Tocqueville traveled the countryside by wagon, Twain by steamboat and railroad. Kerouac rode in buses and Neal Cassady’s Hudson. Steinbeck had a little cabin custom-built on the back of a truck.
My wife and I are going off in search of America in a truck pulling a travel trailer.
We generally prefer campgrounds over hotels. They are a lot cheaper and they put you in the middle of natural beauty. I’ve been camping since my Boy Scout days, but I’m too old to sleep on the ground. Mostly retired and ready to roll, we started looking at RVs.
The vehicle must align with your traveling style. We want to camp in scenic places for a week or more at a time, making day trips to places of interest in the area. Motorhomes, with the living quarters attached to the vehicle, have some advantages on the road, chiefly that the kids can be lounging in the back while the parents drive. But we don’t want to have to pack up our house every time we need to run to the store for groceries. Better to leave the little house all set up at the campground while driving some other vehicle to town.
There are two options for that kind of arrangement: A motorhome towing a small car or a truck towing a trailer. Since trailers have no engines, they are less expensive than motorhomes. We figured a motorhome towing a car would cost us twice as much as buying a trailer and a truck to tow it.
But we’re used to driving medium-sized cars. Could we handle towing a big rig? We decided to try it out before buying. We flew to Nashville, where we rented a travel trailer and a truck, and took them on a 10-day trek through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.
The truck turned out to be far bigger than we needed – three-quarter ton when a half-ton would do - but that’s all the rental company would approve for towing. We found it intimidating and awkward. The truck, an F250, had no steps or running board. Getting into it was like mounting a horse; getting out was like falling off a cliff. The trailer was smaller than I’d choose, especially for a long trip. It had all we needed – bed, table, kitchen, bathroom – but two people couldn’t move around in it at the same time.
The mismatched combination looked odd, but we learned to drive the truck and handle the trailer – going forward, at least. Backing up is going to take more practice, but pull-through campsites helped us avoid that lesson this trip. We learned to hitch and unhitch the trailer, with some help from more experienced neighbors, and to get all the trailer’s systems to work.
We also learned that you can find nice places to camp and still see everything you want to see. We camped at a state park in Louisiana where we could hear owls mating just outside our trailer, for instance, yet a 20-minute drive took us to a $3 ferry that dropped us in the French Quarter.
There are other ways to roll, of course. After turning in our rentals, we borrowed our son’s low-slung Toyota and spent a long weekend at an Airbnb in Memphis. The car was easier to maneuver on narrow city streets than the truck had been, but came with its own challenges. Getting in was like stepping into a canoe; getting out was like climbing out of a bathtub.
The one-room apartment was a delightful space in a pleasant neighborhood, but we’re going with the campgrounds. We’re now the proud owners of a 24-foot Starcraft travel trailer. It’s small but not claustrophobic, and light enough to tow with a medium-sized pickup. I can’t wait to get it on the road.