We’ve lived in an RV with our 5 kids for over 5 years now. It’s an incredible way to raise a family, however, I understand how scary and overwhelming it can be when it comes time to pull the trigger to buy an RV and live in it. So we want to share with you our best tips for buying an RV based on our experience of RV camping and fulltime RV living.
Before we became a fulltime RV travel family, we owned two other RV’s- a 35 foot Class A and a 28 foot toy hauler. We currently own two different RV’s that we alternate living in, a 30 foot Class C and a 42′ fifth wheel. You see? We’ve owned the spectrum when it comes to RVing and with 5 kids and a variety of intentions behind our purchases, this blog will help you decide what type of RV is best for you. Here are my 10 tips for buying an RV.
1 | Do You Want To Buy an RV and Be Instafamous?
Let’s be real here. If you are handy and love interior decorating, then remodeling an older RV might be your best bet. Showing off your RV remodel on Instagram is serious business. Once you gut the interior, you really can affect a lot of the next few questions on this list.
We aren’t handy but we did partially remodel our Class C and just adding the white paint, tearing out the couch and dinette and replacing them with IKEA couches, and adding a few decorations made a huge difference in how the RV feels.
And that’s lesson #1. How do you want your RV to make you feel?
2 | How Many People Does Your RV Need To Sleep?
Having enough beds for everyone in your family is, of course, a must. Make sure the beds are long enough to sleep older kids comfortably. Having a comfortable bed is important. We have had to remodel many times because the kids keep outgrowing their beds.
If you are a weekend warrior and not wanting to live in your RV, consider if your kids will want to bring friends along. Before we lived in an RV fulltime, we’d bring the cousins along and it was nice being able to have enough beds for them.
Think about how big of a bed your child will need over the next few years, not just for right now. However, don’t worry about ten years from now. A lot can change by then and you’ll probably want a different RV by then anyways.
3 | What Type of RV Traveler Are You?
Do you prefer constant movement or to stay put in one place for a long time? Personally, I like constant movement so being in a relatively small motorhome works for us because it is easy to move from one place to the next. If we were towing a trailer, it would take a lot more time and effort to hitch up and go.
Even though fifth wheels tend to provide more efficient use of space, they tend to be larger, more cumbersome and not ideal if you want to travel to off-the-beaten path locations like we do. But trailers and fifth wheels can be nice if you are traveling and staying in one place for a few days or longer because you can drop the trailer in your campsite and then use your vehicle to go explore the area. For our large family, our fifth wheel is perfect when we are living for months at a time in RV parks. But when we are ready to travel in search of adventure (May through October), we like being light and nimble so we can explore all those great forest service roads.
Tips for buying an RV:
- If you want a life on the move, choose a smaller motorhome or van.
- If you want a home base/campground to explore from, go for the trailer option.
4 | Where Are You Trying To Go?
What’s your intention for the first few years of owning an RV?
If your goal is to see as many national parks as possible or to get into remote areas, then you don’t want anything too long since the campgrounds inside the parks are usually small to drive through and to be able to park in. I personally think camping inside a national park is a must so that is a big reason we use our thirty-foot motorhome to travel around the USA in.
Going into cities or anywhere near the coast is similar. Roads get quite narrow as you go into cities, especially big cities, so having a smaller RV makes getting into cities much easier. Unless you have a lot of experience driving a trailer, you don’t want to make a U-turn with a trailer in the middle of a city. This is where Class B motor homes, conversion vans, or regular automobiles can be a much better way to travel.
When we were mostly just going out to the desert, having a longer trailer was fine because it was pretty much a straight shot on big highways and we didn’t have to navigate smaller roads.
One year we drove my uncle’s 40-foot fifth wheel from Montana to San Diego via the Oregon coastline. This was not one of our better ideas. Getting in and out of campgrounds and through many of the cities along highway 101 was difficult, to say the least. It also meant we couldn’t drive Highway 1 back through California because there is a limit to certain vehicles based on how long between your hitch and back axle.
Tips for buying an RV:
- If you are trying to get into national parks, down bumpy forest roads, or into a lot of cities, consider going as small as possible.
- If you plan on living in a campground, then go for more space and comfort with a larger RV.
5 | How Far Do You Want To Go In Your RV?
Since we tend to go on long road trips, having a motorhome allows us to move around inside a little while traveling and not have to stop to use the bathroom. This was soooo helpful when our kids were little!
When we were only doing local trips to the Imperial Sand Dunes, we had a fifth wheel, which meant everyone had to squish into the truck for a 3-hour drive. (Technically in California, you can have people in the fifth wheel while you drive as long as they have communication, but I don’t recommend it.)
Tips for buying an RV:
- If you are wanting to explore far, but have a “home base” campground, then dropping your trailer and exploring with your vehicle is easy and you can commit to occasionally driving long sections being more uncomfortable.
- If you are thinking of driving coast-to-coast and only stopping every few days in a new place, a motorhome or van is probably better.
6 | Would You Rather Not Stop?
Another benefit of traveling in a motorhome is that you can cook, eat, and use the restroom without having to pull over, which saves us a lot of time especially with kids.
I don’t recommend standing while driving, but it is nice having a motorhome when driving long distances even if it’s just to grab a snack from the fridge or take a kid to the bathroom quickly.
7 | How Often Will You Actually Use It?
Have you noticed? RV’s aren’t cheap! It’s great having an RV because we live in it and even when we didn’t, we went camping a lot. But if you aren’t going to use the RV often, it may be worth spending less money and tent camping or looking into a pop-up tent.
Not to dissuade you from the RV of your dreams, but RVing can be expensive and things break a lot. If you have a really comfortable home to go back to after a trip, roughing it for a few days or even a month isn’t that bad.
For example, when we went to Europe for six months it was too expensive to rent a camper for the entire time so we had to tent camp for 50 days. It was harder but definitely doable.
Related blog: Guide to Tent Camping in Europe
If you choose to use hotels or Airbnb’s, you can travel lighter since you won’t have to carry along all your bedding. Plus, it frees up more energy for sightseeing and activities since you won’t be having to set up and break down your campsite.
Sometimes in the US, we leave both RV’s and just take the truck and camp most of the time but break up the trip by staying occasionally in hotels or Airbnb’s. Most years we fly to Hawaii with tents and camp for half the time and break it up with an Airbnb to shower and rest in.
It really helps the decision making process if you can think about what you want the next few years of your life to look and feel like. If you know where you want to go, what you want to do, and how you want to move, it helps so much when deciding what RV to buy.
Related Blog: Best Campgrounds in Hawaii
If you are just starting out with the camping experience, I suggest keeping the number of days of tent camping to less than five at first. If you can swing it, try renting a motorhome for a trip. Personally, this was how we got started with RV camping. We first rented an Rv in 2009 and took our very first road trip to Sequoia NP and Lake Almanor. It was a really good way for us to test out if camping was going to be a good fit for our family (obviously it was).
Tips for buying an RV:
- Consider tent camping or going for a more affordable option like a pop-up trailer.
- Rent different RV’s first to test out what you like. Who knows, you may prefer just renting and not want to hassle with the upkeep.
8 | Can You Skip A Campground?
We tend to travel fast (like really fast) and often I don’t want to pay for a campground if it’s literally just to sleep in for 8 hours so a lot of the time we just boondock. If you are not familiar with boondocking, read this blog on how to find free camping in the USA.
By not getting a campground every night, you can save a ton of time and money. With a motorhome or van (and an adventurous spirit) this is very easy while a trailer takes a little more planning to find a good place to park that you will be able to maneuver in and out of, but still doable. I see people boondock at places like Cabela’s all the time!
We use the iOverlander app to find tons of great free camping places!
9 | Privacy
This is the big one!! In our Class C, the master bedroom has no door, only a curtain. When we moved into our 5th wheel that has a separte master bedroom (with a door) on the other side of the RV, it made a huge difference. When we first started fulltime RV living, our kids were younger and fell asleep before us. Now that they are older, we needed our own separate space. My advice is that as much as fun and adventure is an imprortant part of a life, relationships need personal space so think through this one.
Related Blog: How to Make a Relationship Last
10 | Do You Cook Often?
We cook a lot! Our 42 foot 5th wheel has a huge kitchen, large fridge, and beautiful island. It is wonderful to cook in, however, it doesn’t get us to the places we love to go, so we spend a lot of time in our crappy Class C kitchen. Sure we could remodel it, but remember, we aren’t that handy and aren’t willing to slow down long enough to figure it out. Food is important so consider your cooking, food prep, and food storage needs carefully before jumping into anything.
Related Blog: Swedish Dishcloth Review (An Rv Essential!)
Tips for Buying an RV Summary:
I hope this helped you decide which RV is best for you. If you have any questions please send me an email, leave a comment, or dm me on Instagram. RV living is amazing when you figure out what works for you. (And trust me, it may take some time to work out the kinks, but the reward is worth it!)
Conversion Van (Class B) or Truck with Camper
There are so many cool things you can do with a conversion van that if you really want to get off grid and find some incredible adventures, this is the way to go.
- Can often be a cheaper option than a trailer or motorhome depending on how fancy you get with your vehicle
- Allows you to sleep anywhere and gives you protection from the elements
- Easy to navigate your way through smaller roads and busy cities
- Can travel at a fast pace
- Limited in the number of people you can sleep or travel with (Hard to find a van that sleeps seven)
Truck with Trailer or Fifth Wheel Trailers
Really think about where you want to go and how much you want to move. We’d love to go to a fifth wheel, but for now, we get off the beaten path too much for a fifth wheel.
- Can be very luxurious (with full size “kitchens, bedrooms, and even laundry. If you have
- Often costs a lot of money
- Good if you want more creature comforts
- A great option if you are looking to stay put in one area and explore
- Learning to back up a trailer or fifth wheel can be difficult if you don’t have experience and pulling a trailer behind a vehicle can make your overall length very long (pulling a fifth wheel is actually easier)
Class A or Class C Motorhome
With both your pace may (but not always) be a little slower on the road, but at least you’ll have the convenience of moving around and the comfort of tables and couches to sit at while driving. My preference for motorhomes comes down to the fact that I like to be moving often and into small areas or down dirt roads so being more nimble works.
- Ability to move around in while driving
- Easy to free camp at night
- Class A provides more headroom for walking around than a Class C
- Class A is a little more cumbersome to drive
Safety Check Before You Head Out On The Road
Before you head out on your epic road trip, you should definitely do maintenance on your vehicle to make sure it’s running properly. However, I never have. I probably have too much of my dad in me and figure we will deal with the flat or the broken hose when it happens. I don’t recommend following in my footsteps. Be safe and get everything checked so you can enjoy your trip and not waste time at a repair shop. At the very least, put air in your tires and check the oil levels.
We do carry an emergency kit with jumper cables, reflectors, and other helpful items. One thing I do before we head out on the road is start from a clean slate. If we are road tripping in our van, I clean it out completely before I start packing it up with all our gear. The same with our motorhome. I try to get rid of things that we won’t be using. I like to travel as light as possible and this is one element of that for me.
Related RVing and Road Tripping Blogs:
- Roadschooling: Is it Right for You and How to Do It
- What Gadgets To Outfit Your New RV With
- 50 Road Trip Essentials
- 14 Tips For Planning Your First Road Trip
- Road Trip Playlist: 150 of our Favorite Songs
- How Much it Cost to Live in an RV Fulltime