With years of caravanning experience, the Allsops know what to pack to make your holiday park visit more convenient and enjoyable.
After many years of caravanning, Denyse and I have a pretty good idea of what we need to make our stays in van parks easier and more comfortable, and a bit of effort in preparing for your trip will make all the difference once you unhitch. It’s often the little details, or having a few essential items on hand, that make things just that bit easier throughout your stay.
To give you a helping hand, we’ve come up with a list of our top 10 tips and tricks to help you pack for a more convenient and enjoyable van park visit.
LEARN THE ROPES
Your guy ropes are essential for keeping things in their place and we find the easiest way to attach them is to have a nylon hook on the end of the rope. Simply run the rope over the awning cylinder and hook back around the rope before tightening. This allows for easy removal if you need to roll up the awning urgently in a wind storm.
Guy ropes can also turn your campsite into an obstacle course once it gets dark, so we purchased a set of luminous cylinders to slip over our guy ropes and rest on the bottom spring. After being out in the sun during the day, they give off a green glow once it gets dark, making it easy to see where the pegs are at night. Some people also use part of a pool noodle around the bottom of the guy ropes, while others use a small solar light.
We also paint our pegs white so they can be seen more easily, both in the semi-dark and when packing up, which helps to avoid leaving them behind. We also have a peg puller, which we find really useful.
We carry three buckets, stacked one inside the other, in the van boot. Stacking them means they don’t take up much room and we are always finding another use for them.
Everything takes up space, of course, and we like our gear to have more than one use so we do away with folding laundry baskets and use our buckets for carrying the laundry to the line. Make sure you carry plenty of pegs, also, as the clothes dry much faster when they are not doubled up on the pegs.
Buckets are also useful for catching rain water from our awning, gathering wood chips for a fire, taking meat, etc., up to the barbecue area, carrying fishing gear (knife, cutting board, bait, hooks and sinkers) and, of course, bringing home the fish we catch!
UHF radios have many uses on the road, particularly communicating with trucks when overtaking, but also for keeping in touch with other travellers. We have a 5W set in the vehicle and a 5W hand-held set, which can make it much easier to back on to your site once you arrive at the park, particularly if access to the site is a bit awkward (and you have an interested audience of vanners already onsite). It is great to be able to avoid increasingly frenetic (and meaningless) hand signals and even shouting (or divorce)!
Cheap, 1W sets are sold in pairs and are ideal for corresponding between driver and passenger.
While most van parks have some grass or gravel sites, depending on where you travel, you may arrive to find a patch of dirt. Travelling through western Queensland recently, where the drought has hit hard, we found many parks only have dirt and that certainly can’t be helped.
To make our sites more comfortable, we carry a CGear mat that allows sand or dirt to fall straight through but not to come up from underneath and also lets light through to keep the grass alive underneath. It has grommets so it can be pegged down in wind. Denyse hates getting sand and dirt in our van, and we use our matting often, even when parked beside a slab.
There are many types of matting available, but it is important to choose one that doesn’t kill grass. Park owners definitely don’t like you using blue tarps!
We do not carry a full annexe, as we find the bulk and weight hard to justify. The time it takes to erect an annexe means it is not practical for short stays, and we found we would travel for weeks or months without using it. The other issue is that it makes the inside of the van very dark, which we don’t like.
However, we do find shade cloth awning walls to be very useful. We carry one side wall and one end wall. They are very light and can be erected quickly and easily when needed for shade, privacy, or to stop rain blowing in. We have a sail track on the driver’s side of our van as well, so they can be used on either side, according to our needs.
We really enjoy our meals sitting out under the awning. But remember to take plenty of insect repellent and your ShooAway device to keep those pesky flies away from food and drinks.
Before you head off, particularly if you intend to travel to out-of-the-way places, check what batteries are used in all your electronic items. We find that unusual sizes can sometimes be very difficult to obtain on the road.
Even though they are quite weighty, we find it best to carry spare batteries for everything: cameras, torches, water level indicator gauge, gas level gauge, gas detector, caravan clock, smoke alarm, the list goes on... Gee, just stop and think of how much gear you carry that requires batteries. You certainly don’t want to them to run out when you’re busy photographing that great sunset. If you’re organised and are carrying a spare, it’s easy to just slip a new one in.
Although we have two gas cylinders and can change over if one runs out, we find our gas level indicator very useful. It is attached to the cylinder we are using with a magnet. A musical sound alerts you when the gas is low, but before it is completely empty – so you should still have enough left to finish cooking. The last thing you want is to run out of gas if you have only one cylinder and you have guests over for dinner.
There are several types around, including the cheap and useful magnetic tape that attaches to your cylinder and changes colour when hot water is poured over it. However, we like the automatic, musical warning given by our electronic one.
BLOCKS AND CHOCKS
So many caravan sites are not level that it makes you wonder how many parks are built by people who have never actually done any caravanning. Apart from the discomfort of lying in bed with your feet up higher than your head, three-way caravan fridges do not work well unless they are level, particularly on gas. A bi-directional spirit level attached to the A-frame makes it easier to level the van.
Having a jockey wheel with three attachment points instead of the usual two, makes it easier to lower the front of the van on a sloping site. If the nose has to be elevated significantly, we use our Trail-A-Mate jack, as it is much more stable than a jockey wheel wound out to its full height.
There are several types of levelling blocks on the market, but most take up a bit of room. We carry three different thicknesses of timber in a small box on the back of our van that we can use under the wheels. They cost nothing (we found them) and take up very little space.
CORDS FOR EVERY OCCASION
Recently, we stayed at Casino Village, Qld, where some sites are a long way from the power box. Vans near us had extension leads plugged into each other lying exposed on the ground. I believe this is now illegal in van parks, but when it rained, there was a major safety issue.
We carry three different lengths of 15A cords: short, 10m and the long 20m heavy-duty blue cord. This means we have a cord suitable to use in any situation, without the need to join them. We have them tested and tagged each year, as some van parks are now insisting on this with the new workplace health and safety regulations in place.