And my first instinct was to riff on silly campers and leave it at that. Then I thought about the trailer we're selling, and it just snowballed from there. You've been warned...
A Treatise on the Recreational Vehicle
Having had rather extensive experience with RVs, I thought I'd offer some thoughts and synopses for those who might be interested. I've had experience with three out of the five major types (no fifth wheels or truck slide-ins), and each one I've owned has left me wishing for the next type...
The Pop-up Camper.
The pop-up camper has several things going for it right off the bat. It's light - most mid-sized SUVs and minivans can tow even the largest pop-ups. They're inexpensive - even more so if you buy a used one. They can be maneuvered by hand into very tight spots. They can be used quite effectively without electricity or water. They don't need much in the way of maintenance.
Now, mind you, I'm talking about smaller pop-ups, the ones in the 8-12 foot box size. Some have gotten so ridiculously large that there's really no reason not to get a full-on travel trailer. For the most part, though, the above is true. We owned a pop-up from 1996 until we bought our travel trailer in 2007, so we have the most experience in this type of camper.
Now, the downside: You can't store very much inside (or outside, for that matter). We owned a 10-foot box Jayco pop-up trailer, and all we were able to store inside it was basic cookware and rudimentary gear. There's simply no room - we had a small bench on one side that had the water jug and cookware; there was a tiny cabinet under the sink that had dinnerware and cleaning supplies; and there was a small amount of space under the dinette, which was taken up by electrical cords, jacks, and a couple games.
This leads to another downside: You need to open the camper to put *anything* inside it. To prepare for a trip, you had to open the camper up, pack everything in, then crank it back down, hook it up, bring it where you were going, set it up, then do everything in reverse when you got back. You have to be *very* careful when packing gear into a pop-up, too - if you put too much gear in the back, it rides completely wrong on the tow hitch; if you put too much in front, it sits wrong and tries to steer your tow vehicle.
And, lastly, one of the bigger issues: No hot water, and no toilet. We solved this by getting a porta-potty for late-night emergencies, but the lack of hot water was a downer. Hauling all the cookware to the bathhouse to clean everything gets old after a couple meals.
Oh, and the capacity. That's a big one. The pop-up we owned had the two beds on the end (one queen, one full) and a small bed made out of the dinette. For the four of us, it was sufficient, but we were taxing it to the extent. We got rid of it when the kids were little (TheBoy was 6, and his sister only 4), and even then it was too small. And don't get me started about rainy days. Those were difficult. You pretty much *had* to go somewhere.
While I'm piling on... While it may seem nice that you can unzip all the curtains and get a nice breeze going, what it means in real life is that you have zero privacy. In fact, it's even worse, because you're on a podium. Anything you do is up for review. Oh, and if you want to change into a swimsuit? Ha! Good luck - you need to zip up at least half the curtains in order to do that.
Wear and tear. The good side is, there's very little to actually wear. You need to make sure the tires are in good shape and the lug nuts are tight, and you need to periodically make sure the axles are in working order. Lights are minimal - you only have to worry about turn signals and brake lights. That's the good side. The bad side is that over time, the canvas will rot. The lifting arms will give out. The floor will sag. This is pretty much a constant with all RVs, though.
The travel trailer.
For the past seven years, we've owned a 25 foot travel trailer. It has a queen bed, two bunk beds, one of the largest bathrooms I've ever seen in an RV, and pretty much all the bells and whistles you would want in a home you can move. Refrigerator and freezer (which run on propane as well as electricity). Oven. Three burner stove. Microwave. Both gas-powered and electric hot water heaters. A 15" flat-screen TV with DVD player. Double sink. Bathtub (tiny) with shower. 20' awning. Storage for camp chairs, fishing poles, etc.
We've been stuck inside on a rainy day - a downpouring rainy day at that - and been perfectly comfortable. We've gone camping when it was extremely hot and humid - and been perfectly comfortable. We keep gear it in pretty much year round - dedicated camping pots and pans, plates and plasticware, etc. There's a ton of storage, from the cabinets over the dinette (and the space under the dinette, too) to the closets flanking the queen bed (which lifts up for storage as well). There's bunk beds for the kids, and the dinette turns into a bed if needed for guests (we turn it into a bed and watch movies on it at night).
But the travel trailer has downsides, too. It requires a full-size, V8-powered truck to pull it. It's unwieldy - especially when you only take it out a couple times a year. It requires a certain finesse to back into a space. With the Dodge, I've had excellent luck towing the camper - I've never had it fishtail or get away from me or be blown around on the highway, but it is a risk. The trailer's brakes work fine, but need to be adjusted periodically - and you'll know it if the adjustment is off...
And there's a significant amount of maintenance involved - you need to winterize it in the fall so the pipes don't freeze; it gets covered to protect from rain and snow; the tires seem to pick up nails like magic and need patching. The awning needs to be carefully rolled up and dried if it is put away wet; the gas lines need to be blown out periodically. There's a good amount of work that needs to be done whether you use it once a year or 20 times.
And, while this applies for the next class as well, I'll get it out of the way here: The holding tanks. Oh, sweet merciful Vishnu, the horror of dumping the holding tanks. You have gray water (sink/tub water) and black water (toilet) that need to be accounted for. If you're lucky, you find a campground that has sewer at each site. If you're not lucky, you'll need to dump these tanks before you leave. If you're camping for a week or more, you'll need to make an arrangement to dump the tanks at regular intervals - this means either paying someone to clean them out, unhooking everything and bringing it to the dumping station, or (like we do) have a "honey wagon", a portable tank on wheels.
The travel trailer is definitely a recreational vehicle that requires two people. Hooking it up, maintaining it; all requires two competent adults to keep it running smoothly. If you're on your own, a pop-up is definitely easier (although if you're on your own, you can rock a tent real simple). Whether checking the lights, running anti-freeze through the water lines, or getting a cover up and over a 10' tall trailer, you will need a second person to assist.
Yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds...
For the purposes of this exercise, I'll consider all motorhomes the same. Categorically, there are four classes of motorhomes: Class B, Class C, Class A, and diesel pushers. Class B motorhomes are the Roadtreks that look like large vans; Class C motorhomes are the classic van- or pick-up-front campers; Class A's are your Winnebagos; and diesel pushers are the giant luxo-land-yacht-barges with better interiors than my house. Realistically, though, they vary only in size and accoutrements; essentially you're talking about a self-contained unit.
Growing up we had a very small Class C motorhome. It had a queen bed over the cab, the dinette turned into a queen bed, and there was a tiny twin bed over the dinette. We owned it for about 5 years, and some 25 years after selling it, my folks would buy a 31 foot Class A that I borrowed a couple times. I have the least experience with the motorhome, but sufficient.
The good points. One of the great things about the motorhome is that it can be, literally, ready to go at a moment's notice. You can pack it ahead of time, and when it's time to go, hop in, turn the key, and go. If you want or need a secondary vehicle (because, trust me, you want to be able to do more than cruise around the campsite on a bicycle and you do NOT want to unhook everything to run to the store for more milk), you can either get a hauler or simply have someone drive a car behind you.
Another side benefit, assuming you don't have one of the monster motorhomes, is that things like tailgating get a lot more fun. Jimmy Buffet with a class B or C camper would be AWESOME - imagine being able to bring your blender and have your own bathroom in the parking lot. We go to Renaissance faires in costume, and it would be killer to go down in a motorhome where we could change in the parking lot. If you tailgate for sporting events, a small class C would be rockin'.
And a class C makes a lengthy road trip into something fun. When I was five, we took a trip out to Minnesota to visit my mom's cousins out there. We took three days out and three days back and it was a simply AWESOME time. Having the bathroom in the back meant that we didn't have to stop as much, and having an on-board refrigerator meant that snacks, sodas, water, etc. were right at hand. This would be significantly expensive today, mind you...
Generally, travel trailers and motorhomes come in approximately the same size. Our trailer is about middle-of-the-road for size, and it matches a median Class C pretty well. They'll sleep about the same number comfortably (although the class C's have a built-in advantage with the bed over the cab). This leads, though, to a significant downside.
Cost. Even the smallest Class C motorhome is going to run you upwards of $60K. That's not even counting insurance, tags, title, etc. - remember, it's still a motor vehicle. For reference, our 25' travel trailer cost us $16K. My truck was $27K. That's $43K combined, for a truck that seats 6 and a camper that sleeps six. A *small* Class A or C will run $60K plus, and generally that will only sleep 4. Even a used (and I mean 10-15 years old used) motorhome will run you $15K+. If you start getting into the "1985 GMC van-front camper" on Craigslist, it's going to cost you more to keep running than it's worth.
Maintenance. In addition to the maintenance listed above for the travel trailer, you will also have to maintain a complete motor vehicle. If your state requires an inspection, you'll have to do that once a year. You'll have to arrange something for the winter, either pull the battery and drain the fluids or go out and start it periodically. Tires wear out fast and are expensive to maintain - especially when you start talking about 18-wheeler-like tires on the larger Class As.
Oh, and gas... I took my parents' 31-foot Class A camper to Cape Cod one summer. It's ~ 200 miles round-trip, and when I gassed the RV up before handing it back, it cost me well over $200. With gas at $3.50 - $4/gallon, something that gets single-digit gas mileage (and middle-single digit gas mileage at that, I don't mean 9.4 MPG), it's pricey to drive a large motorhome.
Lastly, driving. While travel trailers are difficult to maneuver, a large motorhome is just as bad if not worse. While the trailer you have to worry about pivot points (Who's dragged his trailer over countless curbs? THIS GUY), on the motorhome you have to concern yourself with insanely wide turns - when you have a rig that's 33+ feet long, it turns like the U.S.S. Nimitz. A certain someone that happens to be related to me (but I won't name) has replaced both mirrors and a good number of lugnuts on his motorhome as a result of overbearing tollbooths and other immovable objects...
I'm sure I'll think of a dozen more pros and a dozen more cons for all three types. I also didn't touch on the more boutique types, like fifth wheel (where the attachment point for the tow vehicle is in the bed of a pickup) or a slide-in camper (the ones that go on the backs of pickups). Basically, they fit in existing categories more or less (fifth wheels are still travel trailers, and slide-ins turn your pickup into a motorhome).
This is not meant to dissuade or persuade, but to act as a guidebook of sorts for anyone interested in obtaining a recreational vehicle. We've owned two of the three and used all three, and all have had their good points and their bad points. The pop-up was by far the easiest to store and move around; the travel trailer was the most comfortable and the most "like home"; and the motorhome was the most convenient.
A lot, too, depends on where you are, what your comfort level is with do-it-yourself, and how much time and money you want to invest. If you don't have to worry about winterization, a good chunk of the maintenance is taken out - of course, that means you're further south, which means more sun, which means replacing the tires, awning, and roof more often...
I could definitely see buying a small Class C camper once the kids are off to college as a vehicle for exploration. Something that could in a pinch be driven in a downtown area (not Boston/DC/NYC, but your average mid-size city) but we could stay in overnight with ease would be very cool. I don't see going back to a popup or travel trailer; not that there's anything wrong with either, mind you, just that I don't want that much work for my recreation.
Besides, I'm kinda digging just going tent camping with my son...
That is all.