Home > Motorhomes > Why we prefer not to stay at caravan parks (and why towns should offer alternatives)

Why we prefer not to stay at caravan parks (and why towns should offer alternatives)

When you make purchases through links on this website we may earn a commission. Read more.

Anyone who has travelled extensively by caravan, motorhome, or camper trailer in Australia knows it’s usually an ongoing head-to-head battle between caravan park owners and those who support a different option, like free camps, pub camping or low-cost camping areas.

All over the country, caravan park owners lobby chambers of commerce and local councils, trying to keep council-run or privately run free or low-cost camps to a minimum or, in some circumstances, forbidden. There are councils where long-standing and now very much ageing town planning legislation prevents alternative camping arrangements from being established.

But who wins? If the caravan park owners believe they will lose business by allowing competition, they aren’t looking through the right lens. Precluding alternatives doesn’t pose a risk to the caravan park business; it drives business away from the town. The travellers who would never stay in a caravan park pass through the town, leaving it behind in their rear-vision mirror without stopping or avoiding it altogether. It reduces the likelihood that money will be spent anywhere in that town.

In our opinion, it’s a poor philosophy. Travellers who love caravan parks – and there are plenty – will always book a spot at the local park, so there’s no business loss there. This part of the market is never going to challenge us for a spot at the back of the pub or on the green park area under the bridge by the river in a small town. The loss of business comes from those who never arrive.

The local economy

Coming across towns and regions that are not RV-friendly almost generates a defiant act for us to move on. We prefer to spend money with those who support all road travellers. So, when a town is RV-friendly, providing a range of options for overnight stays, you can be sure that you’ll see us and others stopping, at least for a while.

At a recent country stopover in Boonah (Qld), we spent AUD$100 in the town across five businesses in an hour. We weren’t even staying at any of the local stopover spots, but the fact that they are RV-friendly meant we were more than happy to give our hard-earned to the local small businesses, including a coffee shop, bakery, fresh produce shop, butcher and even an op shop. The Dugandan Pub, a few minutes out of town, also scored $50. This wonderful small town has been RV-friendly for a long time, and it’s a hive of activity.

You only have to read the various forums online dedicated to non-caravan park camping – and there are many – to understand what a huge market this is. Imagine if, instead of trying to limit these alternatives, towns encouraged everyone of all shapes and sizes to stay. Wouldn’t that be a win-win for everyone? The forums quickly advise who is and who isn’t RV-friendly.

But don’t misunderstand our love for freedom to say that we don’t think there’s a place for caravan parks. There definitely is. For every aspect of caravan parks we don’t like, someone who loves them will have a different view. That’s okay, and that’s our point. There’s room in this country for various overnight stopover models that support the different ways people love to travel.

Changing road trip landscape

The road trip world has changed, and it’s been changing for a while. The age-old argument that an alternative to caravan parks poses a risk to the ongoing livelihood of such businesses, as travellers divert away from them to ‘cheaper’ options, is simply not true.

With the proliferation of off-grid capabilities, people are hitting the road for lifestyle choices and freedom, which doesn’t match the rigidity of caravan parks.

And it’s not just in Australia. It’s a global change. We’ve been motorhoming in France for over 25 years now, and even back in the late 90s in Europe, as first-time motorhome travellers, we were looking for alternatives to official campgrounds. Fortunately for us, Europe, especially France, is an accommodating place for stopovers like Aire de Camping Cars, Camping-Car Parks, France Passion and wild camping.

Here’s why we don’t like staying at caravan parks. These are purely our reasons, and we note that for every one of us, there’s someone who will never stay at anything other than an official park. That’s the beauty of choice.

Disclaimer – While we might prefer alternative stopover arrangements, we are travellers who respect the environment, the people and the places we travel to and stay in. We operate with a fully self-contained vehicle and leave no trace wherever we go. We are mindful of local rules and regulations, which sometimes apply to council-run parks. If there are costs involved or donations encouraged, we do this. We don’t overstay any publicised limits and never park up somewhere we shouldn’t. We support local businesses and are mindful to other travellers who are around us.

motorhome with awning out parked up on grass with trees in background
Parked up at a country pub camping area $20 a night

Proximity to others

Let’s face it: Many of the places we visit aren’t thriving metropolises. They are small, regional, or rural locations, often with vast expanses of land. Why would we ever want to park in a space surrounded by others? Space is what we seek.

On a recent trip to North Queensland, we had no option in a particular town but to stay at an official park as we wanted to spend time here. We were allocated one of the last remaining spots on the edge of the internal road, with the front of the vehicle poking its nose out to a point where we thought if anyone came too fast or took the corner narrowly, we’d get some damage.

Our vehicle felt like it was encroaching on the camper’s outdoor lounge at the back. We couldn’t open our doors easily. On the other side, our awning was almost line-ball with our neighbour’s tarp. It felt horrible from the moment we arrived.

motorhome in caravan park parked closely to another caravan

While some caravan parks have a lot of space and seem to do a reasonable job at spreading people out, there are some doozies out there where you literally feel like you’re in a sardine tin. The caravan parks are in a grid formation, with little room to move. The park mentioned above was exactly like this.

In some cases, the caravan park layout hasn’t changed since the good old days of the 70s and 80s, when Mum, Dad and the kids hopped into the family sedan towing a small caravan. The plots were set up to accommodate such vehicles.

Today, the sizes of towing vehicles, caravans, and motorhomes have grown significantly. It doesn’t take much to imagine that the big RAMs and Chevvies, along with the 25-footers, will never fit into the same allocated space, yet they are still forced into the spaces, taking up what little ‘extra’ room there might once have been.

heaps of caravans and motorhomes all squeezed in

Cost

This is often one of the most misunderstood parts of the stopover model. While for some, cost is the leading factor, for many, like us, it’s not our primary reason. But, if we don’t need facilities or services, there’s no reason to pay to stay in a caravan park. The cost of staying at caravan parks has risen significantly, especially over the past few years. We know that costs are rising everywhere; still, paying $40-$80 a night on average adds up if you are a regular on the roads, and then there’s the gouging that occurs in some locations, especially when the caravan park is the only one in a tourist town.

We run two 200-amp lithium batteries and two 170-watt solar panels on the roof, and we also carry a 200 external solar blanket (connected via an Anderson plug), which helps on days we might need a little more help from the sun. We run certain things off 12-volt plugs (like our phones when the vehicle is moving), but when we need electricity, we access this via a 2600-watt inverter. We also have a 40-amp DC/DC battery charger.

The batteries can run air-conditioning, microwave, fridge, kitchen appliances and TV. They also provide power for phones, laptops, ebike batteries, Starlink satellite dish, and anything else we might carry that requires power, like our fast/slow cooker, airfryer, toasted sandwich maker and my hair irons! In short, we can do whatever we do at home or in the motorhome, with minor limitations around what can be used simultaneously. For example, we wouldn’t use the aircon and the microwave at the same time.

We can go for weeks and months on end without ever having to connect to mains power and we source water and use dump stations in other locations.

Pet friendly

We travel with our dog, so we must always have a place where she is welcome. While some caravan parks are dog-friendly, many are not. There are also certain locations, like the Northern New South Wales coastline, where some official caravan parks have strict no-dog policies. It’s an automatic deterrent for us, meaning we rarely swing through here on any of our trips.

motorhome parked up with lady sitting in chari and dog on ground
Parked up at Hughenden Rec ground

Facilities

We’ve got a shower and toilet on board, so why would we regularly cart all of our bathroom gear, plus clothing, to a publicly shared bathroom? And why would I want to queue, as I have done in the past, to wait for a shower? If it’s cold outside, we don’t want to traipse through a park. We can do all of this in the comfort and convenience of our vehicle. Plus, I can guarantee that our facilities are always clean.

Booking ahead

Many caravan parks are booked out well in advance, sometimes a year ahead. There is a proportion of caravan park visitors who go to the same one each year and stay for extended periods. This and the advanced bookings mean that the number of spare spaces has decreased for drop-in visitors.

We are the type of travelers who don’t like planning too far ahead. We understand that in some locations, it’s not possible to arrive without a planned stay, but for the majority of our trips, we go with the flow. Having to pre-book stays along our route would greatly inhibit our style.

Check-in and check-out

We like to travel as much as possible without restrictions of any kind. Having set check-in and check-out times disrupts the flow of our travel, and it’s just not something we like to do.

Rules

We aren’t rule breakers by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn’t mean we like lots of them when we travel, especially if they are rules for rules’ sake. We recently had to stay at a caravan park where lists of rules were plastered all over the site, and it just makes you feel like you are back at school. Granted, they are there because the caretakers obviously need to address ongoing issues, but in a different camping environment, we don’t need to be part of such a situation.

For clarity, if there are rules involved with short-stay camping areas, we abide by them, but usually, they are limited to things like being self-contained and having day limits.

Related reading >> Etiquette for free and pub stopovers in Australia

Location

Upon arrival, you are directed to a set location. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can work with the caretaker to choose your spot, especially if you get in early enough. However, if you don’t get an agreeable host, arrive late, or in peak season, the chances of being given an allocated spot are high.

It’s also not just about getting a more desirable location from an aesthetic point of view. For example, if you are running solar, you might wish to have access to the sun and not be in the shade, or if you use Starlink, you might not want to be put in a heavily treed area.

Motorhome parked in grass paddock
Parked up at a free camp area in Rollingstone Far North Qld

More Australian destination guides

12-day itinerary in Western Australia

Things to see and do in Stanthorpe – Granite Belt – Queensland

First-timers guide to the Boulia Races

Three days in Hobart Tasmania

Best places to visit in the Scenic Rim – Queensland

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top