You can make choosing a new RV less nerve-wracking

Choosing a new RV can be nerve-wracking, but what might be even worse is looking to purchase your second rig.

My wife, Jessi, and I travel in a Class B RV. It’s a 2008 Roadtrek 190 Popular 4×4 built on the Chevrolet Express 3500 (1-ton) chassis. The rig measures 21 feet tip to tail if you include the front brush guard and the spare tire hanging off the rear.

As we hit the road more often and for longer stretches, we have considered buying something larger. Every time we look, though, we realize it would be more than just changing rigs. It would change where we go, how long we stay, and what we bring with us. That’s a lot of change to consider!

Graphic by Kenzie Adler

While you have to learn to part ways with more material things and a lot of elbow space, changing to a smaller rig is probably easier overall. The more we thought about a larger rig, the more we realized we would have many size-related changes to think about and still might not check off all the boxes.

We recently stayed in a friend’s fifth-wheel for several weeks and produced a video about what we learned for our YouTube channel.

Size Matters

You need to think about length, width, and height when considering a new rig. And that means both the outside and the inside.

Our rig seemed really tiny surrounded by fifth-wheels at a Galveston, Texas RV park!

Larger rigs often offer more space to move around inside, store your things, or provide room for dedicated spaces. That means not having to change your couch into a bed and vice-versa every day and night like we do in the van.

Jessi and I are both smaller in stature. If you’re a larger person, you also might want to think about how a bigger bathroom would benefit you. This is an especially nice thought if you’re currently using a cramped wet bath or, as in our rig, an aisle shower.

Speaking of bathrooms, do you need an endless supply of water for your showers? Or are you comfortable pretending you’re in the Navy and leaving the water off while lathering up? Then the question becomes how big the freshwater and waste tanks are. We have been surprised to see freshwater and waste tanks on larger rigs that aren’t much bigger than what we have on our van.

You also need to consider how many people can fit in the rig comfortably while awake and while sleeping. A bigger footprint doesn’t always mean more space for people.

I can store almost all of my clothes for travel in these two Ikea bins, but not everyone dresses as minimally as I do!

And, of course, what those people bring with them matters, too. Do they have hobbies that involve large pieces of sporting equipment? Or maybe they aren’t the athletic type, but they do have an affinity for shoes. And does your group live in the same t-shirt and hiking pants for days? Or do they need different outfits every day of the week? This can also be affected by where you are traveling and if you anticipate experiencing more than one season during your trip. All of these items add up quickly in terms of weight. A larger rig doesn’t automatically mean as large a payload as you might think.

Once the inside is taken care of, you need to consider outside dimensions. If you’re changing to a larger rig, that means you’ll likely have to start scoping out larger campsites, wider roads and gas stations, and higher bridges along your routes. And if you’re like us, you’ll lose the ability to have your navigator say, “Wait, make a U-Turn, there’s a fill-in-the-blank back there we should check out!”

What’s your style?

Sure, what you wear may impact your decision because it will determine how much closet space you need. But more importantly, here we’re thinking about travel style.

Be careful about falling in love with a rig when it’s all set up for camping.

Do you make reservations months in advance, or are you more about winging it? Do you like to change the scenery often or prefer to settle in and really know an area? Having to deal with slides and traveling the roads in a rig larger than my first apartment might cause you more stress and wear you out pretty fast. But what if you’re going to stay put for a while? Then the extra space in a condo-on-wheels could be just the ticket.

A word of caution: be careful about falling in love with a rig when it’s all set up for camping if you’re going to be moving it a lot. Seeing opposing slides when they are open can be exhilarating — look at all that floor space! But when the slides are closed on travel days, can you get to the bathroom, the refrigerator, or a pantry?

Even if you plan on being stationary more often than traveling, you need to think about where you are going to park the rig because additional slides can mean extra-careful placement if you’re in an area with a lot of trees surrounding the campsites.

What about neighbors? If you enjoy socializing around the campground or chatting with the folks next door, then go big because you might end up entertaining inside your rig when it rains. Keep in mind, though, that a more significant footprint doesn’t always mean great seating arrangements for guests.

Driving and towing

Whether it’s a motorhome or a pull-behind, the size of rig you purchase will impact who can drive it. Some people aren’t comfortable behind the wheel as the size of the rig goes up. Others may be OK driving a motorhome, but towing is something they just never got the hang of.

In addition to who is driving, think about where they are going. Are you more interested in exploring small towns and wide-open spaces? Or are you intent on seeing the sights in larger cities? We have become accustomed to altering course to check something out and not thinking twice about needing to park on a city street because it’s quite likely our van will fit. If we were driving a large Class C or hauling a trailer, that likely would not be the case.

Here is our rig in the Badlands of South Dakota. Pulling off in a small turn-around is something we don’t have to think about — we just do it because our rig is small enough for that.

You also need to consider travel stops along the way. Pulling into the driveway of a friend or family member who offered an overnight stay along your route may not be feasible, depending on what type of rig you’re driving. We often joke that RVers make the best house guests because we bring our own house. But if your house is three times bigger than your relative’s driveway, that can be a problem. We know that going much larger would eliminate several family members’ driveways for our overnight stays.

Hike, bike, or car?

When you settle in and want to explore an area, how do you prefer to do this? Are you looking to have a separate car (that you can tow) or a truck (that you use for towing) to dart around in while checking out an area? Or are you fine hopping on a bike and seeing the sights while pedaling? Of course, walking is often an option, but usually the least-preferred way of getting around.

In our Class B, set-up and tear down are pretty simple, so we use the RV as our in-town vehicle. The benefit is that we always have everything with us, including the bathroom, our kitchen, and our clothes and shoes, in case we want to change outfits. But being able to just jump into another vehicle without having to straighten up the house every time you want to leave could be appealing, too.

Still, you get spoiled rather quickly once you get used to traveling more like a turtle, with everything you might need for comfort and safety carried with you everywhere.

Living and working spaces

No matter the size of the rig, you will eventually feel like it’s getting smaller if you don’t have the proper layout for spaces. But a lot of that means thinking ahead about what types of spaces mean the most to you.

If you spend any time in the kitchen, you will quickly realize that the “ample counter space” in the marketing brochure includes the sink when covered and the stove when closed. In other words, “ample” can quickly turn into “nonexistent” when you’re actually cooking in a kitchen, regardless of what size the rig is. Despite its smaller footprint, our van has more kitchen counter space than much larger rigs.

No matter the size of the rig, you will eventually feel like it’s getting smaller if you don’t have the proper layout for spaces.

Sleeping arrangements also are a huge consideration, too. Do you want a permanent bed or do you want something that converts or folds? Do you need a door to close or will a sliding curtain do the trick? What about sleeping styles? If you and your family are full of early risers, that’s not a problem. But what if some of you are morning people and others are night owls? That conflict can quickly lead to tired, grumpy companions if you don’t have a way to separate your living and sleeping spaces.

Work spaces are important when you’re working remotely to pay for your RV travels. Depsite its smaller footprint, our van has two distinct workspaces, including this one up front.

During the workday, space takes on a whole new meaning. Despite its small footprint, our van has two distinct workspaces. We have one in the front seats and one on the rear couch. When we open the bathroom door to close off the aisle, we have at least as much privacy as that provided by the office cubicles in which we used to work. We have noticed that even in much larger rigs, we would work in the same space, which could be problematic.

If you’re working from the road as we do or have kids being road-schooled, where will everyone set up shop each day? Do you have room to spread out and maybe even create separate working spaces for everyone? Or will you be competing with your spouse on dueling Zoom calls while your kids are busy in your modern one-room schoolhouse?

It costs how much?

One of the most challenging pills for people to swallow is how expensive — and how much more expensive — smaller rigs can be. People anticipate huge rigs coming with very large bottom lines. But Class B RVs often top out much higher than large, fancy fifth wheels.

So, another significant consideration is whether to buy new or used. The size of the rig can impact the bottom line initially because Class Bs are expensive up front. Coming from a Class B, it has been eye-opening to see how many rigs we could get for a much lower initial cost. But as the rig grows, so do the costs for maintenance, fuel, insurance, vehicle registrations, and bridge tolls. As owners of a Class B, those are areas where we regularly save money compared to people with larger motorhomes.

Give and take

It has been said many times by many people that there is no perfect rig. Don’t put off your travel ideas just because the rig isn’t exactly what you want to always travel in. I’d recommend starting with what you have and then learning by doing rather than trying to guess what you’d prefer when it comes to size and space for a rig.

With every type of rig, there are going to be give and take. Larger is better sometimes. Other times, smaller is better. Electronic doo-dads on a new rig can be great. The simplicity of an older rig can sometimes be liberating. What the neighbors have will always seem better when you’re having a bad day or a crazy choice when you’re having a good day.

Change is never easy. But if you ask all the right questions before you decide to change rigs, you should find that it’s a little easier. At least until you see what the neighbor pulls in with and you start the process all over again. 

2 thoughts on “You can make choosing a new RV less nerve-wracking”

  1. Good article Ari. You hit on many if not all of the decision points. One thing I don’t think you talked about was what do you do on a rainy day. Rigs can get pretty small if you’re stuck in it all day long.

    1. Thanks, Johnny.

      That’s very true about rigs getting smaller on rainy days. We often say that we don’t live in our rig, we live out of our rig. That means we’re generally out hiking, biking, or doing something outdoors. On rainy days, we tend to find indoor places to explore, including museums, visitor centers and such. Or, we may just take a drive to explore small towns in the area.

      Nevertheless, there are times when you’re going to be stuck inside the rig, so make sure you have games or books or something else to keep you occupied — and that you’re traveling with someone you can stand being trapped with somewhere. 😁 -Ari

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