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The Many Advantages Of Tent Trailer Camping

advantages of tent trailer camping

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With many campgrounds across Canada and the US beginning to re-open after being closed due to COVID-19 much of the spring, I thought it was the perfect time to republish this very popular post from the blog. Enjoy! 

Hey everyone! We opened up our tent trailer (aka pop-up camper) today, in preparation for our first camping trip of the year, this coming weekend.

In fact, the camper became my writing spot for the afternoon, and sitting here I got to thinking about the many advantages of tent trailer camping.

In our consumer crazed world, nothing has been spared from the clutches of materialism. Not even the age old pastime of camping. For example, if you take a trip to any campground these days, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone using a tent.

Most campsites are occupied by large travel trailers and expensive pickup trucks, or motorhomes equipped with amenities that would rival a custom built home.

EARLY YEARS

I never really camped as a kid. I mean, I did on a couple of occasions, but it wasn’t a pastime that we took up as a family. But regardless of my lack of exposure to camping early on, as I got older it was always something I felt I would want my kids to experience.

Fast forward to eight years ago.

A friend of mine was taking his two boys camping at a nearby provincial park, and called to ask if my son, who was around 10 at the time, and I wanted to join them.

It was just the one night, but I thought it would be a cool experience, so I quickly agreed. As it turned out, one night was all it took, and I was hooked. In fact, I can recall the very moment I realized it.

A SKY FULL OF STARS

It was late in the evening, the boys had gone to sleep, and my friend and I were sitting by the fire, deep in conversation. I leaned back, and in the darkness could make out the tops of the towering pines, swaying gently as the breeze moved through them. The trees appeared as black shadows against the night sky.

Above them was a canopy of stars. Without the pollution from house lights and street lamps, it’s amazing how brilliant the night sky becomes.

I distinctly recall how peaceful it felt, and thinking how much I wanted my family to share the experience.

AGENDA FREE LIVING

Based on my very romantic description above, it goes without saying that I highly recommend camping to anyone. But there’s more to it than a starry sky.

When you’re camping, there’s no agenda. No alarm clocks, no morning commute, and no meetings. You get things done, but you do them on your own time. The oft-harried pace of daily life is placed on pause for a few days. And it’s an easier environment than most to put down your phone, and connect with real people.

CAMPING CAN BE A HUGE EXPENSE….

…but it doesn’t have to be.

If you’re interested in taking up camping, but tenting it is too hardcore for your taste, owning a tent trailer, or pop-up camper, can be a great alternative.

There’s no need to fork out tens of thousands of dollars on a luxury RV, not to mention the expensive pickup truck you would need to tow it.

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OUR TENT TRAILER EXPERIENCE

That night my son and I spent camping with my friend and his boys had me hooked.

The following summer, my wife and I purchased a used tent trailer from my brother-in-law who decided to, you guessed it, upgrade to a much larger and fancier RV.

Breakfast is served!

6 Benefits of Tent Trailer Camping

We’ve had our pop up camper for seven years now, and we love it more than ever. In fact, I believe that just might be the best way to camp for families with kids.

To help convince you, I’ve created the following list of tent trailer camping benefits. I’ve also taken the time to dispel a few myths.

Tent Trailers Are Economical

We purchased our used tent trailer for $2000 eight years ago. I replaced the wheels this spring for $140, but aside from that it hasn’t cost us a penny. Compare that to $25,000+ for a new travel trailer, financed over 15 or 20 years, not to mention the expense of having to own a pickup truck to tow it around.

Pop Up Campers Allow the Air to Flow

This may be my favorite thing about camping in a pop up vs. the hard shelled variety. Because you can unzip the screens on all sides, it’s easy to get plenty of air flowing through the camper. On a summer night under a starry sky, nothing feels better.

Tent Trailers Sleep a Ton of People

Tent trailers have the ability to sleep more people than even the largest luxury RVs. A friend of mine has a larger tent trailer (14’ box), which sleeps 10 people!

Ours has a 10’ box and sleeps 8 people comfortably. On one end there’s a king sized bed, a double on the other. There are also two benches that pull out into a double and single bed. It’s more than enough room for our family of five, with space for one of the kids brings a friend along. If you do feel the need to spread out, you could always purchase a tent to pitch outside the camper. We haven’t had the need for that, but it is an option.

Pop Up Campers Are Easy To Tow

This is where small pop up campers have a distinct advantage over much larger and heavier travel trailers. That is, they can be easily towed with a minivan. There’s no need to own an expensive gas guzzling pickup truck, or monster SUV. We own a 2005 Toyota Sienna with a 3.3L engine. It has a towing capacity of 3500 pounds, which is more than enough for a pop up tent trailer.

If you have a vehicle that can tow a small pop up camper but it doesn’t have a trailer hitch, you can pick one up for a few hundred dollars and have it installed by a mechanic. Here’s a trailer hitch that’s similar to what we have. Before you buy, it’s important to check the towing specs for your specific vehicle, to make sure you get the right trailer hitch.

Pop Up Campers Are Easy To Store

When camping season is over, you need a place to park your RV. Unless you own an acreage, you likely have to pay someone to store it for you. Prices vary, but start upwards of $100/month.

Our tent trailer sits on an 8 by 10 foot set of patio stones in our backyard, and we can easily move it in and out with our van.

A Tent Trailer Can Double As a Sunroom

During the summer months, when we’re not camping, we keep our tent trailer set up in our driveway. I’ll grab an afternoon nap there, use it as my summer “office” where I do my writing, and the kids will often use it for sleepovers with friends. In other words, it makes for the perfect sunroom!

Dispelling Myths of Tent Trailer Camping

There are a number of myths about pop up campers that I would like to dispel, starting with perhaps the #1 complaint that you hear

Tent Trailers Leak

The slide outs on a trailer tent are covered with canvas, so people often assume that water can easily penetrate the surface when it rains.

In the seven years we’ve owned our tent trailer, we’ve endured many a rainy day. I can say that during that time, we haven’t had a drop of water get inside the camper.

Of course, you do have to be careful not to get rips or tears in the canvas, and if it is wet outside, it’s important to avoid touching the canvas from the inside, or water could saturate through. I highly recommend that you keep a screen repair kit handy. This way, if you do get a tear, you’ll be ready to make a quick repair.

Pop Up Campers Lack the Creature Comforts of an RV

Our pop up trailer has a furnace which keeps us perfectly warm on some rather cool evenings early in the camping season. It also has a small refrigerator.

To make sure there’s always space to keep perishable food cold, I picked up this Coleman electric cooler, which we also use on long road trips in our van. To save space inside, we leave our cooler plugged in outside the camper on a picnic bench, where it’s easily accessible.

Another option, which will save you money, is to pick up a Marine-style cooler instead. They aren’t powered, but are well insulated and can keep ice for up to 6 days! Another advantage to this type of cooler is that you get them in much larger sizes, so they can hold a lot more stuff, which is perfect for a larger family.

Our pop up camper also has a stove that can be set up inside or outside of the camper, and I never forget to bring this electric griddle along to make pancakes, bacon and eggs in the morning. I never leave home without it!

If the campsite has its own water supply (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t), we can connect the sink in our tent trailer using a garden hose. This allows us to do dishes, or wash up. I bought a separate garden hose like this one that we only use for camping. It doesn’t have to be very long, 10-25 feet is more than enough.

Making Coffee In a Pop Up Camper

Here’s a GREAT tip for all the coffee lovers out there. If you don’t want to compromise on your coffee when your camping away from home, you have to pick up an Aeropress. Haven’t heard of it? It’s like a portable french press, that’s perfect for the road.

In my opinion, it’s the absolute best way to make coffee while camping. The flavor is far superior to percolated coffee, and it’s incredibly easy to clean. When you’re finished using it, you tap the grinds into the garbage. We also bring a traditional coffee maker, but we never leave home without the Aeropress.

Drawbacks of a Pop Up Camper

I’ll admit, tent trailer campers do have a few limitations, when it comes to amenities. While some larger models come equipped with toilets, most do not, and they certainly don’t have a dedicated washroom or shower.

That said, most campgrounds have restroom facilities which most campers tend to prefer using anyways, as they tend to be spacious and clean.

Our pop up camper doesn’t have air conditioning, though some tent trailers do. With the abundance of air flowing through our camper, however, it’s not often that I wish I had A/C.

Tent Trailer Set Up and Tear Down

This is one advantage that a hard shell RV has over small pop up campers. There is a moderate inconvenience in having to set up and tear down a tent trailer before and after using it.

But it’s not as much work as it may seem.  When we arrive at a campsite, we can do a full set up in about 15 or 20 minutes. The same goes for tearing down when we leave.  In my mind, it’s a small price to pay for all of the other benefits.

Final Thoughts on Camping in a Pop Up Trailer

We’ve owned our pop up tent trailer for 8 years now, and I hope to have it for many more. If it sounds like something you’d enjoy but you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, consider renting one for a weekend to try it out. These days, apps like Outdoorsy and Rvezy make possible to rent pop up campers without making a huge financial commitment.

In the meantime, I’d love to get your thoughts, and your best camping stories, in the comments below. 🙂

Comments 40

  1. Am I the only one around here who thinks this is a helluva luxury? 🙂
    As a kid I used to be a scout and loved camping, but we never had more than regular tents. I have slept in a pop-up camper only once as a teenager and it felt like a mansion.
    Planting the seeds in young minds is pretty important, I really like to provide this experience for my girls, but my wife vetoed it yet, as our younger daughter will be only one year old soon (btw any experiences in camping with babies?). To kickstart this I was looking forward to set up a tent in the garden this summer and sleep outside with the older one. Just did not tell her otherwise I should answer the question every day that “when will it be”?
    Oh, and yes the most important rule “don’t touch the canvas”! Thanks for sharing this, it brought back some memories 🙂

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      You know, I feel like camping in our tent trailer is a real luxury, even when I’m parked between 40′ motorhomes at the campground. I don’t know, I have simple tastes I guess. You bring up such a great point about planting seeds. We didn’t start camping with our kids until they were 11, 9 and 6, so there’s definitely no rush. I’ve read that experiences beginning around age 8-10 are the ones that kids will carry with them into adulthood. And I think setting up the tent in the backyard is a great idea. It may seem small, but it would be quite an adventure for your daughter, she’ll love it!

      1. As a family of 6 a few years ago, my wife and I started looking for a utility trailer to haul our camping gear. What we found instead changed our camping life completely. A 42 year old tent trailer entered our lives and destroyed tenting for us forever. It cost us $500 five years ago and our family is up to 7. Best thing about the pop up is everything stays inside it. Anything dirty comes out and gets cleaned after each trip of course but the chairs, BBQ, grill, sun shades, mosito net, axe, tarps, hammock, sleeping bags, spare tent, air mattresses, toilet paper, bug spray…(sorry the list goes on) stays stored away neatly inside. We basically just hook up and go. Fill our collers on the way out(not this year though, it’s frowned upon), load our bags, blankets and pillows and just go. Every 2 weeks is what we r aiming for this year as last year our family grew again. I am never going back! It sprung a leak this year and I figure it still has a couple years in it but we will b getting a new one. The beds r comfy, the heater is AWESOME!, and we have the ability to cook in our underware. If u are thinking about an upgrade from a tent, rent a pop up for a weekend. Might cost a quarter of purchasing a used one, but u will b hooked!

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          Love this! I actually keep our pop-up open in my driveway all summer, and it’s become my summer office. I sit in there for hours writing on my laptop, and listening to the sounds of the neighborhood. It’s also a great place to grab an afternoon nap, or for the kids to have a sleepover. Of course, we have 2 camping trips planned for July as well. 😉

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  2. Love this post reminds my off my childhood. Mom and Dad were *frugal* and we tented for years. When my parents talk about they laugh like it was pure hell. Not how I remember it though – too much fun going from lake to lake in northern British Columbia.

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      I wish I’d done more tent camping in my youth, but I have to say I do like the added comfort of being off the ground. Isn’t it amazing how our memories from childhood are so often cast in this warm glow. It’s just pure nostalgia, no matter what the reality was at the time.

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      I have a bunch of widgets that are part of the Jet Pack Plug-Plug In, but it looks like the “Recent Tweets” Plug In was included with my theme, which is the “X Theme”. It is pretty cool. 🙂

  3. I hope your trip was great! I have to be honest, for someone who loves nature as much as I do, there has been very little camping in my lifetime – once in Slovenia when I was 20 and that’s it! It has never been something I was drawn to. But I’m trying to change that. I have no problem sleeping outdoors or going without comforts, but, and this may sound crazy, my need to decompress in my own private space at the end of the day and read or whatever I think has made me look at camping the wrong way. I am the kind of person that will have a grand time drinking with friends on the stoop and then just slip away without saying goodnight – awful I know! My husband really wants to take the kids camping, so I am going to put on my big girl pants and get over my little end of the day anti-social quirks. I will sit at the campfire and try not to ruminate. lol. (I also don’t like walks on the beach, which make me think of death, to my husband’s dismay.) I have been reading “My Side of the Mountain” to my 10 year old son, which is a classic book about a little boy who leaves NYC to go live off the land in the woods of the Catskills for a year. It’s a great book for inspiring a kid to want to learn about nature and some pretty cool outdoor skills that would be quite fun to master. It is somewhat fantastical, but it is really awesome. My son is too old for me to read to him, but I really wanted to read it too, so he is humoring me. Not for the last time in his life I’m sure! : )

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      We had such a good time this weekend. There had been a fire ban in place due to very dry weather over the past few weeks. But it rained steadily the day we left (Friday), and the burn ban was lifted just as we were pulling into the campground. The rain soon dissipated, and the next three days were perfect weather-wise, in the 80’s and not a cloud in the sky. You never know, I think you might learn to love it. : )

      By the way, I remember fondly my Mom reading to me well beyond the age I learned to read. I think she probably read the entire Narnia Chronicles series aloud to me, as well as a number of other books, and I’m sure it means the world to your son. : )

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  4. Great post. I have never been a fan of camping, but my husband and son love it. We camp in a tent, however I would love to have a tent trailer, I feel like it would be a better option even though it would be a bit of an investment to get one. Thanks for sharing this information, especially dispelling the myths around tent trailers.

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      If sleeping in a tent is your #1 turnoff from camping, then a tent trailer may make all the difference for you. There is definitely an up front expense. I’m not sure if I mentioned it in the article, but we purchased ours for $2000, which was a very good price. You can easily get a used one in excellent condition for $3000-$3500. Thanks for reading! : )

  5. We’re a family of four…kids are now 16 (daughter) and 13 (son). We’ve been “tent campers” for 10+ years, but feel like it’s time to get off the ground (especially me; my wife is still fine w/sleeping bags on the ground). We’re looking at a pop-up or a small/medium Travel Trailer (we have a Ford Expedition). After doing a TON of research on the internet, we finally made our first in-store visit to RV sales places in Albuquerque, NM (we live in Santa Fe). After a full day of window-shopping, we are all leaning towards a pop-up over a TT. Leaving out the economic factors (price, better gas mileage) the two main factors that are swaying it for me:

    1) The Pop-Up seem more “airy” and open. It would seem like you’re actually “camping” (which I thought was the real reason why people use RV’s/trailers!). TT’s seem “boxed in”…dark, with only a couple of windows..and they don’t sleep as many people.

    2) Pop-Ups seem like super-luxurious big tents-on-wheels…with the added benefit of kitchen extras. TT’s seem like cheaper Class C’s/A’s/5th Wheels. At least on the dealer lot, it felt like TT’s were a step down from those other options…whereas in the PopUps, it felts like a big step up from a tent. Kinda a weird analogy, I know–but that’s just how it felt.

    The search continues. Who know, we may end up getting a TT after all. But at least for now, we’re leaning towards a PopUp.

    I’ll keep y’all posted.

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      Hi Ray, thanks for stopping by! I feel the same way you do about pop-ups vs. tent trailers. I much prefer the “airy” and open feel of a pop up, and the fact that they can sleep so many people. Our 3 kids have brought friends along from time to time, and there’s always enough room. The fact that they are usually the more economical choice as well, makes it even better. I’d love to hear how things turn out when you do make a choice!

  6. having g spent almost all of my youth calling, backpacking and being in the tt with my folks – out doesn’t matter which out takes to get you out – just do it.
    My first tent trip was to oak creek canyon (Sedona) at 6 weeks. Without knowing out i was hooked!!!
    The folks graduated from tents to a 16 ft Terry and never no red up fron there. Bright, light, lots of windows – huge front window, pull down double – it was great. We hit every major western park.
    In my teens i backpacker the Sierra, Tetons and so much more.
    Tents, TT’s and rv’s – or a backpack – just get out there!!!

  7. Awesome article and right on point. My family (wife, son (5), daughter (3)) started camping this year in a used Coleman sun valley with AC and heat. The kids love, love, love it. And that makes us love it even more. I marvel at the many other “campers” in their luxury rv’s and tt’s completely isolated from nature. Tv’s on. Led cabins Lit bright white like a hospital operating room. No breeze. No noise in or out. And completely isolated from others and in some cases, themselves. I know this sounds holier than thou, but that ain’t camping. That’s a house surrogate on wheels. Granted, those types of campers are appropriate for some – elderly, special needs, etc. But I love the happy medium between connecting with nature and some creature comforts a pop up camper provides. But again, to each their own. And to each, their budget (and second mortgage).

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      Hi Jude, thanks so much for reading! That’s a great way to think about a pop-up camper, as a “happy medium”. There’s nothing sleeping in the open air on a summer evening, while having the added comfort of being off the ground. And while some of those monster RV’s are awe inspiring, I think that something gets lost in the experience when you have that much luxury, never mind the economics of the whole thing.

  8. We tented for 10+ years before stepping up to our pop up. And that was only because we now have 5 granddaughters who Love to go camping. We bought a used jayco (excellent quality product with real wood cabinets ) from a friend who “upgraded” to a large motor home. After only 2 seasons, she asked if they could buy back their pop up. Her reason was that they weren’t sleeping “outside” anymore and it felt like a house on wheels. We love the feeling of the open air coming through at night and being able to actually hear nature . We will keep this little legend as long as she holds up!!

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      Great comment, thanks for sharing Judy! I feel the same way, the sense of “sleeping outside” that you get in a pop up. Nice to be off the ground at the same time. Nothing better on a starry night. 🙂

  9. Yes I’m sold on tent trailers, we have one.. Not only does it have 1 shower and toilet inside, but it had 2 showers, one outside too!

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  10. The question about camping with babies was made two years ago and I hope that family took their baby camping. My grandchildren, my children and I all have been camping since we were babies. As a baby, it was tenting for me! As a teenager we sometimes rented a tent trailer (as Popups are referred to in Canada).
    When my daughter was a baby we camped in a boogie van and when my son came along. a floor-less tent and finally an old Tent Trailer we bought for $600 from a friend.
    At 56 I went back to camping..pup tent, bigger tent, and finally, 10 years later, back to a sweet, perfect little 1984!! Bonair Tent Trailer, the B-700.
    My daughter and her family have a bit bigger Dutchmen Ducky. We went into Kananaskis this past weekend for our first camping trip with the TTs and it was perfect!
    I can set up and tear down camp in about an hour on my own. As long as my health and strength hold up, I’ll be in this little Tent Trailer. Eventually I’ll switch to van camping; I hope to have a slide out bed just like a tent trailer’s so I can still enjoy the scents and sounds of nature.

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  11. I am longing to spend time traveling when I retire in the next couple of years. My car is not very big and could not tow much of anything, but I am drawn to a tent trailer intended for a motorcycle. My traveling companion would be my dog. I don’t really like the idea of the closed in box. Is there anything I should know about tent trailers and dogs?

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      Hey Cheryl, thanks for stopping by! We have two dogs, and we’ve taken the smaller one (a 10-lb Havanese/shih-tzu camping with us on a number of occasions. It’s worked out well. We also have a much larger dog, but don’t take her along as she’s a bit too big for the camper. There’s also the risk that if she saw another dog walk by, or something else got her attention, she could tear the screens in her excitement.

  12. I remember my folks took us in a rented pop- up camper when I was about 11 & I loved it so much! I purchased a travel trailer “ the Prowler” 2nd Hand when my daughter was 12 – my husband swore he’d never sleep in it & he never did. I learned how to set it up – back it up! & level etc. but it was too much work alone so I sold it ( & also passed on the husband to someone else)! Haha now I’m a grandma
    I want to get a pop up and wander around with my partner- so this week we are going to look at some used models… I am getting to the point now, finally, one of the things I hated about going to campgrounds was being wedged in between huge RV’s many were set up on their sites for nearly permanent living- if I go camping I would like a camping experience where there are nature noises & smells – is this possible to figure out with a tent trailer – camping sites that are not surrounded by big RV’s ?

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      Hi Allura,

      Thank you for your wonderful comment! It’s pretty tough to find campgrounds that are not dominated by the massive travel trailers and RVs. I kind of take pride in having a more simple, sensible setup, and knowing that my trailer was paid for with $2000 cash 8 years ago. 🙂

  13. As avid tent campers in our family of 4 plus large dog you’ve inspired me to step up to a pop up. We just got back from a camping trip and while we had a blast, us parents are exhausted. The prep, playing tetris in the bed of the truck, making sure we have all our gear, setting up camp and tearing down two days later has us drained. We’ve done it dozens of times with our young kids but I feel like we’ve run out of fuel. After reading this it sounds amazing having mostly everything loaded in the camper ready to go. Camp setup doesn’t sound like a massive chore. Things like setting up the sleeping bags
    and mats only to spend an hour rolling them up a few days later inside a warm tent has run us dry. I’m proud of our tent camping skills and the fact that our kids love it and now I’ll have pride stepping up to a pop up trailer knowing the kids experienced the tent life too. Perhaps I’ll still do a few tent trips with one of the kiddos when mom doesn’t wanna tag along. Thanks for writing this up.

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      Thanks for the great comment Mike! Admittedly, I don’t have much experience with tent camping as the opportunity to buy our popup is what got us into camping in the first place. While there is some prep involved, once you’re set up everything is very comfortable. We’re headed out on 2 separate trips over the next couple of weeks. Can’t wait! 🙂

  14. I have been a backpacker and tent camper for many years. I started camping as an adult to get closer to nature which I love. I have now introduced my mom who is 69 years old to camping for the 1st time. She started out apprehensive but totally loved it and we just completed our second trip. I am a single mom and I also took my 4 year old and he loves camping as well. I am looking to upgrade from the tent in part because my mom has medications that need to be refrigerated and I don’t trust the cooler especially in more remote sites to hold up. I have seen that some of the newer pups have refrigerators and would give us some redundancy for moms meds. Also, I have aged into some back problems and I want more comfort in my sleep situation. I have been very worried about the leaking issue re pup canvases. I would rather not sleep on soggy bedding after a day of hiking. I sometimes wonder why they don’t have a rain fly like a regular tent….Getting wet in the pop up is really my biggest concern. I just stayed dry in light rain tent camping 2 weeks ago but we had a rain fly over our tent. I would love to hear other folks experience with various pup brands and whether staying dry and keeping mold/mildew out is a big challenge.

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      Hey Gail, thanks for sharing, that’s amazing that your mom has embraced camping, not everyone is so willing to try new things as they get older! In regards to the medications, most tent trailers do have a refrigerator, so that is an option. You could also purchase a plug in cooler which keeps things at a similar temperature to a refrigerator. We’ve done away with the plug in cooler in favour of a non-electric marine cooler, but that’s because we need more space and a place to keep all of the meat frozen. It does a wonderful job.

      As far as pop ups getting wet, we have never had a problem with getting water in the camper, and we’ve had ours now for 8 years. If the canvas is in good shape, the rain won’t penetrate. You just have to be careful not to touch the surface of the canvas from the inside when it is wet, as it will saturate and the water can get through.

      We also haven’t experienced any serious mildew issues. We do wipe the screens down with a spray cleaner to get rid of any mildew that starts to form, at the beginning and end of the camping season, or as necessary.

  15. Enjoyed your write up about pop up campers. When or three kids were young we traveled the US in our pop up. We live in North Florida and made it to Alaska on one trip and Maine on another seeing the country all along the way. We all have wonderful memories. I hope to take the grandkids camping someday. Unfortunately, we have an SUV now that it seems wouldn’t pull a pop up large enough for more than a couple people.

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      Hi Mary Anne! Florida to Alaska, that is a huge trip, can’t say I’ve towed my camper anywhere near that far. I’m sure your grandkids will love the experience! 🙂

  16. My wife and I bought a hard sided pop up… an Aliner. We bought a more basic model because we love the outdoors. As we got older, the ground got harder.
    Simple, easy to tow and set up… a true way to travel without spending a fortune. If you are thinking about it, I promise you… you will not regret it!!!

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