Caravanning and camping is an amazing way to holiday as it gives you so many options. You can see so much of the country by travelling every day or stay put for a week. Stay somewhere completely away from others off grid, at a caravan park with 5 star amenities and water slides or anywhere in between.
And while it is a fantastic adventure whether you are by yourself or with a partner, your family or friends, starting out can be a little daunting. But don’t let a fear of the unknown stand in your way. Here are some wonderful tips and tricks for beginners (and not so beginners) to make any caravan journey easier.
Here’s our full list of tips and tricks for camping and caravanning and then we’ll dive into each one a bit further.
Caravan and Camping Tips and Tricks
- Watch your weights
- Make sure your car is capable
- You don’t need to bring everything
- Have a checklist
- Have a UHF radio
- Do your research
- Do you need water?
- Check your hot water system
- Ensure you have spare parts
- Get a tool kit
- Stay on top of maintenance
- Turn off your water pump when travelling
- Don’t have your hot water on all the time
- You can never have too much solar
- Ensure you can get out of trouble
- Have a first aid kit
- Have an offline map
- Download some useful apps
- Do a towing course and practice reversing
- Think about security
- Check everything before leaving and then check again
- Only travel in daylight hours
- Slow down
- Keep an eye on how much your spending
- Make up your own mind
- Don’t overpack your fridge
- Get some moisture absorbers
- Use darker coloured bedding
- Bring cash
- Use space saving ideas
- Bring something to do when it rains
- Schedule down days
- Remember caravan park etiquette
- Always have a water filter
34 Caravan Tips
1. Watch your weights
If you’re starting out on your caravan journey, you can be overwhelmed at how many caravans and camper trailers are actually available. The variety is huge and nearly everything you can think of can be included.
However, before you fall in love with a van and all its features, the first thing you should do is look at your car, because the car you drive will always determine what sort of caravan you can get. If you are driving a set up that is overweight in any capacity it can be dangerous, and in the case where you are in an accident can void your insurance.
You need to make sure you know (and understand) all of the weight calculations involved. All cars with have maximum limits for the Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM), Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) and Gross Combination Mass (GCM). That is how heavy your car is (GVM), how heavy your caravan or camper trailer is (ATM), and how heavy they are when hooked up together (GCM). You cannot exceed the weight specified in your cars owners manual.
For a more detailed explanation of these weights and how to ensure you’re underweight, head to our article on What is GVM, GCM and ATM.
2. Make sure your car is capable
If you’ve made sure everything is underweight and legal as above, then you should also think about ensuring your car is going to be capable of taking you where you want to go. When you are towing anything behind your car, it puts more pressure on your engine, and can lead to quicker wear and tear, so it’s important to think about if you need any upgrades to help it along.
If you are only ever driving shorter distances towing a caravan to a caravan park, then chances are you won’t need to add anything to the vehicle. However if you want to go on adventures further than that, start thinking about what would be useful.
Are you wanting to travel on unsealed roads? Upgraded tyres might be a good start to avoid punctures. Are you chasing the sun driving in 30 degree heat in an automatic? You should probably look at installing a transmission cooler. Are you going to be driving through the outback with an increased chance of hitting kangaroos, emus or even a camel? Maybe a bull bar is a good idea.
Look at where you want to go and what roads you are traveling on to get there. Then decide if you car is capable of getting you there. And remember, the bigger and heavier your van, the more stress you will put on your car.
3. You don’t need to bring everything
Let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of overpacking. However caravan space (and weight) is at a premium so you really need to be mindful of what is making the cut.
Ask anyone that travels, whether it is for a weekend away, 2 month holiday or doing the big lap and I bet you’ll find a list of things they have taken and never used.
When you’re caravanning, think logically and try to eliminate a bit of ‘extra stuff’. For example, you don’t need a 12 setting dining and cutlery set for 4 people. Just bring one plate, bowl, knife, fork and spoon for each person.
Unless you are going remote (for example the Gibb River Road) for a long period of time, you don’t need to stock up on everything. That 32 pack of toilet paper may save you a few dollars, but where are you going to store it all? Most of the place you go to will have some sort of shop where you can buy things when you get low.
You will find as time goes on and you have a few trips under your belt, you will probably get rid of things naturally that you don’t use. But even at the beginner stage, everything you put into your caravan should have a purpose (and ideally more than one use) so really think about whether you need it.
4. Have a checklist
Checklists when caravanning are really useful. They stop you from forgetting things, breaking things (there are a lot of things that can break on a caravan if not put away properly) and just generally give you piece of mind.
You can create a checklist for anything really, however the most common ones are for packing (here’s the 20 most forgotten items when camping), set up and pack up of the caravan. Things like ensuring you have turned off the gas bottle, taken down anything that could fall down or even remembered your favourite pillow.
Whether you have it on your phone or a printed list doesn’t matter, the important thing is that you have a process to go through to make sure you’re doing everything you need to. This really helps to ensure you get to camp (or home) with everything you need and nothing broken.
5. Have a UHF radio
Once you put a caravan on the back you’re bigger than you used to be. This makes driving and especially overtaking harder, not just for you but for others around you. It is essential to have a UHF radio in the car.
This allows you to communicate with other travellers and truck drivers, enabling you to overtake, get overtaken and know when you need to get off the road for oversized loads (which takes a bit more planning than if you’re just a car). It also allows you to communicate with people about potential hazards coming up ahead.
You don’t need to have a big (or expensive) built in radio. You can just as easily use a handheld one as they work the same way.
6. Do your research
Some people love to plan their trips down to every second and others like to just wing it, however it does pay to do some research on destinations.
If you want to head somewhere, it pays to think about when the best weather will be, where you are going to stay and what you want to see in the area. For example, if you are dreaming about sitting in the sunshine in Darwin, you don’t want to head up there in wet season. Planning on heading to Exmouth in the July school holidays? You might want to book ahead and not just turn up on the day.
You don’t have to plan everything everything, but doing your research ensures you are prepared. That way if you have your heart set on a destination or experience you won’t miss out.
7. Do you need water?
The big question. Do you travel with water in your tanks? Some people like to make sure they are always full when travelling, others like to travel with them empty.
The main thing to know is will you need water when your traveling, or when you get to where you’re going? If you’re traveling for 3 hours and you’ll be at a site that has a water connection, chances are you won’t need to have water in your tanks and you can save on the weight of the water.
If you are going to need water, you can also choose to fill up closer to your camp (although you will need to make sure you can find a good quality water source).
On the other hand, if you don’t travel with water, you won’t have any available for mid journey pit stops and a lot of people like to always have water in their tanks for emergencies (such as a car break down).
Be aware that travelling with or without water will have a bearing on your caravan’s weights. Not just how much it weighs, but the weight distribution and tow bar weight depending on where your tanks are located.
8. Check your hot water system
Did you know a lot of caravan hot water systems have an anode that needs replacing periodically? A lot of people don’t, and it can get them into trouble.
An anode is a magnesium rod that sits inside the hot water system and attracts corrosion to stop the hot water system itself from corroding. However, once the anode had corroded away, then the hot water system will start to rust and corrode (and then fail and leak), so the anode needs to be replaced every so often.
It’s a good idea to check your anode every 6 months, however you will probably find that it doesn’t need to be changed every time. A good rule of thumb is when the anode is more than 50% corroded to replace it. And it’s a good idea to always have a spare in your tool kit just in case as it’s not always going to be something you can quickly get your hands on, especially in more remote areas.
9. Ensure you have spare parts
Things break. That’s just a realty of caravanning. So it’s important to have some spare parts on hand for things that are likely to need replacing more often, are essential to continuing on your journey or are likely to get damanged.
Think about things like your trailer plugs, plumbing fittings, cupboard latches, indicators and lights, filters etc and anything that will be hard to get when you’re on the road.
10. Get a tool kit
Along with spare parts, ensure you have a well stocked tool kit with tools and fittings that fit your car and caravan. However don’t go overboard – you don’t need 5 of everything.
Also ensure you’ve got things that can help fix stuff and get you out of trouble like WD40, cable ties, gaffer tape and sealant. Also have some sort of tarp or mat to lie on if you need to get underneath your car or caravan, so your not lying in the dirt or mud.
11. Stay on top of maintenance
While we’re talking about fixing things, remember prevention is better than cure. Make sure your van and vehicle get serviced regularly and always go around your setup and check things, especially if you are traveling on dirt roads.
12. Turn off your water pump when travelling
There have been numerous tales of people travelling with caravans on corrugated roads and the vibrations (or something falling onto it) have turned the tap on in the sink and ended up both wasting precious water and flooding their van. Eeep!
If you don’t like a wet caravan, a quick preventative measure is to turn off your water pump when you travel. This means that even if something does knock the tap or the vibrations of dirt roads do happen to turn it on you won’t end up with running water.
13. Don’t have your hot water on all the time
If you have a gas hot water system, keeping it on all the time will end up using more gas than you need to as it’s constantly trying to keep the water hot. Most of the time you are only going to need hot water for showers and doing the dishes. This means that it is really only certain times of the day.
Most caravan hot water systems are small and don’t take much time to heat up. This means that you can turn it on about 15 mins before you need to use it and have hot water.
14. You can never have too much solar
If you want to travel off grid and open up the amount of places you can go, the best thing to do is install a battery and inverter system to your caravan electrics. This ensures you have power wherever you go. The mistake some people make is getting a big battery and inverter to run the caravan (while they’re charging iPads and running a thermomix and the fancy induction cooker they saw someone use on YouTube) and then realise that their battery system is going to go flat real fast.
If you want to run things off grid then solar power to charge it all back up is a must. Put as many panels on your roof as you can and then have the ability to add another portable one (because trees are not a roof solar panels friend). The ability to charge the batteries quickly is just as, if not more important than how much battery storage you have.
15. Ensure you can get out of trouble
Sometimes things go wrong. And you don’t want to be stuck somewhere with no way of contacting anyone to help. But there are some basic things you can do before you leave to help you get out of trouble if something should happen.
Be aware that a lot of phone networks do not have coverage regionally. Telstra is by far the biggest network around Australia so if you are with one of the others, it might pay to get a pre paid Telstra sim card for situations where you can’t get signal with another carrier.
Ensure you have basic recovery gear. This doesn’t mean you need a big winch and a thousands of dollars worth of gear, but ensure you have some recovery points on your car, a basic recovery set and some recovery tracks if you’re going anywhere sandy. Also ensure you have a way to deflate and inflate your tyres.
If you’re going into more remote places that won’t have phone service (and this includes just driving though) make sure you have a way of contact in an emergency. Things such as a satellite phone (which you can hire) or a personal locator beacon. Personal locator beacons are a great just in case thing to have and something you hope you never need to use.
16. Have a first aid kit
Accidents happen when you travel. My daughter split her chin open on a water slide on day 5 of a 4 week holiday a few years ago. Something that would have been made much more difficult if we didn’t have a fully stocked first aid kit able to be grabbed quickly from the van to slow down the bleeding while I googled where the closed medical centre was for some stitches.
Having a first aid kit should really be an essential item to take with you, whether its a day trip or a long holiday. We have two actually – one in the van and one in the car – with a list of things of what to put in it. Its also handy to go through it after every trip to see what needs to be replaced so you can stock it up before you head off again.
17. Have an offline map
You might not have signal. Your device might go flat. It is important to have a way of getting to where you are going offline. Download maps from Google Maps to use offline (and keep your device charged). Otherwise, keep a map book in your car, and learn how to read it if you’re not sure. It might just save you getting very lost.
18. Download some useful apps
Technology on the road can actually be really useful. There are a number of different apps that can help you out when travelling depending on your needs. From finding campsites and cheaper fuel to levelling your van and what to do in an emergency. Using apps can also save on space (and weight) if they are taking the place of a book or something physical. Check out our list of useful apps to get you started.
19. Do a towing course and practice reversing
Towing something on your car changes the way it drives (you need to take the corners wider for a start). You need practice and if you’ve never towed anything before you might want to consider a towing course to give you a basic understanding. Some insurance companies will even give you a discount if you’ve done one.
Another thing to consider doing before putting your skills on display at the caravan park (or into the side of your house after you take it home for the first time) is practice reversing into a spot. Take your van to an empty parking lot or somewhere with lots of room and practice getting the van in to where you want it to go.
20. Think about security
There is an unfortunate aspect of traveling that requires you to think about how to secure your belongings. We haven’t had many issues over our years of traveling, however we have had some alcohol stolen out of our fridge that we kept outside on the NSW South Coast.
Take basic security precautions. If you leave anything outside the van at night or when you’re away, lock them up somehow. We do things such as securing the kids bikes and our fridge to the chassis of the van. Make sure you lock up whenever you leave, even if its just to go to the bathroom. Basic security measures won’t stop someone very determined, but will stop an opportunistic theif.
If you want to go further, you can get various gps trackers to put into your van if you are worried about it being stolen when stored. These can be from simple alerts on your phone if the tracker is moving to full security systems that apply the electronic brakes on the van to prevent it from going anywhere.
21. Check everything before leaving and then check again
Run through everything on your van before you leave. Ensure everything is turned off that should be, everything is connected properly, locked up and all is how it should be for traveling. Then go around and do it again especially if you have been distracted at any point in the pack up. If you have a partner with you, make sure you are both going through and checking everything.
22. Only travel in daylight hours
Driving while towing can be dangerous enough without adding extra elements. Keep in mind that driving at sunrise and sunset can make it difficult to see (traveling west and east) and that a lot of animals feed at that time so you are much more likely to hit something travelling around those times.
Night time also restricts your vision and the last thing you want to do it have your holiday cut short (or worse) because you’ve hit a kangaroo, emu or even a cow or camel.
23. Slow down
Its a good idea to slow down. Not on the road (although you should be doing that too) but just your holiday in general. You might want to try and fit in everything you possibly can into your trip but by the end of it you’ll probably need a holiday to recover from your holiday. Remember you area also supposed to be relaxing and enjoying everything so stay present in the moment and just maybe slow down a bit. Stay a couple of days in each place and see what it has to offer.
24. Keep an eye on how much your spending
Unless you have unlimited funds is is a good idea to have a loose budget. Because you’re out of your home routine when your traveling it can be easy to spend more than you think you are (a bakery trip here, and ice cream there). Keep a bit of an eye on what you’re spending, and if you really want to keep on top of it, there are some travel and budgeting apps that can help.
25. Make up your own mind
You’ll get a lot of opinions regarding towns to go to, places to visit and things to see. Of course ask options and read reviews, but remember that everyone’s experience is tainted by something. We went and saw the field of lights at Uluru and thought it was a waste of money. However our opinion may have been influenced by the fact that is was drizzling rain and they rushed us through because of that. If you go when it is a crystal clear night your view might be different.
Of course if there are constant positive or negative reviews of a place the likelihood is that is what you’ll find. But if you have your heart set of a place to visit or experience you want to do and are put off because you talked to one person, just do it anyway and make up your own mind.
26. Don’t overpack your fridge
Fridges need air circulation to work the most efficiently. If you pack your fridge completely full with no space in between anything it will find it hard to circulate that cold air.
Obviously there are times when you are going to have a long time between grocery trips and need to fill it up, but for the most part try to pack your fridge with a little bit of space.
27. Get some moisture absorbers
Caravans and camper trailers don’t always have the best ventilation, especially when they are packed up. This means it is a prime candidate for moisture which can lead to mould, mildew and musty odours.
If you’re caravan is parked up for a while (or even if its in use in humid areas), get some moisture absorbers to help prevent mould, especially if you have a lot of canvas (such as pop tops) or fabric in your van.
28. Use darker coloured bedding
Most of the time camping is dirty. There’s sand, dust and, if you go outback in Australia, red dirt! It will inevitably get in your van and on your feet and onto your sheets.
While white and light coloured sheets and bedding might look really pretty, the reality is they will show every speck of dirt. Dark coloured bedding means it wont show up as easily and you won’t get twitchy every time the kids use the bed as a couch with dirty feet.
29. Bring cash
It’s a good idea to always have some cash on hand when you are traveling. More remote places are constantly having issues with internet and that means you might find the Eftpos down at the only fuel station within 200km (or more). Having cash on you means this isn’t an issue. Always keep a couple of hundred dollars tucked away somewhere as an emergency fund.
Another useful thing to have is $20-$30 worth of gold coins. This is really handy for laundromats or caravan park washing machines.
30. Use space saving ideas
Can you live out of 5 cupboards? In a caravan you might have to. Space is at a premium so its a great ideas to use some space saving ideas.
Make sure things have more than one purpose, choose lightweight options and things that are collapsible or stackable. Put up lots of hooks for things like towels and hanging stuff up. Cupboard organisers can be useful as well as holders that can be stuck or suction cupped to the walls to make the most of dead space in the van.
When packing food, be aware of all the extra packaging that comes with it. You can save a lot of space in your caravan pantry and fridge by taking food out of the extra packaging.
31. Bring something to do when it rains
Yes, traveling is all about adventuring out and getting to see and do things. However sometimes you will have a day which is so rainy you don’t want to do anything.
It’s good to have a few things to do in the van on rainy down days. Things such as board games (you can get travel ones that don’t take up as much space), cards, books or even some craft to do. Have a few things tucked away to keep everyone entertained.
32. Schedule down days
Driving is actually mentally exhausting. Going out and seeing the sites is also tiring. Make sure you schedule in some down days to ensure you are resting and recovering and not constantly on the go. It doesn’t have to be all the time but make sure you have some recovery time and days where you just do some relaxing.
33. Remember campsite etiquette
Remember everyone is trying to have a good time, but no one wants to be camping next to someone blasting their music at 1am. There are a few unwritten rules of courtesy and etiquette that you should follow when you are camping. (Hint: most of them involve not being an a-hole).
34. Always have a water filter
When filling up your tanks, its a good idea to have the water going through a filter before getting into your van. Not everywhere has the greatest water, and you really don’t want to have your holiday ruined with a stomach bug.
An inline water filter can be attached to your hose and as an added tip, make sure the hose going into your tank from the filter is food grade to prevent any odd tastes.
Whether you are wanting to head away for a weekend of fun or a two year lap living in your van, those first few trips as a beginner are so important in getting your head around caravan life, and how you want to set everything up. Hopefully these caravanning tips and tricks will help you speed up that process.