What to Expect… When You’re Expecting to Buy a Travel Trailer! (+FREE PDF Workbook! )

So you’ve seen all those full time RVers and their awesome pictures, or maybe you’re tired of tent camping, but whatever the reason, you’re excited to make the leap and buy a travel trailer! Here’s the thing – you need to know what to expect, so you don’t go in there and get all starry eyed (like me!) and let the salesmen give you a price that’s more than you should pay!

Whenever you’re about to spend a large amount of money, it’s always good to come prepared, stay grounded (IE, don’t get swept away buy all the cool features they try to sell you) and to be able to have that control to walk away for a day.

Now, let me tell you something – I am REALLY bad at that. My husband told me once to check out camping world for some ideas of layouts we would want to buy used, and that same day we had a pretty basic, but new and pretty, travel trailer! And it ALMOST happened again yesterday – but let me tell you something else… I would not have even been interested in something else had I just made the right choices and thought everything through when choosing my first camper! Now we’re left with something that isn’t as functional with our growing family, but atleast a couple years left before it would even make sense, financially, to get a different one.

Anyways, I wanted to guide you through the process from planning to purchasing to make sure you don’t fall for the same stuff I did (almost twice!) and to make sure you’re getting the most for your money (while still having the features you need… and ONLY the features you need!)

P.S. If you want to check out all the glamping stuff for your RV (I mean… who doesn’t like the extra things if you can swing it?) then check out the Top 13 Indoor Glamping Products and Top 11 Outdoor RV Camping Products EVERYONE loves!


What to know BEFORE you go to buy your first Travel Trailer

First off, I want to say that this guide is going to be geared towards travel trailers as opposed to RVs (those are usually the ones that you can actually drive, whereas a travel trailer is something you pull behind your vehicle)

P.S. Speaking of what to know… if you want to know these tips, but don’t have time to read (or you’re a paper person like me!) download the ebook!

It’s everything in the article and more, but nice looking and available anytime you need it!

I also included 3 snazzy worksheets to help you keep track of your current travel trailer prospects, as well as some good questions to ask your mechanic so you actually know how to operate the thing once you buy it!

Travel trailer (pull behind) or a motorhome?

I can’t explain too much on the pros of having a motorhome, however here is an article that talks about why a motorhome was the right choice for them.

We chose a Travel Trailer, mostly because you can leave camp to go explore around the area without having to pack everything up – your travel trailer can just stay behind, and everything is already set up for when you’re ready to be done for the day.

Something to consider is that, with a travel trailer, you are limited by the towing capacity of your vehicle. If the size of camper you want is too big for your vehicle, it may be cheaper to just get a motorhome instead of buying a new vehicle and a travel trailer.

What is your towing capacity?

This is going to be a big way to narrow down your choices (I know I get kind of overwhelmed when I see so many travel trailers at the RV lot!).

To find your towing capacity, you have to know your tongue weight as well as the max amount of weight your vehicle is rated to tow. I find it easiest to just use Camping Worlds Vehicle Towing Capacity Calculator to find that weight! It will also show you campers that your vehicle can actually pull!

Now write down the weight, and when you start doing some basic calculations of the camper weights, try not to go over 80% of the allowable towing weight.

For example, if my max towing weight of my SUV is 9,600 lbs, I don’t want to go over 7,680 so that I don’t burn up my transmission and have to go 40 mph in the 60 mph zone.

To find optimal max Towing Weight:

Max Towing Weight of Vehicle x .20 = Wiggle Room Weight

Max Towing Weight – Wiggle Room Weight = Max Trailer Towing Weight

My example: 9,600 x .20 = 1,920. Then, 9,600 – 1,920 = 7,680 lbs

Now, when you’re looking for campers, you have to remember that the “Dry Weight” will not be the number you are going by. In fact, when looking at potential campers your total weight will look more like this

To find Total Weight of Camper = RV Dry Weight + Cargo + Liquids

Always research this first, as some of the shadier salesmen might be all to excited to say “No problem!” when asked if your vehicle could even tow the thing!

how to find how much your vehicle can tow when buying a camper
Here’s that handy calculator I was talking about to find the towing capacity of your vehicle!

What is your budget?

Another heavy hitter – you (and your partner, if you have one) need to agree on a budget before you get there! Here are some things to consider

Do you plan on “testing it out” for a couple of years, or is this where all roads lead?

While RV dealers will try to find the best loan for you, they often will make a long term payment plan to get those monthly payments low (and very appealing!) What that means is that for a couple of years, you will be “upside down” and owe more than it’s even worth, making it impossible to trade in a couple years later when your life situation changes.

For example, if you only have 1 kid now but plan on having more, think about the amount of floor space, bunks and amenities you will eventually want – don’t just settle for what is fine for now. This comes from experience – we saw the PERFECT camper this weekend, however since we’ve only had our previous “fine for now” camper for 2 years, we would owe double what it costs to buy the new camper (because we still owe so much on our old one, just spending two years paying interest!)

If you are trying to decide which camper style you like, perhaps your best bet is to either buy used (so it’s not such a giant investment) or just pay high monthly payments so you can trade it in after a couple of years if you need too!

If this is going to be your camper for AWHILE, then taking those long term, but low payments might not be such a bad idea!

Whatever it is, decide if this a “testing the waters” camper or a “final” camper, and then set a monthly payment budget (what is a comfortable amount you can pay each month for this?).

For reference, we bought a new 2017 Hideout pull behind (about 18 ft) in 2017 and it is 166 a month for 8 years. Which is why, here in 2019, while it’s super affordable for us, we are unable to really trade it in without owing even more!

how to budget fora new rv
Though our monthly payments are amazing, it sucked to be told it is only worth half of what we currently owe on it! Ouch! Make sure to keep this in mind if you’re shooting for super low payments, but might want to trade in your camper later on! (Those numbers on the bottom were the price of a new camper plus some of the normal fees upon purchase)

What style of pull behind do you want?

There are essentially 3 types of pull behinds

Travel Trailer – These are your typical pull behinds that just attach at your hitch. There’s a pretty big variety of sizes and options, so it’s a good starting place! These can include “toy haulers” that have space near the front or back for fun vehicles such as

5th Wheel – These pull behind are typically pretty big, and can only be pulled by a truck that has a fifth wheel hitch installed in the bed. They are very spacious, and have an over the cab area for sleep, creating even more living space

Pop up – Small, aerodynamic and light, pop ups take longer to set up initially, but have the potential to have a decent amount of space! Keep in mind that if they are not hard sided, you may be prone to colder nights and more wind.

With these basic descriptions in mind, you can narrow it down a bit based upon a few things such as vehicle type you have. For example, no 5th wheel if you don’t have a truck, and if you have a very small vehicle, pop ups might be one of the better options to check out!

how to buy a travel trailer for cheap for the first time
Our pull behind travel trailer from one of our camp trips last summer (in the background!)

How long of a travel trailer do you want?

This is the last consideration, once you have your towing weight, budget and pull behind style somewhat narrowed down!

Travel trailers can be pretty short (and light!) like these, which will allow you to maneuver easier and get into some pretty cool spots.

However, it’s important to think about your lifestyle, how much you plan on being in the camper, and things like the amount of children and/or friends you might host in your camper at some point. Typically, the longer the camper the more potential sleeping space there is (and walking space if you’re claustrophobic!)

Don’t be like us and get something that was “fine for now” without thinking of future camping then regret it for years after!

What kind of pricing to expect at the RV dealership (in addition to the travel trailer itself)

There’s alot to think about when you hit the dealership, but my best piece of advice would be this – whatever advertised price you see, expect to add ATLEAST a couple of grand to that. This especially sucks if you went a littttlle over your limit because you just loved a certain camper so much, only to find out after everything is said and done, now your WAY over the limit!

Before we start, I want to tell you the single bit of most important advice when buying a camper:

Don’t buy something on that first day – walk out, and let them know you are shopping around!

They will be more likely to give you competitive, cheaper pricing if they know you’re not going to become attached to a single camper (My definite weak point!) and that there are many other potential options for you at other RV dealership!

Discounts that are fairly normal when buying an RV + Best Buying Times

  • 20-25% off MSRP – I find this is fairly common, and you may even be able to get more money off the MSRP based upon seasonality and how well the particular camper you’re looking at is selling. I find a lot of good advice on rv.net’s thread here if you want even more advice!
  • If you want a newer camper, shop spring to get last years model – It can sometimes be easier to negotiate the price down on last years model or other campers that didn’t sell well in order to make room for the new!
  • Shop during mid summer – winter – Most people have bought their campers by mid summer, and business continues to slow down after that. Prices may be more negotiable during these times since sales don’t come quite as often!

Fees to expect when buying an RV

  • RV prep fee – This is around 800 dollars or so, and includes the last cleaning, winterizing/de-winterizing etc. It can usually be added into your payment plan
  • Transport fee – The amount the dealer adds to account for the money it took to get the camper there. Seems reasonable, and can be added into your payment plan. Ours was around 300 dollars, however, this increases based upon the size of your trailer. For motorhomes, this cost gets pretty high!
  • Additional warranties – There’s ALOT of warranties they offer, such as roadside assistance, GAP insurance coverage (this is good, as it covers the gap between what you owe and the actual cash value of your trailer) so it’s good to get some. However, be wary of “extended warranties” sold by the dealer. They are often overpriced, and you may have better luck shopping on your own! Trippsavvy has an amazing RV insurance guide here for more info!
  • Other services – This might include things like special waxing, installing any additional options you chose and varies widely
  • Taxes – This one always stings! It’s 6% here, so that was around 1.3k on our 19kish camper!
  • Batteries and propane tank – This can usually be added into your payment plan, however, if you’re good at negotiating, you can sometimes get the dealer to throw it in as a bonus! My husband got a propane tank after some hard negotiations!
  • Basics for your camper to function – This includes things like sewer hoses, garden hoses for getting water into your tank, water regulator, tire chocks, levelers and toilet chemicals. While not super pricey, it can be $200 or so more! Here’s a helpful guide on what to stock your new camper with!
  • Generator (optional) – I’m going to assume that since you have decided to buy a camper, you would also want a generator to run things in it without needing to be plugged in. These can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000+

tips for first time buying a camper
In the hotseat! It’s good to talk to your salesperson and find out what exactly is included in that “out the door price” and write it down!

Some more helpful info when buying your travel trailer!

  • Buy used, if possible – I know this is hard (I too, am attracted to shiny things) but if you buy even 1-2 years old you could get the trailer you want for half the price!
  • If you already know the trailer you want, get the price ahead of time – Using https://www.rvtrader.com search your area for the camper you want, and come ready to go with that price in hand. This is often one of the best prices, and is a good starting point!
  • Negotiate an “Out the Door Price” (and ask them to write it down!) – Ask your sales rep the total amount you will pay that includes all required feeds. When it comes to paper signing time, they sometimes like to add in extra stuff that you didn’t talk about, or assume won’t ask about. Having this number on paper is a good way to let them know what they agreed to, and will allow you to reject any other surprise fees! It is also helpful when trying to talk to other rv dealerships!
  • Know it is not rude to walk away and find the best price (but still be polite!) – This one is hard for me! For some reason, I always feel like they’re just trying to do their jobs and make some money. After our little RV incident this weekend, my husband reminded me that we are just doing our job, and finding the best rig for our money since we have a family to provide for!

So you bought the camper! Woo! Before you leave, make sure to listen to your mechanic so you know how to use your travel trailer!

It is VERY important to know how to operate your specific camper!

While you will get an owners manual and be able to use Google, the mechanics advice (the mechanic is usually the person prepping your camper, and you’ll likely see him/her right before you pick it up to leave) is priceless for two reasons

1) He or she knows the common problems that might arise with your camper, and what to do about it

2) It’s your chance to do one last “inspection” and make sure everything is working as it should with the mechanic, and since you’re still at the dealer, allows you to ask questions if something isn’t working!

Here are some definite things you want to ask your mechanic about your travel trailer. Take notes, or even better, record the more technical thigns with your phone!

  • How to winterize and dewinterize
  • How to empty your black and grey tanks,
  • How to fill up water tanks
  • How to hook up to “city water” connection
  • How to use your stabilizers (they’re not meant to help level your camper!)
  • How to start the fridge (many are propane operated and require more steps),
  • How to use the toilet (it’s different than at home!)
  • How to operate any awnings or slideouts

Do you feel a little more comfortable with the travel trailer buying process?

I hope so – I know one of the biggest soul crushers for me was walking away. But, after thinking about it for a couple of days I’m not near as bummed about not getting our pretty new trailer, and it’s true that we would be better off buying used!

If you can manage to not get attatched to a particular brand or camper, and have the patience to shop around, then you’ll likely find a pretty sweet deal!

Let me know if there are any juicy tips to getting that final price even lower in the comments!

Don’t forget to download the FREE Printable PDF Version of this if you’re a paper person like me!

I’m definitely someone who has like 6 notepads in various places (plus 100s of screenshots in my phone!) of handy information I like to keep. If you’re like me, why not get this paper version so all your travel trailer buying info is in one spot!

how to save money on your first rv

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