Tips for Shopping for a Travel Trailer

Most of the fun of having an off road vehicle is finding new places to explore. While a few lucky ducks are fortunate enough to have vast spaces to ride in close proximity to their homes, the rest of us are left to venture far from our garages in search of the best that off road riding has to offer. And what this leaves us with – is a conundrum.

When venturing away from home, drive time becomes an issue. You can only go so far before your ride days require an overnight stay. While camping is a sometimes viable option, let’s face facts here: After age 25, those tent floors become unbearably hard. Kids get cold, dinners still need cooked – sure, it’s a fun option on occasion or for the bachelor who doesn’t care if he goes 3 days with dirt caked in his ears.

Then, there’s the hotel option. While the idea of hitting one of those Holiday Inn pools after a dirty day in the desert sounds awesome, we live in the 21st century where far too many people have a hard time keeping their hands off of what’s not theirs. With an increase in off road vehicle theft, leaving anything in a parking lot in an unsecured trailer can lead to far worse than a sore back from the tent option….Like, a long gone ride.

Thus, the travel trailer industry solved everyone’s issue with the recreationally geared “toy hauler.” Available in lengths from about 18’ to 40’, with minimal amenities or enough features to compete with the Ritz-Carlton, toy haulers of all shapes and forms provide you with a small living space and somewhere to haul and store your ride when in transport.

The issue, however, is in options. Last year after some quick math, it became clear that our standard fifth wheel and utility trailer used to haul our UTV just didn’t add up. We couldn’t use both at once, which was clearly what we needed – and wanted – to do. So, we sold the fifth wheel and started shopping for a toy hauler.

With hundreds of options out there, it became inherently clear that setting some ground rules for shopping was a must.

1. Know What You Need
First and foremost, when shopping for a toy hauler, know what you need and want. More than anything, measure your ride. With a Polaris RZR 900 XP4, we needed at least 12’ of cargo room and still had to install custom cage to clear standard toy door heights. Measure what you will be storing in the trailer, and never go shopping without your tape measure.

Beyond garage space, consider what features you want. Do front bedrooms make you feel claustrophobic? How many people do you need to sleep? Do you care about a stereo? Make a list of must haves to help narrow down your search and ease the browsing process.

2. Set a Budget
If you walk into an RV dealer with no budget in mind, they will undoubtedly convince you that you need a 40-foot, sixty-thousand dollar fifth wheel toy hauler that is more luxurious than most residential apartments. The big, bad toy haulers are awesome, but unless you’re looking for a 30-year loan on a trailer or have recently come into a wad of cash, be wary of pushes to finance beyond your budget.

With that in mind, for cash purchases, there is also a major used toy hauler market on internet forums and sales sites that can often net you a great deal if you research the product and buy smart. One interesting hiccup in the current used market is that between 2007 – 2011, as the economy tanked, so did the toy hauler market. While some companies went completely under, others scaled back or stopped production, leaving a few year gap in available used model years. This means that used models are either very new, or relatively old, which leads to absolute necessity to check the condition and road worthiness of older model years.

3. Know How You Tow
Trailers don’t go places alone. They’re total freeloaders that require their best friend, truck, to always bum them a ride. With this in mind, know what you can tow. If you are hauling with an F-150, a 30’ fifth wheel probably isn’t a great option. Three-quarter ton trucks offer a wider range of towing ability, but be well aware of how much your pick-up is capable of towing – as well of what you’re comfortable with driving. Using your trailer will be zero fun if you suffer from freakish anxiety every time you tow it.

Picking the perfect toy hauler is a lot like picking the perfect home. While you may not be there 24/7, this little base camp can be a great home away from home for you, your family and your off road ride. Just be sure that before you sink your money into a portable haven that it’s the one you want.