Caravannig for Beginners

First Caravan Trip for Frank!

Sooo…… we decided to swap our Motorhome for a caravan for a while. The Motorhome was epic, but in poor weather, it could become a little cramped, especially with Frank stretching out all over the prime seating real-estate! Canine comfort comes first, right? Also, when staying at the same campsite for a few days, the motorhome can be a little restrictive – takes a while to pack up if you need to head out for supplies whereas with a caravan you just hop into the tow car and go where you want. I’m not ruling out a return to Motorhoming in the future but for now, the caravan suits our camping style better – for now!

Frank the motorhomemutt relaxing on the large sofa
Much more space to relax in the caravan.

Anyway, we wanted to try the caravan over a 2 night trip to iron out any issues (we haven’t had a caravan before) and thought it best to stay relatively local (within a couple of hours of home) in case things didn’t go quite to plan!

Image showing the living space in a caravan
So much more space in the living room

Benefits of a Club Site

Being complete newbies to caravan life, we decided to find a Caravan and Motorhome club site for our first trip (other clubs and sites are available!) We’ve recently completed (graduated lol!) the Club ‘practical caravanning course – highly recommended – and are now very aware of the challenges of siting a caravan on a pitch. The CAMC sites tend to have wide site roads and generous pitches, giving us more room to figure things out – also we know the friendly nature of people who use club sites will allow us to holler for help if we need! To be fair, most caravanners and Motorhomers are friendly and helpful, but on smaller and more rural sites you may not have as many people around at the time you need that help.

Knowing all the services will be on hand (including a bar for that post-parking de-stress beer) is also a real benefit. It may seem odd, but I prefer to use the showers in the facilities block – although the Adria Isonzo has a lovely bathroom, taking a shower in the block saves cleaning in the caravan and hauling of more water back and forth. So sites with shower blocks, washing facilities etc. get more points in my book. So we drew a big circle around home and found Knaresborough Club site at the ideal distance away. It gets great reviews and is open all year round – bonus!

The Journey!

Towing a large caravan on the roads for the first time is both exciting and a little scary! Preparation is key here. I spent a good deal of time researching the route, using Google earth and maps to identify narrow/busy areas (typically in town centers) and work out the path of potential least resistance. You can also use a touring GPS that allows you to input the size of your vehicle and caravan to help it work out the best route – I recommend this as a back up but do your own research too – this will help you rehearse the route and prepare your mentally for the trickier junctions, roundabouts and roads. I use a Garmin Campercam 795MT which has an integrated dashcam. It is quite pricey and other versions are available and much cheaper- check out those aimed at the trucker market as they tend to be that little bit more affordable. I also decided to avoid rush hours, but being a Saturday morning, I checked for town centre markets and looked at high street parking arrangements to help me decide on my route. Using a tourer specific GPS system can give you comfort as you can input the size of your outfit which will help the GPS plan a suitable route.

Hitching up and getting the nose weight right is key and took a bit of trial and error. The nose weight is important because that’s the downward force applied onto the tow vehicle. It’s specified for each vehicle and is normally in a range. My car is has a very narrow range (84-85kg) so it took a while getting the weight distribution right. (Thanks to Ed and his team at for the info!) You can check your noseweight using a gauge. Some people say you can use bathroom scales and a piece of wood cut to scale – but that’s a little Heath Robinson for my taste! Get a good nose gauge – you’ll thank yourself later!

Noseweight gauge showing the right noseweight
Getting the nose weight right is relatively easy but very important for safe towing

Checking the nose weight is something that should be done on every trip, especially if your tow vehicle has a narrow range, like ours. Routine becomes helpful here. Decide what you want to stow and where, and make this consistent each trip.

We packed the car to the gunwales on the way to the site to avoid loading the caravan incorrectly in a rush before setting out. We knew we’d have time to figure out the best configuration once we got to the site. You can see from the photos here that it was quite game of 3-d Tetris but we still managed to find space for Frank!

At first there will be some moving of gear around in the caravan, trying different locations for the heavier items, but once you’ve got it right, unless you decide to add more gear to the caravan rather than taking it in the car, then you shouldn’t have to change much.

Organizing the gas locker can often help with getting nose weight right

The Journey to the Site

We set off, slowly, carefully, but had to make an emergency quick stop as we’d left the road sweets (essential for any journey over an hour in our family) on the back seat. So, out Jacqui hopped, retrieved the vital supplies and we set off again. Although I was very aware of the caravan behind us (it looms constantly large in the rear view mirror) and the car handled differently, it wasn’t difficult to drive the outfit (which is what a vehicle and trailer is known as here in the UK.) I was conscious of its width and length and made sure I took junctions and roundabouts more widely than I would normally do in the car to account for the length. Also, it’s important to read the road well ahead as it takes longer to slow down so you need to brake earlier to compensate.

One thing I’ll mention here to drivers of automatic cars – I recommend using the manual mode when towing down hill – it gives you so much more control and avoids the feeling that the caravan is pushing the tow vehicle.

Once on the motorway things were very settled, stable but oh so slow! At 55-60mph the journey does take appreciably longer – thank goodness for those road sweets (candy.)

Arrival on Site

Despite careful route planning we ended up missing the entrance to the site by a smidge and had to drive past it, find a place to turn around and come at it again. It’s definitely better to do that than to try and reverse back on a narrow road with cars behind you. Be patient, avoid allowing stress to get to you and take the easy and safer option. This might be easier said than done after a long journey in bad weather when you’re tired and grumpy, but it’s worth taking the long view!

Frank checking out the site on arrival

Checking into the Knaresborough CAMC Site was super easy. I explained it would be my first time reversing onto a pitch and setting up. So they kindly gave a very easily accessible pitch, on a wide road and close to all services – thanks team Knaresborough!

Setting up on Site

There is much more to consider when setting up on site with a caravan compared with a motorhome. Here’s a short list from my limited experience

  1. Make a final, small forward movement with the tow vehicle to release pressure on hitch.
  2. Put caravan handbrake ON
  3. Lower Jockey wheel to take nose weight.
  4. Unhitch the tow vehicle.
  5. Uncouple electrics and breakaway cable.
  6. Position the caravan more precisely using the motormover or manually (handbrake off now of course.)
  7. Level the caravan – side to side levelling, if needed can be done before you unhitch the caravan. Then fore and aft – which you do with the jockey wheel.
  8. Lower corner steadies (if on grass be prepared to check them a couple of hours later for sinkage!)
  9. Connect site electrics (plug in at caravan first)
  10. Fill water container (Aquaroll or similar) and connect to caravan
  11. Position grey water waste container (we use a Wastemaster)
  12. Fill toilet flush and add water and chemicals to your cassette.
  13. Prime caravan water system.
  14. Attach locks (wheel and hitch locks.)
  15. Connect and turn on gas if you are using it.
  16. Put kettle on!
  17. Relax.

After a great weekend, of course, it’s the journey home to prepare for! This involved once again, getting the nose weight correct and stowing the caravan safely for the trip. Once you know what you’ll be taking with you and leaving in the caravan, this becomes easier as you know what needs to be where to achieve the desired nose weight. I recommend carrying anything you don’t have to leave in the caravan in the car with you (clothes, food, sporting gear etc.) as that reduces the number of weight variables to manage. Taking photos and creating a list makes sense if you don’t use your van that often.

The aqua roll water container plugs into the caravan using a powered adapter and submersible pump.

Overall – how’d it go?

Overall, things went well I’d say – yes, there are things that don’t go exactly to plan – like the less than perfect reverse onto the pitch! Don’t worry, there are plenty of people willing to critique and give advice after the fact! – but staying calm and taking your time wins here. You’ll also meet incredibly kind and helpful fellow campers who will come to your rescue if needed – thanks to Chris Burton for the spirit level, advice on the wheel clamp and for being a complete gentleman while we got organized! We also noted the dealership had got 2 of out registration plate letters the wrong way round – I’m actually glad I didn’t see that until we got to the site or I would have probably tried to get a new one there and then which would have been challenging and delayed our trip.

And finally… time to relax with a cup of tea and slice of cake.

Setting up and getting organised wasn’t difficult and now we know where everything lives and how all works, we’ll be way quicker to that cup of tea next time.

Just before we left, we asked the campsite staff if it would be ok if we spent some time practicing our reversing on the site. We’d done the course but have had no other experience. They were happy for us to have a few practice runs and I have to say it really did help reinforce the lessons learned on the course. Don’t be shy to try!

So, all in all, a successful first trip – lots learned and tucked away in the experience locker! Did it confirm we had made the right decision to move to a caravan? Definitely! Despite the learnings and extra effort, the space and comfort offered in a decent caravan is so much better than our experience in a motorhome. More on that in another post!

Dog relaxing on a sofa
Frank taking the stress of change in his stride

If you’re about to take your first trip do by all means feel excited but honestly, there is no need to be nervous. Make sure you are prepared, hitch up, check lights and nose weight, (get road sweets ready), drive mindfully and considerately, take your time and have fun!!


6 responses to “Caravannig for Beginners”

  1. Sara Talbot Avatar
    Sara Talbot

    I really enjoyed reading about your weekend trip in your caravan. I am so pleased it went well and you enjoyed it. No doubt it well be easier next time and in no time you will be expert. We look forward to hitching up next to you soon in your super van with the u shaped settee!

    1. Mike McGuire Avatar

      Thank you Sara! Yes, very much looking forward to hitting the road together!

  2. Phil Avatar

    Great read Mike and excited to hear you both had a great learning experience and time away from home 😊

    1. Mike McGuire Avatar

      Thanks Phil, looking forward to the next adventure!

  3. Paul W Avatar
    Paul W

    Great read Mike. Definitely a stress free trip for Frank!
    Whole heartedly agree with you on the CAMC towing course, it’s an absolute must for newbies in my opinion.
    I Hope your next trip goes even better again and Frank gets a little more space in the car….

    1. Mike McGuire Avatar

      Thanks, Paul – good to meet you on the course! You’ll be pleased to know we’ve organized the car better and Frank can stretch out to his heart’s content! Happy touring!

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