Part 6 of our Luxury Travel Trailer series.
Thinking of making a move into a mobile lifestyle? A home on wheels you say? If you are considering a travel trailer for extended living for more than just a day or two, you really have to view this as a full-time residence. And your primary home, you really need to make sure that it’s designed best for your actual lifestyle. Now this can be tough – it’s an exercise in self-reflection. Know thyself? Who knew a travel trailer could be rooted deeply in philosophy.
Now before I get too far, I want to make sure you understand what I’m optimizing for here. This isn’t about a Recreational Vehicle. RVs are specifically designed for short-term use. Weekend trips to the lake are a very different use than extended or full-time use. If you’re primarily looking to use a travel trailer for no more than a couple days at a time, this article may not apply to you. But then again, if you purchase an RV that functions well as a full-time home, then it will more than meet your needs for a couple days!
With a mobile lifestyle comes a lot of things that you don’t consider when you have a traditional brick and mortar home. Our homes tend to be full of stuff that supports our unique and wonderful lives. Whatever type of lifestyle we lead, we should be honest with ourselves about our desires, hobbies, and passions. Hobbies typically involve things - unless you’re passionate about meditation or running – which I, too, enjoy from time to time. But what about all those passions that involve physical objects? If we love to paint, we need a canvas, brushes, and supplies. If you love to read, you have plenty of books or at least a Kindle to take with you.
Not to mention the fact that at least to walk around in our modern world we need to wear clothes every day – and that doesn’t mean just a pair of pants and a shirt. We are expected to wear different clothes every day so we fill up a closet with shoes, pants and shirts and all the things that come along with that. Weather isn’t always the same and we need jackets, shoes and swim trunks all the like to explore that snow covered mountain peak or tropical beach. When we choose a home that is no larger than a couple hundred square feet, we must consider the value proposition of living a lifestyle that is free and mobile while being able to take along the things that allow us to do the things that we love to do. A luxury travel trailer is designed to do exactly that.
I have personally lived-in dozens of tiny spaces from boats, vans, buses – you name it, I’ve probably lived in it. I found the success and pleasure of living in a small residence is a make-or-break reality based on two things: function and storage capacity.
I’ve lived in spaces where every little decision I make when I shop isn’t whether I want it, but do I actually have a place to put it. This helps clarify my choices. While it may be fun and exciting for a brief while, the novelty behind the concept of self-imposed downsizing becomes a distinct burden if we don’t have a place to put our stuff. There’s a difference between cleaning house because it’s your choice and being forced to do it because your mobile living space can’t physically fit what you want. Everything needs to have its place. After all, humans are needy creatures and we have grown to rely on things and support a wonderful quality of life. So, when it comes to evaluating the values in a high-end travel trailer, we really need to make sure there’s enough storage capacity to carry what we want and need with us to lead the life we love.
I’ve created this article to help you understand some of my lessons based on real-life experience having lived in small spaces for nearly two decades now. I have found things that are so important and other things that really don’t matter. Again, this is all based on my experience so your situation and my own personal value basis. You may be optimizing for something else and come to a completely different conclusion. And that’s the beauty of it all! We’re all wonderfully unique and passionate creatures, which is what makes this life so diverse and exciting!
My hope is that this article provides some insight into the things you may not have considered and you will reach your own conclusions that are right for you. So here we go!
Here are what I would consider the five most important points to consider about storage when buying a luxury travel trailer.
I’m going to start with what may be the most obvious and common aspect that we all share as a fundamental need for storage – clothes. After all, unless you live in a nudist colony, everyone wears clothes in one way or another – and likely every single day. Until we discover a Utopian Nirvana where we’re all wearing our birthday suits on a beach singing kumbaya we have to accept the reality we find ourselves, which requires wearing clothes every day.
Whether it be shade from the sun’s rays, warmth to enjoy snow, or just adhering to societal norms, we won’t be walking around naked. So, we buy clothes, and we fill up those massive walk-in closets. Some more than others but this is pretty much universal. The first time I moved from a bricks-n-sticks home to a trailer I was surprised how challenging it was to whittle down my vast collection of T-shirts and jeans. It was an oddly cathartic moment, but then again, the trailer I was moving into was a mere 16 feet long and had a 14-inch closet.
So be sure that the travel trailer you are looking at has plenty of space to put your clothes. And not just expressed in cubic feet but how well does the storage really function. You will need a dresser with appropriately sized drawers, with a full-size hanging closet that can accommodate long dresses or hanging slacks. You will also need spaces to store footwear and socks. Plus, nightstands for accessories – and the list goes on and on. One of the most basic forms of advice I can give someone embarking on a full-time small space living lifestyle is this: Don’t downplay the reality of how much clothing you actually have, what you truly need. If there’s more than one of you making the journey – remember this too, Are you really going to fit a family of five into a two-foot wide closet?
Of course, it’s not just the closet we so readily associate with clothing. There are other items that typically don’t go in the closet, but we don’t think of when we have a large place to call home. For example, I have found that shoes can become a major obstacle when living in a small space.
Living in a travel trailer I find myself going inside and outside constantly. The distinction between indoor and outdoor space becomes blurred when travelling outdoors. My footwear is constantly coming on and off as I prefer not to wear shoes indoors. This simple requirement can be a major hurdle as I almost always have a pile of shoes right next to the front door. This can become quite the trip hazard – smelly, too! Unless you have somewhere to conveniently put those shoes that are literally right next to the front door you can expect that same pile of shoes that you will see and trip over on a day-to-day basis. It’s little things like this that can make or break the day-to-day reality of how well a small space functions for you.
Now that we’re fully clothed let’s get ready for an adventure in the Great Outdoors! After all, why did you buy that trailer in the first place? So now is a good time to consider what you actually plan on doing outside that makes you smile and feeds your soul.
I was raised in the Eastern High Sierra of California. Mountain country. It wasn’t unusual to get 30 feet of snow in the winter. I spent most of my afternoons on the mountain just a few miles from my school. That’s right, my PE class was spent skiing after lunch. We would pack into a school bus and head up to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to get our daily exercise.
At the time it was just a way of life but after moving to college and onto a full-time job I discovered how vital the outdoors was part of my well-being. In the winter, I was skiing, snowboarding or building epic sledding jumps across from my home. In the summer, I was addicted to mountain biking and busy shoveling dirt around what my dad, creating something we called the “torture track.” This was a mountain bike course I made in the National Forest that was located across the street. Every great sport of my childhood continued well into my adult life and when I moved into a travel trailer, every sport I grew to love stayed with me. I imagine this is true for you, too.
If you love the outdoors and love recreating with any type of sport that requires equipment, make sure you plan to take it with you. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is to your wellbeing.
For example, if you love bicycles and there’s four of you, make sure you darn well have a place to put all four of those bikes. Somewhere safe and secure and easily accessed on a day-to-day basis. If you have to crawl up on the roof of your trailer to get a bike down, chances are you’re not going to enjoy the process of getting there and won’t do it as often as you would, could, or should.
If you love skiing or snowboarding, make sure you have what I would consider an indoor-outdoor storage compartment large enough to keep all of your winter gear. What I mean by this is you probably don’t want to bring sporting-goods indoors, dripping wet from the day on the slopes. Also, you definitely don’t want to rely on keeping your skis on the roof of your truck or outdoors. Large pass-through compartments work great for this. Safe, secure and locked compartments. You’re going to be traveling from place to place and thieves like nice things, and they tend to take nice things that are easy to take. It’s also great to have these compartments be part of the indoor heated space. That way when you go to grab your gear the next day, your boots aren’t frozen solid with ice and sweat caked into the boot liners – they’re dry, warm and ready to go!
Personally, I love mountain biking, skiing, and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). The simple reality is that all of the stuff takes up space. If you plan on doing the things you love in the awesome outdoors, make sure you have a place to put all your toys. A well-designed luxury travel trailer will have lots of space to put all this gear and so much more.
OK, so now we’re well clothed and enjoying the things we love to do outdoors. We’re off to a great start! After a full day adventure, there’s really nothing more than a wonderful home-cooked meal to wrap up the day. I love eating at restaurants, too, but sometimes eating out when traveling just doesn’t cut it. Sure, it’s glamorous for a while but notoriously unhealthy and expensive, and you just can’t beat sharing a meal at home.
So, ask yourself, just how often will you find a restaurant you love when you’re miles away from the nearest town? It’s highly unlikely Grub Hub or Door Dash will deliver to the National Park. Not to mention the reality of our post-COVID world – dining in a restaurant with dozens of other strangers may not be a smart idea. For me, a glass of wine, a cozy couch, and a home-cooked meal for dinner is bliss.
For those of us who love to cook there are so many things to consider. My wife and business partner, Joanna, was trained to be an organic chef in a previous life. We bounced around from small space to small space and I started to realize an interesting pattern emerge. When a kitchen was well-suited to cooking at home, we cooked at home more. I know it seems simple but hear me out.
For about two years, we lived in a modest size boat with a kitchen that looked great in photos. But after moving in, we slowly discovered the odd realities that clearly weren’t designed by people who actually used the kitchen. The pantry was big enough but was an odd triangle shape with a mere four-inches wide dry goods storage pantry. We had to lift a hatch in the floor to get out pots and pans and there was no dishwasher. Although the vessel was worth more than $100,000 new, I would consider it the most poorly designed kitchen I’ve ever experienced. It was a glamorous boat, with a dysfunctional kitchen. Nonetheless, while all the cooking facilities were technically there, and all the boxes were checked off, I discovered we hardly ever found ourselves cooking at home. It was simply too much work to prepare a proper meal, not to mention we literally had to shop every day because we had so little place to store food. And cleaning up was quite a chore with a tiny sink and a poorly placed faucet that made cleaning large plates all but impossible.
On the other hand, I’ve lived in spaces with even smaller square footage but a properly designed kitchen that functioned well. All the same features were there just like the boat, but it just plain worked. The pantry was small but deep and wide enough, and easily accessed, with plenty of nooks and crannies to keep all the food in an easy-to-access way.
When I talk about kitchen storage food is just part of it. How well a kitchen functions takes into consideration all of the necessary accoutrement, as well. Is there a deep drawer, cupboard, or overhead hangers for keeping larger pots and pans, and other cookware? Don’t forget that oh-so-necessary Vita-Mix blender, too. Just because you’re making the move to a smaller space, don’t give up on the things you love and your body needs!
All of this stuff adds up and makes life a whole lot easier if you plan on cooking at home on a regular basis. This is especially true in a small space. Don’t get me wrong, I love dining out. I love socializing and experiencing new places, new foods, and the wide variety of food and dining experiences. All that being true, I can get this same feeling back home, by opening my full-sized refrigerator and throwing something together that’s healthy and tasty, too.
The most important factor is the kitchen needs to function well. Maybe you’re like us. We love to prepare meals together! If so, is there room for two in the space? This means more than just having a place to put everything. Are your things readily available and easy to access without bumping into each other? All of this comes together so that space functions better.
In summary, I discovered that a well-designed kitchen with lots of storage actually led me to cook more. However, this is arguably one of the greatest advantages of a luxury travel trailer that you just can’t get in a hotel. Being able to have all your things exactly the way you want them and sitting down to a great meal that you create yourself is simply divine.
As we continue to move more and more indoors we take advantage of some of the great opportunities a travel trailer brings with it. One of the major differences between camping and living in a luxury travel trailer is the media and technology experience that just is challenged with camping. It’s a surreal experience being outdoors at some great location, just having enjoyed an epic adventure earlier that day. You return home, cook yourself a great home-cooked meal, and watch a feature-length film in your very own home theater with surround sound. I tell you; this is just bat crazy stuff of the future, and a well-designed luxury travel trailer can let you have that exact experience. Let me tell you, it’s awesome.
I didn’t realize certain aspects about technology before moving into a travel trailer. There’s a number of things that we need to put away on a daily basis. Everything needs a home. If you are like most in our modern world, you likely have a laptop, smartphone, tablet, or other similar devices. It’s important to accept this as part of our day-to-day life. It’s highly likely these objects are those we come in contact with most. When you’re moving about your day, you need convenient, safe, and readily available spaces to store these devices. These objects will all need to be recharged, too, so there should be convenient USB and 110-volt outlets.
This may seem like a small thing but if you were considering making a major life change into a small living space then you need to realize what you do and don’t do on a day-to-day basis. It’s as simple as walking in the front door and having a place to put down your wallet, purse, phone or keys. If everything has a place, and stuff isn’t constantly getting lost, then life mellows out a little bit. It’s really quite invigorating. Having a place for everything allows me to do so much more simply because I’m not wasting time looking for misplaced stuff. It’s also not jammed into a drawer or the back of an overcrowded closet.
Of these four categories – clothes, toys, food and technology – what I would consider the most important? They’re all essential, but the most important consideration hasn’t even been mentioned, yet, and that is capacity.
Of course, there’s lots of other areas where we accumulate stuff and the list just goes on and on. I’m sure you could think of about 20 other categories of gear you plan to take with you. And yes, this stuff takes up lots of physical space. Closets, drawers/ dressers, and pass-through compartments packed full of things that help you do what you love to do. Carrying capacity is one critical, and often overlooked area, that is a seemingly small detail but getting it wrong can make a world of difference.
When looking at a specification sheet for a travel trailer you’ll notice lots of numbers. Weights, sizes, ratings, etc. There’s a couple that you really need to pay attention to here. The first number is the Gross vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR. Typically expressed in lbs, this refers to the maximum amount a trailer can weigh while traveling – including everything. This includes the weight of the trailer itself, all the gear you have packed into those compartments, and anything else you plan to carry with you.
When I refer to the weight of the trailer itself this is a critical number on the spec sheet. Sometimes called a couple different things, you might see Base Weight, Dry weight or some other term to describe the weight of the trailer when it is empty. This is where seemingly tiny details become VERY important. The difference between the GVWR and Base Weight is carrying capacity. This number refers to exactly how much that specific travel trailer can carry. This is called Cargo Carrying Capacity” or CCC. Pay attention to this number because it’s extremely important.
Remember all those beautiful big storage compartments with enough capacity to take all your gear in that luxury travel trailer you found? Each one of these items may be light, but all combined, they are heavy and add up quick. The CCC is the most weight you can take with you – as determined by the manufacturer. It really doesn’t matter how big your storage compartments are, if there isn’t enough capacity to carry the weight of all that gear it won’t be smart or safe to take it.
It’s common that a travel trailer is woefully under rated for the cargo carrying capacity. You may not realize this, but items such as fresh water and propane are not included in the base weight and need to be considered in the CCC number. This means if you have a 50-gallon water tank and an industry standard propane set up, that will add well over 500 lbs. That’s right, before you even put a single item in that closet you already need to take off 500 lbs from the cargo carrying capacity.
I’ve seen full-size trailers with cargo capacity ratings no more than 1000 lbs. That means you only have 500 lbs left for all your stuff! And even worse don’t forget that optional equipment you decided to install at the dealer isn’t included either! I don’t know about you but my pantry and cold food storage alone probably weighs 500 lbs. After all, I’m not eating dehydrated astronaut food. Those canned goods and fresh produce certainly packs on the lbs.
In all my experience I found it a properly loaded space with all of the things I typically use on a daily day basis weighs about 1,000-2,000 lbs before taking into consideration water or propane. Because of this, I recommend finding a travel trailer with plenty of carrying capacity. The more the better. Of course, your situation may be different, and you may plan on taking less things, but this is one of those areas where “more is better.” If you’re looking to make the adventure of moving into a travel trailer as seamless as possible then you might as well not compromise from the very beginning.
Do something fun for me. Take a look at Amazon or any top video site and do a search for thinning down or decluttering your life. The not-so-new concept of minimalism has grown to become quite mainstream in recent years. I have seen pseudo-celebrities make their entire career behind television shows focused entirely on getting rid of your stuff.
I’ll be honest, minimalism is a wonderful way of life. It’s something that I have enjoyed over the years and that’s a completely different subject in and of itself. But I’ll be very clear, that’s not what this article is about. When I consider a luxury travel trailer, I don’t consider minimalism. This may sound odd but bear with me.
Luxury means doing what you want. Luxury also means having great choices and more freedom. Living in a small space doesn’t necessarily mean throwing away all your things. Luxury is not having to compromise on the things that matter most to you. I, for one, enjoy the benefits of luxuries such as a Vita-Mix blender on a daily basis.
When it comes right down to it, choosing the right travel trailer is all about living the life you actually want to live. The best choice you can make is for yourself, the life you want, doing what you actually enjoy doing. If you love mountain biking outdoors, make darned sure you have a place to put that bike so you can do it without a lot of hassles or brain damage. If you’re making the choice to explore life through the lens of a luxury travel trailer, I would encourage you not to think of it as a compromise but as a way to enhance the best parts of your life.
Here are the features we covered and what you should consider when making a travel trailer or RV your home.