What Is A Travel Trailer? Camping Trailers Explained
By Marshall Wendler
A wise man once asked, '"What is a travel trailer?"
Heh. Just kidding. However, this may be a relevant question if you are starting out exploring the RV lifestyle and have set down the path of figuring out the different types of RVs.
The tow-behind trailer is the most popular style of recreational vehicle, with 70% of new RV shipments in 2021 being conventional travel trailers.
But exactly what is a camper trailer, and is it the right choice for you?
Different Types Of Camping Trailers
"Camping trailers" is a pretty generic recreational vehicle term. On this page, we are concentrating on the traditional travel trailer.
We have different pages dedicated to the other tow behind camper types, including:
Read on to learn all you need to know about traditional pull-behind camper trailers.
What Is A Pull-Behind Travel Trailer?
The towable camper is by far the most popular of the various types of RVs and campers, outselling all other types by miles, mainly due to the lower price point of towable trailers.
Travel trailers are also known as pull-behind campers, camper trailers, bumper pull campers, towable campers, and several other names that indicate how they travel down the road.
As the name implies, these pull trailers require a separate vehicle to tow them. The tow attachment point is at or under the rear bumper at the extreme rear of the tow vehicle; thus, the term "bumper pull travel trailers."
They range in size from 13 feet long up to the high 30 feet in length (though, our opinion is that if you want a longer trailer, it is MUCH safer to get a fifth wheel).
Their cost can be as expansive as their length, with basic models starting well under $20,000 and the most luxurious travel trailers costing as much as a house.
RV camping trailers will have everything you need to enjoy a vacation in the great outdoors, though the levels of luxury will be directly reflected in the cost.
- Length: 13 to 39 feet
- Sleeping Capacity: Up to 6 people
- Slide-Outs: 0 to 3
- Gross Vehicle Weight: 2,000 to 11,000 pounds
- Retail Price: $15,000 to $150,000
*Above stats are approximate ranges to give you a general idea
Pros and Cons:
Who Makes Travel Trailers? Which Brand Is The Best?
Camper Trailer Construction
Recreational trailers are essentially a box built on top of a frame.
The frame has either a single axle (two tires) or a dual axle setup (four tires).
The front of the frame is what attaches to the tow vehicle, with some sort of hitch.
The walls of a bumper pull RV are hard-sided and constructed using aluminum or wood studs.
The siding material is either single-piece fiberglass panels (smooth wall), corrugated sheet metal, or aluminum (for example, Airstream trailers).
Manufacturers either use foam sheets or fiberglass as insulation.
Pull-behind camper roofs are typically a rubber membrane, and you can walk on the roof if suitable underlying materials are used.
Only a few travel trailer manufacturers use a solid fiberglass outer shell to construct their tow campers.
These fiberglass shells have the advantage of being very durable and are less prone to leaking. Though using this design means increased overall cost.
Manufacturers of fiberglass RV trailers include Oliver campers, Casita, Bigfoot, Scamp, and Escape. Not surprisingly, if you are looking for the best-made RV you can buy, you should look closely at these.
RV Travel Trailer Interior
Inside the living area of a camp trailer are the comforts of home typical of most recreational vehicles.
Layouts will vary, but there are some similarities between the floorplans offered by different brands. This is because you can only do so much in a small space.
The quality of materials used will vary depending on the price point, but you will find a typical set of standard features regardless of what model you are looking at.
Most traditional vacation trailers include:
- One or more seating areas.
- A fully functioning kitchen.
- A bathroom with a shower and toilet.
- One or more sleeping areas.
All but the smallest bumper pull campers will have a fixed bed, with many being queen-sized (RV queen size bed dimensions). However, keep in mind that the original mattress in most trailer campers is junk.
Therefore, you may want to get a new travel trailer mattress if you spend more than the occasional weekend in your rig or if you have a temperamental back.
Longer floorplans may have a layout that features a master bedroom layout with a separated sleeping area, generally at the front of the RV.
If you have a larger number of people sleeping in the unit, look for floor plans with bunk beds that will have multiple camper bunk mattresses, giving plenty of bed areas for a large crew.
Kitchen amenities will include a refrigerator, a stovetop (maybe with an oven), a sink, and a food prep area. A microwave may be optional.
Counter space varies significantly by the floor plan. Pay attention to how much counter space is available.
Outdoor cooking areas (usually a grill) are becoming more popular as manufacturers offer outdoor living space features that allow people to spend time outside preparing a feast.
Seating and Decor
For seating, you will often find a dinette with space for 4-6 people, and this will often double as an additional bed. This type is more suitable for kids.
You find additional seating options when you go up in lengths, such as a couch (that could also double as a bed) or recliners.
Windows are something you should consider when shopping for any recreational vehicle. You want to be able to open a window on either side of the rig so that you get a nice breeze on a hot day.
The inside decor style usually is, well, how do we put this? Colors are often very beige and bland, and materials often look like they would fit right in at grandma's house. Cabinets are usually of a design that is less than inspiring. However, some manufacturers are trying to spice things up a bit.
Technology And Other Comforts
Luxury is not typically something that corresponds with a tow-behind camper. Even so, they have basic features and comforts that make them a home you can take to your favorite campsite.
Technology features are not necessarily cutting edge. You will generally find a stereo that won't make your ears bleed and a TV (probably optional) that is overpriced for what you get but will do the job.
All but the shortest RV camper trailer will be self-contained with holding tanks for fresh water and an RV dump tank for gray and black wastewater.
Heat is provided by a propane furnace and can be run off the house 12-volt battery. Cooling is via a rooftop air conditioner that requires you to be plugged into a 120-volt power source (shore power).
Stand-Out Features Of Pull Behind Campers
Exterior storage options vary wildly on a bumper pull camper trailer, but one fairly universal thing is a forward storage compartment. These are accessible from one side or both sides (pass-through storage).
However, not every model has this storage. Exterior storage options on some floor plans are downright pathetic.
A good design will make full use of all interior storage possibilities. Overhead cabinets should be plentiful, and there should be closets and storage under beds and seating.
Having at least one trailer slide out is relatively common in a travel trailer camper, and they expand the living space without having a long RV.
However, slides are a double-edged sword - they are a great way to expand the interior room, but they are a potentially expensive failure point/pain in the you-know-what.
Smaller camper trailers may feature a wet bath to save space (the shower and toilet share a single area, with everything getting wet when showering).
Larger camper travel trailers have full bathrooms with a separate shower, toilet, and sink (dry bathroom).
An onboard generator is rarely available with this type of RV, though there are more models with these now than a handful of years ago as manufacturers are catering more to those wanting to live off-grid.
Suppose you want to run your air conditioner, use the microwave, or take advantage of anything else requiring 120-volts of power. In that case, you must be plugged into shore power or a portable generator for travel trailer use.
So, keep in mind what space you have available for a generator if you choose to carry one.
Towing a Camper Trailer
Originally, the tow attachment point was the pickup truck bumper when towable RVs were lightweight.
Nowadays, only the lightest pull trailers should be attached directly to the bumper. Otherwise, the hitch is connected to the frame underneath.
Due to the weight of most RV trailers, a weight distributing hitch is required to tow your camper down the road safely.
Tow-behind campers are the most popularly manufactured models of the different RV types. The variety of floor plans, lengths, options, and price points are pretty broad (it can even be overwhelming).
There's a model to meet most every need and lifestyle and the vehicle type you want to use to pull the RV around.
If a vehicle can tow, there is probably a travel trailer 'sized right' for it.
Lightweight, small campers could be towed by almost any SUV, and a car might not suffice as a tow vehicle unless the RV is incredibly small and light.
Longer and heavier travel camper models require a pickup truck (and maybe a heavy-duty truck) to handle the weight.
With longer floorplans, the combination of the tow vehicle and RV going down the road can be 60+ feet. This makes some people uncomfortable, and rightly so.
Many RVers choose the tow-behind trailer over other types of RVs.
Why? Because once you arrive at your campsite, you unhitch from your tow vehicle, which can then be used to explore the local area.
The advantage of using a truck over an SUV to tow a bumper pull camper is that the truck bed is left open for additional storage space.
When using an SUV as a tow vehicle, storage is inside the vehicle. This subjects you to the 'wonderful' smells that accompany what you bring (trash storage, gasoline inside your generator, etc.).
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does a Travel Trailer Cost?
Retail prices for new RV trailers are all over the map, and cheap units are available for around $15,000 to ultra-luxury vacation trailers with an MSRP in the mid-$100,000's.
The quality of these interior furnishings varies wildly, as does construction quality.
If you purchase a low-end $15,000 trailer camper, expect to get what you pay for. Equipment levels will be minimal and cheap, as will the overall design.
Is A Travel Trailer A Good Investment?
A travel trailer is not a good investment in the traditional sense of the word, and it most likely will not appreciate and will most likely cost you money in the long run. In other words, camp trailers don't hold their value (in most cases).
However, this isn't the proper way to measure if buying one is worth it. They are an excellent investment if you spend enough time camping with your family or friends and if you genuinely enjoy the RVing lifestyle.
RVs are often an economical and fun way to see new parts of the country and explore areas you've never been to or enjoy spending time in.
What Is The Average Life Of A Travel Trailer?
The average life of tow-behind trailers varies greatly depending on their initial construction quality (often poor) and how well you take care of and maintain the rig. The useful life can approach 20+ years if not abused, especially if you start with a quality RV.
Like most things in life, the better you take care of it, the better it will take care of you. However, if you start with a piece of junk, don't expect it to give you a long, trouble-free life.
Can You Take A Travel Trailer Off-Road?
You can take travel trailer campers off-road, but don't expect to take the average one up the side of a mountain following a goat path.
I've taken my 24-foot-long RV trailer off-road many times, but mostly down decently maintained gravel roads in a National Forest or BLM area. Some places have been sketchier, and after arriving at the location, I questioned my sanity, but these are the exceptions.
Some models are better equipped to go down rougher roads because they have higher ground clearance and suspensions setup to handle rougher conditions. Though most recreational trailers can handle most light off-road situations, getting to a reasonably tame spot in the backcountry should be attainable for most.
Can You Move A Travel Trailer By Hand?
Only the smallest and lightest travel trailer RVs can be moved by hand, which means most will require a vehicle to reposition them. Before you unhitch from your tow vehicle, make sure you are in the position you want to be in. Otherwise, you will need to hitch back up and make an adjustment (you'll do that once and then be more careful in the future).
Can You Live In A Travel Trailer Year-Round?
You certainly can live in RV camper trailers year-round. Both Camp Addict co-founder Kelly and I did just this for a combined total of 12 years. So yes, you can permanently live in trailer campers. This is becoming a more popular lifestyle choice for many different age groups (not just the older generation, typically the demographic one thinks about traveling around full-time).
Do Any Travel Trailers Have 2 Bathrooms?
There are travel trailers with two bathrooms, but these will be longer floorplans with room to spare. An average-size pull trailer will have a single bathroom, and smaller models will have a wet bath (combines the shower and toilet into a single small compartment).
Pull-behind campers are the most diverse class of RVs with multiple lengths, floor plans, models, and styles available to please just about anyone's RVing needs.
As the most popular (and diverse) of the different RV categories, camp trailers are an excellent way for people to enter the world of RVing.
Consider a towable trailer if you are looking for something to take your family out on a weekend adventure or you want an RV to live in year round.. These pull RVs offer such a wide variety of options that you will find one that is right for you.
Both Camp Addict co-founders Kelly and Marshall lived full-time in travel trailers during their combined 12 years of life on the road.
While all RVs are a compromise in one way or another, RV trailers are the right choice for the solo person, couple, or family to experience nature at their favorite campground.
Author: Marshall Wendler
As the co-founder of Camp Addict, Marshall Wendler is a seasoned expert in the world of RVing, with years of hands-on experience living the full-time RV life in his travel trailer. From 2014 to 2020, Marshall learned the ins and outs of the lifestyle and has enjoyed sharing his knowledge and expertise with others. After a brief hiatus as a part-time RVer in 2021 and 2022, Marshall is back on the road full-time, embracing the vanlife and all the exciting possibilities it brings. He particularly enjoys the freedom and flexibility of boondocking and is excited to share his technical insights with the Camp Addict community. Whether you're a seasoned pro or new to the RV world, Marshall has valuable insights and information to share, and is here to help you navigate the exciting world of RVing with confidence and ease.