Comparing the fifth wheeler to the caravan

18 August, day 14 of our sun and wildflowers trip – a day of reflecting on our change of rig.

We sold our 25’ Travelhome fifth wheeler along with it’s Hi-lux tow vehicle back in 2017. We also sold our little Toyota Yaris to become a one motor vehicle household. A 2016 Prado was our choice of tow vehicle. We like Toyota, the prado is up to the job of towing a good, small sized caravan, and it’s not a vehicle that feels to big for me to drive. We decided on a New Age Caravan.

We didn’t want any weight issues, so rather than looking at the full range of New Age, we asked which models would suit our tow vehicle. The 16’ Manta Ray was recommended – 9’ less in length than our fifth wheeler. It was delivered mid 2018. So after three years, how are we finding it……

The first thing we found out is that some caravan manufacturers take their measurements internally for the van length, and others measure the external length. The Travelhome was an external 25’ length, the New Age 16’ was an internal measurement. Our 16’ new van is in actual fact 18’ by comparison, which is only 7’ shorter. 7’ is quite a lot – right! Well, no, there’s a lot more to consider than just the length. The fifth wheeler sits in the tray of the tow ute, so there’s no storage in the tray for other things. Additionally, our fifth wheeler was shaped so as the bed was directly on the floor of the nose, and that’s the part that attaches into the tow vehicle tray, so as well as no storage in the back of the ute, there’s none of the under bed storage that traditional caravans have either. Anyone with a normal caravan will tell you how vital the under-bed storage is. Extra bedding and clothes for the colder seasons, cookware that’s only used occasionally, boxes of wine and booze, and all sorts of other things. These were all things we had to find space for in the fifth wheeler, and that wasn’t easy.

Loads of bits and pieces stored under the bed in the New Age

Our fifth wheeler had a dedicated pantry which we thought we’d miss. We don’t. The overhead cupboards in our caravan are more than adequate for our food storage. We thought we’d miss the two door fridge, we don’t miss that either. The fridge in our Manta Ray is more than adequate. We used an Engel for our drinks fridge previously, and we still use our Engel as our drinks fridge. Only difference is, our Engel can now travel in the rear of the Prado, it used to have to travel inside the fifth wheeler which was always cumbersome when staying at an over nighter.

Comparing the two, I think there is really only two main things we do miss, and that’s the fuel economy, and the glossy white interior. The Travelhome towed by the Hi-lux was very aerodynamic by design, and used 13 litres of diesel per 100 kms. The Prado towing the Manta Ray uses 17 litres per 100. On a return trip to Broome that equates to approximately 200 litres of extra fuel. We loved the glossy white interior of our Fifth wheeler. It was easy to clean, and always looked bright, and modern. So we ordered a white interior for our new van, unfortunately though, we didn’t specify glossy white, and Matt white by comparison looks rather dull and flat. Never mind, We’ll live with that.

The additional storage room in a caravan the same size as a fifth wheeler must be phenomenal. I think we have more storage in our van that’s 7’ shorter, and that makes van life a whole lot easier. Of course the big American rigs with their huge boxy front and multiple slide outs are no doubt completely different too, but I’ve never had first hand experience with them to compare.

There are two things I repeatedly hear from caravanner’s. The first is that the bed is hard to make, and the second is that the seating isn’t comfortable. Both of our rigs haven’t proved to be any exception to this. The queen island bed in our Manta Ray is marginally easier to make than making the bed in the fifth wheeler, but the seating is considerably more uncomfortable than the seating in the fifth wheeler. We had a big cream leather club lounge before, it looked gorgeous, but it still wasn’t particularly comfortable. Now we have a small cafe setting. The seats are overstuffed, and too close to the table. The table is over the wheel arch, so although the seats are big enough for two people on either side of the table, there’s only enough leg space for one. Realistically only two people can sit at the table, and that’s with knees almost touching.

If we were choosing again, I’d still buy the 16’ Manta Ray. It’s a very good van, and is big enough for the two of us. I would specify glossy white for the interior, and I think I’d choose single beds. I think the singles would be easier to make, and as caravan mattresses don’t tend to be made with pocket springs, I think we’d probably get a better nights sleep on our own single mattress without feeling each other’s movements throughout the night, as we do now sleeping on the normal queen innerspring mattress. Plus, single beds give a much better feeling of space in the van. The salesman we bought the van from did actually recommend single beds for smaller vans. We didn’t listen!

The queen bed made with single doonas, and a cover over the join for Mr Tilly to sleep on. Two singles would give the caravan a bigger feeling of space

The two main choices for the seating in small vans seems to be either cafe style, or L-shaped. I think the L-shape would have been a better choice.

We’re happy with the bathroom. The washbasin and bathroom storage is adequate, and the shower a good size. We’ve removed the shower door though and replaced it with a shower curtain. It just works better, plus the door weighs 20 Kgs. That’s a good weight saving. The wall mounted front loader washing machine is ok. It tends to cause quite a lot of vibration, and it won’t take anything as heavy as jeans. However, I can wash two towels at once, or one queen sized sheet. We’ve found the bed easier to make by using two single doonas instead of a queen, so the machine will take one single doona cover at a time. That’s a lot of money saved by not using the parks washing machines.

So that’s the inside of the van. The outside of both vans is much the same. We did have an annex for the fifth wheeler, although we rarely used it. We use privacy shades on our roll out awning now, and they’re great. As well as privacy they also provide shade. Our ground sheet though is getting old, and is to small. When we get home after this trip we’re going to replace it with one that’s considerably bigger. The shade screens can be extended to create a much bigger roof space over our outdoor area, but we find the area we actually use, regardless of roof space, is governed by the size of our caravan ground sheet. We’ll let you know how that works out.

So, have we regretted switching our 25’ foot travel home for the 16’ Manta Ray. Surprisingly, no, not even a little bit, and that’s mainly because storage is so important when you’re on the road, and storage space was something badly lacking in the fifth wheeler. We’re still living the Life of Riley in our little Manta Ray. It’s always a pleasure to get away.

28 thoughts on “Comparing the fifth wheeler to the caravan

  1. There is so much to consider when buying a caravan! Things I’d not thought of so this is great info for prospective buyers.
    The idea most relevant for me though was two single donnas on the Queen bed with a coverlet on top over the join. Fab idea, that I might try. This would make a great pinterest hack!


    1. We’re finding the two single doonas the easiest for making the bed. The small covers are small enough to be laundered in our on board washing machine, and it’s so much easier to get a single doona inside the cover than it is to try and get a queen inside a cover. We use a Turkish towel to cover where the two doonas overlap, and also as a light weight cover for Tills to lie on, which keeps the doonas clean. Are you considering getting a caravan Amanda?


      1. That’s a shame. Some people are afraid of the towing and backing, and I can understand that. The Travelhome fifth wheeler was really easy to tow, absolutely no sway at all. We hardly knew it was behind us. Backing was still a trial sometimes though. But caravans are not for everyone.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great summary and interesting to note the similarities in our current Journey Outback. I agree it’s hard to make the bed (which feels more like a Double than a Queen) the lounge seating is a bit tight too but we’re happy with the storage and everything else. In fact we love it which is just as well as we’re quarantining in it at the moment, and will be for the next few days. Happy travels! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Our van, which we bought privately, is a New Age Wallaby pop top 16 foot. From your photos, the layout is identical. We love it too. I agree with you on two things. We wanted single beds too, but when this one came up on Gumtree for the most amazing price, hardly used and immaculate inside it was too good to let go. The only thing it didn’t have which we wanted was single beds. We got prices on a new van, identical to the one we’d found for sale, with single beds instead of the queen bed and it was going to be $30,000 more. So we figured we could cope with the queen – that’s a lot extra just to have different beds. And it’s been fine. We find it quite comfortable and the van is still spacious enough. The only other thing is the seating at the table. Ours is overstuffed too and makes the seats so narrow. I’ve already suggested we should investigate getting the back cushions replaced with a flat backing board with minimal padding, just enough for comfort without taking up so much space. Otherwise, it suits us perfectly and has everything we’ve ever wanted.


    1. Wow $30,000 less – yes I think I’d have sacrificed the singles for that too. We’re considering attempting to turning our seating into L-shaped, although I saw something ages ago I liked even better. It was like a small couch along the back wall which comfortable seated two, and then two small storage ottomans, with a narrow table with a drop down leaf hinged on the kitchen side. The table hinges up when more space is required, and the two ottomans serve as either two extra seats or two foot stools. They’d just to be secured for travelling but that wouldn’t be hard. I think we could make that work for comfort. It just means moving the battery and inverter under one of the seats. It makes no sense having the cafe seating with a big wheel arch taken up half the space.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We figured $15,000 for each bed was a bit much. 🙂 We love our van and it has everything else we were wanting – extra solar panels, batteries, payload, water tanks and it was practically brand new. So the bed was a minor compromise. I’d be interested to see photos of your adjusted seating/dining if you go ahead with it.


    1. It’s a comparison that surprised us. We had been hoping to get a bigger van, but we didn’t want a bigger car. We possibly could have got a bigger van if we’d opted for a Jurgens or even some of the coromal, or Jaycos would have been lighter in a bigger size. We thought we’d struggle with a van of this size. Apart from the seating we don’t struggle at all. Is your seating comfortable?


      1. That is probably our only complaint. By about 3 months into a trip the old back starts to complain about both the van and the camp chairs. We had the settee re stuffed, to no avail. We change the camp chairs every 2 years. But as my old friend Elle says ‘ there’s no such thing as a perfect van’.


      2. I’m happy with our camp chairs, Oz Tent chairs, which we”ve had now about 6 years. Paul”s just moved the TV out under the awning so as we can sit and relax out there if we want a bit of downtime chilling in front of TV. We don’t usually watch much TV, but this trip I’ve quite enjoyed a couple of hours of it in the evening. With the folding stool for our feet we can sit comfortably outside.


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