My husband and I bought a 30 foot travel trailer last week. We are newbies to the camping lifestyle and knew nothing going into this venture. We researched the heck out of this topic before making our final purchase. There are some basic things you need to consider before buying.
1. Do you want to tow a travel trailer/ camper, a fifth wheel (meaning it hooks up on the bed of a pickup truck), or drive an RV?
We chose a travel trailer aka camper. My thought on this were that 1. RVs are more expensive because you are buying a motorized vehicle. Buying a travel trailer you need a vehicle that can tow. We already owed a vehicle that can tow, so we didn’t feel the need to spend more to get an RV. 2. RV ownership is owning another vehicle, which can have issues like any other vehicle- ranging from motor problems, transmission, etc… I didn’t want to own another vehicle, so the travel trailer was a better choice for us personally.
Some people do like the RV option because you can be inside the RV as you travel. By law nobody can travel inside a travel trailer while in motion. That is not the case with an RV. With an RV you can cook, the kids can play board games, watch movies, and basically do normal activities while the RV is in motion. Our kids are used to road trips, our Escalade is awesome for road trips, and we have a system that works for keeping our kids entertained Road Tripping With Young Kids-My Tips and fed Cooking on a Road Trip in the Car! We like road trips, so adding a travel trailer on the back was a great option for us.
Fifth wheels are amazing. If we owned a pick up truck we would have purchased a fifth wheel. These units hook up in the bed on your pickup. You can tow a lot of weight this way. Fifth wheels can also be bigger, weigh more, and are more spacious than travel trailers. Of course you can find smaller units, but they have fifth wheels on the market that far surpass the travel trailer league.
2. What kind of layout do you want?
This is very important. Especially when it comes to sleeping arrangements and how much work you want to do each night before bed. Will you be cooking and eating inside the camper? Do you want an oven and not just a stove top? Is the kitchen work space enough to make meals? Do you want the children in a seperate bunk room that has closing doors, or will a curtain suffice? Is there enough storage for your family’s needs? Can you be creative with the storage that exists to make it work for your family? Is the bathroom functional for your family- do your kids take baths and a shower would not be workable? Is there enough seating and space for the whole family to chill inside if a storm comes and you need to be inside the camper all day? Do you want to install a TV, is there a space for that on the wall already designated? These are all considerations you must make before chosing a camper. I wanted to do zero work to set up beds each night, which meant we needed beds that were set up and ready at all times; no Murphy beds, nobody sleeping on pull out sofas, and nobody on the fold down dining area (which turns into a bed). We elected for a camper that had a separate bedroom for Mom and Dad and the kids have bunk beds. I wanted privacy from the kids, so we have sliding doors that close off our bedroom area from the rest of the camper. Two other things we wanted were a dining area that could fit the whole family and a sofa where people could sit, relax, and even watch a big screen tv. However, it all had to be under 30 feet and 7,000 lbs dry weight, which I will explain more later. Here is the layout on our camper, which was EXACTLY what we drew out on paper and then our sales person found us the campers that fit the bill!
3. If you decide to tow, your tow capacity will determine the weight limit of your camper. Do you know how much you can tow?
We didn’t know so we looked in our vehicle manual and then read what others wrote online about towing with an Escalade. You can also google your vehicle’s make, model, and year along with the words “tow capacity” to find out what your vehicle can handle. Here is what I found on autotrader.com about our vehicle in an article about the top 7 SUV’s for towing:
This aricle is helpful if you are in the market for a new SUV and want one with great towing capacity: https://www.autotrader.com/best-cars/7-great-suvs-designed-for-towing-heavy-loads-230353
Once you know how much your vehicle can tow, then you can look at trailers that are at least 1,000 below your tow capacity. Why do you need to subtract 1,000 lbs? Because the weight of the trailer is “dry weight”. While camping you will be filling your camper with used water from doing dishes and showers (these are called your grey waters) and the toilet (which is called your black water). All that water adds weight, which at most camping locations you need to drive to the dump station to empty at the end of your stay before heading home. Also, if you ever plan to boondock (which means you go to a location that doesn’t have any water or electricity hookups), you will need to fill your fresh water tank before your trip even begins. This means you will be hauling that extra water weight the entire trip. You also need to take into consideration your belongings that will add weight to the trailer.
4. Fiberglass versus aluminum, which do you want?
There are pros and cons to both. Fiberglass is more expensive. We bought a 2017 closeout unit that was fiberglass and paid the equivalent of a 2018 aluminum. We wanted fiberglass and it didn’t cost us more, because we bought a closeout unit. We wanted fiberglass because of the hail here in TX. Aluminum dents and is damaged much more easily. We didn’t want to deal with that issue and I sure we will experience hail at some point while out camping. There are lots of forums that debate the fiberglass vs. metal topic, so research this before you make a decision,
5. Where will you store it and have you factored in that cost?
We can’t park trailers in our neighborhood long term (unless you own a dog grooming service apparently ????). Therefore we needed to arrange for storage. We also wanted covered storage to protect the unit from sun damage, hail, and winds that may cause flying debri. We found a place about 20 minutes from our home that is a secured RV storage lot in Keller, TX. It has coverage on 3 sides. They have pull through spots and also back in spots. We did a back-in spot because that was all that was available. If you aren’t skilled in backing up your trailer, you may want to look for a facility that has pull through spots available. Costs vary on storage, so call around before you buy so you know what you are getting yourself into. Of course, length increases the storage price. We pay about $150 a month for our 30 foot, but we are able to hook up to the electricity there, it is a secured facility, and the RVs and trailers are all under cover.
6. How Long do you want your unit to be?
It can be so easy to get caught up in bigger and bigger units, especially when they don’t cost that much more for so much more space. Feet matter when buying. How big of a trailer will you be comfortable driving? Where do you plan to take the unit? The longer the unit, the more difficult it is to get reservations to stay at the State and National. Why do I say that? Because each has a limited number of spaces and the longer spaces are even fewer. As we traveled through National Parks this summer I also noticed many had limits for their roads on lengths as you enter the Park. Trailers over thirty feet seemed to be limited more considerably in my observations, which was why we decided not to go over that number. If you plan to stay at private RV parks, of which there are many, you can go longer, as you will find more options for accommodating a larger unit.
Keep in mind that you will at some point have to back up the trailer. The longer the trailer, the more difficult it is to back it up. It’s possible at any length, but you need to have the patience for it, as it may take many attempts when you first begin. My husband still has a commercial truck driver license (I know surprising right?). His first job out of college was as a commercial truck driver for Coca-Cola in inner city Milwaukee and surrounding areas. He is great with trailers and big vehicles, however with our new trailer he still didn’t get it right the first time. He had to do a few back in attempts to get it just right. And he is an experienced driver! So keep in mind that it takes practice and patience to learn to back up a big trailer. If you don’t get it right the first time, then keep trying, but just don’t hit anything!
7. Do you have the “extras” budgeted?
Yes, your vehicle comes furnished, but you will need dishes, hoses, more hoses, and another hose on top of that, the good speciality hoses for your black water, wheel chalks, special electrical cords for hookup at campsites, a water regulator, a surge protector (the kind that hooks up to an RV, not a household one), hitches, and all sorts of other hook up stuff that your vehicle doesn’t have. You need to factor 1,000-2,000 into these extras. If you are buying used they may throw in some of these things. However, when buying used beware of a leaky camper. Don’t ever buy a camper that has had leaks.
If you plan to redecorate your unit, you need to factor in those costs as well- for thing like new curtains, bed covers, pillows, rugs, and more.
We bought new so that we could purchase a warranty. We are covered for 10 years against leaks. Leaks are the greatest cause of peril to a camper. We wanted insurance that ours would be covered if it did leak, so the warranty we got is a good one.
8. Will you be camping year round or just during the summer?
If you are like us and want to camp all year long then you may want to look at campers that have cold weather packages. This means they are better insulated, and are made to stand up to more extreme temperatures. Not all campers are built the same and some lack the insulation you would need to prevent pipes from freezing. If we camp in the fall and temperatures drop below freezing during the night we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t have problems with our camper. We bought a camper that had a “four seasons package”. They also call these “cold weather packages”, and similar names. Just look for the sticker on the RV that indicates it has this sort of package if that is what you are looking for.
9. How much work do you want to do when you are camping?
None was my answer. However, you still have to set up your trailer when you arrive and then take it down when time to leave. You also have to dump your grey and black waters at the dump station. The good news is that almost all of these things have become much easier with electronic features. We purchased a unit that has electric stabilizers, an electric lift on the tongue of the trailer, electric slides (the part of the trailer that pops out) and electric awnings. This means we have no cranking to do! We just push buttons for set up. Our set up and take down is easy and efficient because of these electric components. I did not cost a great more either. Each trailer differs on what it has, so be sure to ask if you want these features! We had found another trailer we thought we were going to buy, but then realized the stabilizers were on a crank system! Who wants to be out cranking on a Friday evening when it is almost 100 degrees outside? I didn’t want a crabby husband on Friday nights, so I said it all needed to be electric.
Another nice feature to consider is the cleanout hookup for your grey and black waters. Not all units have these. For ours, we first empty the black water into the dump station, then we run the grey water after the black to clean out the black. After this is done, we then hook up a a regular garden hose to our “cleanout hookup” where we then run fresh water through the grey and black water lines and tanks to clean them out completely. We just keep running until we see the water is crystal clear. We purchased a clear hose connector, so that we could see through the hose and know when it was clear. Not all units have this hookup on their trailer. If your unit doesn’t have this feature you will have to rinse your tanks by dumping clean water down the toilet and sink to get them clean. Some people will run a hose into their trailer and into the toilet to do this. I am so glad I don’t have to do that. I like that the yuck factor is kept very low because of this special garden hose hookup that allows us to rinse the tanks easily. The water flows back through your big hose that goes into the dump station, so your big hose is cleaned out at the same time! Our big hose that is used for cleanout fits into the bumper of our camper, which is another cool and handy feature to look for! I didn’t want that yucky hose (even if it completely cleaned) even put into our storage areas below the camper. The fact that it fits neatly into the rear bumper is awesome! Whoever designed that feature was a genius!
10. Have you found a reputable place to shop?
We initially shopped at Fun Town RV in Cleburne (an hour away). They are one of the biggest travel travel sellers in the country. We liked what we saw. However, we decided to purchase closer to home. That way if we have issues or need repairs done, it isn’t an hour trip to get it back to the facility for the repair. We went with United RV. We looked at reviews online, which I highly suggest. Don’t just look at the stars, but at the actual reviews and see how the dealership responded to any complaints. I was pleased with all that I read, even the complaints, as they offered solutions and personal phone numbers to their customers to help even further. Here is the review for United RV in Fort Worth, which is where we purchased and I highly recommend.
What I also liked about United (and I am sure most sellers do this) is that they gave us a full three hour walk through and lesson on how to use everything in the trailer. This gentlemen walked us through absolutely every component and showed us how it all worked. He was patient and answered all of our tedious questions. He spent more than three hours with us!
Let me know if you any questions on this topic of shopping for a travel trailer. Our experience was great, but I believe it is where we bought that helped make it such a positive experience.