How to Back Up A Trailer as a Couple Without It Ending in Divorce
When we picked up our 27 foot Travel Trailer in June of 2014 we had never towed anything... ever. Imagine our horror when we hitched up on RV-pick up day and the good people at the Airstream dealer waved us bye-bye to head out into the busy Orange County traffic.
We headed straight to a large empty parking lot to practice backing up. What a disaster we were. We were like something out of America's Funniest Home Videos. Feeling a little demoralized, we took the trailer to our first spot (a pull-through) and thought - I am sure we'll get the hang of it eventually. Fast forward a few years and we have now parked in over 150 different camping spots, we think we have got it sussed and miraculously we are still married.
Iain does all the driving - because - well he likes to be in control. But I am a very active co-pilot and when parking I am the spotter. Here are my top tips for how to work together to back up the trailer without falling out.
Agree on a Game Plan: With some parking spots it is obvious where you will park, but others are larger and there are multiple places you could put the trailer. Before we park up we stop, we both get out and agree on exactly where we are aiming for. We agree where the back of the trailer, the door or the hook-ups should be. That way there is no ambiguity as to what we are aiming for.
Take your Time: Never let anyone rush you. If you block the road for a few minutes before you unhitch while you get it right then that's OK. If you're half way through a back up and need to stop and have another look, which can happen with irregular shaped spots, other people will have to wait or go around you. If they get impatient it's their problem not yours.
Use Walkie Talkies: There is nothing worse than hearing the spotter screaming at a driver that rings out through the campground. Some people use only hand signals, but sometimes I am standing on Iain's blind side so I am not a fan of hand signals for backing up. Having walkie talkies means I can keep calm and communicate everything without ever raising my voice. Realistically without a walkie talkie I couldn't make myself heard over the noise of a diesel engine.
Develop a Language: We work as part of a team and a big part of that is reducing ambiguity in instructions. For instance we never talk about "right" or "left" when backing up the trailer because that changes depending on your perspective, we always talk about "driver's side" and "passenger side".
Don't Let Others "Help": Because we have this whole thing fine-tuned we find when people come and help it just messes us up. In fact one of the few times we fell out was back in our early travel days. Some stoner decided he wanted to help and he was shouting incoherent instructions to Iain, while I was at the back of the rig on a walkie talkie trying to compete. To make things worse, Iain was getting stressed because of all the inputs and that just brought more people in to help. Not helpful at all!
Know Your Roles: Iain has become an expert at backing up the trailer and honestly my job is mostly to provide encouragement and fine tuning of our position. I try not to give directions unless they are needed. My role is to make sure we don't hit anything and that we are in the position we agreed we would be.
I should also add that we NEVER EVER park in the dark. Almost all of the scrapes and dings we see on fellow travelers rigs are tied to a story of hitting a picnic table or a tree stump when they were parking at night. For us it is a big no-no. If we can't get to where we are going in daylight, we would stop on the way and resume our journey the next day.
Do you have any other tips for successfully backing up? Let us know in the comments.