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Travel Trailer Beginners Camping Guide


Travel Trailer Beginners Camping
Things to know about travel trailer and fifth wheel towing and camping

One time I was just like you. I was part of the Travel Trailer Beginners Club! I’ve been around the block since then, and this Travel Trailer Camping Guide explains all the newbie RVer lessons I learned along the way. I hope it spares you the frustration of being a beginner RVer.

Don’t buy any RV until you make sure it’s right for you. First do a test run. Try on camping trailers for rent near you on RVShare.

(at great prices too!)

Plan and Pack for Your First Travel Trailer Camping Trip

Our family couldn’t wait for our first camping trip. We were total travel trailer beginners and were ready to hit the road. But we had so much to learn.

Remember the essential camping items.

I kept a list of 19 New Travel Trailer “Must-Haves” for Beginner RVers that would have made our first camp out easier if we had remembered to bring them. Now I recommend buying two of each instead of moving them from the house to the RV, or you’ll have to remember to pack it each time. Remember, one of the biggest benefits of a travel trailer is that you can leave all your camping gear packed. Then you’re ready to go camping on a moment’s notice.

Sure, you have many new things to buy. But don’t overload your RV.  First, it’s no fun to walk around RV clutter. Travel trailers are small enough!

Beginner RV Packing Tips

  1. Park the trailer out in front of your house two or three days before departure.
  2. Organize things into a permanent spot as you load.  
  3. Plan meals with as many non-perishable foods as possible. When your trip is over, you can leave the leftovers. Then, only dirty clothes need unpacking.
  4. Keep that heavy items like your generator low and toward the front of the RV.

Trailer Towing Tips for Newbies

Travel Trailer Beginners Camping
Don’t make the same mistakes I did as a beginner travel trailer RVer.

First, check how much your truck can tow.  

This information is usually on a sticker in the driver’s door jam. Now check the trailer numbers, usually found on the driver side of the trailer body. That sticker will give you a few different numbers. Make sure none of those numbers exceed what your truck can safely tow.

  1. Dry weight (weight of just the RV with no water or gear in it)
  2. GVWR (weight with it full of gear and water), and tongue weight (weight applied by the trailer pushing down on the hitch of the vehicle).  

I recommend giving yourself a buffer of NO LESS than 1,000 pounds between what you’re actually towing and what your vehicle says you can tow. Sometimes the vehicle manufacturers are extremely generous in their tow ratings. Follow them precisely and you might end up with a busted transmission or a burned out engine.

Know how to safely tow your trailer.

Trailer sway is a common problem when towing travel trailers. There are many ways to address it, like adding a sway bar or weight distributing hitch. You can also install suspension airbags on your truck. If you have a lightweight trailer (under 5,000 pounds) and a heavy tow vehicle, try going without a sway bar. On my lightweight trailer, I don’t have sway issues, even without a sway bar.

If you notice the trailer starting to fish tail, don’t turn the wheel, don’t hit the brakes. Just let your foot off the gas and drive straight. If you have trailer brakes, lightly tap the trailer brakes remotely from your truck.

Learn how to back up your trailer.

New RVers usually struggle with backing up travel trailers. When you do, just remember two things:

  1. The back of the trailer turns the opposite direction of your steering wheel.
  2. Make micro-adjustments to the steering wheel. The trailer will take a minute to head in the direction you want it to. Be patient with tiny turns and you’ll have better success.

Watch for trees when parallel parking.

Watch for tree obstructions.  In my article called “Big RV Mistakes I Made With My Trailer This Year,” I discuss the trouble with travel trailers and tree-lined streets. See, I live in a neighborhood with mature trees lining the streets. It’s beautiful, but a nightmare for travel trailer parking. For instance, I once pulled up alongside the curb in front of my house to load the trailer and BOOM! The trailer contacted a branch that was hanging lower than I’d thought. The tree versus RV collision caused some damage.

Take it easy on mountain roads.

Drive slowly on steep mountain declines. Not just for safety but your trailer tongue is likely to hit the ground on a little depression. This can bend your stabilizers. Ask me how I know.

As you begin to drive with your trailer, pay close attention to tight curves. Those caution signs illustrating a trailer tipping over are telling you something. I’ve seen quite a few towable RVs that flipped over because the beginner trailer owner took corners too fast.

How to Set Up Your Travel Trailer at the Camp Site

Travel Trailer Beginners Camping
Save the boondocking for later: use full hookups when you’re a newbie.

I highly recommend you go to an RV park for your first travel trailer outing. Sure, it’s not as private and serene as boondocking in the mountains. But RV parks are great for beginner travel trailer owners because they have full sewer, electric, and water hookups to make things stress-free. Leave boondocking for your second trip.

Park your trailer on flat ground.

Uneven parking spots can damage your RV’s refrigerator. It also feels weird inside the trailer when you aren’t level. Finally, the RV bounces around more when you’re inside while parked on a slope.

Unhook the tow vehicle.

I think it’s a lot easier to set up the trailer when it’s not hooked up to the vehicle. This way, all the stabilizers hit the ground and you won’t have to match them to the hitch height. Unhitching leave your tow vehicle free for driving kids to the lake or exploring the town.

Put the trailer stabilizers down.

Most travel trailers have four stabilizers that prevent trailer bounce whenever someone walks inside. Put them down unless you want the whole trailer shaking when your kid turns over in bed on the other side of the RV.

Use the correct electric adapter. 

Most travel trailers have 30 amp service, but some trailers have 50 or 15 amp service. Each amperage requires a different connector. Without the right adapter, you can’t hook up to the RV park’s power. Forgot to bring the right adapter? Here’s how to adapt your trailer’s power to fit any outlet.

portable generator for an RV
I LOVE my generator. For a portable, it’s perfect, but sometimes I think I’d pick an RV with an onboard generator for my next RV upgrade.

Trailer Power, Heating & Cooling Things to Know

As a travel trailer beginner, I needed several RV trips to understand my trailer’s power, heating and cooling systems. This section has essential RV systems information you need to know so don’t skip it.

Use your generator wisely.  

The microwave, the air conditioner, and A/C RV power outlets only work when you’re plugged into power or running a powerful generator. One of the best is the Champion 3,500 watt generator which is robust enough to power your air conditioner. It has a wireless remote start button, which means you don’t need to go outside on cold days to start the generator.

Even with a heavy-duty generator, use care when the air conditioner is running. You may find that you can’t do more than turn on the tv and one or two lights before the generator gives out. Running the microwave at the same time as the air conditioner would require a VERY large generator. Don’t even think about it.

Are you planning to boondock on your trip with a portable generator? Most generators of about 3,000 watts require 1.5 gallons of gas to provide 4 hours of power. Be sure to bring along plenty of extra gasoline.

Keep generator noise to a minimum.

Even if you have a quiet generator like the Champion I recommend above, always take your generator as far away from the trailer as possible to keep things quiet. If you have a noisy generator, there’s how to quiet a noisy RV generator.

Be kind to your trailer batteries.

The lights in your trailer, the fans for the heater, the slide, powered jacks, the ceiling vents, and anything else will work on battery power. However, you may find that the batteries don’t last nearly as long as you’d expect. For example, we have two batteries on our trailer, and we can only run our heater for about 3 hours. Then we need to turn on the generator to charge up the batteries. It only takes about an hour to charge our batteries. Watch your battery usage to preserve their life span.

Never let your batteries discharge below 50% of the rated capacity. If you do, recharge them. If you let them discharge to lower than 20% capacity, they’ll never charge to full capacity again.

Maintaining Power And Healthy Batteries When Winter Camping, by Dave Hegelson, RVLife.com

How to Use Your Trailer’s Water System

Most travel trailers have three different holding tanks for water:

  1. Black water (used toilet water and deposits)
  2. Gray water (used water from sinks and shower)
  3. Fresh water (potable drinking water).  

When you load your RV at your house, fill the fresh water tank. Your black and gray tanks should be empty when you begin your trip. You’ll dump all your liquids on the way home.  

Find out if your campground has a water source.

We didn’t do that on our first few trips. Instead, we filled up the fresh water tank at home. We drove with a full fresh water tank to the camping area. Later we learned there was a nearby RV dump station with free drinking water. Now we fill up there to stay within our safe weight limits and avoid hauling excess water weight.

Trailers come with a variety of water tank sizes. My trailer has a relatively large 43 gallon fresh water tank. For our family of four, that’s plenty of water for four days of cooking and drinking. But it’s not enough for bathing. If me and my wife take short showers one morning out of our, we can last 2.5 days with our tanks. With more dry camping experience you can learn the best ways to conserve water. I expand on this topic in my article about how many gallons of water an RV can usually hold.

Common Newbie Mistakes to Avoid

Learn more beginners travel trailer tips in this article about big RV mistakes.
You’ll need an RV dump hose to get the dirty water out of your black and gray tanks. Click the photo to see the one I recommend on Amazon.com.

After Your First RV Trip: Dumping and Clean Up Tips for Newbies

Your RV needs a dump hose. This dirty job is easier and less messy if you buy a high quality 15-foot long RV sewer dump hose. A clear sewer connector elbow makes it easy to see when the tanks are done emptying.

Ideally, your campground has full hookups for your first travel trailer camp out. If not, you may discover that finding an RV dump station takes some research. I usually just search for “RV dump stations in _(name of town)_” until I find one nearby. Some municipalities have free dump stations near the wastewater processing plant. Gas stations may have them too, but charge a fee to dump. Bring cash.

How to use the RV dump station

  1. Park the trailer so its sewer outlet is located just in front of the dump hole.
  2. Connect the RV sewer hose to your RV dump valve. Put the other end in the dump hole.
  3. Go to your black tank. Open it by pulling the external sewer outlet lever for that tank.  
  4. Once it’s finished, then dump your gray tank. Just pull the gray tank lever.
  5. When all waste water is emptied, take the hose out. Rinse it well with dump station hose, and pack it away.

Don’t unpack the RV when you get home.

 I always buy extra cooking and camping supplies to leave in the RV. This makes it more fun to get home. There’s no need to endure hours of cleanup. Just bring in your dirty clothes and perishable food. Then you’re practically ready to go for your next trailer camping trip!

Hope you found this post helpful. If you did, you’ll also like my post on 15 things I had to buy after getting a new camper.

43 thoughts on “Travel Trailer Beginners Camping Guide

  1. I agree that you need to find out how much your vehicle can tow before you get a travel trailer. It would make sense to find something that is haulable by your car as well. My sister is looking for a camping trailer, so she’ll have to make sure it’s not too heavy for her car.

  2. What about using full-service sites. Should you leave the drain open on your tanks to drain instantly or accumulate to help break down waste so solids don’t collect in the bottom of the tank.

    1. Its best NOT to leave your BLACK tank open even when hooked up at a full service site. The tank needs the water to break down solids and additionally uses the water to flush the BLACK tank when you open it. The GRAY tank is mixed emotions for many campers. Many folks do NOT leave the GRAY tank open in fear of sewer gasses coming back into the camper. But your drains all have traps which contain water and will stop the gasses from returning. Additionally there are vents to your roof to allow the gasses to escape. I personally think leaving the GRAY tank open is NOT a good idea and only takes a minute to drain. Watch your levels and drain accordingly.

  3. My wife and I are thinking about getting a trailer to take camping but we aren’t sure it would benefit us. I never considered that you can just leave your camping equipment in the trailer between trips. This would be a great way to save ourselves the trouble of having to pack for each trip. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great tips. I’m thinking of rving by myself. Never done this before. Scared but exciting. Any tips on groups, gatherings in MA I can connect with? Thanks

  5. My husband has been trying to talk me into buying an RV. It seems like a nice idea since we do like travel and camp a lot. However, I still wasn’t sold on the idea. I’m more open to it, especially after reading how you don’t have to worry about packing and unpacking camping gear. That’s so time-consuming, so I’d really appreciate that benefit.

  6. I am getting ready to look for a light weight camper to pull with my SUV. I have an appointment in a couple of days with the Camper World in my area. I would like to hear more about your buying experience with them since I it was not a good one. Thank you!

  7. My husband and I have been excited about getting an RV. I appreciate your advice to make sure that we just buy things that we’ll need for camping and keep them in the RV, rather than keeping them in the house and bringing them out every time that we want to go camping. This makes so much sense and will make leaving for a camping trip so much easier!

    1. I couldn’t agree more. While I did go back and get the Good Sam card and use some of their services, I was all set to buy my travel trailer there, agreed on a price. Then they sat down and had added 2000 dollars in dealer prep fees. I went about 10 miles down the road and was treated much better.

  8. Hi I would like to know if you can use a camper to live for a short time and what tips can you give me ? Thank you

    1. Absolutely! I have a close friend who is currently living in a camper and has been for several months, even throughout the winter. In fact, we just posted a new article about how to stay comfortable in a camper in winter weather. You should read it!

  9. Great article! I am learning about RV’s. My husband and I had a Winnebago for years but he is gone. Thanks for all the info!

  10. Thank you for this article! My husband and I just bought a Adirondack 2007, and we are redoing the floor and fixing a few things. We already have our campsite booked for October and next Summer! Great family time to be had. My grandparents were snowbirds when I grew up, so RV living was always fun to me! Thanks for all the pointers!

  11. I like the tip you gave to get sanitizer for your RV to help you save water. I am going on a camping trip with my wife and kids in a few weeks, and we want to use a camping trailer. I will be sure to get sanitizer before we go on our trip.

  12. I’m getting my very first RVS this fall, and your guide has really helped me understand them better and how to take care of them. Not overloading the trailer is definitely a good tip, especially for someone like me who never packs light. Using a label maker to mark what goes where is a great way to moderate that, and I’ll definitely try that out.

  13. I just bought a travel trailer in August. We took it on a short trip to some friends place 3 hours north of us. We went up on Saturday and came back on Sunday. We didn’t use the toilet, shower, sink, microwave, stove or oven. We basically wanted to just get a feel for how it would pull going up the mountains. I did get a sway bar hitch put on and it was well worth the extra $900.00 for the peace of mind. We hit some wind coming back home and the trailer never moved and follows right behind the truck. I have company coming in a month from out of town and they will be staying in it for a month while they are here. We have booked a campsite for the end of July next year near Yellowstone and will use is frequently to escape our Arizona summer heat. Once we retire we plan to travel the United States for weeks at a time. I can’t wait. I bought my trailer at La Mesa RV in Mesa AZ, I believe we got a good deal and had no issues. The trailer is back there right now to get some things fixed that we detected at our walk through and after our first trip so I will post my experience with the service department once we get it back. I am so excited to take more camping trips, but our schedule won’t allow it for a few months at least.

    1. We are about to buy an RV to live in full time so I’m trying to learn all that I can. This article was extremely helpful, thank you for posting!!!

  14. Wow! Such awesome tips in regard to camping, I love camping in different places, I remember there were awesome days when I’d first time camping for the fun of it and it was fantastic, I glad to have a blog to accompany me in my quest.

  15. Hi, this article really helpful for me. I am confused about choosing the right camping guide what would be the best for everything. But review this article my confusion is clear, Thanks.

  16. This list is golden and something I wish I would have seen before adventuring into van life or buying an RV period. I started out with a travel trailer and learning about towing was difficult enough. Dealign with sway bars and all those sketchy noises while driving. I cried because of all the gas I had to buy. Always leanring so much with each new adventure and from other Rvers. Not sure how I would have made it this far without such an awesome RV community and all the amazing things they share about their journey 🙂

  17. One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.

  18. Do not leave any food stored in your camper while not in use. Mice will chew through everything, even the water lines during dry spells. Very expensive fix.

  19. I am so grateful I found your post, You’ve really covered up almost all the possible tips that a beginner should follow when planning a camping. My husband and I have been thinking of going on camping soon. Actually, I got a lot of information from your blog which can make our camping much more relaxing and enjoyable. Thanks.

  20. Great article! Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I can totally relate I decided it was time to get over my fear of trailer camping just this year. I did it in a bit of a backward way: I booked a backpacking trip for the end of this year. I figure there’s no better way for me to prepare for such a big adventure than to start trailer camping, It was so great that I have two more planned and a few more in mind. Your tips make sense and you’re right that it’s very empowering to face our fears and take control of them. Yay for us!!!

  21. Hey I bought a new trailer and wonder if there’s any websites that you can buy a spot for few day for travel trailer .

  22. Thanks. Very informative. I’ve been checking websites for advice and info. I’m still in the planning stages. I still haven’t decide between a travel trailer and a class C.

  23. Nice article, thanks for all the tips!

    The hitch ball size should read “2 5/16 inch” for most trailers over 5000 lbs — but again, it’s important to check the specs of your specific trailer.

  24. Thank you for sharing a really useful and informative article. The way you have detailed and described is really helpful. Hope to see more amazing articles like this. Keep it up to the good work!

  25. Motorhomes roll smoothly down the road. Travel trailers bump and tug on your vehicle when going down the road. Make sure this doesn’t drive you nuts before you buy one. No big deal if you are used to it.

  26. It’s so nice to know that the fridges in most RVs run on propane and that it is very limiting if you don’t have access to propane to run it when you’re not near electricity. My husband and I are wanting to rent an RV to go on a road trip across three national parks for our 5th anniversary, so I need to know what supplies we need to buy in order to be prepared. When the time comes, I will look for some heating oil to provide us energy while on the road for some of our appliances and our outdoor, portable barbecue. http://ferrellfuel.com/products/

  27. My wife and I have been thinking of taking our kids on an RV trip, and we need some expert advice. I’m glad you pointed ou to park the RV on a flat surface because it can damage the fridge. We will be sure to find a campsite that has flat land to make sure we don’t damage anything in the RV.
    https://southernpointcampground.com/about-the-area

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