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Airstreamin Departure Checklist

Aircraft pilots use a pre-flight checklist. Why? Because one thing forgotten can result in bad things happening. 

Over 30,000 miles of Airstreamin adventures teaches you a few things. One of those things is that I need a Departure Checklist, otherwise bad things happen. What sorts of bad things? Here’s a few of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way:

  • Hoses and cords and dog beds left behind (Carma was not happy)
  • Keys lost (left them in the door lock and drove away)
  • Windows blown off (forgot to latch one of the side windows)
  • Airstream falls off your tow vehicle (fortunately it happened right away and not on the road)

A departure checklist keeps you, your Airstream, and your fellow travelers safe. It will also save you a pile of dough. Here’s my Departure Checklist.

Tow Vehicle Hookup

This is where a double check is not even good enough because a mistake here can spell disaster for you or your fellow travelers. If you have a co-pilot, get them to triple check your work here after you have checked it yourself. A mistake here can spell disaster.

  • Trailer hitch connection at the vehicle. Check that the hitch is inserted properly in the receiver with the pin installed and the safety cotter pin in place. All of your hookups behind this point rely on this being done properly. I made the mistake once of getting distracted during hookup and had the entire hitch pull out of my truck when I pulled away because I did not put the pin in. So yes, it’s possible to forget this and if it happens once you are on the road it is really really bad.
  • Trailer set on ball properly and latched. Check to be sure that the trailer is sitting down on the hitch ball properly, then latch the safety lock. The safety latch is an easy one to miss, and it can spell disaster if you hit a big bump and your trailer pops off the hitch — yes that can happen. I lower the trailer onto the ball just until it starts to weight the hitch and then trip the latch down right away. Most of these have a place for a lock — I personally don’t lock mine but some people do that as an extra precaution against theft. Once the ball is latched properly, I hookup the 3-point hitch bars before fully weighting the trailer on the hitch.
  • 3-Point Hitch Hookup. There are a number of different 3-point hitch designs. The most important thing is that you use one. A 3-point hitch is much safer on the road, especially in windy conditions. If you purchased your Airstream from a dealer they likely insisted that you have one. If you don’t have one, do your research and get one. Every design is slightly different. On mine I have two bars that sit on metal brackets and are held in place by L bracket locks (photo). I check to be sure both bars are in place and both of the safety locks are in and latched properly. Your 3-point hitch check list might be different, but be sure to document it for your own design.
  • Trailer Brake Safety Cable. The trailer brake lock is on your trailer to help slow things down if God forbid the trailer gets loose from your vehicle. The wire cable is attached to a plastic plug on the brake trigger and needs to ATTACH TO YOUR VEHICLE on the other end. Do NOT attach the safety brake cable to some part of the removable hitch. I loop mine through the Safety Chain anchor points on the truck before I attach the safety chains. 
  • Trailer Lights Cable. Plug in your trailer lights cable. Yes I have missed this before only to arrive at my destination with the cable connection worn down from dragging on the ground for 200 miles. Be sure your lights are plugged in and do a walk around the back to be sure your lights are all working properly.
  • Safety Chains hooked up. This is your fail-safe if something goes wrong with the main hitch hookup. I use the old-school method of crossing the chains from one side to the other. If they are too long I twist them before latching them in place. You can read a hundred blog posts on how to hook up safety chains properly — get comfortable with the way you are going to do it, and do it the same way every time.

In summary your 6 step Hookup checklist is:

  • Hitch in receiver pinned and safety pin in place
  • Trailer on ball properly and safety latch closed
  • 3 point hitch attachments secured properly on BOTH SIDES
  • Trailer Brake cable attached properly
  • Trailer Lights cable hooked up and lights checked
  • Safety chains attached properly

Outside Checklist

When I am 100% sure my Airstream is attached properly to my tow vehicle, I do the rest of my exterior checks.

  • Trailer wheel chucks removed. Sometimes you need to move the trailer forward or back a touch to get these out easily, and you’ll want to be sure that you are properly hooked up before pulling the wheel chucks out.
  • Sewage hose cleaned and stowed. Before unhooking your water hose give your sewage hose a good washing out before you stow it. 
  • Water hose coiled and stowed. Simple, but easy to forget. I’ve left a few hoses behind along the way. 
  • Electric Hookup Cable stowed. Remember to always turn off the breaker on the hookup podium before hooking / unhooking your electric cable. 
  • Generator and Fuel stowed. If you are camping off-the-grid, you may be using a gasoline generator. If so be sure you don’t leave it behind as a gift for the next camp visitor.
  • Portable Solar Panels. These are easy to forget, especially if you use the ones that you can put up to 100 ft away from your trailer. They’re also a nice gift for the next camp visitor so don’t forget them ;) 
  • Campsite Walk-Around. I’ve left mats, dog dishes, and heaven knows that else sitting around a camp site. Take a few minutes to look around closely for those odds and ends you may have not put away yet.

Inside Checklist

I have a very specific Inside Checklist that pertains to Luby because of the particular things I carry along with me. For example I have a water filled lava-lamp aquarium with floating plastic fish beside my bed. You may not be fortunate enough to have one. But if you are, you’ll want to empty that and stow it safely to keep your bed dry and your fish safe ;)

Here’s a more generic Inside Checklist to get you started:

  • Windows Latched. As I mentioned in the intro, an open window can turn into a lost window very easily. The tilt out windows on the Airstream tend to “flap” out when underway if not latched. If the wind catches it just right it will be quickly removed from your trailer — which is what happened to me somewhere between Albuquerque and Amarillo a few years back.
  • Fridge Latched. I recently put a new fridge in Luby, and the seals are much better than the old one. Consequently, it latches pretty hard and sometimes it looks locked but is not. When it’s not, you arrive to broken pickle jars and a mix of sweet and sour sauce all over your trailer. Be sure your fridge and freezer doors are fully latched before you are underway.
  • Drawers Latched. Same deal with your kitchen drawers. Be sure they are latched.
  • Overhead Sliders Closed. Some of you have doors — I have sliders on my overhead storage cabinets. Check to be sure they are all closed to keep the FruitLoops where they belong. 
  • Wine Rack Empty. Lots of us have some sort of wine rack installed. I’ll give it special mention here because Cabernet is REALLY hard to get off of your cushions. Impossible actually. Be sure your wine rack is empty and bottles are properly stowed.
  • Fan Vents Closed. I actually leave my overhead vents cracked slightly to keep fresh air moving in the trailer as long as the weather looks good. Same goes for the shower and bathroom vents. However you choose to leave your vents, check them to be sure they are all in the right place for your taste.
  • All loose articles stowed. I carry a large bin that I put all of the assorted loose objects that sit around the Airstream when I’m parked. Decorative items, paper towels, knife block, small plants, etc. It all goes in one bin where it’s easy to get to when I arrive.

If you are fortunate enough to have a co-pilot, its great to split the Inside and Outside lists, and then do a quick walk-around of each others work just to be extra safe.

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