Trailers and RVs

Purchase criteria for a trailer or motorhome

A trailer or motorhome is a significant purchase no matter what your household income, so you want to get it right. As mentioned in a previous post, my wife Sue and I went to the Minneapolis/St. Paul RV, Vacation and Camping Show several times and looked at literally hundreds of different models from various manufacturers. We also rented a 26-foot travel trailer and had rented or used pop-up campers on a number of occasions.

We eliminated pop-ups as an option for several different reasons:

  • We had concerns about the longevity of things like Velcro seams, slide-in beds and plastic windows. Because we planned to use the trailer a lot, that would make for a lot of set ups/take downs every season;
  • I’m 6’3″ and most of the beds were not quite long enough for me to sleep in comfortably;
  • While there’s a range of sizes available, we couldn’t see ourselves being satisfied with the smaller space for long;
  • We do a fair amount of camping in bear country and preferred to have solid walls rather than fabric.

We looked at a number of travel trailers and liked several different models, but there were some drawbacks as well. Given my height, in most models I had to duck or tilt my head to avoid leaving a chunk of scalp on the ceiling light fixtures. The real deal-breaker, however, was a trip to the Black Hills with a rented trailer where we bucked 25-30 m.p.h. head winds on most of the drive out: trailer sway anyone? “White-knuckle” barely covers that experience.

Based on that trip, research both online and at the show, and models we looked at, we decided to go with a fifth wheel. There were still a number of criteria we had to have, and I’d recommend these to anyone who is looking to buy:

  • Take a long look at the bed, and be sure to lie down on it. We learned that “queen size bed” doesn’t really mean anything: some were as short as 72 inches, which clearly wouldn’t work for someone like me who is 75 inches tall;
  • Look at the configuration of the sleeping area: will one person have to climb over the other to get out of the bed? Is there room to comfortably maneuver around the bed? Is there a door or some sort of divider between the sleeping area and the rest of the trailer?
  • Is there ample headroom throughout the trailer?
  • Imagine spending 2 weeks in the trailer: would the floorplan work for an extended trip like that? If not, it may become annoying even for a short trip. There is an incredibly wide array of floorplans out there, but it’s surprising how quickly you can decide a particular floorplan won’t work. With a number of models we decided within seconds of stepping in the door that the floorplan just wouldn’t work for us.

In the next post I’ll offer some practical tips for keeping track of the many different models on display at a show or dealership in order to avoid “which model was that again?” confusion following the visit.

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