Have you ever stopped by the hardware store to pick up a can of white paint for a simple home improvement project such as repainting a bedroom? Just a quick stop to gather the paint and maybe a few supplies so you can tackle an easy project. You saunter down the paint supplies aisle and are stopped in your tracks by the display of paint chips. You know, those little cards with creative names to describe the myriad colors of paint. “Well,” you tell yourself, “it can’t be that hard. I just want white.” And then you notice that the section of white paint chips is the largest of all. How in the world can there be so many shades of white? Now you have no choice but to gather at least 50 white paint chip cards to take home. Afterall, you don’t want to purchase a shade of white paint that will clash with the carpet or furniture. Feeling frustrated, you realize your quick stop at the hardware store to get started on a simple project just became a little more complicated.
Deciding on which type of recreational vehicle (RV) is the right one for you resembles the white paint dilemma – there are so many choices! And how well your choice matches your RVing style will affect how satisfied you are with your RV. The first question to consider is, how do you plan to use your RV? Will you be taking occasional weekend trips, or are you planning a long road trip over several months? Or, perhaps you are planning to live full-time in your RV. Next, you need to consider your RVing participants. Are you a family with young children or a retired couple? Do you have pets that you want to take along? Do you have special needs such as mobility issues? Considering your RVing goals and knowing yourself well will help you match up with the right RV type. The following three key factors should further help with your decision, relieve the frustration, and make choosing your next RV purchase a fun and satisfying process.
Tow-able or Drive-able?
All RVs fall into one of two categories, either they are driven or they are towed by another vehicle. Deciding between whether you want to tow or drive your RV is a good place to start because it will narrow your choices down quickly. To decide between a tow-able or a drive-able RV, consider the following:
For Tow-ables . . .
- Is the driver(s) comfortable towing a trailer?
- Do you already have a vehicle to pull the towable or will you need to purchase one?
- Do you want to be able to unhitch the trailer to make the towing vehicle available to use separately?
While raising our family, to start my husband and I took our three children tent camping. When I got tired of sleeping on the ground, we decided to shift gears to an RV. We already owned an SUV (a ¾ ton Suburban) that was capable of towing a camp trailer. My husband is comfortable towing a trailer and planned to do most of the driving. Also, we wanted to park the camp trailer in the campsite, unhitch, and take off in the Suburban to explore the area. So, we purchased a used 1977 Nomad camp trailer, which was a good fit for our family at the time. We have many happy memories towing that Nomad around the Pacific Northwest camping with our kids.
For Drive-ables . . .
- Do you want your RV to include an engine, transmission and all the other components that must be maintained similar to a regular vehicle?
- Even relatively small drive-ables are large vehicles. Is the driver(s) comfortable driving a large vehicle?
- Are you willing to unhook from water, electricity, etc. to drive your RV whenever you need to get groceries, run an errand, etc.?
As a semi-retired couple, my husband and I have chosen a drive-able, a 26 ft. motorhome. It’s small enough that I am comfortable driving it. To solve the problem of having to take the motorhome to the grocery store or on an excursion, some RVers tow a small vehicle, a “toad,” behind their motorhome. My husband and I like to take excursions on his motorcycle, so we have incorporated a variation of pulling a toad. We pull a trailer that carries the motorcycle and can also accommodate our bicycles. We can even pick up a few groceries with the motorcycle if we want to leave the motorhome at the campsite. When we don’t have the motorcycle along, we plan to do our errands before setting up at our campsite.
As you can already sense, your choice of RV has a lot to do with your style and how you like to do things while traveling. Camping and RVing are broad terms. Some RVers like to stay at upscale RV resorts with all the amenities: structured activities, swimming pools, various sports, etc. Others enjoy staying at county, state, and national parks. Still other RVers enjoy “boondocking” or “dispersed camping” where they go further out, usually on public land, to enjoy a more remote experience. Boondocking means there are no services available and you are reliant upon yourself and the resources you have brought along. And many RVers, my husband and I included, do some of each of these types of camping. Discussing your travel expectations and goals with your fellow traveler(s) will contribute significantly to your choice of RV.
So, you have decided whether you want to tow or drive your RV, and you have some ideas of what kind of RVing or camping style appeals to you. It seems simple, but the next decision to make concerns size. How large or small of an RV should you get? Let me assure you, size really does matter. Many RV parks and campgrounds have length limits to their campsite spaces. It’s usually the first thing they ask when you make a reservation. If the length is 40 feet, and you are towing a trailer, 40 feet means the total length of the trailer plus the towing vehicle. National parks, for example, typically cannot accommodate RVs longer than 35 feet. This is one of the reasons my husband and I purchased a smaller motorhome. If you plan to only stay at upscale RV parks, you may be just fine with a 40-foot motorhome with a toad pulled behind. If you want to save on fuel costs and take a minimalist approach, you might choose a small trailer or a pop-up/tent trailer that can be towed with the car you already own. This smaller combination will also make it easier to get into campgrounds with smaller spaces. The size of your RV will also affect how you will function inside your RV. The need or desire for personal space, or perhaps part of your RV serves as the office for your mobile business, or you must accommodate the belongings of several family members – all of these should be factored in when deciding on the size of your RV.
Choosing the right RV is an adventure in itself. Deciding whether you want to drive or tow your RV, your camping style, and the most suitable size will narrow your choices down to a manageable size. Once you’ve taken these steps, you will be able to stay focused while shopping and make your ultimate decision with confidence. Then you can get on to the good stuff – making RVing memories with your family and friends.