“We went shopping RVs over the weekend and fell in love with a 40’ luxury fifth wheel. We would be towing this rig all over the country and living in it fulltime. I’m worried about the cost to pull it and finding campsites for it. Will we ever be able to boondock in such a large rig?”
The question of “how big of an RV should we buy” comes up just about daily. The responses usually include:
- People who bought too small of an RV and want to upgrade.
- People who bought too large of an RV and want to downsize.
- People who own the large RV and are happy with it.
- People who own smaller RVs and are happy with them.
How do you decide how big of an RV to buy?
Compromise on Wheels
RVs are nothing more than a set of compromises on wheels.
The trick is to understand what you are giving up by making a particular choice. Some compromises are immediately obvious. Others only become clear after you are on the road for a while.
At first, going big is an easy choice.
Big RVs are impressive inside. There’s no ducking your head. There are ceiling fans. Lots of floor space. No “squeezing past each other”.
Big RVs have lots of storage. You can take more with you. You don’t have to literally sort through every. last. thing. you own to see if you have room for it. Downsizing is stressful. Fewer decisions makes the process easier.
Big RVs can be appealing to people new to RV living. A bigger RV means RV life can be similar to your suburban life. You can cook the same. Keep the same supplies in the pantry. Put your feet up after dinner and watch your favorite shows.
You can have dedicated bedrooms. Office spaces. Laundry. Dishwashers. Patios. Garages.
What’s the compromise again?
It takes a while.
Then on a drive day you see a great little roadside stand with peach cider, boiled peanuts, and pecan rolls. You wanted to try different foods on your travels, right?
But you’re rolling at 55 MPH and can’t stop that quick. There’s no RV parking. Oh well. Maybe there will be another stand down the road.
Or you get a Facebook message from an old high school friend. You are in their home town. How about you swing by and catch up on old times? Great. You get their address and check it out on Google Maps.
That ain’t happening.
A quick visit now involves local RV parks. You’ll have to spend a night or two. You’ll have to unhitch and drive the truck over to visit.
Or - that state park you loved as a kid? Checking their website they only have 3 sites that you can fit in.
Big Isn’t Bad
Going big isn’t bad. All of these scenarios have options.
If a big rig is what it takes to get you out of a ho-hum suburban life and out traveling with your family, bring on the dually diesel & triple-axle toyhauler.
Our point is the advantages of going big are immediately obvious. The advantages of being smaller may take a while to sink in.
Buy the RV that makes sense at the time. Then be prepared to find your wants and needs shifting over time as you experience actual life on the road.
What About National Parks?
The general opinion (aka “The Facebook Hive Mind”) is that National Parks limit RV lengths to 35’.
This isn’t the case.
National Park length limits are all over the place. Some have “premium spots” for RVs over 30’. Others can accomodate big rigs but only have a few sites that book out early. Some do indeed limit lengths.
Here’s an interesting article that calculates the best RV length for National Parks.
In it, the author lists the percent of National Parks a given length RV would fit into. He concludes:
After quite a lot of research, I consider the ideal RV length for camping in national parks to be 35′ or less. At that length, you’ll be able to find at least a handful of spots big enough to handle your rig in almost any national park in the country.CamperReport.com
Be sure to scan the comments for input from other RVers.
Also make sure to see if that length limit is total length including your tow vehicle or toad. Some parks specifically state that their numbers are overall length. Others seem less clear.
We’ve always been in the medium (34’ Fifth Wheel) to small (30’ Fifth Wheel) end of the RV spectrum. After 6+ years of travel in that mode, we are changing it up.
We’re choosing to downsize into a 19’ Class B Motorhome.
Our goals are:
- More flexibility
- Less pre-planning
- Parking in standard parking spots
- Less time in RV parks
- More time in State Parks, National Parks, and National Forest Campgrounds
- More time boondocking
- More time moochdocking (staying in friend’s driveways)
- Stopping at roadside stands, attractions, historical markers
- Stopping at any beachfront park or county park
The basic “all hitched up and rolling down the road” tension with RVs is between:
- What you can have
- What you can do
The more you want to have, the less you’ll be able to do. The more you want to do, the less you can have.
Sure, if you are towing a car, carrying kayaks, bikes and motorcycles or a bass boat slammed on top of your truck you can stop, unhitch and unload. Then go do whatever you want.
We’ve RVed that way for years.
We had two kinds of days - travel and explore. Travel days were just about getting from point A to point B. Then we setup camp. And then on another day we’d get out and explore, bike, kayak or whatever.
With the Class B we want to explore on a travel day. Or travel on an exploration day. We no longer want the distinction between those kind of days.
I can’t stand up straight in the Class B. I had to extend the bed. We have no place to take MsBoyink’s favorite kitchen bowl.
We might have gone too far with this downsizing effort.
But we’re excited to try this approach.
And if we don’t like it, we will at least be able to speak from experience rather than conjecture (like so many other online “experts”).
How Did You Decide?
What was your main criteria for deciding on the size of the rig you bought? What would your advice to new RV shoppers be when it comes to size?