Outsiders Club

How did caravanning start as the ultimate Aussie holiday?

15 Nov 2023
5 minutes

Caravanning holidays haven't always been the preferred holiday of choice for Aussies looking for a local holiday. This got us curious as to when and how caravanning became such an institution in Australia.

Early 1900s - Introduction of Caravanning

The caravanning holiday first came about when the earliest vans were imported into Australia in the early 1900’s, while vanning was not unknown, it wasn’t a popular holiday and often considered an American phenomenon. During this time, owning a car wasn’t always accessible much less a caravan.

Since then, the caravan has progressed from the early horse-drawn carts constructed of a mixture of paneled sides, canvas, and a framework made of plywood to today’s standards.

1920s - Hardwood Caravans and the Great Depression

By the 1920s caravanning holidays were on a steady increase until the 1929 Wall Street crash that resulted in the Great Depression. This left people unemployed and struggling to make ends meet resulting in a dip in the caravanning holiday. Although travelling decreased, caravan manufacturers continued to experiment with the production of vans. During the 1930’s hardboard was being used to cover the framework however, caravan users at this time found that their vans needed constant repainting and this process was tiring.

1940s-50s - Vintage Vans and Post-WW2 Boom

Just as Australians were getting on the open road again, WW2 began with travel restrictions, high petrol taxes, and manufacturer holds for caravan production pushing holidays to the back of everyone’s mind. However, when the war ended, the start of what was coined the ‘Great Holiday Boom’ by the Sydney Morning Herald, began. There were also big changes to the work week, 2 weeks of paid annual leave, two-day weekends and regulations to the 40-hour week were introduced.

So, Aussies began travelling and manufacturers began producing vans with new building techniques. Steel and aluminium were products often being incorporated into the build and the innovation of the canvas annex was born.


It was in the 1950s when car ownership started to become common, and many people had access to a motor vehicle for the first time that caravans also had an increased popularity. Caravanning became a holiday go-to for Aussies and an expected annual affair during the warmer months. You might still see caravans from the 50s on today’s roads restored and decked out as ‘vintage vans’. This period saw the caravan holiday become a cultural staple for Australians.

1960s-70s - Caravanning Becomes a Cultural Staple

By the 60’s and 70’s, a fifth of Aussie holidays were spent in caravans, and manufacturing had really increased. Innovations made in this period soon became the industry standard still used in today’s manufacturing. In the 1990s, the first generation of retirees started exploring our own backyard, rather than holidaying overseas.


Today - Caravanning Around Australia in the Modern Era

Now, 1 in 13 Australian households own a caravan plus, they continue to be the fastest growing vehicle type by registration. The big lap is now something high on many people’s bucket lists and with new technologies that allow work-from-home arrangements to be made anywhere.

Caravanning holidays are enjoyed by many from young families, couples, solo travellers and explorers, but most notably the caravan is the cornerstone of many fond family memories for Aussies all over.

Looking for more great caravanning tips, check out these handy articles: