The decision to pack up the essentials and take a driving holiday around our island home is a no-brainer.
After all, who wouldn’t want to explore our nation’s red deserts and aquamarine coastlines?
But, deciding whether to travel Australia in a van or a 4-wheel-drive is a little trickier.
Here, we weigh your options to help you choose: van life or off-road adventure?
Space vs Accessibility
When talking space, it’s worth noting straight up that not all vans are created equal.
Motorhomes are luxurious, coach-built vehicles that contain both the driving cabin and your living space on wheels, eliminating the need to tow.
(Incidentally, if you’ve ever tried to reverse park while towing a caravan, you’ll know, that’s another hurdle a motorhome or camper overcomes!)
Within this category, on the lower end of the cost scale, are campervans – basic vans, sometimes converted (like a Sprinter) or traditional (everyone knows the classic VW) which give the more adventurous a no-tow, no-frills option.
Conversely, caravans do need to be towed, but also offer more space and a more ‘home like’ experience.
With all that said, you are going to get more space from a van (no matter the style) than you will with a 4×4, which needs to either tote all your camping gear, tow an additional living space, or be fitted with a pop-up roof tent.
To put a tick in the 4×4 box, however – they can go pretty much everywhere.
Australia has loads of hard-to-reach beaches, campsites and natural wonders that are only accessible via a 4-wheel-drive.
Home on Wheels vs Driving Adventures
Van life is all about living comfortably no matter where you roam, and, because vans are largely customisable, there are many more options for how you kit out your ride than a 4WD.
Once customised, you can then pull into just about any town in Australia, and set up house in a park, often with power, water and sometimes even luxury amenities like laundry facilities and a kitchen.
Modern motorhomes even have creature comforts on board, so you’ll spend less time searching for parks that have amenities, and more time holidaying.
Driving a 4WD, on the other hand, is an adventure in and of itself.
Australia is home to dozens of wicked off-road drives (like 75 Mile Beach on Fraser Island) that can only be done in a 4WD.
If cresting over enormous dunes and bumping over inland creeks is your ideal getaway, you can do all that in a 4WD, and still end the day parked beside a caravan that’s stayed put all day, or before curling up in your own tent, sleeping under the stars.
Creature Comforts vs Durability
Few things are as welcome after a long day of exploring as laying down in a real bed, and it’s fair to say, comfort is one of the huge advantages of having a van.
In a van, you can hook up to power at one of Australia’s 2,400 parks (which means hot water), shut the door on bugs and other creeping crawlies, and even watch your favourite TV show, should you choose.
Given that the odds are high that the more comfy you are, the longer you’ll ramble, a van gets a tick for making extended trips more possible.
On the flip-side, 4WD travel tends to be a bit more rustic – they’re a mode of transport first and foremost, not a place to stay.
Of course, this is ideal if switching off and getting back to nature – or getting your family to reduce their screen time – is on your travel wish list.
Four-wheel-drive vehicles also have a (well-earned) reputation for being tough as nails.
Invest in a good one, and it will stand up to climbing rugged mountainous terrain, traversing flowing rivers, and crunching over snow, sand and gravel.
Not only does this mean more bang for your buck, but it also means you’re less likely to find yourself stuck – or worse, in danger.
Running Costs vs Safety
Streamlined and designed for cruising along the blacktop, the comfort of a van generally comes with the added bonus of keeping overall running costs down.
While your engine will be powerful enough to keep your home-on-wheels humming along, it’s unlikely to have the same grunt as a 4WD – so you’ll find yourself filling up less often.
Also, a lot of modern campervans are conversions of vehicles made for the transport industry, where fuel efficiency matters.
Finally, maintenance, servicing, and repairs of a camper or motorhome are less likely to require specialist parts, meaning less time and money spent in the garage.
Of course, the power and specialist build of a 4WD can also be a benefit, saving you more than money in certain circumstances.
For example, you don’t have to be off-roading to get bogged, and, while that will probably be a small inconvenience for a 4WD, it could mean a long, treacherous – potentially expensive – wait for recovery in a campervan or motorhome.
Plus, in a 4WD a minor fender-bender isn’t going to be an adventure-ender.
Ultimately, your choice will come down to your budget, your needs and how you envision life on the road.
If you’re looking for a home away from home, look at vans.
If you’re looking to explore the road less travelled, check out 4-wheel-drives.
Consider this, though – the ultimate combo might just be a caravan towed behind a 4WD.
Now that’s what we call ‘the best of both worlds’!
If you’re looking to upgrade your caravan, camper, boat or 4WD, get a 30 second quick quote on finance with CreditOne – Australia’s best rated finance broker.