5 Tips for Buying Your First Travel Trailer
By Alexis Chateau \
So, you’ve made the big decision to ditch the ground tent for your very own vacation home on wheels. Congratulations! You could have chosen a van, skoolie, or $250,000 motorhome. But, like most first-time RVers, you chose a travel trailer. The truth is that buying your first travel trailer can feel as overwhelming as buying your first home, but not to worry! These tips will simplify the process and make your first RV purchase a breeze.
1. Confirm Your Tow Vehicle’s Capabilities
You would be surprised by the vehicles people use for towing. I know of a New Mexico couple towing an overlanding utility trailer with their tiny smart car. Yes—you read that correctly! So, can you tow with your vehicle? There’s a good chance you can. Start by checking the owner’s manual.
Need some help matching your towing capabilities to a travel trailer? I got your back. Check out How To Pick the Right Tow Vehicle for Your Rig. If you’re in a TL;DR mood, here are the basics:
- Never tow more than 80% of the max towing capacity for your vehicle, and aim for 60% or less.
- When determining the right trailer length for your rig, consider whether you have a long or short wheelbase.
- You can mod your vehicle to make it better for towing. One good option is adding airbags to your rear suspension.
2. Predict Your Camping Style
Do you love rustic camping, or are you more of a luxury camper? Don’t answer this question as your Current Self. Try to get inside the head of Future You. No matter what your camping style was like when you were roughing it in the ground tent, there’s a big chance it will change when you have a travel trailer.
Knowing how you’ll camp after buying your first travel trailer will make it easier to determine what to look for when shopping around. Consider these factors:
- Amenities: If you want to camp with all the comforts of home, look for a travel trailer with lots of storage, a kitchen, and indoor restroom facilities. If you’re more of a minimalist, you can get away with a tiny travel trailer sporting outdoor features and fewer amenities.
- Climate Control: Do you like to camp in the middle of summer or winter? If you plan on camping in extreme heat or cold, look for a travel trailer with good insulation and climate control features.
- Size: How many people will you take camping with you? If you camp with a large group, you’ll need a travel trailer with enough beds and storage. If you’re a solo camper or you have a small family, a tiny travel trailer will be more your speed.
3. Prepare Your Finances for Buying Your First Travel Trailer
I spent a year saving up to buy my FJ Cruiser and travel trailer. During this time, I did as much research as possible on the financing process. People shared that buying your first RV is more like buying a house than a car. Let me tell you now: they are not exaggerating.
I am not a financial expert, so follow my advice at your own risk. That said, here’s what worked for me and what I learned:
- Finance the RV. If you have the cash to buy both the truck and the trailer, that’s awesome. The people who don’t have cash for both should finance the travel trailer. The IRS may treat your RV as a second home but not your truck.
- Ensure you get an RV loan and not a personal loan. Why does it matter? You can deduct the interest on a qualifying RV loan like a mortgage for a second home. I’ve read that you cannot do this with a personal loan.
- Reduce your DTI. I was debt-free when I financed my RV, so I didn’t have this concern. It would have been tough if I did because self-employment incomes are adjusted to meager amounts for loan purposes.
- Buy your RV before quitting your job. If you have a job change coming up or plan to become self-employed, buy the travel trailer first. Banks penalize you for new income and self-employed income in so many ways.
- Boost your credit score. The company I got my loan from offered a bad credit loan at about 10% interest. It also provided good credit loans for high scores at roughly 4.5%. Sadly, even with my 780 credit score, I got a bad credit loan because I was an immigrant with a four-year-old credit score. Keep this in mind if you also have a young credit history.
4. Choose a Floorplan That Meets Your Needs
Every RVer has their own way of narrowing down what to buy. I watched hundreds of RV tours on YouTube and Instagram. Doing this helped me envision how I would camp in an RV―something I had never done before in my life. Some people prefer to visit dealerships or attend tradeshows to do this.
However, even after you decide on your floorplan, don’t be opposed to looking at other units. RV floorplans are constantly changing. You’d be surprised by the possibilities that never even crossed your mind, which could be perfect for you.
5. Shop Around for the Right Brand
By the time I was ready to visit the dealership, I knew exactly what brand I wanted for my tiny home on wheels. Maybe you will, too. If this is not the case, visit a few dealerships or tradeshows and look at units that have floorplans similar to the one you want.
The number one thing to consider when choosing a brand is customer service. Sales reps will tell you anything to make a sale, and all RVs have things that break from time to time. That is the cost of lightweight construction, so you can easily drag your vacation home from Miami to the Grand Tetons and back again.
Consequently, good customer service determines whether your long-term experience with the travel trailer will be a good one. The best way to determine whether a company has good customer service is to ask its existing customers.
The Bottom Line
Buying your first tiny vacation home on wheels can be an exciting experience. I enjoyed every second of it―even while battling RV shortages in the middle of pandemic shutdowns. If you prepare yourself with these tips and maintain a positive mindset, you might have an even better experience than I did.