There are literally hundreds of options when it comes to buying a recreational vehicle. So much so that it can become completely overwhelming.
You’ve probably asked yourself more than once in frustration… “how do I choose the right RV?” and here’s what we recommend: The best way to start the process of choosing an RV is by attending an RV show. You will be able to browse dozens of different models and types of RVs. At the same time, you will be avoiding any high pressure sales tactics and be free to take your time to inspect all the pros and cons of each vehicle.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a few different models you can see working for your situation, then you can go and start talking to dealers, taking test drives and negotiating prices.
Keep reading to hear from Bryce and how his family chose the right RV for their family. There’s some great tips and advice you can learn from their experience!
Bryce will take over the article from here…
Our epic RV trip began like any other crazy idea: standing in our kitchen late at night with a glass of wine.
“I want to take a trip”, my wife declared.
“Great!” I replied enthusiastically, “what are you thinking, a couple of weeks?”
“No, I was thinking 3 months.”
My wife is an Engineer, super-organized and a meticulous planner, so coming from her this was huge. And it only took a second for me to agree: Yes. I’m in.
We were at a rare moment in our life, having worked for over 20 years we would soon be in-between jobs. Our daughters were 11 years old, not yet parent-adverse teenagers and their schedules were still flexible. We both knew this chance might not come again. So we leaped at the idea and by summer’s end we would be looking back on 12,000 miles of RV driving, and one of the greatest experiences of our lives.
Finding Betsy – We were starting from scratch, we don’t even own a pick-up truck, let alone an entire house on wheels. So, where to begin? It turns out, it’s not as daunting as we first thought. Here’s how we went about finding Betsy, our 32-foot family member. (And yes, give your RV a name!)
RV Shows – If you’re like us and know nothing about RVs, consider attending a large RV show. We found it to be a great way to get the lay of the land (without the heavy sales pitches). You will see every RV and trailer type you can imagine, and some you can’t. From Vintage to modern, from extra-large to tiny, they are all there.
You can walk inside the RVs, sit down, lay down, and begin to imagine how the space might work for you. Our kids came along and had a blast exploring the different RVs. If you’re traveling as a family, having children be a part of the planning and decision process is important. It will empower them and give them a sense of ownership.
RV shows also have classes and camping-related vendors that can share great tips and stories of life on the road. We walked away feeling less overwhelmed and better informed. You will too.
Which RV is Best for Us?
Choosing the right RV will depend on several personal and logistical factors. And at 32 feet, Betsy was on the longer side. We are a family of four with two 11-year-olds and planned to travel for three months, with lots of driving. Our goal was to see as much of the country as we could in the time we had, only spending about 2 days in each spot.
We also wanted enough room to enjoy dinner and games as a family, and have corners where we could retreat when needed (for that nap or mental refresher).
Begin by asking yourself: How long will we be traveling- a week or two, or is it a longer, sustained trip? Are we planning to drive frequently, or will we park the RV in a campground and take trips from there? How much space do we need? Are we driving or towing? Do we have a truck already that we can use to tow a travel trailer or fifth wheel? What is our driving comfort level?
Furthermore, how will this feel for our family after 30, 60, 90 days of continuous travel? Is there room for playing games on a rainy day? Are we taking a lot of gear, in addition to the basic load of clothes, food, and sundries? What is our budget, and should we buy or rent?
RV Types – The Basics
Larger/spacious RVs, typically diesel engines, and generally higher price tags. These vehicles are more akin to driving a bus- you are seated up high, with good road visibility, and are (many feel) safer in a larger rig. But if you’re new to trucks and RVs, it may take a little more practice to get the feel of driving. And you may need a separate car/vehicle to get around, especially in the National Parks where vehicle size is often limited to 25 feet or less.
This is your camper-van, is very comfortable and has a familiar cab and operation. Mid-range price point, but you will have less room inside to maneuver. Class Bs can be great for a couple or small family on the go. And the size allows you to drive into the National Parks without the need for a second vehicle (height dependent!).
This is our beloved Betsy. A Class C is basically a large pick-up truck chassis with a camper on the back. (They are built separately and mated at the factory.) At first, it feels like you’re driving a pick-up truck with an elephant in the back. But, like anything, you get used to it and will soon be driving like a pro. You are also seated closer to a regular car level and the pick-up truck cab feels very comfortable.
We found Betsy offered our family of four the amount of space we needed for three months, and she felt comfortable while driving. However, we did trade-in one of our cars for a towable Honda CR-V as a get around car. Great investment for all of those fun (often unplanned) side trips and for navigating the National Parks where vehicle size is often limited.
“Towing a car turned out to be not as hard as we first thought.”
These come in any size, from tiny to huge, and offer a very wide range of options for individuals and families. With a travel trailer, your money will go further and if you already own a capable towing vehicle (Truck or SUV), you’re even further ahead still.
Smaller trailers offer simple living with a bed/storage inside and an outdoor kitchen, with various canopy options. A good hybrid if you want to eat outside but still sleep on a dry mattress. Larger trailers offer the same space options as RVs, but for much less money. (Though you will need a large truck to tow them, so consider that purchase, too.)
Larger, with similar space options to RVs, but will require a larger truck to tow. But if you already own that larger truck, this may be a great option. As with any trailer, you can park it at camp and use your truck to run around.
What Size RV?
This depends. How many are you and how long will you be traveling? Will the RV be parked most of the time, or on the road a lot? And can your kids share a bed?
Sleeping arrangement is a big question. For us, bunk beds were ideal. We wanted the kids to have their own beds that would not fold away. This way they could leave their belongings spread out, like their own little room. Bunkhouse options do require a longer RV, typically 30 feet+. We found our 32-foot Class C Jayco Greyhawk with bunk beds, a kitchenette, and a dining area suited us perfectly.
Buying Vs Renting
My Engineer spouse does not make any large purchase without a spreadsheet, and we did an extensive evaluation of buying versus renting. Here is what we found.
Buying: Overall, if you’re going to keep your RV/trailer for a long time (say 5-10 years) then consider a new/newer model for longevity. You will pay more upfront, but reap the benefits long-term. However, if you’re like us and planning to use it for one epic trip and then resell, definitely consider a used vehicle. We found a 3 or 4-year-old model fit the price point we needed, and would hold its resale value afterward.
Renting: If you’re planning to travel for a shorter time, maybe up to six weeks, consider renting. There are numerous rental companies and private RV rental sites to choose from. We briefly considered this but found that for three months, it was more cost-effective to buy a used RV and resell. But each family has to make their own choice based on their goals, space needs, and finances.
Renting can also be a great way to learn the ropes and discover what will work best for your family before taking that big trip. We were amazed at the number of families visiting from other countries who rented their RVs. You can literally fly-in from anywhere, pick up your vehicle, go for a few weeks, then turn it back in. Brilliant!
New to Driving an RV?
Not to worry. Each RV/trailer type drives a little differently but once you gain some experience, you’ll be driving like a pro. Betsy was white-knuckle driving at first, but our confidence increased over the miles. Yours will too.
Consider driving around your local area at first, increasing your range as you gain confidence. Stay at a nearby RV park to test its systems before you head out, far easier to learn on a sunny afternoon than at night in the rain after driving all day!
Totally Worth It
Our advice: Go for it. We had a rich and meaningful experience, with all of the highs and lows that come with family life on the road. But we would not trade it for anything. Instead of buying a mid-life sports car, we found Betsy and never looked back. And when we returned, we sold Betsy to a family of four heading out on their own epic adventure. Which reminds me, check out this article on gifts for RV owners.
It was an emotional day for all of us, but we felt good knowing Betsy would travel on and serve them well.
I leave you with our family’s favorite trip quote:
“Travel is the only thing you buy which makes you richer.”
~ Bryce Waldrop
Up Next In Adventure Vehicles:
David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.