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When starting the search for the best RV for full-time living, there are several things to consider. Many of them depend on your unique situation and priorities.
Deciding on an RV will require you to determine what type, size, and features you need. How you want to travel, camp, and how simple you want to live will impact your RV choice.
Here is what you need to know to choose the best RV to live in full-time.
There are plenty of options in today’s RV market for various travel styles. Here is a list of popular RV types and the characteristics of each.
MOTORHOME CLASS A
Class A motorhomes look like a bus. They are usually 30+ feet in length, although there are some smaller sizes on the market. Bigger models will have a diesel engine located at the back of the motorhome and are known as “diesel pushers.” Class A motorhomes are typically luxury RVs that include many systems and features.
MOTORHOME CLASS B
The class B motorhome is built on a commercial van chassis (Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Dodge Promaster, or Ford Transit). It is usually around 18-22 feet in length, although you can find longer ones. It can be a gas or diesel engine, and many have the option of four-wheel drive. Class B RVs tend to get the best fuel mileage due to their compact size. They are ideal for maintaining a small footprint to reach more remote areas.
MOTORHOME CLASS C
The class C motorhome is typically built on a cutaway van chassis and is about 25 – 30 feet in length. Some models are available in 30+ feet. They are typically gas powdered. However, some smaller class C models are diesel. Many models have slide-out features for extra space and over-the-cab storage or sleeping areas.
Travel trailers are a popular RV choice by many campers. They come in various lengths – from less than 20 feet to 35+ feet. They are designed to be towed by an SUV or truck, depending on the size. These trailers are an affordable RV option if you already own a truck or other vehicle to tow the trailer. Travel trailers also come with some of the most versatile layouts on the market.
Similar to a travel trailer, fifth wheels are designed to secure to a truck’s bed instead of a tow hitch. If you decide to consider a large trailer, these can be easier to pull due to the larger turning radius. Fifth wheels are some of the most spacious trailers on the market.
Truck campers are built to sit on top of the bed of the truck. These are ideal for going off-road and maintaining a tiny footprint.
More customizable vehicles are gaining popularity in the market. These include camper vans, schoolies (school buses), overland vehicles (built for off-road travel), and tiny homes. These options usually require the purchase of plans to create, or you can purchase from a builder.
Choosing a Size
The trick to purchasing an RV is selecting just the amount of space you need. When choosing a size, there are a few things to consider:
- How many people are in your traveling party?
- Will you want room for guests or family that will join you along the road?
- Do you need space for pets?
- How much stuff do you have?
The answers to these questions will impact the size of the RV you choose.
Reasons to Go Small
There are a few reasons you will want to opt for the smallest space you can comfortably live in. Here are a few advantages of a smaller RV.
- CAMPSITES – Do you want to stay in national parks and get to more out-of-the-way places? The bigger you go, the harder that will be. But, if your dream is camping at RV resorts or boondocking in large spaces in Arizona, you’ll be fine with a 35+ foot rig.
- MORE EXPENSIVE – A bigger rig usually means a bigger budget. You’ll need more fuel to run it and more money in the initial sale price and toward maintenance.
- SIMPLIFICATION – The bigger you go, the more time and energy your RV will require to move. Driving a 24-foot motorhome down the highway is mentally easier than pulling a trailer over 30 feet. Maintaining and operating a big motorhome requires more time and more complex systems. The more space and stuff you have, the more it will impact the convenience of everything you do.
Most RVs are built pretty close to their GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating). Meaning just because you have all that space doesn’t mean you can fill it. Research the GVWR and the UVW (the Unloaded Vehicle Weight or dry weight). Keep in mind the weight of water, grey and black tanks. Also, think about the weight of any upgrades you will add to the RV.
For every make and model of RV, there are also a variety of layouts. With the larger models, the different floor plans and living areas usually vary with length.
The more RVs you step inside, the more you’ll figure out how you want to use the living space. Here are some key things to consider in your RV layout.
- PRIVACY – Does everyone traveling have a similar sleep schedule? Or would it be necessary to have some way to close off a bedroom? If you’re working from home, you might need a quiet space to take calls and dig into work in the morning.
- SLEEPING SPACE – If you’re a couple, this is usually straightforward, but if you’ve got kids in tow, it will affect your layout tremendously. You might want to opt for a bunkhouse layout in a travel trailer if you have little ones. If you have older kids meeting you for a few days on the road, an over the cab space in a motorhome or even a tent will do.
- SEATING SPACE – Is a dinette sufficient, or do you need a couch as well? If you are looking at a motorhome, you can opt for swivel cab seats to maximize seating.
- KITCHEN – What we eat is a big part of our lives. If you like to cook and enjoy making elaborate meals, you don’t want to compromise on your kitchen. Consider where you will put your cookware and ingredients. Also, think about how difficult it will be to access these things. If you chose a smaller space, would you be comfortable cooking outside on a griddle or over a fire? Is the fridge and freezer space enough, or do you need a spot for a 12-volt freezer? You might also want to check out 21 Useful RV Kitchen Accessories.
PRO TIP: I recommend that you go to some dealerships and get yourself into as many different RVs as you can find. When you see features you like, take notes, pictures, and even videos. Make a list of features that are must-have versus nice-to-have.
If you plan to move your RV often, some features will impact camp setup and breakdown time more than others. These will ultimately influence how easy it is for you to pick up and go.
Slides or slide-outs can add more space to your RV. However, they also take time to set up. If you want an easy setup, ensure you don’t need the slides extended to sleep, get to storage space, or operate the kitchen.
You’ll also need to be aware of where your slides are when pulling into the campsite. If you set up your RV and then realize the slide is next to a tree or pedestal, you’ll be forced to move to extend the slide.
Leveling and Stabilizing Systems
Getting your trailer set up at a campsite is a process. You’ll need to detach the trailer from the tow vehicle and stabilize and level your trailer. Features such as automatic stabilizing jacks can make setup easier when compared with to manual options.
Automatic hydraulic leveling jacks on a motorhome will make setting up on uneven campsites and parking lots a breeze. Otherwise, you’ll use leveling blocks to raise your wheels until the coach is level.
READ NEXT: Our guide and checklist to set up a travel trailer.
Boondocking and Off-Grid Living
Something to consider when you are RV shopping is how much you want to boondock.
Boondocking is using your RV without hookups. There is no connection to electricity, water, or a dump station. Boondocking is also referred to as ‘dry camping’ or wild camping’ since it often takes place outside of an RV park.
If camping out in remote locations is your RV dream, you’ll want to consider the rig and options you’ll need to manage your resources.
- How big are the water tanks? Pay close attention to the tank sizes in your RV (freshwater, greywater, and black water). If you want to stay off-grid, you’ll need larger tanks or a way to use them sparingly.
- Is there space for additional installs? Check there is room to install additional batteries, an inverter, and solar panels. Is the RV wired for solar already? Avoiding a DIY project drilling into the RV roof is a plus.
- How big is the propane tank? If you are camping in colder climates, the heater can eat through propane pretty quickly. If you purchase a motorhome with non-removal propane tanks, a fill station can be harder to find.
These features are all about how remote you want to be when camping and how often you want to move your rig. Also, consider how conservative you’ll be with resources and how much you’re willing to be inconvenienced.
PRO TIP: Even if you plan to stay at state parks, be aware that many state and national parks don’t have full hookups. Sometimes you’ll just have water. Other times, no hookups. Unless you stay at RV resorts, you likely won’t have a dump station at your campsite. Or you’ll be paying extra for those spots.
READ NEXT: Our guide and 10 must-know tips for boondocking.
What’s the Best RV for Full-Time Living?
There are many things you won’t know you need in an RV until a year down the road.
For your first RV, aim for something with fewer features and not too much work to get it going.
Start your RV journey with something basic. You’ll get on the road sooner and begin to hone in on what options matter most to you.
Choose your type and layout based on your priorities, and go as small as you’re comfortably able.
Once you get out there and start traveling, you’ll learn what features are important to you. You’ll also realize what you are willing to compromise on (queen vs. king bed) and what you aren’t (a generator).
The more experience you gain, the more you’ll be ready for that next RV purchase.
You might also want to check out How to Prepare for Full-Time RV Living.
Want more beginner tips on RVing and how to get started?
Check out our RV gear lists, info on how to prepare for RV living, pros and cons of the lifestyle, and more in our guide.
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