Five mistakes novice caravanners make

Man and woman sitting at table in front of caravan at sundown.

Cathy Anderson

Posted May 10, 2019

How to avoid missing an ocean-front spot... and other first-time caravanning tips. 

Caravanning is cool. No longer just the dedicated realm of the infamous Aussie ‘Grey Nomad’ (retirees using their superannuation to buy a rig and explore the country), Australians of all ages are embracing the freedom of having a home on wheels and being able to take off on adventures. But towing a caravan, setting it up and adjusting to life in a smaller space can be tricky if you’ve never done it before – and there are a few classic mistakes novice caravan owners make.

These are five of the biggest rookie caravan errors, and how to avoid making them.

Your van has a muffin top

Being overweight doesn’t just apply to Australia’s population – caravans can suffer from a little extra around the middle, too. First-time caravanners are classic over-packers. You may be used to the creature comforts of home, but you can’t take them all with you!

The weight of your van when loaded with all your gear, water and extras is incredibly important – if you breach the limits set by the manufacturer and the capacity of your tow vehicle you will be towing illegally. Take note of these terms. Tare weight: The weight of an empty van. Payload: The maximum carrying capacity of gear, gas and water. Vehicle towing capacity: How much your tow vehicle can legally carry.

Reduce your payload by being frugal with your wardrobe, replace crockery with camping-style plastic plates and cups, carry casks of wine and cans of beer to avoid glass and do a stocktake of accessories, water and other holiday gear.

Now, where’s that gas connector thingy...

Ah, yes. That moment right before you fire up your outdoor barbie on your maiden night away for an alfresco meal with a glass of lovely red. And then you realise you left the gas connector at home. Worse still, the camp chairs you were set to recline into after a hard day on the road are still sitting patiently in your garage.

Assumption is the mother of all stuff-ups, so write a comprehensive checklist (spreadsheets for the win in this scenario) and practise using all your gear and appliances. Also ensure there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place so you can find it easily. Because there's nothing worse than not being able to locate the toilet paper in a hurry...

Novice vanners might like to play it safe by booking a site at RACV's Inverloch or Cobram resorts, where they'll have access to a well-appointed amenities block as well as use of the resorts' other facilities, including barbecue, laundry and, at Inverloch, a heated pool. 

Forgetting to top up

No one wants to be caught roadside in the dark with the fuel gauge needle firmly sitting on E (it happens all too often), so map out your stops using Google Maps or apps such as Fuel Map. Towing a caravan uses more petrol, so be mindful of your fuel economy as it will differ from regular driving. Travel at slower speeds to not only be safe but also to use less fuel.

The 67-point turn

Nothing amuses a caravan park crowd more than watching a newbie try to manoeuvre their big rig into a small site with a 67-point turn. At least that’s what it can feel like. (Don’t worry though, all the smirkers have been there and done that.) Everyone in your group who drives should practise reversing beforehand, and maybe even take a caravanning 101 course as well. Check out Tow-Ed’s suite of towing workshops which include four-wheel-drive and trip-preparation courses too.

Booking? What booking?

You dream of an oceanfront vista from a recommended park on a stretch of coast you’ve always wanted to see – but when you get there it’s booked out. Factor in summer months (and winter in northern Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia) as well as school holidays and plan ahead. Not everyone likes to schedule every inch of their adventure, but some foresight is necessary to avoid sad faces.

Book one of RACV Cobram Resort's 61 powered sites from $100 for seven nights, or get 25 per cent off when you book a site for four nights or more at RACV Inverloch Resort.