Top 3 Common Problems and Solutions When Living in a Travel Trailer

Updated on July 4, 2019
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw has been living in a Dutchmen Sport travel trailer for most of the past ten years.

This is not my actual travel trailer. Mine is much older and dirtier-looking. This one is extremely similar though.
This is not my actual travel trailer. Mine is much older and dirtier-looking. This one is extremely similar though. | Source

My travel trailer home does not travel. Oh it could, but I'm staying where I am. I'm living in this tiny home not for traveling, but due to various and sundry other life circumstances.

I do very much love my little travel trailer home. The problem is, these trailers are not built with the idea in mind that someone will be living in them full time.

Much more specifically, this page concerns the three biggest problems I've had with the trailer itself. I mean problems with the build methods and furnishings.

The standard mattress that comes with a travel trailer is typically of poor quality.
The standard mattress that comes with a travel trailer is typically of poor quality. | Source

Problem 1. That Mattress Is Really Cheap

The first issue I encountered with travel trailer living was the destruction of my mattress. Now to be fair, I'm sitting on the mattress all the time. I'm sitting there now. My computer is on a table to the right, and I've got my monitor on the mattress in front of me. I'm propped upright on a stack of pillows, keyboard in my lap.

The fact that I do all of my internet stuff from sitting on my bed doesn't change the fact the mattress that came with the trailer was cheap. I'd never in my life had a mattress just fall apart on me, but this one did, and I believe most of the mattresses you will get with a travel trailer are going to be of roughly the same low quality.

I sat and slept on the mattress until metal springs were poking me in the rear. I devised painfully dumb ways to prevent this from happening. It kept happening. Eventually I had the brilliant idea that I should flip the mattress over, and that is exactly what I did. Then I proceeded to sit and sleep on that side of the mattress until metal springs were once again poking me in the rear. I tore some shorts from those springs, seriously; and then there was the continuing issue of metal poking into my rear end.

Serta Willow Double Sided Visco, Memory CertiPUR foam Full Futon Mattress
Serta Willow Double Sided Visco, Memory CertiPUR foam Full Futon Mattress

Solution 1: Replace the Original Mattress with a Futon Mattress

This sounds like a small problem, but my wealth in this world was very very small, and my home, alas, was and is very small. So due to my perspective of being a small fella with small income and a small home in a gigantic world, my problems with the mattress poking my rear, tearing my shorts, and my frigging' heart out to boot, became a bit magnified.

Something had to be done. Well, I had to make a move, and I promise you it was one of the better ones of my last decade. I only sleep on this thing. That old mattress was something I'll never forget, but will always be glad for it to be gone. I probably should have just set it on fire in the yard. Some satisfaction could have come from that.

The mattress sets on top of a platform of what appears to be pine, and of course this is flat. At the foot of the mattress, is a bit of a storage box. The storage is under the mattress, and so, to access it, one must lift the mattress, but at the same time this is the same platform of pine on which sits the mattress.

I researched replacement mattresses for travel trailers on the web. I was completely appalled by what I discovered. Replacement mattresses sold for between four and seven hundred dollars. I suspect they are of the exact same low quality as the originals. I instead went to Amazon and purchased myself, for around two hundred dollars, a Serta Willow double-sided futon mattress. I honestly couldn't be happier with this thing.

I've been sleeping on the Serta, and sitting on the Serta for around five years now. I've yet to wear out even one side of it, and it is double sided. So should the day come when I've got metal springs sticking me in the rump, I can still flip it over. This thing is far better than the mattress which came with the trailer. It is only a tiny bit longer, and this poses zero problems for me.

Problem 2. Travel Trailer Wall Sockets Are Trash

So the wall sockets that come in a typical travel trailer, those things are trash. Oh they'll work just fine for a while, but remember, I'm living in this trailer. I don't just stay in here one weekend every few months. I'm in here most of the time, even. Those plugs are the worst bits of hardware I've ever encountered.

Plugs, wall sockets, 115-volt electrical outlets, we are talking about those things. I'm talking about the electrical plugs you plug your devices into. Think of something like a coffee pot, and what you plug a coffee pot into. That thing is exactly what I'm talking about. Mine were fine for a couple of years, and then they simply were not.

I recall first having issues with the plug I used to charge my cell phone. I would plug my charger into the wall, plug my phone into the charger, and nothing would happen. I started jack-legging, or bending one of the prongs on the charger so that it would make a complete electrical connection inside the plug. This isn't something a body should have to do. Eventually that plug couldn't be used at all.

I unscrewed the thing from the wall, and was appalled. The plug wasn't even inside a proper electrical box. Having worked as an electrician several different times in my life, I know 115-volt plugs should be installed inside a nice PVC electrical box. And I couldn't abide having to bend or jack-leg my device prongs to get them to complete a circuit. So I replaced five of the six plugs, and installed them in PVC electrical boxes.

Superman and a Carlon B117RSW Work Outlet Box, one gang, 3.64-inch length by 4.07-inch width by 2-inch depth.
Superman and a Carlon B117RSW Work Outlet Box, one gang, 3.64-inch length by 4.07-inch width by 2-inch depth.

Solution 2: Replacing Your Travel Trailer Electrical Outlets (Boxes and Plugs)

Now this next part is somewhat tricky. I've worked as an electrician several times in my life, no, not a journeyman or a master, I only ever worked as an apprentice. This is very basic level stuff, and anyone who is 'handy,' or a real do-it-yourself sort of person should be able to do it.

At the same time, because we're dealing with electrical outlets, if you're not absolutely sure you can do this repair or upgrade, then you shouldn't attempt to.

I do not work with live electricity unless I absolutely have to. Completely kill the power to your travel trailer when doing this repair or upgrade.

My travel trailer isn't large. I believe this is a twenty-six-foot Dutchmen Sport. It only has six electrical outlets. I replaced all of them, except for the one serving the microwave, and I've not had a single problem from my outlets since that time. Why did I not replace the plug serving the microwave? I have never unplugged the microwave. I doubt the microwave has ever been unplugged at all. Plugging things into a socket and then unplugging them is a major contributor to the wear and tear on the cheap plugs which come installed in a travel trailer.

Even if you're not having problems with your wall sockets, you could replace them with what I'm going to display and discuss, and you'd have upgraded your trailer's hardware.

The right box is the single most important part of improving your trailer's electrical outlets. Travel trailer walls are very thin, and so the sort of box one uses in a traditional home is too deep to install in the walls of a travel trailer. Also, there are no studs in your travel trailer to nail a box to, and so you need a snap0in type of box, which secures itself to the walls with PVC tabs that will extend upwards when you tighten the screws.

The Carlon B117RSW Work Outlet Box, 1 Gang, 3.64 inches long, 4.07 inches wide, and 2 inches deep, is exactly what you need. These are a nice design. The curve on the back of the extension makes it really easy to slip the box into the hole. It helps if you leave yourself extra wire to make up for the longer box.

The other thing you need to upgrade your electrical outlets are the sockets or plugs themselves. Leviton is a major brand in that industry, and I've installed countless of these exact plugs. To be extremely specific about this, I used the Leviton M24-05320-WMP Straight Blade Duplex Receptacles with Ears. You can't go wrong with this Leviton product. It's the standard receptacle found in homes, and your travel trailer deserves the upgrade, especially if you are going to live inside it, or use it often.

Batman, it would appear, with his 115-volt wall sockets and cover.
Batman, it would appear, with his 115-volt wall sockets and cover.

Replacing Your Boxes: Tools and Additional Materials

The shallow box is the most important thing here. What plugs and covers you use to install in the box matters much less. Again, the walls of a travel trailer are very thin, and so a shallow box is a must. You can see the curved section of the box to the side, and this is where any slack in your wiring is to be stuffed.

You'll be very glad for any length of wire you have to work with. You will need a keyhole saw for this job. The small keyhole saw will be used to cut some of the wall away for you to insert and install the snap-in electrical box.

Cutting into your walls is a very final sort of thing. You've got to cut the hole right. Too small won't work, and too big is a disaster. The hole should be the size of the rectangular front of the electrical box. Remember that the curved backside of the box slips into the wall, and over to the side.

I'm going to assume the reader does know how to wire a 115-volt plug. It isn't hard to do at all, but if you don't know how to do it correctly, it's a big problem. Myself, I was practically raised, my father being a master electrician.

Stab-in connections are verboten in my family. Instead we wrap the wires tightly around the proper screws. You will need a flat-blade screwdriver for this, and it is possible you will need wire strippers as well. You'll need a Philips head screwdriver to attach the box to the wall's interior, and then to attach the plug to the box. A nice ten-in-one tool would serve you well here.

My actual rooftop RV air conditioner on my own RV.
My actual rooftop RV air conditioner on my own RV.

Problem 3. You Will Probably Have to Replace Your Air Conditioner

Now I live in north Texas, where we have fairly brutal summer months. My trailer is not under any sort of covering. The only way to live in a travel trailer in my area of Texas is to have a very functional air conditioner.

I'm on my third rooftop package unit air conditioner. Now, my trailer is twenty years old now, and I've been living in this thing for most of the past ten years.

The air conditioner that came with the trailer was a good one. I don't recall the model, but it was a Coleman brand unit. I never once had a single problem with it until it died. What happened? We had a power surge, likely caused by lightning, and it destroyed that unit, as it was running at the time, and there was a summer storm. I also lost my desktop computer in the exact same event.

My second unit I had to have right away. I was short of cash. I got one used from a trailer which had been wrecked on the highway. I've no idea how used the unit was, but it worked great for at least two years, and then it developed a refrigerant leak. This unit was a Dometic Penguin Low Profile unit. It's best quality was how quiet it was. I'm not slighting the Dometic brand here at all, as that wouldn't be fair, I had got mine used.

Now, I've more experience as an HVAC serviceman than I've got in any other industry. I installed a valve on the leaking unit so I could charge it with refrigerant. This was not helpful, as the leak was too severe. I discovered that the leak was in the evaporator's aluminum coil, where there was little hope of repairing it.

These problems always happen in summer, when you least need them. I had to make a move, and quickly.

Solution 3: Advent RV AC Air Conditioner

Advent RV AC Air Conditioner was my purchase and solution to the air conditioning problem. This is a fantastic air conditioner. I'd never heard of the brand. I'm forever lite in the wallet, and so I got the least expensive RV package unit I could.

I did not expect to get something as good as this. I was only seeking something that could keep it cool enough in here, during the hot Texas summer, so that I could continue to live in my RV. This thing does more than that. I'm blown away, somewhat literally, by the performance of this product.

This air conditioner out-performs the two units I previously had. Now to be sure, I got my Dutchmen Sport Travel Trailer used. The second package unit I had put on here, I had got that used too. So this is the first new RV air conditioner I've had. I'm telling you with all honesty, I never expected to have something to where I would literally get cold inside here, and this even during the summers. This unit does that, and it does it with the fan set to low speed too.

There is one problem in all of this, though the problem is rather small when compared to being miserably hot, or inhospitably hot, and that is the unit is very loud. It makes a ton more noise than either of my previous units did. I will never complain about this, I just have to mention it.

Installing Your Rooftop RV Air Conditioning Package Unit

This job is not really any more difficult than replacing your electrical outlets. The thing is, there is no possible way I myself could have put this package unit or any other on the rooftop of my travel trailer. The unit isn't heavy, but it is too large and heavy for one person to manage.

I had my dad's help. My dad owns a tractor with a front-end loader. We put the unit on the front end-loader, and with the tractor, dad put the thing up level with the top of my trailer, and we went from there.

Possibly a larger man than myself, with the use of probably two ropes, could rope around either end of the box containing the air conditioner, and then pull the thing up to the roof of a travel trailer. The risk in this is that were you to drop the unit, the compressor could be shot, or other unforeseen damage could occur.

Don't try to be Superman; get help getting the thing on the roof of your trailer.

Now the indoor portion of the unit—the control panel, the vents, the access to the filter—this is something you can either buy with your new unit, or not. Your old indoor part, from the previous unit, should it still be functional, should also work with your new unit.

When I got my Dometic Penguin Low Pro unit used, I used the original Coleman controls to operate that unit. I only had to build a bit of a transition, using silver metal tape and duct tape, to transition the plenum to the indoor portion which channels the air to the vents. When I bought my new Advent air conditioner, I bought the indoor portion as well, but there was still the matter of building a transition with silver metal tape and duct tape.

Connecting the plenum on the package unit to the air intake on the indoor control panel, and vent portion of the unit is not hard, but is somewhat time consuming and bothersome because you don't have much space with which to work. You'll be cutting many pieces of the silver metal tape.

This whole job is also something one should be very handy in order to attempt. Hooking up the electrical is very simple for persons who know how to connect the proper voltage wires together, and there are instructions which come with the package. Installing a new package unit air conditioner on your travel trailer is much the same as installing a window unit in your home or office. The major difference is the rooftop unit is larger, and must be lifted to the rooftop some sort of way.

Finally

There are more benefits and problems which come with travel trailer living than I could fit onto a single webpage efficiently, and then solutions for such couldn't be anything like comprehensive without an entire book dedicated to the subject. I chose these three things because they were the three I've experienced and felt had bothered me the most.

"Travel trailer" is a pretty generic term. Something built by Airstream is technically a travel trailer in the same way a Ferrari is typically a car. I've nothing but respect for Airstream, but well past ninety-nine percent of the travel trailers I've ever seen were much more like my own Dutchmen Sport.

I'm very very fond of my Dutchmen Sport trailer. I'm the sort of person who grows very attached to things I own and have spent countless hours with. I really do get sad when I have to throw away an old pair of shoes. Those shoes and I spent so many hours together. And maybe if I just put them in the closet a while, they'll heal.

You have to understand the typical travel trailer was built with the idea in mind the owner would use the thing a few weekends per month, and possibly for some vacations lasting up to two weeks per year. Used in such a manner, a travel trailer would last for quite a long time before developing the issues I've discussed here. When you make one your full-time home you will quickly appreciate the sturdier home construction and furnishing values we've all mostly come to appreciate.

I hated that mattress I had in here with much passion. Whoever is manufacturing those things, well, they're surely not doing their best. It's true I've no recollection of who had made that travel trailer mattress, but I have come to truly love and appreciate the Serta futon mattress people for their outstanding mattress for around two hundred bucks.

I was also pretty well offended by the electrical outlets in my trailer. The outlets themselves were just crap. I don't think I had ever in my life saw an electrical outlet in a residential or commercial property fail without some serious abuse or longevity behind it. These were truly awful, and then I was amazed to find out the plugs weren't even inside a PVC box inside the wall.

Those shallow-wall PVC 115 volt plug boxes, were you to install them with standard home plugs in your travel trailer, would make your connections not only much more reliable, but also much safer. The PVC boxes protect your home from electrical arcs inside the walls. You know what else prevents arcing inside your walls? Decent electrical outlets, especially when they are installed by persons with enough integrity to forego shoddy stab-in connections for the old fashioned wire wraps around tight-fitting screws.

As a guy who worked in the HVAC industry for around twenty years, and who could wind up doing that very skilled and very hard work again someday, I've nothing at all bad to say about Coleman or Dometic HVAC products for travel trailers. When I bought my Advent package unit, I had selected that product for one reason alone: It was the least expensive unit I could get.

Anything could happen tomorrow, but in the present, I couldn't advise someone spending hundreds more for the brand you'd heard of and seen for years instead of this one. Thanks for reading.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Wesman Todd Shaw

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      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Well thanks very much, Rachelle. Have you ever heard an out of tune banjo? That's exactly what my voice sounds like.

        It's BAD. I have the most awful hillbilly accent on the entire planet. Like I was born in a corn field or something.

        I could do comedy on Youtube someday.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fj8i_ZcqABc

      • Rachelle Williams profile image

        Rachelle Williams 

        2 months ago from Tempe, AZ

        This is an awesome article! Do you have a YouTube channel to document your life & travels in the travel trailer? I'd subscribe in a hot second, and so would thousands of others...

      • profile image

        Rebecca 

        2 months ago

        Im a new fulltimer and doing same being stationary. So I found water damaged walls the ones that connect to my rear cap. I was able to remove the wet and moldy materials. What I dont know is what I can use to replace material I removed and have it transition with existing wall smoothly so I can have clean dry and mold free home in here. Any help or info direction would be seriously appreciated!

        Thanks

        Rebecca in Portland Oregon

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        @Tony - oh man. Yeah, that is a problem. Years ago I started to realize I may have some small mice in here. Glue traps are cruel, but me living with mice is simply not going to happen.

        I don't know how they got in, but I did find the nest in the smallest storage compartment, which you can only access from outside.

        My parents have an absolutely gigantic travel trailer. It's got leather recliners, ceiling fans, a house sized shower, two pullouts. It's a fancy thing.

        Anyway, the parents do lots of travelling, as was their plan for retirement. They got in the habit of going somewhere in Colorado every year, and when they came home from Colorado one year, they brought a pack of actual rats with them.

        They have to have some kind of way to get inside, but it is often beyond me figuring out how they do it. Nowadays here at the rural Shaw homestead, we have a pack of cats, which we do prefer to the rodents.

      • Pcunix profile image

        Tony Lawrence 

        2 months ago from SE MA

        The most annoying problem we have had with the various vacation trailers we have owned is mice.

        On our first very small trailer, I was able to find and seal every single entrance point. On our second, I knew they were still getting into the walls, but they never managed to get inside.

        With our most recent, things were very bad. We had frequent incursions of mice getting into the kitchen drawers and cabinetry. I spent many hours underneath the trailer looking for ingress points and using foam, copper wool, and heavy duty reinforced duct tape, but they still found their way in.

        We gave up and sold it. We no longer own a trailer and, given our age, may never again.

        As you did, we replaced mattresses. We also replaced the couch, added air vents, a real toilet and other small improvements. The costs add up fast!

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Thanks very much, Sir!

      • James A Watkins profile image

        James A Watkins 

        2 months ago from Chicago

        Thank you for this excellent article. The wife and I are thinking about become full time RV people. Not the same thing, however, there is some relevance to your article. Good writing.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Thanks very very much, Kaili. I remember having a nice Mercury Cougar. I really liked the car. It looked really nice, drove great. One night I was about 40 miles to go to get home from a day of going to work, and then evening at community college.

        Well something went wrong with the transmission. The thing wouldn't go into 3rd gear. I drove it home in second gear at about 45 miles per hour, down the highway. A four dollar plastic part had failed, and it ruined my car.

        What a world

        Well, travel trailers really aren't meant to last so much. I'm going to stretch the life of this one so thin you'll wonder if there is really butter on that bread. Heh.

      • Kaili Bisson profile image

        Kaili Bisson 

        2 months ago from Canada

        Wesman,

        I love your description of trying to make the mattress last...and last. I am forever accused of keeping things going well past their "best before" date. I hate it when I see the amount of trash people generate, everything is just disposable for some folks it seems.

        Good on you! What an interesting and entertaining article.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        I agree, Virginia. I do wish I made enough money to have a tiny house. I definitely do not have enough room in here for all of my very basic possessions. So I've got stuff stored in my old room in my parent's house.

        So far as extremely basic things like clothes go, I've enough room in here for most of whatever I tend to wear in a particular season of the year.

        If you don't have family nearby who will allow you to stow some of your stuff at their place, then probably the person living in a travel trailer will have to rent some storage space somewhere.

      • Virginia Allain profile image

        Virginia Allain 

        2 months ago from Central Florida

        I admire the tiny house movement, but shake my head when I see what people pay to have one custom built for themselves. They could save so much money by just buying a travel trailer as those are much more affordable having been built economically on an assembly line.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Pamela, I lived for some months with old doormats on top of the mattress because there were so many springs sticking through it. I just didn't have any money to speak of. Those springs eventually poked through these plastic or rubber doormats too.

        Was a bad time.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        2 months ago from Sunny Florida

        This may be a very good article for someone who desires to live in a trailer. Changing electrical sockets is tricky for most people I think. Your mattress problem sounds like it was a very painful problem or several fronts. I'm glad you worked it out.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Hey Vivian, wait until you're an empty nester, and then you and the husband can do what my parents, and lots of others do. They get a big fancy travel trailer, and pull it around the country in a big fancy truck.

        Then there are the sorts who've got some acres on which they wish to build, but they don't have the money to build a house just yet. They get the septic tanks installed, the power supplied, and they park a travel trailer out there and live in it until they can build a house. I've got family members doing that.

        Tornado? Eh, I've no contingency plan for acts of God. I don't think worrying about things out of my control has ever done me a bit of good.

      • Noelle7 profile image

        Vivian Coblentz 

        2 months ago

        What happens if you get married and start a family? I've watched those shows about living in tiny houses, and I'm amazed how people like you function and thrive! That is definitely not the type of life for me, but I'm glad you like it and make it work!

        What's your contingency plan if there's a tornado?

        This is a very well-written piece.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        I hadn't heard that saying before. It's an interesting one. I wonder what percentage of people can look back and see how their plans fell into place. I'm guessing very few. It makes for varied and interesting lives though!

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Thanks very much, Liz! When I was a kid those were the exact sorts of things I never planned to know anything about. You know the old saying, if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        2 months ago from UK

        This is an insightful and useful article based on years of experience. What you havd learned, sometimes painfully(in the case of the mattress) could benefit others reading your article. You are fortunate to have the skills to replace electrics and air con units. I wouldn't know where to start.

      • tsadjatko profile image

        2 months ago from now on

        I’m the same way. I can never guess the right size wrench or socket to use on a nut.

        But I can look at a pile of luggage and fit it all perfectly into a trunk or buy the exact amount of groceries to fit in the freezer just from my memory of how much room was left in there the last time I looked. Odd.

      • Wesman Todd Shaw profile imageAUTHOR

        Wesman Todd Shaw 

        2 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

        Thank you very very much, Sir! I admit I was worried about how to try to describe things like doing basic electrical work. I'm sure it is easier to do the more you do it.

        I'm reminded, however, that in around 20 years of hvac work, someone could say 'go get a roll of 5/8 copper,' and I'd come back with 3/4" copper. I never once got to where I could just look at a piece of something like that, and know the exact size.

      • tsadjatko profile image

        2 months ago from now on

        Terrific article Wes, you have a great sense of humor and a disarming style of writing even when writing about mundane things.

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