Must Read Tips for Buying Your First Camper

One theme that kept showing up in my family-friendly activity search was camping. I am NOT a tent camping kind of person, and especially with an infant. I had never camped at a state park or anywhere else besides a friends yard, so when I kept seeing info on travel trailers and pop up campers, ideas started sparking through my head: "get out of town, spend time with my new family, and not having to pay an arm and leg for a hotel....."

Our 2004 Coleman Sun Valley Pop Up Camper

Our 2004 Coleman Sun Valley Pop Up Camper


And so it began, I started obsessing over the search for a camper that was within our budget. I wasn't going to let the cash from my sold motorcycle be used for anything other than another "fun-mobile." The process was quite tedious, and it took me a while to figure out what I really had to have, versus what was really cool. It was kind of like shopping for your first child: You think you need all of the whimsical ideas and suggestions on registries, when in reality you don't use the majority of it. Here are my tips that I used to narrow down my search and make a final decision, including a few things I wish I had thought of first as well!

New or used?                                                                                                                                                       Your budget will be the deciding factor, but you should make this your first decision. No need to waste time drooling over campers you will never be able to buy, plus it puts a foul taste in your mouth when you start seeing used camper options that aren't all shiny and new.

Picking your camper style
There are many camper styles to choose from: fifth wheels (have special towing requirements), pop ups, A-frames, hybrids, and hard side travel trailers, to name a few.  Our budget and wish list pointed us to the pop up camper category.

Towing capacity
How much weight can your truck or SUV tow? Keep this in mind when making your decision; what a heartbreak it would be to go get your new camper then learn you cant tow it away!
 


Where will you store your new toy?
This is important, poor planning can lead to added monthly expenses.... At our old house we parked the camper in our long driveway since our neighborhood had no HOA. Unfortunately, at our new home we don't have the same luxury and have to pay to store our camper every month. It's best to be aware of your options and associated costs first so there are no surprises!

Camping ready or fixer-upper?
Ah, the famous question when buying used.... How much extra are you willing to pay for "camping" ready? Our budget was $5000, and in the used camper sales that put us in the older model range and many needed some love prior to the first outing. If you are stuck to a budget like we were, be prepared to spend additional money to get your camper clean and livable to your liking. Beware of money pits! Browse a little online first to get some ideas of replacement costs. Some of the most common items to replace first are mattresses, yucky curtains and seating upholstery, tires, electrical or water leaking issues, and tears in the netting or canvas.

Decide on your Must-Haves
This is important to do in advance so that you can narrow down your options easier. It also will help you determine what you can or cannot afford! Here was my personal list of must-haves:

  • 2 mattress areas - We want to bring family and have them be comfortable, too. Plus when the kids get older we can kick them out to their own side.
  • Sink and stove top - with kids, you need these items. Plus many of the places we camp have water and electrical hook ups. Also, cooking in the rain is not fun so an alternative is great.
  • Heat and AC - Come on, we live in Georgia and get all of the seasons! Who wants to wake up a sweaty mess in the summer anyways?! These are also necessary so you don't have to restrict your trips to certain seasons.
  • Non-smoking owners- VERY important to me! I am sensitive to smoke, and there is nothing more yucky than the lingering smell of smoke, sticky tar layers on surfaces, and the yellowing effect it has. No thank you!
  • Minimal repairs needed prior to first trip - I'm an "I want it now" type of gal, so last thing I wanted was to spend all this money to have the camper sit for months getting cleaned and fixed up for the first trip.

Anything extra outside of my list was considered icing on the cake if the camper had it. I ended up searching for months, and found the worst combinations of my must-have list with my hell-no list.  I was starting to think this endeavor wasn't going to happen for us, but one magical day, I found the perfect gem on Craigslist. (Yes, I said Craigslist!) It had ALL of my must-haves, plus many additional perks and was right at the top of our budget. Of course I thought it was too good to be true, but the pictures were telling me otherwise.

What a blessing this sale was! We drove a few hours to see the camper with cash in hand; it was a 2004 Coleman Sun Valley pop up, excellent condition. It has 2 king bed slideouts, 2 awnings, and was super clean. It also came with a TON of add-ons, like the outdoor rug & bug netting.  This family had children that were now older and no longer interested in camping. The man had it all opened up with the AC blasting..... SOLD! We exchanged cash for keys with the biggest smiles ever. As we pulled away with our new camper in tow, I no longer had the sadness of selling my motorcycle, at that exact moment anyways.

Now, once you get your camper home and do a thorough inspection, make a list of what you need to repair or purchase to store inside. I found a GREAT article by MyBigFatHappyLife about items you will need to purchase if your camper doesn't already have them. Read her article What You Need to Purchase When You Buy A Camper to get his helpful info. Buying a camper gave me a similar feeling to buying my first house; the sense of new adventures were just waiting for us. I hope my tips help you to find the perfect camper so you can begin your own adventures!

Happy Camping! 

Mindy Sullivan

Do you have any tips to share about your camper purchase? Please comment below!