What Is A Small RV?
There is no finite definition of what constitutes a “small RV”. In most circles, it is considered anything under about 25 feet in length. That includes trailers, and Class B and Class C motorhomes. There are “small” Class A’s and fifth-wheel trailers, but those start at just over 25’ and go up to around 35’. All of which are relatively large compared to the classic concept of a small RV.
Small RVs make up one of the largest segments of the RV market for several reasons. First, they are easier to use than large RVs. The set-up, operation, and breakdown of a small RV are usually not that much different than their larger counterparts. Their smaller size makes them easier and cheaper to move around and moving around is a major point of buying an RV.
Smaller trailers require smaller and cheaper tow vehicles. Smaller tow vehicles and motorhomes burn less gas, making them cheaper per mile to travel. And finally, smaller RVs can be parked more easily and in more locations.
For example, 93% of US National Park RV parks can accommodate RVs up to 25 feet long. That number drops to 84% at 29 feet, 73% at 35 feet, and less than 50% over 40 feet. If visiting national parks and staying within the park is a major bucket list item for you then a smaller RV will be your best choice.
Class B, Class C, Or Small Trailer
When it comes to the best options in small RVs you’ll be mainly looking at travel trailers or Class B and Class C motorhomes. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
- Travel Trailers. Travel trailers are a good option for full-time living no matter what size you choose. They offer a few significant advantages over Class B and Class C motorhomes. First, they are relatively inexpensive with models available for about $10,000. Models that would work well for full-time use will probably run you at least $30,000 new. This does not include the cost of a tow vehicle, but if you already have a ½ ton pickup or larger, or a full-size SUV then you probably already have a vehicle capable of towing most small travel trailers just fine. The next advantage is useable space. A 20-foot travel trailer has 20 feet of living space. Some of the length in a Class B and Class C is taken up by driving space which limits the overall living space in the RV. Last, but not least, travel trailers can stay behind in the campground while you explore the surroundings from your tow vehicle. With Class B and Class C’s you either have to explore in the RV, or tow a second car behind it. There are some places you simply can’t go with an RV. Locations with vehicle size or height limits, many food drive-throughs, tight grocery store parking lots, etc. Being able to leave the RV behind while you do your day-to-day errands and explore is a huge thing.
Travel trailers do have some downsides. If you don’t have a tow vehicle, that can add a lot to the initial cost of getting ready to travel. Travel trailers are prone to trailer sway, making traveling with them potentially dangerous. Most travel trailers are made specifically for lightweight and intermittent use. This means the build materials may not stand up to well for full-time use. If you plan to full time in a travel trailer look at models branded “ultra-light”, “featherlight” or any other kind of “light” carefully before buying as these are most likely to be built with the flimsiest materials. These may allow you to tow with a smaller vehicle, but they may also wear out long before your full-time adventures have concluded.
- Class B Motorhomes. Class B motorhomes are RVs built on a van chassis. The most common formats are the Mercedes Sprinter, Ram Promaster, and Ford Transit. As conversion vans, they have several advantages and disadvantages over other styles of RVs. The main property of these units is size, which can be either an advantage or disadvantage. Being van-based, they are limited to the footprint offered by the van platform. On the plus side, that means they are smaller and can go just about anywhere a standard van can go. On the downside, with the limited space there will be interior feature compromises that you’ll have to live with. A dry bathroom with a standup shower can be hard to come by. A separate bedroom for the kids? Not likely. A full kitchen with stove, cooktop, microwave, and decent-sized refrigerator? Probably not. That doesn’t mean you can’t live in one, it just means you’ll have to adjust how you live to get the most out of it.
- Class C Motorhomes. Class C motorhomes run on a truck-based chassis and are typically larger than a Class B. You can almost think of them as a large truck with a travel trailer mounted on the frame instead of a box or bed. As such, they have the space benefits of a travel trailer and the motorized travel benefits of class B. While their larger size is a benefit, it is also their major detractor. Very few class C’s will fit up the Going to the Sun Road, or through the Acadia Loop. Without an extra car in tow, a class C can be a burden for everyday errands and exploration.
The Best Small RVs For Purchase
Pleasure-way Plateau (TS Or FL)
The Pleasure-way Plateau is a class B motorhome based on the venerable Mercedes Sprinter platform. it measures 22’ 9” in total length and is powered by a 3.0 L V6 diesel engine. MSRP prices start at around $172,000 US which gets you an exceptionally reliable and very well-built Class Brig. The interior includes a wet bath, kitchen, and convertible living/sleeping area.
Leisure Travel Vans Unity
The Leisure Travel Vans Unity is a sleek luxury Class C motorhome. It clocks in at 25’ 1” in length and is powered by a reliable 3.0 L V6 Mercedes Turbodiesel engine. Prices start at around $164,920 US for a base Unity model and go up from there based on options.
There are several floor plans offered to meet your specific needs with each including a dry bath or a separated bathroom and shower layout. There are also 2 models with a driver’s side slide out for increased interior space while in camp.
Tiffin Wayfarer 25
Tiffin is a premier manufacturer of quality motorhomes and the Wayfarer 25 Class C motorhome is no exception. This unit measures 25’ 8” and is powered by a 3.0 L V6 Mercedes Turbodiesel engine. There are several floorplans available all featuring a driver’s side slid out, a dry bath, or a separate bathroom and shower combinations.
There are several sleeping arrangements available including having the master bed installed in the slide-out. Like all Tiffin models, there is a broad range of options including several high-end paints and exterior detail options that allow you to make your Wayfarer 25 as unique as you are. Prices start at around $172,000 US.
Air Stream Interstate
Air Stream is probably best known for their high-quality silver travel trailers, but they also produce an equally impressive line of Class B motorhomes. The Interstate series is their base to mid-range offering with two available lengths. Interstate 19 starts at $191.125. It measures 19′ 5″ in length and is based on the Mercedes Sprinter platform powered by the Mercedes-Benz 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel.
The Interstate 19 is designed to provide everything you need in a small, compact, and nimble package. It includes a wet bath, a small kitchen area, and a rear sleeping/living area. The Interstate 24 is a longer version of the Interstate 19, measuring 24′ 6″ overall length.
Prices start at $222,572. The larger design provides for additional seating options and/or larger counter space in the kitchen area. All models retain the wet bath and sleeping area for 2.
Winnebago View 24D
Winnebago is another popular name in the motorhome field. The View 24D is a class C motorhome based on the Mercedes Sprinter truck chassis. Like the others listed here is powered by the Mercedes-Benz 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel and it measures 25’ 6” in length. Prices start at $192.152 which buys you a quality class C motorhome that sleeps 4 and features a driver’s side slide-out bedroom/living area and a dry bathroom in the rear.
What To Consider When Choosing A Small RV For Full-Time Living
There are several key things to consider when choosing a small RV for full-time living.
- Quality of the build. Most RVs are not designed for full-time living. In most cases, you will void the manufacturer’s warranty if you do live in it full time. This is because the materials they use to build them simply aren’t up to the task of dealing with the abuses of everyday life. When shopping it will be important to look at the quality of materials used in the RV you are considering. Marine-grade solid wood floor structure, 4-season insulation, thicker wall studs, heavier doors, etc are all things to look for.
- Storage Space. To live anywhere full-time, you will need places to store stuff like clothing, toiletries, food, tools, and all the other things to make your life livable. Look for an RV that will have enough storage space for the things you will need.
- Space where Space matters. When you’re downsizing from a house, condo or apartment, the RV will be very small in comparison. That means you’ll have to make some compromises and choose which spaces are most important to you. After living 2 years in an RV with 4 kids, I would say the bedrooms were the most important spaces. You spend 8 – 12 hours a day in there and you’ll want that to be the most comfortable it can be. Next is the bathroom, a dry bath with a standup shower is important since it provides as close to a “normal” bathroom experience as you can have. For us, most of the day was spent outside. Only during very bad weather did we spend much time in the living room area so that area is not terribly important. The kitchen can be important, but only in the sense that there needs to be enough space to work and store the kitchen tools, you’ll need to prepare meals.
In addition to these items, you may want to consider looking over our article on comparing Class B and Class C motorhomes for full-time living.
The Downsides And Positives Of Smaller RVs
There are many upsides and downsides to smaller RVs. On the upside, they are easier and usually less expensive to drive or tow than larger RVs. It’s easier to find camping spaces large enough to accommodate them. They are also easier to clean and maintain.
On the downside, they usually force you to make more compromises in how you live. Smaller bathrooms, fewer bedrooms, smaller kitchens, and less storage space are all things you’ll have to contend with.
The Most Asked Questions About Small RVs
Some of the most common questions related to small RVs are:
- Does it have a bathroom or a shower? This is an important question to ask and in many cases, the answer is no, there isn’t one. Other common questions along those lines are how big is the bedroom or how big is the kitchen?
- Are they cheaper than larger RVs? Surprisingly, generally not. While the size of RVs within a specific manufacturer’s product line may affect the cost, with smaller being cheaper, there are a lot more factors that go into RV pricing than just size. There are Class A motorhomes that are less expensive than a significantly smaller class B. However, smaller RVs will have an overall lower cost of ownership over the long term when compared to a similarly priced large RV.
- What kind of fuel mileage does it get? For the motorhomes mentioned here using the Mercedes 3.0 L V6 Turbodiesel, most of the manufacturers claim an average of around 18 mpg. That’s excellent compared to a large class A diesel pusher which will typically be less than 10 mpg. My V10 gas Excursion pulling our 9,600 lb 37 ft travel trailer averages just under 8 mpg.
Can You Have An RV That Is Too Small To Live Full-Time In?
You can live in an RV full time as long as you are willing to make the compromises necessary to make it work. For example, you could live full-time in one of those tiny teardrop trailers. These only provide a bed and a very basic kitchen so you’ll have to stay in a place that provides your other services like a bathroom and shower.
If you don’t mind using those facilities then you’re all set. Every RV will force you to make adjustments to how you live. The key is to find the one that provides everything you need to have in the RV.
What Size Of Family Can Comfortably Live In A Small RV?
The simple answer to this question is that you need a bed or place to sleep for each person. The most important function of the RV as a place to live is that it provides a safe and comfortable place to sleep. A family of 5 will have a hard time living comfortably anywhere, let alone in an RV, if there is only one small bed available.
If you have younger kids you can probably get by with a shared sleeping area provided each person has their own sleeping space. If you have older kids you’ll probably want separate sleeping areas which can be hard to come by in small RVs.
How Difficult Is It To Drive A Small RV?
Any RV will be at least slightly more difficult to drive than a small passenger car. However, they are easier to drive than large RVs. The type of RV, its length, and height all play roles in how hard they are to drive. Trailers can produce sway in crosswinds and they tend to pull you toward passing trucks on the highway.
Class B and C motorhomes won’t sway like a trailer, but they can still be pushed around by strong crosswinds. The larger the RV, the more crosswinds will affect them. Also, longer RVs have wider turning radii which makes navigating tighter spaces like parking lots more challenging. You also have to be mindful of the height of your rig, there are many low bridges, tunnels, and overpasses that RVs will not fit under.
Where Can You Stay Long-Term In Your Small RV?
The size of your RV only limits your options for long-term stays at a limited number of places. Most places that offer long-term stays do have a series of conditions you’ll have to meet in order to stay. The most common RV-related issue is a stipulation that the RV be no more than 10 years old and/or in excellent condition as determined by the facility.
In a very limited number of cases, the length of the RV can be an issue. There are some high-end resort-style parks that want to maintain a certain environment for their visitors. These will have stipulations for very high-end rigs such as Class A’s, 5 years or less, and over 35 feet only. There are very few of these types of parks out there so it doesn’t really limit your overall ability to stay long term in the area of your choice.
Is It Better To Rent Before Buying A Small RV To Live In?
Renting a small RV before buying one to live in is a great way to test the waters without making a significant financial investment. If possible, try to rent the specific model you are considering. If you’re torn between a couple of different options then take a couple of weekends and try to rent those options separately.
If you can’t find your specific model to rent then choose something of a similar class, size, and with similar features – perhaps from the same manufacturer. Don’t expect a rental to answer all of your questions, instead try to use the limited time you have to hash out the major issues like “will this work for me”?