The fridge is, perhaps, the single most important piece of equipment – besides your van – that you will be taking with you on your big adventure and it’s vital to get it right. Most recreational vehicle fridges are three-way, meaning they can run off 12 volt power, mains electricity, and LPG.
Obviously, the best option when staying in a powered caravan site is to make us of the mains electricity you are paying for, and your fridge will run effectively and efficiently on it.
For grey nomads staying out in national parks, bush camping, or stopping at a rest area, bottled gas comes into its own. A full gas bottle can power a fridge for maybe two weeks before it needs refilling – ideal for those extended stays at that magnificent but remote fishing spot.
Of course, when on the move, neither gas nor mains power are options. While making that long and lonely trip down the Stuart Highway, 12v power drawn from your car or motorhome battery will keep your fridge – and your prized barramundi – cold.
When the car is not being used for an extended period, it is highly advisable to switch away from a 12v power source for your fridge as it will run down the car battery and you may find yourself unable to start your engine again! Many people find it convenient and useful to have a dual battery system set up in their towing vehicles. Organising a solar power recharging system is another good option.
Travelling in the tropics will naturally require a harder working fridge than normal and you seek out a fridge that has a higher Climate Class rating. The Climate Classes including ‘N’ for normal, ST for sub-tropical, and ‘T’ for tropical were actually introduced as part of a European Union initiative and are not yet required in Australian fridges.
Alice McDonald from Newcastle in New South Wales reminds all travellers that it takes a fair while for a fridge to cool down and that they should get it nice and cold before putting food in.
“Planning is the key,” she says. “There’s no point just throwing your meat and milk and other bits and bobs a few minutes before you set off and then turning it on. I know a few people who’ve been caught out like that. It can take up to 12 hours for it to get properly chilled – and you might even allow a bit longer if it’s really hot outside or if you keep opening and shutting the door.”
Caravan fridges come in a fair variety of sizes and it is important that you choose the right one to suit your needs. Fridge/freezers from 90 litres to 184 litres are common.
If you are travelling for a long time and plan to get off the beaten track, then bigger is most certainly better. However, the more you intend to use it – and certainly the more you intend to freeze, then your power options become ever more important.
However, it does not end there. Many long-term travellers find the fridges ridiculously small for their needs and choose to get a second fridge or install a totally new one. Tommy and Janice Smith from Brisbane didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when they saw the size of the fridge in the second-hard caravan they bought.
“It was unbelievable,” says Tommy. “These things are obviously designed for people going away for the weekend. I think maybe manufacturers should start taking into consideration the number of us out there who are travelling pretty much full-time.
“We just had to get a new fridge put in because it wasn’t going to work for us. It cost us a bit but we’ve probably made up for it now with the money we’ve saved by being able to freeze the fish I catch, plus, of course, there’s the convenience of being able to do a big shop-up.”
A SECOND FRIDGE?
Many veterans of the road, particularly those who like to get off the beaten track, opt to travel with a second fridge … often housed in the back of the 4WD. As well as increasing storage capacity, this enables grey nomads to take off for a few days or a few weeks in a tent, leaving their van stored safely somewhere. Anglers in particular love to have a back-up fridge.
A second fridge or fridge-freezer of course just compounds the need for a well-thought out power solution. While some of the smaller camping fridges are still three-way, increases in efficiency mean that 12v/240 volt fridges are also highly popular and perfectly adequate in most circumstances. Solar fridges are also gaining in popularity and these cleverly designed machines – complete with their own solar panels – mean that, in a sun-drenched country like Australia, fridges can work pretty much indefinitely however remote a camper’s location is, and however far they are from mains power. Of course, generators can also be used to top up a flagging battery power source when required.
All in all, keeping your cool in the bush has never been easier.