If you’re in the market for a condensed home on wheels and wondering if you should buy a travel trailer or a campervan, then you’re in the right place! There are key differences between travel trailers and campervans, and which one you buy will depend on quite a few factors.
In short, a travel trailer requires a vehicle to tow it while a campervan is its own independent vehicle. Because of this, travel trailers tend to offer a tad more space than campervans do.
In my travels, I’ve rented both campervans and travel trailers and then, a couple of years ago, decided to purchase my very own trailer.
In this article, I’ll cover the differences between travel trailers and campervans and help you decide which one you should buy!
Should I Buy A Travel Trailer Or A Campervan – Which Is Better?
What Is A Campervan?
A campervan is a Class B vehicle that has been outfitted with sleeping and living space, often including a bed, storage areas, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Almost any van can be customized into being a campervan, but ones built with a VW, Mercedes Sprinter, or Ford Transit base are popular choices.
A campervan has an immediate leg up on the travel trailer as it is self-contained. Meaning, you don’t have to tow anything. However, this also means that you’ll have to take your home everywhere you go – from campsites to grocery store parking lots and everywhere in between.
How much you’ll spend on a campervan depends on many specifications, although doing a self-build tends to be the most economical option. Otherwise, these types of vans can easily range from $30,000 – $100,000.
What Is A Travel Trailer?
A travel trailer is a towable container with wheels that you attach to another vehicle. Kind of like a hardshell tent, travel trailers tend to be on the smaller side and don’t have a ton of space for walking around. Of course, there are plenty of travel trailer sizes on the market, but the point of these is to have a minimalist space in which to sleep and cook.
Speaking of which, you’ll find plenty of travel trailers out there with a kitchen installed either inside or, more commonly, on the outside. Likewise, most smaller travel trailers do not have an interior bathroom, although there is no hard and fast standard for this.
Almost all of these trailers come with options for power hookups, storage, air ventilation, and even AC.
Things To Consider Before Making A Purchase
The math on whether or not travel trailers or campervans are more fuel-efficient depends on the size and weight of both options you’re considering. However, in general, campervans are slightly more fuel-efficient than travel trailers.
The added vehicle strain involved in towing a travel trailer adds up quickly and you can generally expect to get around 20mpg, while most diesel engine campervans get around 18-25mpg (or higher). Obviously, neither are excellent on fuel, but when you consider your lowered-carbon footprint and saved costs due to camping, the extra output can be justified.
If you’re on a budget and don’t have the time or know-how to build your own campervan setup, then purchasing a travel trailer is the way to go. Though there are exceptions to this, fully-built, reliable campervans can range in price from $30,000 – $100,000 and require quite a bit of maintenance. On the flip side, travel trailers can go from $10,000 – $30,000+ and require less mechanical skill.
Of course, the big caveat to all of this is assuming that you have a vehicle to tow your travel trailer with. If not, and you want to purchase a travel trailer, then you’ll have to factor this additional vehicle into the price.
Further, both options require insurance. This depends on your location and insurance company, but, on average, a travel trailer will be much cheaper to insure than a campervan.
Budget aside, the biggest thing to consider when deciding if you should get a campervan or travel trailer is your travel style. While both options are great for weekend trips, if you plan to travel for longer then you’ll need to take into account size, maneuverability, and amenities.
Travel trailers are usually more difficult to maneuver into small campsites because they need to be towed, while campervans can simply be parked wherever there’s a spot. Campervans also have more options for where you can camp, including designated parking lots and free camping areas. Travel trailers have some of these options too, but as they’re a larger setup, it requires more planning.
However, travel trailers have a leg up on campervans in that, if you plan on camping in one spot for a while, you can just leave your trailer and take your vehicle elsewhere. This gives you way more options for day trips and makes small runs to the grocery store a breeze. Plus, you’ll never have to surrender your camping spot by taking your whole home while you explore.
Pros Of Owning A Campervan
- Stealth camping
- They usually get better gas mileage
- Easier to park and back up
- You can avoid towing anxiety
Cons Of Owning A Campervan
- You have to move your house every time you need to run to the store
- Smaller Living Space
- Often more expensive than a travel trailer
Pros Of Owning A Travel Trailer
- You’ll get to call dibs on your campsite, even when you’re not there.
- Often cheaper than campervans
- You get two separate spaces (in case you want some space away from your travel partner)
- Less maintenance (no engine)
- More economical
- More space
- It’s easier to get insurance
Cons Of Owning A Travel Trailer
- Hauling a trailer behind your car – it’s not for everyone
- Backing up can be tricky
- You need a car that can tow
- You need a safe place to store it when it’s not in use
The Verdict – Should You buy A Travel Trailer Or A Campervan?
Overall, you should buy a travel trailer if you prioritize your budget, already have a vehicle that can tow, plan on staying at least a few nights at every campsite you visit, and aren’t mechanically inclined. On the flip side, you should buy a campervan if you plan on quickly traveling from place to place, have some mechanical skills, and want the convenience of not towing a trailer.
If you’re not sure which camper to buy, I highly recommend renting one on RVshare first in order to get a feel for what it’s really like!
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