How to choose the right RV?

So you’ve decided that you want to buy an RV – hit the open road and live life more free.  Good decision.  Now you have a harder decision to make – which RV to buy?  There are so many options it can be difficult to know which is the right one.  My husband and I recently went through this – we chose a small travel trailer in the end and have been happy with our choice.

Let me lead you through how we made our decision to help you make yours.

First let’s look at all the options.  RV stands for Recreational Vehicle, and there are lots of different types. 

In the RV world you either tow your living quarters, or you don’t.  Lets start there.  If you are towing you have some kind of trailer.  If you are not towing you have some kind of motorhome.  Then those two categories also sub divide.

  1. Motorhome – this is the classic, what most people think of when they hear RV.  It is the all-in-one vehicle where the living quarters are part of the driving vehicle.  They subdivide into three categories:
    1. Class A – these are the big ones.  These motorhomes look like a bus, in fact some are converted buses (many consider bus motorhomes their own category).  Class A motorhomes are spacious and comfortable making them a good choice if you are going to spend a lot of time on the road.  They also have restrictions however.  Because of their size, you cannot assume that every park will be able to accommodate you.  Even some roads to parks can be too small and/or windy for these vehicles.  They also tend to be very pricey – both to buy and run.
    2. Class C – these are the smaller motorhomes that look more like a truck than a bus.  They are easily found for rentals, often sleep four to six comfortably, and easier to drive than the class A’s.  You will be able to find more spots to park a Class C and they cost less to buy and run.  However, they are also a little less spacious and have fewer bells and whistles than the Class A’s.
    3. Class B – the camper van.  These are the smallest of the motorhomes and are often not much bigger than a van.  In fact, many are converted from vans.  They are the easiest to drive and can fit anywhere a car can go.  Because of their size, they can often go off grid, and park on crown / public land.  The space inside is small – but many have a kitchen and bathroom.  A few will even sleep up to 6 people.  While they are small on space, they tend not to be small on price, often costing more than a Class C.

2. Trailers – these are always pulled behind your driving vehicle and come in many different types.

1. The Travel Trailer – probably the most common trailer in the RV world.  Most, except for the smallest, have a kitchen and bathroom along with the bed and sitting area/table.  Some travel trailers – like the smallest teardrop trailers – are little more than a bed.  The largest ones, however, can have separate bedrooms and even two toilets.  They have a wide variety of floor plans to choose from and actually often sleep more people than most motorhomes.  Because of the variety in size, you can get a travel trailer that can easily fit into small campsites while the longer ones will have more limited choices, like the Class A motorhomes.  You can also buy what is called a toy hauler where the back wall folds down into a ramp so you can bring motorbikes, snowmobiles, or other “toys” with you.  When not used a ramp, the back wall becomes a patio to sit on.

2. Pop – up or hybrid trailers.  These are trailers that fold into themselves for easy transportation, and then open up at the campsite into a bigger living space.  They are the lightest of the trailers and can often be towed by an SUV or car.  Most are really no more than a bed, feeling like a tent inside, but some now come with bathrooms and even kitchens.  They are cheaper than a travel trailer, but also less insulated as they are more like a tent.

3. Fifth-wheels – the biggest of the trailers.  A fifth-wheel is similar to a travel trailer, but it is not hitched off the bumper of the tow vehicle.  Instead, it is hitched into the bed of a pick-up truck.  This makes it easier to pull than a travel trailer, and more stable on the road, but you must have a pick up truck, and usually a 2500 series.  Fifth wheels are often called condos on wheels.  The sleeping area is most often at the front, up a few stairs, and separated from the living area creating a true bedroom.  They usually feel more luxurious inside and offer lots of bells and whistles, nicer finishes, and touches such as fireplaces and kitchen islands.  However, they usually sleep fewer people than a travel trailer, making them a good choice for couple who will spend lots of time on the road.

3. Truck Camper – probably the least common type of RV but still a viable option is the truck camper.  This is a unit that is fitted onto the bed of a pick up truck.    Like the Class B motorhome, these are limited in space, often no more than a bed, but can have a kitchen and bathroom.  However, also like the Class B motorhome, these are a great option for off-roading, or camping off grid as they can go anywhere a truck can go.

So when deciding which type of RV you want, you may want to start with deciding whether you want to pull a trailer or not.  The advantages of pulling something are that when you get to your destination, you can unhook and now have a vehicle to drive around to sight see.  Trailers tend to be cheaper, especially if you already own a vehicle that can tow the trailer.  However, they are also harder to drive.  And if you buy a bigger trailer, they are often longer than even many Class A motorhomes once you add the length of your vehicle and trailer together, making campsites harder to find.

Next you need to decide how you will be using your RV – just want to spend a few weekends camping?  Then maybe a pop-up is a good choice.  Want to off road and go off grid – then a truck camper or Class B might be the right choice.  Want to spend months on the road with the conviences of home – perhaps a fifth wheel or class A motorhome is for you.  Not really sure –  maybe start with a travel trailer and see what you think.

So how did my husband and I choose?

First we went to an RV show to look at all the options.  We knew we wanted something we could take on the road and live in for a few weeks at a time.  This ruled out a pop-up trailer for us.  We thought we wanted a Class C motorhome but frankly weren’t impressed with the layouts we saw.  We also realized that it wasn’t the most practical option for us.  My husband likes to golf early morning and I like to sleep in.  We laughed at the idea of me asleep in the bed, while my husband drove the to the golf course, and I woke up later to a parking lot.  So we would need to pull a car behind the motorhome. Our current car was too big to tow (in our minds) and so we would have to buy both a motorhome and a smaller car to pull.  We decided that was too much money.

Our next choice was a fifth wheel.  We liked the layouts inside since we knew we would be on the road for weeks at a time,  and liked that they are easier to tow.  But that meant we also needed to buy a pick up truck – again too much money.

So we settled on a travel trailer.  We already owned a cross-over vehicle that could tow a small travel trailer, so we looked for something under 3,000 pounds.  We quickly discovered that this a bit of a niche market in the RV world, with fewer choices and higher prices.  We spent a lot of time looking at different layouts, trying to find the one that fit the most options into the least amount of space, and still felt like we had enough room for ourselves and our two dogs.  In the end my husband bought a Jayco 145RB sight unseen, and called me only after he had paid for it.

And then on our first trip we realized that no matter what our car said on paper, it couldn’t comfortably tow the RV we bought, so we bought a pickup truck in the end too.

And we couldn’t be happier with our choices.  Small though it is, our RV is comfortable – it is our home on the road.  It is flexible enough to allow us to go camping and boon docking, but we have also done road trips to Newfoundland and Texas.  Eventually we will get a bigger trailer – maybe go back to our idea of a fifth wheel.  But for now we are happy. 

What did we learn?

  1. Spend some time thinking about your options and what best fits your wants and needs.
  2. Look at different layouts – just like a buying a house, you’ll know when you find one that feels right.
  3. Last – and most importantly – buy something, start somewhere.  What we have learned is that you can easily sell and buy something else.  In the RV world, that seems inevitable anyway.  We spent so much time trying to decide which one was “perfect” for us.  But the reality is, people buy something and then realize they would prefer a different layout, or more room, or want something that can go more off grid.  Buy something, live with it, see what you like, and then trade it a year or two later.  Don’t paralyze yourself with trying to get it perfect the first time.

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