Our Travel Trailer: A Mobile Money Pit

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Thanks for stopping by to read about our travel trailer.  If you enjoy this article you might also want to check out what I learned about trailer tires – Trailer Tires: A Lesson Learned

A few years ago we bought a used 26’ travel trailer for our family.  At the time it seemed like a cost efficient solution to our problem, but there were a lot of unexpected expenses in owning a travel trailer.  Here are my thoughts on why a travel trailer wasn’t a good decision for our family…

The Need
Our young family makes several outings a year where a travel trailer would come in handy.  Quite often we were using it at church camp and other similar events where we didn’t have to pay for an RV space.  We had grand visions of using the trailer for family outings but in the past couple of years we have used it once.  We looked into renting a trailer but at a cost of approximately $600 a week it appeared to get quite expensive.

Our Experience

Our travel trailer

The trailer we bought was a 26’ Jag by K-Z trailer that has a full-size bed in the front.  A kitchenette with microwave, stove, oven and fridge.  A dining table and couch that folds out into a bed.  Plus a bunk bed area next to the full bathroom.  The trailer was bought on Craigslist for $5,500 and had a used book value of around $8,500 at the time.  The awning on the trailer had been torn off and would need replacing, but that was a $500 repair.

Let me be clear.  I think the whole RV / travel trailer lifestyle is pretty cool.  We have met some neat people and everyone is super friendly.  My thoughts are not a ‘slam’ on this lifestyle.  My thoughts revolve around taking an honest look at how much it costs to have a travel trailer.

Some of the associated costs are insurance ($185 a year) and license tags ($56 a year).  To increase towing stability I had a $400 stabilizing hitch put onto the truck which makes a HUGE difference towing a trailer this size.  (The hitch makes the truck and trailer feel like one vehicle when it is going down the road.)  Add another $200 for the electronic brake control that had to be installed in the truck to control the brakes on the trailer.

Along the way there seem to be lots of little parts that have broken on the trailer.  I don’t know if it is our specific trailer or a general theme among them.  A few that I can think of are the motor in the bathroom vent fan ($25), two plastic vent covers ($20 each), plastic retainer clips ($8 / 2), the sewer hose ($25) and probably several other items.  Pretty much every time we took it out I found some little piece that needed to be repaired that would cost $20 or so.

Don’t forget the fuel to pull the trailer.  Oh, the fuel!  Many times I would get a whopping 8-10 mpg while pulling the trailer.  Added wear and tear on the truck would also be another consideration.

Parking a Trailer
When we started doing some trailer camping I was surprised how much a spot can cost.  They can range from $15 dollars a night up to $45 or $50 a night.  Hookups usually include water, electric, WiFi and sometimes even cable.

Another thing to consider is where you will store the trailer.  For a year we had our trailer parked off the end of our driveway with the tires sitting on some pavers.  A city employee stopped by to let us know that was a violation of code.  We would either have to park it on the driveway or erect a six-foot privacy fence.  Many HOAs do not allow trailers to be parked on property, so you might have to pay $50-$100 a month to store the trailer offsite.

Is It Worth It?
Many people have asked me if they would be better off renting a trailer to take on their vacation.  In most cases the answer is no.  Let me give you an example…

One of the best places we put the trailer was The Vineyards campground in Grapevine, TX.  This campground is pretty expensive but it is very well maintained and beautiful…you get what you pay for.  Our spot was $45 a night and they require a minimum of two nights stay.  With taxes it ran just over $100 for our two night stay.  They also have cabins at the campground that can be rented for $85 a night.  Using the price difference between RV spot and cabin, we could stay at the campground for approximately 140 days based on the purchase price of the trailer.  That is 140 days of cabin living that doesn’t involve any maintenance time for me or additional expenses.

Final Thoughts
Owning a travel trailer has been a fun adventure for us, but not one that is cost efficient.  We should be able to sell the trailer for close to what I paid for it even though we have owned it for a couple of years.  There are many scenarios where owning a trailer or an RV makes since, but for us the numbers just didn’t add up.

Our trailer is on the very low end of the cost spectrum for trailers.  Many trailers run $20,000 to $50,000 when bought brand new and come with amazing amenities.  Motor homes start at around $65,000 and can easily run $400,000 with some of the mega rigs costing over $1,000,000.  Depreciation is a huge factor to consider when buying a travel trailer or motor home.  It costs a lot of money to have a mobile home away from home.

Anybody want to buy a trailer? 🙂

Update 9/2/14:  I have noticed a lot of traffic on this post and thought an update would be good.  You might want to check out The End of the Road: Our Travel Trailer for a detailed write up on an insurance claim that totaled our trailer.  Trailering is a fun way of life for many, but I found the experience to be problematic and EXPENSIVE.  I fully believe I bought a ‘lemon’ of a trailer so there is a lesson to be learned in buying something very expensive on CL that you know nothing about.  I still think travel trailers and RVs are COOL!  Unless I can work my way up to affording an Airstream I don’t see us getting another travel trailer.

11 thoughts on “Our Travel Trailer: A Mobile Money Pit

  1. We went from a 3 bedroom rental house that had 3 different types of mold causing me respiratory problems..to a 30ft travel trailer. I can breathe so much better but am always broke. But this is my husbands dream. How do we know if it is a money pit or not. Well..here are a FEW things since I started making payments . The refrigerator.. the oven…the outside lights and occasionallyt

  2. the heat nor water heater works. I feel like I have to work to keep a dream going…not the way I thought my life would end up. Of course… payments will end in the fall and think I will sign it over to my husband so he can be happy…I am gonna find me a cabin with a wood stove and maybe then Iwill be happy. The things we do for LOVE!

    1. Wow! Sounds a bit like a money pit to me…but there is no value that can be put on your good health! Our trailer tale has taken a bit of a turn since I wrote this. We are actually in the process of having our trailer ‘totaled’ by our insurance company. There was extensive damage to the trailer but all will end well. They are offering a fair price for the trailer and we get to leave the trailer lifestyle behind in a fairly pain free manner. Hope things work out well for you as you continue forward!

  3. I see this article as one isolated example that in no way represents the average family. To say it is expensive to live in a mobile away from home is true. But when your mobile IS home, that is far from the truth. Many families are living on the road. Six people and three pets in a 26ft trailer. It’s all in how you live your life. Some people need the best or most appealing looking amenities. Some people need a top notch power system with electric appliances. I for one am an advocate for practical living.

    People should be learning to use solar power. Catch rainwater. Yes. People are creating their own DIY rainwater catch system to put on their trailer to fill up the fresh water tank. They invest into a composting toilet to eliminate the black water tank. That creates an extra fresh water tank. And eliminates sewer cost. Some convert a box freezer into a fridge, which uses far less electricity. So it can run off the solar power system and not rely upon propane.

    There are hundreds more ideas on how to live off the grid, off the lot practical living that minimizes cost and increases self sustainability without resorting to being part of the system. Nobody has to stay at a pricey campground. There are plenty of FREE areas to sleep and play. And when you live off the grid, its even better.

    Living on the road is easier and better than the traditional lifestyle which only serves to make the rich even richer.

    1. Very true Joe…like most things “your personal experience may vary.” Our travel trailer was a secondary dwelling and really burned a lot of money. The story did end with a bit of good and bad. Our trailer had an accident and wound up being totaled. The insurance settlement actually covered all costs we had put in the trailer after 3 years of ownership. So a few good memories and even money is the way to go.

      I have a few folks I know who are full-timers like your family. That is definitely a very cost effective lifestyle and a very different subject all together. I’m impressed with your efforts to minimize your impact on the environment.

    2. JoeM I need more info like this. We are leaving in September for 12 months. US travel and we don’t even camp!

    3. Joe,
      I’m very interested in your “green” approach to full time RVing.
      Any chance you can share more ideas with me/us?

  4. I just retired and we will be purchasing a trailer for travel and to visit family. Yes I am sure there will be some repairs but I am spending money on home repairs on my house one. Any place you live you ware things out and repairs will have to be made. I was an accountant. I don’t see this so much as a money saving way to travel…but what I do like is that we will have our own bed. I have spent a lot of time in hotels and am never sure of how clean they are. I question hotel security sometimes also. With my own trailer I am the only one with the key. We are buying one large enough that the children can also use it for their vacations…so we can help them out also. An who knows…maybe some family camping later. And as an accountant the thing I like also is that there is some value in the asset when you are done.

  5. Having a travel trailer IS expensive but for my family you can never put a price on the memories we have made with family and friends! My kids get so excited every time we take it out. So for my husband and I it’s so worth it!

  6. I’m considering a 5 to 10 year old 25′ +/- travel trailer ($5,000 to $8,000) that I will keep parked for free at a friend’s bug out location in a heavily treed rural area within an hour of my house. While society holds together, it will make a nice get-away from the routine of suburbia.

    I understand that every physical object and system requires repair or replacement after a period of time. I would expect to keep several hundred dollars in reserve for initial repairs, and expect annual repairs to average $300 or $400 after that. What are your thoughts about this expectation?

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