7 common mistakes novice caravanners make

Man and woman standing in front of caravan.

RACV Staff

Posted June 30, 2023

New to caravanning? From packing the van to picking the perfect parking spot, you'll be able to fake it 'til you make it with these first-time caravanning tips. 

Caravanning is cool. Once the realm of the infamous Aussie ‘Grey Nomad’ (retirees using their superannuation to buy a rig and explore the country), these days, 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 getting the hang of #vanlife can be tricky if you’ve never done it before – and there are a few classic mistakes novice caravan owners make.

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

You're overpacking the caravan 

First-time caravanners are classic over-packers. 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:

  • Maximum towing capacity: The maximum weight that a car can safely, and legally, tow.
  • Tow ball weight: The maximum weight that can be pushing on the tow ball when the car is parked and level.
  • Gross vehicle mass (GVM): The maximum the car can carry, including the weight of the car itself, plus food, fuel, people and luggage. 
  • Gross combination mass (GCM): The weight of the car and van and everything in them.

Reduce your overall weight 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.

You're not packing the right stuff in the caravan

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 access to the resorts' other facilities, including barbecue, laundry and, at Inverloch, a heated pool. 


Close up of caravan parking sign

Caravans provide self-contained accommodation anywhere you choose to park them.

Forgetting to fuel up your tow vehicle

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 a journey planning apps such as arevo, which will also help you locate your nearest service station and compare fuel prices. Towing a caravan uses more fuel, 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.

Not doing a pre-holiday vehicle check

There are a few things you need to check before setting off on your big rig adventure, particularly if you purchased your caravan second-hand. Make sure the van's tyres are pumped up and at the correct pressure, that they have enough tread, and that the spare wheel is packed and in good condition. Double check that the brakes and vehicle lights are all working and visible, and that all towing components (such as safety chains, stabilisers and coupling socket) are in good order. And lastly, have a peek inside the van and secure any loose items, ensure any gas cylinders are switched off and that the refrigerator door is closed.

You haven't taken the caravan for a test drive

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.

You haven't pre-booked a campsite

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 disappointment. Plus, if you book directly with the resorts, you can access exlusive rates and offers.

You haven't insured your caravan 

Being prepared for any situation is key when travelling, and part of being prepared is ensuring your caravan insurance and Emergency Roadside Assistance are up to date. While we hope those scenarios never play out, being covered in the unlikely event of a breakdown - or worse - will ensure any mishaps or mistakes don't derail your entire trip. 

Whether you’re hitting the open road with a caravan in tow or staying in one place, be protected for collision damage, fire, flood, theft and more anywhere in Australia with RACV Caravan & Trailer Insurance.


The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit racv.com.au. As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia Pty Ltd ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.