First Time Caravanning? Here’s What to Practice Before You Hit the Open Road

How to reverse a caravan and other first time dramas

By Karen Perry

The first time you need to reverse a caravan is a nail-biting experience.  It really is. At our Sunshine Coast workshop, we have a cavernous space, but every time a new trainee starts, the techs line up to watch their first attempt at backing a new caravan or camper into place.  It’s almost a ritual. There’s always a first time and it’s much better to have that tricky first experience close to home, than 600 kilometers away in a campground!  I’ve been hitting the open (and not so open) roads for 40 years and working on caravan and camper design for about ten so, I’m pretty good at using our van.  But, even after all this time, I still miss the bay from time to time!

Learn How to Reverse a Caravan

It’s not so tricky once you get used to it but the first time.  Here’s the Cliff’s Note’s on how to reverse park a caravan or camper:

  1. Position your van about a meter forward and two meters to the right of the bay.
  2. Turn your wheel hard left and slowly start reversing.  Release the wheel just a touch
  3. Once you’ve lined up the van with the bay, slowly start returning the wheel to the centre
  4. If the van jack knifes, do not panic, just slowly pull forward and try again.
  5. Continue to straighten up as you slowly reverse in.
  6. Check that you’ve left enough room for your annex and for the neighbour’s annex
  7. Park and stabilise your van before unhitching.

And no, you probably won’t get it right the first time, but just like reverse parking a car, practice makes perfect!

What else to practice:

Packing and Towing:  Towing a caravan can be daunting the first time.  How you pack your van will greatly impact its stability on the road.  Take a short trip in your van prior to embarking on a great adventure.  That way you’ll be able to test yourself towing a caravan on all kinds of roads.

Hitching: How to hit a caravan or unhitch a caravan will depend on your model gear, practicing this is vital for safety and should be done before you hit the road.  Make sure your driving legally and that you’ve adhered to every step.

Stablisers:  Stablisers make towing safer.  Your caravan or camper manufacturer should have instructional videos on how to fit your stablisers properly.  These shouldn’t really be optional as safety is paramount when caravanning.

How to “pop the top” in a hybrid caravan:  Some caravans and campers have manual pop-outs, some use hydraulic lifts.  Not all caravans are designed equal! On some models, the manual pop-top and other pop-outs can be quite strenuous. Make sure you can pop your top without popping a disc or you could find yourself miles from nowhere with a very bad back!

How to use the communications features:  Learn to use your radio.  Learn which frequencies to use in an emergency.  Learn the lingo so when other caravanners send out a warning, you know what’s coming.

How to use the control panel:  Most modern caravans and campers will have a control panel that manages electronics on board.  These can be pretty simple or, if you’ve bought a feature-packed van, you may feel like an airline pilot trying to operate it.  Read the manual and practice, practice, practice.

Know the van inside and out:  Know how to maintain the van.  Know how to perform minor repairs. It’s not just the van itself, it’s all those luxe features that make it a comfortable way to travel. If you’ve got air-conditioning, a fridge, solar panels, water heaters, dust filters – learn how to maintain and troubleshoot all of them.  There’s nothing worse than sweating away in a hot van trying to figure out how to turn the airconditioner on!

A word of advice from a caravan industry insider

It doesn’t matter how great the caravan or camper is, if the company that sold it to you doesn’t provide adequate after-sales support, you will find “getting used to the van” much more difficult.  And, frankly, if you find yourself in trouble, you need good customer service to help you get out of it.  This industry isn’t famous for its after-sales support.  We sell caravans in Brisbane, Sydney, and on the Sunshine Coast.  Our team are all mad keen caravanners.  Over the years we’ve been left high and dry (or more accurately, bogged and very, very wet) by more than one caravan manufacturer. So when we bought our caravan business, we vowed to give good aftersales support to our clients. It really matters and you don’t realise how much until something happens to you.

It’s not just about how to reverse a caravan and not look silly at the caravan park.  It’s about safely enjoying your time in the van, by feeling confident that you are the master, or mistress of the open road.




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