Earning your road-trip L-plates

The L-plates went on the camper trailer a little over a year ago.

We’d set our budget and done our research. Next up was to cross-check our top selections at a caravanning and camping expo.

There’s no substitute for seeing things for real.

We climbed into and over our top selections, testing beds, pulling out drawers, examining how to erect and fold down, noting trailer weights and water storage capacity.

The “baby” was duly selected and delivered several months later, bewilderingly with no accompanying manual or how-to guide to explain how it all worked. Even a hairdryer comes with a manual.

So we had our camper. What was the next step on the journey to becoming fully fledged campers who knew their stuff? Simple. Just hit the road and learn from our mistakes – and we’ve made plenty. The term ‘rookie error’ is part of our vernacular. These are just some of them:

1. Before you buy a camper trailer, make sure that you enjoy sleeping under canvas. Camper trailers and tents can shake and rattle in the wind and rain water pools on the roofs. Solution: rent a camper for a trip before you buy.

2. Make sure the camper trailer and the towing vehicle are suited. It’s no use having a glorious off-road trailer if your car is not easily up to the task. Solution: check the specifications and don’t rely on the camper trailer salesman to deliver a caution.

3. Check the clearance when leaving the property with a fully loaded trailer. Bottoming out as you cross the gutter is not recommended. Solution: perhaps fill the water tank once you’re on the street as 100 litres of water adds 100 kilograms.

4. Make sure the chains connecting the trailer to the car are sufficiently long to allow you to do tight turns, otherwise one could snap. And one did. Solution: longer chains.

5. Reversing onto a vehicle ferry can be testing – though amusing for onlookers. Solution: practise reversing at a quiet and spacious venue.

6. Don’t settle for the first camp spot you come across, or even the second or third. Solution: get out and have a comprehensive walk around. That’s better than driving down a narrow track and then having to reverse out, or spending a week wishing you’d set up camp “just over there”.

7. Even a slight incline can cause panic when you unhitch the trailer. It’s pretty hard to stop a 1.3 tonne runaway. Solution: jam a good rock under the wheel and pull on the handbrake or, even better, park on the flat!

8. Always double-check that the jockey wheel is up and the handbrake is off when you start towing. Solution: create a written checklist.

9. Don’t use up trailer battery capacity while you’re travelling. Solution: turn off the water pump and lights before you hit the road. Water pumps have been known to operate continuously if the tap hasn’t been turned off properly.

10. Treat your battery and fridge with respect. Solution: fully charge the battery overnight before a trip and turn on the fridge for several hours before you load it up.

And then we went on our second trip. And yes, we made more mistakes. It’s a learning curve – as most things in life are – but after every trip we can’t wait to hit the road again.

Have you made caravanning mistakes? Do you have any rookie camper trailer stories?

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Essence of the outback

Written by Janelle Ward

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