Your home away from home

Text: Loftus Viljoen and Naomi Myburgh
Photography: Loftus Viljoen

To a large extent, your destination will influence your mode of camping. For example, if you plan on tackling a difficult 4×4 pass with horrible dongas, you probably shouldn’t be taking a large caravan along. Many off-road excursions have been ruined this way.

That being said, however, modern off-road trailers and caravans are immensely capable, and are able to tackle the vast majority of overland routes. It is only the harshest off-road tracks that pose a problem.

Off-road caravans: If your destination allows it, a caravan will provide the greatest comfort and convenience. Essential items such as cutlery and bedding can be stowed neatly in the caravan. Moreover, if you rent an off-road caravan, most of the equipment you’ll need is supplied with it, which obviously makes preparing for your trip much easier.

Off-road trailers: People often say that towing a trailer over off-road terrain is easier than towing a caravan. In our experience, however, it is easier to jack-knife or roll a trailer than it is a caravan. Why do we mention this? Don’t let the fact that you are towing a trailer create a false sense of security. You should be just as careful when towing a trailer as you are when towing a larger caravan.

You also need to put some careful thought into packing your trailer. Unlike a caravan, items stowed in a trailer can sometimes be a bit inaccessible. Make sure that you pack items that you will use regularly in a compartment that’s easy to get to.

Apart from these considerations, an off-road trailer is a useful item to take along. It certainly offers a decent amount of packing space and makes life on the road a little easier. To be honest, though, we still prefer an off-road caravan. Sure, it’s slightly larger, but it is far more convenient.

Tents: If you do not plan on taking a trailer or caravan along, you will probably make use of a tent. And modern tents are fairly convenient. They don’t weigh much and are easy to assemble. However, if you plan on travelling to destinations where wild animals roam freely, a tent probably doesn’t offer adequate protection. Would you really want to sleep in a tent if elephants regularly roam through the campsite?

Roof-top tents: An obvious alternative to a normal tent is a roof-top tent that can be attached to a trailer or the roof rack of a car. These tents are fairly convenient and can be unpacked in a relatively short time. They also provide a bit more protection from animals.

Once you’ve opened the tent on your roof rack, though, you can’t use your vehicle. This means that a roof-top tent is a good idea if you will be travelling regularly from one campsite to another, but if you plan on spending most of your time at one site, it might become a little irritating.

Moreover, roof-top tents are cramped and don’t allow you to stand up when getting dressed.

If you decide to make use of an off-road trailer or caravan, another question pops up: should you buy or rent a unit?

To decide this, you need to calculate the total cost. You have to take into consideration the purchasing cost, insurance, maintenance, storage and all those necessary extras. You also need to estimate how often you will use it. Most people make use of their caravan or trailer for an average of 50 days in five years. This means that if they split the overall cost of the unit into days, renting a caravan or trailer is probably cheaper. If you plan on spending a lot of time on the road, though, buying your own unit makes sense.

When towing an off-road trailer or caravan, or even just driving in off-road conditions, you need take two things into careful consideration.

Speed: Modern 4x4s are capable of travelling far in excess of 120 km/h. That does not mean, however, that it is safe to do so on gravel roads. The majority of travellers are used to driving on tar roads most of the time, and because of this do not always realise the dangers of driving on dirt.

The driving dynamics of your vehicle are vastly different when travelling on a gravel road. Needless to say, if you’re towing a caravan or trailer, the differences are even greater.

Driving on gravel typically places ten times as much strain on your shock absorbers as when travelling on tar. And this can cause your shocks to overheat, which reduces the amount of control you have over your vehicle. It can also place an immense strain on the chassis of your vehicle and caravan.

Speeding is never a good idea, but when travelling on gravel it is especially reckless. Slow down and ensure that you arrive at your destination safely.

Weight: Another issue, and one that is intimately tied to speeding, is vehicle weight. Most people overload their vehicles when travelling overland. And when overloading is combined with speeding, the result is often tragic.

Even if your vehicle isn’t overloaded, it will still be heavy, which means that its centre of gravity will be fairly high. And the higher the centre of gravity, the slower you should travel.

When packing your caravan or trailer, you should also try to distribute weight evenly. Your caravan might not be overloaded, but if all the weight is located at one corner, it will still be difficult to handle. Distribute weight evenly and try to stow the heavy items as near to the ground as possible.