When our oldest son was born, we decided to take a break from camping for several months. We loved camping in our tent, but were concerned about the logistics of camping with an infant in a tent. We decided that the best way to get back into camping quickly was to get a pop-up.
A pop-up makes a great transition from a tent. It provides many of the benefits of tent camping, while also giving you a refrigerator, stove, and sink. It also gives you beds that you crawl up into rather than sit down on. Pop-ups generally weigh less than travel trailers so they have the added benefit that you can pull them with most any 6-cylinder truck/SUV/minivan.
Shopping for a camper, especially your first, is a large undertaking. There are so many different types and models, it can be overwhelming. Because of the limits of our tow vehicle, we knew that a pop-up was really our only choice, but even then there were so many brands and models to choose from. We needed to look at the different features and assess what we wanted.
What we loved the most about camping was the fresh air. We liked to be outside, hear the birds and feel the breeze. We liked the idea of getting off the ground, but we did not want to sacrifice our connection with the outdoors. We knew that we wanted a floor plan that let in lots of light and had windows we could open.
Our local dealer sold Fleetwood campers. We picked up some brochures and then spent several days researching the options. Since I had never towed anything before, we focused on the smaller models. We ultimately settled on a floorplan called the Yuma. Pop-ups are sold by the size of the box. This is basically the length of the camper when it is closed. Our Yuma was an 8 foot box – the smallest size you could get.
Purchasing the camper was relatively painless. Being such a small camper, it was relatively inexpensive. A little haggling and some financing negotiation and we were ready to go. When they first hooked it up, I fully expected it to cause the whole front of the van to lift up off the ground. In hindsight I realize how little I understood about towing and tow vehicles and weight distribution. It hooked up fine and we actually got it home and backed into the driveway without much trouble. Everything was going famously. The only thing we had to decide was where to go first.
It so happened that we picked up our new camper the day before Memorial Day weekend. If you have read any of our other posts, you may recall that we prefer jumping into the deep end rather than slogging our way through the shallow area. It is a well-known axiom that your first trip in your camper should be close to home – preferably your driveway. This way you can learn its idiosyncrasies and identify any problems while you are still local. Certain that such rules only applied to others and not us, we booked our first ever camping trip to the Smoky Mountains – 5 hours away!
The bulk of the drive to the Smokies was uneventful. We had some nervousness about towing, but everything went great. Pop-ups have such a low profile, it takes a significant breeze to rattle them. Naturally, we interpreted every wiggle as a sign that the trailer was about to start swaying out of control, but it was fine – at least until we were almost there.
The last few miles to the campground were on back roads. Not more than 5 miles from the campground, we got caught in some bumper to bumper traffic. This was long before Waze would have given us a clue as to the hold up. We just waited patiently while we inched our way forward.
Eventually we could see up ahead that there was a semi-truck jackknifed across the road. Everyone was slowly moving past by using the shoulder. When I say shoulder, what I mean is a mud-filled ravine lining the side of the road. All we could think was, “Are you kidding? Our first time ever towing a camper and there happens to be a semi-truck wrecked on this Podunk road in the mountains? Here? Now?”
Turning around was not an option so we drove on. When it was our turn, the men guiding everyone around waved us forward like it was no big deal. Meanwhile, we were both certain that the wrecked truck was about to have a friend in the form of a wrecked van and camper.
We drove the van off into the mud. The camper followed and we watched closely to make sure we cleared the trailer. Our left side scraped the branches, but just like that we were on the other side and back on the road. We were suddenly very grateful that we had purchased such a small camper. We never would have made it through if our camper was any bigger.
With that ordeal behind us, we arrived at the campground. We were worried about getting into the campsite, but the campground owner escorted us to the site and actually helped me get in by telling me exactly how to turn the wheel and when. Things were off to a great start.
We had one small issue when we unhitched. We cranked down the jack to lift the camper off the hitch. As the camper cleared the hitch ball, it roll back several inches. It was at this moment that we realized we had not chocked the wheels. Oops. To this day, that crosses our mind every time we unhook the trailer.
All in all, it was a great first trip. Our new pop-up was everything we hoped. It was the first step in a whole new chapter of our adventure.