10 handy tips for your first caravanning adventure

These tips are a good starting point to become acquainted with van life.

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 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.

To help, we have a bunch of great tips for first-time caravan users to allow a smooth journey and an enjoyable holiday.

Note: Better yet, there are plenty of helpful tips from your fellow readers at the bottom of this article. If you're a seasoned caravanner, we'd love you to join the conversation.

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

Caravanning can have many rewards. Location: BIG4 Rollingstone Beach Front Resort, QLD.

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.

It's so simple but so effective. Checklists make a great foundation.

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.

Nail the routine of completing necessary checks and you'll be cooking with gas in no time. Location: BIG4 Moruya Heads East's Dolphin Beach Holiday Park, NSW.

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.

Slow down. There's plenty of time to enjoy your stay. Location: BIG4 Caloundra Holiday Park, QLD.

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, where possible. Or use what you have to your best advantage. Location: BIG4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park, SA.

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 often requires teamwork 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. Location: BIG4 Beachlands Holiday Park, Busselton, WA.

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’.

We're not suggesting that some advice isn't useful, but if it gets too much, simply nod and smile.

Are you sure this is a shortcut? Sometimes it pays to take advice with a grain of dirt.

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.

The more you practise your pack-up routine, the easier it will be. Location: BIG4 Phillip Island Caravan Park, VIC.

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’.

A trial run is advised before tackling the bigger, more challenging routes.

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.

Isn't it time you enjoyed a caravanning adventure? Book your next BIG4 break now.

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34 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.

  13. Olivia

    1 August 2018 at 1:48 am

    We like to make activity packs for the kids whilst on the road. If the little ones are entertained it makes us parents much less stressed. I just add some colouring books but you can also get some really cool print offs online.

  14. Stuart Wragg

    16 August 2018 at 7:13 pm

    Yes the excitement and of course anxiousness of your first trip towing your caravan is one to remember. Having towed for many years I find that somewhere around the 90-95kph is a safe speed in which to travel. It is a good happy medium, which wont tire you out (concentration wise) and be prepared to stop every 2 hours to give yourself a break. Remember it’s not a race to your destination. Work out how far your vehicle can tow your caravan on a tank of fuel, this will be very handy in calculating fill ups on the longer trips. Don’t be in a hurry, let the faster vehicles overtake you.

  15. Tony Kurt

    17 August 2018 at 10:28 am

    Before taking off, do a walk around the van, checking that all windows are closed, hatches are down, all chains, wiring etc are correct.

  16. john

    17 August 2018 at 12:36 pm

    The one main tip that every caravaner should adhere to is, that when people are unhitching or hitching a van up to their vehicle, DO NOT GO CHATTING TO THEM, let them finish before doing the chatting!
    The times people have come to chat while i’m hitching up, that I have forgotten things that should have been done!

  17. john

    17 August 2018 at 12:45 pm

    Before starting out each day, check the tightness off the wheel nuts on both towing vehicle and caravan/ trailer. you may think this to be silly, but I’ve seen towed vehicles that have lost wheels travelling to their destinations,

  18. Jack

    21 August 2018 at 10:04 pm

    Use CB radio to advise trucks & roadtrains that you will slow down in overtaking lanes to enable them to pass on highways with few opportunities- particularly on the Bruce Highway in QLD.  Other vehicles will also take the opportunity to pass too and you will be appreciated.

  19. Anita

    20 December 2018 at 8:19 pm

    When we first purchased our van I made 4 checklists.
    Inside - setting up
    Inside - leaving
    Outside - setting up
    Outside - leaving
    My husband does all the outside tasks and I do all the inside tasks.
    After three years I still check my list, just to be sure.
    We also have lists for items to take and things to do before leaving home.
    Travelling is easy if you are organised and methodical.

  20. Janet

    8 March 2019 at 4:23 pm

    This is just a simple tip for those who have a a shower in their van. Tether your shower head with a reusable cable tie, it saves getting to your destination and finding your shower head on the floor, it’s also better than having to wrap the shower head in a towel on the floor.  I have mine set up so I only have to loosen the cable tie just enough to turn the head into position to use, then turn it back and tighten again for travel. I also made a padded cover for the glass plate in the microwave, saves it from being tossed around and possible breakage.

  21. David

    21 March 2019 at 10:34 pm

    One important thing to remember when packing up is making sure that your tv antenna is properly wound down. I have often seen caravans and motor homes with bent units.

  22. Francis Johnson

    26 March 2019 at 1:50 am

    Really interesting information learned from hard experience.

  23. Austell

    28 April 2019 at 9:16 am

    I’ve been caravaning regularly for 12 years and I check very little. I hookup and go. The more often you use the caravan the less likely anything will go wrong. A caravan that sits most of its life on a driveway will be more likely to get flat spot on the tyres, brakes sticking on. I use different things like different coloured towels for the caravan than I use in my house so when I’m back from a trip and get things washed, then as soon as they are dry I know to return them to the caravan for my next trip. If you use your caravan weekly then things like food can remain on board for your next trip. Have a list for things you can’t leave on board like money, milk.
    If you want to make sure that your caravan is not leaking any gas then if the gas has been turned off at the cylinder for a week then keep it turned off and turn on one of the gas rings. If the pressure is still there and what gas in the gas pipe is still pressurised then you have no gas leak.

  24. Bill

    4 May 2019 at 10:21 am

    One of the biggest issues is people building containers, huge bike racks and other add ons to vans because it can be done (not should be done). Most give no regard to Tow Ball or other weight specs, totally overloading their outfits.

  25. Graham

    10 May 2019 at 7:58 am

    SAFETY TIP. If you have fold-up support legs on van always ensure they point toward rear of van when folded. In the unlikely event of one dropping down when travelling the damage would be catastrophic if pointing forward.

  26. Jenny n Stuart

    10 May 2019 at 11:19 am

    So helpful to read this page and the comments. We are not sure if this is for us, but keen to try. Our plan at this stage is to hire a van and do a test trip close to home early next year. Will now go searching for one of those courses mentioned. Can anyone point us to a good one, or should we just google?

  27. Angela

    19 May 2019 at 3:23 pm

    All comments very helpful as heading out on my first big trip with my sister and little dog (Oscar).

  28. Colin

    19 June 2019 at 12:06 pm

    Communications are vital out on the highway. I think all caravan/motorhome owners should have a UHF radio and know how to use it. I wouldn’t dream of leaving home without one - remember there are a lot of people working hard out there ie truckies etc. Say g’day, most are happy to have a quick chat.

  29. Kathleen

    19 June 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Things move inside cupboards as you travel so use some of your van’s tea towels to pack around breakables such as glasses, cups, plates etc. Plus, your microwave turntable. Double check that all cupboard doors are securely shut. Lessons learnt the hard way for us!

  30. Ken Phillips

    19 June 2019 at 1:26 pm

    I gave up pulling a monster years ago. I considered the cost of the van and maybe changing the vehicle to pull same. Also rego costs, insurance, depreciation and a load of every day appliances for the said caravan and last but not least fuel and time spent travelling. I do not own a van and I stay at the Big4 cabins. Lots of room, great facilities, all provided linen and just convenient. I know I can have at least 4 holidays a year than a caravan and still have money left over. However to each his own.

  31. Rob

    19 June 2019 at 4:03 pm

    We installed a camera connected to a monitor in the tug with inbuilt microphone and speakers. Makes backing easier and better rear vision when driving. A lot of new vans have them but not so much on older vans.

  32. Alex

    19 June 2019 at 10:45 pm

    When reversing the rig a handheld CB radio pair (less than $40 at any good accessories store) is a damn sight cheaper than a divorce lawyer. Communication is also a damn sight better than hand signals. Check lists are important as is silence when hitching up the rig. I have made stupid and simple mistakes when I have been distracted when hitching up.

  33. PETER

    20 June 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Doing a practical course should be compulsory. If an urban driver do some longer country driving before towing. Mobiles with ear buds is easy communication when coverage available. Use a checklist and go through it together every time.

  34. Marius

    23 June 2019 at 9:57 pm

    And don’t forget your caravan keys!

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