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The beginner’s guide to planning a touring caravan holiday

Motorhome under the starsSo, you’re ready to set off on your first caravan holiday?

Whether you want to go far and wide or just explore some of the sights on your doorstep, caravanning is a great way to relax. To make sure you get the most from this great British pastime, we’ve put together a guide full of tips and advice that some people don’t stumble upon for years.

So, if you want to know how to plan a caravan route, choose the perfect caravan site, and much more, read on. You’ll also find the answers to frequently asked questions such as:

  • Can I tow a caravan on my licence?
  • Can my car pull a caravan?
  • Can you tow a car with an automatic?
  • Do I need caravan insurance?
  • Where can I site my touring caravan?
  • What should I take on a caravan holiday?

 Can I tow a caravan on my licence? 

driving licence

While there isn’t a “caravan licence”, there are some restrictions on what kind of caravan you can tow depending on when you earned your driving licence.

If you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997

If you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997, you can:

  • Tow a trailer with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) of up to 750kg using a car with a MAM of 3,500kg
  • Tow a trailer with a MAM over 750kg, as long as the combined MAM of your caravan and car does not exceed 3,500kg.

If you passed your test after 1 January 1997 and want to tow a heavier combination, you will have to apply for a car and trailer driving test, which you can do through the government website.

If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997

If you passed your driving test before 1 January 1997, you’re usually eligible to drive a vehicle and trailer that has a combined MAM of 8,250kg. However, you should check your driving record to be sure, which you can do through the government website.

Can my car pull a caravan?

Vintage car pulling a caravan

Each car has a different towing capacity, which means that before you set off on your caravan holiday you need to know exactly how much weight your car can pull. Read on to find out the quick and easy way to work out your car’s towing capacity.

How do I work out my car’s towing capacity?

You need to know two figures to work out your car’s towing capacity: your car’s curb weight and your caravan’s maximum mass.

What is my car’s curb weight?

Your car’s curb weight is its total weight with all the standard equipment and a full tank of fuel, without any cargo or passengers. You’ll be able to find your vehicle’s curb weight in its user’s manual.

What is my caravan’s maximum mass?

A caravan’s maximum mass is the heaviest it could possibly be if filled with cargo. You’ll usually find this listed on a plate near the door frame, and it can also be found in your caravan’s user’s manual.

Once you have these two figures, you can work out your towing capacity.

Your caravan’s maximum mass should be below 85% of your car’s curb weight if you’re new to caravanning.

If you’ve got years of experience and you’re totally confident towing a caravan, you should be able to handle one that is equal to your car’s curb weight.

However, the weight of your caravan should never exceed the weight of your car. Ignore this rule and you’ll make it difficult to control your outfit and put yourself at risk in cross winds, during sharp cornering, and at high speeds.

The lighter your caravan, the easier your outfit will be to control. Therefore, when packing for your trip, you should place heavier items in your car and lighter things in your trailer to keep that ratio as low as possible.

What if my caravan is heavier than my car?

If your caravan is too heavy for your car to tow, you will either have to buy a bigger car or a smaller caravan. If you own a hatchback, you’ll be well advised to go for a bigger car, as you won’t find many tourers you can pull with a compact city car.

If your caravan is too heavy for your car to tow safely, you should never risk driving the outfit anyway. Doing this will put you, your passengers, and other motorists in danger, and even the most experienced drivers shouldn’t do this.

Can you tow a caravan with an automatic?

Land Rover towing a caravan in a muddy field

For years, automatic cars have had a bad reputation with caravan owners. However, the idea that you can’t tow a caravan with an automatic is a myth.

If you’ve ever towed a caravan before, you’ll know that it significantly changes the feel of your vehicle. This can take a lot of getting used to, especially finding the optimal time to change gear. This can be physically and mentally taxing, making you more likely to make a mistake behind the wheel or miss an instruction from your satnav.

With an automatic vehicle, you don’t have this problem. You won’t have to worry about clutch control on busy stretches of road, and you also don’t have to worry about wearing out the clutch over time and ending up with an expensive repair bill.

If you’re new to caravanning, an automatic car makes a great choice. However, it’s important to know that automatic cars tend to have lower maximum towing capacities, so it won’t be the best match for the heaviest of caravans.

Do I need caravan insurance?

While caravan insurance is not a legal requirement, you’d be strongly advised to take it out. Unfortunately, caravans and motorhomes are a common target for thieves and vandals, while they are also vulnerable to weather damage. Therefore, it’s sensible to take out a policy.

Over the years, the repair costs can also add up as your caravan suffers from daily wear and tear. To keep costs down in the long run, it’s therefore well worth taking out our lifetime caravan warranty, which will give you peace of mind for the entirety of your caravan’s lifespan.

Where can I site my touring caravan?

If you’re new to caravanning, it’s important to understand where you can pitch up before you plan your first tour. Here’s a quick breakdown of where you can and can’t set up your caravan.

You can’t park your caravan:

  • On private land without the owner’s permission.
  • On a road or in a layby in a way that causes an obstruction.
  • On cultivated land like a farm.
  • On land owned by the Forestry Commission.

While you are within your rights to park up on the side of the road if you’re not causing an obstruction, you must keep your caravan lit — not a good recipe for a relaxing night.

To be sure you’re parked legally and to make sure you enjoy a pleasant night away from home, your best bet is to pitch up at a registered caravan park. This will also give you a chance to meet likeminded holidaymakers and make use of park’s amenities. You can find a caravan site in the area where you want to stay by searching caravansitefinder.co.uk.  

How to choose a caravan site

Caravan site in the sunset

When it comes down to it, how much you enjoy your caravan holiday is going to largely depend on how good the site is. Keep these considerations in mind when choosing the sites to stop off at on your tour.

Location

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to choosing a caravan site is the location. Whether you want to explore a new corner of the world or revisit somewhere familiar, you should choose a site that’s well placed to allow you to enjoy all the sights you’ve earmarked.

So, your first step should be narrowing down your options by the location you want to visit. If you want to spend your holiday enjoying the great outdoors, then you should pick a location surrounded by countryside and connected to hiking trails.

Facilities

A caravan site’s facilities are one of the most important considerations. These can vary from the basic — rudimentary bathroom facilities — to high-end, like tennis courts and a swimming pool.

The perfect site for you will depend on the kind of holiday you want. If you’re taking kids along for the journey, a pool might be great, but if you’re going to be spending most of your time out and about, you might be better off saving your money and going for a site with basic amenities.

The more comprehensive a site’s facilities, the more you’ll pay for a pitch. So, when you’re looking for the perfect caravan site, it’s important you keep your budget in mind.

Pitch size

First things first: you’re going to need a pitch that’s comfortably big enough for your caravan. If you’re planning on bringing an awning with you, lighting up a barbecue, or inviting other people around to socialise, you're going to need to pay for plenty of space.

Of course, the larger the pitch, the more it’s going to cost to rent. When picking your spot, make sure to consider how much budget you’ll have left for other travel expenses.

Dog friendliness

If you’re planning on bringing your furry friend along for the trip, then it’s important to note that not all caravan sites are pet friendly. So, make sure the site you’ve got your eye on allows pets if you’re planning on bringing your dog.

Price

Last but not least, you need to consider the price of each caravan site you’re considering. For most people, this is the deciding factor. Be careful not to spend too much on the site so you still have enough funds for food and entertainment.

Stick to these tips and you’re sure to find a caravan site that’s the perfect fit for your needs in every location you want to visit on your route. 

How to plan a caravan route

Close up of a map

Once you’ve settled on a site, it’s time to plan how you’re going to get there. While you might be used to hopping in your car and heading down the fastest route, things get a bit more complicated when you add a caravan to the equation. Caravans are prohibited on some roads, so you have to be careful when you plan your route. However, it’s easy if you follow these tips.

Do your homework

When you’re planning a caravan trip, it pays to do your homework.

First, enter your destination into your satnav or Google Maps and choose the fastest route. This will keep you on main roads as much as possible, meaning it’s less likely you’ll run into a road you can’t go down.

Remember that the expected time according to the satnav doesn’t take into account that you’ll be travelling slower due to the caravan. Take this into account when you’re planning your journey.

Next, study the final approach directions provided by the caravan site carefully, using a map as your guide. Most people get lost in the last few miles of the journey, so make sure you have a good sense of where you’re heading before you reach the final stretch to make the trip as stress-free as possible.

Lastly, if you’re planning a tour of several different destinations, it’s a good idea to have every section of your route planned out before you leave home. Doing this will also make you aware of just how long you’ll be travelling between sites, giving you the chance to adjust your route if you feel the need.

Getting organised before you set off will allow you to relax in the knowledge you’ve already planned everything out in advance.  

Plan plenty of stops

Towing a caravan can be hard work, especially if you don’t have much experience. To make sure you’re alert throughout the whole journey, plan plenty of stops along the way. This will help you stay safe behind the wheel, as well as reducing your chances of getting lost.

As a rule of thumb, you should plan a short stop where you get out in the fresh air and stretch your legs every few hours. This will give the driver a chance to freshen up, and it will also give you a chance to check the maps again if needed. If you’re taking kids along for the trip, it’s especially important to make plenty of stops to keep them from getting bored and restless.

Take your time

If you’re setting off on your very first caravan holiday, it’s a good idea to take your time on the roads. Set off with time to spare so you don’t feel the need to rush, and you’ll give yourself the best possible chance of arriving at your destination without any hiccups.

Once you get off the motorways, keep your eyes peeled for any signs that indicate the route you were going to take is prohibited to caravans or features a steep incline. When you approach the caravan site, be very wary of winding country roads, as caravans don’t deal very well with sharp turns. Avoid these roads whenever possible, and take extra care when you do have to use them.

Stick to these tips and you’ll have the best possible caravan route that will get you to your destinations with as little hassle as possible.

What should I take on a caravan holiday?

toy caravan

If you’re all set to enjoy your first caravan holiday, it’s time to turn your attention to packing. Forgetting something essential can really spoil your trip, so it’s important to make sure you remember everything.

Luckily, that shouldn’t be any trouble if you follow the advice we’ve laid out in this section.

The essentials

You shouldn’t leave on a caravan holiday without any of the following:

  • First aid kit and any essential medicines
  • Phone charger
  • Bin liners
  • Kitchen roll and wet wipes
  • Toilet roll
  • Towels and a bath mat
  • Hand soap
  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel
  • Dustpan and brush
  • Earplugs and an eye mask (if you struggle to get to sleep away from home)
  • A torch

For the kitchen

If you’re planning on doing much cooking during the trip, make sure to take plenty of cooking equipment. While the caravan site you’re staying at might have a fully-equipped kitchen, bringing along your own knives, chopping boards, crockery and cutlery will give you peace of mind.

So, make sure you bring along:

  • Chef’s knives of various sizes
  • Chopping boards
  • A few frying pans and pots
  • Mugs and plastic glasses
  • Tin and bottle opener
  • Kitchen roll
  • Cling film and tin foil
  • Oven gloves

While there’s sure to be a shop on the site that sells the basics, you’ll pay a significant premium if you have to buy anything there. It’s therefore a good idea to stock up on the basics in a supermarket before you leave so you don’t have to pay this premium. Make sure you pack:

  • UHT milk
  • Sugar
  • Butter
  • Cereal
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Pasta and rice
  • Biscuits and sweets
  • Tinned foods
  • Condiments
  • Cooking oil
  • Cordial

For the car

Legally, you need to fit your car with towing mirrors if you’re carrying a caravan. You also need to attach a copy of your rear number plate to the back of your trailer. You should only ever buy an extra number plate from a registered supplier — find your nearest on the government's website.  

You should bring along a basic tool kit to make any emergency repairs, as well as a small LED torch to help you see inside the bonnet. You should also save the number of your breakdown cover in your phone and write it down on a piece of paper and keep it in your glove compartment so you always have the number to hand if you ever need it.

If you pack these all these items alongside the usual things you bring on holiday, such as clothes and entertainment, you’ll have everything you need to enjoy your trip. When you’re packing these items, put as much as possible in your car to keep your outfit as manoeuvrable as possible.

If you don’t have enough room for everything in your car, then put lighter items that take up lots of room, such as coats and jackets, in the caravan. You might also consider investing in a roof box rather than adding things to your caravan, as the heavier your trailer becomes, the harder your outfit will be to manoeuvre.

If you do need to store items in your caravan, store them on the floor above the axle, as this will affect the trailer’s centre of gravity as little as possible.

So, there you have it: everything you need to know before you set off on your very first caravan holiday. Keep these tips in mind if you’re planning on enjoying this great British tradition and you’re sure to have a fantastic time

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