Finding Our First RV: Motorhomes vs. Travel Trailers

We decided we wanted to buy our first RV.   We had a strong desire to get “out there” and experience life.  Since we were inexperienced with just about every aspect of camping and RVs, we rolled up our sleeves and began our research.  For months, we traveled to RV lots, read classifieds, visited State Parks all over Ohio, and watched YouTube endlessly.  Finally, we had a sense of what we were looking for and narrowed down the myriad of RV options to a Travel Trailer or a Motorhome.  Here’s a look at our observations and conclusions about Travel Trailers (and Pick Up Trucks), Class A Motorhomes and Class C Motorhomes. 

 Travel Trailer & Pick Up Truck Observations:

  • Travel trailers make a lot of sense for those who already own or are in the market to buy a pickup truck.
  • Generally, travel trailers are less expensive than motorhomes, because you are only buying the “home” without the “motor.” They offer a lot more space and amenities for the money.
  • The biggest plus is once you get to your destination, a travel trailer can be parked.  Your tow vehicle can then be used to explore the area and run errands.
  • Our current SUV is fully paid for (yay!) and cannot pull a mid-sized travel trailer.  So we’d have to buy a pickup truck AND a travel trailer – TWO big decisions, and TWO payments, which was a larger financial commitment than we were willing to make at the time.
  • Pickup trucks with crew cabs are behemoths.  Although my hubby was giddy with delight by the possibility of buying a pickup truck (it’s a testosterone thing, I think), an overnight test drive revealed that a pickup truck with a crew cab would BARELY fit in our garage.  And the only way it could squeeze in was if everything was removed, including our second car, which happens to be my car.  Well, that definitely wouldn’t work.  So, the truck would have to sit in our driveway, which is not ideal.
  • We were inexperienced.  In addition to being inexperienced campers AND inexperienced RVers, we’ve never actually towed something before. I had visions of looking in the rear view mirror and watching our travel trailer careen over a cliff or wobble dangerously behind us.  It seemed like too many new things to learn in a short time, which definitely felt overwhelming.
  • Our driveway is on a hill.  The thought of cutting in and driving the travel trailer up our 90 ft. sloped driveway – backwards – was more than we could get our arms around.
  • Our kids and the dog would be in the backseat of the tow vehicle when we traveled.  Even though my kids get along pretty well, they still annoy each other (and, therefore, annoy the parents) when they get restless.  Since I can’t strap them to the roof or make one of them sit in the truck bed when they misbehave, riding in the same vehicle means we’d all suffer (and it wouldn’t be in silence).  Another strike against travel trailers.

Travel Trailer/Pickup Truck Conclusions:

A travel trailer would be a great option for us if we already owned a pickup truck.  Since we would have to buy a pickup truck (that wouldn’t fit in our garage) AND a travel trailer, and back it up our sloped driveway, and potentially have to tie our restless children to the roof, we decided that a travel trailer is not right for us (for the time being).

 Class A Motorhome Observations:

  • Class A Motorhomes are really big. The entire time we shopped, my inner dialogue went something like this – “This is a bus. Literally, a bus!  Isn’t a CDL required for a bus?!?”  When I climbed into the driver’s seat of a Class A, I was amazed that the passenger seat was so far away. I wondered if the entire rig would fit into one lane on the road and whether I could keep it there.
  • The distance from the road to the driver’s seat is intimidating.  The driver is perched up high, high from the road.  When combined with the fishbowl appearance of the HUGE windshield, I worried how the great visibility would force me to experience terrifying heights when traveling over bridges and mountains.  Can you say, “Panic Attack?”  
  • The gigantic size of Class A Motorhomes makes them very comfortable.  The kitchens are roomy. The living areas have recliners and a couch.  The bedrooms are nicely sized and we could add optional bunk beds for the kids.  The bathrooms are larger and there is ample inside and outside storage.  The family could spread out, even while driving, helping everyone to enjoy the journey AND the destination.
  • The generous space and the features come at a high price, which can be legitimized depending on how we planned to use the motorhome.  A friend owns a Class A and was able to justify the expense because they view it as a summer home.  I love that idea.  And now that I have a few years of experience under my belt, I agree with that perspective.

Class A Motorhome Conclusions:

Being RV newbies, we felt that purchasing a Class A Motorhome was bigger and more expensive than what we needed (for the time being).   We set our sights on finding the right Class C Motorhome for us.

 

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We Chose A Class C Motorhome As Our First RV

In the end, because we were newbies to the entire RV experience, we decided to test the waters with a used, smaller RV.   We were very focused on finding something that would allow us to try RVing safely and comfortably, but in a way that wouldn’t break the bank… err… credit union.

Reasons Why We Chose Bessie- Our Class C RV:

  • A Class C is the perfect mid-sized solution for our needs.
  • We mostly planned to use the RV for regional weekend travel, so thought we could sacrifice a little on the living space. Plus, we planned to spend a lot of time enjoying the great outdoors.
  • We can all sleep comfortably. Ted and I have a bedroom with a queen-sized bed.  The kids sleep in the overhead cabin and on the converted dinette.
  • The kitchen is functional.  It has a double sink, and L-shaped counter, a microwave and a three-burner stove, storage cabinets and a nice-sized refrigerator.  All said, this is pretty impressive for a 28 ft. camper.  
  • It has SLIDES!  Two of them!  They only widen the space a few feet, but they make a HUGE difference in the livability inside of the RV.

More Reasons Why We Chose Our Class C RV (Bonus Section)

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  • I can drive the RV pretty well.  It was a little bumpy at the beginning, but it’s gotten better with practice and with doing a bit of research.  It’s comparable to driving a really awkward SUV.
  • Our RV meets city zoning requirements for parking in our driveway.  Plus I can drive it in and back it out.
  • We can take the RV anywhere, including camping at all state parks, we can weave in and out of city traffic (though it’s not my favorite thing to do), and hang out in the parking lot at the beach.
  • At the time of purchase, Bessie was 10 years old, which was about as old as I was willing to go for a vehicle that we drive, making the RV more affordable.
  • Our RV had the right combination of being very well cared for, with low miles and new tires, and had most of the amenities we were seeking.
  • Bessie was in good shape.  After a pre-purchase inspection and two post-purchase service appointments, we felt comfortable the RV was mechanically and physically sound.
  • After lots of negotiation about our budget, my husband and I also agreed on a  plan of how often we would use the RV to justify the cost.  If we weren’t able to use it twice a month because of busy schedules or a lack of interest, we promised to be honest with each other and sell it. For us, this reduced the risk of purchasing a luxury item without knowledge of whether it would fit into our long-term lifestyle.

We were ecstatic when we finally found Bessie on Craig’s List.  We bought her from a private owner (Tom) who reluctantly had to sell her because of health issues.  Tom was so very patient with us, taking the time to give us an “orientation” of the RV.  We recorded it and uploaded it to YouTube for future reference!   We watched the part about opening and closing the awning about 50 times trying to figure out how to use the darn thing.
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Bessie is a great size for us now, but I can also make the case for something bigger.  When we are all together for long periods of time in the RV, it can feel pretty tight.  So far, the only regret I have is that we don’t have a comfortable seating area.  We have one barrel chair and a dinette that converts to a bed.  I wish we had room for a couple of recliners.   Maybe someday…

I hope these observations and conclusions help those who are also looking at purchasing an RV for the first time.

UPDATE

After having Bessie for three years, we gave some serious thought about purchasing a different RV that was more comfortable for our family.  In the end, we decided to keep Bessie (because she’s awesome!) and update the interior to make it more attractive and comfortable.  Here is the article series that documented this decision-making process and spotlights some of the “Before and After” improvements:

Check out the other articles in the “Upgrade vs. Keep RV” series:

 

 

Note:  This article was originally published as a three-part series, which featured observations/conclusions about Travel Trailers, Class A Motorhomes and Class C Motorhomes on www.cuontheroad.net.

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19 Comments

  • Reply Nancy March 1, 2015 at 10:32 am

    Great decision. We got a class C and love it.

    • Reply Chris Hughes March 1, 2015 at 11:45 am

      Hi Nancy! What kind of Class C did you buy? How many campers do you have and do you all fit OK?

  • Reply Frank Seydel March 23, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    We bought a coachman19cb which is just under 22′ bumper to bumper. This is our first motorhome after having been through travel trailers, pop ups and tents. We absolutely love this unit and would not change a thing! Mostly it is just my wife and I and it is just right. We love going to Watkins Glen as well.

    • Reply Chris Hughes March 23, 2015 at 10:55 pm

      Hi Frank! Thanks for the reply! Your RV sounds like the perfect size for zooming around everywhere! Watkins Glen was absolutely beautiful. I’m preparing the final article now in the series on Taughannock Falls SP and Robert E Treman SP. Hope to have it ready within the next couple of days. Stay tuned!!!

  • Reply Patrick Lettsome March 26, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    This was a great help to us as we are in the market for a rv.thank you for taking the time to write this.

    • Reply Chris Hughes March 26, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Patrick, I’m so happy you enjoyed it! What type of RV are you looking for?

  • Reply Mark FInk March 26, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    We made the same choices you made. It is almost like I wrote your story. Why do I need to buy a monster truck to pull a trailer. So We bought a Class C because my wife felt the same way you did about the size. We now also own a tow dolly that we pull our small honda with. 2015 will be our 2nd year out camping. We have 4 trips already planned

    • Reply Chris Hughes March 26, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      Hi Mark!!! Thanks for commenting. There are so many gorgeous travel trailers out there. If we had a big truck, we would have bought one right away. What type of Class C did you end up buying? ARe you happy with it? I really do wish it had more living space. Maybe a small Class A is in our future. Maybe someday…

      • Reply Mark FInk April 13, 2015 at 3:07 pm

        We bought a 2013 Forest River Sun Seeker 33 feet two slide with the outdoor Kitchen. We began towing our Honda Accord mid season last year. We love the unit took about 7 small trips last year (our 1st). We start camping this month April 2015, And we have the big one book this year to Fort Wilderness in Disney.

        • Reply Chris Hughes April 13, 2015 at 3:18 pm

          Hi Mark!!! That Forest River Sun Seeker sounds awesome! How do you like the outdoor kitchen? How is your Forest River experience so far? Good quality control? We’ve never been to Disney, but my kids keep dropping not-so-subtle hints. So you’ll have to let me know what you think of Fort Wilderness. I hear it’s great!

          • Mark FInk April 14, 2015 at 9:46 am

            The outside kitchen is great. We keep a lot of adult beverages in there. There is also a TV for movie watching. The only complaint I have is the hose for the grill is too short. The outside kitchen area is a great place to prepare Mountain pies.

  • Reply Ben Pazdernik April 10, 2015 at 8:46 pm

    It’s a tough decision. It is really tough to be able to find everything in one rig. Compromises need to be made. I think the closest thing we could come to for all our preferences would be a 5er toy hauler.
    We sport a Class A right now and tow the toys, sacrificing a tow vehicle. We live in Alaska so our side x side atv works for transportation in most places.

    • Reply Chris Hughes April 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Hi Ben! It is a tough decision. I am currently drooling over Class A’s, knowing that they are simply out of reach at this point in my life. But a gal can dream… :} Maybe someday…

  • Reply thervgoodlife July 7, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Okay, I have to ask: why the name Bessie? We named our rig the same thing 10 years ago. So funny!.

    • Reply Chris Hughes July 7, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Hmmm… isn’t it funny that I don’t recall why we call our RV Bessie. She just feels like Bessie. If I were to dig into the name I think it’s a long time term of endearment for a vehicle dating back to my mom’s 1972 yellow VW Beetle, Bessie. How did you come to name your RV Bessie?

      • Reply thervgoodlife July 7, 2015 at 2:22 pm

        We were at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake listening to an historical presentation by a re-enactor. He was describing the firing of muskets and his particular weapon was called the Big Brown Bess. As soon as he said it, the three of us looked at each other and said, “That’s it. That’s her name. Big Brown Bessy.” We’d been searching for a name for months and since she’s a big ol’ brown RV, it seemed perfectly suited for her. Love that yours is named Bessie, too.

  • Reply Ryan Norton August 12, 2015 at 8:24 am

    I happened upon your blog via the Harvest Host FB page. Great site. I had to read this bit about your RV choice because like you, we are obsessing over our first RV purchase. The only difference is, we are looking to hit the road full time with our 11 year old daughter for the next 2 years. As someone above said, your story mirrors our toils. We looked at huge 5th wheels as that seems to be the choice of most FT families because of the room. However, we also don’t own a truck and don’t want to be cooped up in a truck while we travel from location to location. The A’s seem so big, but more importantly, rarely do they offer a private area for our 11 y/o to put her stuff and call her own. Even the bunkhouse models usually share the lou area, so yeah, there is that. That said, we want something with the size and room of a class A, the power to tow decent size tow vehicle, and all of the amenities to allow us to boondock for a decent amount of time if we want. We have settled on the Jayco Seneca 37HJ. It’s a 38 footer, with 8k generator, 1800w pure sine inverter, plenty of holding tank capacity, on demand hot water heater (a biggie for the mrs), and most of the comforts of home including a fireplace. We are terrified because it’s a big purchase, and we are so inexperienced that we just hope our research pays off. Last thing we want to do is spend that kind of money only to have regrets. We will see how this project goes, but we plan to join Harvest Hosts next summer when we roll out, and would be interested in your son’s experiences at the various HH locations. We are going to be home schooling (Yikes) our daughter, but I really look to HH to help give us those unique opportunities for her to get new experiences. What do you think? Great blog. I will be saving it to keep up with your travels.

    • Reply Chris Hughes August 14, 2015 at 8:44 am

      Hi Ryan!! Wow, a Jayco Seneca is a BEAST and a fabulous first RV. What I’ve learned after three years of rving is that there is no perfect RV. Your wants/needs evolve over time. There are lots of little adjustments, but most everything is do-able. Just remember that your RV is as temporary or permenant as you want. I recently read that the average length of first RV ownership is 18 months. I believe the reason behind this is it takes this amount of time to get your “sea legs” and to figure out what is/isn’t important. That being said, I’ve read folks exchanging their RV right away (like after a couple of months) because they aren’t happy with it. And some people still have their first RV after 30 years. There is some freedom in realizing that your decision doesn’t have to be a forever decision, unless you want it to be.

      Bessie, our Class C RV was a good decision for us. BUT I’ve given serious thought to trading her in and looking for something bigger. There’s no living room area, so things get pretty tight. So far, these have only been fleeting thoughts. But I may act on it before too much longer.

      Regarding Harvest Hosts… we love it! My family has stayed at several Harvest Hosts wineries and one farm. I wrote about many of our experiences on our blog. Search “harvest hosts” and you’ll see all kinds of good stuff! 🙂

      I hope that you will let me know if you have any additional questions. If you haven’t done so yet, please feel free to join http://www.facebook.com/groups/RVHappiness. It’s a group I started on FB to connect with other RV enthusiasts. It’s a very nice group of people who would be very willing to give advice and share experiences.

      Most of all, I wish you and your family will have a most excellent adventure during your planning and upcoming journey. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. Congratulations and best wishes- Chris

  • Reply Ryan Norton August 14, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    thank you, I appreciate the thoughts. There are some great thoughts here. I will check out the FB page. We will be living the good life soon. See you out there hopefully.

  • Thoughts?