After nearly peeling the top off of our home on wheels like it was a tin of sardines, we learned there are a few things you need to know when hitting the road in a motorhome for the first time.
Here's everything you need to know before you embark on your first trip in a caravan or motorhome - including why you should check the height of your van.
Planning your trip
Not everyone is suited to towing a caravan and some vehicles don't have enough power to transport one safely. "Decide what type of road-tripper you want to be," says Grant Wilckens, chairman of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia and CEO of regional accommodation provider G'day Group. "Are you capable of towing a caravan? If your budget allows, a motorhome can be easier to manoeuvre and get around town. Whichever you choose, make sure your "rig" or towing vehicle is in good condition. Tyres, suspension, lights, and so on all need to be in tip-top shape. If you're caravanning, triple check your awnings and doors are secure they don't swing open while you're travelling."
Master the art of the "one-finger wave"
The minute you get behind the wheel of a motorhome or have a caravan in tow, you've joined the ranks of a select group of adventurers who love to holiday on the road. "Give a one-finger wave' (finger lifted from the steering wheel) or nod to fellow travellers on the road – it's practically the road code," says Wilckens.
Know your limitations
Rodger Cook, Security Director for World Travel Protection, the emergency assistance arm of Cover-More Travel Insurance, is all too familiar with what can go wrong when people who have more enthusiasm than experience get behind the wheel.
"Common campervan incidents involve the driver not knowing the limitations of the vehicle. Take your time to get to know your motorhome and go slowly at first. When reversing out of tight areas or locations with overhead hazards, have an adult passenger stand outside of the vehicle to help guide you and warn of any hazards. And know the height of your motorhome for travelling under bridges, or even in shopping centres where we've seen customers have incidents." The last tip is something I nearly learned the hard way when stopping to buy groceries.
Preparation is key
Even the experts aren't immune to the odd mishap. Wilckens got bogged in the Northern Territory's Finke River on his last camping trip. Fortunately, he had a snatch strap (tow rope) ready to go in his 4WD. Whether you're a first-timer or an experienced camper, it pays to be prepared with a basic tool kit, a powerful torch, and a tow rope. It's also a good idea to bring a physical map so if your device goes flat or is out of range, you can still navigate.
Don't stock up on too many groceries as space in the fridge is limited and it probably won't keep things as cool as your big fridge back home. Storing meat at the correct temperature can be especially tricky. Consider buying meat as you need it. It's worth switching to long-life milk or buying fresh milk in small amounts for the same reason.
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Campervan driving etiquette on the road
Keep your day's travel to fewer than eight hours, plan for rest stops every two hours, and swap drivers as much as you can. "Ensure you drive for the conditions you're experiencing," says Cook. "Keep a safe distance between your motorhome and the vehicle in front of you, but also be mindful of the vehicles behind you and pull over if you're slowing down the flow of traffic."
Wilckens agrees. "There's nothing worse than a caravan travelling at a snail's pace with a bank of cars sitting behind it. Move over to the overtaking lane or verge on the side of the road to let people pass you every now and again."
Getting into the swing of it
"Don't hurry, be happy" is an excellent motto when you're travelling in a caravan or motorhome. Plan a route that's flexible as you're sure to come across some surprises along the way and places you want to explore in more detail.
Try to arrive before 3pm so you can be set up and ready to kick back and relax with a cold drink. Be social and chat to people! It's not just the places you go but the people you meet that make a caravan or motorhome trip such an enjoyable and memorable holiday.