Should I Purchase a Towable RV or a Motorhome?

Nothing beats the enjoyment of traveling in an RV. Driving, or towing, a small apartment on wheels is an experience like no other that many people are currently seeking.  In fact, this summer 2019 will see more people than ever purchasing RVs as both vacation mobiles and full-time homes. Amongst the RV camping community, one debate has always remained front-and-center. When purchasing an RV, which type is best?

There are so many different types of RVs. The full list consists of motorhomes (class A, class B, and class C), travel trailers (including modern, vintage and Airstreams), and fifth wheels/toy haulers. Other considerations within each RV category include purpose, size, color, layout, and brand differentiation. All of this can be quite overwhelming for a first-time buyer. Selecting your perfect rig is a decision that requires lots of research and planning. Here, we’ve compiled a list of differences between drivable RVs and towable RVs to help you choose the perfect RV for you and your family.

Photo by @188sqft

1. Travel Days

The driving experiences for motorhomes versus trailers are vastly different. When driving in a motorhome, passengers have access to the bathroom, kitchen, beds, couch, and everything else in the RV, all while moving down the road. 

With a travel trailer or fifth wheel, passengers travel in a truck while towing the vehicle behind them. If you need snacks or food, you must pack them before leaving, and stopping for bathroom breaks is less convenient. When deciding which type of RV you would like to buy, consider the distances and length of time you will typically be driving when making your choice.

Photo by @glasgows_onthego

2. Ease of Driving

Many find that towing a vehicle is easier than driving a large motorhome, but driving preferences will obviously differ depending on who you ask. The experience of driving a fifth wheel versus driving a travel trailer is vastly different. Fifth wheels are typically more easily maneuvered and tend not to sway, whereas travel trailers can be prone to sway at high speeds and/or on windy days. Sway bars make a big difference, but this is still something to be considered when choosing your rig.

There is also a large difference between driving a small class B or C motorhome and driving a class A. Driving a smaller motorhome can often feel like driving a small SUV, whereas driving a large class A can feel like driving a semi-truck. Wind is especially troublesome in a large class A, while it may not be as big of a challenge in a class B or C. When you add in the possibility of towing a vehicle behind the motorhome, this adds a new set of challenges to the picture. Some people do actually prefer driving the motorhome versus towing a trailer, but again, this will be different for each individual.

Photo by @wander.free.and.queer

3. Off-road Driving and Boondocking

When boondocking and driving off-road, travel trailers/fifth wheels are often the better option. Even the largest towable rigs are fairly easy to maneuver on dirt roads, and most trucks are equipped with four-wheel drive. This makes getting to the best dispersed camping sites and out-of-the-way Harvest Host locations much 

However, boondocking experiences are different in different rigs. For instance, larger rigs tend to have larger tanks. Some fifth wheels have huge tanks, and some class A motorhome have large tanks too. Smaller motorhomes and smaller trailers will also have smaller holding tanks. This issue tends to be less of a motorhome versus trailer issue and more of a big rig versus small rig issue.

Photo by @188sqft

3. Children

If you plan to travel with children (full-time or part-time), many tend to prefer travel trailers and fifth wheels. With a trailer, when traveling from one place to another, each person has their own seat and seatbelt. This is often preferable, especially for families with children still in carseats. Motorhomes are often equipped with seatbelts in the dinette and/or couch, but it is still (arguably) safer to have an actual seat in a truck, versus a seat on a couch or at a table. However, if you do choose a motorhome with children, there are some major travel day conveniences. One parent can easily grab snacks from the fridge while cruising down the road, and potty breaks are also much easier and less time-consuming.

Photo by @pleadingthefifth_wheel

4. Pets

Pets travel differently in motorhomes versus travel trailers. When towing an RV, it is not safe for anyone to ride in the trailer, so pets must ride in the truck. Cats and other small mammals will most likely need to be kenneled, and anxious dogs may need to be kenneled as well. 

When driving a motorhome, anxious animals may also need to be kenneled. However, once all animals are accustomed to the moving motorhome, they are typically much more comfortable and can move around the cabin while en route. They can also have access to food and water, comfy places to lie down, and even their litter box (for the cats). 

Photo by @nealysonwheels

5. Set-up

Setting up camp is different for each type of RV. In a motorhome, you must level the vehicle, hook up the water, sewer, and electric, and open the slides. If you have a tow vehicle, you must unhitch it and park it elsewhere. When towing a trailer, you must park the trailer first (which is arguably more difficult than parking a motorhome) and then unhitch the tow bar and safety chains before also leveling, hooking up utilities, and opening any slides. 

One benefit of having a towable RV is that you can set up camp, then drive your vehicle around. Being able to leave the trailer behind and cruise around town without breaking camp is very convenient and perfect for stays that are longer than a few days. However, if you have a motorhome and tow a separate vehicle, it is also easy to set up camp and drive around town in a smaller vehicle. And the vehicle you are using to drive around town will typically be less bulky and better on gas mileage than a huge diesel truck.

Photo by @lifeamongpines

6. Maintenance

All RVs require work and maintenance to keep them running smoothly. However, since a trailer does not drive, it requires less than a motorhome. Travel trailer and fifth wheel owners will still have to perform routine maintenance on their vehicles, as well as their trailer, but it is still less work than maintaining both a motorhome and its tow vehicle.

Motorhomes require routine maintenance, and if you tow a vehicle behind your rig, this will need maintenance as well. This is certainly something to keep in mind.

Photo by @lindseyandgerrit_adventure

7. Cost

The upfront cost for motorhomes versus trailers is different. Trailers and fifth wheels are arguably much cheaper than motorhomes. However, if you need to buy a diesel truck and a trailer, you may be looking at a hefty sum. If you already have a truck, a trailer is a much cheaper option. However, the two options may be comparable in price if you need to purchase both a truck and a trailer. 

Photo by @glasgows_onthego

8. Repairs

This point is more relevant for full-timers, but it is still something to be considered for everyone. Vehicles often break down, and if your vehicle (your truck or whatever you are using to tow your trailer) breaks down, you still have somewhere to live (or stay while on vacation). If a motorhome breaks down and needs to go to the shop, the owners typically need to find somewhere else to stay. Trailer owners can sometimes end up with their trailer in the shop, but the work it may need is typically less extensive than engine work and can make a big difference. In addition, the work being done on a travel trailer is cheaper than any engine or mechanical work that would need to be completed for a motorhome.

Photo by @lindseyandgerrit_adventure

9. Gas mileage

Gas mileage differs with each type of rig. Most motorhomes do not get great gas mileage (10-12 mpg for most rigs). However, large diesel trucks towing a big trailer also get low gas mileage. If you are looking for something that is good on gas, you are best off finding the smallest class B or C. Here, you will sacrifice living space, but you will save money in the long run.

Photo by @pheribee

10. Interior space

The interior of a travel trailer (especially fifth wheels) is often much larger than that of a motorhome. Of course, there are very large motorhomes and much smaller travel trailers, but if you are looking for the largest size rig possible, fifth wheels are often your best bet. Some of these even contain multiple rooms, with a master bedroom and a separate bunkhouse that is perfect for families with children. Fifth wheels without a bunkhouse tend to have a very large living area, which is also nice for those living and working from their RVs.

Photo by @lindseyandgerrit_adventure

11. Purpose

Finally, you must consider the RV’s purpose when choosing your future rig. For instance, are you planning to use it for occasional week-long trips, frequent weekend trips, or full-time? Will you always be on the go, or will you park in one place and stay there for awhile before moving on? Will you be driving long distances at a time, or will you mainly drive short distances? Who will be living in the RV? Is it just you and a partner, or are there also children and pets involved? What is your budget? Do you already have a truck, or will you need to buy one, in addition to an RV? Your purpose and needs will make a big difference when making your decision, so be sure to consider all of these important points.

Photo by @lifeamongpines

So, after all of this, which type of rig is best? Well, this will depend on the opinion and needs of each individual. As with most things in life, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to choosing a rig. Your choice should depend on many factors, including who will be living in the RV, how often it will be used, how often you plan to stay in each location, how many separate rooms are needed, the amount of time you plan to spend driving, your budget, and much, much more. Plan to do lots and lots of research when choosing your rig. You can also consider renting a few different types of RVs for short-term trips before ultimately deciding to buy. And, as with all RVs, whatever you end up choosing is sure to bring tons of joy and memories for years to come.

What kind of RV do you have? How did you make this choice? Is there anything else you considered in addition to these points?

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