Travel Trailer or Motorhome?
Choosing which type of travel trailer to invest in can be a challenging process, as there are so many different options on the market. For me, the point of a travel trailer or motorhome is to enjoy the freedom and connection with nature of camping, while bringing some of the comforts of home with you.
I’ve always preferred a towable travel trailer to a motorhome (which we’ve had two of over the years) because motorhomes are expensive, intimidating to drive and you can’t easily use them to make day trips from your chosen basecamp. Motorhomes make sense if you are planning to live on the road for a long period of time and want a stable base, but for us, travel trailers better suit our needs.
Types of Camping Trailers
There are so many different types of Camping trailers, and they vary hugely in what they offer. They can range from around 10 feet to around 35 feet in length, with dry weights (weight without people/possessions) from 2,000-9,000 lbs. You can get your hands on something for as cheap as $10,000, or they can cost around the $100,000 mark. This means that there are a lot of things to consider when selecting a trailer.
In terms of towable travel trailers, there are four main types, with lots of variation within each type.
Standard Travel Trailers
These travel trailers are basically constructed on top of a standard trailer frame. They are great because they can be towed by a pretty wide variety of vehicles and you don’t need a particularly specialized car. Learning to drive while towing one of these trailers does take some practice with the tail swing, and I generally avoid reversing as much as possible as it is very challenging.
5th Wheel Trailers
These are basically the same as Travel Trailers, except that they have a gooseneck connector that attaches to the tow vehicle. This means that part of the trailer overhangs the tow vehicle. While this makes it a bit easier to maneuver, and also offers a bit more interior space in the overhand section, it does mean that you need a truck with an open or flatbed to tow it.
Folding and Tent Trailers
These are a great option if you are looking for something smaller and lighter. These have collapsible compartments, made either with hard composite walls or durable tent canvas. This makes them easier to tow and easier to store when you aren’t using them. They are great for shorter trips but don’t have much storage room, especially if want to bring sports equipment with you.
Sports Utility Trailer or ‘Toy Hauler’
These are a great option for the sporting enthusiast, who wants to bring a large amount of equipment with them, or things like motocross bikes or jet skis. The rear compartment is basically for storing sports equipment, with a folding wall that doubles as a towing ramp. There is then a smaller forward compartment that can be set up as a living space for campers. This is really an option targeted at sports enthusiasts who don’t mind sharing their living space with their equipment.
Travel Trailer Amenities
Trailers can vary hugely in terms of the facilities they offer, based both on the type of model that you choose, and the size. Unsurprisingly, larger trailers generally have more facilities, but they are also a larger investment, so it is important to balance the cost of buying something which has ‘everything you need’, with the cost of what you actually need for your specific holiday plans.
Most travel trailers should have their own heating, air conditioning, and electrical systems, as well as water tanks, though these may be less sophisticated in folding or tent trailers and in sport utility trailers. Smaller trailers will have compact living spaces with sofas that fold out into beds and external extensions to create outdoor living spaces. Larger trailers will often have full bathroom, kitchen and dining areas. In terms of look and feel, again there are so many options on the market, and whether you prefer retro chic or modern cool will be down to your personal preference.
Personally, when I’m assessing a travel trailer, I always prioritize the cooking, bathroom and sleeping facilities:
Cooking - as we are generally on the road for a long time, it’s not realistic to BBQ three meals a day, and keeping on top of the dishes is just as challenging as at home, so I look at kitchen space, and in particular sink space.
Bathroom - often these are made very compact in order to save space, so you need to decide whether the size is realistic for you. How easy the bathroom is to clean is also a consideration, especially for longer trips, or if a large number of people will be using it.
Sleeping - I don’t like to drive when I’m tired, so making sure that I will get a good night’s sleep is a priority. I’m not too bothered about having a private area when I sleep, though I know some people are, so this can be a consideration. For me, the beds need to be comfortable, so I always try them out.
Renting before you buy can be a great option if you are unsure what will suit you.
Leading Trailer Brands
I don’t generally buy my travel trailers based on brand, but there are some great brands out there which you know will always be reliable if you are in doubt:
- Gulfstream have been among the market leaders since 1983 and their trailers are generally known for having great floor plans and excellent amenities.
- Heartland is another brand that has been in the market for a while, and they are known for their durability. Once you’ve invested, your trailer will last and last.
- Airstream is at the more expensive end of the market, and their designs are distinctive and luxurious. They are expensive but still offer good value in terms of the amenities and comfort you get for your dollar.
- Grand Design Reflection offer good quality, sturdy travel trailers, and they also offer a three-year limited structural warranty. Their vans generally have a lot of space, and they are known for their excellent customer service.
- Oliver Travel Trailers are great and even their smaller models hold up well in harsher weather conditions.
- Forest River are noted for the maneuverability of their vans, which means they can be a great option for those just starting out.
Key Questions to Ask Yourself Before Investing
To help decide the type and brand of trailers, and what amenities you’ll need, I suggest asking yourself these questions:
Will you be going on short trips or longer trips where you’ll be away from home for longer and need more amenities? Longer trips like I have made with my partner justify the cost of a larger trailer with more amenities, but you don’t really need this level of facilities if you are just planning long weekends away.
How many people will be staying in the trailer and what are their requirements around comfort? If you have a larger family, or people with particular access and mobility needs, again you can probably justify a larger trailer with more amenities.
Will you be staying in one place for most of your trips, or moving around often? What is the terrain like? If you’ll be doing a lot of driving between sites, particularly in difficult terrains, you may need to prioritize mobility over size.
Will you be making day trips from your base for which you need a good separate vehicle? If you are, you’ll want something that stands securely without the tow vehicle, and that works with your vehicle of preference for day trips.
Will you need to bring a lot of sports equipment with you? You might want to avoid the tent trailer and think about the 5th wheel option, or if you need it, a specialized sports trailer.
Will you be going to places with more extreme weather conditions, such as snow? Again, you’ll want to be careful when considering a tent trailer.
Just to end with some final thoughts I think are important to consider when investing in a travel trailer. Make sure you have the right type of car to tow your trailer and support your camping trip (especially if you are making frequent day trips or are planning to transport sporting equipment). Depending on your tow vehicle and your trailer you might need load distributing hitches and other special devices to control sway, don’t forget to look at this when considering your purchase. Also, where are you going to store your travel trailer when you aren’t using it, do you have space around your home? Don’t forget to do your research on this as well!