We bought ourselves a camper last fall, but didn’t use it until this year, as it was past the time where camping usually takes place. Still, getting it in the fall allowed us to get it a little cheaper and also meant we didn’t fight with others interested in purchasing it since demand was low in the off-season.
It’s been an adventure learning all the ins and outs of our camper (or technically, a trailer, since it’s a 23′ travel trailer).
I remember when we were purchasing the camper, my father-in-law was helping (in other words, doing everything) and I was watching all the steps involved with hooking it up and thought I’ll never be able to do this. Well, after a couple of tries with everything I got it right. Now, I have a checklist that I work from but from hitch to hooking up the brakes, it works.
Bonus cool: The first few times I hooked it up to the SUV, I had my wife help guide the SUV to the camper so that everything lined up, but I’ve actually been able to accomplish this by myself the last few times!
Attaching something to the back of your automobile and then backing it in is terrifying if you’ve never done it before. My father-in-law had helped season me to many of the ins and outs, but for whatever reason, I never actually practiced backing the thing in anywhere. So the first time I brought it home and tried to get it into our driveway, it was a colossal nightmare. For those who aren’t familiar with the process, you have to essentially point your car the opposite way you want to go in order for the camper to go where you want it, then pinpoint the right time to have your car start going the right way without screwing up the path you’re on and without jackknifing the trailer.
As mentioned, the first time I did this was into my driveway. It was late in the evening so I didn’t have much time with daylight left. I was nervous. Well, there’s a kid around 13 years old or so down that lives down the end of the street. He’s developmentally disabled, but for the five years we lived in the house prior to ‘Backing In For The First Time’ day, I just saw him and his family from time to time. But on this day, he was having some sort of issue, and was essentially on the front yard of the next door neighbor screaming and resisting his parents, who just wanted to get him back home. I stayed in our house for awhile, hoping the issue would resolve itself, but when it was clear that this was going to drag out, I had to go out and try the camper back-in. I tried to be respectful (i.e. no staring or looking) but all the yelling and such was definitely increasing my nervousness and I’m sure my presence with the big trailer wasn’t helping. For about 20 minutes I tried backing in, but would either go the wrong way, jackknife, end up on my lawn or be aimed completely wrong. Finally, it just clicked and I got it on the slab.
After that, i took it out once to a deserted church parking lot and spent about an hour with my wife getting the hang of it. Why I didn’t do that in the first place, I don’t know.
Hooking up the battery for the season turned out to be a big whoops. The battery is there so that you can run the lights and such at times while you’re plugged in, and it also serves to run a few things while you travel. Like helping the fridge.
I hooked the battery up not really knowing that it wasn’t working. The lights never came on when it was unhooked from A/C power (the garage) but I didn’t think anything of it. We went on our first trip and were planning on running the fridge via propane during the trip. I had tested this while we had it plugged in, but as soon as I pulled the plug, everything stopped working. Everybody was already in the car, so it was too late to troubleshoot. We ended up driving the trip without the fridge. Which wasn’t so bad. But, as it turns out, when I got back, I had hooked up the battery the wrong way. There was a fuse right next to one of the wires that was designed to protect against such idiocy and protect all of your more expensive stuff. And it did a great job.
One new fuse and a cable swap later, and it became obvious what a working battery actually will do for a camper. The lights and most of the electrical stuff worked! As did the fridge. Turns out the fridge cools on propane but it needs some electricity (from the battery) to run the control panel and thermometer.
Shade and Cords
The first trip we went on was sort of a trial run. It was only about an hour and a half away and was designed so that I could get used to driving it, and that we wouldn’t be far away if there were any issues. Driving actually went well, but without the working fridge, we hoped to get right in and situated so that we could plug in and get the fridge working. We found the perfect spot on the irregular shape campsite, but the problem: the cord wasn’t long enough to reach. We tried a few other spots (taking valuable time) but the fire pit was in the way of the next couple spots that would have worked, so we ended up with the camper in a position that we weren’t happy with, and that blared down the afternoon sun right on us, even with the awning extended.
Lesson learned: Take the shade more into consideration. And have an extension cord (which I now do….a very heavy duty, very expensive but well worth it extension cord).
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned so far. As much as it seems I don’t know what I’m doing, I actually know that I’ve learned a ton. I remember back when I was buying it looking at all the connections and hookups on the side and thinking I’ll never know what all of this stuff does. Before putting it back in storage after our last trip, I looked over the side and realized that I know exactly what every plug, drain, valve, or otherwise on the side of the camper does.
I’m getting there.
But stay tuned, as I’m sure there will be more parts to this series! As you read this, we’re out on a weeklong trip to the other side of Michigan that’s about 240 miles away. I suspect that ‘Dealing With a Screaming 3 Year Old And/Or 1 Year Old on a Long Car Ride’ will be first and foremost on the list for the next (mis)adventure!