC power points.
We have a Lemair washing machine but don’t have it built in. We carry it in the back of the vehicle and lift it out and use it. Big advantage you can take the washing machine to the water in preference to taking the water to the washing machine.
This off-road thing – I have taken standard caravans over hundreds of kilometres of dirt roads. I let the tyres down on the caravan 5psi, drive to the condition of the road and if it is 30 to 40km/h so what, we are in no hurry. At the end of the day, I don’t want to do a substantial amount of kilometres over evil corrugations for the caravan, tow vehicle or ourselves – it is far from enjoyable and causes to much damage. No, I don’t want to tow my caravan or my vehicle or myself along the Gibb River Road, I have seen more than sufficient photographs and video from others, and no, I don’t want to tow my caravan along the Birdsville Track and see more kilometres of sand and scrub.
As for the small space – we prefer it to bricks and mortar and have no issue living in the confines of a caravan. Fortunately no issues about being in the same space as my good wife. If you have got to our age and your wife is not your best friend, then you are in trouble. Fortunately my wife loves caravanning, loves travelling, loves the bush parked next to rivers, creeks, dams etc. and likes a little TV. Consequently I have a satellite TV system we enjoy.”
Thanks for your comments “Geezer_David”, I’m sure I and many others will keep them in mind when considering a new van.