How Travel Trailer Towing Works

Types of Travel Trailers
If you just want the bare necessities, you should look into teardrop trailers.
If you just want the bare necessities, you should look into teardrop trailers.
iStockphoto/ Michael Westhoff

When you decide you're ready to buy a travel trailer, it's probably not the best idea to buy the first one you see. If you're new to the travel trailer world, you may not realize just how many travel trailers types are available. You don't want to be suckered into a quick sale only to envy other vacationers on the road who are towing more appealing trailers.

As with any major purchase, you should analyze your needs and budget. If you have a big family, for instance, or a spouse who doesn't like the idea of living without a shower as much as you do, you'll probably need a trailer with plenty of amenities. You'll also want to look at the limits of your towing vehicle. Towing a travel trailer might add more weight than your vehicle can handle.

Let's get familiar with some of the more popular types of travel trailers. Conventional travel trailers usually have plenty of amenities, like separate bathroom and shower, kitchen, and sleeping areas. Pop-up trailers are a sort of combination tent and trailer. The pop-up trailer is compact (allowing good visibility while driving), but when it's time to set up camp, you can crank a handle or use a hydraulic lift to open up the trailer. The extendable sides and walls are usually made of flexible canvas material. Pop-ups have fewer amenities than other types, but they're relatively inexpensive.

Pop-up trailers may take an extra few minutes to set up, but they are great for packing extra amenities into a small space.
iStockphoto/ Richard Stouffer

Popular in the 1940s, teardrop trailers are making a comeback among minimalist travel trailer towers. These retro models are smaller than your typical travel trailer. A kitchen and a two-person bed are squeezed into the small space. But that tradeoff brings plenty of advantages like easy setup and lighter weight, making for easier towing and better fuel efficiency. It even means you don't need to buy a truck to pull them like you do for our next kind of trailer.

You can quickly tell fifth-wheel trailers or 5ers apart from other trailers because of their shapes and the way they attach to the towing vehicle. Instead of attaching to the rear bumper, a fifth-wheel trailer extends over and attaches to the bed of the truck. These are typically the choice of more serious RVers; they're more expensive but bigger than other kinds of travel trailers. Keep in mind, however, that they usually demand lots of power and drive down your fuel efficiency. On the plus side, they can offer smoother driving because they distribute the load better.

Storage trailers are in a different class. Like the name implies, they're made for lugging stuff rather than living in. Aside from these, there are lightweight trailers (often by virtue of their aluminum frames), telescoping trailers with hard sides that expand and toy haulers which are part storage, part living quarters.

Once you've settled on the travel trailer that fits your needs and budget, you'll need to know the basics of travel trailer towing. Next we'll take a look at some special towing tips.