So you’re shopping for a travel trailer aka camper? You’ll likely feel all the excitement, frustration, fun, confusion, and thoughts of “are we doing the right thing” over and over again like we did just this year. Although it can sometimes feel overwhelming and hard to narrow down what travel trailer is right for you or your family, these 5 helpful tips when searching for a travel trailer can help you save time and hopefully some confusion.
1. Trailer length
Travel trailer length is typically very important when it comes to helping you decide what type of camper will best suit your needs. We are a family of four and didn’t want to feel cramped, but we also didn’t want to pull something that felt like a semi truck. Campgrounds will always request the length of your trailer, and depending on the length (and number of slide outs you have), it may determine whether or not the campground can accommodate you.
Our camper is a 2011 Forest River Patriot 28BH (we nicknamed “Patty”), which means it is 28 feet long, NOT including the hitch or the bumper. Campgrounds ALWAYS include the additional length that the hitch and bumper add, which in our case is an additional three extra feet. That means we are 31 feet long. I’ve found that campgrounds AND storage facilities have a categorical separation of travel trailers less than 30 feet, and those that are more than 30 feet. This isn’t so lucky on our part, as we even were going to be charged $10 more a month to store our camper for being 1 foot over the 30 foot mark (we ended up storing somewhere else)! All in all, this has not been a deal breaker for us. Just something to think about and maybe will require you to search a bit harder to find a reservation for an opening that can accommodate the length of your trailer.
Less likely, but still a chance, is that you’ll run into an issue with the width of your trailer. The only time so far width has been an issue is when we were at the gorgeous Golden Gate State Canyon Park, and our wonderful pull-through site (meaning we could just “drive-thru” our spot, not back up) was blanketed with beautiful Aspen Trees. The maze of trees around our site made it a tight squeeze for our travel trailer. We literally had to decide if we wanted to roll out our awning on one side, or use the slide out on the other side. We made the easy choice of keeping our awning rolled in, and opted to use our slide out. So when you are looking for reservations, you typically have to report the FULL length (in our case, 31 feet), and whether or not you have slide out(s).
2. trailer Weight
Before we get too far into how much your camper weighs, it’s more important to first ensure you have something that will actually pull your camper. Do you have a mid-sized SUV? You likely will only be able to pull a relatively small pop up trailer. We have a Toyota Tundra so were good to go for most mid-size trailers. Try this handy Towing Capacity Calculator to see how much your current vehicle can tow.
We went back and forth about 50 billion times about what type/style of travel trailer we wanted. Did we want bunk beds for the kids? Did we want a full sized pull out couch? Or dinette? Did we want a tv in the front of the camper or the middle? Should we hold out for a separate sleeping area for the kids divided by a door? Did we really need a slide out? The list of questions goes on and on.
We went to RV shows, drove over an hour (several times) just to walk around dealer lots, hoping to find the “right” travel trailer for us. I would even scour Facebook classified listings for hours and send my husband listing after listing. I was obsessed and changed my mind about what I was looking for on a daily basis.
Jot down a list of the top 5 things that you may want in your camper (i.e. bunk houses, second entry door, etc), and know that if you find a camper with at least get 3 of them, you’ll be happy.
4. Trailer Features
From outdoor kitchens to bumper grills and outdoor showers, travel trailers can offer a wide variety of features that you didn’t even know you needed. If you spend a lot of time at a lake, an outdoor shower comes in extremely handy (and keeps your kids from tracking mud and water all the way through your camper). Do you have a four wheeler that you want to bring with you? A toy hauler may be right for you. Do you do lots of entertaining and love to sit around a campfire? An outdoor kitchen provides the perfect venue for you and saves lots of trips in and out of the trailer when prepping/cooking food (or grabbing beverages from the fridge).
Start by imagining your life in your trailer and make a list of “must haves” that will support your vision of how you will spend the time on your own adventures!
5. Maintenance required
Ask any travel trailer owner and they will agree–expect things (small and large) to break on your travel trailer, and expect to learn how to fix them by trial and error. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a maintenance free travel trailer. You may get a small leak, a board may come loose in the cabinets, or the stabilizer jacks may randomly fall off one day when you’re packing up your campsite (that really happened to us! But I’ll save that for another day). The best news is, if you are adventurous and willing to take on a new challenge to figure out how to fix things, you will more than reap the rewards of living the camper life!
Finally, there are always additional costs when buying a camper. Insurance, storage facilities, extra fuel, etc. We get half the gas mileage when we pull the trailer, we pay $840 a year to store it (outside!), and $350 a year to insure it. These definitely add up and not really sure camping is actually cheaper than flying someplace for a vacation, but we went into it knowing we were investing in amazing and life changing memories for our family. Plus we can go on a lot of mini vacations basically whenever we want! And that is something that is absolutely priceless.
Go with your gut
So how did we finally decide on a camper right for us? It boiled down to luck, timing, and randomly browsing for my top few “must have” items. The key factors for us were: I knew our price point, knew we didn’t want to buy new (just for the instant depreciation that occurs when you drive it off the lot), and also could tell it was in excellent shape and I just really wanted a camper already!
From the second we stepped foot inside the camper, my husband and I fell in love and knew it was “the one” for us. Corny but so true. I literally did a happy dance once we shook hands to close the deal with the previous owner. We were so ready to be camper people and start our camping adventures!