Which Is Better To Drive?
Motorhome VS Travel Trailer
So… I’m guessing you’re going On The Road or planning to, or maybe you’re having That Dream again… that “The Road Calls, and I Must Answer” sort of thing. Congratulations! You’re not alone. Lots of us are doing the same, and we all need to start somewhere, right?
I’ve had that dream most of my life, and when my regular gig got downsized out of existence a couple of years ago I thought “Why not?” and got serious about it. I started researching, and right out of the box I was ambushed by a whole bunch of questions.
The first, and maybe most important batch: “What do I go On The Road IN? Do I want a motorhome or a trailer? How big a motor home? What kind of trailer?” The options, oh, wow… so many options.… How do I get a handle on this?”
After reading books, magazines, and websites, talking to people in the field, and chatting up complete strangers at parks and campgrounds, I discovered that, unfortunately, there ISN’T an easy answer to that. The Best RV To Drive Depends On Several Other Things.
There are multiple levels of motorhomes (classed as A, B, or C) and different flavors of trailers (fifth wheels, bumper/frame/ball hitches, and variants of those), each of which may require a different type of tow vehicle.
Which you want will depend on who you are, where you’re going, and what you’re looking for from your RV travel experiences. Fortunately, there’s a lot of information available, and RV people tend to be extremely helpful and tolerant folk, for the most part.
Consider your personal preferences and plans; let those guide your buying choices. We’re talking several thousand dollars here, so it’s important to get it right. In the next part of this I’ll share what I’ve learned about factors that can make a big difference in your Road Experience.
Basically, there are two sets of issues: You, and your RV. We’re going to look at the first of those now; there are other pages on the site which go into the details of the various types of RVs, their advantages and disadvantages. (Links at the bottom.
So let’s get right into it.
Who are you?
Are you in your early 20s, just starting out? A Digital Nomad, perhaps? Or a parent wanting the kids to See the World? Or getting on up there and wanting to go do the things you never thought you’d do? What’s your budget? How do you like to travel? Do you like your Creature Comforts, or is Adventure in the offing? Do you have a vehicle you particularly like and want to take with you, or a style of camping that appeals?
All of these things will affect your buying decision. Motorhomes tend to be more expensive to buy and run, but offer more storage, living, and sleeping space for longer expeditions, larger groups, or travelers with a fondness for gear-heavy hobbies, and significantly more convenience.
On the other hand, if you already own a suitable and suitably equipped truck, van, or SUV, choosing a trailer can cut your initial investment significantly. Trailers are generally smaller and somewhat easier to move, and will offer more flexibility in route planning. Plus, of course, when you get where you’re going you can park your home and unhitch, giving you the ability to explore the local area without the hassles of taking your home with you. However, be aware that backing a small trailer may take more practice than you expect. Adjusting to that hinge between the tow vehicle and the trailer can be tricky.
Who’s going with you?
If you’re traveling alone, you may need far less space than if you’re taking the spouse, 2.3 kids, and the menagerie. Be sure to check the specifications on your proposed RV and make sure it has enough room for your traveling companions. (Of course if you’re only expecting to take the kids along occasionally, you might consider going smaller on the RV and taking a tent for them. You’ll get more privacy; they’ll get more Adventure, and you’ll ALL get better gas mileage.)
If you’re taking business associates, or planning to take your RV to avoid paying hotel/motel bills at business conferences, you’ll want enough space. You can ‘entertain’ in a larger RV, but a small popup or vintage trailer might not project the professional image you want your associates or clients to take away.
Where are you going?
If you’ve staying close to major roads, you can take a larger vehicle, a class A motorhome or a larger fifth-wheel trailer, whereas if you’re like me, a devotee of places not on the maps, you’ll want something that’s shorter and more maneuverable, possibly with higher ground clearance or a lower profile.
Friends who have large Class As have shared horror stories about campsite that featured low-hanging branches or extremely tight spaces with no margin for error, and social media RV groups are full of “Oops!” photos.
How Long Will You Be Gone?
Things which are romantic or Adventurous for a night or two can become a pebble in the shoe after a week and annoying over a period of months, so amenities can matter. The first week-long RV trip I ever took was in a borrowed popup trailer, which had a porta-potty toilet and an inflatable kiddie pool for bathing. That would have been fine for me, but the first was “barbaric,” according to the lady I was traveling with, and the second… well, hiking a hundred yards through the snow to stand in line outside an unheated CCC bathhouse got old for BOTH of us in a serious hurry.
So these are just some things to keep in mind. The main point to this is that some of the homework you’ll want to do is inside your head, and will involve being honest with yourself about what you need, want, and will or will not put up with. If your definition of “roughing it” is anyplace where there’s no 3 am room service, boondocking in a small popup or a class B camper-van is a disaster begging to be allowed to happen. If spending a buck a mile for fuel makes your teeth clench, stay away from the big luxury pushes or mobile mansion 5th-wheels.
And if you’re looking to get into RVing, presumably you already do at least some road-tripping. If you see a rig that appeals, don’t feel shy about approaching the proprietor. Most RV folks understand that “lost novice” feeling, and LOVE to talk about their machines. Don’t ask if you’re in a hurry, though…
I’ve thrown a bunch of jargon at you up there, so let’s have a very quick word about toys…
Motorhomes are self-propelled RVs. They come in 3 basic flavors, generally referred to as classes A, B, and C. Surprisingly, the classification doesn’t relate to size, or amenities, or anything else. We have several other pages on the site discussing these classes and why you might want one or another in much more detail, and this is getting too long already, so I’m going to be VERY brief. Look for the links to the other pages.
Class A motorhomes
are the big jewels, the queens of the road. They’re generally built on a bus or custom frame. They’re frequently diesel-powered, and some have the power train in the rear (These are referred to as “pushers.”).
Class B motorhomes
are basically converted vans. These were very big back in the 1970s and 1980s but are less so now.
Class C motorhomes
are the Goldilocks of the industry – nether too big nor too small. They’re usually built around a mid-sized truck chassis, frequently retaining the power train and cab and replacing the bed with a camper body. These are generally the most popular motorhomes because of their balance between size and cost.
There are two major types of trailers.
The 5th wheels
or “5ers,” are larger and more luxurious trailers. They are hitched to a special device mounted over the rear axle of a pickup or flatbed truck. This setup gives good weight distribution and handling in the tow vehicle and increases tow and weight capacity. They also require heavier tow vehicles and more space to park or camp, but are better suited to larger groups or longer stays.
The Travel Trailer
, or “TT,” is smaller, lighter, and hooks to the traditional “trailer hitch” which is generally connected to the frame or bumper of a truck or SUV. “Travel Trailers” are generally the broadest category of RV, including hard-sided trailers ranging from about ten to about thirty feet long and weighing from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds, as well as popups (collapsible trailers which feature cloth or fold-down plastic sides) and teardrops (small low-profile trailers with room for a bed, an outdoor kitchen, and not much else).
Travel trailers are usually used for solo or small groups trips and shorter stays, though if you’re a back-country explorer or a solo traveler like me, a small trailer to pull behind your SUV can be just the ticket for excursions of longer duration than you might want to tackle with a tent and gas lantern.
I should also note that if you’re intrigued by history or the idea of the Great American Road Trip, there’s also a thriving RV subculture, known as “glamping” (‘glamour camping’), built around original or restored vintage (1940s to 1970s) trailers with equally vintage tow vehicles. Most glampers are in the sub-20 foot category and are frequently used for travel to and from shows and “rallies,” which can be a lot of fun. Fair warning, though: if you opt for a glamper or vintage setup, be prepared to have curious strangers knocking on your door anytime you’re set up in a public camping space.
So, to recap, there’s not a single best option for everyone; what you want to drive depends on who you are and what your specific needs and preferences may be. Do your homework: consider the questions above and talk to other RVers, and your answers will become clear. Too, there aren’t really any “wrong” answers. I’ve known people that are on their third or fourth machines, and they’ve loved them all.
When you’re On The Road, you learn to be flexible.
Let me know if this information was helpful in helping you decide what to get below?