A Guide to Travel Trailers
A travel trailer (or caravan) is a portable camper that can be towed by other vehicles (as it cannot be driven independently) that provides a comfortable, protected sleeping area for 2-8 people (depending on its size).
Travel trailers are far more comfortable than tents, and provide travelers with a comfortable environment to sleep in, meaning they can sleep almost anywhere and won’t have to rely on hotels/motels when on vacation.
On this page we’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of travel trailers, what individual features/aspects you should look for and the different styles of travel trailer on the market.
The Advantages of Using a Travel Trailer
Travel trailers are extremely popular in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand for several reasons:
- Buying a travel trailer (although initially expensive) means you won’t have to pay for another hotel/motel room again (meaning you can save a lot of money in the long run). Of course, certain campsites may charge you to park your travel trailer, but this should still be cheaper than paying for other types of accommodation.
- They’re cheaper than most kinds of campervans/RV’s.
- There are dozens of different types, styles and sizes of travel trailers available (with different amenities), meaning you can find one to suit your exact needs.
- Attaching (and detaching) your travel trailer to your main vehicle is typically a very easy and simple process, meaning you can easily unhook the trailer once you’ve arrived at your destination, allowing you to use your car again for running errands or day trips.
The Disadvantages of Travel Trailers
While there are a lot of advantages to using travel trailers, there are also some disadvantages of using them:
- You have no direct access to your travel trailer from the primary vehicle while it’s being towed. With an RV/campervan you can walk from the driver’s seat to the bedrooms at the back because it’s all connected. On long road trips you might need to use the trailer’s bathroom or get a drink from the fridge. In an RV you can do this without stopping (providing you’re not the driver), but with a travel trailer you’ll have to find a safe place to pull over and stop completely before you can access these things.
- Of course, one solution to this problem is to spend the journey in the travel trailer (instead of the car towing it). The problem here is that most travel trailers tend to sway as they’re being pulled along. To solve this problem, however, you can purchase and attach an anti-sway bar. Not sure which anti-sway bar to buy? PullRite and Hensley Arrow are generally considered to make the best quality anti-sway bars.
Travel Trailer Features to Look For
There are several things you need to consider when buying a travel trailer (depending on your requirements). These are the sleeping capacity (i.e. how many people can comfortably sleep in it?), the price, the size (this is often directly related to the price and sleeping capacity), whether you want a slide-out or not, how you plan to tow it and what individual amenities you want (such as a microwave, bay windows or a skylight).
Most travel trailers will sleep between 2 – 8 people (depending on the size of the trailer), although this number can always be increased if you don’t mind sleeping on an air mattress on the floor.
As with most things, the price of a travel trailer will massively affect your decision to buy it or not. Expect to pay around $15,000 for most new travel trailers, or $50,000+ for a luxury travel trailer.
The size of different travel trailers varies massively. Small travel trailers will probably be around 14 feet long, whereas the longest ones will typically be around 36 feet in length.
Note that when it comes to size, the stated length often takes into account the front hitch. For example, a 28 foot trailer might only have a 25 foot living area. When buying, make sure that you know what the dimensions mean. If necessary/possible, go for a viewing and take a measuring tape with you to be absolutely sure.
Slide-outs are very popular as they enable you to increase the space inside your trailer. Although they typically only expand your camper by one or two feet, the effect they have (and the perceived increase of space) is surprising.
Of course, slide-outs will add a considerable amount of weight to your camper, and buying a trailer with a slide-out will cost you more than buying one without.
On a side note, many campsites don’t allow space for caravans with slide-outs, so be sure to check this before booking a vacation. This is especially important on trailers where the slide-out restricts some areas if it is not out. For example, on some trailers you need to extend the slide-out in order to gain access to the bathroom.
Before buying a travel trailer, you need to know what kind of tow vehicle you have. This will dictate how big (and more importantly how heavy) your travel trailer can be (as you’ll need to be able to pull it along).
Most trailer/camper/RV dealerships will be able to tell you the towing capabilities of your current vehicle (and therefore which trailers you can buy), so don’t worry too much about finding out this information beforehand.
The Different Types of Travel Trailer
These days, travel trailers come in all different styles, shapes and sizes. From luxury travel trailers, small travel trailers, lightweight travel trailers, ultra light trailers, teardrop trailers, hybrid trailers, toy haulers and classic trailers.
To put it simply, there’s a travel trailer out there to meet whatever needs you (and your family) have. Let’s take a closer look at the most popular types:
Conventional Travel Trailers
Many years ago Airstream (a trailer manufacturer) began mass producing their first travel trailer in the ‘silver bullet’ style. These trailers became the conventional/standard style, and have remained extremely popular since their inception.
When most people think of travel trailers, these are the kind they think of. Their simple design means they’re usually extremely spacious inside and include a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and separate dining area.
Many conventional travel trailers come with slide-outs (as an added option), which enable you to increase the space inside even further.
The main downside of these types of trailers is that they’re the heaviest of the lot, meaning order to tow them you’ll need a vehicle with a decent amount of power.
As well as this, they’re also one of the most expensive types of travel trailers (apart from ultra-luxurious trailers and some telescoping trailers) on the market.
Perhaps the smallest of all travel trailers, teardrop campers (named after their tear-like shape) are extremely lightweight (meaning they can be towed by almost any kind of vehicle).
Teardrop campers are very minimal. They usually only consist of a sleeping area inside, meaning you’ll have to do your cooking and bathroom activities outside.
These days, teardrop trailers have something of a cult following, and it is common to find people buying old teardrop trailers with the intention of restoring them to their former glory.
Lightweight Travel Trailers
As SUV’s have risen in popularity (and more and more people own them), a new type of lightweight (or ultra-light) travel trailer (that can be towed by SUV’s or mid-sized trucks) has emerged.
As the name suggests, these are typically just lighter versions of conventional travel trailers. As well as using lighter materials to reduce weight, these trailers are also smaller in size than most conventional trailers.
Despite their reduced size, they can often compete with bigger conventional trailers in terms of amenities, as most of them will have a separate bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and dining room/living area.
Trailer manufacturers have realized this, and along with the creation of lightweight travel trailers they have also come up with hybrid trailers.
Hybrid trailers are a mix (i.e. a ‘hybrid’) of both soft sided and hard sided campers. Having one (or more) soft sides on your trailer massively reduces the weight.
These soft sides often slide out to create a sleeping area, thereby extending the space inside the camper dramatically.
The main downside of having soft sides (which are made from material) on your trailer is that they don’t give you as much protection from the outside world as hard sides (which are made from metal) do.
Toy Hauler Travel Trailers
What are toy hauler travel trailers exactly? They’re trailers that are divided up so that they have both a living area and a ‘toy’ storage area. These ‘toys’ refer to snowmobiles, quad bikes and dirt bikes, making these trailers great for outdoor enthusiasts.
It should be noted that these trailers are specifically designed for those with large, heavy duty ‘toys’ (such as quad bikes), not for those who want to take a couple of push bikes camping with them. If you want to take bicycles with you, a better idea would be to install a bike rack onto your main tow vehicle and carry them that way.
Toy hauler trailers are very versatile, meaning the toy storage area can be turned into another room/living area when the toy is not being stored in there (often through the use of fold-down beds or pull-out furniture).
As well as having a storage area, these trailers will also typically have a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and dining area/living room.
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