If you are considering or have ever considered buying an RV for the first time, you know it is a daunting and overwhelming experience. There are so many different types of RVs. Each having their own pros and cons. My wife Shirley and I have been considering an RV for a few years. After discussing the type of travel and camping we want to do, and the myriad of types of RVs available, we decided on a small, used pop up tent trailer. Pop up tent trailers are also called a pop-up camper, pop up camping trailer, or folding tent trailer. Let me share why we came to this decision.
When we first had the thought of buying an RV I went into research mode. I put a spreadsheet together listing the various types of RVs you could buy. Drivable motor homes, travel trailers, and pop up tent trailers are primarily what was on the list. The various weights, sizes, options, amenities as well. We visited the many RV dealers in the Tampa Bay area and walked through dozens of motorhomes and trailers.
Along with all this research we were considering specifically how we want to use an RV. One thought is that we would travel around the United States for an extended time. As long as we have internet and cell service, we can do everything for our business that we can do from home. That seemed like a fun way to see the country and keep our income coming in.
Course Correction on Choosing the Right RV
Then on a walk on the beach a mile from our home here in Largo, FL. Shirley said, “Why are we going to spend all that money to drive to all these places when we have paradise right here?” Wow, that hit me. She was right. We were considering a drivable RV motorhome at the time that cost close to $100,000. Add the price of gas at approximately 10 miles per gallon, and the expense of a campsite every night. Then there’s the question of having a small vehicle you can pull behind your RV so you don’t have to unhook your RV every time you want to visit someplace other than the campground. RVing can get to be expensive. Yet we already live in an amazing place (Florida) that we've not yet completely discovered.
So, the idea of primarily using an RV for extended periods of traveling throughout the country was put on the back burner. But the idea of owning an RV was still alive. Maybe we just buy an RV for long weekends or week-long trips here in Florida or the southeastern part of the U.S. Florida has 175 state parks in addition to national and county parks, and privately-owned campgrounds. It would take many years of trips to see everything right here in Florida let alone neighboring states.
OK great. We were on a new path. We’ll get something smaller. Maybe a travel trailer that we can tow behind our 2006 Nissan Xterra. It has a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs. It can tow up to 5,000 lbs with a brake controller which we would need to get installed. In that way, we can unhook the trailer and drive the Xterra around the area in which we’re camping.
Our First RV Trip with a Travel Trailer
OK, we’re narrowing things down and getting closer to deciding the type of RV we want. So, we decided to rent a camper trailer and take it on a trip. Let’s experience traveling and camping in a trailer. We rented a 19-foot Spree Escape with an unloaded vehicle weight of 2,760 lbs. We added our clothing, cooler, other essentials, and our bikes. My guess is that the total weight got close to the maximum tow capacity of our Xterra of 3,500 lbs. but it wasn’t over that amount.
So, off we went to Asheville, NC from our home on the west coast of Florida. Our niece was getting married up there, so it worked out great. All in all, the week that we camped was excellent. We very much enjoyed the camping experience and found that we could easily co-exist in a 20-foot trailer with no problem.
However, it was the drive that was the challenge. Even though our vehicle was rated to pull that kind of weight, it didn’t do so without working hard even up the small hills. Driving west through South Carolina toward Columbia from the coast there are many long inclines. The transmission definitely worked hard on those hills.
But the real issue was getting passed by tractor-trailer trucks. When they went by it literally pushed the trailer away from that lane and it then swung back behind the car. Every single time. My arms got a workout from holding the vehicle in place. It was not a fun, relaxing experience. And, having fun and relaxing was why we were considering an RV to begin with.
Finding Our Purpose for Buying an RV for the First Time
That experience made us put the idea of owning an RV of any kind on the back burner for a while. Then in October of 2019, we started developing this blog, LifeStyleOver50.com. One of the topics we wanted to write about was day and weekend Florida road trips. We love Florida for many reasons. Not the least of which is the number of experiences we can have within just a few hours of our home.
We can be on the east coast of south Florida in 5 hours. The Everglades in 4 hours. St. Augustine is just 3-1/2 hours away. We can be in the Apalachicola National Forest in the Florida Panhandle in just over 5 hours. Islamorada in the Florida Keys in 5-1/2 hours. And, Fort Myers in just 2 hours. And, of course, hundreds of places to visit in between. Nature here is amazing. The state does a great job of preserving lands and protecting wildlife for people to enjoy.
During the time we’ve lived here in Florida, we've taken some great day and weekend Florida road trips. We really enjoy that. Here's a trip we took to Riverbend Park in Jupiter, FL. But we don’t always want to have to spend a lot of money on hotels or bed and breakfasts. So, we got the itch for an RV again.
Buying a Pop Up Camper Made Sense For Us
It had to be something that was lower weight and could tow behind our Xterra with ease. The next vehicle we get will have more towing capacity, but we weren’t going to go out and buy another vehicle as we just leased a small Kia Soul that can’t pull anything over 1,000 lbs. So, we decided that perhaps we should look at small pop up campers.
How to Find a Used Pop Up Camper
If you want to look for a used RV of any kind, I recommend you Google terms like pop up campers for sale near me. Or, used pop up campers for sale. Small pop up campers for sale is another good search term. Look at RV Trader. And, pop up campers for sale craigslist. Yes, Craigslist! That’s where Shirley found just the right pop up tent trailer for us. Here are two good articles to get some tips on buying a pop-up camping trailer and buying a used pop up camper.
It’s a 2009 Coleman Fleetwood Destiny Sea Pine pop up camper. This popup tent trailer is only 14 feet when closed but opens up to over 20 feet long and is 9 feet wide. It has a king-size bed and a queen. The sofa and dinette can convert into sleeping for 2 more people. That’s a ton of room for the two of us or even when we have another couple along. It has a 2-burner stovetop, a small refrigerator, and a heater. The appliances run off 120-volt electricity, propane, or the battery located on the tongue of the trailer.
The previous owners used it perhaps 8 times in the 2 years they owned it. They had purchased it from a dealer and took great care of it. One of the big issues with buying a used pop up camper is mold on the canvas which primarily occurs when people store the camper while still wet from a rainstorm. This pop up had no mold, dings, major scrapes, or other problems. The inside looks brand new. The tire tread seemed new as well, so I know it hadn’t been used very often. And, it was stored inside a garage.
So, we got ourselves a great deal. And, it’s the perfect first-time RV camper trailer for us. On the way home with our new pop up tent trailer, the Xterra handled the towing with ease. That’s partly because of the lower weight (approx. 2,000 lbs.). Also, it has a lower profile and therefore creates less wind resistance than with a typical travel trailer. And, our pop up tent trailer follows right behind our car so turning is easy.
Now that we made our purchase, we are busy outfitting ourselves with camping equipment, cooking items, bedding, hoses, a new bike rack (which has been a big challenge), and other RV essentials to make our experience enjoyable. I will be writing about that in the next couple of weeks. We have just booked our first RV trip to Lake Griffin State Park in Fruitland Park, FL. We’ll be writing about that as soon as we get back. Wish us luck on the first RV trip with our popup tent trailer!
An Update After Some Camping Trips
Here's an update! We've now been on 4 camping trips. You can about our experience at each of the campgrounds by clicking the links below.
Here's what we determined about the pros and cons of a pop-up tent trailer.
- It's very easy to pull with a standard SUV (We have a 2006 Nissan Xterra).
- It fits in our garage.
- When opened up there is plenty of room inside including a king and queen bed.
- Every campground accommodates a Pop Up camper.
- After observing many other campers with their travel trailers and motor homes, it seems that they spend far more time indoors than we do. Of course, they have more interior amenities. But we feel our pop up camper gives us more of a camping feeling. You're off the ground and protected at night but tend to want to be outdoors more during the day. We feel this is a big positive.
- We sleep better in our pop up camper than we do at home. Go figure!
- Pop-ups are more work to get set up and breakdown than a travel trailer or motorhome.
- When it rains, as it does often here in Florida, the canvas gets wet obviously. If your pop up isn't completely dried out when you breakdown to leave, you should open it up when you get home and dry it out. This prevents mold from growing on the canvas.
- If you want to bring bikes with you a pop up doesn't accommodate a bike rack very well. Bumper mounted bike racks need a 4" x 4" bumper which pop-ups typically do not have. Our pop up isn't set up for a tongue mounted bike rack either. For the 1st 4 trips, I improvised. I bought some yoga mats and taped them to the top of the camper. The bikes were laid down on top of the camper and strapped down. This worked but it didn't make me feel comfortable. So, I recently bought a trunk-mounted bike rack for the Xterra.
- The awning we have is not automatic. You need to manually unfold it which is more work. It's 8 x 10 which is fine but we want more outdoor living space so we bought a 12 x 12 canopy to use instead.
- There is no exterior storage. The tongue, the rear, nor the body of the camper itself has a storage area. Shirley has done a great job of getting plastic storage bins and storing things under the bench seats inside. But that's limited. Everything else we bring, such as the canopy, griddle, folding tables, etc., must fit inside the SUV.
- For those of you that need absolute quiet while sleeping, you won't necessarily get that with a pop-up camper trailer. You hear everything going on outside your camper such as raccoons looking for food, the rain, the wind, etc. This doesn't bother us but it's something you may want to consider.
On the trips we have taken, we discovered some things that we needed and now are buffed out. We found some very cool gear for inside and outside of our camper. So, we want to show some of those items and others that you may like for your camping trips.