Buying an RV is sort of like having a baby- there's no play-by-play instruction guide to follow. You've got Airstreams, Fifth-Wheels, Teardrops, Class A's, Class B's, and all kinds of confusing classes to research and contemplate. How can you know which kind of setup is going to work the best for you?
Let us first enlighten you with the fact that NO one RV will fulfill your every wish and desire. At least we haven't come across anyone yet who doesn't have at least a few complaints about the design of their RV in one way or another. (Unless you have one custom built, and even then, it's likely you will have forgotten something or find that what you thought was a great idea isn't so much.)
At the very best, it's good that you are doing your research on buying an RV so that we can help guide you with the ins and outs of each type of RV style.
5th Wheel Trailers
Fifth wheel trailers are usually quite luxurious, typically more so than any other type of trailer. They offer a MULTITUDE of layouts and slides. Fifth wheels are usually GIANT. (Most of them. Some manufacturers make smaller ones such as the Casita brand, but they are uncommon.)
So if you are planning to spend a lot of time in State Parks and smaller campgrounds (which generally limit the size of rig they allow), or if you KNOW you can't get used to driving and backing up such a large house, you may want to stay away from buying a 5th wheel.
The benefit of a fifth wheel RV in regards to towing is that it can be easier to maneuver than a travel trailer. The connection is in the middle of a truck bed as opposed to at the end of the truck on a hitch. The downside of this is that you are confined to using a truck as a tow vehicle. If you have a large family, this can be less than ideal for a long trip. Also, trucks aren't as comfortable to jaunt round town in than some other vehicles you could otherwise pull with.
On the other side of things, if you want your RV to mimic a house as much as possible and with ample amenities and space, a fifth wheel trailer might be good for you. Some of them can even come with a washer and dryer. If you plan on staying in commercial RV parks for the most part or exclusively, and especially if you don't plan on traveling much, a fifth wheel can be very cozy indeed.
These are the most common type of RV on the road. They come in a great deal of different sizes and shapes. Travel trailers have the benefit of being able to set it up and leave it at camp while you can take the tow vehicle out to easily get around town and explore. However, a travel trailer's overall length can be longer than just having a motorhome, especially if you don't pull a toad (towed vehicle - behind the motorhome).
Other benefits of buying a travel trailer- if you want to keep costs down, they are a good choice. If you buy a motorhome, most of the time, you will also need a toad (towed vehicle) to get around with for sightseeing or running errands. This means you have TWO vehicles to have to fix, maintain, and worry about. If you buy a travel trailer, you only have one engine, keeping maintenance and operational costs down.
Travel trailers are less expensive than motorhomes. If you already have a vehicle that can tow a travel trailer, your initial cost to get an RV will be considerably less than if you purchase a motorhome. Maintenance expenses most likely will be lower than if you had a motorhome.
Disadvantages? Maneuverability is more difficult than a motorhome. Backing up can prove to be tricky as well. Getting around in a small or cramped town can be a 'joy' and maneuvering in gas stations can be tricky. Trailers MUST be level when towed and then leveled when parked. This might mean having to purchase a weight distribution system to get your trailer properly connected.
Set up and break-down can take longer in a trailer than in a motorhome. This does depend somewhat on your setup and the tools you have at your disposal for assistance. For instance, if you are a solo RVer, it will take more time to get level and to get backed up to the trailer hitch if you don't have someone helping you, unless you have a remote way to see if you are level and you can see the hitch with a back-up camera.
Everything depends on one's situation, but in general, a travel trailer takes a bit more time to use.
Let's look at the pros and cons of the different types of travel trailers out there.
a. Airstreams- These are the quintessential American Dream type of RV. Can you resist gawking and being just a tad jealous when you see one cruising down the highway?
They are honestly, by far, the best looking travel trailers out there for sure. The Airstream comes with a big gotcha: the PRICE. They do ask for a mint for what you get.
The interiors are famously the most modern of any RV brand out there, greatly attracting millennials, Gen Xers, and those who have a flair for style. They come in many size options and some different layouts. Airstreams aren't super light, but they aren't ridiculously heavy, either.
b. Teardrop trailers- Teardrops are good for the person who REALLY wants to live a minimal lifestyle and with a small footprint.
There are teardrops that you can stand up in and those where you can't. In the ones you can't, basically all it is is a rolling bed, possibly with an outdoor kitchen in the back.
Major considerations for picking a teardrop trailer are whether to have your kitchen area inside or outside, and whether you want to have a bathroom or not. (Oh, and whether you want to be able to stand up inside on rainy days!) These are generally the shortest and the lightest of all the trailers, with the max length usually hitting about 20 feet long.
Storage is pretty much non-existent in this type of trailer, so that can be a big consideration to think about as well. However, they are super light and can be pulled, sometimes, with a car.
c. Pop-up camper- These are best for weekend warriors who really want to have that camping feeling.
Because they don't have hard sidewalls, they may not be allowed in campgrounds where bears are known to lurk. Not the best for full-time, one COULD full-time in these, but you should be prepared to rough it a little more than with other trailers. Set up and breakdown will be more physical than with other types, as you are literally raising and lowering the roof.
They also lack storage options, just as the teardrops do. These are much more difficult to full-time in because they don't have hard sides and can be nearly impossible to keep at a friendly temperature inside when in less than ideal temperatures.
d. 'Regular' travel trailers- This is the most common type of trailer- the standard rectangular house on wheels.
They come anywhere from 12 feel in length to almost as long as you want. A 38 footer is VERY long, considering that your tow vehicle adds to that length. Amenities can be as minimal or as luxurious as you want (with prices reflecting this). There are a multitude of RV manufacturers who make this style of camper so layouts and slide options are endless.
Storage can be OK to excellent, depending on the model. The start out at a very affordable price for entry level models and offer so many options that there is a trailer out there for just about every situation. These are likely to lose value faster than an Airstream or a teardrop as they are usually pretty cheaply made and don't hold up for very long, especially if they are not properly taken care of. Though there are definitely some manufacturers who make a quality travel trailer.
e. Fiberglass Travel Trailers- These have quite a few benefits over the typical travel trailer. They hold their value better because they are made to be more leak-proof than the traditional trailer as they have far less seams to allow water to come in.
The fiberglass construction holds up better and they are usually fairly streamlined and cute. People want them more than a 'regular' trailer. These are usually pretty small, compact and light. But they do come in pretty fancy versions, with the top-of-the-line fiberglass travel trailer being an Oliver. This can be considered a fiberglass version of an Airstream.
An Oliver Trailer is much more expensive than the other fiberglass travel trailers and they weigh a good bit due to the high-end construction of the trailers, inside and out. They, like Airstreams, probably hold their value the best out of all of the categories.
Truck campers are great for those who want their life to be as simple as possible. With little setup or breakdown, it's the best get-up-and-go type of rig.
Used mostly for weekend getaways and hunting trips, there are a few people who DO full-time in a truck camper, so it is possible. Amenities in truck campers can range from very simple to having multiple slide-outs with crazy luxury touches for such a small space!
Negatives are that they are going to be small, no matter what (though surprisingly big with slides), and if you want to go off-roading, you will have to take the camper off your truck, which CAN be a bit of work. Still, it's do-able.
Motorhomes provide an all-in-one house on wheels. Fully self-contained, engine included, motorhomes provide an easy and luxurious way to RV.
If you don't have the need for a toad (small vehicle towed behind the motorhome), it's much simpler than pulling a travel trailer and having to unhitch and hitch up all the time. They are generally more expensive than a travel trailer or a fifth-wheel as you are paying for a driveline (engine, etc).
The learning curve of having a motorhome will be greater than that of a travel trailer. It's by no means hard to learn - there is a little more to know. These monsters get only about 8-10 miles per gallon (if you are lucky), so they have the worst fuel economy of the lot (though a monster 5th wheel trailer will easily vie for the title of gas hog). However, they provide a roomy interior and plenty of storage and are frequently used for full-time RV living.
There are several different types of motorhomes:
a. Class A motorhome- These are usually pretty large- the largest of the motorhome classes. They range anywhere from around 24 feet, up to about 45 feet in length. These giants offer the most in features and amenities, such as a full bath (or multiple bathrooms), robust entertainment systems, and even a washer and dryer.
They come in a bunch of configurations and floor plans, with multiple slide outs, or no slides at all. Fuel options are gas or diesel.
A Class A motorhome tends to have much more storage on the outside than a travel trailer will have. They are pricey since they come with an engine and usually lots of moving parts.
Though some are as big as 45', no CDL license is required to drive a Class A motorhome. Another advantage (though be smart about this, and it may not be legal!) is that passengers may move about the rig while traveling. Class A's are known best for their luxury, amenities, storage capacities, and spaciousness.
b. Class B motorhome- Why can't they just call these vans? Essentially, that's what they are. Vans (conversion vans to be precise). With bathrooms and kitchens. Class B motorhomes are usually easier to maneuver than a Class A since they are shorter and not as tall, generally ranging from 20 to 33 feet in length.
Getting around is a breeze. Getting to sketchier boondocking spots may also be easier with a Class B. You might expect the price to be cheaper than a Class A, but surprisingly, they are not! They can be amazingly pricey, sometimes even pricier than Class A's.
Not surprisingly, a Class B motorhome doesn't typically have a lot of storage. They can be cramped for two people. Holding tanks tend to run smaller in these and many of them come with a cassette toilet, which doesn't hold much at all, PLUS you have to empty the container by hand. So... you will get pretty up close and personal with your, um, sewage
c. Class C motorhome- These are the motorhomes you see with the bed over the cab.
This allows for more people to stay overnight, so they are good for large families. Gas mileage ranges right in between a Class A and a Class B (as a matter of fact, there is a Class B+ that offers a cab over design like a Class C, but on a smaller van chassis).
A Class C motorhome generally isn't as large as Class A's, but offer more room than most Class B's. They are sort of a compromise between the two. More storage than a Class B, less than a Class A. Better gas mileage than a Class A, worse gas mileage than a Class B. The list goes on, but you get the idea.
Like to play while you are away? These travel trailers offer interior storage space (garage) for your toys such as motorcycles, ATVs and sometimes even little Smart Cars. Interior living space for actual human beings will be smaller than other types of trailers as so much space may be dedicated for your toys.
However, some RVers choose a toy hauler and actually create, say, an office space out of the garage area. This is something to think about when needing a type of space that isn't all too common in RVs. You may want a play space for your kids- you can easily convert it to use it any way you want to.
Toy haulers come with a long back ramp, so the whole entire back wall basically opens up so you can drive your toys in and out of the unit. However, living in close quarters with vehicles can also be unappealing as far as breathing in fumes, depending on how closed off the area is from the living quarters.
A toy hauler trailer can come in the form of a travel trailer OR a fifth wheel.
Toy haulers are popular for weekend warriors who love their toys.
Figuring out what type of rig is best for you is a matter of knowing what your needs are and going out there and looking at different models to get a feel for what you like. As previously stated, no rig will be able to make you perfectly happy, there are always ways you may want something different or improved. However, the floor plans are seemingly ENDLESS, and it may be the deciding factor for you as far as what type of RV you end up getting.
Our best advice is to get out there and get into as many rigs as you can and see what speaks to you and looks like would work for you. Drive a few of the ones you are interested, see how comfortable you are. (Though driving more and more makes just about anything seem comfortable once you get used to it.)
To RV is better than to NOT RV because you can't decide, so just get out there as much as you can and start the process.
Whatever you do, Camp On, Addict!!
Author: Kelly Beasley
Kelly Beasley is co-founder of Camp Addict and loves sharing her enthusiasm for the RVing lifestyle. As a full-time RVer since May 2015, Kelly's playful writing style helps make learning about the sometimes dull subject of RV products a bit more interesting.