Small travel trailers are selling like hotcakes because they are affordable and easy for many vehicles to tow. But as experienced campers, we see 10 reasons to avoid small travel trailers.
In this article, we will share our RV camping experience in travel trailers and campers that were too small and why you might want to avoid them.
How Our Camping Experiences Led Us to Avoid Small Travel Trailers
As avid campers, my husband and I have spent a lot of time in the outdoors. We did a lot of tent camping in our early days and guess what? It never failed to rain when we got the tent out. We’ve experienced small creeks running through our tent, lightening, wet bedding, and much more.
I remember a time when we were in our tent, surrounded by water with all our luggage, us and the dog piled on top of the air mattress. When our kids were young we tried to tent camp with them. Get a big tent, they said. It will be fun, they said. Guess what? It nearly always rained. Now, we had four kids, at least one dog, and two adults in a “big tent.” Add some summer humidity, a few pairs of stinky socks, wet dogs, and boys and you have a smelly recipe for disaster.
So, we upgraded from a tent to a popup trailer. We were now ready for the rain. We had a king bed on one end for us, a queen on the other end for the boys, and the girls slept on the couches. Once we were protected from the elements it rarely rained. Go figure.
So, what does this have to do with avoiding small travel trailers? I remember we were always stepping over stuff. When we got out of bed in the morning all of our stuff went on the bed. When we had to get into bed at night, all that stuff had to be rearranged off the bed. Woe to the one who needed to get out to go to the bathroom which we didn’t have. They had to step over suitcases, hope they didn’t trip, and wake up the dogs, who now wanted to go outside with you, or the girls who were bedded down nearby.
That’s how I see living in a small travel trailer. Constantly rearranging, packing, and repacking to just have an open place to walk. If you are solo, it might work for you but add any more bodies and it’s going to be difficult.
Here are a few more reasons you might want to get a larger trailer, particularly if you are full time or in your RV more than just a few weekends a year.
Top 10 Disadvantages to Avoid Small Travel Trailers
1. Small Camper Trailers Have Small Holding Tanks
So, if your small RV has a bathroom, and let’s assume that it does, it probably has a small holding tank for black water and gray water. This means you will need to keep track of your levels more thoroughly and are going to spend more time dumping the tank or finding a dump station. These smaller RVs may not have sensors to tell you when the tanks are full so you will need to keep track of that yourself. All this will take away from the reason you are RVing in the first place which is to have more time to enjoy life, explore and get away.
The average RV holds anywhere from 20-100 gallons of fresh water, about 50 gallons for gray water, and 18-64 for black water. If you are on the smaller end of those figures, you might also not be able to do things such as boondock or go off grid. You just won’t have the capacity to make it work.
2. Small Travel Trailers Have Small Bathrooms or No Bathroom
If you have a small bathroom, you could possibly make it work. Some small RV bathrooms have what is called an RV wet bath. In this situation, everything in the bathroom will get wet when you take a shower. It’s sort of like having the toilet and sink in the shower. Everything has to be wiped down when you are done with the shower. So, my question is, where do you put the toilet paper, and of course other bathroom essentials? Everything for the bathroom will have to be stored elsewhere so it doesn’t get wet.
Of course, there are some small RVs that don’t have a bathroom at all. This means you either make yourself a portable outdoor shower and utilize a bucket or outdoor toilet for the other part, or you always need to park where there is a bathhouse.
3. Small Campers Might Not Have Enough Beds
Bed space in a small RV or trailer is another issue you might want to consider. If you are RVing solo or as a couple, obviously, one bed is enough. More people need more beds and that could be a problem. Some trailers might have one bed and then a table or couch that can be made into a bed for others. Depending on the configuration, you might have the bed in the common space so this will require everyone to sleep in a common area.
Also, you might have a murphy bed or one that raises and lowers from the ceiling, or a pull out couch, which must be “made up” during the day, every day. The comfort of some of these beds is also questionable. We slept on the pull out couch in our 37 foot travel trailer bunkhouse when we had guests. We vowed never to make anyone sleep on it again, got rid of it, and created an office in our bunk room. We still have the bunks which could have upgraded mattresses. We haven’t had a need for those yet.
There are trailers, I hesitate to call them RVs, that literally have a bed and nothing more. Some can even be pulled by a small car or even a motorcycle. I believe these would go in the popup category but might be good if you just need something to get you out of the elements.
4. Small Trailers Have Little to No Kitchen Space
As I said before, we had a good-size pop-up when we had four children at home. It had a sink and some counter space, but we generally had to do our cooking outside on a propane stove. I could at least do dishes in the small sink. On the weekends that we went camping, it worked fine. Having a small trailer with little kitchen space would definitely be a hindrance on a regular basis.
Many of these kitchens also come with limited appliances, or room for even a coffee pot, maybe only one small sink, and a small refrigerator.
I’ve seen some huge rigs with too much kitchen space. They usually include a kitchen island, a full size refrigerator, an immense pantry, and storage areas that are to die for. But, if I had a bigger kitchen I would probably have to cook more or at least be more creative. I think I will keep what I have which is fine for me.
5. Small Camping Trailers Have Little to No Counter Space
Even in my “larger” RV, I still wish I could find a way to have more counter space and more storage space. Dishes pile up in the sink and things that I can’t store away end up sitting on counters. Less counter space could have the added benefit of making me more creative with my storage. Or, I just won’t have as much to store. As it is, we go grocery shopping once a week because we are limited in where we can put things.
Costco or Sam’s Club may be economical, but I don’t have anywhere to put dozens of paper towels or toilet paper. As a side note, it was interesting when COVID first hit, and people were hoarding toilet paper. I got down to two or three rolls before I worried about getting any. I had no place to store it anyway. That is not something I would have done in a sticks and bricks house.
Counter space in a small RV, I think, would be a major deal breaker if I was looking at something small.
6. Small Campers Might Have a Small Fridge
This is another one of those deal-breakers for purchasing a small RV. While I don’t need a full size, double door, ice-making frig, I do think having some space in this area is essential. Small refrigerators can be anywhere from 3 cu. ft. to 5.5 cu. ft. Mine, in particular, is about 12 cu. ft. It is smaller than I am used to in my sticks and bricks but with everything in RVing, you make do.
If you RV with a family, this would definitely knock out a small RV unless you want to shop every other day. We happen to have an outdoor kitchen that has a dorm sized refrigerator. We use that to keep cans of drinks cold and it helps to keep our indoor frig less crowded.
7. A Small Travel Trailer Might Not Have an Oven
I don’t think not having an oven would knock me out of having a small RV. The ones in the larger RVs, unless you have a residential oven, are usually small anyway. It takes some finesse to cook in them because they are propane and can easily burn your meal if you don’t watch your food carefully. They won’t accommodate a full size cookie sheet or a 9X13 pan.
RV propane ovens also have a tendency to cook unevenly and must be lit at every use. A convection microwave can easily replace your RV oven and you might even get some more kitchen storage without one. Or, use the oven for storage.
Smaller RVs also limit kitchen items because of space so you might get only two kitchen stove top burners, one small sink, and a small microwave. I certainly could work with that if I had to.
8. Avoid Small Campers with a Small Dinette
A small dinette might not be a deal breaker for you in a small RV. Again, if you are solo or are a couple, you can probably work with less space in this area. We end up sitting in our recliners for dinner on most nights, although I do work on the computer at the table.
If you have a family, you probably will need more. If you like to entertain, even another couple, it’s difficult to seat everyone inside. Of course, part of the reason most people have for living in an RV is to spend more time outside. Picnic tables, camp chairs, and a roaring fire are all reasons to ditch the dinette and get outside.
I know people who completely remove the small dinette and create a comfortable office space. Some even make space for dog crates or a small extra bed.
9. Small Camping Trailers Don’t Have Enough Storage
I don’t have enough storage in my larger travel trailer, let alone would I have it in a small RV. This is one area that, no matter the size of your rig, you have to get creative. The use of shelving, baskets, and bins will go a long way to help make more room.
Purging your rig of items that you haven’t used or don’t intend to use is a must to make more storage space. Use the “one thing in, one thing out rule.” If you want to buy something, you have to get rid of something. Some people also use the six month or one year rule. If I haven’t used it in that time frame, then I need to get rid of it.
Find ways to use vertical space in your rig. Find vertical shelves and other ways to stack and store upward. Things such as a roll-up dish rack can help to free up counter space and can also be a multi-use item. Use it as a surface for hot pans, or as a way to dry fruits or vegetables. A wooden cutting board can be used as a serving tray.
Magnetic strips can keep things such as knives or spices out of the way and can be attached to a wall or inside a cabinet. Speaking of attaching to a wall. Command hooks are an RVers best option. Hang towels, remote controls pet leashes, keys, and much more. They can easily be put up and taken down without marring the walls.
Try nesting pots and pans and mixing bowls. Use a collapsible colander or laundry basket. Tension rods are another great and cheap storage solution. Use them to keep items from falling out of cabinets or use them vertically to hold dishes. A lazy Susan, can dispenser or dish cradle can also do wonders to make space in tight cabinets.
10. Small Campers Might Not Have Enough Room Inside
Like the tent that slept us and our four kids, sometimes there just isn’t enough room no matter how hard you try. A rainy day can test everyone’s patience even under the best of circumstances. Also, for couples who are full-timing, I believe you need to have a place where you can get away from one another on occasion. The outdoors is always good for that, even on a rainy day if you need your space bad enough.
Are you someone who likes to invite people to stay overnight and partake in your adventures? If so, you might want to think about a larger camper. If you are inviting another RV couple to have dinner and hang out, they are likely familiar in dealing with a small living space so don’t worry. Make sure you have a place for everyone to sit, get some cards or start a game of Uno and you won’t even notice you are crammed together like sardines.
I also find that some people love to have you over for a campfire but there is an unspoken law about actually going inside someone else’s camper. I’ve even asked about seeing the layout of someone’s rig and while they aren’t outright rude, I do get put off. I guess I’m just not that concerned about what people might see. I get the clutter, it’s a given in a small space and maybe I’m weird because I don’t worry about it.
If you like to have family or friends come and stay in your camper, here are a few tips for when you do invite them over to stay. When you do invite guests to share in your adventures, be sure and give them a heads up where they will be sleeping. Let them know what to bring in regard to bedding if needed, and make sure they are on board with sharing your lifestyle, even if it’s only for a night or two. They may not have a lot of privacy in your RV so be sure and let them know that too.
Make sure you plan for that rainy day so you won’t all be stuck inside getting on each other’s nerves. Plan to hit up a museum or restaurant if you need to get out.
The first time we had family stay in our RV, I think it was an eye opener for them. From our small bathroom and tight bedroom to staggering short showers, so we could all have hot water and the process of emptying the black tank and other tasks we do on a daily or weekly basis, they got a pretty good taste of our simple RV lifestyle. The next time they will likely get a hotel room.
Final Thoughts About Why We Avoid Small Travel Trailers
Finding the RV for you is really all about what makes you comfortable. For us, we hit it right when we purchased our RV—a Grand Design Reflection travel trailer with a bunkhouse. It’s the right size for us and we wouldn’t change anything about our decision. For others, you may purchase an RV and find it’s not the best fit. I can’t stress enough how much you need to research your choice though. We hear of a lot of RVers who change RVs every few years. To me, that’s not practical for my budget.
There are benefits to having a smaller RV and you may want to start small and move up. One benefit is a smaller RV is going to be less expensive. Consider your budget and don’t be sucked into something you can’t afford or will have difficulty pulling or driving. Some other factors that could go into choosing an RV are, is it going to be manageable to tow and what are you going to tow it with. Of course, you could choose a class C or a camper van which would be less living space but easier to get around.
Less living space also means your rig is generally less expensive to maintain which leaves you more time and money to get out and explore.
Just remember, particularly if you are a full time RVer, that rig you live in is your home. I’ve often stepped away from the truck and trailer when we were traveling and looked back only to think…everything I own is in those two vehicles. It’s a humbling thought. Then again, it’s not really about the “stuff.” It’s about loving what you are doing, finding your purpose, and having as many adventures as possible while you can.
About the Author:
Terri Nighswonger and her husband Todd are full-time RVers and work campers. They have been living full-time in their RV for nearly three years with their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Newton, and their Minnie Australian Shepherd, Remi.
They originate from the Midwest but plan to enjoy the west for a few years, wintering in Arizona and summering wherever the road may lead. Writing is Terri’s passion but she also loves hiking, kayaking, walking her dogs, and anything she can do outdoors.