When I first started looking into towing a travel trailer, backing it up was the most intimidating aspect. I remember watching a video of an Audi Q8 autonomously backing up a trailer in a straight line. I couldn’t believe how often the wheel turned to keep it straight and felt 100% sure I was in way over my head. But, the truth is, you can learn to back up your trailer—or even how to back up a boat—with ease!
If you’re wondering how to learn to back up a trailer, this is one of those instances where practice, practice, practice is your best friend. It’s also important to park your ego at home before you hit the road. This makes it easier for you to take advice from others, especially when learning how to back up a trailer solo—as I do.
Here’s some encouragement to get you started. I only got my license in August 2018 and never towed anything in my life until purchasing my travel trailer, in 2020. I travel solo and have no backup camera on my rig. So, how do I do it? I picked up these top five tips for backing up my trailer and they have never steered me wrong—pun intended!
1. Get Out and Look
My mom jokes that every time I let men back me up, I damage my trailer. I laughed the first time she said it until I realized she was right. I have torn off my awning and driven over my spin dryer taking advice from spotters. Nothing beats just getting out and looking—even if you have to do it a few times.
When it doubt, get out and look—even if you have a spotter. Nothing beats seeing it for yourself. I promise you. I also open my door, stick my head out, and look. I can see much better than when using mirrors and usually don’t need to get out as often, this way.
2. Determine Signals With Spotters
These are the most important things you should agree on before you ever let your spotter get to work:
- What left means
- What right means
- The signal for keep coming
- The signal for stop
If you’ve never backed up a trailer, the discrepancy between left or right might not make immediate sense. You’ll recognize the confusion the very first time someone tries to back you in. They could mean you should turn the back of the RV to the left or right, turn the back of the truck, turn the steering wheel etc. Get this ironed out early because miscommunication can be costly.
3. Keep the Parking Spot on the Driver’s Side
Commercial truck drivers must learn to back the trailers of their semi-trucks into parking spots on both the passenger and driver sides. Consequently, every time I see someone backing in a trailer with the parking spot on the passenger side, it’s a current or retired truck driver.
Unless you are also an experienced truck driver, I recommend starting with the spot on the driver’s side. The video below is a perfect example.
4. Back In at an Angle
People often ask me why I never just straighten the trailer and back in when I have room to do so. I tried this before on a ranch and had to get out a million times to see if the trailer was actually straight. It’s wider than my truck, so it’s difficult to tell from inside.
When you back in at an angle, like in the video above, you can watch the turning radius of the trailer. By the time you straighten the truck, the RV is already also straight inside the spot.
5. Focus on the Bottom of the Steering Wheel
Now that you’ve chosen your stance and ironed out the details with your spotter—if you have one—it’s time to figure out how to get the RV turning in the right direction.
I recommend holding the steering wheel at the bottom. In this position, if you turn it to the left, the back of the RV will go to the left. If you turn it to the right, the back of the RV will go to the right. Keep in mind that travel trailers do not turn immediately. They will go the wrong way before going the right way, so give yourself room for error and take it slow.
With these tips, I’ve managed to get my RV into spots so narrow that I only have room to open my door on one side.
There’s no denying that backing up a trailer takes skill. Ironically, almost everyone tells me that bigger trailers are easier to back up than smaller and shorter ones.
It’s also not a bad idea to install a backup camera or parking sensor on your travel trailer if you can. I once had to yell STOP at a guy who almost backed his trailer into a bush after dark. I don’t have a backup camera but, thankfully, this has never happened to me.
Have you ever backed up a trailer before? What are some tips you used to get it in quickly and easily? Share them in the comments, below! Questions are also welcome.
DISCLAIMER: I provide these tips in good faith because they have worked for me. However, I am not a professional driver or RV towing instructor, so follow them at your own risk. That said, this advice comes from ranchers, truck drivers and personal experience.