Caravans and travel trailers enjoy a welcome design renaissance
Contemporary caravans and travel trailers evoke scaled-down loft living on wheels – perfect for modern nomads seeking a much-needed change of scene
The caravan has undergone many swings in public opinion since the first car-towed trailers appeared at the turn of the 19th century – there will also be those who consider a caravan to be a home and those who consider them to be a nuisance. The world of popular caravanning appeared to unhitch itself from the design industry many decades ago. Caravans were dismissed as bland and beige, as were their occupants. However, we’re all aspiring to be a lot more nomadic these days. Living light is no longer socially questionable, and modern caravans also tap into the ongoing fetish for small cabins and tiny houses.
Happily, the industry has rallied its approach to design, and modern caravans (or travel trailers, depending on your location) are far more likely to evoke lofts, not cosy cottages. Here’s our selection of well-designed modern machines that promise to deliver open skies and open roads, or at the very least a much-needed change of scene.
New horizons for caravans and travel trailers
We start with an indication of how times are changing. Adria is a Slovenian manufacturer that’s been in business since 1965. Although its catalogue is chock-full of conventional caravan forms, it broke new ground in 2019 with the introduction of the Astella. The loft-like interior is characterised by decidedly un-caravan-like elements such as tasteful fabrics, flush cabinetry and high-quality appliances. There are also double doors set into the smooth exterior bodywork (thankfully bereft of ‘jazzy’ graphics). Four different-sized models are available.
Airstream Flying Cloud
Airstream, on the other hand, has been visual shorthand for retro-modernity since the polished aluminium trailers debuted in 1936. Wikipedia notes that the company launched in a crowded field, but by the end of the decade’s depression, it was the only manufacturer to have survived out of 400 competitors. All-American in ethos, the company has found favour in Europe with a more downscaled approach to design. The Flying Cloud 30FB Office model is the ultimate mobile workspace. The dual-axle design includes a corner office as well as a spacious central living space.
The ‘teardrop’ is perhaps the most basic form of caravan you can buy. Essentially a double-bed on wheels, teardrops date from the 1930s and get their name from their streamlined art deco form. Cooking is taken care of by the external kitchen at the rear, and bathroom facilities need to be found elsewhere. Lightweight – and therefore suitable for towing by smaller, nimbler cars – this British-built Teardrop by American Retro Caravans (ARC) is a compact sideline from a company that specialises in bespoke refits of large Recreational Vehicles (RVs).
Beauer 2X and 3X
French manufacturer Beauer has created a magical caravan. Using a Monsieur Hulot-style piece of mechanical trickery, the 3X caravan is designed to expand telescopically once parked up. The mechanism triples the interior volume of this cylinder-shaped camper, with clever packaging ensuring that the interior furniture stacks and folds together when it’s closed for transportation. The 3X includes one bedroom (and sleeps four in total), while the company also offers the smaller 2X, sleeping two, and the larger 3X Plus, capable of sleeping six.
Bowlus Endless Highways Performance Edition
This 26 ft trailer sleeps up to four in a spacious, silver bullet-like form, a design that’s practically unchanged since aircraft designer Hawley Bowlus started building travel trailers in the 1930s. It was Bowlus that inspired Airstream, rather than the other way around, although only 80 models were built before he returned to aircraft manufacture in 1937. Now the brand is back, and the airliner-esque exterior is paired with a highly crafted and customisable interior, with a gallery-like arrangement that maximises interior space. Their light weight also makes these elegant trailers suitable for EV towing.
Australian company Bruder builds ‘expedition trailers’, rugged machines designed to be towed behind 4x4s and capable of crossing any terrain, thanks to the long-travel suspension. When it comes to fixtures and fittings, think of a Bruder as a Swiss Army knife on wheels, with an array of sliding functions, expanding spaces and clever integral storage.
Easy Caravanning TakeOff
At the other end of the scale is the TakeOff, an ultra-light flatpack from the Dutch manufacturer Easy Caravanning. There’s not a lot to this extremely compact machine, which combines a concertina-like awning above a chassis with integral furniture and galley. The interior is extremely flexible and can be specified with a fixed bed or an awning, while not a square centimetre of space is wasted. The company promises that you’ll be ready to camp in just 30 seconds.
ICC Offroad Flip90 Trailer
German manufacturer ICC Offroad usually specialises in transforming rugged trucks into overland machines for cross-continental adventures. The firm also makes the origami-like Flip90, a trailer that unfolds to create an additional 6.5 sq m of living space, with a practical 2m-plus head height. A smaller version is available to mount on a pick-up truck bed.
Land Ark Draper
Filling in the hinterland between a tiny house and a travel trailer, the Draper is a towable home that fits into RV regulations but places an emphasis on home-like comfort and form. Colorado-based company Lank Ark was founded by trained architect Brian Buzarde and his partner Joni, who live full-time in the prototype model. Transformed into a production model, the Draper is not a machine designed for constant travel, but for long stays in selected spots. Fully self-contained, it has a spacious interior with extensive use of white-washed pine and an ‘upstairs’ sleeping loft above the living space. The large integral deck folds away for travelling.
LUME’s Traveler is an elegant stainless-steel camper, Dutch designed and made. With felt-lined walls for warmth, teak floors for luxury and a signature opening skylight roof for sleeping under the stars, these compact silver lozenges are like high-end pieces of luggage. The Traveler comes in three sizes: the compact, bathroom-less LT360 and larger LT540 have an exterior kitchen to maximise interior space, while the LT540 Nordic keeps the kitchen indoors for camping in colder climes.
Oregon Trailer TerraDrop
Oregon Trailer is a family outfit that makes ultra-rugged, ultra-compact travel trailers. The TerraDrop Alpha model squeezes a substantial amount of internal and external storage onto a single-axle trailer that also includes a generous double bed. The company also builds the FronTear, a more traditionally shaped teardrop that packs everything into an even smaller footprint.
This Australian-made trailer is designed for off-grid excursions in remote spots like the Outback. Festooned with solar cells, the E-RV bills itself as being completely self-sufficient, without any conventional generator system. The composite body is raised up high above rugged twin axles, with flexible floorplans that can accommodate bunks as well as a full double bedroom.
What started as a thesis project has now become a production reality, thanks to South Californian manufacturer Polydrops. This faceted trailer simplifies the teardrop form, maximises the openings and pares back the interior forms to create a compact but spacious mobile retreat. The P17A model includes additional batteries and solar cells for off-grid trips, as well as a built-in external kitchen plus extras like a Bluetooth sound system and air conditioning, while the P17X Explorer includes all this in a more rugged casing designed to be hauled by a 4x4.
Procamp Bushcamp Explorer
Slovakian manufacturer Procamp builds a number of ultra-compact trailers, from the Escape mini-caravan to the ultra-light 290kg Wave, and all the way up to the tough Bushcamp model. The most function-filled Bushcamp model is the Explorer, which is a fully equipped compact camper, complete with bespoke cabinetry, external kitchen and plenty of storage.
RV2035 Concept by Jason Carley
American industrial designer Jason Carley created the RV2035 concept to explore the flexible aspects of teardrop trailer design, with a sleek multifunctional object that would appeal to those eager to experience the ‘modern nomad’ experience. The RV2035’s party piece is its unfolding structure, which uses a stretch fabric structure and carbon fibre bodywork to vastly increase the available floorspace. A central bathroom is flanked by two fold-down bedrooms, with cooking facilities at the rear.
Winnebago Hike 100
American brand Winnebago is practically shorthand for the traditional RV. Founded in Minnesota in 1958, the company builds everything from vast truck-based motorhomes to ultra-compact travel trailers like the new Hike 100. Perhaps the smallest model ever made by the Minnesotan company, the Hike 100 squeezes up to three berths, a bathroom and a kitchen into its sub-16 ft length. It features a natural colour palette, a rugged exterior and space to haul bikes and canoes.