How to choose the right model for you

Traveling by RV is a resurging trend amid the coronavirus pandemic, with families seeking an escape while maintaining social distancing. A motorhome or travel trailer allows you to see the country without the need to use public lodging, restaurants, or even restrooms.

“We are noticing increased interest in the lifestyle both virtually through online resources and resuming interest in states where dealerships are open when compared to when the pandemic began,” says Sam Jefson, a spokesman for Winnebago Industries, maker of Winnebago and Grand Design motorhomes and travel trailers.

Trailers are the least expensive way to get into the recreational vehicle (RV) lifestyle. That’s because owners often need nothing more than the family SUV or truck to haul them. They’re much cheaper and simpler to get started with than a motorhome, and they come in a wide range of designs, sizes, and prices.

Because a trailer can be removed, the SUV or truck that hauls it can be used year-round rather than serving solely as a vacation coach, as is the case with an all-in-one RV. Plus, the vehicle towing the trailer is likely to have modern safety features that are just now arriving in some RVs, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and robust crash protection. Tow vehicles also provide the ability to safely travel with kids and their car seats, an option that’s often not available in motorhomes.

Trailers also offer a lot of flexibility when you’re on a campground. You can unhitch the trailer, leave it behind, and use the tow vehicle to explore. This means you don’t have to pack things away inside the camper and disconnect all the power and water lines each time you want to leave the park, like you have to do when traveling in a motorhome. And a tow vehicle will be a lot easier to handle when sightseeing, especially when navigating downtown roads, parking, and getting food at a drive-thru.

Still, there’s a compromise for that flexibility. Towing an RV trailer requires drivers to develop new skills that are very different from those needed to drive a car. A lot of space is needed to park a long tow vehicle and trailer combination. Learning how to reverse the trailer takes patience and practice. You also need to learn how to safely hitch and unhitch the trailer. Of course, you need to own a vehicle that’s capable of safely towing the trailer you have in mind.

Approach this aspect with care, as it’s very easy to buy more trailer than a vehicle can comfortably handle. (Learn more about what you need to know before you use your pickup to tow.)

There are several types of recreational trailers to consider, outlined below.

Safe Practices for Traveling Now

The RV lifestyle has social distancing built in, but there are times when you’ll be around other people.

“RVing and boating are great ways for families to get back out and enjoy the enrichment that comes with active outdoor lifestyle activities,” Jefson says. But he adds that campers should follow guidelines from federal and state governments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in determining when and how to use an RV.

Traveling in an RV always involves certain logistics, such as scheduled maintenance, park reservations, route planning, and stocking up on provisions. But during this pandemic, you may need to be more methodical and self-sufficient.

Darryl Saunders, a traveler who pulls a 27-foot Airstream Globetrotter, shared several tips with Consumer Reports from his recent experiences on the road:

  • Plan your stops. Park closures, restrictions, and crowding are all factors now.
  • Double-check your reservations to make sure they are still valid.
  • If you’re traveling to a destination for a certain attraction, make sure it’s open. Saunders mentioned that a place he wanted to see (Sequoia National Park) was closed.
  • Plan ahead for food. Many businesses are now reopening, but there are still restrictions. And remember that you won’t be able to go through a drive-thru with a large trailer.

Many travelers recommend checking with RV parks about their amenities because some, including restrooms, laundry facilities, and on-site convenience stores, may be closed. Ask about specific rules regarding social distancing, which can have an on impact on pool usage, playgrounds, and campfires.

Restrictions vary by region, and they’ll certainly change throughout the year. They may include the need to self-quarantine after traveling in certain states. Check the restrictions for your state and those you plan to travel through, because they could have a significant impact on your plans.  

Bottom Line

No matter which recreational trailer or RV you buy, take time making your decision. A common adage is to “buy your third trailer first” because many people who stick with this hobby go through two or three RVs before they find the right fit. In other words, pace yourself and do your research. 

You can accelerate that process (and maybe save grief and money) by renting an RV before you buy. That will help you sort out which kind of floor plan and features are important for your type of camping and your family.

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