Updated: Jul 5
You can’t look at an online forum for RVers today without seeing one of the same questions repeatedly pop up. “What kind of RV should I buy? My family wants to go full time. Which RV do you recommend?” Though many people respond with “We have this RV and love it,” this answer is not helpful.
Everyone has different needs based on their travel style, number of people, requirements for storage, etc. Before you head to social media to ask random strangers about a very important financial decision, check out these tips below on how to get started.
Questions You Should Ask Yourself
1. What are your options?
Broken down into simpler terms, there are two major categories of RVs – motorhomes and towables. Your motorhomes consist of Class A, Class B (vans), and Class C options. Towables are your travel trailers and fifth wheels.
2. To Drive or Not to Drive?
This comes down to a matter or preference. Since we already had a large pickup truck for work, a tow behind option made the most sense for us. If you’d prefer to drive your RV, then you’ll want a motorhome. Each option has its pros and cons.
If you drive a motorhome and choose to tow a vehicle (referred to as a toad) behind you, you will have two motors to service and take care of. On the plus side, motorhome owners I know love the ease of set-up and take down.
Also, many motorhomes come with a generator, which is great for boondocking and when the power goes out at the campground. Generally, motorhomes are more boondock-friendly when they come off the line, whereas we had to put additional parts into our travel trailer to be able to boondock (see more about boondocking, or “dry camping,” below). Motorhomes will usually cost more than towables because they come with an engine.
Travel trailers and fifth-wheels are great options for people who don’t want to lose some of their interior living space to the driving area. Towables are usually, though not always, favored by families, as they carry a lot more options for bunkhouses and separated sleeping areas than motorhomes. A downside to owning a trailer is that you may need to purchase a larger towing vehicle, depending on the trailer’s weight.
3. Where do you want to travel?
Campgrounds have different size limits for RVs. Though some private campgrounds are big-rig friendly, state and national parks have restrictions on the length of your RV. When we had our 43.5 foot fifth-wheel, we struggled to book campgrounds which didn’t allow RVs over 40 feet long. You will also want to consider how you like to drive. The larger your rig, the more you’ll have to stick strictly to major roadways. More weight and height mean slower travel and restricted road usage.
4. Do you plan to boondock?
If you plan to boondock (camp without hook-ups) or stop overnight in approved parking lots during travel, this will affect which RV you choose to buy. Overnight parking etiquette recommends you keep your slides in. RVers don’t set up camp in a parking lot. If you can’t access anything in your RV with the slides in, you can’t overnight in these lots.
5. Will you travel off-road?
Not all travels are on the open road. If you plan to spend time off-the-beaten path, then you’ll want to find a specialty RV with off-road capabilities.
6. Are you planning on taking any other vehicles with you, like ATVs, a golf cart, dirt bikes, or motorcycles?
Several types of RVs have toy hauler options for those who want to bring their toys with them. If you have motorcycles, dirt bikes, ATVs, mountain bikes, or a golf cart for cruising the campground, this option is available to you. Toy haulers typically come at a higher cost, but also have a greater cargo carrying capacity.
7. What Other Large Equipment Do You Have?
Do you plan on bringing bicycles, kayaks, paddleboards, skis, snowboards, or other large equipment with you? You’ll need room to store these items, whether it’s in the RV’s storage bay, secured to the outside of the RV, or secured to your vehicle.
1. Full-Timers: Think about the things you do/use every day
Living in an RV, especially with other people, requires sacrifice and change. But there may be some routines you want to stick to, or gadgets you don’t want to let go of. If you like to wake up in the morning, go through your yoga routine, and then put dinner in the slow cooker, you’ll want to make sure you have enough room to do those things in your RV.
On the flip side of that, if you go fishing about once a year, making room for all that equipment probably isn’t necessary when you could simply rent it instead.
2. Campers: How Do You Like to Camp?
From those who like to glamp, to those comfortable roughing it, there are different recreational vehicle options for everyone. If you plan on overlanding, then an off-road-ready travel trailer equipped with a bed and outdoor kitchen could be for you. If you require all the comforts of home when you hit the great outdoors, then take that into consideration as well.
From pop-up campers with canvas sides, adventure vans, and toy haulers, there is something for every camping-style out there.
3. What features are you willing to let go of, and which ones are a necessity?
The next step in understanding which items you use on a regular basis, and which ones you don’t, is to decide what features you can’t live without.
A large kitchen with a family-sized refrigerator can look stunning, but if you don’t cook, then it’s wasted space. Likewise, if you work remotely, then a desk or office could be non-negotiable. Do you need a bunkhouse for kids? A space for pets? Consider these before deciding on your camper.
4. Does your state require a special license for driving an RV?
Some states (like Florida) do not require a special license for driving and operating a recreational vehicle. There are states which may require a special driver’s license if your RV is over a certain length or weight. You will want to check your state’s laws before purchasing an RV.
Commonly Asked Questions
1. Should You Buy New or Used?
Like most answers to questions about RVs, this one depends. There are well-maintained used RVs out there, and neglected ones. Don’t trust a seller to tell you what’s wrong with the vehicle. When buying an RV, your safest option is to get an inspection. You can find a qualified inspector in your area by visiting The National RV Inspector’s Association.
Likewise, new RVs don’t come problem-free. Many owners lament the time their rig spends in the shop during the first year. We’ve had several problems with our brand-new trailer that the manufacturer refused to cover. They wanted us to bring it back to the dealership where we purchased it, which was three states away. So, new or used, it’s best to be prepared for repair and maintenance issues.
2. Which Brands Are the Best?
There is no straight answer to this question. There are quality brands who have bad days, and cheaper brands who have good days. I’ve known people who spent over a quarter of a million dollars on RVs and had just as many problems as those who spent much less.
Higher quality brands have higher price points. The best way to get a feel for quality is to actually feel the RV. Go to a dealership or an RV show. Start opening cabinets and drawers, feel the walls, ask the salesperson how thick the walls are (they’re not all the same), sit on furniture, knock on wood. It won’t take long before you notice differences between certain manufacturers and models.
Tips for Finding the Right RV
1. Rent First
If you’re not sure which RV is right for you, try renting. Take one out for the week and get a feel for it. Whether you’re looking to camp, or move in full-time, it will allow you to see how you can use the space. RV rentals are available sites like Outdoorsy and RVShare.
2. Borrow It
Have a friend or family member who’s willing to share? Try out their RV.
3. Do Your Research
YouTube is a great resource for learning about RVs. There are dealerships and RV-themed channels with walkthroughs - videos where people show how they use their space, discussions about the pros and cons of RVing, and more. Spend a few rainy afternoons bingeing some of these videos. You’ll learn a lot.
There are also online forums where people discuss problems they’ve had with their RV. If you notice a trend among certain brands, it will help you determine whether that one is right for you.
4. Visit RV Shows and Dealerships
If you live in an area that has RV shows, I highly recommend going. Even if you don’t plan to buy an RV. You can spend the day roaming around the grounds, checking out all the different options from million-dollar rigs, to little off-road trailers with outdoor kitchens.
RV shows will give you a broad idea of what your options are, and allow to look into storage spaces, ask questions, and see in-person if a type of RV is right for you.
If you don’t have RV shows nearby, or the season is far away, visit a local dealership with a list of the things you’re looking for. A salesperson can take you around to see your options.
These questions and tips will help create a list and narrow down your RV choices, because the only person who can decide which RV is right for you is you.
If you’re looking for more information about the RV life, and how we went full time, check out How We Went from a House to Full-Time RV Living in 16 Days and Campground Courtesy.