Road Trip Tip: Choose the RV That’s Right for You
Perhaps no one better understands the Buddha quote, “It is better to travel well than to arrive,” than those who own recreational vehicles. And, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association and a 2011 commissioned study by the University of Michigan, more and more travelers are embracing the concept. U.S. ownership of RVs has reached reached record levels — 8.9 million U.S. households own an RV, according to the study.
And these aren’t just the baby boomers, either. In fact, today’s typical owner is 48 years old, and more RVs are now owned by people ages 35 to 54 than any other group. More than 11 percent of U.S. households headed by men and women in that age group own an RV, and this age group is posting impressive gains. What does that mean? Quite simply: there are RVs for every age, every lifestyle and every budget. All you need to do is find the model that best meets your needs.
If you’re not familiar with the various types of RVs available in the marketplace, GoRVing.com is an excellent place to start. Here’s a brief overview of the main categories:
Folding Camper Trailers
Also known as “pop-up” campers, folding camping trailers are lightweight, easy to tow and maneuver, affordable, uncomplicated and provide a good entry point for camping enthusiasts who are taking their first steps up from camping in tents. These campers range from 8 to 24 feet in length, and a new one will cost from $6,000 to $22,000.
Travel trailers are conventional tow-behind trailers, and smaller models can be easily towed behind the family vehicle. Some versions feature pop-out or slide-out sections to maximize living spaces. Just be sure to match the RV’s loaded weight to the tow capacity of your vehicle. These campers range from 19 to 30 feet in length, and a new one will cost from $10,000 to $30,000.
A truck camper sits in the bed or on the chassis of a pickup truck, and believe it or not, they are available in many sizes, with a variety of floorplans, and sometimes even with slide-outs. This option allows you to access rougher areas into which you could not tow a trailer; plus, as with towable trailers, you can detach the camper and use your vehicle independently. Truck campers range from 8 to 20 feet in length, and a new camper will cost from $6,000 to $55,000.
Fifth-Wheel Travel Trailers
“Fifth-wheels” have essentially the same amenities as a conventional trailer, but their tow vehicle must be a pickup truck with a fifth-wheel hitch on its bed. This design gives them a bi-level floor plan, which is more spacious than that of a conventional tow-behind. According to RV-Dreams.com, fifth-wheels are less susceptible to jack-knifing or fish-tailing than conventional trailers; the drawbacks involve more heavy-duty tow vehicles and greater expense. These campers range from 21 to 40 feet, and a new one will cost from $18,000 to $160,000.
Sport Utility RV
Affectionately known as “toy haulers,” sport utility RVs feature all the live-on-board amenities you need — plus space to carry motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs and any other toys you’d like to have along for the trip. These can be towable trailers or motorhomes; in either case, the RV’s rear end drops down to form a ramp, providing access to the storage garage. These campers range from 19 to 39 feet, and a new one will cost from $10,300 to $170,000.
Motorized RVs, or motorhomes, are RVs with living accommodations built on motorized chassis. In other words, you don’t tow or carry them — you drive them. Type A, or conventional, motorhomes are built entirely on specially designed chassis, range from 21 to 40 feet and cost from $60,000 to more than $500,000. Type Bs are “camper vans”; these range from 16 to 22 feet and cost from $60,000 to $130,000. And Type Cs are built on a van frame, with a wide body attached to the cab. These range from 21 to 35 feet and cost from $43,000 to more than $200,000. One important aspect to remember with a motorhome: this is your transportation as well as your home. Unless you want to move your home every time you need to go to the grocery store, you’ll want to consider towing a small car for tootling around town and sightseeing.
What Are My Lifestyle Considerations?
To determine which RV type will suit you, consider your needs:
- What is your overall budget?
- If you prefer a towable trailer or a truck camper, do you have a vehicle that can do the job? If not, you’ll be looking at a new vehicle and a new RV.
- Do you want to tow any toys, like a boat or a set of ATVs? If so, you can’t use a travel trailer, and a fifth-wheel may not be practical. You’ll want to consider truck campers or motorhomes.
- Is this going to be for a couple, or for a family with children? How many people, realistically, will be using the RV on a regular basis? And how many pets? Your love for your RV may wane after too many nights of feeling piled on top of each other; conversely, you don’t want more space than you need if the teenagers don’t want to spend every weekend with their parents.
- How will you use the RV? If you’re planning for extended live-aboard trips, you’ll want more space, more storage and more amenities. If you’re going to use the RV for day trips, weekends and camping vacations, you can go smaller and more specialized.
- Is your RV intended for summer or year-round use? For example, if most of your camping will be done at high altitude, or if you plan to use the camper during the shoulder seasons or even the winter, eliminate folding camping trailers and even travel trailers with pop-outs. They’ll be too cold. You’ll want a fully hard-sided RV with a reliable heater.
- Where will you be doing most of your camping? If you like campgrounds, think about the size of RV your favorite spots can accommodate. If you prefer the backcountry, a truck camper will give you access to the hard-to-reach places; in addition, many travel trailers are available with off-road packages that offer features such as a raised axle and larger, all-terrain tires.
- The RV Buyers Guide has a helpful worksheet to walk you through the process of identifying your specific needs. Additional advice can be found at RVs.com. If you’re thinking of full-time RV living, check out RV-Dreams.com — which has some great budget and financial tracking resources — and TheFunTimesGuide.com. The latter site also offers a good discussion regarding the choice between a trailer and a motorhome.
Going to RV shows is another great idea. You can climb aboard as many different models as you like, and dealer and manufacturer representatives will be on hand to answer questions. Check out show listings through the RV Buyers Guide, the RV Industry Association and GoRVing.com.
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