How To Set Up And Tear Down Your Travel Trailer

The Trusted Series with Ben and Christina McMillan
Ben and McMillan's Jayco Jay feather at a campground

Whenever you arrive at or leave a campsite, there are some specific steps you should always perform to ensure the safety of both you and your RV. Here we will go over how to set up and tear down your travel trailer, including both the interior and the exterior. We’ll also go over how to properly hitch and unhitch with a ball mount (often called a bumper pull). Please note, this is specific to our travel trailer, and your hitch configuration may be different if you’re towing a fifth wheel or another towable RV.

Some important things to keep in mind as you set up and take down your RV:

  1. Do everything in a proper order - there is a specific order for both setting up and tearing down, and an order for hitching and unhitching, both of which will keep you safe.

  2. Keep your items organized and in designated places - this will save you time and frustration, especially if you’re in a hurry.

  3. Triple check your work - even if you’re a seasoned RVer who travels all the time, nobody’s perfect and you might miss a small but critical step.

Setting Up Your Travel Trailer

You’ve just arrived at your campsite and now it’s time to get set up. The two big things you’ll need to do are unhitch your travel trailer from your tow vehicle and get your travel trailer unpacked and connected.

Step #1: Unhitching

You can check how level a spot is by placing a bubble level on your RV’s bumper and/or on the steps.

Place the blocks in front of your RV’s tires on the side that needs leveling and pull forward so the tires can rest on top of the blocks. Double check how level you are with a bubble level.

Put your tow vehicle in park and put the emergency brake on.

Remove any sway bars if you have them. Then, unlock your receiver latch.

Lift until the ball mount on your tow vehicle comes out of the receiver and there is enough clearance to pull your tow vehicle forward.

Once your tow vehicle is safely out of the way, you may need to use the jack or crank again to lower the RV and get it level from front to back.

Step #2: Getting Unpacked & Connected

Never use your stabilizers to level your RV, as this can cause significant damage.

If you’re at a campground with full hook-ups, plug your RV into the power and connect your water hose to the spigot. If you’re boondocking, you may want to plug your RV into the generator or put out any solar panels. This will give you some extra power to cool or heat the inside of your RV and push any awnings or slides out.

Once you’re connected, pull out your steps, unlock your door and push out any slides. Then you can begin unpacking things like camp chairs, tables, rugs and mats, and anything you secured inside of your RV.

Tearing Down Your Travel Trailer

Your stay is over and now it’s time to hit the road. The two big things you’ll need to do are pack and disconnect your travel trailer and hitch your travel trailer to your tow vehicle.

Step #1: Getting Packed & Disconnected

This means securing any loose items, like chairs, stools, tables, coffee pots, and kitchen utensils. Use towels and blankets for extra padding when you’re securing fragile items. We like to wrap our dishes and other loose kitchen items in dish towels and put them inside the sink. You can also use bungee cords or velcro strips to keep things tied down or keep cabinets and drawers from opening.

Make sure all doors are closed and locked, which could include your refrigerator, freezer, oven, microwave, and bathroom. Close and lock any open windows, including any vents in your bathroom.

Make sure your awning and slide outs are fully pulled in, and that your water pump is turned off. Double check that all lights and fans are turned off as well. 

Head to the outside of your RV and start to put away any outdoor items, like camp chairs, tables and mats.

Disconnect from any power or water hook ups and put away all relevant cords and hoses. If you’re using solar panels, make sure those are disconnected and secured as well. Then close and lock all storage bays.

Close and lock any exterior doors, and put your steps in.

Do a complete walk-around of your RV to check for any items you may have missed, any open doors or windows, and any cords or wiring that could be exposed or hanging down.

Step #2: Hitching

Your wheels should already be chocked, and it’s important to keep them chocked during the entire hitching process.

Make sure your ball mount is secured with a pin and clip, and locked in place. Then use a jack or crank to lift the front of the RV to allow enough space for the ball to fit into the hitch receiver.

Slow back up your tow vehicle towards the receiver on the RV; use a spotter to help guide you. Wait until the hitch ball is directly below the coupler and make sure the coupler latch is open and fully able to accept the ball.

Once your hitch ball is aligned with the coupler, put your tow vehicle in park and put your emergency brake on. Then, using a jack or crank again, slowly lower the RV onto the hitch ball. Be sure to lower it down so the fill weight is resting on the hitch ball.

Lock the receiver latch with the hitch ball in place, and connect any sway bars or weight distribution bars.

Plug in your wiring harness and connect your safety gear (safety chains, breakaway cable, emergency brake release).

Once everything is connected, get back in your tow vehicle and have someone check the back of your RV to make sure your brake lights and turn signals are working.

Travel Trailers

Travel trailers are the most popular type of non-motorized RV. No doubt you’ve seen one pulled down the highway hitched to a car or pickup. Travel trailers come in all sizes including tiny jellybean-shaped models with a chuckwagon kitchen in the rear to the massive house-on-wheels with picture windows and a sliding glass patio door.

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