The ten commandments of caravanning

Did the 2015 Motorhome and Caravan Show tempt you to try caravanning? Read the Club's Senior Communications Manager - and caravan guru - Rob Ganley’s guide to getting started.

In his former life as Editor of Practical Caravan and Caravan Channel TV presenter, Rob has tested and reviewed hundreds of caravans. Here are his ten top tips for beginners. 

1. Think tow car and towbar

The first step on the road to happy caravanning is to check your car’s weight and towing limits. These affect the size of the caravan you can buy. The key numbers are:Check your car’s weight and towing limits

  • your car’s towing limit – this is usually in your handbook
  • your car’s kerbweight – that’s the weight of your car when it’s ready for the road. It’s recommended that your caravan should be no more than 85% of the car’s kerbweight until you’re more experienced at towing.
  • your dream caravan’s MTPLM – this is the maximum permitted weight of your caravan, and must not exceed your car’s towing limit
  • 3500kg – if you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997, your car and caravan combined must not weigh more than 3500kg unless you’ve passed a special towing test

Confused already? Then give the Club’s Towsafe service a try. This online tool can tell you which caravans are suitable for your car.

2. Decide on your perfect caravan

Modern caravans have almost every comfort and convenience you could ask for, from the basics of heat, light and lavatory to microwaves, motor movers, solar panels, and automatic leveling systems – but do you really need all of them? Think about what you really need, and what’s just nice to have, and set your budget accordingly.

Think about layout – do you want a fixed bed, or more space during the day? Do you want bunkbeds for the kids? Is there room in the bathroom to help little ones with washing and teeth-brushing?

Going to shows is a great way to see how a layout works in real life – or get in touch with your local District Association and ask if anyone’s got the kind of ‘van you’re thinking of buying and wouldn’t mind telling you what it’s like to live with. We all love talking about our units.

Alternatively, some dealers let you hire a ‘van for a test weekend so you can get a real feel for the layout and whether it works for you.

3 Check your bank balance

It’s easy to fall victim to Shiny ‘Van Syndrome and spend far more than you wanted to on your first caravan. Decide your budget and be very firm about sticking to it. If necessary, take a friend with you to hold the purse strings.

A new starter caravan will set you back about £13,000, but a pre-owned unit could be yours for as little as £500. Just like buying a second-hand car, it’s buyer beware, so if you’re not DIY-minded yourself, take someone with you who knows about ‘vans, or book a pre-purchase inspection from a reputable caravan engineer.

4 Where is it going to live?

Choose a secure storage facility for your caravanMany Club members keep their pride and joy on the drive, where it’s handy for a quick weekend getaway. Others prefer to rent space in a storage compound. Some Club sites offer storage, or you can find a nearby storage operator on the CaSSOA website.

Tell your insurer where you’re keeping the van, as it will affect your premium. You don’t need insurance to tow a ‘van on the road – it’s covered by your tow car’s insurance when hitched up - but comprehensive cover will protect you in the event of theft or damage.


5 Support your local dealer

Buying from a reputable dealer means you’ll benefit from a warranty period, and if problems do occur, you won’t have far to go to get them seen to.

6 Get kitted out

Don’t go mad on accessories to start with. The basic kit you’ll need is:

  • Towing mirrors – essential to stay on the right side of the law
  • Levelling ramps – to keep you on an even keel
  • AquaRoll and WasteMaster – water in and water out
  • Toilet chemicals – special additives for your toilet cassette help keep the littlest room smelling sweet
  • Electric Hook Up lead – the Club’s District Association and Special Interest Section campers thrive off-grid with solar panels and robust batteries, but in the early days an EHU lead is very useful
  • Gas bottles and spanner
  • Caravan Step – it can be a long way down!
  • Pots and Pans – you can buy special caravan kit, or use a few kitchen spares while you’re getting started
  • Table and Chairs – sitting outside your unit with a glass of something nice is one of the great joys of camping
  • Safety equipment – a carbon monoxide detector and a fire extinguisher will give you peace of mind

You can get all of these and more from the Club Marketplace.

7 Get ready for the road

Remember that everything you put inside the van counts towards your towing limit. Heavy items need to be stowed low and close to the axle, while lighter gear can be stored elsewhere in the van.

Stowing, hitching, towing and leveling are all covered in the Club’s courses. Completing a course can get you money off your insurance premium too. Even Club President Julia Bradbury has tried one.


Check your speed limits before you go – you’ll need to be a little lighter on the pedal when you’re towing. And don't forget that you can’t go in the right-hand lane of a three-or-more lane motorway unless you are instructed to do so by someone with legal authority to do so.

8 Practice makes perfect

Now you’ve bought the perfect caravan for you, and found out how to pack it safely and hitch it correctly, get out there! But don’t be afraid to stay close to home for your first adventure.

Check out the Club’s network of Certificated Sites– with more than 1600 across the UK there’s a good chance that there’s one on your doorstep. Or check out Out & About for a social camping meet near you – the Club’s friendly members are always happy to help a novice. Or head to one of our 108 Club Sites, with full facilities and helpful staff. Or try Camping in the Forest to get back to nature.

However you want to go caravanning, we’re here to help you make fabulous memories.

9 Have an adventure abroad

Booking a European holiday through the Club's European Travel Service provides peace of mind for holiday makersThe Club’s European Travel Service can help you book discounted ferry crossings, and great campsites in Europe – or book you onto one of our Escorted Tours, where you see the sights from the comfort of your own unit with the support of the Club’s knowledgeable Tour Escorts.


10 Look after your assets

Just like your car, your caravan benefits from regular checks and planned maintenance.

  • Check your tyres regularly for tread depth and condition, check your road lights every time you hitch up, and give the bodywork a regular clean and polish. Leave the fridge door ajar when you’re not running it, and drain down the water system if you’re laying the caravan up for a longer period.
  • Every year, book in with your dealer or local Approved Workshop for an annual habitation service. During this service the gas and electricity systems are checked for safety and the unit is inspected for signs of damp. Having a full service history protects the value of your caravan and will help you get a good price if you ever decide to sell.

I hope you’ve found a few useful tips here. If you're already a Club member, you've got access to lots of help and advice from our experts. Check out the website for tips and data sheets; come and see us at shows and events; read the Advice and Expertise pages in the magazine and online, or give the Tech team a call and put your question in person. And if you're not a Club member, what are you waiting for?!

Enjoy your caravanning!

Guest Blog This is a guest blog entry. All views are that of the author and not necessarily shared by the Club. Mention of any product or service on the blog does not constitute endorsement by the Club. All blog posts are moderated before going live. Read other posts by this author