You learn a lot about your lack of communication skills as a couple when you start camping together. It started for us just over four years ago when we purchased our first camper, a pop-up. We had just enough knowledge to feel we were prepared to take our first weekend trip shortly after we got it. The pop-up was light on storage, so we had to get creative with where to put all the stuff we thought we needed. We started off by making a mental list after talking it over. Of course, while packing up the kids asked for things and the dog distracted us, so the mental list went out just as quick as it was created. We of coursed forgot a lot of things but we made do and created a paper list during that weekend so the next trip we would be better prepared.
The biggest learning lesson started when we got to the campground when we discovered we need to maneuver the pop-up into position between multiple trees. Steve was thinking one way and I was guiding him another, plus we could not hear each other, so that just added to our adventure. Steve quickly learned how the pop-up moved when backing up and I used hand motions that I had seen others use before. After 20 minutes or so we were finally satisfied with where the pop-up was positioned, we were also super annoyed with each other. Luckily, we got better and better after each setup and tear down.
We learned even more lessons when we switched trailers from the pop-up to a 23 ft hybrid travel trailer, and then again when we got our current 36 ft travel trailer. With the pop-up it was easy to see around it and Steve did not need much guidance. For the hybrid trailer, Steve could not see around it as easily when backing up, but he still managed to back it up without guidance into most spots. Now with our 36 ft travel trailer, it was a completely different beast and we have had to learn a whole new way to communicate between each other.
"...we ended up being “those” people"
At first, Steve got frustrated because there was a of lack of guidance from me. He could not hear or see me in the mirrors because I did not know where to stand. On top of that, he did not understand the directions I was trying to give when I did finally get to a spot where I could see him. We each had different ideas on how to maneuver our huge new rig and we were terrified of damaging our new home on wheels. This is where our glaring lack of communication skills came in to play. Honestly, some yelling happened on a few occasions, and it is never ideal and causes a bunch of stress, and we ended up being “those” people. In an effort to hammer out the issue, we had to face the facts and come up with a better solution for the next trip.
We came up with a few ideas for communication while backup and they included:
- Both walking the spot to discuss where we wanted to end up
- Using walkie talkies
- Using our cell phones
- Agreed upon hand motions
Ultimately, we ended up using a combination of the options above based on trial and error. We had to quit yelling through the window to each other for directions because it was causing way too much stress. We tried using walkie talkies a few times but failed to charge them regularly, so they were always dead when we actually needed them. The best technique we found was to use our cell phones because the truck has hands free built in which allows Steve to watch the mirrors better and respond faster. Of course, the longer between moves or at the beginning of a new season (before we started full-timing) we would have to relearn these techniques.
Now that we finally were able to figure out how to successfully communicate with each other, there are two other things that can distract us while we get setup…the kids and the dog. Most of the time the kids do a great job of helping unless they have too much energy built up from a long drive day. When that happens, it is easier on us to send them to the playground and get them away from the situation. That just leaves the dog, he gets over stimulated and hyper when we arrive anywhere with all new smells. The dog usually ends up blocking the passenger side mirror while Steve is backing up. The dog becomes an issue when Steve needs to see on that side for lining up. When that happens, we stop and get the dog out so we can finish getting into our spot.
"At our peak of moving every 3-4 days we had it down to no more than 20 minutes from arriving at a campground to relaxing with everything done."
Good communication not only helps us get into spots; it helps us to have a level trailer versus just saying it is good enough because we are frustrated and don’t want to move the trailer anymore. Having a level trailer is important for all the appliances to work properly, doors to close correctly, and to have a happy wife the does not feel she is going to fall off the bed. Once we get into the spot, we work together to finish setting up the inside and outside. Typically, I tackle the inside while Steve finishes up on the outside. When we first started setup, it would take us an hour or more. At our peak of moving every 3-4 days we had it down to no more than 20 minutes from arriving at a campground to relaxing with everything done. Now a days, we do not move as often so we are a bit out of practice, but still can setup within 30-40 minutes. Tear down takes about the same amount of time.
Biggest Take away from marriage counselling - camping edition
Learning different communication techniques and figuring out what works for us has improved our communication not only during setup and tear down, but in everyday life. Living in tight quarters, we do not have a lot of space to block out each other so we all had to learn better communication skills. Getting on the same page can be challenging some days but it is worth it when you finally see and feel the difference. Who doesn't want to have better communication with those they love? It is worth the time to figure it out. There is no one size fits all model and better communication is forged through trial and error. Think about an area in your life your communication with your spouse can be improved and brainstorm some ideas, give it a whirl and adjust as necessary.