By Chuck Woodbury
For many RVers, the first big decision is whether to buy a motorized or non-motorized rig. The two most popular types are the travel trailer and the motorhome, with variations including the folding camping trailer (also called pop-up or tent trailer), truck camper and fifth wheeler.
There are many considerations to make when deciding which is best, but they boil down to two things: budget and how the RV will be used.
Beginning RVers, especially those on a budget, will often opt for a travel trailer, sometimes even a folding camping trailer, or pop-up. These come in many sizes, from very short and light pop-ups that can be pulled by just about any car, to longer and heavier travel trailers that require a more powerful tow vehicle.
Another version of the travel trailer is the fifth wheel trailer, which must be pulled by pickup truck. A 5th wheel trailer is the most popular towable among full-timers, who appreciate the extra room it affords over a travel trailer.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to any towable, whether a trailer, tent trailer or fifth wheeler, is that when you arrive at your destination you can unhook the tow vehicle from the trailer and use it to run errands or explore the local area. This is a huge advantage over a motorhome, where your home is also your motor vehicle, and once camped, it’s a chore to move again.
And foot-for-foot, a trailer or fifth wheel trailer is less expensive than a motorhome. This makes perfect sense because the towable has no engine — an expensive component of any motorized RV.
A motorized RV has advantages, too. For one, everything is in one unit — your home and your motor vehicle. Driving down the highway, it’s easy for passengers to walk back into the rig to grab something to eat, watch a video, or simply sit at the dinette and play cards. RVers with children find this especially nice, as it’s easier to keep the kids entertained on long trips (remember to be sure everyone is wearing a seat belt!)
Once at the campground, the motorhome can transform from vehicle to “home” in a matter of a few minutes. Just level it up, plug into the hookups (where available) and that’s it.
The disadvantage to the motorhome, besides being far more expensive than a towable, is that once you are parked for the night, you have no vehicle to drive to the general store to grab a quart of milk or to explore local attractions. For RVers who move around a lot, staying in one location only a day or two at a time, a motorhome makes perfect sense. But for those who spend weeks or longer in one place, a trailer with its detachable tow vehicle may be better. This is why many full-timers who stay months in one place, opt for a towable.
Some motorhome owners tow a small car behind, and use this for local exploring. This works fine, but can be costly, as there are two motorized vehicles to maintain instead of one. Options to pulling a car are to bring a long a lightweight motorcycle (or electric bicycle) or a bicycle. A two-wheeler can transport you to destinations too far away to reach on foot, and the cost is minimial beyond the initial investment.
Another option for motorhomers is to rent a car when staying in one place for an extended period. Rental cars are inexpensive and for motorhomers who usually move around a lot, but on occasion park for longer, the cost of a short-term car rental now and then is far less than towing a car behind all the time just to use every so often.
One final option is a truck camper. These units fit on the bed of a pickup truck. The larger ones are sometimes equipped with a slideout and can be roomy and packed with amenities. For RVers who already own a pickup truck, a truck camper is an inexpensive way to get into RVing. Most of the camper units can be easily detached from the truck at the campground, leaving the camper to be used as “house” and the truck as the motor vehicle.