I recommend using the internet as a cursory search tool but for you to do the majority of your research in person. Yes, that means investing in personal interaction with other human beings!
I am a regular on The Survival Podcast, as an expert on simple living, health, off-grid homes, and the nomadic lifestyle. I share a lot of information during these spots in question and answer format.
Below is the audio of my answer to the listener question. In addition, you will find the entire transcript below as well. Please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section, and I will make sure to answer them.
You have mentioned “four-season” travel trailers when discussing off-grid living and I would appreciate more specifics about your experience. I am looking for a bumper pull style trailer that will be traveling in Eastern Oregon and Washington, Northern Idaho, and Western Montana. Initially, I will be traveling by myself but eventually, I will need room for another person and a full-size dog. For people who are brand new to travel trailers would you please address some or all of the following:
When thinking about size and space constraints, is it smart to buy something a little bigger than I think I’ll need or is it better to keep it smaller and adjust to the new environment? In the context of towing, parking, sleeping accommodations, and interior space is there a “sweet spot” in terms of size?
Are there any brands and models you recommended? In what price range can you get a good quality trailer that will last several years?
You live in your trailer for weeks or months at a time but I have been told that most trailers aren’t built for extended use. What parts of the trailer need regular inspection and maintenance for long term use?
Are certain systems or appliances better as electrical or propane?
If you had to start over with no trailer, would you by the trailer you have now? If not, what would you change (length, amenities, slider or no slider etc?
Are there any items you would recommend as important additions to a trailer?
I plan on using a 3/4 ton or 1-ton diesel truck for towing. What are your thoughts on tow vehicles?
Is there any other advice you have that fits into the category of “If I had known X, I would have done Y”?
Sam in Washington
Gary Collins Answers:
One of my favorite topics today, travel trailers. I’ve been getting a lot of these.
I have a section in my book where I talk about it as well, but this will be a good answer to a pretty specific question. This individual wants to know, or if there are differences and if there’s a sweet spot in a specific size, and type of travel trailer, or make.
Before that, I want to get into a little bit of what he asked there. He goes, he’s looking for a bumper‑style travel trailer that means a tow‑behind, the difference between a tow‑behind and a fifth‑wheel. I want to get into that real quick because there’s a lot of confusion. I know, I was lost when I first started looking.
A fifth‑wheel is basically one that extends over the bed of your truck. It goes into the bed of your truck and actually connects to a receiver that is bolted down inside of the bed of your truck, right over your rear axle. These things weigh a couple of hundred pounds. They take up a large part of your bed. That’s the downside.
Basically it renders your bed, for the most part, useless for most things. The advantages ‑‑ it’s much easier to tow because it distributes the weight right over your axles, which is a lot different than on your rear tow hitch, just a lot more stable.
Most people who get fifth‑wheels, they get them when they’re about, I would say, 30‑foot or longer. Once you start getting into that range of travel trailer that’s when people jump to a fifth‑wheel because of the size, and also fifth‑wheels tend to be a lot taller. They’re just bigger. That’s the biggest difference.
Now, tow‑behind hooks up to your tow receiver at the back of your truck or vehicle. Now, he’s going to be looking in Eastern Oregon, Washington, Northern Idaho, or Western Montana. That’s where he’s going to be. He wants to know ‑‑ it’s going to be him at first, another person, and a dog later. Now, is there a specific trailer or size that I would recommend?
Well, it depends. I have a 24‑foot travel trailer right now and it’s a Nash. It’s plenty big for me and my dog. It has one pop‑out or slide‑out, technically. Now, if I had another person in here, would it be fine? Sure. Would it be a little bit cramped? Nah, maybe, it just depends on what you’re used to.
I would probably recommend for two people, I would go to a 28‑foot, just because it’ll give you more room. It gives you an extra slider, a slide‑out seat. You can have two. In some of them, you’ll even get three slide‑outs, depending.
Now, I want to talk about a couple of things though on a travel trailer to help you, because these are stuff unless you’ve been living them or dealing with them for a while, you’ll have no clue the differences.
The first thing is the position of the kitchen to the bathroom. Now, you’ll hear a lot of people or even a dealer will say, “Oh, do you want a rear kitchen?” because people usually like a rear kitchen. Here’s why: one clean‑out.
If your bathroom and your kitchen area to the rear of the travel trailer, you’ll have one clean‑out which is where your gray water and your black water attach to. That’s the pipe that goes out, that is actually for your sewage.
Now, why would that be a big deal? Oh, let me explain black. Blackwater is your poo and pee, gray water is your shower water. If you have a washing machine, trust me, some of these have washing machines in them, stackables, or your sinks. That’s where your gray water is.
Usually, you want to hold your black water for two to three weeks in the tank before you dispose of it because if you don’t, it won’t break down. It will get stuck in what we call the stinky‑slinky. Stinky‑slinky [laughs] is the accordion‑type pipe that leads from that clean‑out and goes into a septic receptacle of some sort.
Now, if you’re dry camping, dry camping means you have no water, you have no sewage connection. That’s what those holding tanks are for. Even when you’re connected, you want to hold your sewage until about 3/4 full before you dump. Trust me on this one. I also recommend using Happy Campers Holding Tank Treatment, as this is an environmentally friendly decomposing powder to breakdown solids and help keep your holding tanks from stinking, and boy can they stink!
You will ruin that stinky‑slinky right out of the gate because all your poo is going to be stuck in that slinky because it hasn’t decomposed. Actually, a lot of it won’t even come out of the tank. Just a little hint there 🙂
Where I’m going with that is with two clean‑outs. If your bathroom is separate from your kitchen, and usually what it will be is, kitchen in the rear, the bathroom will be mid to forward of the travel trailer. Well, they have to do the way the plumbing works just because it’s too hard to get all that plumbing down to the rear, is they put one up at the front of the travel trailer and one in the rear.
These are a huge pain in the butt. If you don’t mind it, that’s one thing. I’d had both and I tell you what the split clean‑outs on both ends are a pain in the ass because you have to have triple the stinky‑slinky length. Those things are a pain in the butt to deal with anyways. They stink. They’re nasty.
It just makes it hard if you’re going to be moving around and trying to get that whole section, because you got to run that stinky‑slinky from one end of your travel trailer to the other, then to the receptacle wherever the sewage dump is. That’s just my two cents. I like one clean‑out at the rear of the trailer. It’s just easier to use.
Another thing is if you’re a tall person, or one of you is tall, or both of you are tall, there are two different bed sizes. I found this out just recently. I figured, I thought they look a little different. I have a 24‑foot and, as I said, plenty of room for me and my dog, depending on the layout too.
My layout has what’s called a queen short. Most of these will have queen or king, depending on the size, usually a queen. Now, queen short is five inches shorter than a normal queen bed. I’m not a tall guy, so this was no big deal to me. If you’re tall, you better ask. Make sure that it’s a normal size queen, or your feet are going to be hanging off the edge.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain over this, “I hate travel trailer camping and my feet always” because it’s the wrong size bed. They got a queen short and fifth‑wheels will usually have a king big, and they’ll be normal size or a short. Just make sure.
Here’s another thing, the mattresses suck. I have yet to be in a travel trailer where the mattresses are anything more than three inches of foam, and they break down within a week. I replaced mine with a memory foam mattress. It was $209 on Amazon. I cannot remember the name. I just got it, because it had a bunch of great reviews. It was all RV people because it was short. Below is the mattress I replace the original one with. I’m so happy with this memory foam mattress I plan to get one for my “Off The Grid” house as well.
You can check out the mattress here: Zinus Ultima Comfort Memory Foam Matress.
Thank god, I measured before I ordered the thing. It didn’t off-gas. I made sure to read all the reviews. The downside, it was made overseas. I’ll be honest with you, a lot of them were made overseas, and then they put the wrapper on it, call it, “Made in America.”
There are some Made in America ones, but I didn’t see anything that had good enough reviews for me to buy basically. I hate doing that. I’d rather buy American, but in this case, I didn’t. It’s a great mattress. It’s the best mattress I’ve ever had.
Now, as far as the price range. Now, the price range, boy, you can go into 50k to 60k. Trust me, when you’ve got the money, they’ve got the travel trailer for you. On average, for a good all‑season travel trailer…and that’s another thing. I’ll describe that a little bit later.
You want an all‑season or four‑season. That has more insulation in it. If you don’t get one and it’s a standard travel trailer, basically there’s no insulation and they’re meant for camping on weekends a couple of times a year, because if you live in it, you’re going to cook in the summer, and you’re going to freeze in the winter.
Make sure if you’re going to be…This guy’s going to be in more…up by where I live. He’s going to be in harsher weather, definitely get an all‑season. Now, there are different all‑seasons too. The difference between a Nash and an Arctic Fox, which is made by Northwood, which is a brand I like, because they’re made in Oregon. They’re made for off‑roading. They’re tough.
They have R18, Arctic Fox does, in the ceiling. Mine has R14 in the ceiling. There is a difference. The Arctic Fox is made for more harsher environments. With that, it’s nicer and it’s got a steeper price tag. For me, the money, bang for the buck, the Nash was the best deal.
Now, as far as maintenance, they’re standard. The only maintenance, just like a house, it’s got an oven. It’s got a stove. It’s got a microwave. It’s got sinks. It’s got a toilet, shower. The same things that could go wrong in your house can go wrong in a travel trailer.
It’s got a refrigerator, a freezer. These things have been around forever. You can get them fixed anywhere. There are replacements everywhere. Not a big deal. I’ve had no problems with any of my appliances.
The maintenance that they usually need is the bearings and the axles need to be repacked every 5,000 to 10,000 miles or every couple years, depending on what the dealer…It’ll be different for every travel trailer.
Well, with mine, the Nash and the Arctic Fox, they come with an easy lube system where you don’t even need to do that, you can do it yourself. I like that and, as I said, it’s got better ground clearance for off‑road stuff. It’s geared to what I want to do and what I do do.
Now, the price range, on average, would be in the mid‑20s to 40s, and it just depends on what you want. I will tell you this. You go buy one in the 40s which is still a lot cheaper than any of those teeny homes. It’s going to be nicer. More than likely, nicer than any home you’ve ever owned. They’re crazy nice today.
I can’t even explain to you. I recommend going and looking at a bunch of them. Look at all the different sizes. There’s a lot of different floor plans, different furniture. You can have dual recliner leather chairs, or you can have a couch. The chairs can be at the rear. As I said, there are so many different variances.
Now, as far as if they’re intended…The higher‑end ones, a lot of people live in them. I lived in an RV park years ago and everyone at the RV park, this was in San Diego before I left, everyone lived in them. Period.
The reason they were doing it is that it was A, cheaper and it was just a simpler life, and that’s what I found, or it was people working in San Diego for six months to a year. They didn’t want to have to rent, buy a house, or do any of that. They just stayed in their travel trailer.
These things, the good ones, they’re tough. I mean, they don’t break down. I haven’t had any issues. They’re built pretty well. Just think of it as a mobile home. I mean, that’s pretty much how they’re built.
I hope that answers your questions. I know that was long‑winded, but there’s a lot going on when it comes to getting your first travel trailer. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s a zoo out there. I mean, I couldn’t even explain to you how many manufacturers there are. There’s so many, but that’s the ones I recommend.