So the time has come for you to retire. You have always wanted to live in an RV, and go out on the open road to have one adventure after another, to see all there is to see in an area, then roll onto the next place when you are tired of the current one. Well, in order to make this lifestyle a success, you need the right RV for your lifestyle. Hopefully, this article will help you in choosing the right RV for retirement.
RV living isn’t for everyone. I know this firsthand. I lived for five months in a 40-foot 5th wheel camper, in a very cold climate (-45 degree F wind chill). I did pretty well considering.
That being said, it’s a good idea to have a trial run at living in an RV before you actually buy a rig. Rent one and spend some time in it, before you make your decision. RVs come in scores of varieties, from scale of lifestyle to layout, to towing or driving configurations. Here’s what you should think about:
How Big? (or How Small?)
Have you driven a 40 foot motor home? It’s not like a car. Have you towed a 40 foot trailer? It takes skill and practice. Going down the open road is one thing, but pulling into and out of parking spaces can be tricky. I was taught to look for “pull through” places where I didn’t have to back up. I was also taught to find the big empty parking lot, so there’s room to turn around if need be. You must pay attention to bridge heights on underpasses, and bridge weights on overpasses, particularly if you are out on rural roads. Passing cars isn’t advised, but if you must, you need to consider passing room and limited speeds. Rent an RV and get lots of driving practice.
This is a concern my husband and I have really taken to heart. What if there is a medical emergency and I need to drive the RV to the nearest hospital? What if my husband gets called away, and I have to drive across the country to be with him or reach the kids? What if I have to drive him to the airport in the RV? And chances are, if we are in an emergency situation, it wouldn’t be when our RV is nicely parked somewhere. I might have to get it off the road. Our RV is going to have to be something I can handle driving, under any circumstances. When we get our next RV, I will be doing a lot of the driving, just so I can get some practice in.
What Configuration Do You Want?
RVs are available in all shapes and sizes. Some are made to pull a trailer behind, while others aren’t. Some can sleep up to 12 people and others are lucky to fit 2 people. Some have full kitchens or full bathrooms, and some have neither. It all depends on what you want and what you feel comfortable with. Here are your considerations:
Class A Motor Home: These are the bus-like RVs and can range in size from 21 feet up to 45 feet. They can tow a small car, boat, or an ATV/snowmobile trailer. They include bedrooms, full kitchens, and 4-piece baths, depending on what size you get. Think about the “buses” that country music singers ride from concert to concert. That’s what these are.
Class B Motor Home: A Class B Motorhome is like a passenger van that has been converted into a full time living space. There is usually a kitchenette, a sleeping area, and oftentimes a small toilet or bathroom. These can also tow small trailers or vehicles. You see a lot of Mercedes Sprinter Vans that are Class B Motor Home conversions.
Class C Motor Home: These campers have a truck or a van cab, with a convertible bed over that cab. They are sometimes called mini-motor homes, and are a more compact version of the larger, bus-style models like the Class A, ranging from 21 feet to 41 feet. These recreational vehicles are built on a van frame, or truck chassis, with an attached cab section. They can also tow small vehicles or trailers.
Slide in Pickup Campers (Overhead Campers): These range in size from just a pickup topper to a floor length of just over 11 feet. Some of these campers are of a pop-up variety, where you can lower the roof to just above cab height while driving, or you can pop up the roof to standing height when you’ve stopped for the night. You need at least a 3/4 Ton pickup for a medium-sized camper, and perhaps even a 1 ton dulee for the larger ones. My husband and I had a 9 foot overhead on our 3/4 ton extra cab pickup, which I could drive easily. These campers are a little more cramped for room than the trailers and motor homes, but the advantage is, you can use the pickup as a daily driver when you’re not using the camper. You can tow just about anything your pickup is rated for with these campers, and you have the advantage of four wheel drive, which is rare in motor homes.
Bumper Pull Trailers: Travel trailers can be up to 40 foot long and can be configured in countless different variations. They are hitched to the tow vehicle with a “bumper pull” hitch, which can be installed on the bumper or the frame of the tow vehicle. (Check with your vehicle owners manual to decide how much weight your car/truck can pull, and what type of hitch you will need. Your hitch on your tow vehicle should be installed by a professional, to factory specifications.) Bumper Pull Trailers include tent campers, teardrop campers, toy box campers, and travel trailers. Each type can have anywhere from one tiny bed, to sleeping 12 adults, and can be fitted with any configuration of kitchen and bathroom. It is not recommended, and against the law in some states to pull another trailer behind a bumper pull trailer.
Above, are a travel trailer, a tent camper set up for sleeping, and a tent trailer ready for hauling.
Above, a teardrop camper is pictured.
Above, see a toy box camper being folded up, and a toy box camper with front and back beds extended.
5th Wheel Trailers and Goose Necks: These are longer trailers that must be pulled by a pickup. The special hitches for these trailers are mounted in the pickup bed. These can be longer because the turning radius is shorter due to the pivot point being in the middle of the tow vehicle, rather than out on the end. They can also be heavier too, because the weight is mostly on the truck frame, rather than on the bumper. Check with your state laws on what can be towed behind a 5th Wheel or a Goose Neck (usually considers overall length including the tow vehicle).
Above, see a 5th wheel camper and a 5th wheel hitch, mounted in a pickup bed.
Above, see a Goose Neck trailer (typically horse trailers or horse/camper combos) and a goose neck hitch.
Toy haulers: Many of these RV configurations can be of the toy hauler variety. The “toys” you would haul would be ATVs, snowmobiles, jet skis, dirt bikes, and side-by-sides. A toy hauler can be a bumper pull or 5th wheel style, and can be configured to load front or back. There are some toy hauler motor homes as well. We liked the rear loading trailer that had the “garage” walled off from the sleeping area, which is unusual. Mostly the area where your toys are parked becomes the sleeping area with fold down beds.
Above, see a bumper pull rear loading toy hauler, and a bumper pull front loading toy hauler.
Slide outs: All of these campers can be configured with slide outs (although it’s rare in class B motor homes.) A slide out is a portion of the camper that can be expanded out when the camper is parked, providing more interior space. Most are motor operated, and can be slid out or back in at the flip of a switch. Campers can have one to three slide outs, depending on the size and layout. Typical slide outs include the living/dining area, or the master bedroom, but I have seen models where the kitchen slides out. Slide outs give you more room when you are parked, but can be cramped when in traveling mode.
Towing an extra vehicle: RV people call this a “toad.” It’s also called a “dingy.” Bear in mind that you will likely want to drive around to see sites and run errands when you have found your camping spot in an RV park or camping area. Sometimes in first-come-first-serve areas, and even in some reserved spot areas, you could lose your space if you have to drive your motor home or truck camper out of the space to site-see or go shopping. Or if you are of the Work Camping crowd, you will need daily transportation to your job. It is a great idea to tow a small vehicle behind those motor homes. Check with your manufacturer or your RV dealer to determine what your camper can pull, and how the vehicle must be configured.
Set up and tear down: Some campers require a lot of work to “set up camp.” Older tent campers require you to build a tent structure, then tear it down every time you move the camper. Click here to see a video on how to set up and tear down a tent camper. At the very least, setting up will require connecting your sewer hose, plugging in your electrical, connecting the water spigot, and leveling your camper. Some big fancy RVs have self leveling systems, but others must be leveled by hand. Then there’s the setting up of beds. Some campers have dinette sets that convert to beds. In order to sleep, you may need to convert the bed before you crawl in. My husband was always adamant that our bed be set up when we stop, in case of getting into our spot late at night. So we have always had a camper with a permanent bed that doesn’t convert to anything else. You need to assess how much work you want to do while you’re camping. We have determined not to get a tent camper because we don’t want to have major set up and tear down all the time.
Every single one of these camper configurations depends on what you want to do with your RV. If you are unsure about what configuration you want, list all of your needs, and take the list to your RV dealer. They will be able to tell you what is the best configuration to fit your needs, and will help you with the pros and cons of each type.
What Is Your Lifestyle?
What can you live with, and what can you live without? You will have to reduce that amount of stuff you carry around, because there just isn’t room for it. RVs have limited space. Walk-in closets are rare. Bathtubs are small. Many come without a real oven for baking. Separate bedrooms or separate beds might be out of the question. Having a bathroom or not might be something you have to consider.
RVs are available from total rustic living to sitting in the lap of luxury. You can get your tiny teardrop bumper trailer you can pull with your every day SUV, which will have no bathroom, an outdoor kitchen, and only one double bed inside. You can get your 44 foot Class A motor home, complete with full bath, two bedrooms, full gourmet kitchen with granite, air conditioning, fireplace, big screen satellite TV, and WiFi. Or you can get any variation, with hundreds of options to choose from. It all depends on what you can live with and how much money you are wiling to spend.
Time on the Road
How much time do you want to spend traveling in your RV? Do you want to just do a few vacations, or do you want to go completely on the road without any home base? Do you want to spend winter in the south or summer in the north? Do you want to split your time between your grandchildren’s homes? This also will be a determining factor in what kind, what size, and what you are willing to pay for your camper.
New or Used?
There are hundreds of used RVs available for sale. It’s about like buying a used car. If you just can’t bear the thought of sleeping in someone else’s bed, using someone else’s bathroom, or cooking in someone else’s kitchen, then you must be willing to spend the money for a brand new unit. But if you can live in a used camper, that is the best way to save a lot of money. Like new cars, new RVs lose a lot of their value once you drive them off the lot. Think about buying a used RV. You can get a new mattress, and scrub everything with bleach, and your RV will be like new.
Where Are You Going?
Are you going into bear country? Then you shouldn’t take a tent camper. You will want hard sides to keep the bears from ripping into your home on wheels. Are you going to the upper North West? There are a lot of ferry crossings, that may not take the big campers. Check your route and make sure your vehicle can cross on a ferry. It is often recommended that a cab height vehicle be taken on trips with a lot of ferry crossings, so here would be a good place to take your pop-up slide in pick up camper. Are you going South? Air Conditioning is a must. Are you going to a cold climate? You will want a 4-season camper that has electrical heat tape on all your water and waste water tanks and piping, so you don’t freeze up. Are you going to the mountains? Can your tow vehicle handle the steep inclines and the curves you see on mountain roads? Will you be driving in the snow? Better get some tire chains.
How Can I Afford The RV I Want?
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It’s Complicated, But Simple When You’re Prepared.
As you can see, choosing an RV is not an easy process. However, if you are prepared and do your research, it will make selecting the very best RV for your lifestyle and your wallet. Check with people you know, and check your RV dealer. Have a list of questions ready. Rent an RV, and go on a couple over-the-road trips, to see if you like the lifestyle. And if you make a choice that doesn’t work out after a while, then don’t be afraid to trade your RV in, and get a different one. The point is here, to make a decision that will give you the most enjoyment and practicality for your budget. So, go make your list, and get excited about the RV lifestyle!
Check out your options, and if you have comments or questions, please put them below. Thanks for reading!
You’ve thought of everything! I daydream about owning an RV someday. I’d love to spend a few months traveling to different national parks – and would like to eventually see all of them.
Question for you…have you heard about “schoolies”? They are converted school buses that people use for travel and I even know a family who lives and travels in theirs full-time! They have two young kids! I couldn’t do it, but I find it fascinating and would love to learn more.
Hi Katie! Thanks for checking out my article! And I’m with you. I want to see all the national parks, monuments, and battlefields. I’m a crazy history buff and taking an RV to all those spots is right up my alley.
And yes, I’ve heard of skoolies! My husband looked into the skoolie movement for a while. I talked him out of it because we need something that is turn key and move-in-ready, so I didn’t think a skoolie would suit our needs. However, it’s a great way to get a great RV for little cost. School districts across the country had had to replace their school bus fleets to meet emission standards, many switching from diesel to natural gas. That has left thousands of like-new diesel school buses to be sold cheap, between $2K and $5K at auction. Popular Mechanics has a great article on skoolies that you should check out. They are really cool, and if you have the time and want to put in the work, it’s a great way to get a really nice RV for not much money!
And yes, RV living isn’t only for seniors. All kinds of families do the RV lifestyle. Not sure I could have done it when my kids were little either, but hey, it works for lots of people.
Thanks again, Katie for reading my post. I’m always excited to hear from a like-minded person who gets excited about the same things that I do! Rhonda
Hello Rhonda, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. My dad need to retire next month and this is the life he wants to live from now on. I am glad you explained everything so well about choosing the RV because it is not that easy at all. I will definitely recommend this text to my dad, he will find it helpful.
Hello and thanks for visiting my website! You are right, looking for the right RV for retirement is not easy at all. So I hope I’ve put together enough info to get people started in the right direction. Thanks for sharing this with your dad, and I hope my research helps him. Thanks again for reading and commenting! Rhonda
hello, it is a great and nice feeling to know that someone will create a great website like this and also create a write up on an article like this. sometimes it is really necessary to get on the road and see new places after retirement and now you have made it easy to choose the right RV. thank you very much
Hi Benny, thank you so much for reading and commenting on my article. I am really glad you felt that the information is useful to you. Best wishes to you as you plan your retirement! Rhonda