Own an RV For Less Than $5,000
"Pop-up" camping trailers permit an American family to purchase a motor home-your house away from home
Pack up the tent. Close up the Winnebago. Put away your wallet. And meet the low-cost solution to the RV lifestyle. It's a white box about four-and-a-half-feet-tall, perched on two wheels, and made of plastic. Congratulations: Your family will soon be living in it. Just hitch it to the back of the family car and hit the road. At your campsite, this peculiar nut blossoms into an 18-foot-long home away from home. With a few easy cranks, the waterproof lid of the trailer rises to become a roof, wooden floors emerge to serve as sleeping platforms, and fabric unfurls to form walls and additional roof. Everything you need, from kitchen table to kitchen sink, opens up with a few zips, snaps, or creaks. Within moments, you've unfolded a portable motel room out of this veritable Swiss Army Camper.
Your Velcro vacation is ready. The last thing you'll open will be a cold beer. The true wonder of this extraordinarily engineered product isn't really its ingenious collapsibility. It's the resourcefully compact price. The savings over other self-accommodating camping vehicles are extreme. A typical Class A motor home, the motorized classic measuring 20 to 40 feet, can easily cost $60,000 or much more when purchased new and presents daunting challenges in navigation and fuel expenses. Even those boxy travel trailers, which hitch to the bumper of your (preferably powerful) vehicle, average $14,000 for a stripped-down model.
Different names, uniform comforts
But a new folding camping trailer (also known as a "pop-up" or "fold-down") can be had for as low as $3,200. To put the price into context, $5,500 spent on a fuller model, including a toilet, would buy you about 69 rooms in a $80 roadside motel-except with your trailer, you can sleep up to eight people wherever you want for years into the future. In short, with a folding camping trailer, the RV lifestyle can be had for pennies on the dollar.
Although soft-sided and tent-like, folding camping trailers feel like mini motor homes, with wood veneer cabinets, booth-style dining, dome lights, and a diminutive kitchen sink. They also typically boast storage compartments for linens, food, and supplies. For an extra charge, they come self-contained with showers, mini-refrigerators, toilets, awnings, furnaces, air-conditioners, propane tanks, power converters, and batteries for appliances, as well as other conveniences associated with far more expensive RVs.
Not only do you approach the comfort of a full-size RV, but you do so in proportions you can handle. On the road, pop-ups have distinct advantages over other RVs. Because most folding trailers are wood-framed, they're lightweight and don't guzzle your fuel the way bigger trailers do. When collapsed, they won't obstruct sightlines in your rearview mirror. Their trim dimensions minimize wind resistance to make it safe and easy to pull behind the car you probably already have - ideal for weekend trips. And because it takes up about as much room as a standard automobile, when you're not on vacation, it can sit uncovered in an extra parking space - unlike that impassive brickhouse known as the Class A Motor Home, which hunkers in your driveway like a slumbering dinosaur.
Consider Your Needs
Before you rush to hitch your wagon to this star, there are important considerations. To be so adaptable, the folding camping trailer must compromise in other areas, so it isn't a perfect fit with every vacationer. The biggest compromise lies in its fabric walls. Sure, half of the appeal of camping is sleeping to the music of crickets and waking to the gentle morning breeze. But the trailers' construction can also translate into chilly nights and limited privacy (although some models have tinted vinyl windows). If you're a lightweight yourself, the airy atmosphere may put you off. Some higher-priced models offer onboard space heaters, but heat retention can be poor, and you'll pay more for electric usage.
Another consideration is security. Folding camping trailers aren't as commodious as their motorized brethren--when expanded, they generally have an interior height of around six and a half feet, with lengths from 17 to 26 feet-- so they don't necessarily lend themselves to round-the-clock occupancy. Should your family decide to go on a hike together, the only thing between your valuables and would-be burglars is that critical fabric wall, so you may feel compelled to collapse your trailer every time you step away from it. That doesn't sound so bad until you realize you will need to stow your personal items as well, turning a quick milk run into an all-out battening of the hatches.
In a folding trailer, everything is downsized. Onboard water tanks typically hold between five and 18 gallons of water, with an average of 12 (you can fill up at campsites). Iceboxes, not refrigerators, are standard. When they're included, toilets are typically "cassette" models, which are good for about 25 flushes and require emptying at a dump station. Also, nearly everything--down to the kitchen sink--either stows, folds, or slides away for road journeys, so you'll need to take extra care with the moving parts, as one broken hinge can gum up the entire streamlining process.