Today, we come to the last of four posts about unhitching and arriving at a new camp site, as well as last week’s post about my process for getting ready to leave a campground, including the tasks I completed in the days leading up to my departure. Today, I finish that list of tasks. Let’s jump right in. Here are the steps I go through for hitching up a trailer to the van.

As I said in the last post, hitching up a travel trailer is a two-day process. The items below are what I try to complete the day before I am scheduled to leave.

Even though this is a quick bullet-point list, it can take me up to an hour. I admit that part of the reason it takes me an hour is that I go purposely slow, much slower than when I’m unhitching. Before I do each step, I ask myself if I am on the right step. Did I miss any steps? In some cases, the order is extremely important.

Three plastic storage bins on top of each other. Bottom one is labeled Hitch. Middle one is labeled Gloves, Masks, Bags, Etc. Top one is labeled Misc.
The bottom box includes all my supplies for unhitching and hitching the trailer. It’s on bottom because it’s the heaviest.

Please note, most of the photos I took for the unhitching and hitching posts I used already so this post is light on relevant photos. I threw in a few extra ones to break up the text density.

  • Remove the hitch lock.
  • Line the van up with the trailer. This takes the longest time and involves me getting in and out of the van repeatedly even though I have a backup camera on the van.
  • Clean and lubricate all of the jacks as described in detail HERE. Raise the stabilizing jacks. Those are the ones at the back. It is super important to do this step BEFORE you raise the front of the trailer as you can bend, break or otherwise damage the rear jacks if you raise the front of the trailer by putting too much weight and pressure on those back jacks. 
  • Raise the front of the trailer so the van’s ball will clear the trailer’s hitch.
  • Back up the van until the ball is directly under the mouth of the hitch. This is a matter of inches and can also take a while to get perfect.
  • Lower the trailer on to the ball. Make sure the fit is right and that you aren’t off-center. In other words, make sure the hitch is all the way lowered onto the ball. You may have to get back in the tow vehicle and reposition it to get the correct alignment. And you may have to go through this several times before everything lines up as it should.
  • Secure or lock the ball so the hitch cannot come back off.
  • Attach the safety chains or cables from the trailer to the tow vehicle in an “X.”
  • Clip the emergency break-away brake cable to the tow vehicle.
  • Attach the weight distribution hitch, often referred to as the sway hitch though, technically in my case, it isn’t. You may have a sway hitch and most are solid straight bars that attach from the trailer to the tow vehicle. This is the step I dread the most because it’s the step that causes the most headache. I find it extremely difficult to attach the weight distribution hitch to the van. It is the most physically grueling step and often requires me beating it with my rubber mallet. And, no, I’m not being funny when I say that. Literally, I have to beat the pin all the way in. Even mentioning it here raises my blood pressure a little. Over time, I have found a few tricks to help but, even those, haven’t lessened the dread I feel when it comes to this step.
  • Then slowly and incrementally raise the jack, shifting the trailer’s weight onto the hitch. I monitor all the parts closely, ensuring everything I’ve hooked up is acting as it should.
  • Collect, clean and store the blocks used under the jacks. However, if the trailer is uneven, I might decide to put the jacks back down to help with the leveling overnight. And, in that case, this becomes a task for the next day. If I’m using blocks under the tires for leveling, I keep those and the chocks in place until leaving day.
  • Close gray tank (the valve is inside the basement compartment) and unhook the sewage hose from service. Stow the sewer hose. In the Oliver Trailer, the back bumper opens and provides enough room for the hose. In fact, it’s in that back bumper where the sewage hose connects to the trailer. Clean and stow the slinky-thing used for supporting the hose.
Basement area of an Oliver Travel Trailer, including a storage area, a little white door where the outside shower is and the two black levers for the black and gray tanks.
This is the basement of my Oliver. I don’t have a black tank so that lever I never touch. The gray tank lever is pulled out when I’m hooked up to continually drain the tank. Before detaching the sewer hose from service, I push in the gray tank lever to close it.

The Night Before Departing

That night, the evening before I leave, I spend time cleaning and storing what I can inside the trailer. Unfortunately, most of this has to be done just before I leave since I use the bathroom, microwave, kitchen sink and the top of my bed up until the time I leave. Those are the four places where I store everything that sits loose in the trailer when I’m stationary. 

The other thing I do the night before is write a to do list on an index card. It includes all the steps I need to go through the next day before finally pulling out of the campground. I love index cards. I use them for everything, the way most people use sticky notes.

So, Where’s the Checklist?

When you read that last paragraph and it sinks in that I write the, more-or-less, same checklist on an index card every time before I leave a campground, you might be shaking your head and rolling your eyes at me. You might be asking, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to have a master checklist and use it every time?”

Well, duh, yes of course it would. Why don’t I have one? I’m not sure I can really explain it. I just don’t. Using index cards for the final list means I have to think through what remains to be done. And each time this can be slightly different. Plus, I think it helps prevent me from getting complacent about the process.

Checklist written on white index card on a desk with a pen on top.
An example of my last day’s checklist written on index cards. I preferred the 4×6 lined ones, but I’m trying to use up the 3×5 unlined ones I have.

That said, I want to pass on a great checklist idea. Once you have a master checklist, including little boxes to check off you’ve completed the task, get it laminated. Then use either a dry-erase or a wet-erase marker each time you leave to check off tasks. When everything is done, simply wipe the list clean and it’ll be ready for next time. You can use the checklist again and again. I didn’t talk about this in the posts about unhitching when you arrive at a new campsite, but if you do like the idea of an actual checklist, you’ll need one for both leaving a campground as well as arriving at one. Maybe even one sheet with one side for arrival and the other side for departure.

Leaving Day, Last Steps of Hitching Up the Trailer

Leaving day includes everything that hasn’t been done yet and all the steps necessary to pull out of the campground in search of the next adventure.

Assuming everything has gone as planned above, here are my final steps. It usually takes me about 90 minutes on the day I leave from when I start the final steps until I actually pull away from the site. Note the 90 minutes is just related to the van and trailer. It doesn’t include normal everyday things like showering and sitting quietly with a cup of coffee. 

Inside the Trailer

  • Windows closed and locked. Shades down.
  • All cabinets and drawers locked.
  • Use suction cups and bungees to prevent drawers from opening while travel as described in THIS post on easy RV hacks.
  • Television locked in place. Make sure it and stereo are off and that no DVD or CD is in either, as jostling during travel can scratch them.
  • Pets’ food bowls and emptied water bowl as well as small items like magnets and grocery list pads stored in microwave.
  • Stow loose items in the bathroom by putting them in the bathroom sink.
  • Unplug everything and stow (appliances go in the sink or on the bathroom floor while fan and/or heater lays on one of the beds). I like to have both the shower pan and the kitchen sink packed tight so items don’t have room to wriggle around.
  • Close the gray tank drain in the bathroom. Yours might be located elsewhere. If you don’t close this, water from the gray tank can come back up through the shower drain. (One day, I’ll share a gross messy story that highlights this. Though let me say here it wasn’t my fault.)
  • Turn on the trailer’s backup camera.

Outside the Trailer

  • Connect the brake controller cord from the trailer to the van. This is the only cord I may not connect during the process the day before.
  • As needed (based on previous day):
    • Raise jacks. Clean and stow blocks.
    • Remove, clean and stow chocks.
    • Drive a few inches to get off of leveling blocks. Clean and stow blocks.
  • Move the pets, their travel items and my travel items to the van. Make sure everything is in its place in the van for travel.
  • Disconnect water hose. Empty hose of water. Secure hose with bungees and place in a trash bag (in case more water drains) and stow. Replace cap cover over the intake valve for the water.
  • At the power post, turn off the power. Disconnect the power cord from the trailer and then from the power post. Wipe with dry rag and stow. Replace cap cover over the intake valve for power.

Final Steps

  • Turn on the van. Plug the trailer’s backup camera into the cigarette lighter. Turn on blinker, get out of the van and walk to back of trailer to verify the blinker is on. What you are really testing here is whether the brake controller is attached tightly and working properly. Test the other blinker. (If you are not a solo traveler, your travel partner can stand behind the trailer while you test blinkers and brakes. If you travel solo, there is no way to test the brake lights. But if one item works, logic says they all will since it’s the connection between the tow vehicle and the brake controller you are testing.)
  • Go back inside the trailer for one last once-over. Turn off the lights.
  • Brush the outside steps clean. Put the brush inside the trailer. (I keep a brush outside on the top step at all times to brush them off regularly.) Tuck steps under trailer.
  • Lock the trailer door.
  • Lock the outside storage bays.

At this point, you are ready.

Because I have heard some doozy horror stories of the damage that can be done if steps are missed, I have a few more final final steps.

I walk around the trailer and van, doing an up and down scan of everything.

Then, because you can never be too careful, I do a second walk around. Yep, every single time. Two full laps around the trailer and van.

Back in the van, I very slowly pull forward. I turn the radio off and roll down the window so I can listen. I watch the mirrors. When I get to a place in the campground road where the van and the trailer are perfectly straight and flat and I can get out, I put the van in park and hop out.

A good place to do this is often by the garbage bins as I usually have the last bag of trash to dispose of. Or in front of the bathrooms for one last visit before getting on the road.

Now that the trailer has moved, I do a third and final walk around. I test locks, make sure the weight distribution chains are tight, examine the hitch and generally look everything over again.

Display with camera, mug, passport and a sign that read, "Travel is good for the soul."
It really is!

Then, we hit the road. Off to the next great place, the next adventure.

Share your process for leaving a campsite. Do you have a checklist? Do you find it anxiety-producing like I do?

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