Once you have decided to become a full-time RVer the next big decision is what RV to travel in. You might already have a RV that you have been camping in, but will this meet your needs for life on the road?
You can read more about how we made our choice in RVs in "Evolution of a Dream". Here we will talk more about some generalities true to anyone choosing a full-time RV.
First thing I will say on this topic is you need to do your research. This is like buying a home and car all in one. One of the best resources of information is the RV Consumer Group. Spend the money and get their ratings CD for whichever type of rig you are considering. It will be the best money you spend as you conduct your search.
Now there are a few topics that seem most important to me when choosing an RV to full-time in:
- “Guts vs. Glitz"
- Type of RV
- Size Matters
- Climate Control
- Alternate Transportation
“Guts vs. Glitz”
I borrowed this terminology from JD Gallant over at the RV Consumer Group and think it is so important in making a choice that I list it first. Mr. Gallant makes a good point that people often put more money in the trappings of an RV - the carpet, TVs, marble cabinet tops, cool graphics - than in the "guts" of the RV like the frame, axils, holding tanks and structural design. When you are traveling in your home you don't want to skimp on the guts.
This is especially true because the glitz is so interchangeable. During our first weeks of full-timing we met a couple in Austin that told us that by the end of our first year we would have changed all the trappings of our RV. And they were right. We have removed and replaced all the original furniture, appliances, and even altered the cabinets and doors.
Most people who make it as full-timers are fairly handy and living in an RV you make it your home. So don't get caught up in the shiny trimmings the dealers try to sell you on, look behind the glitz and check out the guts.
Type of RV
There are two basic types of RVs: Motorhomes and Towable
These RVs are self contained with the living quarters and cockpit all in one. During our travels, after seeing many other people's rigs, we have decided we would probably never get one because you lose so much space to the cockpit when you are not on the road.
There are three classes of motorhomes.
Class A: These are the bus like rigs that most people think of when they think RV. Prices will range from close to $100,000 well into the millions depending on the glitz you get for the rig. You also have to choose between gasoline and diesel powered engines. We had ourselves sold on this style at first but decided against them because of the initial cost and the expense of upkeep. We finally got one for our third RV because it is useful for doing quick weekend trips and regional travel.
Class B: RV's in this category look like glorified vans. These are much more maneuverable around cities and tight spaces in parks, but you don't have much space inside to live for one person, much less a couple.
Class C: You have seen these RVs on the highway with the characteristic over the cab design. Some people choose these because they are less intimidating to drive and easier on the pocketbook than a Class A, but you will still be spending almost one hundred grand or more.
These RVs are designed to be towed behind a car or truck. Looking at the building quality of these is very important because there is a wide discrepancy in craftsmanship on the market. This is one time you don't always get what you pay for.
sure your tow vehicle can handle the weight of what you are towing.
At an RV show I asked one dealer what it would take to tow a 35'
fifth wheel. He said an F-150 would handle it just fine. In reality
you would have neither the power nor the breaks to tow safely with
anything less than a 250, and even then you should probably have a
350 to be safe. A good resource to find out towing capacities is the
Trailer Life Magazine annual towing supplement.
Truck Campers: RV's that slide right inside your pickup truck bed. With the addition of slides these can be quite spacious when parked, but like Class B's it will still be cramped for full time living.
Folding Camping Trailers: The little RVs that fold out into a tent/RV hybrid. We knew one guy in Yellowstone that lived full-time in one of these, but I would not recommend them for everyone. A fairly inexpensive way to start RVing though.
Travel Trailer: These are the pull behind RVs that you hitch to your bumper. They have a wide range of floor plans and sizes and are usually one level inside which is convenient for those with low mobility.
Fifth Wheel: These trailers which rise up over the pick-up bed and
connect to a specially designed hitch is the type we chose to live in. They are easy to tow, have more storage space, and provide more livable space than any other model we have looked at. Our first two RVs were 5th wheels and they were great to live in for an extended period of time.
Toy Haulers: Usually a TT or 5th wheel with a built in garage to bring your motorcycles, ATVs, or workshop along in your travels.
When you are looking at RVs you have to balance living space with traveling. There is a trend in the RV market to make bigger and bigger rigs. Unfortunately the bigger your RV gets the fewer places you can take it. There are many state and national parks that limit how big your rig can be. It can also be dangerous to take a big rig over some back roads and mountains. On the other hand you need space for everyone living in the RV to prevent getting on each others nerves.
The great equalizer in size is slide-outs. Slides can double or triple the amount of space you have in a room. But they do add extra weight and something else that can break in the rig.
Even if you are not planning to spend any time in cold weather or to find yourself in one hundred degree heat you need to be prepared for all situations. When we started we planned on avoiding snow for the first two years. Well we avoided it for the first two months, but time and again we have been in freezing and often time snowy weather, like it or not. We have also been stuck in sticky heat that could be dangerous to our animals and uncomfortable to us.
So some features to look for include heated holding tanks, a propane furnace, fans in the overhead vents, air conditioning with a heat-strip (a function on the air conditioning unit to blow heat instead cool) and double pane windows and/or deep tinting. It helps if the underside is enclosed and insulated as well as insulation in the walls and roof. If you get a big rig (35+ feet) you may need to have two air conditioning units to keep things cool. When looking at RVs we scoffed at the built in fireplace. The rig we bought ended up having one and it has been one of our most used features. Once you have the rig you will probably add some space heaters and fans like you would in a "normal" home.
Once you get to a place, how are you going to get around?
We’ve seen people use everything from skateboards to Hummers for their alternate transportation. A lot of people figure they will just take their bicycles with them, which is a great plan if you are not going to travel too far from your campground. Other people focus on motorized transportation. Whatever you are going to use, you need to consider how you will bring it along.
If you decide on a motorhome you may need a towed vehicle, or toad in RV lingo. This is a big added weight, so make sure whatever rig you get can handle the load. You will also have to keep in mind that now you have to care for two vehicles on the road.
Back when my mom traveled in a Class B and she just drove that everywhere, but that meant she had to hook and unhook every time she needed to go to the store or sight-seeing or even work. When she got her Class A she set up a Blue Ox tow system and pulls her Ford Focus.
If you get a tow-able RV you will have the truck or car you pull it with. We had a 3500 Dodge pickup which was a champ for towing, but could be a pain for short runs to the store not to mention the big fuel costs, so we also had a scooter for getting around town and two folding bicycles.