A caravan is just a caravan, isn’t it? Well, no it’s not. There are quite a number of different styles of caravan, which means plenty of options, and also an understanding of what you need before making your choice.
Static caravans are a category unto themselves, of course. Transported to a site, they’re intended to remain in that spot. So, in effect, they become second homes, with all the luxuries you’d expect, except the typical second home price. However, when people talk about caravans, this generally isn’t what they mean.
Mobile or Touring Caravans
These days there are plenty of styles in mobile caravans, and they’ve come a long way from the tin cans with uncomfortable beds that seemed to define the caravan from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Most caravans have a single axle and are designed to be driven on roads They are not designed for off-road use except for the short distances along the rough tracks that sometimes lead into caravan parks. They generally come equipped with small kitchens and showers, and can sleep anywhere from two to six people (although with some, the caravan might feel very crowded with more than four inside). Think of these as touring caravans, fine for most use, but not built for rough wear.
There are also sturdier caravans with double axles, which are steadier on the road, and also off it, if you’re going over harsher terrain. However, they’re heavier – which means you’ll use more petrol hauling them – but with still have all the mod’ con’s you’ll expect.
Slide Out Caravans
Although not as common as standard caravans, slide out and folding caravans have been increasing in popularity. They offer certain advantages in driving, since you’re not towing something quite so big, but which becomes a full-size caravan once parked and worked on for a few minutes.
The slide out caravan adds an extra room, that comes out from the beneath the caravan at the simple touch of a lever. It’s a fascinating idea, developed in America and now available here, which can make caravans into something a little more luxurious without hauling a behemoth on the road. Seeing one being opened up is a remarkable sight, and well worth the view.
The Folding Caravan
The folding caravan is a similar principle, but works in a different way. The caravan as it’s towed on the road is low, more like a long trailer than a caravan. Once parked on a caravan site, however, it can be opened up so it becomes as tall as a regular caravan. This means, naturally, extra time opening up and later closing the caravan, which can be a disadvantage for some people, since it does take a little time. Others though, find the advantages of towing something low far outweigh those problems. You don’t get the same storage as you would in a normal caravan either.
Fifth wheel caravans, also an imported American idea, are still quite rare on British roads. The term comes about because the front part of the caravan is really a platform area that extends over the vehicle towing it – which has to be a pickup truck – and attaches to the truck bed by an articulated connection, the fifth wheel, which steers the caravan. They’re stylish, offer more sleeping room, and a few are also slide-out caravans, becoming, in effect, almost like small portable houses. But the need for a special vehicle to do the towing can be quite off-putting for some people.
You can also find some caravans that are quite tiny – referred to as compact caravans. That means they’re easy and cheap to tow, but the price you pay for that is a lack of room and amenities inside. In facilities they’re more like basic campervans than standard caravans, fine if you want sheltered and more comfortable sleep than you’d have in a tent, but not a thing of luxury.