If you have just bought your first caravan – or if you have borrowed one to see what caravanning has to offer – you may have all sorts of expectations about the pleasure it is about to bring – for example:
- the freedom of the open road;
- knowing that wherever you might pitch up your second home on wheels is there to give you a good night’s sleep and all the comforts of home; and
- the chance to meet like-minded friends and establish long-term contacts to help you get the most of your caravanning holidays.
If you are just such a newbie, it might be helpful to share a few initial thoughts on making the most of the adventure that is opening up to you.
Even if you are an old hand or have been caravanning before, it might also be useful to jog your memory about the preparation that needs to go into getting your caravan ready for a new round of outings.
The caravan you choose
As you are likely to have discovered, there are all types of caravans from which you might have chosen (if you are not borrowing or renting a ‘van), and each might be better equipped to serve the specific purpose you need:
- conventional designs – these have a single axle and may range in length from 3 to 6.5 metres, sleeping between 2 and six occupants;
- the conventional touring caravan has all your home comforts including a toilet, sink, shower, and kitchens fitted out with a cooker, work surfaces and a kitchen sink;
- on the other hand, you might have chosen something considerably more substantial and in need of a twin axle to tow;
- at the other end of the scale may be a small “teardrop” caravan specifically designed to make towing even easier;
- if you went for ease of towing and a relatively small and less well–equipped interior, you might have chosen a pop–up, folding or GRP caravan;
- in its guide for those new to the delights of caravanning, the Camping and Caravanning Club has published some helpful advice on making the most of your purchase. You may also wish to check out our own Beginner’s Guide to Caravans.
When you were choosing your caravan, one of the most important considerations may have been the space and layout it offered.
Although relatively small, you may be surprised by the ingenuity with which modern caravan designers have been able to exploit every possible opportunity for maximising the useful floor area.
Prepping the caravan
Before hitching up and taking to the road, of course, you are going to want to ensure that the caravan is thoroughly roadworthy.
There are several checks and simple maintenance routines to be followed before embarking on any trip and it is important that you carry these out. As a newbie, you may feel more confident in entrusting maintenance and servicing to qualified caravan engineers.
If you have already been caravanning before and are prepping the trailer for a new season, read on.
Whatever the size and shape of the caravan you have just bought, you might want to give serious consideration to protecting the investment with the appropriate form of insurance.
If you are new to caravanning, however, choosing the suitable cover may be confusing and somewhat hit and miss. At Cover4Caravans we are specialists in finding that insurance for just about whatever make or model you might have bought.
For those experienced caravanners among you, it is likely you already understand the benefits of suitable caravan insurance. Just check with us if your cover is coming up for renewal or you are interested in securing an especially favourable new deal.
Perhaps the single most unfamiliar aspect of touring with a caravan is the fact that you are going to be towing it. Fortunately, towing is not necessarily that difficult and with a little care, patience and practice you are soon likely to get the hang of it.
The broadest rule of thumb is that the heavier the caravan the heavier and more powerful car you need to tow it. This may be made more difficult by the fact that the manufacturer is likely to have stipulated a Mass in Running Order Weight (MIRO) or unladen weight of the caravan.
This is considerably less important or useful than the Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM), which combines not only the crude weight of the caravan but also its maximum laden weight.
The more you investigate, the more you may be baffled by the various descriptions and ways of calculating the ratio of the caravan to vehicle weight. A comprehensive guide published by the RAC covers everything from towing limits, measuring the weight and nose weight of your caravan, tips on reversing with a caravan.
While you are completing your preparation before actually getting behind the wheel, though, you might also like to read some helpful guides published by the Camping and Caravanning Club about what you can tow, including what the law says, and a further guide on becoming a confident tower. Plus, our own guide to towing mirrors.
It might be prudent, of course, to practice towing an old and inexpensive trailer in the first instance rather than denting, scraping, or backing into something with your new caravan.
For hands-on instruction and practice, you might also want to consider enrolling on one of the caravan manoeuvring courses offered by the Caravan and Motorhome Club or the Camping and Caravanning Club.
On the road
With a good deal of homework and preparation done, you may be ready to hit the road and take the first trip with your caravan. Here are some tips that may help your initial excursion – and subsequent journeys – go smoothly and safely:
- when packing the caravan, take care to distribute the weight properly, with heavier items on the floor and more or less over the axle;
- before every outing, check and, if necessary, inflate the tyres until they are at the correct pressure;
- many caravans have special devices designed to improve their stability – check that these are correctly installed and in working order;
- remember that the legal speed limit when towing your caravan will vary depending on its weight – the link above gives detailed information;
- your first trip with the new caravan is likely to be relatively close to home but whenever planning a journey, you might want to remember that the car and trailer is less manoeuvrable than the car alone – if you are accustomed to using a sat nav, bear in mind that these devices may often take you down impossibly narrow or winding country lanes;
- experience is likely to teach you how to pick the best pitches when you arrive at a site, but broadly speaking you might want to avoid trees (leaves, sap and bird droppings), choose level ground and decide whether you want or need to be close to or further away from the site’s amenity block.
Location, location, location
Choosing the location for your initial outings with the caravan is almost as important as choosing the place where you intended to live. It might only be a holiday or weekend break, but your choice of camping site may make or break the occasion.
Making the choice, of course, depends on who is in your party – a family with children, for example, is likely to have quite different priorities to those of a retired couple.
In other words, a lot depends on what you hope to get out of your trip away from home – peace and tranquillity of the countryside, say, or action-packed sporting adventures, or maybe sites of historical interest.
There are innumerable guides and listings of the very many campsites both in England and abroad, though you may be equally influenced by word of mouth and the recommendations of other more seasoned caravanners.
Your choice of campsite is also likely to be determined by the facilities and amenities it has to offer. Typically, these are fully detailed in the site’s advertising and, in these days of the internet, the majority of sites maintain their own webpage.
Amenities are generally included in the many listings of caravan sites and if you want to dig deeper, you might read through some of the reviews of the experiences encountered by previous visitors.
Caravanners sometimes consider themselves to be members of a rather select group or club and particular sites are likely to attract like-minded souls. You may become aware of an unwritten etiquette amongst such folk and most of this is largely a matter of common sense and respect for other people’s enjoyment of their own holiday:
- if you have your dog with you, for instance, some sites may insist that it is kept on a lead at all times – even if there is no such rule, make sure to keep your pet under control;
- leave shower rooms, washrooms and washing up sinks clean, tidy, and free from waste – leaving them as you hope to find them;
- a helpful tip suggested by the website Caravan Advice is to avoid taking short cuts across other campers’ pitches – there may be nothing more annoying or intrusive than have a stranger appear close up to your caravan windows or awning;
- keeping a respectful (and in these current times of Covid, a socially responsible) distance;
- an environmentally friendly piece of advice is to lift up any groundsheets you might be using under your awnings from time to time so that the grass has a chance to breathe before turning brown as it dies – the website Love2Stay also offers a number of “golden rules” on camping site etiquette;
- if your children have bought their bikes with them, teach them not to ride close to other caravans, but to stick to the paths and roads, taking care of both pedestrians and cars;
- many caravanners are looking for a little peace, quiet and relaxation when on their holiday – blaring radios or televisions and noise late at night or early in the morning are all things likely to be frowned upon.
With a caravan in tow, the whole of Europe may be your oyster, offering a huge range of potential destinations and caravanning experiences. Making a success of any such holiday requires a little more preparation and patience, especially concerning the different driving conditions, laws, and regulations you may encounter.
The Caravan Club has published a number of guides for first-time caravanning visitors to Europe, with advice on subjects such as essential and recommended documentation, pieces of kit that might be required for use in different countries, speed limits on a country by country basis, and a general checklist of all the items that are either essential or recommended when taking your car and caravan across the Channel to Europe.
We also have a number of destination guides which you view here:
Trip Related Guides
Starting out or preparing for the next season?
Every caravanner started out as a newbie at some point in time, so you are by no means alone on the learning curve to making each outing and holiday a success. After your first few excursions, you may soon discover that you are unlikely to be a newbie for long.
If you have passed that stage of being a newbie, though, here are some tips and suggestions about getting your caravan ready for the next season.
First of all, the process is likely to involve a game of two halves – in the spring you are likely to have a checklist of things to do as the caravan is brought out of hibernation; in the autumn you are probably preparing to put it into storage.
Just when you start reviving your caravan from its winter’s rest, of course, depends on when you intend to use it. Dealers Venture Caravans and Motorhomes, for example, suggest that as March or April come around, many people start preparing for that first outing around the Easter holidays.
These are some of the issues you might want to look out for and address:
- damp is one of the major enemies of any caravan owner – and whilst it is locked up over the wintertime, condensation and damp may have set in;
- a thorough airing of your caravan is likely to be called for, with special attention paid to any soft furnishings which need to be dried out and a careful check of doors and windows for any signs of leaks;
- unchecked and unresolved, the rot encouraged by condensation may cause untold damage to the inside of your caravan, quite apart from the unpleasant smell, unsightly marks, and risks to your health;
- tyres need a thorough check for signs of bulging, cracking or wear and are likely to need inflating to the correct pressure;
- water tanks and appliances are likely to have been drained down for winter storage and may now have a musty smell and taste – annual sterilisation, flushing and refilling may help to get systems back into a usable state;
- for similar reasons, the empty fridge might also welcome a thorough clean – some bicarbonate of soda mixed into the cleaning water may help to clear any lingering musty smell;
- check the cooker by lighting each of the jets to ensure that there are no blockages and replace the gas cylinder or cylinders if necessary;
- some elements might be easy to overlook, so it may come as a timely reminder from the Crime Prevention Website to check your onboard security and safety equipment – everything from locks, alarms smoke-detectors and the supplies in the first aid kit;
- as you near the end of this checklist of items, you are nearly ready to sally forth on your first outing of the season;
- before taking to the road, however, there are several final checks still to make;
- double–check that the wheel bolts are properly tightened – especially if they have replaced winter wheels that you used whilst the caravan was in storage;
- make sure that the gas is turned off at the cylinder;
- ensure that the flush tank and on-board toilet tanks are empty;
- close and lock all cupboards, wardrobes, and stowage compartments;
- secure anything that is loose or might shift about when you are underway;
- lock the fridge shut;
- close and lock windows and roof vents whilst on the move;
- check the caravan’s road lights;
- make sure the jockey wheel is secured in its raised position and check the breakaway cable is properly connected;
- check the caravan’s nose weight to check that you are not overladen; and
- release the handbrake – and you are off!
Hopefully, the careful preparations you made at the beginning of the season meant that you had many trouble-free days of caravanning. Although you encountered no problems during the summer, however, it is still important to prepare just as carefully when laying up the caravan for winter – especially if you hope next season’s outings to go without a hitch:
- the immediate question, of course, is where the caravan is to be located for its winter hibernation;
- the Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association (CaSSOA) has a network of member sites throughout the country, with each one graded according to the security and facilities present – storage at a CaSSOA site may also earn you a discount in your caravan insurance premiums and is something we recognise here at Cover4Caravans;
- although the security measures may help to put your mind at ease, it may still be a good idea to visit the storage site in advance to check whether your caravan is going to be on hard standing or concrete, under cover or in the open, and ease of access for you and the vehicle being used to put the caravan into storage and retrieve it again in the spring;
- whatever the chosen location, it is likely to be important to thoroughly clean and wax the outside of the caravan, removing birdlime, oil stains, black or green mould – all of which may leave permanent marks if left untreated;
- in your enthusiasm to clean the exterior beware of using pressure washers warns the Camping and Caravanning Club, which suggests that more damage than good may be done by such pressure jets;
- the Club also urges caution and attention to personal safety when using step ladders or stretching over to clean the roof of your caravan – it might well not bear your weight;
- tyres are especially vulnerable to wear when left to bear the weight of your caravan in the same position over a long period of time;
- you may want to consider replacing the normal road wheel with winter wheels – especially the lockable type, for added security;
- where possible, store the vehicle with the corner steadies lowered and the handbrake off, to reduce the chance of it sticking;
- probably the most important preparation inside the caravan is to completely drain down all water systems – whether fresh water, the toilet flush or heating system – to prevent damage caused by pipes, fittings or valves freezing during the winter;
- special care needs to be taken towards the storage of gas cylinders, which need to be turned off and disconnected from the caravan’s supply; and
- your caravan storage site may have specific policies relating to the storage of gas cylinders and you may not be allowed to keep them close to the vehicle for the duration of the winter.
Whether it is preparing your caravan for a well-earned rest during the winter months or the anticipation of enjoying yet another summer on tour, the care and attention you give to getting ready for the next caravan season are likely to prove well worth your while.