Setting Off On Your First Caravan Trip

Going on your first caravanning trip is very exciting. A new experience filled with adventure and a whole new type of freedom while you’re travelling. However, towing a caravan and looking after it while you’re away can seem a bit of a daunting prospect. We’ve put together some of our top tips for first time caravanners to help everything go as smoothly as possible. 

1. Do your admin

In this article we’re going to assume you’ve already got a caravan or have got a rental sorted out. We’ve covered choosing your first caravan in a previous article. 

So, the first step before hitting the road is the boring one. Make sure all your paperwork is in order. This includes making sure your insurance and breakdown cover is all up to date for your tow vehicle and your caravan. If you’ve just purchased a used caravan, it might be worth getting an expert in to carry out some habitation checks before you hit the road and discover any issues before they become bigger problems. 

2. Make sure you’ve got all the technical kit you need

There’s plenty of kit involved when it comes to holidaying with a caravan. With plenty of time to spare before you set off on your first trip, get a list together of all the things you’ll need to run the caravan before you even think about the other things you’ll be taking with you.

This includes things like an appropriate towing aid, a caravan jock, wheel chocks, towing mirrors and a fire extinguisher. 

3. Load your caravan correctly

The way you pack up your caravan has greater importance than you might think. You’ll need to know exactly how much weight you’re legally allowed to add to your caravan while towing it. 

You should be able to work this out by finding the difference between the Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) of the caravan and the Mass In Running Order (MIRO). The resulting figure is known as the User Payload. However, before you start loading, you’ll need to deduct any additional features you’ve installed on your caravan, such as a motor mover. 

Once you know how much additional weight you can load into the caravan, you’ll need to put the heaviest items in first. They need to be positioned low down and as close to the axle as possible. Medium weight items come next, as low as you can get them and evenly distributed while staying as close as possible to the axle. The overhead lockers should be reserved for your lightest items, otherwise you might increase the risk of ‘snaking’ while you’re on the road. 

4. Get a setting-off checklist together

To make setting-off as easy as possible and to avoid any last minute panics, get a checklist together. This means that you can tick everything off each time and feel sure you’ve got everything and done everything you need to do before setting off. To get you started, this should include:

  • Empty the water tanks - fresh and waste water

  • Check fluid levels, gas and electricity supply, making sure everything is off and disconnected

  • Check your tyre pressure

  • Check your lights

  • Test your safety appliances (alarms, fire extinguishers etc.) and security devices

  • Make sure everything is secure including locker doors, windows and the fridge door

  • Raise corner steadies and remove chocks

5. Take it easy on the road

If you’re new to towing on the road, it can take a while to get used to and you might be a little nervous at first. There are courses you can go on where an instructor can guide you through the basics. However, whatever level you are, it’s important to give yourself plenty of time so you can really take it steady on the road. Preferably travel at quieter times of the day so that main roads are quieter and you have more space. We’ve all been stuck behind a slow-moving caravan at one point or another, so when you’re not on a multiple lane road, take advantage of laybys and allow faster vehicles to pass when possible. 

6. Get a set-up checklist together

When you arrive at your destination, you’ll want to make things as easy as possible so you can put your feet up and get into the holiday spirit. It’ll take a while to get into a set-up routine that suits you, so try the following steps the first few times you park up. 

  • Unhitch the caravan, pop the handbrake on and move your tow vehicle out of the way.

  • Level the caravan

  • Lower the corner steadies

  • Connect the power and set up your gas and water systems

  • Head inside and make sure your appliances are working correctly and that the water system is all good to go.

Then it’s time to make yourself a cuppa and sit back and relax. 

7. Work as a team

No matter who you’re travelling with, remember that caravan holidays mean you’ll be in close quarters a lot of the time. It’s important to be considerate and keeping things clean and tidy can make a whole world of difference in a relatively confined space. When setting up and packing up, it’s a lot easier when everyone chips in and takes responsibility for an item or two on the checklist and in many cases an extra pair of eyes can be very helpful. For example, reversing a caravan into a pitch if you don’t have a motor mover can be very tricky on your own. 

As with most things, caravan trips tend to go much more smoothly and are more enjoyable when you’re well prepared. Don’t leave things to the last minute and if required, get someone in to do any checks well in advance. This means you’ll have plenty of time to sort any issues out and you won’t discover any faults at your first camp site. There are plenty of courses available to help build your confidence towing something as big as a caravan and get a practice run in at least before tackling a long trip. Follow the tips above, work as a team and take it easy on the road. However, most of all, enjoy your trip!

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