Prior to ordering our caravan we muddled with the dilemma of whether to have a washing machine installed in the van or not and even after we had ordered it and set off around Australia, we wondered if we had made the right decision. We can now say after 5 months that we are happy with our decision not to have a washing machine installed.
We were quoted $1,400 for a 5kg front load washer to be installed during the build of our Condor caravan. The space needed to fit the washer would have meant we lost 4 drawers, 3 of which our children use to store their socks and undies and the 4th drawer used to store pegs, washing powder and a few other essential odds and ends. This was a considerable amount of space to lose for our family of 5, who would make our caravan home for at least a year.
Convinced that we would need some kind of washer, we purchased a small, portable 4kg washing machine prior to departure which we carried in the car for the first part of the trip. After 3 months and using it no more than 5 times, we decided to ditch it. We found that the time and effort to wash was more than the $4 we would have saved. The machine didn’t have an automatic cycle and whilst it was a good 4kg washer it was only a 1kg spinner, so a small load of washing took a long amount of time!
And so our washing has largely been done during stays in caravan parks. In 5 months we have spent an average of $12.50 per week to wash everything including bedding, towels, floor mats and of course clothing. We wash once every 7-10 days and do 2-4 loads of washing depending on what needs laundering.
The vast majority of caravan parks we have stayed at charge $4 per load and we have found very few (probably only 1 or 2 places) where the machines are unfavourably clean. On a couple of occasions where the load has been $5 or $6 the machines have been larger and newer so this has saved us money in the long run. When free camping we look at WikiCamps to find the nearest laundromats and there are surprisingly plenty more around than we ever realised!
We estimate that based on our current weekly average we will spend $650 on laundry in 12 months of vanlife which may sound a lot but in reality its a saving of $750! We would need to be on the road for well over 2 years fulltime for the quoted 5kg washer to pay for itself based on our current washing habits. So what about a 3kg top loader which are a cheaper option at around $500 to install during a van build you ask? These are great little automatic machines for singles, couples and small families but again size and space are major factors here for us.
Here are some considerations for those wondering whether to get a washing machine for their rig:
❓💰Will the cost of the machine installation be less than the cost of your washing on the road? If not, will it pay itself over time?
❓🔋🚰Will you be able to run your machine when free camping (ie. do you have a suitable solar/battery set up with inverter or a generator and do you have provisions to carry additional water?)
❓⏰Are you travelling fast? Will you have time and do you want to be washing more than once a week as you will most likely need to, especially if you have kids on board.
❓👚👕Will the size of the machine be adequate to suit your needs? The key here is to check both the wash and spin cycles as they may have different capacities.... the smaller the wash and/or spin, the more time spent washing
❓⏲Does the machine have an automatic cycle? If not then you will spend time washing, emptying, rinsing, emptying and spinning every load. Again, time is of the essence here.
❓🌡⛽️Will the space you lose have you sacrificing additional necessary items on the road? (Ie. extra blankets, warm layers of clothing, jerry cans of fuel/water)
We recommend getting a washing machine if you are on the road full time for extended periods or take regular trips for weeks at a time AND consider some of the following variables:
✔️You have few people to wash for... 1-4 people or 1-5 if you have young children who generally have smaller items of clothing
✔️You have plenty of space in your rig to fit it and can afford the space
✔️You have the necessary free camping power set up
✔️You have the capacity to carry additional water
✔️You have time to wash more than once per week
If you’re a quick traveller and your time means more to you than your money then rest assured, getting a washing machine is not a necessity. Laundry will be a small portion of your overall trip expenditure. Our washing fees equate to just 0.72% of EVERY SINGLE CENT we have spent since departure... that’s less than 1%! It has been a small price to pay for our valuable time together on the road!
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