RV PROS AND CONS
RVs vs Motorhomes
Just about everyone has asked themselves the question. “Should I buy an RV?” Or maybe, "should I travel in an RV or stay in hotels?" They're common questions for a good reason. The idea of an RV is filled with the romance of the road and the freedom to travel when and where you want. But buying an RV – whether a huge Class A motorhome or a minimalist camper trailer – is a lot like getting your “dream” job. The thought of having it is exciting and all-consuming… getting it is amazing… the first bit is one big adventure… and then you have to deal with real-life poop. In the case of an RV, the real-life poop can be, well, real-life poop.
So we’ve come up with a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of owning an RV. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll consider an RV to be any motorhome, conversion van, fifth-wheel trailer, or camper trailer – basically, anything with wheels that you can sleep in. Most of the points will relate to just about all of the above RV’s but there will be exceptions. For example, your teardrop camper probably won’t have an indoor shower.
If you’re wondering “what type of RV should I buy?”, then be sure to read our article on Types of RVs.
The Benefits of Owning An RV
Mobility. This mostly relates to the RV owners who like to explore and are on the move. If you prefer to park your RV on a seasonal lot and spend the whole summer there, and then store the RV for the winter, it’s a different situation. In fact, you may want to consider a park model trailer or building a small cabin.
Home Away From Home. Larger RV’s typically mean having your own bedroom (or at least bed), bathroom, and kitchen with you wherever you go. Have the munchies halfway through the Rocky Mountains? Pull over, make some popcorn in the microwave, pull a soda out of the fridge, take a bathroom break, and away you go! Caught between cities and it’s getting late or the weather is making you nervous? Pull over at the nearest truck stop or side road and spend the night. The thought of bedbugs give you the heebie jeebies? Sleep in your own bed every night and never have to haul suitcases to and from a hotel room. Love nature but still want a hot shower and a pizza? Park your RV next to a lake and enjoy the great outdoors with all the benefits of the great indoors. And let’s not forget, your toilet is there WHENEVER you need it – including bladder breaks and car sick kids.
You’re Part Of A Community. As one RVer pointed out, “when was the last time you got to know your neighbours in a hotel?” If you’re the friendly sort, RV resorts and campgrounds are a great place to make new acquaintances and learn new things. And, if the neighbors get annoying, you can always leave. RV travellers tend to treat other RVers the same way Harley Davidson owners treat each other – you’re still an individual, but you share a common bond.
An RV Is An Asset. True, it’s a depreciating asset, losing value year after year, but it can still be sold if you decide to forgo the RV life, or choose to downsize or upgrade. The money you spend on hotels, flights, or cottage rentals is gone.
Inexpensive. Guess, what? Under cons we have “expensive”. An RV is both expensive and inexpensive. (By the way, have you tried our RV Ownership Cost Calculator?) The inexpensive part includes parking for free, or at much cheaper campground rates, than staying at a hotel. You can also save a huge amount of money if you shop at grocery stores and cook your own meals. As you’ll find out without RV Ownership Cost Calculator, travelling in an RV is typically more expensive than driving a car, eating in restaurants, and sleeping in hotels – but you have to decide what travelling lifestyle you’re going for. For example, in a hotel, you’re more likely to be woken up by slamming doors or the neighbor’s TV than the chirping of birds and the wind in the leaves.
Pets. If you have pets you can’t or won’t leave at home, an RV is much more accommodating than an airplane. Keep in mind that not all campgrounds and RV resorts allow pets though.
The Challenges of Owning An RV
Expensive. Of course, expensive is a relative term. An RV with two bathrooms and a fireplace will feel expensive to more people than a pop-up camper with a one-burner stove. Also, if you buy a brand new RV, it will be far more expensive than a used one, simply because of the depreciation after driving it off the lot. If you’re looking at your first RV, “try before you buy” is a great idea – especially if you’ve never done any other kind of non-hotel road tripping (campgrounds, tenting, etc). Renting IS expensive, but cheaper than buying a brand new RV you won’t want in two years. Borrowing an RV is ideal since it greatly reduces the cost. RVing with some friends for a week can be very educational. Or seriously consider buying a used RV, in good condition, and selling it in a year or two if you don’t like it. If you get a good deal on mechanically sound 10-20 year old RV, the money you lose between your purchase and selling price can often be equal to, or less, than renting.
More Fuel. This could go under the “expensive” heading, but deserves to be pointed out as its own issue. It’s surprising how many people forget that an RV can use far more fuel. If it’s a larger class C motorhome, a good rule of thumb is you’ll spend at least twice as much in fuel as your usual vehicle. If you’re towing a fifth-wheel, your truck’s fuel economy will take a big hit. You also need to decide how many miles you’ll typically travel. If you’re on the road for two days, and then park by the lake for two weeks, your RV fuel costs will be a lot lower than the RV owner who cruises the continent. And, at the risk of making some of you angry, when all is said and done, there’s little difference between burning diesel or gasoline.
Lack of Mobility. Yes, one of the pros of owning an RV was “mobility”, but it can be a two-edged sword. If you’re in anything longer than 20-feet, you’ll have to decide if that will effect where you want to go (and sometimes, legally, where you can go). For example, navigating downtown Chicago is a different experience in a Class A motorhome than it is in a conversion van. Most urban tunnels won’t allow anything with propane into them, so you’ll have to reroute (check to see if your GPS has a “no tunnels” option). Some areas ban large vehicles, including RV’s. A large RV can also make it more difficult to find parking at Joe’s Diner on Main Street in Small Town, or at that mid-size museum with only 40 parking spots. Also, if your RV is your only means of transportation, you’ll have to “decamp” (disconnect your hook-ups) every time you leave the campground or RV resort. One option, for large RV’s, is to tow a vehicle (often referred to as “toad” for towed) but this adds to the expense of ownership. If you don’t already own an RV, imagine driving a motorhome or towing a travel trailer every time you head out in your vehicle for the next few weeks.
Housekeeping. Yes, RV’s are smaller than most houses, but they are still homes. Do you want your vacation to include making beds, dusting, cleaning a bathroom, and making meals?
Maintenance. Your RV has moving parts. If it’s a motorhome, it has lots of moving parts. That means maintenance and repairs. Are you financially equipped to add another vehicle to your budget? Are you physically and emotionally equipped to handle a breakdown on the road (where you might have to wait for days for the right part)?
The Umbilical Cord. RV’s have holding tanks for fresh water, grey water, and black water so you can set up house wherever you want. But freshwater tanks need to be refilled, and grey and black tanks need to be emptied. That means you have to make at least occasional stops at campgrounds or dumpsites. Also, most RV air conditioners, and some heaters, require AC power. If you’re at a truck stop, you can run your generator for the air conditioning, but there are a lot of places where the generator noise and exhaust would be a no-no.
Storage Space. It doesn’t take long to figure out what you really need and want, and what you can do without when you “move into” an RV. As with many things though, space is relative. If you’re upgrading from tenting, even the smallest RV will seem to have far more space. And the same RV’s storage could be considered spacious or lacking depending on the user. If three changes of clothes and one pair of shoes is considered a week’s worth of wardrobe, you’ll wonder why there’s so much closet space. If multiple wardrobe changes are a necessity, you’ll have to get creative. Your personal RV lifestyle will also play into it. For example, it’s surprising how many people never use their RV’s shower (preferring the one at the RV resort). If you never use, or seldom use, the shower, and adjustable rod in the middle turns it into an instant closet. If you mostly eat at restaurants and only snack in the RV, then many of the kitchen cabinets can be set aside for clothing.
Paying To Not Use It. If you’re not living in your RV full-time, you have to store it and insure it while you’re not using it. These costs can vary greatly. If you want your RV parked in a heated storage facility with 24-hour security, it’ll cost you a lot more than parking it behind the barn at a friend’s farm. If you financed your RV purchase, you’ll also have to decide what it’ll feel like to make payments for all those months when you’re sitting at home.
Mattresses. Depending on the RV, the bed you sleep on may not be as comfortable as a hotel’s, especially if you’re sleeping on a converted dinette or fold-out sofa. Then again, some RV’s accommodate full-size “normal” mattresses, so you can get one as luxurious as you want.