RV Camping

Full-Time RVing – Will It Be In A Motorhome, Fifth-Wheel or Travel Trailer

Motorhome, 5th Wheel, or Travel Trailer, which is best?

A waterfall we enjoyed in the Western USFull-time RV living can be quite miserable in the wrong rig. There is no right answer for certain, but your finances and temperament can dictate the final choice for you.

If you are on a tight budget and can’t afford a new model RV you might consider buying a used RV. Read our article on how to buy a used RV by clicking here. The article includes a checklist of things to inspect and negotiating tactics.


If you have the resources, you may choose a motorhome and tow a supplemental vehicle behind you. Keep in mind that you will have two engines to service and maintain, and if your motorhome requires major engine or transmission work, you may have to vacate your home while it is being repaired. A work camper in a park where we were staying in Missouri spent six weeks in a motel waiting for warranty repairs.

Costs for a motorhome and additional vehicle are not inexpensive. This is usually the most costly option for traveling. However, if you have no need for secondary transportation, such as commuting to work and back, a used motorhome in good condition could be an excellent choice.

There are great advantages to a motor home. You simply pull into a site, hook up the utilities if you feel like it, and you’re done. If it’s raining, you don’t even have to get out until you are ready.

Motorhomes are generally easier to park and if you are boondocking on a parking lot, or have stopped at a scenic point, you can unhook your car and travel at leisure. Unhook a travel trailer or fifth-wheel in a parking lot and you may return to find it towed away. A parked motorhome is rarely given a second thought.

Fifth-Wheel or 5th Wheel

For space, livability, storage, and creature comforts, the new generation of fifth-wheel slide-out trailers is difficult to beat. It’s like having a small condominium on wheels. These newer rigs are not cheap, but they aren’t as expensive as most late model motorhomes.

As with motorhomes, you can find a used, good condition RV. You’ll have to purchase a heavy-duty truck, usually with an extended bed to accommodate the hitch and the trailer’s front overhang.

Fifth-wheel trailers with several slide-outs can be extremely heavy to tow, and you’ll need to make allowance for this factor. Be sure to find out what you estimate your trailer will weigh fully loaded, then buy the appropriate tow vehicle. If your tow vehicle is underpowered for the load you intend to tow, you will know about it the first mild hill you climb. What is really at stake here is safety. If your tow vehicle can barely handle your fully-loaded fifth-wheel, you risk not only the investment in your rig but your life and the lives of others could be at stake. You’ll be much better off with a tow truck that is overpowered for the task.

Parking your fifth wheel will be relatively easy, depending on its length and the site you’re trying to get into. Unhooking and setting up will require a few extra steps.

The disadvantages of fifth-wheel trailers are their extra weight (mostly due to the extra mechanical systems needed for slide-outs), high wind resistance when towing, instability in areas with high gusts of wind, and the need for an oversized tow vehicle. In spite of these inconveniences, the overwhelming popularity of fifth-wheel trailers is an indication of their advantages.

Yellowstone boiling pool of water

A boiling pool of water, near Yellowstone Lake. Every year someone manages to boil themselves to death in one of these pools that are clearly marked as extremely dangerous by the National Park Service. Go figure!

Travel Trailers

It is difficult to beat the sheer simplicity and economy of a travel trailer. They range from luxurious models with slide-outs to tiny little camping units you can actually tow with a bicycle. In spite of the popularity of fifth-wheel trailers and motor homes, travel trailers continue to be exceptionally popular.

A travel trailer is likely to be the most economical option available, but with a few complications. First, they are a little more difficult to park. Have you ever heard of load-leveling bars? No? Well, that’s something you will probably need to know about.

Sunset on the Oregon coastMost travel trailers are relatively light, depending of course on the model and how much “stuff” you cram into your trailer. Storage space in a travel trailer is usually at a premium. Unlike fifth-wheel trailers and motorhomes with basement storage, travel trailers are chronically short on storage space. With planning, this problem can be partially overcome by taking less stuff with you, installing storage shelving, compartment organizers, and utilizing the bed of your pickup as a portable storage unit.

The required towing capacity of your truck will be greatly reduced with a travel trailer, depending naturally on the size unit you select, which also reduces initial cash outlay and day-to-day operating expenses.

With a travel trailer, you’ll generally have smaller holding tank capacities for freshwater, gray water, and black water. If boondocking is important for you, keep this in mind because you will have to deal with these reduced capacities. Should you need a generator, you’ll not likely find one built into a travel trailer, nor will there be a place to install one. The pickup bed will house any extras you need, or you will have to rig a contraption on the back of your trailer to haul things like a generator, auxiliary waste-water tank, or tools.

If you don’t mind living in a really tiny trailer, you will be able to park your rig in scenic federal and state campground sites that are otherwise unavailable to larger trailers and motorhomes.

Getting started on a small budget is very feasible if you purchase a good used travel trailer and tow vehicle. Take your time in buying. If you have a friend who is an experienced RV’er, get them to inspect the rig. They’ll know what components are most likely to be inoperable.

Drive through local RV parks and look for “for sale” signs posted on trailers. Read the classified ads in local newspapers and the free shopper classifieds. Inspect the trailer and make a low-ball offer. Why a low-ball offer? Well, you are probably going to have to spend some money on upgrades and repairs even if the owner tells you the rig is in perfect condition. Are load-leveling bars and hitch available with the deal? The fewer extras you have to buy new, the better. Don’t be over-anxious to buy, you’ll find exactly the right rig for you with patience.

Next Chapter – Should you buy a campground timeshare?

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