[Updated August 2018]
The first time driving and using a motorhome can be a little unnerving if you aren’t sure of the ropes. Here are 9 tips that may just make the start of your very first campervanning trip a heck of a lot less stressful.
We had just arrived in Germany, travelling from Australia, and were feeling slightly jet-lagged, to say the least. We had about a ten-minute induction to our campervan that we were hiring and then set off on our new adventure. Our new adventure, in a nearly 8metre beast, driving on the wrong side of the road (for us), not understanding any of the German road signs and feeling like we hadn’t slept for a week, had finally begun. But we were excited! We were pumped! Until our first wrong turn…
We learnt many things in that year to follow, but here are a few tips for the very beginning if you are embarking on a new motorhome, campervan, RV trip.
1. GPS Navigator
Using a GPS Navigator saves a lot of hassle but remember to pre-load your device with the countries you intend to visit.
Also, make sure that it is up to date. New roads are being built all the time, and it doesn’t help if your navigator is trying to take you along roads that no longer exist.
Our TomTom allowed us to enter the type of vehicle that we were driving, a campervan and not a car, and also the van’s physical dimensions. This can prevent you being directed under bridges that you won’t fit under and roads that are too narrow. This helped keep us out of harm’s way most of the time!
2. MAPS.ME App
To plan our journey and log points of interest along the way we used a free electronic map app –MAPS.ME, which was simple to download and to run on our iPad and iPhone. More importantly, the app can be used offline (without an active internet connection).
Once the app is downloaded, you then need to further download the area and/or country of the maps you intend to use. This is done within the software settings.
We generally used the GPS Navigator and MAPS.ME in tandem so we could check one against the other.
While we’re talking apps, the Campercontact app is one that most campervanners swear by, as it provides comprehensive information on campervan parking locations.
It gives information on customer rating, cost, availability, facilities and reviews of particular sites. We give it a 10 out of 10.
It can also be used offline which is super handy. An annual subscription was only €6 (in 2017) for the full version.
It was money well spent and made the experience of finding spots to say so much easier. Using the customer review and rating part was particularly useful.
4. Driving on the Right Side of the Road?
Always plan your driving route before setting off, it saves major headaches on route. It’s also a good idea to have an alternative plan as well.
Driving on the right-hand side of the road certainly presented an initial challenge for us. Not only must you think in opposite terms with road direction but you need to account for the fact that you are also pretty much driving a good-sized truck.
Our very first drive of 2.5 kilometres, after leaving the campervan depot, took us 40 minutes (and was nothing to do with being stuck in traffic). However, it taught us that we needed a plan; Plan A, and backup Plan B.
Yeah, during that first drive, stress levels were well up in the red, but we quickly fine-tuned our modus operandi and things improved rapidly.
5. Campervan Manuals
Over the year, we had two different Motorhomes, both hired from Germany. We found that some of the equipment instruction manuals did not come in English. Before you pick up the van, ask the supplier to order in the English copies if they are available. Otherwise, expect to rely on Google Translate, the manual’s pictures and some lateral thinking!
Always plan for ‘what to do’ in an emergency. Make sure you have a few copies of the European Accident Statement Form ( Motorhome supplier should give you a copy) on hand, with the accompanying English translation.
If your van is a hire vehicle, then get familiar with the timeframe for incident notification back to the campervan depot and confirm the depot contact details before you depart.
Keep all your insurance documents handy, and any emergency numbers to hand. In an accident, the last thing you need is to be rummaging around for numbers and forms.
6. Save that Battery Power
The Auxiliary 12V battery is the secondary heart of the campervan
If you intend to wild camp or stay away from official camper stops for a few days, then you will probably have no access to electricity to charge the auxiliary battery.
Unless you are driving a lot of kilometres, you’ll need to conserve that auxiliary 12V battery charge.
Some tricks to save power we recommend are:
- Turn the water pump off when it’s not in use so it doesn’t auto cycle through the night
- Operate just two LED lights of a night-time
- When showering – get yourself wet, turn off the shower, soap up and then turn on the shower to rinse.
- Use a pre-filled plastic water bottle to pour around the toilet for the rinse cycle instead of activating the toilet pump.
- Look, sometimes we just had to idle the car for a while to charge up the auxiliary battery and it doesn’t hurt the engine in the short-term
7. Inverter to the Rescue
We invested in a 12V to 240V inverter to charge our laptop, both whilst driving and with the engine stopped.
If you intend to use the inverter with the dashboard 12V socket whilst the engine is off, then be aware not to run the starting battery dry. However, this is not an issue if you have an isolator on the starting battery which will prevent it discharging after reaching a certain minimum voltage.
8. Checks Before Hitting the Road
There were a few campervan tasks that needed to be addressed prior to hitting the road each day. We nailed them most of the time, but to be sure we didn’t miss any, we drew ourselves up a hit list as follows:
1) Turn off LPG gas (our first vehicle needed us to physically open/close the gas bottle valve)
2) Check all drawers and cupboards are securely closed
3) Ensure paper towels are between plates etc. to prevent those annoying rattles
4) Check the external footstep is retracted
5) Ensure the day’s GPS waypoints are entered into the GPS device and MAPS.ME app
6) Check that windows/vents are all shut and secured
7)Confirm all shower and sink drain plugs are fitted to prevent the grey water tank smells from filling the van (we also drizzled disinfectant gel down the drains every few days which really helped).
8)Have adequate snack type refreshments at hand for both navigator and driver
9. Water and LPG Gas Adaptors
We bought two different sized threaded water tap fittings which were all we needed when connecting our water hose to an external water tap. Our items were all click-on products with inner diameter 21mm and 26mm (see photo). Additionally, we bought 2 sets of gas adaptors for re-filling our German LPG bottles in different countries. One adaptor set for the gas bottle and one set for the auto-gas nozzle on the filling hose (we only needed to use them in Albania and Italy).
Our start-up would have been just that much easier if we knew what we now know. But hey, that’s also the fun part, adapting and overcoming the obstacles in your path. I hope this article provided you with some handy advice and am always happy to hear how others get around their problems.
If you have any questions flick me a mail and I am more than happy to help out if I can.
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Being an Australian boy brought up in the country, I learnt at an early age to enjoy the freedom and beauty of nature. Leaving Australia at the age of 20, although I didn’t know it then, would be the beginning of a life of adventure. So join me here on our travels and see the world through my eyes.