Travel trailer: beginner's guide for your first trip

Travel Trailer: Beginner’s Guide for Your First Trip

Okay, so we all must begin somewhere and sometime. You’ve got your new travel trailer and are planning a trip into the great outdoors. Congratulations, you’ve made a massive big step in the right direction. However, there’s some important information that you should know that I wish someone had told me before I hit the road for the first time. This list is for you (or for me, retroactively): the beginning camper’s travel trailer guide.

What to Pack, How to Prepare, and Planning Tips for Your First Trip

Man and woman sitting on blue rv near mountain during daytime

I have a son and a daughter. When they first saw my RV, they were super excited (admittedly, the boy was more excited, but my little girl came around quickly). They began jumping around and telling all of their friends we were going camping! I remember my first camping trip, and I decided to make theirs a tad more luxurious with my new 25-foot Rockwood travel trailer.

However, once we finally got on the road and after we reached our campsite, we noticed that we had forgotten so many important items. I began taking notes on the trip. While my family was having fun around the campfire, I was busy with a small notebook realizing all of the things I had forgotten and what I would be sure to stock in the trailer for the next time I took it out.

My biggest piece of advice for all of these items is to buy a new one instead of bringing what you have at home. This way, you never have to worry about remembering to pack it or unload it from the trailer. Stow everything in the RV and worry less.

I have another piece of important advice: don’t overdo it. You don’t want to fill every square inch of your trailer with items that you may only use once, if ever at all. After I had my list in hand, I had my wife help me label all of the items as to where they should go in the trailer. This way, we didn’t lose track of the organization and we only bought and stored exactly what we needed.

Now for some important trailer information. There are three water tanks inside. The black tank is used for the toilet water and other deposits. The gray is used for sink water. And there is a fresh water tank for the drinkable supply. The black and gray tanks will be empty as you set out and will need to be dumped before you head back home.

Before you head out, you probably think to fill the fresh water tank your home’s hose. I did the same. I later learned that the campsite has a RV station that provides free drinking water. If you plan to forgo this filling up process, as I later did to save myself the extra weight, you should call ahead to your campsite and make sure they provide the same service.

Another packing tip is to store the heavy items (such as your generator and suitcases) low to the ground and near the front of your trailer.

What You Should Know About Driving While Towing an RV

Car towing an RV

The first thing you should do is check how much weight your towing vehicle is able to tow. Most trucks and SUVs list this information on the driver door with a sticker. I have a 2012 Ford F-150 that is able to tow 11,500 pounds. Previously, I owned a 2010 Dodge Durango with a 7,200-pound towing capacity.

Once you check your truck, you need to check your trailer’s weight. There are three weights. The first is dry weight, which means how much the trailer weighs without any supplies or water. The second is the GVWR, or its weight once water and supplies are loaded. The third weight is called tongue weight. This refers to how much weight the trailer pushes onto the vehicle’s hitch. It is important that NONE of these figures is more than your truck’s towing capacity.

More than this, I highly recommend a 1,000-pound window between what you are towing and what your truck claims it can tow. Many truck manufactures buff this numbers up. Nobody wants to take a camping trip and destroy their engine or transmission on the road. Especially with excited children in tow whose smiles will quickly turn to frowns.

You should also make sure to note the truck hitch’s ball size. The majority of travel trailers use 5/8 of an inch, which is bigger than other trailers and boats.

When driving, be extra careful around tight turns on mountainous roads. Note the caution signs you see on the highway that display a trailer falling over. Yeah, those signs are for you now. I would be remiss to discount the large number of RVs that I have seen turned over onto their sides because of reckless driving.

Also, be careful of fishtailing, which is highly probably when a truck is towing an RV. I recommend that you install a hitch with weight distribution. A sway bar or suspension airbags will also do the trick. If you do happen to start fishtailing, be careful to avoid turning your wheel or slamming the brakes. Just remove your foot from the gas pedal and continue forward momentum. If your trailer is fitted with brakes, then give them a SLIGHT tap. Nothing too heavy.

When driving, also take special care of low hanging trees. Roads full of tree branches can be a nightmare for a trailer or any size.

Finally, avoid steep declines when driving. They will cause the trailer’s tongue to hit the ground and your stabilizers to bend.

What to Do at the Campsite

What to do at the campsite

Make sure to park your trailer on the flattest ground possible. If the trailer is not level, you will feel odd when walking around. Beyond you feeling odd, the RV will also bounce a little with each step. More importantly, if you are parked upward or downward, you can damage the fridge inside the trailer.

My next point of advice is to unhook your trailer from the tow vehicle. This is because setting up the trailer is much easier when it is not connected to the vehicle, as the stabilizers will connect with the ground below. Otherwise, you would have to match their contact with the hitch’s height. Also, with your truck free, you can go explore town or drive the children to the swimming hole.

Then, you must setup the stabilizers. Most travel trailers come with four. They are there to make sure the RV doesn’t bounce around when you walk inside. If you don’t install them, get ready to experience a shaky trailer each time someone uses the bathroom or turns to their side when sleeping.

The final point is to make sure that you have the proper power adapters if your campsite provides power. The common feature of travel trailers is 30 amps, but there are some with 15 or 50 amps. If you forgot the power adapter, or have the wrong one with you, then forget about connecting to the park’s provided power.

RV Power and HVAC

You must know that the travel trailer’s battery is not going to provide electricity to your air conditioning unit. For this, you need a generator with at least 3,000 watts of power. Also, it is not a good idea to do any heavy electrical lifting when running the AC unit. This includes using the television, having more than two lights on, or using the microwave. Of course, if you are plugged into the park’s power, then you can forget this point entirely. Otherwise, if you plan on running all of the electrical devices in your trailer at once, be prepared to buy a massive generator.

When you are using your generator, move it as far away from your trailer as possible. There are several nice generators that provide a quiet service, but most do not. If your generator is loud, please do not leave it at any discernible distance from your RV.

Your fridge can probably run using either electricity or propane. I prefer propane use if I’m driving or in a campground without power. Once I plug into the camp, though, I switch to electrical power. Some of these fridges, including mine, have an automatic setting that realizes when there is connected power and shifts the power mode accordingly.

Water, Water, Water

Again, there are three liquid tanks in your RV: fresh, gray, and black. The fresh, as mentioned above, is for your drinking water. The gray will be filled with your shower and sink water. The black is for the toilet.

There is a difference in water capacity for different trailers. Although I have a fairly big 43-gallon tank for my fresh water, I must conserve well. There are normally four people in my trailer: myself, my wife, and my two children. The capacity is not nearly enough for all of us to take showers every day. This limit is also noted when needed cooking and drinking (of course) water.

Don’t worry about the strange taste in the drinking water on the first use. It is completely normal (and healthy) and will pass after a few run-throughs.

I think it is a good idea to stock your RV with hand sanitizer. This is to prevent using too much water after using the toilet. Also, be sure to turn off the water as you are brushing your teeth.

Post-Trip Information

Okay, so you had a great first camping trip in your travel trailer. Now, you need to find an RV dump station. This can be a bit hard at first (especially on your own and during your first trip), but if you ask around, you can find one. Or you can easily search for them on your phone.

Upon arrival at the dump station, park before the dump hole so you can make sure that the trailer is on the right side. You should have bought an RV dump hose because they don’t come with new trailers.

Once you connect one end of the dump hose to your trailer and place the other one into the hole, then pull the black lever that can be found underneath your trailer. All of the accumulated sewage will spill forth, so be warned. Once the nastiness has washed away, then you will pull the gray lever. After it deposits, then remove the dump hose and wash it thoroughly. Then store the hose in the RVs bumper.

Keep all of the goodies you bought for your trip inside your RV. Don’t unload them or you are bound to lose them or forget to bring them along next time!

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