Your caravan's maiden voyage

By: Steve Farmer

When you first hit the road in a brand new van, it’s a good idea to take the time to get to know your rig and learn the ropes.

Your caravan's maiden voyage
Before you hit the road each day, there are a few things that need to be checked to make sure you don’t leave anything behind

Sailors call it a shakedown cruise or a maiden voyage. It’s the first time you take a boat to sea and learn how it handles, what its shortcomings are, and what gear you should and shouldn’t have brought. Sound familiar? It’s the same with caravans. You buy your dream van and then face the daunting task of learning all about your new toy and getting it safely home. It’s even more daunting if home is a thousand kilometres away!

My wife Carmel and I just completed a 1200km shakedown cruise with our new Majestic Sierra Extreme – from the dealership in Gympie in southern Queensland to our home in north Queensland, during which we had to quickly become familiar with the van and how it towed.

Our maiden voyage took nine days in four easy stages. We had a great time, learned heaps and were left in no doubt that the caravanning lifestyle is for us. So if you’ve recently purchased a new toy and are embarking on a similar adventure, hopefully you can glean a few tips from our shakedown cruise.

Our first piece of advice is to keep a notebook and pen handy to record your lists, as things will pop up along the way that you will want to remember later. These lists will grow as you travel and will include things you need for the van and your ‘pre-departure’ checklist which you can refer to before you hit the road each day.

Packing practicals

Packing for a long distance van pick-up and shakedown cruise can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re not an experienced caravanner. Everything has to fit into your tow vehicle until you actually collect your van so, by necessity, you’ll have to pack light.

A good option is to pack what you can into large zippered bags, available at discount stores. When you transfer all your goods and chattels into the van, these bags can be folded flat and take up little room.

Suitcases and plastic storage boxes are another option but remember you will need to find a home for them once they are empty. Use varying sizes so the smaller ones can be placed inside the larger ones and then stowed under the caravan’s bed.

Most of what you’ll need is pretty obvious. You’re setting up a small house so think about all the things you have in your bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Chances are you’ll need many of them, even for just a week or two on the road, but question the necessity of each thing.

You could buy much of what you need once you have picked up your van, but that could potentially cut a couple of days out of your holiday.

A few items you might not think of which can be particularly handy are a broom, dustpan and brush, mats, a powerboard, a first aid kit, medicines, and folding chairs and a table for happy hours and dining outside.

The checklist

Before you hit the road each day, there are a few things that need to be checked to make sure you don’t leave anything behind or do any damage by driving off with your windows open or your jockey wheel still attached. This is my pre-departure checklist, which you can use as a guide to develop your own.

  • Put TV antenna down
  • Remove TV from bracket
  • Check all cupboards are properly latched
  • Turn off gas
  • Turn off water pump
  • Lock windows
  • Separate insect screens and blinds
  • Turn off hot water system
  • Disconnect power lead and hoses
  • Latch fridge
  • Shower rose wrapped and on floor
  • Close all vents
  • Place peg basket in washing machine
  • Secure front window awning
  • Stabilisers up
  • Check hitch is secured properly to tow ball
  • Fit weight distribution bars
  • Connect safety chains
  • Connect breakaway brakes
  • Connect reversing camera
  • Connect electrical cables
  • Remove and stow jockey wheel
  • Take handbrake off and latch arm in travel position
  • Remove and stow chocks and level ramps
  • Stow door step and lock door
  • Check indicators, brake and stop lights

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The full feature appeared in Caravan World #543 November 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!