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First caravan adventure? Here’s what beginner caravanners should know!

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Are you a newbie to caravanning and not sure where to start? Are you hiring one for the first time and do not have the slightest clue on what you are doing?

Caravanning offers an explosion of new experiences, adventures, freedom and fun. In fact, caravanning is cool! However, when towing a caravan, it adds an entirely new dimension to any holiday.

  • Create a checklist
  • Towing capacity?
  • Is all safe and secure?
  • Essentials
  • Drive carefully
  • Why it’s important to leave early?
  • Don’t overload
  • Living in a confined space
  • How to reverse a caravan
  • Set-up and pack-down routine
  • How to hitch and unhitch a caravan

There is a lot more to consider too, like what to bring, how much time is spent on the road, and where to park without struggling. We have put together a few helpful tips for first-time caravan fanatics for a smooth ride and memorable holiday ahead:

Create a checklist for yourself

Some items are very important for newbies such as a towing aid, fire extinguisher, wheel chocks, a caravan jack, sway control device, spare tyre, towing mirrors, extra coolant and oil, a spare fan belt, brake controller, tools and insulation tape, to name a few.

Is the towing capacity of your car greater than the GCM (gross combination mass) of the caravan?

It is always important to check the towing capacity of your vehicle in the owner’s manual and always remember to never exceed this limit.

Make sure all is safe and secure

Before your departure, be sure to check that the towing aid is correctly fitted, drawers and other loose items are secure, windows and doors are locked and remove wheel chocks and the jockey wheel (or secure it), and raise the caravan’s steps. It is also important to make sure that the lights on both your vehicle and caravan are operational and that your tyre pressure is correct.

Only pack in the essentials

  • Food (basics)
  • Medicinal (first-aid kit, medications, mosquito repellent)
  • Clothing (swimwear, casual wear, nightwear)
  • Resources (gas bottles, batteries, water)
  • Cookware (cups, plates, pots, pans, kitchen, cutlery)
  • Entertainment (books, games, TV, Frisbee, board games)
  • Cleaning (air freshener, garbage bags, dishwashing liquid)
  • Equipment (tables, chairs, surfboards, bikes, umbrella, fishing rods)
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush)

Drive carefully

Caravans are unpredictable and it takes a lot of getting used to. When you are towing a caravan, it is advised to maintain the speed limit and to not overtake any vehicle, however, there are ways of doing it safely, click here to find out how. Taking things slowly is the safest when towing a caravan as you are given ample time to avoid bad  road conditions, stray animals, crosswinds, and it improves fuel efficiency.

The early bird gets the worm

It is best to rise early so that you avoid heavy traffic or busy roads as there will be more space for you on the road. Another fact that you need to keep in mind is that when travelling with a caravan, it is always good to prepare yourself for narrow roads and other obstacles that you could face unexpectedly. Always be mindful of other road users around you. The best part of leaving early is arriving even earlier at your destination!

Don’t overload your caravan

It is always important to pack your caravan lightly and evenly. All luggage should be packed closer to the front of the caravan and on each side of its axle. This prevents swaying and snaking of the caravan that can happen unexpectedly while driving on the long road.

Too much weight in the caravan will also make towing less fuel efficient, while exceeding the weight limits set by the manufacturer and the towing capacity of your vehicle will result in you towing the caravan illegally and you could face legal consequences if pulled over. Click here for more information on towing illegally.

Be prepared to live in close quarters

Living in a caravan is quite confined and can be a test for partners, family or friends on a getaway. There is no privacy and it is important to make sure everyone gets time alone. If you would like to avoid any disagreements, you could perhaps sit outside under the awning or take a walk now and then to offer space for each and every one. Bring a set of earplugs if you can’t sleep through someone snoring and take an eye mask if someone loves to stay up late and read with the lights on.

Team works makes the dream work

You may be worrying about how to reverse a caravan? No to worry – practice makes perfect. It is always advisable to train yourself how to do it or take a course that will provide theoretical and practical advice before facing the audience at your chosen caravan park.

When you are at your booked site, it is always best to choose the shortest path for reversing and it requires a lot of team work to make towing, maneuvering, reversing and parking the caravan that much easier.

Ensure that you and your partner or team can hear each other clearly. You can even use hand signals or a two-way radio. Always be patient, do not panic and make use of your mirrors. To reverse the caravan to the left, steer the wheel to the right. To reverse the caravan to the right, steer the wheel to the left and reverse slowly so that it gives you enough time to correct the vehicle and caravan if needed. If your vehicle has an automatic tilting reverse mirrors feature, turn it off because if you have caravan towing mirrors attached, the tilting mirrors might just knock them off and crack or break the glass.

A set-up and pack-down routine makes everything easier

This kind of routine allows you to set up quickly and safely. According to the experts, the general process of setting up your caravan campsite should be:

  • Empty the waste tanks or cassette toilet at the camp dump point
  • Fill up the fresh water tank
  • Choose your campsite and park the caravan
  • Level out the caravan with chocks if necessary
  • Unhitch the caravan from the tow vehicle
  • Turn on the gas (if the caravan is gas powered)
  • Connect to the mains power (if the caravan has a 240v power system)
  • Lower the entrance step and place a mat underneath to prevent them from sinking
  • Power on the functions in the caravan if necessary (e.g. water pump, heating, etc.)
  • Open the ventilation
  • Set up the external awning when you want to use it

Before your departure, make sure that you pack up properly and follow your checklist you have created for yourself. There are certain things to consider, such as turning off the gas, disconnecting all electrics, removing water and waste water supplies.

How to hitch and unhitch a caravan

When hitching:

  • Wind the jockey wheel up as high as it will go. Reverse the car up to the caravan so that the tow ball sits underneath the coupling head.
  • Lower the jockey wheel so that the coupling head sits on the tow ball.
  • Lock the coupling head onto the tow ball by engaging the coupling latch.
  • Remove or raise the jockey wheel so that it is in a travelling position.
  • Attach the safety chain or breakaway cable between the car and the caravan.
  • Connect the caravan trailer pin plug to the socket on the back of the car and ensure that the brake lights and indicators on the caravan are operational
  • Disengage the caravan handbrake.

To unhitch a caravan is simple, just reverse the hitching process shown above.

Picture: Caravan SA

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