Category Archives: Travel Trailer Life

A History of Caravans, aka Travel Trailers

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It’s July now and the height of the summer travel season in the United States. Lots of folks are out and about with their travel trailers, but have you ever wondered about the history of these RVs that are towed behind a car or truck? Today I’m sharing a guest post from CAMP (Caravan & Motorhome Parts) all about the history of travel trailers, or caravans, as they are called in England.

Do you own a travel trailer? You may be wondering how travel trailers started out.

They originally come from the UK, and in England they are called caravans. The word “caravan” comes from the Moroccan term “karwan” which is the name of a group of desert travelers.

The caravan you own today probably has a sleek modern interior, bathroom, kitchen, HD TV and plenty more extras. However, if you go back 100 years your caravan would look completely different.

Back in 1885, Dr. William Stables purchased the first caravan ever made and called it “The Wanderer.” The same summer he bought the caravan he traveled 1400 miles across the UK powered by 2 horses.

When caravans were first introduced, they were seen as an upper class luxury, and a person needed a lot of money to buy such an item. Of course today caravans are widely accessible to people who love holidays and camping.

1919 was the year caravans started to look more like what we recognize today. People stopped using horses to move the mobile homes and progressed to using cars. This was a result of the end of World War I and people having a higher income which allowed them to buy vehicles.

Thanks to Caravan and Motorhome Parts we have a collection of the best pieces of caravan history put together in this timeline infographic. Now we can see the development of camping vehicles throughout history.

History of Caravans




Weather and the Travel Trailer

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When I was a van dweller, I didn’t give the weather a lot of thought. I didn’t

Trees Covered With Snow

like driving in the rain (never have, never will), so perhaps I’d change my departure time if it was raining when I was ready to leave. I was more concerned with ice and snow and did a better job of planning my travels in the winter, especially in the mountains. But wind? I never thought about the wind when traveling in my van.

Assorted-color Flags Under Gray Clouds

Of course, I noticed the wind when traveling in my van, especially in states with windy conditions like Kansas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Especially in my two vans with high tops, I was aware of the wind. I was lucky to have never met a gust that blew me (or scared me) off the road. Sometimes I slowed down when the wind was strong, and sometimes I held on to the steering wheel tightly with both hands, but wind never changed my travel plans.

Things are different now that The Man and I are living and traveling in a tongue-pull trailer. It’s not as easy as it once was to just get up and go.

After picking up our travel trailer, we made a trip of several hundred miles to get back to our temporary home base in Southern New Mexico. When we arrived at Rockhound State Park to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, we found no empty campsites.  We ended up staying in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. The location wasn’t an ideal campsite, but we didn’t mind too much because we were in our new home. The next time we went to Rockhound, we found an acceptable vacant campsite, and The Man backed in our travel trailer.

We stayed at Rockhound for about a week, splurging $4 a night to connect to electricity. We decided to head about 100 miles down the road and spend a few days at Elephant Butte Lake State Park before setting off for our final destination. We agreed to leave on Wednesday.

We woke up at our usual time that morning, between 5:00 and 6:30. I was up first, which was unusual, but The Man soon followed. He made and drank his coffee while I wrote the first draft of a blog post. We’d done most of our cleaning and putting away the night before, so we didn’t have to do much before we left.

I was heating leftovers for my breakfast when The Man asked me if I’d be ready to go soon. I told him would be ready after I ate my breakfast and brushed my teeth.

I’d noticed the wind had been strong ever since I’d gotten out of bed, which was unusual. Even in New Mexico, the wind doesn’t typically blow until the sun is out. As I ate my breakfast, the trailer continued to shimmy and shake, but I didn’t think much about it or consider what it might mean for our travel plans.

It’s bad out there, The Man said.

What’s bad? I asked. I assumed he was talking about the wind, but I wasn’t sure.

Have you looked outside? he asked.

I shook my head, then moved to the window. When I looked outside, I realized we were experiencing a full-on dust storm. I could see nothing outside the immediate surroundings of the campground. I couldn’t see any of the buildings dotting the land that slopes away from the campground. I couldn’t see the town off in the distance. Heck, I could barely make out the mountains that I knew surrounded us. The wind carried not only enough dust to block out the human-made structures I was accustomed to looking at every day, but so much dust filled the air that the very mountains were obscured. That, my friend, is a lot of dust.

I thought about the signs I’d seen in New Mexico and Arizona, the ones that say “Dust Storms May Exist” and “Zero Visibility Possible” and “Blowing Dust Area.” I thought about the signs in New Mexico telling drivers what to do if they were caught in a dust storm and couldn’t see anything. (Pull off roadway. Turn lights off. Foot off brake. Stay buckled.) The situation we were in was exactly what those signs were about.

We’d be fools to take the trailer out in this, I told The Man.

I knew he really wanted to leave, but he agreed with me. We would be fools to take the trailer out in this.

The wind delay got me thinking about how the weather is going to affect our travels with the trailer.

You wouldn’t want to pull that trailer in the rain either, I pointed out to The Man, and he agreed he wouldn’t want to do that.

Water Dew in Clear Glass Panel

We’re going to have to start looking at the weather before we leave, I told him.

Pulling the trailer is already a challenge for The Man. (I haven’t even attempted to drive the truck with the trailer attached to it.) Keeping the entire rig in his lane, watching out for the mistakes of other drivers, letting folks enter the interstate via the on ramps all contribute to his stress. Slippery roads and low visibility would certainly add to the tension. Why drive through bad weather if we can avoid it?

Checking the weather forecast is such a simple thing. If we have internet access, it’s really easy to do. My new plan is to check the forecast for proposed departure dates as soon as we begin discussing leaving. If there’s rain or ice of sleet or snow or high winds in the forecast along our route, we’ll leave as many days earlier or later as it takes to stay safe.

The high winds lasted over 24 hours. They shook the trailer all day. I felt like I was in a boat for hours. Some gusts were so strong, I wondered if the trailer would be blown over. The wind was still shaking the trailer when we went to bed. Thankfully the air was calmer the next morning (but still quite brisk by anyone’s standards), and we were able to make it safely to our next destination.

Do you check the weather forecast before you hit the road? How bad does the weather have to be before you postpone travel? What do you find most difficult to drive in: rain, wind, snow, or sleet? Please leave a comment telling how weather impacts your travel days.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/trees-covered-with-snow-833013/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-flags-under-gray-clouds-1685842/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cars-dew-drops-125510/.

Hitched

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I was vaguely aware that hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle was more work than I wanted to do, but I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to trade vanlife for a tongue-pull RV.

New Mexico State Parks logo includes drawing of a sunset, trees, grass, and water.

When we arrived at Rockhound State Park on Monday to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, The Man backed the travel trailer onto site 28 and unhooked it from the truck. I was inside cooking dinner while he went through the separation process, so I had no idea what was involved.

On Saturday the indicator told us our black and grey water tanks were ⅔ full (That happened fast! The Man and I told each other), so we figured we should do our first dump.  The Man also wanted to take the trailer to a truck stop to have it weighed. Of course, the trailer had to be hitched to the truck before we could go.

I thought The Man would take care of the hitching. After all, he’d driven the truck towing the trailer, backed it on to the campsite, and uncoupled the trailer from the truck. I thought the trailer hitch was his domain. However, he opened the front door, stuck his head in, and requested my help.

What he wanted to do seemed impossible. He wanted to position our enormous pickup truck just so in order to line up the ball on the back with the hitch on the front of the trailer. How was that ever going to work? It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at backing up a vehicle and worse at directing someone else in backing. I never know which way the steering wheel should be turned or when to straighten the wheels. I hate it when someone asks me to guide them. When I am able to do my own backing, I’m acting more intuitively than consciously. How am I supposed to tell anyone else how to back up when I can’t even verbalize the process to myself?

The Man’s been driving about two decades longer than I have; he started in his teens, while I started in my 30s. He’s also had a lot more experience hitching trailers, hauling trailers, and guiding other drivers in backing into the spot where they need to be. Often, especially in high stress situations, The Man has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. During the hitching of the trailer, all of these factors came together to create a situation of comic proportions, only none of it was funny in the moment.

I’m going to back the truck up until the ball is under the hitch, he told me. Tell me when I’m all lined up, he said as he hopped into the truck.

Ok. It all looked lined up to me, so I told him to come on back. I didn’t tell him to stop until the ball was under the hitch. When he got out of the truck to assess the situation, he was not happy. He hadn’t expected me to have him come all the way back in one fell swoop.

I could have fucked up everything, he said, but I pointed out everything was ok because he’s stopped when I told him to.

He just shook his head at me.

While the ball was under the hitch, it was two inches too far to the right. The Man explained he was going to pull the truck forward and my job was to look at the ball on the back of the truck, then direct him in moving the truck an inch or two to the left until the ball and hitch lined up perfectly for connection.

I think I laughed. First of all, looking at the ball and hitch and determining if they were aligned seemed impossible to me. I’m the roommate who can’t tell if a picture is hanging crooked on the wall. If someone asks me if a picture is straight, all I can offer is a shrug. Who knows? Maybe? It looks ok to me. Sure, I could tell if backing up the truck would bring the ball into the general proximity of the hitch, but how would I know if the ball was directly under the hitch until the two objects were within inches of each other? The Man seemed to think I should be able to determine alignment from a distance.

Secondly, being able to give directions in how to move the giant truck two inches seemed preposterous. Is it even possible to get something so big to move only two inches? The Man seemed to think it was.

The situation we found ourselves in consisted of him  barely turning the steering wheel, then backing up slowly while holding his door open and turning his upper body around to see where he was going while I made sure he didn’t crash the truck into the trailer. At one point he jumped from the truck and stomped to the back while lamenting, I have no help! I guess he meant my help was no help at all.

Again, all of this might have been funny had it been happening on television or the big screen. (I’ve always thought Janeane Garofalo should play me in the biopic about my life.) However, since we were actually experiencing the chaos, neither of us was laughing.

At one point I complained that in the 21st century there should be a device to tell us when the ball and hitch are perfectly aligned. I figured it would use lasers and a female voice (much like that of the Google Maps lady in my last phone) would instruct the driver one inch to the left or two inches to the right. This is technology I would pay for!

Apparently, some ball/hitch alignment technology does exist, although it’s not quite like I imagined. In the article “Trailer Hitch Alignment Products: Do They Really Work? Which Ones Are Best?”  on the Do-It-Yourself RV website, author Artie Beaty describes and rates four hitch alignment products.

One (the Gooseneck Easy Coupler Hitch Hook-up Mirror) is (as the name suggests) a mirror for a fifth wheel trailer that “provides a clear line of sight straight down to your hitch.”

Two of the products (the Camco Magnetic Hitch Alignment Kit and the Never Miss Hitch System from Uncle Norm’s Marine Products) make use of poles or posts that attach to the trailer and tow vehicle and stand high enough for the driver to see. When the poles are aligned, the ball and hitch are aligned too.

The final product mentioned in the article is the Hopkins Smart Hitch Camera, and it’s a bit more like the technologically advanced system I’d imagined (although no voice guide is included). In this system, “a camera attached to your hitch gives you a live view in the driver’s seat [via a computer screen] to help guide your hitch in.” This system “has three different ‘SmartZones’ displayed on the screen to alert you to how far away things are.”

When I showed The Man the devices I found while researching this post, he wasn’t impressed. First he said he would make his own components to do the same job. Then he changed his mind and said he didn’t need any alignment product. He was confident all he needed was practice. I think we should make our lives easier if we can afford to, but he’s confident we can do it on our own.

I have no plans to ever hitch and haul that trailer on my own. If something happened to The Man tomorrow, I’d want to go back to vanlife. However, if I had to hitch the trailer by myself, I would certainly get myself some assistance via one of the pole products. I’d have a difficult enough time backing up the truck. So why not get some help with the alignment of the ball and hitch?

We finally did get the trailer hitched, thanks much more to The Man’s abilities than to my own. At one point the ball and hitch were about three feet apart, but he looked at them and said yes, they were lined up. When he backed the truck into position, sure enough the ball slid right under the hitch socket.

Once the ball and hitch were attached, we went through other steps: attaching the components of the sway control system, removing chocks from under wheels, disconnecting the water and electricity, and making sure all windows and vents were closed. The Man was beyond frustrated, and I was practically in tears. I wished we never had to hitch that damn trailer again.

I you have experience hitching a travel trailer, I’d love to know your tips and tricks. Please leave a comment!

I took the photo used in this post.