Why a Fifth Wheel Was Right for Me

My first RV experience happened at 12 years old when my mom, her boyfriend, and I flew to Arizona and rented an RV for a two week vacation in the southwest.  When I first thought about living in an RV as a 25 year old one of my first thoughts was to rent an RV and see how I like it. I soon found out the cost of renting for even one week is in the thousands of dollars. It actually can be cheaper to buy a used one to learn on than to rent one.  I do think renting is an excellent choice to find out if you like the full time RV lifestyle but for my budget it just wasn’t feasible.

I did research for about a year before taking the plunge and found an overwhelming amount of options. The perfect RV doesn't exist, and most people go through a few before finding the perfect choice for them. All RV owners have to make compromises in either space, amenities, price, age, maneuverability, or stealthiness. This blog will hopefully serve to introduce you to the types of RVs and the basic pros and cons of each type, however there is no better experience than checking them out in person at dealerships or RV shows, so get out there and start looking!

CLASS A

Most RVs are broken down into classes. When people hear the word “RV” generally a class A is what comes to mind. Class As basically look like charter buses, and often people tow cars behind them. Class As can cost as little as a few thousand (used) all the way up to the $1-2 million + range. Most are somewhere in between.  When you step inside some of these bad boys you will be blown away at the amenities. 

Pros: usually good for families and pets because you can use the RV while you are driving (up to a point…it is shaky in there, and passengers should wear seatbelts). Great for using the bathroom on the road and so you don’t have to stop every couple of hours on a long trip. Many people find Class As to be safer because if you need to leave a space quickly you potentially don’t even have to step outside. If you are just stopping somewhere for the night you can just hop right from your bed to the driver’s seat and go. (These are also the pros of class C and B). Great basement storage, and a pretty large living area. Generator built in.

Cons:  Fuel cost (a few hundred to fill up the tank), low gas mileage (around 6-10 mpg in a gas class A) RV tires (thousands of dollars to replace all tires), typically have to tow a small car behind the RV, which means cost of extra maintenance and registration on two engines. I did not choose this option because at the time I owned a 1996 Toyota Camry which would not have made a good toad. The cost of a class A plus a new car was too much for me. . The easiest kind of car to tow is something manual (Jeeps and Subarus are popular choices) but some automatic cars can be towed easily as well (A 2014 or earlier Honda CRV is a popular option). The best toads lightweight with good fuel efficiency. 

CLASS B

These basically looks like vans from the outside (some have pop tops, some have high tops, some have low tops). Some popular brands are Chinook, Sprinter, and Sportsmobile, and Winnebago. For myself, I like the mid 2000s Chinook Glacier LE. I also like the idea of customizing a van from scratch if I chose this option, with solar power, insulation, a raised platform bed, a full kitchen, shower, toilet, and a desk. Options are endless if you are a DIY person.

Pros: more mobile due to small size, can fit in regular parking space, don’t necessarily need a toad, the stealthiest option, great for living and commuting in a city. 

Cons: limited storage space, limited space in the waste tanks which leads to dumping more often, overall very small size for living in full time. Good for one person, maybe two people and a dog but not much more than that for full time living. These are VERY expensive per square foot (if buying new, can be over $100k easily). Converted DIY vans are much more cost effective and you can personalize them. I am not handy at all, and don’t know squat about electricity and plumbing so this option was off the table for me.

CLASS C:

This is what I RV’d in when I was 12. Its like a really big van (can be up to around 35 feet) with a cab over the drivers seat for sleeping.  For myself, my ideal Class C would probably choose a Lazy Dayz Class C 27.5 mid bath model, or a 2006 Forest River Sunseeker 2200 (it has an awesome rear kitchen and would be great for one person. This model is no longer made). 

Pros: Pretty much in the middle of a class A and B, a class C is versatile in size and layout, can tow a car behind, good storage, nice living space for a single person, a couple, or a small family. Lots of interior options.

Cons: Can feel cramped, towing a car behind means 2 engines, 2 sets of tires, 2 registrations, etc, have a tendency to develop leaks over the cab. 

FIFTH WHEEL (what I have)

A fifth wheel requires a truck to pull it. There are different sized options ranging from very specialized 19 feet options all the way to 45 feet and maybe even more than that. Part of your RV sits in your truck bed as you go down the road.  I’ve got a 2006 Coachmen Chaparral, towed by a Ford F-250 diesel.  I chose this set up because of my lifestyle; I set up camp and then don’t move for 3 months. This is perfect for me because I use the truck for driving to work, the grocery store, etc and then come back to my trailer for my home base at the end of the day. Don’t have to worry about 2 engines or managing a toad.

Pros: You unhitch and you have a vehicle for daily driving, LOTS of living space, tends to have the biggest and most versatile floorplans (Travel Trailers are similar), good basement storage, only one motor/engine to deal with, lower cost then As, Bs, and Cs on average due to no motor (although it can run anywhere from a few thousand to over 100k), large black/grey tanks

Cons: Not very agile(compared to class B and C), tall (watch low clearances), Cost of truck to pull it (my truck costs substantially more than my RV),

TRAVEL TRAILER

Bumper pull trailers can be similar to fifth wheels, sometimes you can get the same make/model/floor plan just in a travel trailer version. They can be very small (7 feet) or very large (40 + feet) and price varies just like all the other options from a few hundred- a few thousand. Typically the most budget friendly. Some tops pop up, some have slides for extra room.

Pros: Can be pulled with SUV, Truck, or sometimes minivan depending on the weight of your trailer, You can use your truck bed for extra storage, you have your tow vehicle ready for daily driving, only one vehicle motor to maintain

Cons: extra length due to hitch when pulling, harder to hitch up by yourself,  tendency to sway/jackknife if you don’t have the proper towing set up

TOY HAULERS:

Can be either fifth wheels, travel trailers or occasionally Class As, but these have garages/patios to haul your ATV, golf cart, smart car, snow mobiles, etc.

Pros: unique layout for large families and pets, a lot of sleeping room, 1 or 2 party decks. 

Cons: usually heavier, larger models.

TRUCK CAMPERS:

Camper sits completely in the truck bed and extends over the cab. These can be incredibly basic (weekend camper) or have all the bells and whistles (full time camper with 3 slides outs). There are pop up campers and hard side campers, each with pros and cons. 

Pros: Can drive anywhere (incredibly agile) with 4wd truck, can park the camper and have a daily driver.

Cons: Typically need at least a 1 ton truck, or a ¾ ton truck with additions for the suspension, limited living space, cant use truck bed for extra storage while camper is on. Tend to be more expensive per square foot. 

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Currently a fifth wheel works great for me! Perfect for my lifestyle with plenty of space and it feels like my own apartment. However, if there comes a time when I am working less and traveling more frequently, I definitely will take a look at Class Cs and Bs (likely used Chinooks and Lazy Daze) and Truck Campers (The XP camper V1 is my favorite and also costs a LOT. how typical) as possible options for downsizing. These are much more versatile that what I have currently for boondocking (not hooked up to power, city water, or sewer). Boondocking sounds like a great camping option that I have yet to explore, but hope to in the future. It typically works best if you have large tanks (i have), solar power (nope), or generator (nope). 

Good luck finding your perfect RV! There are great youtube traveling families and solo RVers, in every type of rig imaginable. From solo women living in their car (check out Bob Well's Youtube, Cheap RV living), to a family of 5 living in a pop up truck camper (Mali Mish), to a family of 9 living in a fifth wheel (Knorpp and South), to a working couple living in a bus conversion (Technomadia), to a couple living in a class A and now living on a sailboat (Gone with the Wynns), to a single guy living in his Honda Element (Element Van Life), to a couple living in their renovated fifth wheel (The Freedom Theory) to a couple and their toddler living in their Class A (Less Junk More Journey)...The list goes on and on!!! Be careful watching these channels if you live in an apt or a house...You'll start to have itchy feet and want to hit the road!!!!