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How to Choose a Travel Trailer

How to Choose the Right Travel Trailer

Choosing the right travel trailer can be a bit overwhelming with all the options out there. In my experience, the key is to balance your needs, preferences, and budget to find the best fit for your adventures. There are many types of travel trailers, from compact to large, so it’s important to know what features matter most to you.

For instance, if you love cooking on the road, you’ll want a trailer with a well-equipped kitchen, while those who plan to stay in one place for longer periods might prioritize spacious living areas and plenty of storage. If you are like us and plan to travel with kids, bunk beds are the way to go. 

Remember, the right trailer is not the same for everyone. In this article, I will try to give you a few ideas to consider so you can make a better choice when picking the best travel trailer for you and your family.

Key Takeaways

  • Balance your needs, preferences, and budget.
  • Consider the features that matter most.
  • Visit dealerships to explore different models.

Table of Contents

Determining Your Needs

Choosing the right travel trailer can be tough. It’s important to know how you plan to use it, who will be using it, and whether your vehicle can handle it.

Travel Plans and Frequency

First, think about how often and where you’ll use your travel trailer. If you plan to travel often, it’s worth investing in a more durable trailer with better amenities. For short trips close to home, a lighter and simpler trailer might be sufficient.

Ask yourself if you’ll be camping in RV parks or state parks where full hook-ups are normally offered, or plan to do a lot of boondocking. Each setting may require different features, like high clearance or generator. Frequent travelers and boondockers might also appreciate features like solar panels or larger water tanks to extend off-grid time.

Number of Occupants

Consider how many people will be using the trailer. If it’s just you or you and a partner, a smaller trailer might be sufficient. Larger families or groups need more space, so look for trailers with more sleeping areas and seating.

Many travel trailers are designed for two to four people, but there are options for larger groups. Look for configurations with bunk beds, convertible dining areas, or even separate sleeping quarters. Everyone needs a different level of comfort, so how much space you need is always relative. 

Towing Vehicle Compatibility

Make sure your vehicle can tow the trailer you choose. Check the towing capacity of your vehicle and compare it to the trailer’s weight. This includes the dry weight of the trailer and the weight of everything you’ll put inside, like water, food, and gear.

Using a trailer that’s too heavy for your vehicle can be dangerous and may damage the vehicle. It’s not just about the weight; consider the size and aerodynamics of the trailer, too. A well-matched trailer and tow vehicle will make your trips smoother and safer.

As a general rule, it’s not recommended to tow more than 80% of your vehicle towing capacity. This way you have some extra room when the road gets steep or the weather conditions are not perfect.

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Understanding Different Types of Trailers

When picking the right travel trailer, it’s key to know the differences between trailer types and sizes. I’ll break it down into two main comparisons.

Travel Trailers vs. Fifth Wheels

Travel trailers are the most common type. They hook up to the tow hitch on your car or truck. There’s a range in size and weight, so you’ll find something that fits your vehicle.

Fifth wheels, on the other hand, connect to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck. This makes them more stable on the road. They also often have more living space and storage. The downside? You normally need a bigger truck to tow them, they are more expensive and they’re also very high, which can be a problem when accessing boondocking spots or driving under bridges. 

Lightweight vs. Full-Size Models

Lightweight models are great for smaller vehicles or those who want better fuel efficiency. These trailers are easier to tow and maneuver. They don’t have as many amenities, but they’re perfect for short trips or small families.

Full-size models come loaded with features. Think spacious kitchens, multiple sleeping areas, and even sometimes laundry facilities. They do require a bigger vehicle to tow and you’ll need more space to store them. But if you’re looking for a home-on-wheels, this is the way to go.

Explora America on a Travel Trailer

Key Features and Amenities

When choosing a travel trailer, there are several key features and amenities to consider. It’s important to think about the kitchen and bathroom facilities, sleeping arrangements, and storage options to ensure the trailer meets your needs.

Kitchen and Bathroom Facilities

If you like cooking or you’re traveling as a family, a well-equipped kitchen can make your trips much more enjoyable. Look for a travel trailer with a decent-sized refrigerator, so you can store enough food for your trips. A 6 cubic foot fridge is a common size that balances space and capacity well, but if you can, the bigger the better. We have a 10 cubic foot fridge in our travel trailer, and we love having all that space. Many trailers also come with a small freezer for ice and frozen items.

Cooking appliances like a stove, oven, and microwave are essential. Check if the trailer has a dual-burner stove (three burners is even better) and a small oven for baking. This will allow you to cook a variety of meals on the go. Additionally, ensure there’s enough counter space for food preparation and adequate storage for utensils and cookware.

The bathroom is another critical area. A compact but functional bathroom with a shower, toilet, and sink can make all the difference. Some trailers come with a wet bath, where the shower, toilet, and sink share the same space, saving room. I hate that configuration, but I understand its functionality if you’re trying to go lighter with a compact trailer. Most people we’ve met on the road, have a more traditional setup with separate spaces for each.

Sleeping Arrangements

Comfortable sleeping arrangements are crucial after a day of exploring. Many travel trailers offer a variety of sleeping options. The main bed is typically a queen or king size, providing ample space for a restful night’s sleep. Some smaller trailers may have a double or twin bed to save space.

For additional sleeping options, look for convertible dinettes and sofa beds. These can easily transform from seating areas to extra beds, making them perfect for accommodating guests or family members.

Bunk beds are another popular feature, especially in family-friendly trailers. They maximize space and offer kids their own sleeping area. Make sure the mattresses are of decent quality to ensure comfort.

Storage and Expandability

One of the best features of a travel trailer is the available storage. Look for a trailer with plenty of cabinet space, under-bed storage, and exterior storage compartments. This will help you organize your gear and keep everything in its place during your travels.

Some trailers, those called toy-haulers, come with a large lockable garage space in the rear, ideal for storing bikes, kayaks, and other outdoor equipment. This feature is particularly helpful for those who love adventure sports.

Expandability is another key aspect. Look for trailers with slide-outs that increase living space when parked. These can make a huge difference in creating a more comfortable and spacious interior.

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Budget Considerations

When choosing the right travel trailer, it’s important to think about your budget. This includes deciding between new and used options, considering ongoing maintenance costs, and accounting for insurance and registration fees.

New vs. Used Options

Buying a new travel trailer can be exciting. Everything is fresh and under warranty. You don’t have to worry about wear and tear from previous owners, or any hidden surprises. New trailers come with the latest features and tech, but they often come with a higher price tag.

On the other hand, used travel trailers can save a lot of money upfront. These trailers might not have the latest gadgets, but they can be a solid choice if you’re on a  budget. Just make sure you do your homework to make sure the trailer is in good shape. Checking for any signs of damage or wear is essential.

Long-Term Maintenance Costs

Owning a travel trailer isn’t just about the initial purchase. Keeping it in good shape will cost you over time. Tires, brakes, and other parts need regular upkeep. If you’re not handy, hiring a professional can add up.

You should set aside some money each year for these costs. A well-maintained trailer will keep me on the road longer, reducing unexpected breakdowns. Routine checks and minor repairs can prevent bigger, more expensive problems later on.

Insurance and Registration Fees

Just like your car, a travel trailer needs insurance. This protects you financially if something goes wrong, like an accident or theft. Insurance costs vary depending on the trailer’s value, size and state you register it. You definitely need to shop around and compare policies to get the best deal.

Registration fees are another cost to keep in mind. These fees can differ from state to state, so it’s important to check local laws. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

When choosing a travel trailer, there are many details to think about, from living space needs to the best times to strike a deal. Here are some frequently asked questions that can help make your decision easier.

What should I look for when selecting a travel trailer for full-time living?

When picking a travel trailer for full-time living, you should look at the layout, storage space, and durability. A spacious layout with a good-sized kitchen and bathroom is essential. Also, consider the build quality to handle long-term use.

Could you suggest some key questions to ask a seller before purchasing a travel trailer?

If buying a used one, I would recommend to ask about the trailer’s service history, any major repairs, and the age of key components like batteries or electronics. It’s also good to ask about the warranty and any included accessories or upgrades.

What are some top travel trailer choices recommended by seasoned RVers?

Among seasoned RVers, models like the Airstream Classic, Jayco Jay Flight, and Grand Design Imagine are highly recommended. We own a Grand Designs Imagine and absolutely love it. These trailers are known for their build quality, comfort, and customer satisfaction. You can learn more about recommended trailers here.

What are the important factors to consider when shopping for a used travel trailer?

Checking the condition of the roof, flooring, and appliances are critical when buying used. I always inspect for water damage and ask for maintenance records. Knowing how the trailer was stored and its previous use is also important.

Can you help me understand how to determine the best travel trailer size for my needs?

To determine the best size, think about how many people will use the trailer. A smaller trailer might be easier to tow and park, but a larger one offers more living space and storage. Your towing vehicle’s capacity is also a key factor.

When is it typically the best time of year to get a great deal on an RV?

I find that the best deals often come at the end of the RV season in the fall or early winter. Dealers are more likely to discount models from the current or previous year to make room for new inventory. That’s how we bought our brand new travel trailer, at 35% discount.


Antonio was born and raised in Southern Spain, and quit his job in 2013 to travel the world full-time with his wife Amanda for 10 years straight. Their passion for adventure took them to visit 150+ countries. Today, they’re currently working their way to visit every state and National Park in the USA traveling with a travel trailer.

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