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.
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
- Park the trailer out in front of your house two or three days before departure.
- Organize things into a permanent spot as you load.
- 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.
- Keep that heavy items like your generator low and toward the front of the RV.
Trailer Towing Tips for Newbies
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.
- Dry weight (weight of just the RV with no water or gear in it)
- 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.
Learn how to back up your trailer.
New RVers usually struggle with backing up travel trailers. When you do, just remember two things:
- The back of the trailer turns the opposite direction of your steering wheel.
- 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
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.
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.
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:
- Black water (used toilet water and deposits)
- Gray water (used water from sinks and shower)
- 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
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
- Park the trailer so its sewer outlet is located just in front of the dump hole.
- Connect the RV sewer hose to your RV dump valve. Put the other end in the dump hole.
- Go to your black tank. Open it by pulling the external sewer outlet lever for that tank.
- Once it’s finished, then dump your gray tank. Just pull the gray tank lever.
- 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.