If you’re thinking (or dreaming!) about an extended road trip, you might have in mind some features your travel vehicle will need. We certainly did, and drew up a couple of lists before we ended up buying our caravan(a lovely 1960s fibreglass Olympic Riviera).
The first list included our ‘must-have’ features: essentials like roadworthiness, 12 volt lighting, a 3-way fridge, a decent-sized water tank, a maximum length (16 feet), some kind of battery set up for free-camping and water tightness. The second was our ‘In-a-perfect-world’ list, and we knew we’d most likely have to compromise on some of these features given our limited budget.
We’ve been on the road for a year now, which has given us plenty of opportunities to see how the realities of full-time caravan living have matched up with our expectations of it. We’ve found that we could easily live without some of the features our caravan has, while there are others we didn’t think we’d need but that we would love to install. Read on to find out which features fall into which category – and why. This is part one.
9. SOLAR PANELS
EXPECTATIONS: Solar panels were something we compromised on when buying our caravan (it came with a generator instead). We were hopeful that the genny would get us through, which it has, to a point. However…
REALITY: We are now of the opinion that solar would have been far superior to the genny. We’ve learned that deep-cycle AGM batteries, such as the ones we have, charge best when connected to a power source over longer periods (i.e. overnight) rather than in short bursts. Of course it’s not ideal to have a genny running for 8-12 hours (and at some camp sites you can’t use generators at all) so we’re looking at getting solar installed in the coming weeks. If you have a choice between the two systems, we recommend solar as your best bet, although it might not be a bad idea to have a genny as back-up, or for if you occasionally use power-hungry appliances (air-conditioners, toasters etc).
TIPS: Solar systems are a minefield! We’ve been doing some pretty serious research over the past couple of months and while it seems universally agreed that solar technology has improved over the last 10 or so years and that prices have significantly dropped over the past five, other than that, everyone says something different. It’s difficult sifting the good advice from the bad.
As a starting point, do some research and get your head around the basics of watts, voltage, amps and amp hours (we found this website very useful). Write a list of all the power-drawing equipment and appliances in your vehicle and do some rough calculations to figure out how much power you require and what size panels you will need to accommodate this. Then, once you have this information at your disposal, visit multiple shops to see what the retailers have to say. Compare prices online, too. Keep researching, taking everything you hear (and especially what you read on forums) with a grain of salt. Hopefully at the end of it all you’ll not only have a good system in place but you’ll have learned some things, too.