7 Travel Trailer Purchasing Tips When Camping With A Wheelchair
My family has always loved to go camping. When my husband and I first got together, we usually went camping every weekend from April to October. We tent camped all over Oregon and had packing down to a fine art.
As we have grown older and added two kids to the mix, one of whom is disabled, we eventually gave up tent camping.
My mother was an avid camper too. Throughout the summer she was always going on camping trips, either with us or with family and friends. Tent camping or trailer, she didn’t care. I really think she was just in it for the cards! Playing cards, especially Pinochle, is an addiction to our family!
Travel Trailer Trials
A couple of years before she passed away, we purchased a tent trailer. I really loved that trailer but we realized fairly quickly, that it was not the safest or most convenient option for our oldest son. When we discovered some dry rot in the back corner of the trailer, we decided it was time to sell it and find something else.
Next, we purchased a 5th wheel but discovered after we brought it home, that it had more dry rot issues than our tent trailer and we really didn’t want to have to deal with that. We sold it without ever even camping in it.
When I received my inheritance after my mom lost her battle with cancer, we decided that one of the ways that we could honor her was to purchase a travel trailer. We would make sure that was in great condition and had a layout that would work for both our boys.
And the hunt was on.
I think it took almost 2 years before we found what we were looking for. The only feature that wasn’t ideal, was the length, as it is 35 ft long from bumper to the hitch. That really limits us on where we can go camping.
We discovered that trying to find a suitable travel trailer was a challenge. Unlike most buyers, we had to take into account odd little details that most people don’t have to worry about. This was because we had to make sure the layout was going to work for our oldest son, who is in a wheelchair. Here are some of the things that we had to look for.
How wide is the door?
We knew that we wouldn’t be able to just roll him into the trailer in his wheelchair. Unless we purchased a toy hauler, which is what everyone recommends. The problem with the toy haulers was having a safe bed for him to sleep in. Most beds in a toy hauler have space all the way around them large enough for him to fall on the floor. You can’t just put him on any old bed and expect him to stay there.
A toy hauler with a layout that we liked just couldn’t be found. And we even looked at custom-made toy haulers from Arizona but the price wasn’t within our budget.
If we could just find a trailer with a wide door (26”), my husband could modify a transfer chair we had and make it narrow enough to go through the door.
A safe place to sleep.
If the doors were wide enough, the next thing we looked at was if there was a safe place for C-Bear to sleep. A place that we could fairly easily transfer him in and out of and be able to have enough room to administer to his needs. We knew the ideal situation would be a bunk bed, but getting him in and out of one wouldn’t be easy. With a bunk bed, we could easily make modifications to keep him from falling out of bed.
Entering the trailer
The first obstacle would be getting C-Bear into the trailer. My husband had determined that he could build or modify a ramp. The issue (there were always issues!) with this was that per ADA guidelines for a ramp, it should be 12” long for every 1” drop in height. We were looking at needing a very long ramp! We eventually ordered a suitcase ramp off of Amazon that Tony did modify and we make it work. The dogs hate it though! LOL!
Storage for supplies
When traveling anywhere with C-Bear, there are always a lot of supplies involved. One of the camping trips we take every year with family and friends is not even at a campground but up in the woods. We boondock (dry camping) on the side of a dirt road for 5-6 days. When you have a teenager that is g-tube fed, on lots of medication, and isn’t potty trained, you need a lot of room for supplies!
The bathroom was another issue. Let’s face it, trailer bathrooms are TINY and not made for someone in a chair. He isn’t potty trained so we didn’t have to worry about that but when we take long trips, we needed to be able to get him in and out of a bathtub.
We had to make sure the trailer had a bath or a half bath because a shower wasn’t going to work with our son. The door to all trailer bathrooms was too narrow to get his transfer chair through so we were going to have to park him in the doorway and transfer him to the bathtub without killing ourselves. There needed to be enough room outside the bathtub for us to move around and give him the said bath.
If the trailer had a bed that we thought would be safe enough for C-Bear, the next thing we had to look at was what it was going to take to get him to the bed. My husband would whip out his tape measure and measure the width of the pathway to the bed and any interior doors he would have to go through.
Not only would the center aisle of the trailer have to be wide enough for the transfer chair, but we also had to make sure that there was enough floor space, somewhere, for C-Bear to play, while allowing enough room for us to move around him. This is where we disqualified most trailers we looked at
Getting to the campsite
The last consideration we had was how to pull this trailer, and how we were going to get C-Bear in and out of it.
I let my husband do the truck shopping and he ended up getting a Ford F350 (which has been the biggest money pit…story for another day) that has a full-size back seat. On our first couple of camping trips, we had to man-handle our son into the front seat but now we have a portable Hoyer lift that I am hoping will work instead.
So what did we end up with?
We ended up with a Keystone Hideout. It has a queen bed up front for the exhausted parents. The couch and dining table are across from the kitchen on a slideout. There is plenty of room for C-Bear to roll around on the floor if he chooses. The bathroom is not ideal but we do manage to transfer him from his chair to the tub without too much trouble.
There is a bunkhouse in the back of the trailer that has a closet, shelf, and drawer under 1 bunkbed. Across from that, is a slideout with a bunk bed over a queen-sized foam foldout couch. That couch is C-Bear’s bed. It’s big enough that he doesn’t fall out of it. And if he did, it’s only 4” off the floor. We use the bunk bed above to store all of his big supplies in totes. We use the shelves and drawers for the rest of his supplies.
Glamping at last
So 35 ft long trailer that can sleep 9 ticked most of our must-haves and wants. The one want that my husband and I had on the list that we compromised on was a king-size bed for us because, you know, the dogs must sleep in our bed.
We have never ‘glamped’ before but because our trailer is so long, we now have to use RV sites which means we usually have all the hookups; water, sewer, electricity, and sometimes cable. No more being able to camp in the woods wherever we want…
The trailer came with 2 (2!) TVs that we never thought we would use. But on rainy days, it’s kind of nice to kick back on the couch and watch a good movie with the kids.
Now the bad news about the trailer. In January 2021, we had a bad ice storm that covered everything with 1-2” of ice. We live in rural Oregon off of a logging road. Trees were down everywhere and a lot of the highways had to close.
About 9 pm one night, I was standing in the kitchen, washing dishes, when all of a sudden I see some big bright lights come down the driveway. I am yelling at my husband to look out the window. He didn’t believe me when I said there was a big truck in our driveway.
Our driveway is about 350 ft long, straight off the road and the truck stopped about halfway down our drive. It was so dark we couldn’t see anything. My husband went out to investigate and found out that this poor truck driver, who had only been a truck driver for 4 months, got misdirected by his GPS. His GPS told him to take a left to get to the highway when it should have told him to take a right.
Due to cones being in the road in front of our property left by utility workers, he panicked, thinking the road was closed, and swung into our driveway where his rig promptly got stuck on one side of our driveway while his 70ft trailer got stuck on the other side. He had to call a tow truck and spent about 8 hours in our driveway waiting for it to show up.
The Big Bang
We were asleep when the tow truck showed up. As best as we can tell, as the tow truck was pulling him backward, the truck driver wasn’t paying attention to our trailer that was parked parallel to the driveway, about 10ft to one side. He slammed his cab into the front of our trailer and knocked it off the jacks and shoved it over 2-3 ft. 3 of our jacks had to be replaced, as well as the front steps, some paneling, and the front door.
Luckily for us, he took responsibility and left his contact information. He worked for a national company and our claim was paid pretty promptly. It took about 6-8 months to get our trailer fixed but it’s back now.
Because of COVID and now the price of diesel, we haven’t, and we probably won’t, be able to go camping anytime soon. However, I use it as my very expensive office space. Hey, if we aren’t going camping now, I might as well use it for something!!
Do you and your family go camping? Do you tent camp or have you upgraded also? Have any funny camping stories to tell? I’d love to hear them!
Other Momma Bear posts you may like:
How to survive when in crisis
10 Things my son’s disability taught me
The 6 Best Handicap Accessible RVs And Motorhomes
The Perfect Wheelchair Accessible Campsite
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