What Is A Travel Trailer? Camping Trailers Explained
By Marshall Wendler
Last Updated: September 23, 2022
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.
Ultimate Guide To RV Types
Confused about the different types of RVs? Read our guide that explains the differences between the various RV styles.
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.
Buy a $188,000 Airstream and expect to get higher-end furnishings. (Why are Airstreams so expensive?)
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.
Hi Marshall…..I’m an RV newbie! Looking to purchase a used (2010-2017) travel trailer in the 18-22′ range. Tow vehicle is a 2010 Toyota Sequoia 4wd (Platinum). Unsure about single axle vs tandem? Do trailers in this size range have brakes? Would a separate brake module (inside the tow vehicle) be advised. I have observed other rigs towing trailers that do NOT have anti-sway/WDH hitches. After reading through your blog I am convinced a WDH is advisable (your thoughts). Thanks in advance and I enjoy your blog…..lots of good info.
Thanks for the comment and it’s great to hear that you enjoy reading Camp Addict. Kelly and I love to hear that!
Oddly enough, my tow vehicle is a 2008 Toyota Sequoia (Limited, 4wd) so I have some experience here. 🙂 (My Lance travel trailer is 25 feet in length and weighs 5,700 pounds max. This is as large of a trailer as I’d want to tow with the Sequoia. It isn’t the happiest going over Colorado mountain passes, but does fine at lower elevations and flatter terrain.)
You may not be able to get a tandem axle trailer in the smaller size, but they are out there. Either way, make sure you use a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) for the trailer tires so you know if there is a problem with them. This is especially important with a single axle, as a blow out can have disastrous consequences. (Not to say a blow out is all rainbows and unicorns with a tandem axle trailer.)
Unfortunately we don’t have a page on TPMS systems as of yet. I have used a Truck System Technologies TPMS in the past and Kelly uses an EEZ Tire TPMS. They both seem to work fine. I currently use a Tire Patrol TPMS from RVs. This is my favorite system so far. But it’s pretty expensive.
Yes, trailers in this size range have trailer brakes.
Yes, you should be using a trailer brake controller (again, we don’t have a page on this yet, but we both use the Tekonsha P3 controller.) The Sequoia comes pre-wired to accept a brake controller. The manual has information on where to find the wiring harness (it’s under the kick-panel to the left of the driver’s left foot). You can buy a Toyota wiring harness from Tekonsha that goes between the Sequoia’s pre-wired plug and the controller itself. Installation is really easy!
Yes, a lot of trailers you see on the road don’t have a weight distribution hitch. Or sway control. I wouldn’t use these people as trailer towing mentors. 🙂 You need these! In fact the Sequoia manual says this:
“If the gross trailer weight is over 2000 lbs. (907 kg), it is necessary to use a sway control device with sufficient capacity.
If the gross trailer weight is over 5000 lbs. (2268 kg), it is necessary to use a weight distributing hitch with sufficient capacity.”
I hope that helps! Good luck with your search for a trailer!
I can’t find my original comment I left about brands of travel trailer, but anyway, thanks for your reply! My husband and I purchased our first RV, a 2017 Grand Design Imagine 2600RB. We’re very excited to get on the road and travel around North America over the next year.
Now, we’re trying to figure which truck to purchase so we are safe on the road and can go places like the Rocky Mountains, Alaska, etc. Do you have suggestions for towing a 5,700lbs travel trailer, where will be driving to a new location every 2-3 weeks? We’ve been looking into the Ford F-250 and the Ram 2500, but not sure if it would be better to get a deisel, a V6 or V8, etc. Any and all suggestions would be much appreciated.
Congrats on your first RV purchase, Christa!
I’m happy to see you went with one of the better brands!
Definitely don’t go with a V-6. Though I don’t think those are even offered with a three quarter ton truck (F-250/2500).
5,700lbs is the empty weight. What you need to look at is the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), or the maximum weight of the trailer. In this case it appears to be around 7800lbs (or at least is for the 2021 year).
You are going to want to have some ‘headroom’ above that in the trucks capability. In other words, you don’t want to be towing a trailer that is right near the weight capability of your tow vehicle. It will just be struggling all the time.
So with this trailer, I think it’s VERY wise to be looking at a three quarter ton truck (heavy duty, as opposed to the light trucks that are a lot more popular – the 1/2 ton F-150, Ram 1500, etc).
I don’t think it’s going to really matter if you go with a gas or diesel. Diesel is going to be considerably more expensive, both to purchase and to maintain. Though it will be an awesome towing machine.
A gas heavy duty pickup should be able to tow that trailer just fine. Though you may be wishing you had a diesel when you are going up/down the awesome mountain passes that Colorado is known for. But otherwise, you should be fine.
If money is no object, go with diesel. If the budget is tight, go with the gas 3/4 ton truck.
This is great and exactly what we are thinking based on our research. Very happy to gut check with someone very experienced in what we’re about to do. We really appreciate your advice and quick replies! Happy travels 🙂
Hi, my husbamd and have been looking at different types of bumper pull trailers. One that we would live in full time traveling. Do you have any recommendations. We have been searching a long time over a year now. We have a 16fb that we have out grown for camping sonwe are wanting like 27 to 30ft
Sure- we recommend these two articles for you:
Best RV For Full Time Living
Best RV Brands
Nobody can tell you which RV is the best for you. There are too many variables. Soooo many choices. Those two articles pretty much nail down what you need to consider in order to find the right travel trailer for you.
Camp on, and good luck!