Summer is RV season, when RVs (recreational vehicles) function like magic carpets, taking the occupants wherever they want to go. Even better, depending on the type and size of RV chosen, it isn’t always necessary to give up many of the comforts of home.
Like boats, RVs come in many shapes and types, ranging from very small trailers to huge, Greyhound bus-sized models. Drivable RVs are either built on a bus, van, or cargo truck chassis, plus there are also camper modules that slide into the bed of a pickup truck. Trailer campers range from large fifth-wheel models that require a powerful truck to tow them to tiny teardrop-shaped campers or flat-top campers that have a tent that can be raised upon arrival at the campsite. Most camper trailers are towed by a truck, but some very small models can be towed by compact cars.
The best way to choose the right RV is to consider how it will be used, and how frequently. As an example, some people purchase an RV to be used all during the summer months, roaming the country on family vacations, while others use them as lodging when visiting friends or family over the winter holidays, or to attend out-of-town sporting events; most college towns are awash in alumni and their RVs during football season.
The next question concerns how many people will be using the RV. Even a large RV can soon become a bit crowded if there are a lot of folks on board, while the most compact camper trailers start off as a tight fit. Budget constraints also play a huge role, as the purchase price of a large, luxurious RV can easily exceed $1 million, not to mention the accompanying ongoing operating costs. A big RV may feel like home, but it will have abysmal fuel efficiency compared with smaller models, will require costly maintenance of the complex systems, and will require a large area for storage when not in use.
“Drivable” RVs or motorhomes are categorized as class A, B, or C. Class A RVs are built on a bus chassis, with the engine at the rear, which is why they are called “pushers.” These are the most luxurious RVs on the road, often 45 feet long, and capable of providing overnight accommodations for up to a dozen occupants. Some feature lavish interiors that rival those of superyachts, with slide-out walls to provide more interior volume, but their sheer size can make driving them a bit daunting at first. Many class A motorhomes can tow a compact car, called a tender, that is used for local travel when the motorhome is parked at a campsite. Those who seek a rock-star-quality RV and aren’t fazed by high prices need look no further than a class A motorhome.
Class B motorhomes use vans as their basis, making them the most nimble and compact of the three categories. Their buildouts range from very simple to very luxurious. These models are a good choice for couples or families with small children, as they are usually set up to accommodate up to four people and are easy to drive.
Class C RVs fill the gap between the class A and B styles. Built on a cargo truck chassis, they tend to be longer and wider than van-style RVs, often coming close to providing the interior space of a class A motorhome, at a lower price point, making them a good choice for two couples or families with several children. Like class As, many class C motorhomes also use slide-out walls that make them much roomier when they are parked at a campsite.
Towable trailers include fifth-wheel models that require a powerful truck with a special attachment point, but some connect to a normal trailer hitch, with sizes ranging from tiny ones, up to models 45 feet long that have interiors rivaling those of class A motorhomes. There are also other trailers that “pop up” upon arrival at the campsite to create a camper; because these models fold flat, they are much easier to tow than traditional travel trailers, as they create significantly less wind resistance. Towable campers are a good choice for those who enjoy being able to set up camp and then detach the car or truck to go get groceries, go out to dinner, or explore local attractions. The very compact and folding campers tend to have prices that make them a good choice for those who will use them infrequently.
Regardless of which style appeals, consider renting; a weekend trip will make it clear whether what seemed perfect is really the right choice.