We've had a caravan for a good few years now, but pre-COVID we were using it less, and less. AirBnB and cheap hotel deals made it easier and more comfortable to just book somewhere, and not have the hastle of towing. We basically used it for the events that are difficult from a Hotel+Taxi perspective, so it was really only once or twice per year.
Well in the depths of lockdown, we took another look, and could see that it was going to be a while before we were happy with Hotels/AirBnB, so maybe we should upgrade. If we could be self contained, then we can interact as much as we are comfortable with, and we don't need to worry about what others want to do.
We looked at a number of options. We wanted to be able to roll up, wind the legs down, connect water and waste, and be done. We didn't want to have to have electric hookup, we didn't want to need the awning, we wanted our own toilet/shower. We also looked at the space, and didn't want to have to keep converting the living area to the bedroom area, so we wanted something with a seperate bedroom. Our main car has a towing limit of 1500kg, so we started looking at the options. We quickly decided on a rear island bed, with toilet/shower in the middle. Looking at the various manufacturers, I liked the way that Baileys had changed a few things around, as it made more sense. Things like the battery under the floor (lower down and central). The gas cylinders under the sink unit (accessed from outside), so again nearer to the axle, and also removes the front cupboard. Looking at the various ranges, we settled on the Bailey Pheonix+ 640.
Options: We took a few dealer fitted options, motor mover, solar (but upgraded from a 100W to 150W panel), ALKO ATC (anti-snake), 4G, and a few other extras in a package (wheel lock, power lead, etc.). But after collecting the caravan, I immediately changed a few things.
The solar controller: The supplied PWM controller is only about 70% effecient, so would get a peak power of about 70W (from a 100W panel). Getting the dealer to upgrade to a 150W panel, and changing to an MPPT controller, gets a peak power of about 145W, so over 2x! I used an ePever one, I've used others in their range before and they do what they claim, plus I got a factory returned unit for £30, so not a huge expense. While I was replacing the controller, I upgrade the cabling between the controller and the battery, what was there was pretty thin and wasn't fused.
The LTE router: The Maxview 3G/4G Roam, comes with an LTE router/Wi-Fi that is actually a re-badged Teltonika RUT240, it's a single stream LTE-CAT4, so 150Mbps. I replaced it with a RUTX9, which is dual stream LTE-CAT6, so 300Mbps. The RUTX9 is only a router, I really wanted the RUTX11 that is an LTE router with built in Wi-Fi, but the lead times were poor, and those that had stock wanted a lot of money (more than £100 more than the RUTX9). So for Wi-Fi, I added a seperate TL-WR902AC, this is a dual band IEEE802.11ac unit, which I've reflashed with OpenWRT. The main reason I wanted to upgrade was to get dual stream, this gives two connections on different bands from a single SIM, so you tend to get 2x the bandwidth even in poorer signal areas (when my phone is getting 5M...10Mbps, I often see at least 40Mbps).
Spotlights/USB: As supplied 2 of the 4 spotlamps have a single USB socket. I found similar replacements, that are dimmable, and have 2x USBs per light, replacing all 4, suddenly gave us a lot more USB sockets. This was a really simple upgrade, unscrew the old fitting, pull the wires out of the hole, reconnect to new fitting, do up the 2 screws.
Speakers: We don't use the stereo much, but the supplied speakers are basic twin-cone ones, these got replaced with some twin driver ones, that took a bit of tinkering to get to fit, but now look great, and sound much better than the older ones. (One day we will pipe the TV sound through them!)
High powered fusebox: I replaced the battery Midi fuse holder with a 4 way Midi fusebox. This master fusebox is used for 1=Bedroom, 2=Solar, 3=Extra devices, 4=High power 12V connection, I also added a resetable breaker going to 2 extra leisure batteries.
The bedroom feed allows for 2x 12V sockets, and 2x USB sockets (in addition to the 4x USB in the spot lights)
The Solar feed, protects the cable going to the solar controller (was unfused!)
The extra device circuits are relay switched by the caravan main power switch. There are two circuits, one internal and one external. The internal devices are 12V and USBs (will also be hardwired for the TV/STB, but not done yet). The external devices are for outside lights, 12V devices, and yet more USB sockets.
The high power 12V fuse connects to a 60A plug, it's mainly for connecting a 350W inverter, but during the winter I've been using this to connect the external Solar controller into.
The seperate resetable breaker is wired to a space for 2x extra leisure batteries. This means that we can go off-grid without needing a generator for quite a while, even if we don't get a lot of sunshine to top things up. Fixing them down safely was difficult, so I transport them in the car, then move them into the caravan and connect them in.
Rerrange: While doing all of this, the main 12V terminals moved up to a side panel, so the motor mover controller could be moved back, so now isn't in the way of the side cupboard, this actually gives a surprising amount of extra space.
Buzzer: I added a 12V buzzer with a simple transistor circuit, between the motor mover power and the Caravan's switched power. So if they are both switched on, then the buzzer sounds. So when we're setting up camp, when the carvan power is switched on, it buzzes if we forgot to turn the motor mover off. When we get back to base, and use the motor mover to park up, it buzzes if we've left the caravan power on.
Awning: We didn't want a full awning, so went with the 13ft Sunncamp Protekta Roll Out Sun Canopy, with the sides. Rolled up it stays on the side rail, it's takes about 5 minutes to set it up, 5 more minutes if you want the side panels.
Front cover: We had a cheap front cover for the old caravan, but the straps were not very well thought out. So we attached some awning rail tape to some spare fabric, with velcon on that, then put velcro on back of the front cover, so it's really easy to put on / take off now. The awning rail tape+ fabric + velco stays in place, and the cover just velcos off and back on as required. Because this Caravan has the reflectors down low, and the running lights on the side, it's fine for night time towing.
The RUTX9 has dual SIM slots, so I've got a 24month/24GB SIM from Three (was £60, so £2.50 per month), and a 5GB/month EE SIM (works out at £5 per month). The EE is the preferred slot, but the Three is set as auto fallback.
As part of the upgrade package we got a wheel lock, but we figured a bit more would be good.
GPS: The RUTX9 has GPS built in, so I've added a script that uploads the GPS data to a remote server every 10 minutes.
Cameras: For another project I got a Blink camera system (so before they started charging the monthly fees) so I've connected the hub to the Caravan's internet, and have a pair of cameras connected to the hub. With the system armed, and not triggered much, it uses about 500MBytes/month, so not too bad.
Cover: It's stored outside in Winter, so I got a 2nd hand cover for a different caravan that's big enough. A few cheap straps make sure it stays on
Solar: With the solar panel covered up, I wanted to keep the batteries in good condition, so roped a pair of 100W panels on top of the cover, these feed into a spare controller and are connected into the 60A connector. When we camp without hook-up, then these panels can be wired in to give us an extra top-up. (So 350W of solar instead of 150W.)