RVing is a ton of fun but is not without its trials. There is really nothing quite like learning to back up an RV into a tight space to test a relationship. After all, there are plenty of decorative items and apparel that say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was parking the camper”.
Starting off a camping trip with a frustrating setup experience puts a major damper on the vacation. Here are some tips that Joel and I have learned over our years of full-timing that might help.
If you followed these tips, your experience backing up the RV will hopefully be much smoother. Even so, it will take some practice. Just remember, practice makes perfect.
Soon you will be able to back an RV into a site like this on the first try. All without killing your spouse! Did I mention the neighbor’s truck was over the yellow line into our site when we first arrived? (Also yes, we know that this park is crowded but when visiting RV parks on the Oregon Coast we found this one allowed for exploring some super amazing places).
Practice Backing Up an RV in an Empty Parking Lot Before Your First Trip
Backing in a trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome is no small feat in the best of circumstances. Unfortunately, many campgrounds and RV parks are hardly the best of circumstances. They can be crowded with tight spaces and narrow driving lanes. Not to mention other people trying to get in or out.
One of the best ways you can prepare for backing up an RV is by practicing beforehand. Yep, just like you did when you were a teenager learning to drive and your parents had you practice driving, parking, and doing a 90-degree back-in at some large, empty parking lot.
If you practice your backing up skills when there are no consequences — like another trailer or tree to hit — you’ll feel much more confident going into the real deal. A big old parking lot is the perfect place to do this. Practicing beforehand will definitely lower the needle on the, “I’m going to kill my spouse-o-meter”.
Arrive During the Day
One mistake new RVers make (and which Joel and I made a time or two in our early RVing days) is arriving after dark. The Google Maps estimated time of arrival is not your friend when you’re traveling at a safe RV speed.
Setting up your RV campsite is tough. Doing it in the dark? Even tougher. One of the simplest ways to have a better setup experience is to simply arrive during daylight hours. If you have noisy slides or jack stands, this is also a good way to practice good campground etiquette, so you aren’t waking up the whole park.
Try to Have a Shorter Driving Day on the Day You Arrive
Driving or towing a large RV is mentally — and sometimes physically — exhausting. This is especially true if the weather isn’t the best. When you spend so much mental energy on the road, you probably won’t be feeling your best by the time you arrive.
Having a long travel day on the day of setup means you and your spouse will probably both be worn out. Tensions could be high before you even attempt to back your RV into your site. By planning your trip to have a shorter travel day on the day of arrival, you can ease some stress.
That way, everyone enters the dreaded task of backing up the RV with a more level head. Soon, if you use the rest of these tips, it might not even feel so dreaded after all.
Assess the Parking Situation After You Check In But Before You Pull Your Rig Around to the Site
Usually, when you arrive at a campground, there is a place to pull over to the side and check in with the camp host or front office. After this stop, we always walk to see our site before moving the RV to it. (Obviously, be respectful of your fellow campers if there are lots of people rolling in at the same time).
Doing a walk around lets us see our site and make a plan for how to drive around the park to get to it for the best approach. We can also visualize where the motorhome and our enclosed car hauler both need to go).
Make a Plan Before You Back Up an RV
While you are looking at the site together, discuss your plan. Joel always tells me beforehand exactly where he wants to back up the trailer and the RV. Once I know how far left or right and forward and backward we are aiming for, I am in a better position to direct him when backing in.
Making a plan beforehand — instead of mid-backup — makes sure both the driver and the guide (that you will not want to kill anymore) agree on the end goal.
Call Each Other on the Phone to Direct the Driver Into the Space
Once you have a plan for backing up the RV, I would recommend calling each other on a cell phone. Cell phones work much better than walkie talkies for this job so you don’t get, “I didn’t hear you, you didn’t push the button down all the way”. Or another favorite, static. If you don’t have any cell service, walkie talkies would be an acceptable backup.
The driver can put their phone on speakerphone so they have two free hands. Being able to talk to each other rather than only point left or right prevents communication breakdowns.
If you are the guide, just keep talking to the driver. Even if that is just to say, “You’re good, keep coming.” That way, there are no questions about what is going on. Silence is not helpful when backing up an RV.
As the guide, you also need to make sure you can see the driver’s mirror. That way, they can see you as well, in case you use any hand signals. If you’re the guide, you should also periodically tell the driver to stop so you can check for any potential obstacles on the opposite side of the vehicle.
Be sure to look for tree branches, picnic tables, and other RVs to ensure you are in the clear before backing up the RV any further. I have definitely seen someone completely ram into a picnic table because they skipped this step. (I was too far away to do anything helpful except watch in horror).
When the back of the trailer is just in line with the point you want to turn around, tell the driver to cut the wheel and start their turn. Then, as you direct, tell the driver if they should continue coming back at that angle or straighten out.
Take it Slow And Steady
Another key to success in backing up your trailer or motorhome is to go slow and steady. You can make minor adjustments more easily if you are moving slowly. It also allows you to stop more quickly if something goes wrong. Backing up your RV is not a race.
Tips For Backing Up the Trailer
The best tip for the driver is to hold your hand at the bottom of the wheel. If you want the trailer to go left, bring your hand up to the left. If you want the trailer to go right, bring your hand up to the right.
Think of it like a clock. Your hand should hold the wheel starting in the 6:00 position. To go left turn towards 9:00. To go right turn towards 3:00.
Don’t Freak Out if You Don’t Get it the First Time
Remember, you are a team and the setup experience sets the tone for the entire trip. Both the driver and the guide should try to stay calm. The other person is obviously doing their best job in a difficult situation.
So try to relax and take a deep breath if needed. If you take a few tries, no worries. We’ve all been there. Things will get better with time, I promise.
Consider Adding a Backup Camera to Make Backing Up An RV Easier
If your rig doesn’t come with a backup camera, it’s helpful to add one. The Furrion is a popular and reliable choice among RVers. However, it comes with a higher price tag than some.
If you have a reliable backup partner, it is possible to have success even without a backup camera. If you’re solo tripping, then you should definitely get one. You can purchase RV backup cameras on Amazon and get them in a few days, just in time for your next trip.
Finally, Enjoy Your Vacation
Once you have successfully backed into your RV site, you can kick back and relax. Remember to give yourself a pat on the back for not killing your spouse during this difficult time. Some people go so far as to only book at RV parks with pull through sites. However, if you do that you’ll risk missing out on a lot of really amazing places like these Florida RV beach resorts for example.