Travel trailer basics

Travel Trailer Basics

Eighty-five percent of recreational vehicles are travel trailers, a broad family of RVs to fit the vacation and living needs of a diverse group of consumers. If you’re new to RV travel, here’s what you need to know about Travel Trailer Basics.

Travel Trailer 101

Travel trailer 101

A travel trailer is simply a non-motorized vehicle with living quarters; it trails behind a tow vehicle. Travel trailers also are called towable recreational vehicles or towable RVs. All they have in common is that general description.

A conventional travel trailer is 12 to 35 feet in length and sleeps up to 10. It is towed by a motorized vehicle (sedan, SUV, pickup) using a rear hitch and safety equipment. A fifth-wheel travel trailer is 21 to 30 feet in length and sleeps up to 8. It is towed using a “fifth-wheel” hitch mounted in the bed of a pickup truck.

A folding camp trailer is 8 to 24 feet long and sleeps up to 6. Lighter in weight and more aerodynamic, it can be towed by a sedan or crossover vehicle. A park model trailer is up to 10 feet by 40 feet in size and is designed without water tanks to serve as a towable temporary residence.

Each of these travel trailer types has variations. Conventional travel trailers can have expandable areas at the front and/or rear of the trailer or include slide-out areas on the sides.

Conventional and fifth-wheel trailers can have sport-utility rooms at the rear for motorcycles or off-road vehicles, accessible by a drop-down ramp. Some models also offer drop-down decks at the rear or curbside for increased living space.

Choose a Travel Trailer

A travel trailer parked near the lake

All travel trailers have similar features: a kitchen, bathroom sleeping area, and storage. Some models offer more living space, lower towing weight, room for toys, expanded sleeping areas, or other amenities for a variety of camping situations. To choose the best travel trailer for your use, ask:

  • What is the type and Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your towing vehicle (you may need to upgrade your vehicle)?
  • Are you (and others in your camping group) comfortable driving a towed vehicle or can you get training?
  • How many people and pets will be traveling and camping in the RV?
  • How long will the camping trips be (days and miles per year)?
  • Where will the trips be (city, mountains, snow, desert, rural)?
  • New or used (used offers dramatic savings, but more maintenance and repair issues)?
  • What type of bathroom (a “wet bath” with toilet below the shower or full bath with separate shower, toilet, sink, and storage)?
  • Where will you store the travel trailer (at home is cheaper and more convenient)?
  • Will you camp at commercial campgrounds, basic public campgrounds, or dry camp/boondock (dry camping requires solar or generator electricity and a larger water system)?
  • What services will you need while camping (water, electricity, propane) and how will you get it (onboard tanks, plug-in electricity, generator, solar)?
  • What is your RV camping budget?

Travel Trailer Tips

A recreational travel trailer on the highway
  • Conventional travel trailers are the most popular for vacationing and are relatively less expensive than fifth-wheel and sport-utility trailers.
  • Fifth-wheel trailers are easier to tow for their size than conventional trailers, but require a pickup truck for towing.
  • Folding camp trailers are the least expensive and easiest to tow, but are not sufficiently insulated for cold-climate camping.
  • Park model trailers are popular for seasonal living in mobile home and extended-stay parks. If necessary, they can be towed to new sites by a trailer towing service saving you owning a tow vehicle.
  • Make sure your tow vehicle is more than adequate to pull your travel trailer through the type of terrain in which you will be camping.
  • Be sure that you have the equipment and wiring needed to safely tow your travel trailer — and that you know how to use it.

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Newbie Guide to Travel Trailer Campground Setup (Video)

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