Diving into the world of RVs from a starting point of knowing absolutely nothing is utterly overwhelming. So many decisions and choices. The decision-making process looks something like a funnel with every possible RV choice at the wide top. Then the whittling down begins based on size, cost, features, etc. until a single choice remains.
Finally and with dramatic flair that final decision pops out the bottom of the funnel. Ta-da.
In this post I’ll explain how I got about halfway down the funnel and in the next RV post I share how I worked my way down even further. But let me not keep you in suspense by revealing here that I still haven’t made that final decision. It’s just so hard!
Types of RVs
RV, as you no doubt know, is short for recreational vehicle and is defined as a motorized vehicle or trailer that has living space. There are six types: motorhome, toy hauler, 5th wheel, travel trailer, truck camper and popup trailer.
Let’s start with motorhomes. There are three classes. Don’t try to make sense of the class structure. It defies logic. Called Class A, Class B and Class C, you’d think they go from smallest to biggest or the reverse with the Class B being the middle size either way. Kind of like the Mama Bear in Goldilocks. But no. Class B is Baby Bear flanked on both sides by his parents.
A Class A, or Papa Bear, is the big, long RV. Built on heavy frames, usually with a commercial chassis. The Class C, or Mama Bear, is a medium-sized rig supported by a cabin chassis. Many Class Cs are constructed with a pull-down bed above the driver and passenger to help make the best use of space. Finally, the Class B, is the smallest of all. It’s a van, sometimes referred to as a van conversation or a van camper. Recently I’ve seen a Class B+ which is what you’d get if a Class C and a Class B had a baby. Or, it’s just another way to say really fancy, bells-and-whistles Class B van.
A 5th wheel is the trailer that kind of snaps together with the bed of towing truck, like two Lego® blocks. They are an efficient use of space because the front part which attaches to the truck is generally where the bedroom is located. Because of the way they are hooked up, they are more stable, with less sway, than other trailers. Wondering about the name? It’s called a 5th wheel because the truck bed has to be customized with a hitch called a fifth wheel coupling. I was glad to learn this because I’d been thinking the person who named it just couldn’t count.
Travel Trailers are the box trailers pulled behind a vehicle.
A Toy Hauler is a motorhome, 5th wheel or travel trailer with an area specifically designated for hauling toys like motorcycles and ATVs.
The camper that sit fully inside the bed of a pickup truck is a Truck Camper. You would be surprised how much much can fit in such a small space. I’ve seen ones with little kitchens and bathroom facilities, though obviously the tanks for water and waste are pretty small.
Ever seen a car driving down the road with what looks like a giant box of matches hitched up to it? At least that is what always comes to my mind. It’s probably a Popup Trailer. Once at the campground the box of matches opens and soft walls extend to create a small living/sleeping space. Another name for them is folding trailer or tent camper.
…And the Winner Is
The truck camper and popup trailer were never a consideration for me for full-time living. They are just too small for the job. Nor did I consider any version of the toy hauler as I don’t have toys to bring on the adventure. It’s interesting though because I now see where people are purchasing a toy hauler but using the space for things other than storage. Parents with kids use the area for a playroom. Using the space as an office appeals to me. I love lots of empty desk space when I write. Well, it’s starts off empty anyway. Then, and I swear I don’t know how this happens, paper sprouts up from nowhere and takes over. Much the same way weeds do in gardens.
It didn’t take me long to rule out purchasing a motorhome. Cost was the major factor. There is the initial cost, of course, but motorized vehicles lose value faster, can have costly repairs (and while repairs are happening, you are homeless) and have a shorter life expectancy then non-motorized vehicles.
It was several months of going back and forth, weighing pros and cons, before I finally ruled out a 5th wheel. Fifth wheels appealed to me because the stability makes them easier to tow, less intimidating for a first timer. But what it came down to had nothing to do with the pros and everything to do with the cons. Actually, just one con.
While I will be downsizing significantly, I never wanted to downsize to practically nothing. You lose a lot of storage space when the bed of your truck is taken up largely with the hardware to connect the trailer. The toys I want for the road (bike, inflatable kayak, paddle board, telescope, sun oven) don’t require a toy hauler but they do require storage space. Once I accepted this, I crossed 5th wheels off the list once and for all.
That left…the Travel Trailer. But with so many beauties to choose from, how do you narrow it down?
You can’t go into RVing, full-time or recreational, without knowing that repairs come with the rig. I didn’t understand the “why” until someone explained that driving an RV is the equivalent of your house being in constant earthquake conditions. Living in Alaska the last 23 years, I know a thing or two about earthquakes. Yep, broken glassware, fallen wall art, standing in door frames and even the occasional dive under a sturdy table.
I am not excited about repairs. I have no knowledge base for making repairs. But then again I had no knowledge of RVs until I decided to get some knowledge of RVs.
By far the most common RV problem is leaking. Leaking, it seems to me, is the number one killer of RVs. To put into language I love:
Leaking = water damage (which, undetected, can lead to mold) = VERY BAD THINGS
Water damage, if not addressed, can turn dire quickly. Water can come from a poor or degraded seal. Caused by damaged hoses or loose plumbing, regular inspections can alert you to potential leaks so they are repaired before they turn into the really big problems.
The other way nasty leaking can occur is from water getting in through the seams of the rig. A seam exists everywhere two pieces of the structure meet. So there is a seam where the walls meet the roof, where the floor meets the walls. This can be the hardest to detect because water can find its way in through a seam and worm its way around before you ever notice (by sight or smell) it.
Fiberglass trailers, “eggs,” have the fiberglass sprayed into two molds, the top half and the bottom half. The belly band brings the two halves together and is the only seam. Eggs tend to leak less simply because there are fewer places for leaks to occur.
As I delved into the world of fiberglass travel trailers, I knew I had a winner. My first RV decision made! From all RVs to travel trailer to fiberglass trailer, I made it down the funnel a little further.
But with so many brands of eggs in the world, I still had a long way to go. Next, I’ll explain the difficult task of narrowing all eggs down to my top four.
Have you seen those tiny retro eggs that are all the rage, at least on Pinterest? They come in shades of pastels like blue, yellow, green and pink. Just like their cousin, the Easter egg, they make you squeal with delight.