Learning to be a grey nomad

Travelling Well | Steve Perkin | Posted on 20 February 2017

A novice nomad with training wheels on his camper trailer offers some tips for success on the road.

Steve Perkins sitting on the edge of the water with his Camper trailer behind him
Steve Perkins with his camper trailer

I've bought a camper trailer. Finally.

The process took two years and I’m still wondering whether I may have rushed into it.

I won’t tell you what I chose. Figure it out for yourself. That’s half the fun. Anyway, what I want and what you want will differ according to so many variables that I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Loaded questions

These sort of questions go on and on, and they don’t end the moment you make your decision.

We camped for one night in our new camper and rang the dealer the next morning with five questions.

And after eight days of camping, we rang him with another six questions.

“Just read the manual,” I hear you shout, but there wasn’t one. My wife bought a $40 hair-dryer and it had six pages of instructions in six different languages.

I buy a $20,000 camper trailer and there isn’t one page of information. Not a single page. Just a 20-minute briefing from the dealer on pick-up, most of which gets forgotten in the excitement of the moment.

There wasn’t even a video link that could tell me the nitty-gritty little things, like what do the illuminated numbers on the camper’s control panel actually mean.

No manual and no helpful video. You just learn as you go, so I suspect not many people know everything, which means there are a lot of Grey Nomads with L plates travelling around out there.

Defining indefinite

As my wife and I drove down our street, towing our camper trailer for the first time, to spend two weeks somewhere, I asked her whether we now officially qualified as Grey Nomads. She says “no”, that we need to be gone indefinitely and her definition of “indefinite” means at least three months.

I don’t know where she plucked three months from, but I never argue with my wife.

So you probably want to know where we went, but I’m not telling because it was quiet, devoid of other campers, cheap, not a million miles away, scenic, and happy to have fires and dogs, and I want to keep it that way.

I should also say that it got as low as zero at night, which means we’re now researching whether there’s a safe and suitable heater for a tent.

You see, the learning never ends.

Living and learning

Since returning, we’ve examined the towing capacity of our car and decided to upgrade the suspension. There’s $1000 gone.

We’ve discussed whether it’s better to have the peace and quiet of camping alone or the comfort and safety of caravan parks.

We’ve trawled websites looking for camping areas near things we like, such as golf courses, fishing spots, wineries and restaurants.

Thanks to the internet, my wife has become an expert on battery capacities, and can detail the pros and cons of airbag suspension. Two weeks ago, she couldn’t have written five words on either.

I, like most blokes, shy away from instructional guides and opt for an “it will be right on the night” attitude. And if it isn’t, I’ll worry about it then, which is foolhardy and wrong.

But that’s another thing you learn.

Yes, learning to be a Grey Nomad is certainly enough to give you grey hair.

Tips for nomad success

  • Know what your caravan or camper trailer weighs and be sure your car can comfortably tow it, before you buy.
  • Make sure the suspension and towing set-up on your car complement what you’re towing. Get it wrong and you can, at very least, damage your car.
  • Know what your insurance policy covers and what it doesn’t. If you break down 1000 kilometres from home, does it cover transportation costs home?
  • Install an Anderson plug to your car and trailer. This allows a charge from your car battery to flow to the battery of whatever you’re towing.
  • Solar panels are easy to set up and a great way to easily charge the battery of whatever you’re towing.
  • Keep a contact number for your mobile-home retailer. You may have questions that need urgent answers.
  • If your camper or caravan has provision for a gas cylinder, make sure you buy one that fits.
  • Spend a night in your camper while it’s in the driveway at home. This will give you experience at putting it up and taking it down, and will also tell you little things like whether it’s one pillow or two.