Travel Trailer Campsite Set-Up

Camping in a travel trailer is a great getaway but if you haven’t done it before it can be daunting with fresh, grey and black tanks, stabilizer jacks, electric service, water connections and pumps, etc. There is obviously a lot to learn but, fortunately, it’s not too complicated as we tackle each part individually. I’ll focus on the process to set up camp and address hitching/unhitching, basic equipment and recommended products in other posts.

I bought a travel trailer last year and really didn’t know the first thing about setting it up, utility connections, dumping the tanks, what order to perform each task, etc. As a result, I was excited but apprehensive about the maiden voyage. I bought it from a private seller and it didn’t include a comprehensive course on operating the systems. However, through a lot of research, asking questions and substantial trial and error, I’m now very comfortable with the process.

Before you hit the road

Familiarize yourself with your trailer’s various features. You should know where the water, sewer, electric and TV connections are located and what items are needed to hook up each one. You should also be aware of any slide-outs, awnings, outdoor kitchen, etc. and how much space is needed to utilize each one.

Tip: on my camper, I know that my slide-out extends the distance from my chest to my outstretched fingertips. It’s an easy way to check for clearance if it looks like I might be too close to an electric box, tree, etc. before deciding on where to park on the site.   

“Be Prepared” as the Boy Scouts say. It’s a good idea to always travel with a full tank of fresh water, a fully-charged battery, full propane tanks and “empty” grey and black tanks. You may have reserved a site with a water connection but what if the campground made a mistake and doesn’t have a site available with water? They may have a potable water source there so you could fill up on arrival but what if they don’t? What if you encounter an unexpected problem and have to stay at a different campground or even a Wal-Mart parking lot? Being prepared could salvage an otherwise ruined trip. I say, “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Check your trailer battery

Check the tire pressures on the trailer and tow vehicle – don’t forget the spares!

Check the trailer lights and brake operation

Fill your fresh water tank if possible. Water quality certainly varies between campgrounds so I prefer to have a full tank of fresh water from home. We’re fortunate to be able to store our trailer at home but I realize not everyone has that option. We encountered a situation this year where we had a full hookup site reserved and it’s what we got but the area was under a boil order. It wasn’t a big problem, though, since we rolled in with 50 gallons of fresh water onboard and were only staying one night.

What hookups will (should) your campsite have? You may have anything from no hookups (boondocking), to full hookups (water, sewer and electric) or something in between. Pack the appropriate items and plan for the best but prepare for the worst just in case.

Arriving at the campground

Stop at the dump station if needed; bypass if your site has a sewer connection.

As you arrive to your campsite you should quickly take note of locations of the hookups and trees or other obstacles. Maneuver the trailer into the position that you think looks best but get out and evaluate before you commit to it.

Unfortunately, the locations of the hookups on trailers and campsites are not standardized. I’ve seen sites with hookups anywhere from the far back corner to almost at the front – even on the opposite side!

Tip: I like to park as far to the driver’s side as possible to maximize usable space on the door side of the camper.

Verify that your hoses and cords will reach, slides and awnings will clear obstacles and the trailer is as close to level as possible. Check for level side to side and adjust as needed.

Now that you have the trailer where you want it, chock your wheels and unhitch from the vehicle. Adjust the tongue jack to level the trailer front to back.

Lower the stabilizer jacks.

Tip: don’t raise or lower the tongue jack with the stabilizers down. It can put too much pressure on them causing them to bend or break.

Open any slides and awnings.

Make electric, water, TV, and/or sewer connections, turn on propane, light pilots as needed. If you don’t have a city water connection at your site, turn on your water pump to draw from your fresh water tank.

Tip: For the electric hookup, turn off the breaker at the electric box first. Then, plug in both ends of the power before turning the breaker back on.

Tip: Don’t keep your black tank valve open when hooked up to a sewer connection. See “8 Tips for Flushing RV Grey and Black Tanks” and “6 Steps to Flush RV Grey and Black Tanks