A travel trailer or caravan is a trailer towed behind a road vehicle to provide a place to sleep which is more comfortable and protected than a tent (although there are fold-down tent trailers). It provides the means for people to have their own home on a journey or a vacation (holiday), without relying on a motel or hotel, and enables them to stay in places where none is available.
Travel trailers and caravans vary from basic models which may be little more than a tent on wheels to those containing several rooms with all the furniture and furnishings and equipment of a home. They are used principally in North America and Europe and are rare elsewhere, so this article deals mainly with those continents.
In Europe, the origins of travel trailers and caravanning can be traced back to traveling Gypsies and showmen who spent most of their lives in horse drawn trailers. The world's first leisure trailer was built by the Bristol Carriage Company in 1880 for Dr. W. Gordon-Stables. It was an 18 ft. design, based upon their Bible Wagons, which the Doctor named "Wanderer".
Modern travel trailers come in a range of sizes, from tiny two-berth trailers with no toilet and only basic kitchen facilities, to large, twin-axle, six-berth types.
Smaller travel trailers and pop-ups are still made with touring in mind. These generally are less than 18 ft (5.5 m) long and contain simple amenities. By design, they are lightweight and quick to set up or prepare for travel. Most weigh less than 3,000 lb (1,350 kg) and can be towed with a large car or small truck depending upon its towing capacity. Lightweight pop-up trailers weighing less than 700 lbs, such as the Combi-camper and Kamparoo can even be towed by small economy cars and small SUVs. Some exceptionally light travel trailers can be pulled by motorcycle.
Mid-range travel trailers are 18 – 25 ft (5.5 – 7.6 m) long can weigh 5,000 lb (2,250 kg) or more, and are generally towed with compact pickup trucks and SUVs. They have most of the amenities of the larger travel trailers, but sleep fewer people.
Larger travel trailers are made with the seasonal or full-time user in mind. These generally range from 25 – 40 ft (7.5 m – 12 m) long and contain all the comforts of a luxury condominium. Because they require a purpose built tow vehicle, highway tractor or large truck or SUV, these amenity-laden homes can reach 12,000 lb (5,500 kg) or more. While trailers may weigh in even above that, most long-box pickups have a maximum tow-weight of 15,500 lbs, and towing over 10,000 lbs. requires a 'class A' driver's license. Multiple televisions and air conditioners are common in units of this size. Slide-out rooms and screen porches add to livability. By law, travel trailers are limited to 400 ft² (37 m²) of living area, and many models offer exactly that plus any optional slide-outs.
With all of the disincentives inherent in municipal zoning bylaws and building codes to affordable, ecological (off-grid) and compact housing solutions, travel-trailers offer a possibility for those considering an ecological full-time home or seasonal cottage. Travel-trailers are often acceptable on flood-plains, areas outside of urban growth limits, etc. where regular buildings may not tread. One of the great virtues of a trailer park is its light infrastructure, low ecological footprint, minimal land disturbance, abundant permeable surfaces (for stormwater drainage) and ease of site restoration.
Some specialized brands of trailer, such as the Hi-lo trailer, have an upper half (slightly larger than the lower half) that can be folded down over the lower half to a total height of about five feet for reduced wind resistance during travel; these otherwise contain everything other travel trailers have (except for a full-height closet).
An innovation in the Travel Trailer types is the "toy box" or "toy hauler." Half living area and half garage, these trailers allow 'toys' to be brought to the countryside. A folding rear ramp give access for motorcycles, ATVs, personal watercraft or racecars. A generator provides power for the equipment.
Another innovation is the hybrid travel trailer, combining the features of a pop-up trailer and a hard-sided trailer. In its camping configuration, one or more bunks fold down from the side with canvas tent covers. When in travel, the bunks fold up into the side of the trailer leaving four hard sides. Larger models allow the hybrid travel trailer to be used while "turtled", that is with the sides up. The primary advantage of a hybrid travel trailer is that it offers a greater space-to-weight ratio. A disadvantage is that the tent ends are not insulated and subject to heat loss and condensation.
In the U.S., it is generally illegal for passengers to ride in a travel trailer, while in motion, unlike horse-drawn trailers and coaches. Triple towing is not allowed in some states, such as California, Alabama, Florida, or New York; however, triple towing is permitted in Texas if the combined length does not exceed 65 feet (21 m).
In the UK, The Association of Chief Police Officers estimates that some 1,600 touring caravans are stolen each year, nearly a quarter of all new caravans sold annually. As a result many caravan insurance companies require additional security features to be purchased. The CRIS registration service has also helped track theft.
Travel trailers (especially American ones) may also contain the following:
A double-decker trailer is a two-level travel trailer. When traveling the trailer is only as high as a regular trailer, but when set up it increases in height to two full levels. Built by Jexcar and others, they are often used in motion picture production as portable dressing rooms.