Way before the fun part of RVing begins, there is the shopping and buying journey. Who knew it would be so complicated to choose a camper? Now that our search has ended, I took a look back to see where I really should have begun when shopping for our travel trailer. (This post was written as we waited for the camper, but now that we have it, I’m adding some photos.)
How to Begin the Buying Process
Like us, you may be gung-ho to get out there and look at RV’s in person. We began our in-person shopping locally and the first stop was a small camper lot very close to home. With nothing to compare to, everything looked good! We hadn’t put any thought into what we needed in an RV.
Most dealerships have tremendously large lots. They take you out in a golf cart (here in Florida) to see the campers. But first, before entering a dealership be prepared to tell them what you need as far as price, size and layout – keep reading for more on that.
The more your search criteria is narrowed down, the better. The salesman will not want to waste time showing you everything on the lot, and you will quickly become overwhelmed.
Money, The First Consideration
When we first began our travel trailer search, I had a very low price in mind. I was going to pay cash and get us a little camper. That was before I had any idea what campers cost, or what we really needed.
Even though that price range went up as we searched, I would not go over a certain amount. And that amount is pretty low compared to some of the campers out there!
Having a good grasp on the budget is necessary before the search begins – unless cost is no problem. Remember that there are many good used campers for sale. Quite a bit of money can be saved buying a year or two old.
Don’t buy anything too old as some campgrounds have regulations about not allowing older campers in. Some have length limits as well.
Big 5th Wheels, long toy haulers, Airstreams, all-in-one motorhomes, and other options were off the table for us because of price. For most people the cost will be the big decider.
Read more down the page under “The Purchase Price”.
Remember that towing vehicles need to align with camper weight. My son traded in his F150 (with no 4-wheel drive) for a F250 with 4-wheel drive so we could have freedom to choose almost any RV we liked in our price range. Lots of campers are made lightweight these days to accommodate smaller vehicles.
Begin the Camper Search Online
Before you go to an RV dealership, I strongly suggest searching online for as much information as possible. If you are like us, and have never had a camping trailer of any kind, you will at least need to know basic types, layouts, and prices.
A good place to find types of campers and prices is RV Trader. They have all kinds from Class A, B and C which you drive, to trailers you pull, in new and used condition.
Once you have narrowed it down to a brand, style and model number(s) a search on YouTube will probably bring up at least a few videos.
We Are Not a Couple
Most RV layouts cater to couples or families.
Couples could easily find a small RV to suit their needs. One nice bedroom and a decent bathroom is all that is really needed. Camping means being outside. Cooking outside. Sitting outside. A small camper would have worked nicely if we were a “couple”.
We are mother and son, so we need two decent beds. I go to bed early and get up early. He stays up late and sleeps in. This meant we needed to look at something larger to give us both our own space.
I will be writing a page featuring our favorite camper layouts to accommodate two adults that each need their own beds and space.
Camping With Cats
We have two cats. They would be camping with us. This is not ideal, but it beats paying the high cost of boarding them. Also, I hate the thought that they will be locked up in cages most of the time.
Our new camper would have to be able to accommodate cats. This is a story unto itself, and I plan to have many more to say about our experience camping with cats once we begin doing it. A two door camper sounded perfect.
My son wanted dual tires and I wanted big windows. We didn’t need bunks. We looked at toy haulers of all kinds. The fact that they open out and have a whole seating and sleeping section at the back seemed great. But, would we like opening and closing the whole back of the camper each day? Maybe, but we ended up passing on the toy hauler style for now. Maybe down the road. We don’t have toys to haul anyway!
We planned to travel long distances and would need to access the bathroom and refrigerator while traveling. Sometimes slides will be in the way so that can’t happen when you pull over because the slides will be in. Be sure to consider this when looking at layouts.
We didn’t like the idea of a slide coming out under the canopy. In fact, I dislike slides. I see them as contributing to possible problems down the road. Our camper will have one slide for the couch. I can live with that.
We like the idea of boondocking, which means living off the grid in the camper. Solar panels on the roof, big water tanks, and a generator help make that happen. I found a beautiful camper – still my favorite – that is built in the northwestern US – Outdoors RV. How could we buy it when it was way across the country?
We looked closer to home for a similar well-made brand and found that in the Grand Design line of RVs.
The reality is that the more I looked, the more confused and overwhelmed I became. We began looking for travel trailers in 2019. We gave up looking during the height of Covid, and here in Florida we did no shopping at all in the summer because of the heat.
With all the mask wearing on airplanes and airports and the rules and regulations ongoing, we began searching again in earnest in 2021. We wanted our freedom to choose how and where we went without limitations imposed by the government.
Once we had the brand and model in mind, shopping was so much easier. The layout we wanted was brand new, so the camper would be purchased new. At this point we joined the Grand Design FaceBook group for owners and owners to-be. Wow, there is a lot of good info there.
Because of the supply shortages, we began to hear that there was a shortage of campers as well, because they couldn’t get parts to build them. In fact, when visiting camping forums and FaceBook pages, many RV owners will mention that Covid built campers are not made as well. I have no idea if that is true, but substitutes have probably been made when materials couldn’t be found.
As we honed in on the best layout for us, in the brand we liked, the next part of the buying journey was to find one.
We settled on the Grand Design Imagine travel trailer which is 28 feet long. It has two doors (check), gets points for being well made, has solar panels (boondocking), has traveling access to the bathroom, has only one slide, two doors, large awning, and even has a window in the bathroom! My son will sleep on the table turned bed and I will get the bedroom.
The Purchase Price
I watched videos about dealing with RV salesmen. A favorite was made by GetawayCouple who had good advice, but how much it worked these days, I was unsure.
I learned something pretty important from watching that video about getting a price quote. Ask the salesman for the “out the door” price and not just the camper price. That way price comparisons are easier. Dealerships will tack on extra fees that will raise the cost and you need to know what those extras will be. Each dealership will have their own fees so asking for their Out the Door price will tell you the total amount you’ll pay.
Negotiating a price was a very new thing for me. We were shopping at a time that was quite unique for buying because there was a camper shortage. Luckily, a lot of negotiations can be done online and over the phone.
*If you are not paying cash (like many of us) do not tell a salesman how much you want to spend a month. Get them to give you the total price, not monthly premiums.
I began with one dealership (who had good reviews) but their prices were high and the salesman wouldn’t come down at all. He couldn’t explain his pricing to my satisfaction and told me “you just don’t understand”. Right! Time to move on.
I went to another dealership, closer to home, who ended up having much better prices – without any negotiation. In fact the prices were so much better we upgraded from the Transcend model to the Imagine. Same layout, built a bit differently. It pays to compare.
While we shopped, we noticed that everything was selling quickly. By the time we had agreed on a price for the camper of our choice (yes, within my budget), the only camper of that style on the lot had already been sold! We still made the deal for the same price (in March) but won’t get our camper until Grand Design builds it and ships it to the dealership. (We picked up the RV in June.)