How to Buy a Travel Trailer or RV (Without buyer’s remorse!)


Camping is an excellent way to find adventure and to explore nature. So take a step outside your house and into your new travel trailer!

Travel trailers can be a wonderful addition to any adventure seeking family. However, finding and purchasing the perfect travel trailer for your family can be more difficult than getting your kids to soccer practice on time!

From my experiences purchasing travel trailers, I have created the ULTIMATE buyer’s guide to help you find the perfect travel trailer or RV for you. Below you will find everything I wish I had known to look for when I first set foot on the camper lot.

1. Cover the Basic Questions

Guess what the average length of time a new RV buyer will keep that brand new RV? Studies say only about 2.4 years. That’s it. The point is that almost all of us experience surprises when purchasing an RV that makes us want to change our minds.

I made the same mistake. I bought a brand new travel trailer for my family. We used it for one year and loved camping so much that I wanted to get dirt bikes. Uh oh. They didn’t fit in my trailer, so I sold it and bought a toy hauler. Oh, and I realized I hated not having a separate bedroom for my wife and I so I could relax or take a nap when I needed a break from the (awesome) kids we have.

Before you jump into which brand and model to pick, I want you to step back and really consider what you want your RV to do for you so you can make the right choice.

Buying a new travel trailer can cost a pretty penny and should not be done on a whim.

Before you start looking into the specifics of the travel trailer for you, you need to know the “who, what, when, where, and why” of your trailer first.

  • Who are you going to take with you in your new travel trailer?
  • What do you want your travel trailer to be able to do?
  • When do you plan on using your travel trailer?
  • Where do you plan on taking your travel trailer?
  • Why are you wanting to buy a travel trailer?

Once you know the answers to these questions you can begin looking into the specifics of travel trailers to find the perfect one for you!

2. Know the Different Styles of Travel Trailers

Step back. Most people immediately think they know what type of RV they want. You may be certain you want a travel trailer right now, but if we remember that statistically, RV buyers only keep their choice for under 3 years, then we should step back and really consider all the different types.

Check out this video where Jim Harmer from Camper Report explains all the different types and classes of RVs to choose from.

3. Can Your Vehicle Tow It?

Before purchasing your new travel trailer take a look into the owner’s manual of your vehicle. Inside it should tell you exactly how much is too much for your trailer to tow.

You should never buy a travel trailer that is too much for your vehicle to tow. Doing so is dangerous and can cause damage to both the trailer and the vehicle.

Wondering what trailers your vehicle can tow? Check out the towing capacity of your truck in your owner’s manual! Every truck is different and the towing capacity will be unique as well!

Need more information on truck sizes and towing capacity? Here is Everything You Need To Know About Truck Sizes and towing capacity.

Please keep in mind that you should never buy an RV that puts you anywhere near the max tow capacity of your tow vehicle. There are plenty of exceptions, but I personally like to have at least 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of margin between what I’m towing and the max advertised tow capacity of the vehicle.

4. Set A Budget (and stick to it!)

A travel trailer is often referred to as one’s “second home” (and for good reason!).

Travel trailers often cost thousands of dollars and require either an excellent savings plan prior to purchase or a strategic loan.

Whether you save the money for your travel trailer before or after purchasing it, you are going to need to set a budget and to stick to it.

Do NOT walk onto the trailer lot without a maximum price in mind.

My first time I went looking for a new travel trailer I was astonished by all the options and their special features. However, after taking a closer look at the price tag, I realized that the camper I had already fallen in love with was no where near my price range.

In your budget, you should ensure that you are using the travel trailer often enough so that the average cost per night is cheaper than you would often spend in a hotel room.

Decide how many times a year you would use your travel trailer and divide the initial price by that number. This is your average cost per night. If the cost is way higher than a hotel room, you either need to camp more! or to find a cheaper trailer.

Keep in mind that the initial purchase of the travel trailer will not be the last bill you pay while enjoying your adventures.

Your travel trailer budget should account for the fact you will be paying for food to cook with, gas to travel with, and the reservation costs of campgrounds.

So have an idea of how much you are willing to spend and if possible, shoot for under that!

You can find a travel trailer that exceeds your desires and is well underneath your budget, guaranteed!

Find the perfect sources for saving up or finding a loan for your travel trailer right here!

5. Buying New or Used

While you are establishing your budget a good thing to think about is whether or not you are going to be buying a new or used travel trailer.

There are pros and cons to either choice.

When purchasing a new travel trailer everything is in working order and ready to go camping right off the lot. However, the newer trailers can come at a higher price and often come with higher licensing and insurance prices.

Purchasing an older trailer is cheaper, comes with lower insurance rates, and gives you the opportunity to either enjoy the past or remodel it into something new. The only downsides to getting an older or used trailer is that there may be underlying damage that both you and the owner may be aware of.

Be cautious when purchasing a used trailer that it has not been in any previous wrecks or accidents and that all systems are in fact operating properly.

6. Plan for Excess Sleeping Arrangements

You have already counted the number of people in your family and decided that your new travel trailer only needs to sleep that many people. Well, think again!

Camping is a lot of fun and is an activity that should be enjoyed both with your family and friends!

Kids will often want to bring friends along and you never know if a family member from out of town will join you on your next camping trip.

So count the total number of people that will regularly be staying in your travel trailer with you, and then plan for a few extras!

Pro Tip: If you have some furry friends that you will be bringing along with you, make sure they have comfortable sleeping arrangements as well! No room for a dog bed? Look for a trailer that does!

7. Pick the Perfect Floor Plan

When picking how large of floor plan you want your travel trailer to have, you should first consider how much time all your passengers will be spending inside together.

Camping should encourage you to spend most of your free time outdoors participating in fun activities; however, late night board games are always a family favorite in our travel trailer!

As well as room for people, include in your floor plan any large objects that will accompany you on your next camping trip.

Your floor plan should be both comfortable for your entire family and affordable for your budget.

If a larger trailer is not in your budget, look into travel trailers that include either slide or pullouts.

These are areas of the floor that while driving are slid into the travel trailer to create a smaller more compact trailer during transport. However, when the trailer is parked these sections slide out opening up the floor plan of the travel trailer!

Remember to include room for pets in your floor plan!

Pro Tip: Ask the salesman on the trailer lot (or whoever you are buying it from) to show you how easy (or difficult) using the slide on the travel trailer is. Some systems are more efficient than others, while others may require more work.

8. Make Excellent Use of Space and Storage

At the moment you may not know every single item that you plan on bringing with you camping.

However, making sure that your new travel trailer has enough storage for your families belongings, food, dishes, and recreational items is extremely important.

The best travel trailers have some extra overhead cupboards where bags, blankets, board games, and other small items can be put away.

Another storage option to look for in your travel trailer is a pantry. While travel trailers will not have a pantry large enough for you to walk in, having some extra room for food is an important use of space in your travel trailer.

To make better use of the space you have in your travel trailer, use storage bins to keep items organized and compact.

Pro Tip: For better kitchen storage look into some collapsible dishes or “smaller” dishes that take up less of the space in your cupboards.

9. Know What Systems You Want Your Travel Trailer to Have

Travel trailers are not made equally. You should have a good idea what systems and appliances you want in your new travel trailer before you go looking for a new trailer.

Not only will this give you an idea of what you will be purchasing, but it aids the sales representative in finding the travel trailer that perfectly suits your needs.

Some basic systems to make sure your travel trailer includes are: a bathroom, a kitchen area, air conditinoing, and a refrigerator.

You then need to decide whether it is important or not for your travel trailer to include things such as a shower, bathtub, microwave, or a gas or electric appliance system.

Most stoves and refrigerators in travel trailers run on gas or have a hybrid system of both electric and gas powering them.

10. Choose Between Power Sources

Newer travel trailers have many different options for how to store and use power while traveling.

These options are becoming increasingly more environmentally conscious as well!

If you want an easy way to power your travel trailer without all the fuss of finding a power box to plug into, check out some solar options! Not only is it environmentally friendly, but charging your camper requires little effort on your part. You can charge your travel trailer while driving down the road!

Looking for a simpler way to power your travel trailer? Most travel trailers will come equipped with a battery, power cord, and propane set up.

You need only to ensure that there is propane in your tanks and that you plug your travel trailer in before hitting the road.

While generators may be a little loud, using one is an easy way to power your travel trailer! With a simple plug directly from the trailer to the generator, all you need to do is start the generator.

Be sure the generator you pick is equipped to sustain the maximum amount of voltage your travel trailer can put out.

Some campgrounds may have regulations and restrictions for generator use as well. Read each campgrounds rules and regulations thoroughly before parking your travel trailer there!

Do not fear! If your battery is running low, cannot sustain your energy output, and you do not have a generator with you, most campgrounds will have an electric hookup that you can use for a small fee!

11. Look for Some Bonus Features!

While camping in a travel trailer is based off of “roughing it,” there is no shame in “glamping” a little! (Glamourous Camping)

When you hit the travel trailer lot, look for some bonus features that will make your camping experience epic!

Some features to watch out for are:

  • A Television Set
  • An Entertainment Center
  • Stereo System
  • Outdoor Televisions
  • Grills
  • An Extendable Canopy
  • “Porch” Lights
  • Outdoor Speaker System
  • A Larger Kitchen
  • Hardwood Floors
  • Washer and Dryer

While enjoying nature is a large part of your travel trailer experience, so is being comfortable!

So choose a few bonus features for your new travel trailer to have and explore the world campground by campground in comfort AND style!

12. Manageable Maintenance

Before purchasing a travel trailer, be sure that you will be able to complete any routine maintenance.

Routine maintenance may include (but is not limited to):

  • Filling and Draining Water Tanks
  • Dumping Sewage
  • Winterizing Pipes
  • Cleaning the Interior
  • Cleaning the Exterior

If completing all these tasks is hard for you to complete due to the size of your travel trailer, downsize to make it more manageable.

For more information and tips on cleaning and maintenance of your travel trailer check out this Maintenance Guide.

Remember You’ll Need to Buy Lots of Accessories for Your New RV

After purchasing your travel trailer, there are a few items you should make sure your trailer is stocked up on and a few others that bringing along will make your camping experience truly epic!

Check out our Ultimate Packing List before setting out on your next trip to make sure nothing necessary gets left behind.

Be sure to check out our “Specialty Items” section to find the items to make your camping experience as relaxing as possible.

Kitchen

  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Cups
  • Mugs
  • Silverware
  • Cooking Utensils
  • Pots and Pans
  • Cutting Board
  • Can Opener
  • Bottle Opener
  • Napkins
  • Paper Plates
  • Plastic Silverware
  • Dish Drying Rack

Bathroom

  • Towels
  • First Aid Kit
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Toiletries
  • Travel Trailer Safe Toilet Paper
  • Toilet Chemicals
  • Baby Wipes
  • Hand Sanitizer

Living

  • Sheets
  • Pillows
  • Blankets
  • Extra Blankets
  • Movies
  • Boardgames
  • Books
  • Deck of Cards

Outdoor

  • Lawn Chairs
  • Bikes (if possible)
  • Bug Spray
  • Citronella Candles
  • Frisbee
  • Other Lawn Games

Maintenance

  • Jack Pads
  • Wheel Chocks
  • Sewage Drain Tubes
  • A Level
  • Hitch Lock
  • Tool Kit

Cleaning

  • Dish Soap
  • Clorox Wipes
  • Dish Rags
  • Sponges
  • Paper Towels
  • Broom
  • Dustpan

Specialty Items

Besides the necessary items, there are some items that will make living in a smaller space both fun and easy!

A Camping List to Consider Magnet

This camping list magnet adds a nice touch to your camper or rv. It also makes a great thoughtful gift for all of your camp site friends!

A Camping List to Consider MagnetOpens in a new tab. for $3.80

Collapsible Dishes

I learned about this hack in college. With lots of dishes and a limited amount of space having some dishes that are capable of taking up less space and still fulfilling their purpose is a necessity!

Here is some of my favorite collapsible dishes for an affordable price!

Thin Bins Collapsible Containers – Set of 4 ($19.99)

2 Collapsible Colanders (Strainers) ($12.89)

Set of 4 Collapsible Silicone Measuring Cups and 4 Measuring Spoons ($9.49)

Do not forget a drying rack for your dishes either! Not enough room in your travel trailer for a full size drying rack? Check out this collapsible one!

Collapsible Dish Drying Rack ($19.99)

Hand Vacuum

While taking your travel trailer out into nature is immense amounts of fun, it can also track a lot of dirt or lead to lots of spills.

Be sure you are prepared for any mess that comes your way with a hand vacuum.

Portable Handheld Vacuum Cleaner Cordless ($51.99)

Kitchen Organizers

One of the smallest spaces in most travel trailers is the kitchen. Take advantage of the smaller space with some of these handy dandy kitchen organizers!

Stackable Can Rack ($21.87)

Pan and Pot Lid Organizer Rack Holder ($14.87)

Stackable 2 Tier Sliding Basket Organizer Drawer ($26.87)S

Fridge Bins and Freezer Organizer ($34.99)

Stainless Steel Kitchen Storage Rack Cupboard Hanging Hook Shelf ($9.98)

2-Tier Kitchen Spice Rack ($14.87)

Bathroom Organizers

The next smallest space in travel trailers is the bathroom. Space can become especially limited when multiple people are asked to share this one small bathroom.

Keep everyone happy and the bathroom organized with a few of these organizing kits!

Metal Over Door Hair Care & Styling Tool Storage Organizer Basket ($12.99)

Hanging Mesh Bath Shower Caddy Organizer ($8.98)

2-Tier Organizer Rack ($25.99)

Closet Organizers

Make perfect use of all the small storage areas such as closets in your travel trailer in order to make room for all of your passengers’ coats and clothes.

5 Shelves Hanging Closet Organizer ($12.87)

4 Section Fabric Closet Organizer ($22.99)

Over Door/Wall Mount 4 Clear Window Pocket Organizer ($14.87)

Shoe Pan

Many people will walk through the door and kick their shoes off right there (since there is not much space to do so elsewhere in travel trailers.

However, walking through the front door and tripping on a pile of shoes be quite frustrating.

Avoid the anger with a shoe pan or shoe rack put right by the door!

Multi-Purpose Indoor & Outdoor Waterproof Tray ($8.46)

2-Tier Resin Slat Utility Shoe Rack ($23.99)

Where To Go Camping?

Wondering where you are able to take your new travel trailer? Chances are there is a campsite right around the corner from you!

Check out our map below to find some of the most popular campsites near you!

Find the campsites that are close to you by checking out Free Campsites website.

Some of the most beautiful places to take your travel trailer are into the National Parks. Yellowstone offers a camping experience chock full of wildlife and geysers, while other parks such as Zion have plenty of rock climbing and hiking opportunities.

Use the National Parks Service’s tool to find campgrounds and to see any size or weight regulations that may apply to your travel trailer!

Now that you know exactly what you want your travel trailer to look, feel, and smell like (this is the Ultimate Buyer’s Guide after all), you can start checking out some travel trailer lots near you!

Good luck and have fun in your travel trailer adventures!

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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