10 handy tips for your first caravanning adventure

Presented by Trading Post – Australia’s favourite way to buy and sell caravans, campervans, and motorhomes.

You’re going on your first caravanning trip. Excellent! It’s an exciting time of freedom, fun, and the thrill of a new experience. It’s also a big step.

Towing a caravan is a lot tougher than having to ‘carry’ an underperforming doubles partner during the social tennis season; it adds a whole new dimension to any holiday. Factors such as what to bring, time spent on the road, and where to park suddenly have much greater importance.

Here at BIG4 Holiday Parks, we want to help. So we’ve put together a bunch of great tips for first-time caravan users to allow a smooth journey and an enjoyable holiday.

A caravanning adventure is a great way to see the country.
A caravanning adventure is a great way to see the country.

1.     Make a checklist

You’ll need a comprehensive array of items when holidaying with a caravan. Obviously a towing aid is required, but you need to select one that is right for your vehicle.

Other essential caravanning items include a fire extinguisher, wheel chocks, caravan jack, sway control device, towing mirrors, extra coolant and oil, a spare fan belt, and insulation tape.

As with any hobby, some items are essential for newbies, while others can be purchased over time for extra comfort and convenience.

2.     Ensure your van is safe and secure

Once armed with the essentials, you’ll need to make sure your caravan (and vehicle) is safe to be on the open road. It’s best to write a checklist well before you depart and keep it within your caravan for easy referral.

Among necessary checks are that the towing aid is fitted correctly, drawers and other loose items are secure, and windows and doors are locked. Also, remove wheel chocks and the jockey wheel (or secure it), and raise the caravan’s steps. It is also essential that the lights of both your vehicle and caravan are operational and all tyres are inflated correctly.

3.     Take it easy

No doubt you’ve been stuck behind a slow-moving caravan. Now it’s your turn to irritate other motorists! Naturally, towing something the size of a bloated elephant takes getting used to – and you should take extra care anyway – yet there is another important consideration: fuel consumption. Travelling at high speed drains your vehicle’s fuel as it is, let alone when you are towing a caravan. And it’s even more pronounced when driving into the wind.

If towing a caravan at a reduced speed, be mindful of traffic behind you, and use slow vehicle turnouts where possible.

When on the road, other important tips for caravanners include avoiding the desire to swerve if wildlife strays onto the road and being aware of side winds caused by large vehicles.

Take it easy on the road; for both safety and fuel economy.
Don’t be too hard on the accelerator; for the sake of safety and fuel economy.


4.    
Have an early start

Following on from the tip above, it pays to rise early and hit the road before the crowds join the party. This is especially so when towing a caravan for the first time, as you’ll feel much more confident driving in light traffic.

5.     Be prepared for confined spaces

No matter the strength of your relationship, a caravanning trip can be a test for you and your partner. One of the top tips for caravanning is to be prepared for the fact that you will be travelling in confined surrounds. Give each other space, where allowable.

Give each other space, as the confines of a caravan can test relationships.
Give each other space, as the confines of a caravan can test relationships.


6.    
Work as a team

When it comes to tips for using a caravan for the first time, one of the biggest of all is how to reverse the darn thing. Practice makes perfect: put in training runs before facing an audience at your BIG4 park.

When at your site, choose the shortest path necessary for reversing (if you want to challenge yourself on holidays, bring along a Rubik’s cube). From here, parking a caravan requires you to work as a team. Ensure you and your partner’s communication is sound and you can hear each other loud and clear. However, consider using hand signals – or even two-way radios – as it might be difficult to hear instructions over a loud engine. Use your mirrors, be patient, and don’t panic.

Reversing a caravan requires teamwork.
Reversing a caravan requires teamwork if it’s to be a success.


7.    
Have a set-up routine

If you’ve spent considerable time on the road, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend hours setting up your site. Once again, a practice run is worthwhile, as the process will become more efficient over time.

As each caravan differs, so too does the setting-up process. However, here’s a brief rundown: start by unhitching the caravan, putting on its handbrake, and clearing your vehicle away. Once done, level the caravan, lower all four corner steadies until they are touching the ground, set up the gas and water systems, and connect the power. From here, head inside the caravan and check the power and water supplies: heating, taps, oven, fridge, etc.

It's a great life once the caravan is set up.
It’s a great life once the caravan is set up.


8.    
Don’t take opinions as gospel

Having a rig makes you a target to cop advice of fellow caravanners, and there’s every chance you’ll be hit with more opinions than a talkback radio host. In no time, you’ll be informed about the best bakery, the cheapest beer, and alternative routes that are ‘so much quicker’. Simply nod and smile.

9.  Pack up properly

For this tip, it’s best to refer to point number three: follow your checklist. However, there will be additional factors to consider, such as turning off the gas, disconnecting electrics, and removing water and waste water supplies.

10.     Take a course

If you’re serious about caravanning you should do it properly. While they might seem excessive, the various ‘caravanning for beginners’ courses on offer will provide great theoretical and practical advice, and boost your confidence. Alternatively, arrange for a caravan specialist to check your rig before you set off.

At the very least, have a trial run with your caravan before beginning an epic journey. It’s important to familiarise yourself with your new ‘home away from home’.

Do you have any hot tips for someone who is embarking on their first caravanning holiday? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

Check out the suggested touring routes on the BIG4 website to start planning your first adventure in a caravan.

14 thoughts on “10 handy tips for your first caravanning adventure”

  1. Consider installing a reversing camera, especially if you have young children. When the camera view is used in conjunction with your support team and rear vision mirrors you become far more confident in your reverse parking skills.

  2. One thing that should be mentioned, while you are traveling telatively slowly consider the people behind and pull over to allow them to pass, especially any trucks who will be working.

  3. Lots of good advice here.
    Only as a last resort would I accept assistance in parking – particularly reversing. Advise the offerer to crack open a stubby and sit back and enjoy the show. Then share a stubby with him or her and have a laugh after. It’s the best way to learn.

    1. Thanks, John. We love your piece of advice! As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’.

  4. Two comments. Always consider weight limitations. We are going through this issue as a result of buying our second new van. Much heavier than our first. One becomes paranoid keeping to the weights shown on the compliancy plate. Better to be sure than sorry.

    Do not try to travel too far each day. No matter how competent you may feel it is more tiring towing a van. Also why hurry, leave plenty of time to “smell the roses”.

    1. A couple of great comments, Steve. There are so many considerations for anyone embarking on a caravan adventure. However, I’m sure you’d agree it’s all worth it when you’re out there touring this spectacular country of ours.

  5. Re 10 tips. In reality there are a hundred tips that can be given to totally confuse and possibly dissuade the beginner but nevertheless here are a couple more.
    Be familiar with the abbreviations GVM and ATM re weights,
    Know what the correct tyre pressures for both van and tow vehicle should be.
    Do not use cheap rear vision mirrors they will not stay attached for long.
    Do not be afraid to ask questions.
    If the park management offers to assist you to park your van ACCEPT!!.
    Learn as you go.

    1. You’re on the money, Brian! There are more tips on offer than you’d hear on Melbourne Cup day. However, unlike the Melbourne Cup, you can’t have too many tips when you’re on a caravanning adventure. Your suggestions highlight that fact – these thoughts are all valuable pieces of advice for our readers. Obviously you’ve been on a caravanning adventure or two yourself! Thanks for your input.

    2. I am a first timer with scary issues of reversing. There is total fear in me knowing I am being “watched”, but was pleased to read that a lot of parks offer parking the van or other caravaner would assist me. I know I will learn how to do it but being a first timer is scares me so much.

      1. That’s right – assistance is available. However, once you learn you won’t look back (pardon the pun). Good luck!

  6. Be mindful on how much to pack. You could be overloading both your van & vehicle by packing a lot of un-necessary items. Be aware of the load limits. You could be towing illegally, if overloaded unknowingly & if an accident occurs & its proven your rig is overloaded & contributed to the accident, it may have a large impact on the insurance cover.

    1. Thanks a lot for your comment, Graham. It’s certainly a very important consideration for anyone who’s caravanning.

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