I think we’ve all dreamt of buying an old fixer-upper, making it our own and taking it on the road. Stopping at holiday parks and caravan-friendly country towns while taking the Sloways across Australia.
But how much time, money and sweat is needed to turn a retro shell into a beautiful holiday home on wheels? And compared to buying new, is it worth it? We spoke to the owners of two vintage caravans that have recently had full makeovers.
North of Bondi, Mark and Penny Bailey
Sydney husband and wife Mark and Penny Bailey both grew up caravanning. They each had quintessential Australian summer holidays and their earliest memories are in holiday parks up and down the east coast.
More recently, with relatives in Queensland, the family would regularly stay in caravan parks, but the Baileys would prefer to rent a cabin or alternatively stay in a tent.
In 2018 while working out the price of staying in a resort for a Christmas holiday with their two then-teenage daughters, they realised it would cost the same amount to buy an old caravan.
Living in Bondi, they needed to find a trailer small enough to fit in their driveway.
They bought their compact 1970 11ft caravan on ebay for $4,500 and collected it from Grafton. It had had only one owner for the last fifty years and came complete with original bedding and décor.
The Bailey’s had booked a summer holiday only months away and were literally putting the last lick of paint on the day before they hit the road.
They removed the old gas stove as they prefer to do their eating and cooking outside. This gave them more storage space and made it more comfortable. Inside it has a single bed to the left and a (small) double bed to the right, with stylish white cabinets and brass taps.
“Once we’re set up, we don’t spend that much time inside. We use it to sleep, we might have a mid afternoon siesta or relax inside if it’s raining,” says Mark.
While North of Bondi is the Bailey’s home away from home, half of the fun of caravaning is the sense of community that comes with it.
“People in holiday parks love to poke their head in and have a look, and talk about what we’ve done with it,” says Mark.
The wheel position and weight of the old caravan is different to towing a modern caravan, which can take a bit of getting used to. When the Baileys take North of Bondi on the road, they settle into a high speed of 90 km/hr.
“It means our holidays are as much about the journey as the destination. It’s a whole different experience,” says Penny.
Their caravan is currently being kept at Boyds Bay, Tweed Heads. This way they can drive up from Sydney to use it and either set up camp, or hook it up to venture further north.
Their advice for anyone thinking of renovating an old caravan? “Do it!” Penny is quick to say.
But they also suggest you take it slow.
“The old caravans were built really well, so instead of gutting it straight away I’d suggest enjoying it a bit with the original interior and then updating it once you know what you want,” recommends Mark.
Poppy, Bianca Bloomfield
Bianca Bloomfield from Old Bar in New South Wales had only months earlier given birth to her second child, Frankie, when she managed to convince her husband Michael that they should buy a caravan and do it up.
“Growing up my family used to go camping at South West Rocks, this was when I was really young. There were a bunch of families that would go there each year and all the kids would ride their bikes around the caravan park. Once we got older though, our parents started taking us on overseas holidays,” she says.
As an adult Bianca’s regular holiday spot was Bali. Along with her partner and their three year old son, it was a regular annual vacation that they looked forward to.
“We hadn’t been camping together…I wasn’t one of those caravanning people.”
But last year with overseas holidays out of the question and even interstate travel questionable, Bianca found herself inspired by Instagram and Pinterest caravan renovations and thought “why don’t we do this?”
She wanted something mechanically sound, but with an interior that they could gut and totally make their own. They set their purchase budget at $5,000 as they intended on spending the bulk of their budget on the renovation.
Within two weeks they had found their van through Facebook marketplace. The previous owner had intended on renovating it himself, but unfortunately he fell sick and wasn’t able to continue with the project.
“My husband is a builder and I enjoy homewares and design so we did it together,” she says. The couple had previously renovated a house and they built and designed their current home themselves. But their caravan project had a particularly tight deadline.
A holiday at Yamba was booked for November and so they had roughly six weeks to renovate.
“We were lucky because the caravan we bought had been mechanically fixed-up already,” she recalls.
They named it ‘Poppy’, which was one of their shortlisted names for their baby daughter.
Bianca’s favourite part of the project has been seeing the transformation. She recommends taking inspiration from home renovation Instagram accounts.
If she had the chance to do it again, one thing Bianca would have done differently was to put more thought into how they could take it off-grid. While many Australian campgrounds have power and hot water, there are just as many that don’t.
“I fitted our caravan with linen sheets and a pendant light, I wasn’t expecting to need to go off-grid” she says. “But our second trip was to Diamond Head which is down a dirt road and no power. It would be nice to have the option of solar.”
And what’s next for Poppy? Bianca would love to set it up and rent it out at a local caravan park so she can share her home away from home with other holiday makers.