So you’ve decided to become a nomad, and that taking your house with you is your ideal form of travel. Great!
But now comes a potentially overwhelming decision – what kind of recreational vehicle will you choose to make into your full time home on wheels? We’re often asked this question, and there is no one right answer.
There are many resources out there which give a basic overview of the types of recreational vehicles available, and some of the tradeoffs associated with each. To get familiar with terms like “Class A” or “Travel Trailer”, check out these links:
Now that you know what’s available, here are some key consideration for choosing your ideal home on wheels.
Towable vs Driveable
The biggest decision you will make is likely be the choice between a towable trailer or an integrated driveable motorhome style RV. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.
In most states, it is illegal to cary passengers in a trailer. With a driveable unit on the other hand, your passengers can utilize the amenities while in transit. The bathroom and fridge are always available, even at 70mph.
Some people like the extra security that comes from not ever needing to step outside of their vehicle, even when stopped. When you pull in somewhere for the night, you can literally crawl straight back into bed from your driver’s seat.
The downside of a motor home is that you give up on the flexibility of leaving your home behind. Many driveable units are large and have terrible fuel economy, making them exceedingly awkward for in-town errands if you find yourself staying in one location for a while. You also need to secure all your belongings for motion if you need to go into town for a grocery run.
To gain back some flexibility, many full-time RV’ers also have a smaller car/SUV that they tow behind their RV – called a toad – so that they can get around once they’re ‘there’. This works, but your combined vehicle is now even larger, more expensive, harder to maneuver, and much harder to park. Foldable bikes or motor-scooters are a potential middle ground.
One other downside of a motorhome – if your rig ever has mechanical problems and needs to be in the shop, your entire house is also in the shop for the duration!
With a towable travel trailer on the other hand, you will need a tow vehicle that is hefty enough to pull your rig fully loaded. You will also need to be comfortable driving while towing – including backing up, breaking and keeping sway to a minimum. The advantages of a towable is that when you arrive someplace you just unhitch your rig and now your tow vehicle becomes your get around vehicle.
However, if you choose a trailer that is large and heavy, your tow vehicle may need to be quite large to handle the load. If your get-around vehicle is a huge truck, you will suffer from poor fuel economy all the time.
We chose a small trailer that could be towed by a relatively small SUV. Our tiny diesel Jeep Liberty gets close to 20MPG while towing, and over 25MPG when we are unhitched and roaming around town. This has proven to be a great balance for us.
One final thing – depending on how you’re set up, you may also find that skillful towing gives you more flexibility in maneuvering around tight corners or getting into tricky spots than a larger monolithic motorhome would be capable of.
With both options, you’ll also need to consider the fuel type – diesel or gas.
RVs can range in cost from a few hundred dollars for an older model that might need work to become functional, up into the millions for a brand new converted tour bus style set up. The type of home you choose will likely be narrowed down significantly by your budget. To further make nomadism sustainable in the long run, we recommend considering what you can purchase in cash – as opposed to financing. The less debt you have, the more freedom you have.
Also consider the longer term costs – such as fuel economy versus how much driving you actually anticipate doing. Also, consider what type of hook-ups your rig will require, which will determine the types of RV Parks and campgrounds you might need to pay for. If you choose a rig that is highly dependent upon electricity to be functional, you’ll find yourself restricted to the type of overnight stays you can regularly utilize. Whereas if you have a rig designed to be power efficient, and even self sufficient (such as using solar and/or wind power) – you might be able to find a lot more free and cheap camping options.
For a full time home on wheels, we highly recommend getting the highest quality construction you can afford.
Most RVs are not built to be lived in, rather they are built for weekend excursions and perhaps prolonged vacations. There’s a reason they’re called ‘Recreational Vehicles’ not ‘Homes on Wheels’. This means their quality is not usually up to par of a traditional house and most will quickly age with even moderate use. Anything in motion is going to be subject to wear and tear more so than a stable home on a foundation.
Once you start shopping around for RVs, you’ll likely find that you can get massively large travel trailers and motorhomes with a lot of space for little money – but they don’t offer high quality appliances, effective insulation, comfortable sleeping & sitting space, well designed storage, good fuel economy, powered stabilizers, non-corrosive parts or cabinetry that will last. Most cheap RV’s are ready for the junk heap after only a few years, and they are constantly in need of expensive maintenance and repairs.
These cheaper RV’s are tolerable for a short term vacation, but for full time living – some of these headaches can make your nomadic experience downright unpleasant and unsustainable.
Your Travel Style
How you anticipate you’ll be traveling is a critical component to choosing your ideal rig. If you plan to stay at commercial RV Parks and mainly drive highways and interstates – than a larger rig that prefers to be plugged into hook-ups may be your ideal choice. If you want to explore places more off the beaten path, such as public parks and boondocking locations on public lands – you will want to find a rig that can go off grid for a few days at a time, and which is small enough to maneuver off the beaten path (literally!). If you plan to be primarily boondocking and dry camping (not staying at park with hook-ups), having a rig with a renewable energy source and that is highly maneuverable is a top consideration.
Also, how much of the your travel you anticipate will be in motion versus making extended stops will play a role in your decision. If you plan to be stopped for long periods of time, having a mobile home that is better suited to your living style may be more important. However, if you plan to be in motion a lot – looking for rigs that give you better fuel economy and easy setup may be more important.
How much room you think you need versus how much room you actually need are often two different things. When you first set off nomading, folks usually overestimate how much space they need. Try to think about how you will use your space. Do you like to cook and entertain? Then having more of your space available for sitting, eating and socializing is probably more important – assuming you will have people to entertain during your travels.
Do you plan to work while you travel? What sort of office space do you need? Do you need it dedicated as full-time office space, or can you collapse your worklife down and convert it over to eating/living space easily? If you’re traveling alone, consider if you’ll ever have a guest on board or not. If you’re traveling as a couple or family, consider how much personal space each person will need to keep their sanity. Do you want a definite division between living space and sleeping space? What about the bathroom facilities – how important is it to you to have a separate shower from your sink/toilet area – or can you imagine being ok with a wet bath that is highly efficient with space? Are you a homebody, or will be you using your mobile home more as a launching ground for explorations?
Also consider that while you’re stopped, the outside also becomes your space. With good weather, setting up your office on a picnic table with a scenic view is an awesome experience. If one companion needs alone time, the other can go hiking, biking or exploring.
New or Used
In today’s economy, you can come across some great deals on both new and used RVs. However, you’ll want to keep in mind what sort of customizations you might want to make – as it is unlikely that any RV you buy will come equipped exactly how you want it. Sometimes converting a used RV is a lot easier and more affordable than tearing apart a brand new unit, and starting with an older base has the potential to give you a unique classic vintage look. And sometimes, you can find a RV manufacturer who is willing to build your RV made-to-order exactly to your needs. Whether it be upgrading the electrical system, putting your own personal touch or integrating in technical gear – you’re likely to want to change something about the rig you acquire.
When you start considering the type of RVs you want, visit dealer lots where you can tour a variety of styles all at once. Take note of what you like and don’t like. You may also want to inquire with friends and family who own RVs to get their experiences, and perhaps even borrow theirs for a weekend to try it out. If you opt to rent a RV, try to keep in mind that most rental RVs are low quality, fairly generic and not kindly used – so don’t base the experience off those factors alone.
Unless you’ve lived mobiley before, it’s almost impossible to predict exactly what your on the road needs will be. One piece of advice we can firmly offer is this – consider your first year or so on the road to be a trial phase. Don’t put all your resources into trying to construct your perfect RV. Instead, get something that you think will approximately meet your needs and hit the road sooner rather than later. Until you’ve been out there for at least several months, if not a year or so – you won’t really know what it is you really need. Traveling full time and living out of a home on wheels for an extended period of time will change the way you view your life, your space, your stuff and your concept of home. What you think you want now will change.
Embrace this, and use the first phase as an experiment in learning what your unique travel style is. Take note of the space, the amenities and how you actually travel. Do you find yourself desiring a different layout? More or less space? Do you really use the microwave enough to merit the size it takes up? Do you have enough battery power and tank capacity to meet your desired off grid time? Are you finding your rig size can fit in the places you want to go?
Our Decision Process
Chris initially started off with a small 16′ Tab Clamshell travel trailer that he converted to run off solar. When we met and decided to travel together, we opted to continue traveling in his unit – even knowing it wouldn’t be exactly right for both of us. It gave us an opportunity to both test out our traveling together, as well as learning what type of RV might be more ideal for us. We quickly narrowed down that we needed slightly more space for the two of us living and working. But we wanted to remain small, maneuverable, light weight and self-sufficient.
So, we looked at smaller motorhomes and trailers – and didn’t really find anything at dealer lots that met our needs. We did narrow down that we loved the floor plan of the Casita Spirit Deluxe, a small fiberglass RV made by company in Texas. We thought that finding a slightly used one and customizing it with solar might be our best option. Then we found Oliver, who had taken the floor plan we loved, upgraded the quality significantly and was willing to build to order. It was a perfect meshing for our needs, and as we’ve found – a rarity in the RV business.
Over a year later of living full time in our Oliver – we couldn’t be happier.