So, you’re the proud new owner of a brand new caravan or motorhome, can’t wait to book your first trip away and are hoping for things to go smoothly when you first arrive? Here’s a list of handy pointers to ensure that your first trip away starts with style and doesn’t become a caravan catastrophe!
Back to basics
It may seem that booking a pitch away from any prying eyes would be the obvious choice for first timers. After all who wants to become the campsite entertainment whilst trying your best to set up your shiny new home without looking like you have no idea what you are doing? What’s more, do you really want to attempt to put up your “divorce in a bag,” (a.k.a. the awning), which you have never assembled before on your first time away? To ease yourself in, I’d suggest a back to basics approach of staying local, (within about an hour), not going too mad on accessories and sticking with one of the main club sites on the network.
Know where you’re going
If you are local to the site, you’ll be less tired when you arrive. It’s easy to underestimate how shattered you might be after arriving for the first time with your new purchase. The experience of driving a larger unit combined with trying to remember how to level/ work the new buttons/ reverse/ use the motor mover can take a lot out of you. You also want to chill out and relax in your new home too. So, by picking somewhere near where you live, you’ll not have to worry about how to approach the campsite or which turn off you’ll need to take. You’ll also have the energy to be able to set up and actually enjoy that first glass of wine and your surroundings at your new pitch.
Once you have mastered your first trip away, you’ve got the rest of the UK and Europe, (and maybe even further!), to explore. If you are still concerned about the exact location and directions to campsites in the future, you can always try You Tube videos of campsite entrances where some wonderful people on the internet can show you the final approaches. Bob Earnshaw’s videos are amazing for this. He has created lots of videos of entrances to sites around the UK, campsite reviews, ideas for days out and great tech tips too! These videos are brilliant confidence boosters for new motorhomers and caravanners who like to be prepared.
Another option is to use Google Maps to search the address of your campsite and then click on “Street View” where you can visualise the exact entrance to your campsite, so you know what to look out for. Isn’t technology just wonderful?
When you get even more confident and decide to go abroad for the first time, you can watch videos explaining the process of driving your caravan or motorhome onto the Eurotunnel or ferry. Although we were seasoned travellers to Europe before we bought our caravan, we watched quite a few of these videos before we went abroad with our van as we were curious about how we’d squeeze such a huge outfit into a tiny space. I’d really recommend Andrew Ditton’s fabulous video for the Eurotunnel journey.
He shows you the full journey, as well as road signs to look out for before you enter the terminal and board the train. It’s brilliant for giving you an idea about what to expect once you start your journey in France. He also offers great advice on taking your caravan abroad for the first time and preparation tips. Obviously, things have changed a little since Brexit and of course, Coronavirus. However, the advice on offer is really invaluable for anyone venturing across the waves for their first time. Thanks to his videos, our first caravan trip across the Channel was a breeze. For up to date European Travel advice for leisure vehicle owners visit Overseas Holidays | The Caravan Club and Foreign travel advice – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Now back to that first trip away….
Simplicity is key
Don’t take the newly bought awning away on your first trip, or for that matter anything that might take a while to put together. It’s that simple! Do you really want to be spending the entire trip away putting things up and then dismantling them all again? After all, buying and owning a leisure vehicle is about enjoying the great outdoors, chilling out and exploring. You can’t do much of that if your whole weekend is spent on working things out. It took us a few hours to work out how to put up our awning on our third trip away. That said, there’ll be plenty of other wonderful people on the campsite who are happy to help you if you do get stuck. The camping community are a friendly lot and we were so grateful for kind people helping us out on our first few trips away.
Another reason to keep things simple on your first few trips is that the more accessories you buy, the more you might realise you don’t actually need or want to use them on future holidays. Instead, have a nosy at other campers and their accessories. What do they use? What might work for you? Where will you store things when travelling? There are quite a few occasions when we never bother taking our awning, (weekend trips for example). We’d rather just enjoy getting on with our holiday.
For a good idea of basics for your first few trips away, have a look at these lists to start you off. The Caravan and Motorhome Club has several brilliant guides and videos. There’s a packing checklist, as well as plenty of technical and touring advice here. The Camping and Caravanning Club also has a great pre-journey checklist for different vehicles too, which can be found here. These are all fantastic for your first adventure!
Ask the experts
Once you’ve had a few trips away, you might want to try out a range of different sites such as pub stops, glamping sites, waterpark sites and Certified Locations, (small scale sites run by the Caravan and Motorhome Club and Camping and Caravanning Club). You may even want to pursue an off-grid lifestyle, perfect for budget conscious explorers. We like to try out a mixture of different places each year but for the first site, I would definitely recommend staying somewhere where there are people in the know if you get stuck. This is why I’d highly recommend the Caravan and Motorhome Club Sites or Caravan and Camping Club Sites for your first experience. By doing this, you have a bunch of experts on tap who are trained and experienced to help with technical issues if things do go wrong. You really can’t beat this level of expertise as a newbie.
We discovered this on our third trip out, (before we had a motor mover), when we visited a lovely Lake District site which needed a good grasp of levelling expertise. After circumnavigating the site three times, realising that a Friday night really wasn’t an ideal time for finding the best pitch, it became clear to us that the only ones left involved some serious levelling if we weren’t to develop injuries in the morning after rolling out of bed. Not having the money for a fancy pants motor mover or all singing all dancing self-levelling system, it was down to us to reverse up on a slant. After some very embarrassing attempts, we were about to give up, so I asked the wonderful Caravan and Motorhome Club wardens at reception for their advice. They immediately drove up to our pitch, laden with levelling logs of every variety and showed us in 10 minutes how to level. What amazing people!
Wardens of both clubs are worth their weight in gold if you have a query and are essential points of contact for that first trip away. There’s a great selection of “Club” sites across the UK with the Caravan and Motorhome Club on their website and on the Camping and Caravanning Club website.
Get ready to pitch!
You’ve arrived, you’ve found your pitch and you are still talking to your other half after mastering the directions with ease! Nice work!
To continue with this success, I’d recommend having a few of these items to hand in the nearest drawer to the door. Here’s a list of what I include. It means that as soon as we arrive, setting up is easy…..
Toilet roll, wet wipes, and towel – Mucky hands, mucky dog, mucky husband and handy before you’ve connected your water.
Spirit level – level caravan or motorhome = happy fridge / showering (water actually drains down the plughole instead of loitering in the shower tray with intent).
Poo bags – dog (not us).
Various screwdrivers– TV sorted quickly = happy husband.
Laminated list of tooling down / tooling up checklist– rarely used these days, but handy to remember if my brain is feeling a little rusty. My list has never let me down! (I use this one)
The list above is not exhaustive of course, and I’m sure you’ll develop your own style, but hopefully it will make those first few minutes of setting up on your pitch nice and easy.
And finally, acceptance…
Accept that something might go wrong on your first few trips away and don’t sweat the small stuff! This is the best advice I can give anybody starting out with their first caravan or motorhome. There are a few times I’ve forgotten something when setting up or tooling down – the locker door swinging open on the road, losing the car tow ball cover, scratching the side of the caravan when departing after showing off my towing prowess to the warden as I waved goodbye, only to be followed by loud screeches as I squeezed past a bush…. Embrace these experiences. They’ll help you to remember what not to do next time! They’ll also provide you with plenty of anecdotes to laugh about with your fellow campers on your next holiday!
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”Albert Einstein
If you’d like any further information on any of the activities or advice mentioned in this blog, please click on the links in the article. Also, check out the RESOURCES section for up-to-date advice on travelling this year.
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