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Home > Tips and Hints > Starting Out Index > Choices

Starting Out

Now for the extras
Which fridge?

Three way or compressor?  Big or small? This all depends on your power sources when travelling and your personal preferences.  

Bathroom or not?

Generally, if you ask those without an on board shower and toilet, they will say they donít want one.  If you ask someone with a bathroom in their caravan, they will tell you that after having had a shower and toilet in their van, they would not like to go back to being without. 


Many people who only stay in caravan parks prefer to use their own shower and toilet to communal bathrooms.  Others use the caravan park amenities, and their on board bathrooms only when bush camping.  Certainly having your own toilet greatly increases the places you can camp.  However if you don't have an inbuilt or portable toilet, you can alway use a 'night bucket'. 


These days people expect to have power available when camping, even if at minimum to run a fridge and a light or two.  Many want caravans equipped with television and sound systems and the ability to run a variety of appliances.  For those who go to a powered site every night, all things are possible, but many Australian roads are long, and to be able to camp without mains power is somewhat essential.  You will need a 15 amp power flex to plug your caravan into main power at caravan parks, and it needs to one made without a flange on the female end so it can fit onto the caravan/camper power inlet. 


No electricity: You can camp with a gas fridge or just an Esky, a gas lantern and no other appliances.  This would not be convenient for long term travel. 


Additional battery in the tow vehicle:  This can be charged by the vehicle when travelling but it needs to be isolated from the starting battery.  If you are stopped for a day or two, you need to either go for a drive or run the vehicle on idle for some time to recharge.  Suitable for only a small fridge such as an Engel, and perhaps a light or two. This system needs monitoring and managing, and suitable for very low power needs only. 


Generators:  Often the choice of those who camp only for a few weekends each year and do not want to go to the expense of solar for these short holidays. Most campers hate generators, particularly the noisy cheaper brands.  You are limited to the time you can run them, ie from when you stop for the night until a reasonable hour which may be specified by the camp ground such a 7 pm or 9 pm.  Fuel needs to be carried, and they need to be set up, fuelled, maintained and started.  Depending on where you are, they may need to be packed away before you go to bed, as they are an item which can easily be taken by an unscrupulous person.  We carry a generator for emergency power tools (more to help out others than ourselves), and to run the air conditioner if it is really hot.  We havenít used ours for the latter since 2005, and in five months of travelling in 2009 we used it only once for power tools. Honda and Yamaha inverter generators are safe for most modern appliances and relatively quiet.   See more about using a generatorhere.


Solar power:  Setting up is not cheap but prices are reducing, and it pays to buy good quality panels, controller and batteries.  Battery charge levels need to be monitored and batteries maintained.  Batteries are an item that can let you down and cost of replacement with good quality batteries is not cheap, particularly if you are far away from major centres. Several days of cloudy weather may result in the need to either go to a mains powered site or run a generator to power a battery charger.  This will depend on the size of your panels, the storage capacity of your batteries and power usage.  We do not use a lot of power, and our panels keep the batteries topped up in cloudy or wet weather.  Only when in hot weather in the tropics where panels and batteries are not as efficient, do we see our batteries not fully charged each day.   Solar power involves no setting up each night and is silent and easy to use.  Even a portable panel set up when you stop can power a small fridge and your lights. 


LED lights are very power efficient, and are being fitted to more caravans.  Bulbs also have a long life and can be purchased to fit some existing caravan light fittings.  For example, an MR16 LED bulb will go straight into the socket of a round halogen bulb such as used for caravan reading lights and downlights.    


Running 12 v appliances is a more efficient use of power than running a 240 volt appliance through an inverter.  A small inverter is useful for quick charging of batteries such as for camera and phone, small power tools (or their rechargeable batteries), or you may have specific equipment needing 240 volt.  Our television and DVD player run from 12 volt, as does a fan, the laptop computer runs through a 12 volt power supply (substitutes for the Ďblack boxí power unit when on mains power), and the internet modem is USB and requires no outside power source.  Our caravan lights are 12 volt and mostly LED and fridge and water pumps are 12volt only. 


Get to know your caravanís electrical system and where any safety switches and fuses are. 


For useful links to technical information on setting up or understanding your power supply see here


While most caravans require a 15 amp power lead, you can read all the regulations on Power cable rules

To connect a caravan with a 15 amp inlet to a 10 amp power source out of doors you will need an Ampfibian or a Safelec RVDSafe Power Lead, and the load in the camper will need to be kept below 10 amps. 


Read about AGM batteries - the most popular option for most caravans and motorhomes.


Lithium batteries are the new technology being lighter in weight and power efficient but expensive. Read about Lithium batteries here


Power sources
See more on toilet types and chemical alternatives here
Hints on what to choose to have in your caravan, motor home or camper trailer starting with fridge, bathroom and power source option.
Next article >

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Back to Starting Out Index ^

Pros and cons of absoprtion (three way 12 volt, 240 volt, gas) fridge


Pros:  Can run on gas if staying in the one place for days at a time (such as a holiday by a lake) without the need for another power source such as solar or generator, so long as you have sufficient gas supplies.


Cons:  Need to run on 12 volt from your tow vehicle whilst travelling to maintain temperature or leave it turned off.  It is power hungry compared to a compressor fridge, need van level, risk of fire, and it may not be fully effective in hot climates.   


Probably the majority of campers have three way fridges, and most owners are happy with them.  Generally they are powered on 12 volt from the tow vehicle alternator when travelling and switched over to gas or 240 volt mains power when stopped. 


Modern three way fridges may require a 12 volt DC source to operate electronic switching for all power sources. 


Pros and cons of a compressor fridge


Pros: Efficient on 12 volt.  No switching fridge over when you stop and start.  Donít need to level the caravan or camper.  Work well in all climates.  No need to keep up gas supplies.  They are very power efficient. 


Cons: You need a power source for when camped such as extra batteries and/or solar panels or run a generator for a while each day.  These days many vans are equipped with solar panels and batteries, so for these the compressor fridge is ideal. 


Most compressor caravan fridges these days are 12/24 volt, and can have a converter such as Mobitronic for mains power use to bring the voltage down to 24 volt.  We tried one, but found the fridge more efficient when powered direct from 12 volt than when wired from 12 volt through the converter.  It depends on your camping style. If you spend a lot of time in powered sites and do not have a lot of solar power and internal batteries, it would be a good option. If necessary, we can charge our batteries from mains power or a generator and continue using the fridge on 12 volt only from our batteries. 


240 volt household fridge


A number of caravanners are fitting small compressor fridges such as the Samsung Inverter 255 litre fridge into their caravans or motorhomes.  These need to run via a 12 volt to 240 volt inverter from your batteries.  If choosing these, room for cooling via their side panels needs to be allowed for.   You also need to decide whether to run 240 volts in your caravan while travelling or turn it off.  The only risk is if you were in an accident that emergencies services personnel attending could be at risk so need to be aware of this.   An ovbvious sticker on the front of your caravan saying  240 volt is running in the caravan would be wise.  




Depending on your dietary needs and the number of people in your family, choices can vary from a small car fridge or two to a large two door compressor fridge.  Of course the larger fridge will use more power, as well as be heavier.  While suitable for a large caravan, a family with children or a couple on the road full time, most can manage with a smaller fridge.  A two door fridge gives you the convenience of a freezer, as the small internal freezer section in the one door fridges is not suitable for long term storage or holding heavy weights on rough roads.  With one of the latter types in our caravan, for long outback trips we have can run a small Engel car fridge as a freezer, stored in the cargo area under the bed.  This requires adequate power and our solar system and battery storage can easily provide this.


To minimise foods requiring refrigeration with a small fridge, see our tips on Foods that don't require refrigeration

and Foods that take up less room in the fridge or freezer

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If you travel with children, a built in or portable toilet would be almost a necessity.  However if you cannot accommodate this, a bucket for the night or a urine bottle with lid, particularly if you have boys, can substitute. 


Having an on board shower makes cleanliness easy when bush camping, and these days a shower is not just a luxury.  Even if you do not have the water to shower when bush camping for extended periods, you can bathe with a sponge and bowl in your bathroom without worrying about splashing water all over the place.  A five litre hand pump to pressure garden sprayer filled with warm water makes and adeqate outdoor shower for two.  


For those living in large vans, nice bathrooms with a separate shower recess and toilet cubicle, plus vanity basin, makes a complete comfortable home.  For holidaying, a small combined bathroom will do the job.  Travelling with children would be a lot easier with your own bathroom.  For a compromise choice (between a shovel and a walk in the bush and a full on board bathroom), you can set up a toilet and shower tent, pack a portable toilet and have an external shower fitted to the caravan or use a portable camping shower.  Without the tent you are confined to camping well and truly alone or showering only under cover of darkness and often in a cold evening breeze. 

A bank of Lithium batteries fitted to a caravan.  These are considerably lighter than conventional batteries as well as being more efficient.  The owner is able to run electric appliances such as toaster and kettle, or run the caravan air conditioner for about half an hour to cool the caravan when stopping on a hot day. 
Note the white tubes are cooling vents for the 12 volt - 240 volt inverter fitted in this inclosure, so are nothing to do with the batteries.