Getting Ready - Final Steps Before Heading Out
Guess What We Forgot!
There are lots of things to do when getting ready to leave for a trip with your small travel trailer. If you're loading up for a weekend trip close to home, it may be pretty simple. But if it's a big trip, you will probably start getting ready weeks in advance. To make it easier, I keep all our equipment and supplies in bins in one section of the garage. But all the preparation usually comes down to one thing. Did you forget anything?
Yep...the most dreaded words I've had to say to my wife when we were too far down the road with our small travel trailer to turn back... "Guess what we forgot?". Yep, I got all the maintenance items taken care of on both our small travel trailer and the truck. The propane tanks are full. I loaded everything we thought we needed for the activities we are planning. But we still forgot something.
Well there's usually plenty of Walmarts along our route, and we always have plenty of credit cards, but nothing's worse than getting back home and having spent money for another one of something you already had. Or even worst, getting all set up at a remote campground and then finding you need to run into town.
So, what's the answer? YOU MUST HAVE A GOOD CHECKLIST! Here's how we use one.
Print out a new checklist when we first start packing for the trip
We set this on the kitchen island and check things off when they are loaded or complete.
Add items we noted on the checklist from our last trip (covered in step 4)
During our last trip, we most likely came up with things to do for this trip. We now transfer them to the new list.
Jot down specific items for this trip
The checklist stays on our kitchen island until we are ready to leave. If we have special things to take along or things we need to do for this specific trip, we add them to the checklist as we think of them.
Move the checklist to the trailer when everything is complete and we are about to leave
The checklist stays on a clipboard hanging in the trailer the entire trip. It's the place where we write all our notes of things we want to remember for the next trip (things to take with us), and also things we need to do in advance (repairs, maintenance, etc.).
Be sure to download a free copy of my checklists so you can see everything we've found important. You'll want to develop your own checklists for traveling with your small travel trailer, but mine will give you a good start and get you thinking. Most likely, you'll end up tweaking them on every trip until you're satisfied. The download includes several different checklists we use, along with some photos and info on how we store our camping supplies and pack our truck.
A few other really important things before you hit the road...
My biggest fear when I first got started towing a small travel trailer was having problems while we were on the road. An accident, a theft, or even a problem with your trailer could become a major disruption to your trip. You are going to want vehicle insurance on your small travel trailer similar to what you have on your cars and trucks, and be sure to seriously consider roadside assistance.
One of the leaders in providing a variety of support for RV and Travel Trailer enthusiasts is Good Sam. They have an Insurance Agency that specializes in protecting RVs and Travel Trailers. I know there are others, but this is who we have. We've actually never had to call them, but they seem to be pretty good based upon what I've heard from lots of other people. One of the big pluses for me is that they will dispatch someone if needed pretty much wherever we are.
The insurance agent you use for your cars and/or trucks may also be able to help. They may be more affordable, but the actual coverage they provide is often limited. Before making your decision, you should also check with a company like Good Sam that focuses on providing service for travel trailers and RVs, and compare their coverage with what's offered by your current agent.
Loading Your Trailer and Tow Vehicle
It's essential that you properly load your trailer and tow vehicle. Fail to do so and your trip will be stressful and possibly very dangerous. It's all about weight...how much and where you put it.
- Be sure you do not exceed the capacity of your equipment. With a small travel trailer, this frequently means not exceeding the weight rating of your trailer's axle and tires.
- When loaded, the trailer tongue weight should be 10% to 15% of the overall trailer weight. (see video below)
Check out this 30 second video clip to understand why this is important.
We try to limit things in our trailer to only the things we NEED inside our trailer. We put everything we can into our truck to assure we don't come close to exceeding the capacity of our trailer's axle or tires. Of the things we do put in the trailer, we try to keep the heavier things as close to the center (above the axle) as possible. This works well for us and generally gets us in the 10%-15% tongue weight range. You will have to figure out what works best for your setup.
Hitching up your trailer
When first learning to tow a trailer, how to line up your tow vehicle with your trailer when you are getting hooked up can be challenging. There are a lot of solutions, but some simple hitching rods are what I used. They really work pretty well and are cheaper than most other solutions. The rods are pretty fragile however and will easily break if you don't store them carefully. (In other words, don't just through them in your truck bed unprotected.) In my case, I quit using them before mine broke, once I got used to hooking up.
Here's a 17 second video showing how they are used
If you have a toilet in your trailer, it's important that you use toilet paper that will easily break down with water. Using the wrong kind can clog up your drain and leave you with a terrible mess to deal with.
You can purchase the special RV toilet paper that is designed for this purpose. But a lot of the standard home toilet paper brands can be used and will save you money. The key is to make sure that whatever you choose will work well.
This video show you an easy way to test any paper you consider. By the way, it had a surprise ending for me!