Time for a small travel trailer to sate your wanderlust?

How a small travel trailer can sate your wanderlust, save you money and take you to new horizons…

Vaccines are slowly starting to roll out through California and in the west, and while it may be months before we can put the worst of the pandemic behind us, we can start to see the hopeful end in the distance. As we approach more normal lives, the American desire to travel in this country and beyond will quickly accelerate.

This column suggests small travel trailers as a fun and relatively safe mode of travel, whether it’s in your home state, the west or throughout the US and Canada. Even in the last nine months, we’ve made a couple of in-state trips (to Lassen National Park and oceanside campgrounds north of Bodega Bay) with our little vintage Scotty trailer, my wife and me, camping in style and comfort and able to avoid almost all other human contact. If you can revel in the beauty of nature and don’t mind avoiding restaurants (preparing your own food at campsite) and other people, it’s a delightful break from being home-bound.

Our 64 Scotty trailer and Ford Escape tow vehicle, and Yosemite Falls.

So, let’s consider small trailers, including vintage trailers, newer used trailers and new trailers. I recommend trailers generally shorter than 20 feet, which offer a room for several adults and several kids, and many of them are able to be towed behind small to midsize to vehicles – not those huge, fuel-guzzling pick-up trucks becoming so popular with Americans. 

We tow a 1400 pound, 13 foot vintage Scotty trailer behind a four-cylinder, turbo-charged Ford Escape (with 3500 pound towing capacity), and can achieve 19 miles per gallon towing our little trailer. Compare that to the 6 to 9 miles per gallon pulling larger trailers, as well as the ease of backing our small trailer into tight national park or national forest campsites, and we will happily sacrifice the additional legroom and sleeping capacity. A side benefit, our Scotty will fit in a standard garage, or behind a six-foot fence and not bother neighbors.

Spouse Susan and our Scotty, June Lakes Loop, eastern Sierra in May.

Consider the size and type: The smallest of travel trailers are those popularized after World War II, teardrop trailers, typically 4 to 5 feet wide, 8 to 10 feet long, and primarily offering a sleeping compartment for two adults and a rear kitchen. We have owned two teardrops, a Kit Kamper, and currently a 58 Scotty Junior reproduction trailer. After 10 years with the teardrops, we upgraded four years ago to a 1964 Scotty Sportsmen, 13 feet in length, offering a double bed in the rear, small center cabinets including a two-burner stove and small sink, and an upfront dinette large enough for four trim adults (which can be made into another bed at night). Not huge, but spacious compared to a teardrop!

Vintage trailers popular in the west include Scotty, Shasta, Airstream, DeVille, Lawton and more. However, trailers that are 50 to 60 years old come in three states; total disrepair, in need of repair (and with faults papered-over) and those meticulously maintained and often totally rebuilt. One can find “basket case trailers” with good bones, but be prepared to put in hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars should an old trailer need a frame-up rebuild. Our Scotty, costing only $900, required another $4500 in materials and almost 500 hours in the rebuild. Redeeming qualities; it’s cute, gets lots of comments in campgrounds and could be resold for thousands more than the investment.

Susan and our 58 Scotty teardrop trailer, Redwoods National Park.

Used trailers: You’ll find a wide variety of used trailers on trailer-dealer lots, in people’s backyards and many advertised on both craigslist and eBay. If you want a modern trailer but aren’t willing to pay the steep costs for new, finding a several year-old trailer – many of them wonderfully maintained and lightly-used – can save you about 1/3 to 1/2 on purchasing the same trailer new. Modern trailers include T@B, R-pod, Cassita, A-liner, Airstream and many more.

Purchasing new: A new trailer comes with that pristine, never-used aura, and allows dealer or bank financing, but you’ll pay a considerable price over a vintage or slightly used trailer. As an example, a new T@B or Cassita trailer, several of our favorites, will cost in the low- to high-$20 thousand range.

An almost new T@B trailer, owned by friends Christine and Steve Lewis.

Suggestion: Rent a trailer for a couple of days to determine whether you’re truly going to like the experience. Local dealerships like Pan Pacific RV in Lathrop allow rentals of small trailers and offer you a chance to try out the trailer camping vibe. And, with pent-up demand for travel and as the pandemic begins to reside and summer approaches, demand for trailers will ramp up – so consider starting your search soon.

Long before purchasing a new or used trailer, research your intended tow vehicle – can it handle the weight of both trailer and the contents of the tow vehicle?  As example, if your vehicle is rated at 3,000 lbs. tow capability, and your trailer weighs 2,500 pounds, when loaded with camp goods and two adults and additional camp items in the car – you’ll exceed the car’s tow capabilities.

A newer R-pod trailer, owned by cousin Anne Linton of Oregon.
A vintage Airstream and its equally vintage woodie tow vehicle.

Where to find a trailer: Most brands can be found locally; do a web search for favored models. Vintage and used versions can be found on Craigslist or eBay; put up a daily search for favored brand or “vintage trailer”. For additional insight into classics, see Tin Can Tourists site, tincantourists.com; for info on particular trailers, search the Internet where you will find owner’s sites or Facebook groups like the National Serro Scotty site, nationalserroscotty.org (you will find our 64 Scotty rebuild profiled on the Rebuilds page).

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, find more photos at recordnet.com/travelblogSafe travels in your world!

This entry was posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region, Sierra Nevada, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

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