10 handy tips for your first caravanning adventure

Caravan drives down deserted road through desert towards mountain ranges in distance.

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

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.


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.

4WD towing caravan drives around corner of road with safety railing.

Don't be too hard on the accelerator; for the sake of safety and fuel economy.

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.

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.

Man washes dishes in caravan sink while boy and girl sit at table watching on.

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.

Car towing caravan drives down narrow road past pitched tents and a gazebo.

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.

Couple relax in chairs under annex outside caravan and look out over the ocean.

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.

Find & book your holiday accommodation with BIG4

12 comments on “10 handy tips for your first caravanning adventure”

  1. Braden Bills

    2 December 2016 at 4:05 am

    I want to make sure that I’m ready for my first caravan trip. I think a good idea is to ensure that you have the number of a towing service ready. You never know if you will get stuck somewhere!

  2. Sarah

    10 December 2016 at 5:00 am

    My family recently got a caravan and we want to go out on the road and test it out. I appreciate the information about how you should be prepared for confined spaces and make sure to give each other space where allowable. Something else to consider is to camp at caravan sites so that you can access to power or water is you so desire.

  3. Barry

    3 February 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Great article and well written. Could I point out though that levelling the caravan on your pitch should be done using the car and not with the car unhitched. The corner steadies are not used for levelling as these might damage your chassis. Level the caravan using ramps where necessary or find a convenient level spot and then detach the car would be the best approach.

  4. Adam

    27 March 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Great tips, I can definitely recommend checking your van before the trip, nothing worst then it breaking down.

  5. Brian

    11 May 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Any suggestion is a good suggestion and you will workout which routine each will follow.  We have two lists, a his & hers which is inside & his externally, hooking up etc.  One for the outside is to pull at the corners of wind out windows to check if latched properly from inside, the one day I didn’t check cost me. (I was playing with my grandson before I finished checks)

  6. Brent

    20 August 2017 at 8:58 pm

    My advice is to get wifey to double check what you do in setting up and vice versa, this saves the ” Have you done this” routine!

  7. Bob

    15 March 2018 at 11:47 am

    Love all the tips for when you are underway but what about the home you are leaving behind as we will be for the next six months. Who will be checking the house regularly and cutting the grass for you. Have you turned off all unnecssassary power points or turned off the gas. Ensure all windows and doors are secure. Have you organised how regular utility bills will be paid. Just a few of the things to check before setting out.

  8. Wayne

    23 March 2018 at 8:01 pm

    For beginners, make a “soft” start. Go somewhere that you are familiar with that is not to far from home. You can sort out your routine without the stress of a long drive to an uncertain destination.

  9. Jules

    9 April 2018 at 2:47 pm

    As a newbie I appreciate all these tips.  And I LOVE a good checklist smile

  10. Georgia B

    1 May 2018 at 9:56 am

    I am so glad you mentioned the importance of making sure your van is safe and secure for the trip! Like you said, you want to make sure the drawers are securely kept in place and that the windows and doors can be locked. Another thing to make sure your caravan is safe is to take it for a maintenance check at a caravan repair service!

  11. Ann

    11 May 2018 at 10:48 am

    When reversing if there is mobile cover we use our mobiles for contact. with blue tooth it’s very easy. If no mobile cover we open the top rear door of our Toyota Land cruiser this makes it a bit easier to hear each other

  12. Ron and Lynne

    12 May 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Wish I had come across this site when we had our first van. Found out later the vehicle towing capacity was less than was required for the van. We exoerienced vansway but luckily was able to correct safely. We now have a smaller van and newer vehicle well within limits. Wayne’s comment makes a lot of sense about taking first trip not far from home.

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