Back It Up

If you’re towing a caravan or camper trailer, the last twenty metres of your journey are often the hardest. This is the distance you travel in reverse as you back onto your site.

For people who free camp there’s usually enough room for this not to be an issue. If you win the caravan park lottery and secure a drive through site, reversing can be avoided too. But, most of the time, we’re faced with this stressful test of our driving skill.

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I know there are people out there who’ll claim to be the Olympic champions of backing. But today, I’m reaching out to those reversers who don’t make it onto the podium. Instead, they have regular close encounters with trees, power poles, taps and other vans as they reverse their rig.

While negotiating these obstacles is difficult enough, it is nothing compared to negotiating the relationship between backer and helper. The experiences Nat and I share on our travels are always richer for doing them together. However, when it comes to our backing routine, that togetherness often unravels.

After years of fraught backing attempts, many apologies and a little counselling we came to a realisation. As with any relationship, our driver/helper problems were caused by a breakdown in communication. It wasn’t that we weren’t talking to each other – there’s usually plenty said! It was more that we weren’t quite on the same page.

To show you what I mean, the following is a typical example of what unfolds when we arrive at our campsite…

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Backing the camper trailer


S (Steve) – Bugger, I can’t drive through. Now Nat’s going to help me so we’ll probably be doing this until tea time.

N (Nat) – Damn, he can’t drive through. Now I’ll have to help him, or we’ll still be setting up after dark.

S – Even better… The guy in the site opposite is sitting there having a drink. Now I have spectators. I hate spectators.

N – Oh good, our neighbour is here. He can help if Steve jack-knifes the trailer again. He’ll appreciate that.

S – Here we go, it’s inspection time. When we arrive, Nat jumps out of the car and stares at the site for five minutes. Next, she does this random sweeping action with her hands then tells me the obvious – ‘just back it in here!’.

N – Time to study our site. How far out will the annexe come, where will the car fit, where’s the tap – we don’t want to run over that again. Once I have figured all that out I carefully signal which side of the site to aim for and how far back to come. It’s great having signals that we both understand.

Attempt 1

S – Where’s she gone?! I don’t understand how she does it. Nat has this uncanny ability to make herself completely mirror-proof. As I start reversing and could use some direction, I check every mirror, but she is nowhere to be seen. Since I’m backing blind I have to stop and reposition her.

N – Having signalled where he needs to go, I get out of the way. There is no point standing where the trailer is supposed to be. If I have to signal, I’ll do it from behind a tree – it’s safer there.

Attempt 2

N – Now that I’m standing right where he needs to drive I tell him to aim straight for me. As he veers way off course I signal him to stop.

S – I can see her now, so I slowly start to back in again. I soon see the double-hand stop signal. What a relief. Another backing manoeuvre finished. There you go neighbour; I know exactly what I’m doing.

N – Nup, no good. You’re to far to the right. There’s no room for the annexe, you’ll have to try again.

S – You’re (swear word) kidding! Why didn’t you say something as I was backing in?

N – I wasn’t sure if you were finished. Then you started heading for the tree, so I told you to stop. And don’t get cranky with me!

Attempt 3

S – Great, I’m sure I just saw our neighbour laughing at me. At least he knows it isn’t my fault. Hopefully he doesn’t come over and help – at least not in front of my Nat.

N – Oh good, our neighbour’s finished his drink. He might come over and give him a hand.

S – More swearing but done under my breath this time.

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Camping Site


N – If he doesn’t get it this time I’m going to leave him to it. He doesn’t want my help. I’ll leave him to explain to the park manager how the power pole ended up under the trailer. Not my problem.

S – I slowly back in once more and again get the double-handed stop signal. Please let this be over. I get out of the car and the double-stop turns into a double-thumbs up. At last! Why is it so hard? I hope we get a drive through site next time…

N – Yes, close enough! If he had just listened to me from the start this would have been so much easier. Surely, we’re due for a drive through site at our next stop. I’m not sure how much more of this our travelling can take…

Sound familiar? If so let us know. Help is available!

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