Thinking About Buying a Pop-Up Camper? Consider This…

Thinking About Buying a Pop-Up Camper? Consider This…

We often joke that buying our first pop up camper was the best and worst decision that we ever made.

And it really was.

It was the best decision because discovering the RVing lifestyle was a life changing series of moments for our family.

It was the worst decision because we bought the wrong pop up camper.

Yup, we are one of the statistics. We bought a shiny new pop up camper with all of the bells and whistles for over $10,000. What we should have bought was a used one, for maybe $2,000 or $3,000 tops. We spent way too much money only to discover that another rig would be ideal for our family.

pop up camper in woods

Don’t get us wrong–our camper had a bathroom, stereo, air conditioner, large slide out, hot water heater, and kitchenette. In so many ways it was pretty awesome.

So what was the issue?

Well, we loved RVing so much that we started to camp a lot, and we started to take longer and longer trips.  When we bought the rig, we figured we would camp a few weekends a year and maybe take a week long family vacation. In reality, we were camping over 40 nights a year by our second season.

pop up camper at campground

After spending 16 days in Vermont and Maine on a four stop trip, we realized that all of the setting up and breaking down was eating up a lot of precious vacation time and a lot of our patience.  Eventually, we decided to sell the pop up camper and buy a travel trailer.

Unfortunately, we owed more on the camper than it was worth. This is common when you buy an RV with a long term loan and sell it too quickly.  Just like with an auto loan, those early payments are mostly interest–and RV values depreciate more quickly than car and truck values.  Live and learn, right?

This leads us to the number one issue we face when listeners ask us if they should buy a new pop up camper. ALL OF THEM insist they will not be one of the statistics. They all insist that a pop up camper is the only type of RV that they will ever, ever want.

And then they jokingly email us a year later letting us know that they are trading that beloved pop up in for a travel trailer.

We are never surprised.

That’s exactly why we should have bought a used pop up camper. You put very little financial skin in the game and then see if RVing is right for you. When you find out that you are completely obsessed with RVing, it’s no big deal. Go ahead and sell that pop up or trade it in for an upgrade.

pop up camper in woods

That’s what we should have done. But hind sight is 20/20, so we are passing on the pearls of wisdom to you.

You see, an awful lot of RVers start out with a pop camper, fall in love with camping and traveling, and move up into larger units very quickly. It’s pretty much a joke amongst experienced RVers.

That’s why it’s wise to start with a used unit and pay cash–not because you won’t use the camper, but because you will, and you may want to upgrade very quickly.

Two of our friends, who have become our regular camping buddies, took this approach when they purchased their first pop up camper.  They found a used unit, in great shape, at a great price.  They also fell in love with RVing, but when they eventually sold their little Jayco pop up after almost two years they actually made a profit.

So, we recommend that you buy a used unit, or at least a much less expensive one than we bought.

Even if you are convinced you will never want anything bigger.

Even if you get sucked in by all those fancy bells and whistles.

Just. Buy. The. Cheap. Pop. Up. Camper.

Years after our first RV purchase, we are finally taking our own advice. Even though we have an amazing toy hauler travel trailer that we love, we still missed that rustic camping experience that comes with a pop up camper. So we got another one. Except this time we found a cheap, used one on Facebook Marketplace. And she’s perfect.

You can read more about Penny the Pop Up Camper here. You can also check out our podcasts about the Pros and Cons of Pop Up Campers. Plus, we recorded an episode that was an Ode to the Pop Up Camper.

Because even though our first pop up camper was about the worst financial decision we ever made as a couple, it was also the best investment we ever made in our family.

See you at the campground.

Buying a Pop Up Camper


  1. JP

    Great advice. We also purchased a used pop-up, used it for 4 years, sold it for the same price. Bought a new pop-up and used it for 10 years before we bought our current hybrid, 11 years ago. We tend to hang onto things for a while. I love the ten reasons to RV rather than moteling it.

  2. NYCgal

    After years (alright, alright.. decades) of various forms of tent camping (started with cycle camping and currently glamping) I’ve decided to ditch the job and cross country RV for a few months. Much as I smile whilst watching a fellow camper set up a pop up, feel like a modified tear drop will best fufill my current needs. I do need to pay close attention to resell,depreciation and the initial cost though so thanks for giving thoughts of BTDT.

    • livelylittlecampers

      The teardrops are cool. Depending on your tow vehicle’s ability you might check out a really lightweight travel trailer like a Jayco Swift. You may pay a little extra for the style and novelty of the teardrop.

  3. Anonymous

    You should come camping in Florida.

    • livelylittlecampers

      Right now we are maxing out at 12 hour drives…but soon, very soon! The boys are actually BEGGING for Lego Land.

  4. John Diggs

    My wife and I bypassed the popup all together and went right into a small 21 ft microlite travel trailer but have been second guessing our decision and wondered if we would have been better off with the popup with its own toilet and possibly a shower?

    Downsides of the TT include: Storage (no place to store and have to pay $50/month to store due to size versus a popup in our garage), cost (around $18k new), tow vehicle needs to be able to tow at least 5,000 lbs which puts you in a larger vehicle with bad mileage compared to a smaller SUV like an Escape, and cost to travel anywhere gets really expensive. I would say our gas mileage drops from 21 MPG down to 9 MPG when towing. We go on long trips across the country so round trip gas price is usually over $1,000 which has me thinking a smaller camper or getting a flight and renting a hotel would be considerably cheaper all the way around. We plan traveling about 4,000 miles a year in the TT… .

    The main reason we went to the TT first was concern about noise when sleeping and to have a our own bathroom for the middle of the night trips and also to have our own shower but thinking this can be addressed with a popup. Anyone have both and want to weigh in?

    • livelylittlecampers

      Hi John–Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. On our last episode of the podcast, we talked about first time RV purchases and how hard it it to know what you want ahead of time. You really bring up some great points and we would love to share them on our next episode! Let’s see if anyone else has opinions about this…

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