How to choose the right RV (recreational vehicle) for your family can be an exciting yet challenging process. With so many types, sizes, and features to consider, it’s important to understand your family’s needs and preferences in order to select the RV that will best accommodate your crew comfortably on the road.
To choose the right RV for your family, you’ll want to educate yourself on the different RV classifications and key differences between motorhomes, travel trailers, and other camper options. It’s also essential to assess practical considerations such as the size of your family, frequency of use, budget, and the amenities most important for your travels.
This guide will walk through the key factors to weigh when deciding which RV best suits your family’s needs. We’ll overview popular RV types, how to match an RV configuration to your family’s size, examine new vs used RV considerations, provide tips on selecting RV brands and dealers, and outline important maintenance and ownership responsibilities. Equipped with the right information, you’ll be ready to shop for, purchase, and hit the road in an RV that allows your family to enjoy memorable camping and travel experiences.
- Class A, B, and C motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels, pop-up campers, and truck campers each have distinct pros and cons.
- Consider your family size, budget, travel frequency, and preferred amenities when choosing an RV.
- Optimal RV size provides adequate space while maintaining ease of handling and parking.
- Weigh benefits of buying new (modern features, warranty) or used (lower cost, depreciation).
- Research dealers’ pricing, reputations, and inspect RVs before buying.
- Maintain your RV properly with frequent cleaning, inspection, repairs.
Understanding RV Types
With so many RV configurations on the market, it’s essential to understand the unique characteristics of each to determine the best option for your family’s needs. The main types of RVs include:
Class A Motorhomes
The largest and most spacious RV option, Class A motorhomes are bus-sized homes on wheels built on a truck chassis. They offer maximum amenities and living space, with floor plans that often include fully-equipped kitchens, dining/living areas, master bedrooms, bunk beds, bathrooms with standing showers and bathtubs, and slide-out extensions to expand the living area.
Pros: Ideal for larger families, maximum interior space, high-end features and comforts for extended trips.
Cons: Expensive, challenging to drive and park, decreased fuel efficiency and gas mileage. Difficult for regional/local travel.
Class B Motorhomes
Class B RVs are highly maneuverable camper vans built inside a van frame. They offer better gas mileage than larger motorhomes. Class B floorplans maximize multi-purpose living in a small footprint, using innovative features like murphy beds, retractable wet baths, swivel cab seats, and pop-tops to increase interior headroom.
Pros: Compact and nimble, better fuel efficiency, easy to park and drive. Well-suited for local/regional travel. Inexpensive compared to Class A and C motorhomes.
Cons: Tight interior space, limited storage and amenities compared to larger RVs. Can feel cramped with multiple passengers.
Class C Motorhomes
Class C motorhomes fall in size between Class A and B RVs. Built on a truck or van chassis with an attached cabin living space, Class Cs are smaller and more budget-friendly than Class A units. They are easier to maneuver than Class A RVs while still offering more interior space and amenities than Class B camper vans.
Pros: Family-friendly floor plans, spacious living areas, sleeping space for 4+ people. Easier to drive than Class A. Good balance of size and features.
Cons: Less luxurious and cramped compared to larger Class As. Limited storage and towing capacity.
One of the most popular RV styles, travel trailers offer the convenience of a home on wheels while being towed behind a truck, SUV, or crossover. Lightweight models can be towed by many family vehicles. Floor plans include living areas, kitchens, dining spaces, multiple beds/bunks, and bathrooms.
Pros: Wide range of sizes for any family’s needs. Can be towed by many vehicles. Less expensive than motorhomes. Good resale value.
Cons: Require an additional vehicle for towing. Restricted in movement compared to self-propelled RVs.
Fifth Wheel Trailers
Fifth wheel trailers are towed by pickup trucks using a special hitch mounted in the truck bed. With a raised profile and spacious two-level floorplans, fifth wheels offer ample living space and higher towing capacity compared to conventional travel trailers.
Pros: Large, home-like interiors with all amenities. Higher ceilings than travel trailers. Can hold larger families comfortably.
Cons: Require a pickup truck to tow. Challenging to maneuver in tight spaces. Heavy, reducing fuel economy when towing.
Pop-up campers are compact, lightweight trailers that can be towed by many smaller vehicles. The hardtop roof and side walls fold down for easy towing and open to provide generous interior space. Simple models focus on comfortable sleeping arrangements while larger units add amenities like kitchens, bathrooms and slide-outs.
Pros: Affordable option. Light and easy to tow. Basic models provide ample sleeping space.
Cons: Very limited features beyond beds. Need to manually set up/tear down before/after use. Vulnerable to weather when popup top is open.
Truck campers are slide-in units that sit in the bed of pickup trucks. They transform your truck into a self-contained RV. Truck camper interiors include sleeping space, kitchenettes, seating areas, and bathroom facilities all in a compact footprint.
Pros: No towing required. Provide RV amenities while using existing truck. Compact and maneuverable.
Cons: Very limited space. Challenges driving with camper in truck bed. Difficult to access amenities with camper installed.
Assessing Family Needs
When selecting the right recreational vehicle for your family’s travel and camping adventures, the RV configuration best suited for your needs will depend on factors like:
Size of Family
A major deciding factor is choosing an RV with adequate sleeping capacity and living space for your family size. Here are some guidelines based on RV berth (bed) designations:
- Couples: Optimal with a Class B camper van or small travel trailer/pop-up camper.
- Family of 3: Class C motorhome or medium-sized travel trailer.
- Family of 4: Large travel trailer, fifth wheel, or medium-sized Class A or C motorhome.
- Large family of 5+: Class A motorhome or spacious fifth wheel with bunk beds.
Keep in mind slide-outs, murphy beds, and convertible dinette sleeping spaces can provide additional berths. Understand your family’s need for private sleeping accommodations vs multi-functional spaces used for sleeping and living.
Consider how often you plan to use an RV for trips and vacations. For short, occasional weekend outings, compact towable campers offer convenience. For regular or extended travels, a larger motorhome with maximum amenities may be worth the investment. Analyze:
- Occasional short trips: Class B, small travel trailer, or pop-up camper.
- Frequent weekends/holidays: Mid-size travel trailer or small motorhome.
- Extended trips; Full-time RVing: Class A or large fifth wheel.
RVs range widely in price from around $5,000 for basic used models to $500,000+ for luxurious motorcoaches. Setting an affordable budget appropriate for your family’s means will help narrow options.
- Under $10,000: Used pop-up, truck camper, or basic travel trailer.
- $10-$25k: Light travel trailer, small motorhome.
- $25-$75k: Larger travel trailer, mid-size motorhome.
- $75k+: New Class A diesel motorhome.
Calculate the total cost of ownership including loan payments, insurance, fuel, maintenance and camping fees. An expensive RV with costly maintenance may end up being less affordable than a moderately priced unit.
Determine which features and conveniences matter most for your travels. For weekend camping, you may just need basic sleeping space and outdoor functionality. For long vacations, opt for an RV with maximum comforts and self-sufficiency like generator power, laundry, and full bathroom/shower facilities.
Prioritize must-have amenities vs nice-to-have add-ons when selecting your RV configuration. Some top features to consider:
- Sleeping capacity
- Kitchen facilities
- Entertainment systems
- Outdoor kitchen access or patio space
- Extra storage
- Generator and electrical hookups
- Slideouts to increase living space
By identifying your target priorities upfront, you can zero in on RV floorplans and models that align with the features most essential for your family.
Choosing the Right Size
When navigating the myriad RV options on the market, the key is choosing a size that comfortably accommodates your family while maintaining manageability on the road. Oversized RVs may boast spacious interiors but prove challenging to maneuver, park, and access certain campsites. Consider:
- The maximum number of people needing sleeping berths and seats for travel
- Anticipated trip length – longer excursions may require more living space
- Vehicle length and width limitations at desired camping destinations
- Ease of driving and parking for your family’s routine travel
- Towing capacity of your tow vehicle or ceiling height of garage storage if applicable
Avoid the temptation to opt for more RV than your family truly needs. Find the optimal balance between interior space, driving comfort, and flexibility in accessing camping sites. Keeping your RV within a manageable length and width will allow you to more easily traverse narrow roads to campsites, back into spaces, and set up upon arrival.
Deciding on New vs Used
One of the biggest purchasing decisions is whether to buy new or used. Weighing the pros and cons of each option will help determine the better value for your budget.
Pros of Buying New
- Come equipped with latest features, appliances, electronics
- Wide floorplan selections to optimize interior space
- Custom order allows you to add preferred options
- Under full warranty for defects and maintenance
- No wear and tear or hidden issues as with used RVs
Cons of Buying New
- Much higher purchase price than used RVs
- Depreciate quickly, lose 20-30% value in first year
- Often need to wait weeks or months for custom-ordered unit
Pros of Buying Used
- Significantly less expensive than new models
- Faster to purchase from existing inventory
- Ability to buy newer, slightly used at a large discount
- Prior owner may have upgraded features
- Lower insurance rates and registration fees
Cons of Buying Used
- No warranty protections as with new
- More frequent maintenance and repairs required
- Wear and tear reduces lifespan if not well-maintained
- Must research RV’s history for unreported issues
For cost-conscious shoppers, purchasing a used RV 1-5 years old can provide a solid middle ground. Look for barely-used RVs from owners who traveled minimally. This allows you to enjoy modern features and solid condition at a fraction of the original price.
Consideration of RV Brands
Beyond deciding on RV type and new vs used, the specific brand and model you select also requires careful evaluation:
It pays to research manufacturers’ reputations regarding:
- Quality construction – Use of high-quality materials and build processes to ensure longevity. Avoid brands prone to frequent problems.
- Reliability – Choose models with a track record of fewer mechanical issues and defects.
- Customer service – Brands known for standing behind their products if issues arise.
Consult objective RV review websites and forums to identify the most reputable brands within your price range.
For new RVs, prioritize manufacturers offering longer warranties on both construction and mechanical components. Optimal warranty terms to look for:
- 1 year: Basic warranty length, covers some minor defects on new RVs
- 3 years: Better for protecting against major structural and system issues
- 5-10 years: Ideal, covers major construction elements and appliances for extended peace of mind
For used RVs, remaining warranty transfers to new owner so inspect term lengths remaining.
Excellent customer service is crucial in case any problems arise with your RV. Reputable manufacturers will support their products long-term with:
- Convenient dealer service network for maintenance and repairs
- Knowledgeable support staff to field questions
- Quick turnaround on fixing issues under warranty
- Availability of replacement parts
Research brands’ service reputation before buying and factor into selection. Strong customer service provides greater ownership peace of mind.
Maintenance and Upkeep
Proper maintenance is key to get the most longevity and enjoyment from your RV investment. Plan to:
Clean: Wash exterior routinely and clean interior regularly to prevent mold/mildew.
Inspect: Check seals, appliances, electronics, plumbing etc. before each trip to catch problems early.
Preventative maintenance: Follow recommended schedule to change engine oil, inspect brakes/tires, flush tanks, test battery, etc.
Winterize: Prep your RV each winter by flushing and treating water systems, fuel stabilization, battery disconnect.
Store: Use high-quality covers, or indoor storage if possible, when not in use to prevent damage from elements.
Repair: Address any issues immediately to prevent bigger problems. Maintain all owner’s manuals and service records.
Taking good care of your RV will ensure it stays in top shape for traveling comfort and maximum resale value when it comes time to upgrade.
Where to Buy Your RV
You’ll have several options of where to purchase your new or used RV:
RV dealers provide convenience along with:
- Large inventory across RV classes, brands, features and price points
- Ability to see models in-person before purchasing
- Financing guidance and on-site completion of sale paperwork
- Coordination of extras like delivery, prep, orientation
Shop multiple dealers to compare prices and negotiate the best deal. Inspect units closely for defects and fully test systems/appliances before purchase.
Purchasing directly from a private owner can yield huge savings compared to a dealer. However, you’ll want to:
- Get complete service records from seller
- Hire an independent inspector to identify any hidden issues
- Carefully examine RV yourself before purchase
- Consider added fees of transfer process
Websites like RVTrader.com and RVT.com list thousands of new and used RVs for sale across the country. This allows you to:
- Broaden your search radius for greater selection
- Filter listings by exact type, features, price to find the right match
- Lower prices as there are no overhead costs for a lot
- Potentially coordinate delivery to your location
Vet sellers thoroughly and proceed with caution on any sight-unseen online RV purchases. Inspecting prior to buying is highly recommended whenever possible.
Finding the optimal recreational vehicle for your family’s needs will ensure you create lasting memories during your RV travels. Assess the key factors of RV configuration, family requirements, size considerations, new vs used factors, brand reputation, and proper maintenance. Take time to research models and thoroughly inspect RVs before purchasing from a trusted seller. Investing in the right RV for your family’s budget and travel style will allow you to enjoy the convenience, freedom and comforts of life on the road for years to come. Happy camping!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best RV options for a family of 5 or 6?
For a large family of 5-6 people, I recommend considering a spacious Class A or Class C motorhome or a large fifth wheel or travel trailer. Class A motorhomes provide the most interior room and amenities to comfortably accommodate bigger families. Fifth wheels also have generous living space and sleeping capacity. For more budget-friendly options, a Class C or extra-large travel trailer can sleep 5-6 as well.
How do I determine which RV is right for my family’s needs?
Consider your family size, typical trip length, frequency of use, budget, and must-have features. Make a list of your needs and priorities before shopping. Narrow options by RV type based on family size and budget, then compare floorplans to find one matching your family’s priorities. Test drive models thoroughly to assess comfort and ease of handling.
What should I consider when choosing between a Class A, B, or C RV?
Class A motorhomes are the largest and most expensive option, best for extended travels. Class B’s are the smallest but offer better gas mileage and maneuverability. Class C’s are a middle-ground, smaller than A’s but larger than B’s. Compare space, driving ease, amenities, and budget to decide. Also consider garage storage and tow vehicle capacity if applicable.
What are the pros and cons of full-time RV living?
Pros include the ability to travel and live anywhere, reduced living expenses, and adventure. Cons can include difficulty finding parking/campsites, maintenance costs, lack of space, and challenges securing mail service, insurance, etc. Full-time RV living provides freedom and flexibility but also requires adjustment and planning.
How much should I budget for purchasing an RV?
RV prices range widely. Used pop-up campers or truck campers can cost as little as $5,000. Small travel trailers may be $10k – $15k. Mid-size trailers or motorhomes generally range from $60k-$100k new. Luxury Class A motorhomes can be $200k and up. Set a realistic budget based on RV type, size, age and features.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when choosing an RV?
Buying an RV that is too big or expensive for your needs, failing to thoroughly inspect it prior to purchasing, not planning for maintenance costs, not considering your tow vehicle’s capacity, and failing to shop around and compare multiple options. Do your homework to make the best choice.