Choosing a Trailer for Central/South America family expedition


New member

I'm a new to the expedition and trailer world, so please excuse any newbie questions.

We are a family of 5 planning on making an expedition from California through Central America all the way to South America. We have very little time to prepare (leaving Jan 2016), and cannot afford the custom truck based expedition conversions. We can afford a used combination of 4WD diesel truck with a standard travel trailer or fifth wheel.

Assuming that many of the main roads we'll be driving down the Pan American will be more "off-road"ish I would like to understand what are the safest options available to me as far as trailers and hitches.

1. What are the pros and cons of using a travel trailer vs. 5th wheel, from a durability/safety perspective ?
2. Any recommendations for (mass market) trailers ?
3. What kind of hitch/coupler should I use (I'm familiar with the different classes, but not with types... i.e. pintle etc.) ?
4. What about brake systems for the truck/trailer ?

Would appreciate any information given.



My only advise would be not to go. A trip and like that with the accompanying responsibility should not be taken lightly or rushed in preperation.

I would want a proven vehicle/trailer and the knowledge to work on them before considering a trip like that.

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Cedo Nulli

I'd recommend reading up on the Pan American as much as possible. Much of the roadways are improved, but whichever rig you end up going with, keep in mind you'll need to be able to boat ferry it around the Darian Gap from Panama into Colombia and pick the route back up. That may be a difficult endeavor with a full size travel trailer/5th wheel. Some of the smaller setups, like a military 1/4 ton style camp trailer, might be easier to use--but traveling with 5 will make gear/camp space more limited.

Roadside theft/carjacking in parts of C. America can be common, secure your gear! Having a trailer or a roof rack loaded with unsecure kit will likely magically disappear if the vehicle is left unattended, and it also attracts some attention.


Good luck! Pan American Highway has been on my bucket list for a while...

Chris Cordes

Expedition Leader
Staff member
I would highly suggest avoiding a fifth wheel. A small trailer like a teardrop with a roof tent would serve you better. If you don't want a trailer you shod do a four wheel csmper sort of setup in the diesel truck. Basically plan for small roads tight corners and possibly bad road conditions. The more compact and capable you can be the better. An adventure trailers flip pax could be a good option as well on your truck


americas rig

first congratulations on having a dream.the life time memories you will make with your family will be priceless.

my opinion would be that you have two good options. pickup with popup camper and ground tent.

or pickup with shell and overland type trailer. both would work its mostly personal preference.

go and enjoy your trip

A fifth wheel type trailer does not like offroad conditions. Look up what happens if the tow vehicle and the trailer become offcamber in opposite directions.

Most fifth wheel type couplers can only handle a few degrees of camber before things break.


Expedition Leader
Heres a list of things to consider, not just on the main roads...most of the interesting stuff means a detour

hills....your following a mountain range south,
Corners see above....its twisty as hell
Pot holes
Speed lights no signs bypass enjoy going through the middle on streets designed for horses and carts
Parking in the above.....
Turning arround in the above
reversing...hell no !

100km in south america on a main road can take 4 hours due to all of the above in a car

There are no brake run off lanes- its cliff side or cliff edge- usually no barriers

The average travel trailer will disolve, I had a 2013 Voltage sat for 3 years on a property in colorado and things still fell off
and it only did 5o miles once up the hill and once back down.

The usually trailer is wooden frame designed for freeways and toll roads...

Page one of the blog you linked too said- pulled off for trailer repairs in Peru or something similar...

If I was seriously thinking of taking one, I'd be looking at an older airstream- the arch shape is more ridged than a square
or a horse trailer type thing where its full aluminum or steel framed, then turn the horse box in the kids bunk room.

The voltage we had had a rear garage and we set that up as my daughters domain.!

Sean H

New member
I'd go with a pop up camper in truck bed and a small durable expedition trailer for extra space and supplies. Maybe a rtt on the trailer for room for the kids.


New member
I have never been on a California to Chile expedition, but I have driven on the Pan American highway in Panama. Calling it a highway is a bit overselling it. Its more like what we would call a two or three lane state route. Its mostly paved, which is to say that there can be car swallowing potholes or wash-outs in it at any time. There is little law enforcement patrolling for speeding a moving violations. Its pretty much every man for himself, as fast as you can stand going. Knowing what I do of the road, I would take a diesel pick-up (far more diesel stations than gas stations) with a camper or a cap with RTT. If you had to have a trailer, I would make sure it is tiny and could take some hellacious bumps. The Panamanians don't use trailers on the highway, they use box trucks for the most part. Take extra fuel. Fuel stations run out of fuel all the time, and most are not right on the highway. In fact I don't really remember any that were. You better know your car inside and out. They typically only drive Toyota Hi-Lux trucks, and others of similar size, mostly Japanese. Barely anyone knows how to work on American trucks, and those that do, take weeks to get parts. They don't exactly have UPS.

If you do decide to make the trip, make sure to stop in local villages and enjoy the fiestas and local entertainment. Latin culture is fairly welcoming and as long as you are polite, they will treat you like family.


New member
Thank you, all for the advice. I can see unanimity in recommending not to take a travel trailer or fifth wheeler.

Would hauling a high clearance popup camper (such as the Jayco Baja) be a better idea, or as risky an idea ?

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I have seen these in person: . They are, without question, the most HD trailer of this type, that i have ever seen. They simply are not joking when they say "it is a game changer". But for a family of 5, IDK. Maybe with a good ground tent as well ?|/pc/104795280/c/104779080/sc/105517980/Cabelas-Alaskan-Guide174-Geodesic-Tent-with-Aluminum-Poles-150-6-Person/1571267.uts?destination=/catalog/browse/view-all-tents/_/N-1102375/Ns-CATEGORY_SEQ_105517980

Good luck on your adventure. Plan properly. Water purification, first aid eqip & knowledge, security, etc... .


What are the ages of your kids? That would make a difference on how large of a trailer/camper/whatever you may need. A Turtleback Trailer with the largest RTT available and FoxWing awning could work well. They are built like tanks. Again you may not want a trailer at all. I have never done this trip but the vehicles run the gamut. Most people seem to like Diesels. You could get a large truck and put an RTT on it as well. The CVT McKinley (Maybe they will have to change the name to Denali) is huge. It can have two separate areas up top and a large room downstairs. I think there are just too many unknowns to give you solid advice.

How much planning have you done?

How fast are you trying to do the trip?

What are you expectations for camping vs hotels vs hostels vs whatever?

Plenty of books and web sites to help you with all of this. I'm reading a free one on my Kindle now from Life Remotely. I think a pop-up could work well. The big thing to think about is room for everyone and security. I know in the states the folks from Xpedition Overland used trailers but ditched them for Central America.

Good luck.