The Ultimate Travel Trailer Buying Guide 2019: Every Question Answered
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Pack the car, grab a hitch, and take your travel trailer with you! Get all the comfort of an RV, but with the ease and flexibility of exploring in your tow vehicle. Although towing can be tricky, there are plenty of benefits to travel trailers. We’ve done all the research for you in this fully comprehensive guide. Learn all about travel trailers, right here! If you’re interested in exploring other types of RVs, check out our Ultimate Guide to Buying an RV.
What is a Travel Trailer?
Travel trailers are essentially towable RVs. Still designed to be spacious and luxurious, travel trailers may be towable, but they still have a lot to offer.
Travel trailers are the most popular and most varied types of towable RVs — pop-up campers, toy haulers, lightweight RVs, teardrop campers, and more — all towable by a standard ball hitch. They have solid walls and some models often feature a slide out or a section of the wall that pulls or motors out to create larger living areas when you are set up at the campsite. They even feature all the convenience of a homey RV including a kitchen, bathroom, dining, storage, and more.
The fact that travel trailers are towable gives them several advantages over “traditional” and larger Class A Motorhomes. Most models of travel trailers can be towed by mid-sized RVs, minivans, SUVs, and trucks that are equipped with a hitch. In fact, most lightweight composite models are designed for towing behind 6-cylinder family vehicles. There are so many options, the hardest part is picking just one!
- Small retro-inspired “teardrop” trailers are small and are essentially just a bed on wheels
- Small fiberglass trailers feature low maintenance designs
- Mid-priced and mid-sized travel trailers might give you the most for your money when it comes to space and features
- Iconic aluminum-bodied Airstream travel trailers are aerodynamic and easy to tow, but with a fancy look, they come at a fancy price
- Toy haulers have a big compartment in back to accommodate bicycles, motorcycles, ATVs and other large items
One of the most appealing things about owning or renting a travel trailer is that you easily detach them from the tow vehicle to use the vehicle for errands, adventures, and sightseeing while you’re RV is parked!
Let’s learn more about these awesome travel trailer RVs and what makes them so great for life on the road.
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Why get a travel trailer over another type of RV?
Travel trailers are the least expensive way to get into RVing. Because they are towable by SUVs, trucks, and more, they are a lot cheaper and much simpler to get started with than a full-size Class A motorhome. Travel trailers come in a wide range of designs and sizes and with an array of different features, you can find something for every budget.
The best reason to get a travel trailer? Travel trailers are especially great for life on the road because they offer a lot of flexibility when you get to the campground; you can unhitch them from your tow vehicle and leave them behind at the campsite so you can easily go exploring.
Benefits of a Travel Trailer
- Less expensive
- Easier to drive and maneuver
- Wide range of tow vehicles
- Variety of lengths, widths, and sizes
- Very little setup time
- Better fuel economy
- Flexibility to explore in your tow vehicle
Another great thing about travel trailers is the fact that they have tough, rigid walls that provide some insulation from cold and noise compared to more traditional pop-up trailers or tents. If you’re looking for a travel trailer, there are a wide range of options — new vs. used, floor plans, sizes, brands, conveniences and more.
Now that you know all the benefits of travel trailers, let’s dive into the costs.
What does a travel trailer cost?
On average, a new travel trailer can typically cost anywhere between $11,000 and $35,000 depending on the size, weight, floorplan, materials, features, and amenities. Travel trailers can be as low as $8,000 and as expensive as $65,000 to $150,000 depending on what you are looking for. Based on data from GoRollick, the average price of a travel trailer is $29,000.
If you’re wondering about how much it costs to own an RV, we breakdown the costs in our total cost of RV ownership article. Of course, you can get used travel trailers for much cheaper. Like cars and any other vehicle, RVs start depreciating as soon as they’re driven off the dealer’s lot, so a travel trailer that’s a few years old could be about 20% – 30% less than its original purchase price.
Learn about new vs. used travel trailers here where we break down the pros and cons of buying new vs. used.
Travel Trailer Manufacturers – Where do I start?
There are so many different RV manufacturers and brands in the industry, it can be difficult to know where to start. We’ve rounded up some of the top travel trailer manufacturers and brands to help you narrow it down.
Best Travel Trailer Brands and Manufacturers
- Forest River makes simple, durable and easy-to-use travel trailers with fiberglass walls and luxurious features. Forest River, Inc. is one of the largest manufacturers of quality RVs that offers a variety of models and floorplans.
- Airstream has been in business for over 80 years. They make top-of-the-line quality travel trailers with their well-renowned sleek and retro aluminum constructions. Check out the Airstream Sport or Airstream Classic and see if they fit your needs.
- Keystone RV offers high-quality, durable, and spacious travel trailers. Keystone RV is the #1 manufacturer of recreational vehicles in North America. The Keystone Passport Elite is an awesome travel trailer line with tons of unique features at a great price.
- Dutchmen is one of the most well-known brands in the recreational vehicle industry. They offer quality trailers and don’t sacrifice comfort for style. Much like the Passport Elite, the Dutchmen Aerolite is loaded with awesome features and offers 16 different floor plans.
- Jayco offers a variety of travel trailers that are spacious, easy to tow and easy to set up. Jayco is best known for their Jay Flight model, which first became available in 2001. Since 2005, the Jayco Jay Flight has been the #1 selling travel trailer brand.
These are just a few of the great travel trailer brands out there. Some other brands include Gulfstream, Heartland, Coachmen, Winnebago and more. Now that you know a little bit about RV manufacturers and brands, let’s dig into the different types and sizes of travel trailers.
These are just a few of the great travel trailer brands out there. Some other brands include Gulfstream, Eclipse, Heartland, Coachmen, Winnebago and more. Now that you know a little bit about RV manufacturers and brands, let’s dig into the different types and sizes of travel trailers.
Types of Travel Trailers – Size, Weight, and Length
Although travel trailers are only one subset of the RV family, they still come in a wide variety of options, including size, weight, and length. Some say that the fact that they have no engine gives you more living space, but that really depends on the size you are looking for and the features and amenities it offers.
- Small Travel Trailers are usually about 8-20 feet in length and under 5,000 lbs. They are about 7 feet wide and some offer slideout and popup features for more living space. An average travel trailer may cost you about $30,000.
- Lightweight Travel Trailers will typically be around 3,000 lbs or less and are about 10-30 feet in length. They are also about 7 feet wide and some offer more living space when set up.
- Luxury Travel Trailers are about 25-40+ feet in length for luxurious living space and at 5,000 – 8,000+ lbs, you won’t be missing any amenities or features. These luxury travel trailers do come at a luxurious price of $50,000 to $150,000.
- How long are travel trailers? 8 to 40+ feet. Average 10-15 feet
- How wide are travel trailers? Average: 7 feet
- How much do travel trailers weigh? 1,000 to 8,000+ lbs. Average: 5,000 lbs
- How many people can travel trailers sleep? Around 2-10 people
- How much do travel trailers cost: $10,000 to $150,000. Average: $30,000
MPG for Travel Trailers
Travel trailers are arguably the most economical RVs, as they have much lower profiles because they are towable. One of the biggest factors in towing fuel economy is the front cross-section of the trailer.
Travel trailers tend to average about 2-3mpg better fuel economy than 5th wheel RVs. Likewise, towing a loaded trailer also reduces the towing vehicle’s fuel efficiency by at least a couple miles per gallon. In fact, it could cut it by as much as half or more. Some owners of heavy trailers average about 8-10 mpg while towing, which can take a toll on your tow vehicle.
Be sure to factor in the savings you’ll get by having a smaller vehicle for everyday use as well!
Travel Trailer Maintenance
Travel trailer maintenance is about the same as RV motorhome maintenance. Let’s start off by answering a few questions.
- How often do you need to maintain your travel trailer? After each trip or at least once per month.
- Where can you maintain your travel trailer? You can do the routine maintenance yourself or take it to a body shop if you aren’t one to get your hands dirty.
Here are some tips for travel trailer maintenance:
- Wash your trailer often, especially after each trip, and open vents
- Check the condition of your battery at least once per month and before each trip
- Drain your black and gray water waste tanks after each trip
- Drain the fresh water tank at least once per month and keep the others well maintained (routine after each trip). There are usually three different water tanks on an RV: fresh water, grey and black. As the name suggests, one tank is for freshwater. This is the water that comes out of your taps. Next is the grey water tank, which holds the dirty water from your RV shower and kitchen sink. Finally, there is a black water tank, which holds waste water from the toilet.
- Check the condition and pressure of your tires at least once per month and before each trip to avoid any problems on the road
Of course, maintenance varies depending on how often you use your travel trailer, but these steps should be taken in order to maintain the condition. This brings us to travel trailer storage.
Travel Trailer Storage
Where are you storing your travel trailer? How are you storing it? We’ve got your answers covered.
There are a few options for travel trailer storage, and as they are smaller than your traditional class A, B, and C RVs you won’t need to rent such a large garage space if you are going that route.
- Covers: An RV cover can cost $50-$300 or more, depending on size, materials, and fit. If you are using a cover you can store your travel trailer in your driveway, garage, or backyard (depending on HOA restrictions).
- Renting garage space: Renting an RV storage space can cost $20-$100 a month outdoors and around $45-$450 a month indoors. If your travel trailer can fit in your garage, you won’t have to worry about renting a space!
Check out our RV Storage Checklist: How to Store Your RV for the Winter for further guidance on travel trailer and RV storage.
Towing a Travel Trailer
One thing about travel trailers is that they have to be towed. Luckily, depending on the size, some travel trailers can be towed by a 6-cylinder sedan, SUV, pick-up truck, or even a minivan.
It is important to match the loaded weight of the RV to the towing capacity of the tow vehicle. However, we recommend you give yourself a buffer of no less than 1,000 lbs between what you are actually towing and what your vehicle says you can tow. Sometimes vehicle manufacturers can be extremely generous in their tow ratings, causing you to end up with a busted transmission or a burned out engine — things you don’t want on the road.
You can’t tow without a hitch! Adding a standard ball trailer hitch to a tow vehicle can cost around $50-$700. If the trailer is wider than your tow vehicle, extended side view mirrors start at $4-$80 per pair for models that clamp onto the existing side mirrors, or $150-$450 for permanently installed towing mirrors.
Check with your dealer or owner’s manual for further details and have the tow hitch professionally installed if you need the help.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to check the ball size on your hitch! Most travel trailers use a 2 5/16″ ball size. That’s larger than the ball size for most utility trailers or boats.
How do I haul kayaks with a travel trailer?
There are a few different options you have for transporting kayaks with a travel trailer.
- Use a roof mounted rack on top of your car. If your tow vehicle is a pick-up truck, you can use an over cab truck rack.
- Make your own dual kayak and bike rack on the back of your travel trailer.
How do I haul a motorcycle with a travel trailer?
- If your tow vehicle is a pick-up truck, transport your motorcycle in your truck bed. If you are going this route, make sure your rear axle can carry that much weight and be careful getting it up there.
- You can also haul and attach your motorcycle or dirt bikes to the back of your travel trailer using a hitch mounted motorcycle carrier. Don’t forget to check the weight limit and add stabilizers and support straps if you need them.
For both kayaks and motorcycles, you can also consider triple towing if you’re comfortable towing more than one trailer behind your vehicle. That means you would be towing another smaller toy hauler trailer behind your travel trailer.
Pro Tip: Driving with a trailer can be challenging. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists safety tips for driving with a trailer.
New vs. Used Travel Trailers
On average, new travel trailers run for about $20-40K MSRP and used travel trailers run for about $3-10K MSRP. This, of course, varies dramatically based on the type and brand of travel trailer you purchase, as well as the features and amenities it offers or that you choose to add on.
New Travel Trailers
Pros: New travel trailers are in perfect condition and come with a limited warranty. You may also be offered better financing and better deals if you are buying new.
Cons: They start depreciating the second you ride them off the lot and they come at a higher purchase price.
Used Travel Trailers
Pros: Used travel trailers will come at a cheaper purchase price and they may even come with newer upgrades from previous owners. Used travel trailers are also more “broken-in” for a smooth ride and a comfier trip.
Cons: You can run into some hidden problems with any used vehicles and they may require more maintenance due to the previous ownership and age of the vehicle.
What should I look for if I am interested in a used travel trailer?
Make sure that the previous owners kept up on maintenance and servicing, as you want to make sure you are making a purchase that is towable and worth the money. This includes checking the tires, water, battery, and overall condition of the vehicle.
Always buy a used travel trailer from a dealer rather than a private owner, so you can be sure you are getting your money’s worth. This will also ensure you are aware of any damage etc.
What are reliable/safe sites to purchase a used travel trailer on?
Start off by looking online and visiting your local dealer lots for barely used inventory. You can also purchase a used travel trailer on the following sites:
- NadaGuides.com provides a tool to estimate prices
- Changingears.com describes determining a fair market price and provides a checklist for inspecting a new or used RV
Want more info? We break it all down here in our RV Buying Guide: Buying a New RV vs. Buying a Used RV.
Ready to search inventory? Check out GoRollick’s nationwide network of used inventory.
Use our guide How to Take Advantage of Powersport and RV Manufacturer Incentives on Your Next Vehicle Purchase to get the most bang for your buck. When you’re ready to buy, check out our list of the latest available incentives.
What to Know Before You Buy
Before you purchase a travel trailer, or any type of RV, it is paramount that you do your research on financing. These vehicles are not cheap, and most of us will have to take out a loan and finance the cost of an RV. Not sure where to start? Check out our Definitive Guide to Getting an RV Loan. Unsure of your credit, but still really want to invest in that RV? Don’t worry, you have options and we did all the research for you. Read the Definitive Guide to Bad Credit RV Loans, too.
Renting Travel Trailers
We get it, ownership is hard work. Travel trailer rentals, also known as vacation trailer rentals, have become more popular with travelers in recent years, due to the high level of convenience they offer. It’s less maintenance for you and more time for fun!
Travel trailer models that are available for rent are typically made to be pulled behind a truck or large SUV, although some smaller units can even be towed behind your regular car!
- Can I rent a travel trailer? Yes!
- How much does it cost? You need to consider the cost per night and the miles you will be driving, as well as whether or not things like utensils and bedding are included in your rental. The average cost of a travel trailer rental is about $50-$190 a night.
- Where do I go to rent a travel trailer? Outdoorsy is a great resource for renting travel trailers.
- Do I need insurance if I rent? Yes, you will typically need to purchase RV rental insurance if you are renting, which would be tacked onto your daily rate. With travel trailers, or towables, the liability portion of your coverage is mostly provided by the tow vehicle. Therefore, while liability is afforded to your towable, it is far less likely to be a claim issue.
Thinking about renting? Renting is a great way to try out different models of travel trailers to find one suitable for your needs!
Where to Park Travel Trailers
If you are full-time travelers, chances are you’ll be parking your RV at campgrounds across the country. If you are weekenders, you’re going to need to find a spot to park your travel trailer when you are not using it.
- Garage Space
- RV Parks and Campgrounds
All of these options should be fine to park your travel trailer in nightly or even permanently.
If you live somewhere where there are harsh winters and you are parking your travel trailer outside, you might need to consider a few other things, or park your travel trailer inside somewhere seasonally. See our section on travel trailer storage for further guidance.
Check out our list of the Top 10 Best RV Parks in America and find out where you should park your travel trailer for your next RV trip! RV Parks and campgrounds range from $15 a night to $45-$50 a night.
Other Travel Trailer Costs
Are there any costs associated with a travel trailer that are not associated with other RV types?
The only additional cost you need to worry about specific to travel trailers is whether or not you have a vehicle capable of towing your travel trailer. If you do, is it equipped with the right hitch, etc? A standard ball trailer hitch to the tow vehicle can cost $50-$700. If you don’t have a vehicle capable of towing, you will have to invest in one.
You may also need to increase towing stability depending on your vehicle and the trailer size. Stabilizing hitches can run about $400. In addition to stability, you might also need to spend money (about $200) on electric brake control in order to control the brakes on the trailer.
One thing you aren’t going to have to worry about is RV insurance. Because liability is covered under your car insurance on your tow vehicle, most states do not require insurance on towable RVs. If you do get travel trailer insurance, it can cost you about $250.00 to $500.00 per year depending on the company select and the options you include.
However, this is not to say we do not still recommend insurance on a travel trailer. Better safe than sorry, right? Considering the investment you likely made purchasing your RV, and the potential risks of owning a large recreational vehicle, having the peace of mind of insurance might still be a good call.
Full-Time Travel Trailer Living
Travel trailers offer the ability and flexibility to be on the go anywhere. There are so many different types, sizes, and brands to choose from. If you’re thinking about full-time travel trailer living, we have all your burning questions answered.
What do I need in a travel trailer if I want to use it for full-time living?
Coachmen and Forest River offer nice travel trailer options for full-time living. However, depending on what you are looking for, you can find a suitable trailer for your needs from any brand.
Some features you should look for:
- Wifi Booster
- Outside grill or speakers
- Solar prep
- Spare tire carrier
- LED lights
- Storage space
- Roof Vents
What do I need to know if I am interested in full-time travel trailer living?
If you’re looking to get into full-time RV living, we have a great Beginner’s Guide to Full-Time RV Living: 8 Ultimate Tips for Life on the Road that is chock-full of all the information you need.
Tips for Full-Time Travel Trailer Living
- Layout matters, not size!
- Look for slide outs to offer more living space
- Buy a generator
- Buy a battery charger
- Get solar panels
- Be mindful of the restroom
- Use little water
- Buy 6-gallon water tanks to fill for backup
- Keep it organized
- Keep things you need on the road in the car
- Get a portable garage for protection
Worried about the long hours you might spend in the RV getting from place to place? Check out our Top 10 RV Games to Play with your Family to get some ideas on how to pass the time.
Travel trailers are great options for RVing if you want the freedom and flexibility of exploring like a true weekend (or even full-time) traveler in your tow vehicle without having to disconnect your electric, sewer, and water! Detach these awesome vehicles from the hitch, set them up at your campsite, and leave them behind to run errands and sightsee. There is a wide variety of travel trailers, so take your pick.