Choosing the Right RV

This question comes up a lot in groups when people either families or single ladies are considering purchasing their first RV.  I have commented on this question many, many times so I thought I’d go ahead and write it up and reference it in the future when people ask the question.

First, let me say I can really only speak to Class A and Class C RVs because we have never owned a travel trailer although I am familiar with pop ups.  However, I know lots of people with fifth wheels and we’ve looked at lots of them so I will include my limited information on those.

First, let me say that everyone has their preference and a lot will depend on what you want to do.  I’ve found in discussing these topics with others that sometimes they don’t even consider things that I did in making my decision and so I offer you my thoughts and pros and cons that we found, but I am by no means the expert and what works for us might not work for you or your family.

First, let me say I grew up in a pop up for camping and we purchased our first popup after my husband and I married and I love the ease of a popup but I wouldn’t consider one for more than just a few weeks a year.  If you’re considering an entire summer or fulltiming I wouldn’t consider a popup.

Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels including toy haulers.  There are lots of these out there and they can be great for some people.  I admit, we looked at several fifth wheels and they have some fantastic floor plans.  It would be nice to have those “rooms” that they make and having more a house type feel.  However, we didn’t choose either of these for several reasons. 

We found that most trailers have smaller tanks, less fresh water, less black, less gray capacity which makes boondocking more difficult if that is something you like to do.  I was always afraid of the tiny tires they put on all of the trailers.  Some of them might have 3 axles, but they still put small tires and that makes a big difference to me.  I’m no expert on tires but what I’ve learned is more weight on smaller tires means you have to replace them more often.  Of the people we know with trailers they are always worried about their weight.  It seems putting your stuff into the trailer is always a game of trying to figure out what you need and what you can do without and most of the people we know travel with empty tanks so they can stay within weight limits.  Another thing we saw in all of the trailers was the undercarriage or what we call basement storage.  If they do have storage it is usually just a small bin or two so again you have to choose what to take and what to leave behind.  Then there is the ability to back up a trailer.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with that added stress.

As for traveling with a trailer, that would also have meant that all 7 of us had to be in the towing vehicle on travel days.  That would have made us all more cramped and also required more bathroom breaks.  No matter how many times you say, “this is an all play” at potty stops, some child always has to go before the next scheduled stop.  And the tow vehicle usually has a smaller gas tank than a class A and maybe even a class C depending on the tow vehicle.  For us, a trailer just wasn’t an option. 

Class C’s.  My mom decided to travel after my father died and we bought her a class C thinking it would be smaller and easier for her to handle.  She spent a year traveling with us in her Class C so I know quite a bit about those.  This is what we found were different between her class C and our Class A.  First, it was not too difficult for her to learn to drive the class C.  It did handle more like a van.  However, one thing that really bothered me was how the sides bulge out beyond the cab.  When looking in the mirrors even though they are extended to see the sides, I found it more difficult when backing.  We also discovered that her class C at 33’ didn’t turn near as well as my class A at 38’.  She had a 50 gallon gas tank and that required her to fill up at regular gas stations.  She upgraded after a year because she hated going to regular gas stations.  Too many times she complained about cars in the way and she couldn’t maneuver in or out.  Although she had a generator, her generator required that she go outside and plug the power cable into the generator.  She only had a 30 amp coach, she had much smaller tanks, fresh, gray, black were all much smaller than our class A.  She did have a nice floor plan though.  She had some basement storage.  Not as much as a class A but it seemed a little more than most trailers.  I did like her windows.  Her floor plan and windows made it feel like she was more in the wilderness than our class A did.  I also noticed her walls were thinner.  Parked next to each other, she could hear crickets and frogs outside and we could hear nothing.  It was nice hearing the sounds of nature, but I expect in cold weather that would mean she’s less insulated than a class A.  Her water and electric were more separated like on a trailer rather than all contained in one utility bay. 

The class A I am most familiar with as we have had one for 17 years now.  The things I like about having a Class A and why we made our choice.  First, we do enjoy the room we have on travel days.  Although I do require the children to be seated and buckled, they are allowed to get up to use the bathroom and that has saved us time on travel days and the trouble of finding a bathroom where we could park.  I like having a 100 gallon tank for diesel.  I can choose when and where to fuel up and we fuel up at truck stops which makes getting in and out so much easier.  We have fueled at regular gas stations and some are ok, but some are a real hassle to get into.  We are taller at 12’ 6” than the class C so I do have to watch our routes but so far we’ve never gotten into trouble with clearances.  Since I’m a single mom traveling alone, I train my children on being the co pilot and even trained my boys to drive the rig.  My oldest did all our driving across Canada and all through Alaska.  He was 19 when he was driving our rig and towing our Jeep across the country.  My second son was also learning until he moved out and my oldest daughter is going to learn next spring/summer how to drive the rig.  That should be fun.

Our rig and most class A’s are 50 amp so we do require more power.  But we have a generator that uses the same fuel and shares fuel from one tank so no filling up a second tank if we need the generator.  I don’t think most trailers come with a generator and those who add them usually have to fuel them separately.  Our generator is all integrated.  It has great features like auto start so you can tell it what hours you allow it to run and it can start when it’s needed.  We have had to stay in 30 amp only spots and we can usually make that work by not running but one A/C.  Now that we added an induction cooktop we have to watch that one as well.  Some 50 amp coaches are harder to run on 30 amp so if you choose a class A you’ll need to decide what’s important to you.  We carry 100 gallons of fresh water and our black and gray tanks are larger than any trailer or class C we’ve seen.  Because our weight isn’t such of an issue, we always travel on empty black/gray and full fresh water tanks.  Although it might be better for fuel economy to travel with no fresh water, we’ve had times when we didn’t get to where we were headed on time and needed that water so now we always travel with full fresh and empty black/gray.  Because we have large tanks, we can boondock.  When we went to Alaska, we didn’t spend much money at all on RV parks.  Most of our stays were boondocking.  We can go 7 days boondocking with the water we have on board before we have to find water or empty tanks.  We just have to monitor our water usage.  Because we have the generator we can stay anywhere and even have A/C if we need it.  I am overly cautious and I usually refuel at only ½ tank that way I can be choosy about where to stop.  In most class As we have a utility bay where all our hookups are.  Our water and electric are all accessible from one door and everything is quite easy to handle.  We have a black flush inlet and my son rigged up some smaller hoses and some y connectors so that we don’t have to unhook one hose to hook up another, we just flip the y connectors to either fill the rig or flush the tank, etc. 

Things we found about traveling with a class A that we couldn’t do with a trailer of any kind.  One thing we like to do is visit big cities but park the rig somewhere safe.  We always tow something.  We learned this early in our Class A experience when we had our first flat and there were no tire shops open on a weekend.  There is nothing worse than sitting on the side of a freeway with no way to remove your children to a safe place to sleep.  So towing a vehicle is a must for us.  Because of the size of the Class A towing the Jeep or now our Tahoe behind us isn’t much of an issue at all.  I do watch my turns and we are a bit slower in the mountains.  So far we haven’t met a mountain we couldn’t handle while towing.  If I ever think a mountain will be too steep or we don’t want to be slow for some reason, we will disconnect and one of my kids will follow us but we’ve only done that a few times.  Visiting big cities, we can park outside of the city in a rest area or a truck stop, park the RV, detach the toad and leave the RV sitting there while we go to town.  We can also do this at a Walmart, but we try not to stay in Walmarts in crowded areas.  Usually there is a truck stop or rest area just outside of town.  We also used this tactic in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.  Several times, we would leave the RV parked in a gravel lot while we toured around in the Tahoe so we could see more and stop in various places.  I like the safety of the class A.  When we pull into a truck stop for the night, we roll in, park, pull down the shades, put the one slide out (because we can’t sleep with that one slide in), lock the doors and we never have to set foot outside.  As a single mom, I worried about traveling with a trailer.  If we parked at a truck stop we would all have to get out of the towing vehicle and walk to the trailer which would allow people to see us and see that I was a single mom with kids.  With the class A no one ever knows who’s inside unless we choose to get out and go inside.  As for safety at truck stops, we’ve never felt unsafe.  We’ve been to 49 states now and 7 or 8 Canadian provinces and we’ve never felt unsafe.  Only once did someone approach us who was sketchy.  A man knocked on our door asking for money for gas.  My son (who is 6’ 6” tall) answered and said we had a gas can and we would be happy to fill it for him and fill his tank.  He said, “thanks” and left.  That was the only incident we’ve ever had.  As for staying at Walmarts, we’ve done that numerous times and only three times did we ever have a problem.  Once we were told we couldn’t stay.  When I asked if they knew any place we could stay they suggested where we could go and when we got there, it was a huge empty parking lot right by a river or lake.  It was a beautiful spot so we were thankful.  One time a good Samaritan knocked on our door and said that there were drug deals that happened in that parking lot and they didn’t think we would be safe there.  They suggested a better parking place so we left.  The other time was when we were parked with a couple of other RVs in a parking lot and a car came up and parked behind all of us.  The person in the car was blasting their music extremely loudly and one of the other RVers yelled at them to turn it down.  I called the police to report them as their behavior was suspicious and I thought they were using our RVs to cover up the fact they were using drugs.  I also didn’t want that other RVer to get into a fight with the rude people.  All these incidents ended without any problems.  We’ve left our class A in rest areas and truck stops and at a few Walmarts when we had to do some shopping in town and there were no other options and no one has ever bothered our rig.  The thing is, with the shades down no one knows we aren’t inside sleeping so no one bothers it.  You can’t leave a trailer in any of these locations and detach your toad to go run errands or go sight seeing. 

I’m sure other people have other considerations for making their decision but these are the things we considered. 

And if you’re curious how 7 people can sleep in a class A without the extra bedroom that fifth wheels offer, we’ve done this different ways.  Our first class A we bought when we only had 2 children.  It only had a sofa sleeper and dinette for the kids.  We did that for vacations for 12 years and it worked well.  But after my husband died and the kids were larger, we traded that old rig in for a new Fleetwood with bunks.  Since I’m a single mom, one child has the other half of the queen bed.  That child was chosen because she is the one who doesn’t kick, doesn’t flail about in her sleep and doesn’t snore.  She doesn’t get her own bed but she does benefit from the best mattress in the rig!  We have two bunks.  We tried letting the two oldest have those but my giant as I call him didn’t fit well on the bunk so he took the dinette.  We had me and one child in the queen bed, 2 kids in the bunks and then we could have 2 kids on the sofa sleeper and one kid on the dinette.  We tried kid ‘o bunks for a while in the kitchen but that didn’t last long.  The two little kids would fight about someone’s blanket dangling in their face and then there was the putting them up and down twice a day that no one wanted to do.  So after that failed, we made pillow beds and the kids used those for a while.  Basically, you take pillow cases or pillow shams and sew them together then put pillows in them.  They fold up easily to store on the bunks during the day.  I sewed Velcro onto the bottom of the pillow bed and onto a matching blanket so their blanket stayed attached to the bedding.  When the pillows got too flat, a trip to Walmart for some cheap pillows would give them fresh bedding again.  They did that for awhile because no one wanted to pull out the sofa bed every night/morning.  The same with the dinette, no one wanted to put it up/down twice a day so they just choose to sleep in the floor.  We keep cots and tents in our basement so if we’re in a place that allows for tents the kids might toss a tent for a few nights and sleep on cots outside. 

Before I forget, basement storage.  We do have more batteries on our class A than any class C or trailer we looked at so we do have one bay that’s all batteries and one bay that’s a huge propane tank but the rest of our bay doors are all storage.  We carry a lot of stuff in the basement including tents, cots, backpacks, chairs, lantern, toys, etc.  We’ve also carried a sewing machine and other things most people wouldn’t carry.  We cleaned our storage out last year and gave away some things we had under there like a shovel, sledge hammer, etc.  We had a chainsaw but I can’t recall if we kept it or not. 

I let the kids voice their opinion as we were making our choice to go fulltime and they all preferred the class A.  We still go to RV shows and we look at the trailers and they love some of the layouts but no one wants to change.  Our floor space might not be as spacious as some of the fifth wheels we’ve seen but my kids would rather sleep on the floor than trade to anything else we’ve seen. 

As you’re making your choice I hope you’ve found some of this helpful but know, that it’s all about your preference, what kind of traveling you want to do what your choice will be.  The one thing I urge is to talk to other people who have what you are considering and find out the pros and cons because it is an expensive mistake to get the wrong kind of unit for you or your family.