What Size RV Should You Buy? Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Are you wondering what size RV you should buy? Well, it depends. Let me say that bigger isn’t always better, especially if you are a “full-timer.” This might seem counterintuitive but let me explain.

When Bryce and I shopped for an RV, we had no idea what we were looking for. We had never even been in an RV and even though we did online research, it would never be enough to know how we would feel when living in one.

At dealerships, we always got the same advice…”Trust me, go bigger.”

Sales people said that you think you want a smaller RV, but then people tend to upgrade after about a year.

We’d spend ten minutes in an RV, think we liked it, and then inevitably the salesperson would say something like, “yeah but it’s really hard to maneuver around x, y, z. The three-four extra feet will make a huge difference.” And it made sense too.

Yes, they want to make a sale, but I think most sales people believe that they are doing us a favor with the “go bigger” warning. But they may not fully grasp the desires of full-time RVers. The freedom that many of us seek is less attainable in a larger RV. We left behind a giant, unmovable house, so why would we want a giant, lumbering, land-whale in exchange?

Almost a year after purchasing our 34’ foot, class A Motorhome, I’m jonesing for a more nimble option; something that allows more flexibility in our travels. Spontaneity is one of the reasons we chose this lifestyle, but it’s not so easy to do with our 50 plus feet of RV plus tow vehicle.

Now, I’m starting to see what may be a trend in others going smaller too. I interviewed three of my RV compadres who recently downsized or are in the process, and asked them why they think bigger isn’t always better when it comes to RVs.

If you are in the market for a new RV, perhaps their stories will help inform you about your decisions.

From a Winnie to a super-cool Class B. Shea and Eric Laughlin – livingmilebymile.com

I got to interview Shae and Erin in person when they were passing through our area. We had a wonderful evening filled with BBQ chicken, local beer, and lots of laughs. Here’s the chat we had about their decision to downsize:

1.You were in a nineteen foot “Minnie-Winnie” travel trailer. That seems pretty small, what made you choose that model originally? What did you like and not like about it?

We wanted to get in and out of places easily and not worry about being too big. We love the quality of Winnebago, and when we learned they made a travel trailer, suddenly we found the perfect one–on clearance even! It was bright red–yuck–but the cost outweighed the color. It was easy to back up, had a dry bath (sink and toilet separate from shower), and didn’t have slides, so one less thing to fix.

But it was a bit dark inside, and the “mature-fabrics” plus veneer floor were unappealing. We literally had to get on the bed to make it. We did a few renovations, including building a custom dinette-desk station, which improved the layout. Insert photo.

2.Why did you decide to downsize?

To be even more nimble. While the Winnie was small, we still had to pull it with a fairly large truck. That made dry camping, or staying with friends and family kind of tough. That bright red color we didn’t mind in the beginning really put us right in the spotlight. The downsides started to outweigh the clearance price, so we started thinking about other options.

The class B is one vehicle that does everything we need. We don’t have to do much advanced planning for day-trips, and we can take it anywhere.

3.What Class B model did you get  and why?

We got the Hymer-Aktiv 1.0 at 19.7’ feet. There are so many reasons we chose this model. We’re going to save more money on things like gas mileage, toll booth costs, ferry costs etc. Also, features like front-wheel drive, solar panels, and lithium batteries make this really cost effective. It helps that modern conveniences like USB ports are included.

Erin can drive more now, which enables me to work while in transit.

4.Are there any tradeoffs by downsizing?

They are more like adjustments. Now we have a wet-bath (where the the toilet, sink and shower are one), and a gravity toilet, which is a removable “cassette-style” waste tank. It’s not like we wanted these things, but we’ll adjust as we go. We also got rid of toys like paddleboards and bikes, but we weren’t using them anyway. We’re really not sad to part with with our Kettlebells. I mean what were we thinking bringing Kettlebells anyway?!

Overall we’re really happy with our purchase. We feel like it’s the perfect option to create the freedom and level of exploration we truly desire.

 

From a too Big 5th Wheel to maybe a smaller class A – Paul and Heather Ryan – The Roamin Ryans

I built a friendship with Heather online, and then we met at the RV Entrepreneur Summit. When she told me she they were downsizing I wanted to know more. I sent her and Paul questions online and here are their responses.

1.You have a beautiful 5th wheel but have decided to downsize. Why?

We love our 5th wheel, but we have empty cabinets. It’s a 42′ toyhauler and the garage is mostly for storage, which means we only live in about 30′-32′ of it. Plus, we can’t fit into every park whether it’s a state, national, county, or RV. There are limitations with such a big rig. It makes driving days extra stressful; we’re avoiding bridges & trees, managing tight turns, and pit stops are sometimes hard to find. It’s a real adventure when Google sends us down dirt roads that aren’t meant for rigs this big.

2.What originally led you to buy the 5th wheel? What do like about it and not like about it.

We wanted to carry Heather’s art and do art shows across the country. With the passage of almost a year, we realize the extra space for a few times a year, isn’t worth it. Also, following the art show circuit means we go back to the same places every year. Plus, art shows are typically centered around cities and larger population areas which is harder to reserve and more expensive. We want to see new things and explore this beautiful country.

The only downside to the 5th wheel is it’s size. It has stood up to a year of full-time use with little breakage or warranty work. It has great storage and is well appointed. What else do we need? Just something smaller is all.

3.What kind of rig are you looking to get and why? What are your must haves in the new rig?

We are looking at either a smaller 5th wheel or a smaller Class A. A 5th wheel would be easy since we already have a truck, but we’re keeping our options open. A Class A might be nicer on move days; we wouldn’t have to move the dogs, water, and snacks to the truck. The big window is appealing because we’d have more scenic views on drive days. We don’t like having a truck as our touring vehicle either. It is not the most efficient for gas mileage and parking can sometimes be a hassle. We’re taking everything into consideration.

As far as must haves, adequate space for Paul to put his pole stand-up desk. A convection micro/oven because I love to bake (this could be added later though). We need to consider storage options as well as tank sizes since we boondocking sometimes. Paul is looking at the electric side of things to move our solar over to a new rig, and we’re discussing gas vs. diesel. Otherwise, we’re really flexible.

4. What advice do you have for people buying an RV for the first time? What about those looking to downsize from one they already have?

Advice? We’re looking at each other with a shrug of the shoulders. It’s the same as buying any large purchase. We research, research, research. Get in RVs. Go to dealers. Look up ads on Craigslist that are nearby. Ask yourself why you like that brand, model, etc. Eliminate what you don’t like and revisit the ones you do like. With full-time RV living your needs might change once you are in one. That’s perfectly ok.

From a family sized 5th wheel to a Timeless van Michael and Crissa Boyink – Ditching Suburbia

I met Mike and Crissa at the RV Entreprenuer Summit. I got to see the inside of their RV and talked with them about their desire to downsize. A few months later they pulled the trigger and I emailed them the following questions.

1.Recently you downsized from a 5th wheel to a van. Overall, what led you to that decision?

Boredom. OK let me explain more. After six and a half years in 5th wheels, we felt like we were in a travel rut just kinda doing the same things. Plus our kids moved out so we didn’t need 34’ feet of space anymore. Finally, we’d been planning to downsize when an expensive truck repair lit the fire under our butts to get after it.

2.What made you purchase the 5th wheel to begin with?

It was the right rig at the time. We had two fifth-wheels during our family travel phase – a 30’ foot then a 34′ foot. Each was a great rig and exactly what we needed space-wise. Then we could all fit in the truck for exploration.

3.What were some of the good things about it? And not so good things?

We loved how easy to hitch and tow the fifth wheel was. And it was very livable. We had room to carry plenty of gear–bikes, inflatable kayaks, snorkeling, etc.

But it was long and tall. While hitched, a travel day was more or less about getting from point A to point B. We had to ignore any cool stops on the way.

4.Why did you choose to go with a travel van instead of something else?

I wanted to:

– Be able to park in a standard parking spot.

– Try being in one thing.

– Be in a rig without fiberglass walls and a rubber roof.

– Be in something that could withstand some less developed roads and campgrounds.

And besides, I just think the older ones are cool.

5. Did you have to make any compromises, if so what were they?

Our move was nothing but compromises. From the clothes we carry to the outdoor gear to the kitchen gear we could fit…it all had to be downsized. But that’s a central theme to RV life anyway so you get used to that.

6.What does the van enable you to do that you couldn’t in your 5th wheel?

Stop anywhere. Go through drive-throughs. Fit in car washes. Camp in rustic campgrounds. Daytrip into cities. Fit in AirBnB driveways.

7.Are you happy with your purchase?

Moreso all the time. We bought an older rig that needed some sweat equity. We’ve been working on it for a couple of months–buffing, painting, new floor, finding ways to organize the space, etc. It’s getting dialed in.

8.What advice would you give others if they decided to downsize?

You have to be very deliberate about figuring out why you are traveling. Do you want to hike? Bike? Kayak? With a smaller rig you have little room for those options, but so much more flexibility in other ways.

There you have it. Bigger isn’t always better.

The bottomline: Think about what you want and need, along with your lifestyle to help make an informed decision about your RV purchase. Also though, avoid analysis paralysis because sometimes you have to live in an RV for a while to figure out what you want and need.

By the way, in case you are thinking “but all these stories are about two people, I could never do that with my huge family,” check out Super and Sunshine, a family of six who live in a groovy shuttle bus.

Do you have an RV? Or are you searching for your perfect RV? Leave a comment about your ideal RV.

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What Size RV Should I Buy - Bigger isn't always better