With the overwhelming amount of options on the market nowadays, what really is the best RV for full time living? How do you know which one is right for you? We spent about a year looking for the perfect RV for us. I wish that we had this list when we started looking. It would have made things so much easier.
5th Wheel Overview
Because we live full time in a fifth wheel, that will be the only type of RV that we discuss in this post. There are many other types that you might consider. (Check Out Less Junk More Journey's 'Buy The Right RV' Course HERE).
But... if you have decided on a fifth wheel, this is a great place to start narrowing your search.
When we started shopping for our full time RV living model, just the types of units was a little confusing. So let's break that down first for anyone who may be completely new to the world of fifth wheels.
There are 5 main types of units on the market. A few that don't fit into these categories will pop up but these are the main types.
Before You Start Shopping
Most dealers will say ANYTHING to try and get you to leave in a model they have on the lot, even if it wouldn't be a good fit for your family.
We suggest that you do as much research as you can. Read blogs, watch YouTube videos of other full timers, and soak up all the information you can get your hands on.
You can check out the beginning of our journey HERE.
Then ask yourself the following questions...
1. Do You Have Kids?
This may seem like a given. But there are a few things to consider when it comes to buying an RV for full time living when you have kids.
Do your kids prefer (or would you prefer) a separate space? Do you want them to have a door that shuts to provide privacy for mom and dad? How many children do you have?
A mid bunk is a wonderful option but we found that it would only work for us if we gutted the space. If we only had 2 children, we would have gotten a mid bunk.
There are regular bunkhouses, as well as toyhaulers which a lot of people renovate to suit their needs. That is what we did!
And some people realize that their kids don't really need their own dedicated space and they make up the beds in the living space each night. It really depends on what will work best for your family.
2. Speed Of Travel
Will you prefer longer stays or shorter trips?
The length of stay can make a big differece in the type of rig that you want to travel in. For example, we move once every two to three weeks. We have done much faster and enjoy it from time to time, but 2-3 weeks is our happy place.
When we are moving quickly, as in staying in one place for less than a week, we would be much happier in a smaller rig.
It would be easier to maneuver, easier to find spots that we fit in, and we would not have any problems finding availability in parks.
However, we are moving at a slower pace and we like our space. With three kids, and two large dogs, life can get crazy. Could we go smaller? Yes. But we are comfortable in our 43 footer. We have everything we need. We have the cargo space so that we at as limited in what we can carry. And, our kids love having their own space.
So our advice...
Fast moving travel...get a smaller rig. Slower moving travel...go big or go home! JUST KIDDING...but get what you want, what you'll be comfortable in, and what your truck will pull.
3. Do You Have Pets?
We didn't put a lot of thought into this one and I feel we kinda got lucky with our RV.
We have two large dogs. Due to their size, they need a lot of floor space to walk, sleep, and us not be tripping over them constantly!
If you have dogs, think about where their bed will go. Where could you put their food and water bowls? And will you have enough room to all maneuver around each other.
If you have a cat, think about where the litter box will sit.
Check out Derek's other tips for traveling with dogs HERE.
4. Winter VS Summer
Will you be spending your winters where there will be cold weather? What about summer? Some places get unbearably hot in the summer months and you will want your rig to be comfortable inside.
There are many brands that offer a "4-season" or "arctic" package. Basically this means that your underbelly is enclosed, the waterlines are connected inside a compartment instead of straight outside, and you may have a heat duct that blows into the underbelly.
All of these things are great...but will they be enough in below freezing temps?
If you will be staying in the south for any part of the spring, summer, or fall...it gets HOT. Higher temps are a struggle for any RV. But there are a few things that really help.
Multiple ACs, solar blinds, and double pane windows are just a few. The larger the RV, the harder it can be to keep it cool. We have added extra carpet padding to insulate our toyhauler garage and added a portable AC which works great!
You're probably thinking, "what the heck does the fridge matter?!" Let me tell you...it matters more than you know!
There are two main types of refrigerators in RVs... standard propane/electric models, and residential models.
RV fridges that are the propane/electric type are the old standard. They have been used for a long time, are safe, and efficient. They use electric when you are on hookups or generator power, then switch to using propane when you do not have any electricity.
When not on an electric hookup, your RV's batteries will power the panel on the front of the fridge (temp control and power buttons). Then your propane will cool the fridge and you will be able to keep groceries cold while traveling or boondocking. We have kept our fridge cool for weeks on just one propane tank so it is cheap to run if you are boondocking.
They do come in several sizes and although they are very practical, they tend to be small so you may need to shop more often. You will need to defrost the RV fridge every few months, and deal with a sometimes iced over/clogged drip tray.
Residential fridges are just like the fridge in your home. They look nice and come in larger models that can hold a lot of food!
However, there are a few things that you will want to consider before choosing this option.
They only run on electric power. If you want to run the fridge while traveling, you will need to run the fridge off of your inverter. The dealerships will tell you..."Oh, the residential fridge runs off your truck when you are towing!" We were told that at every dealership we went to.
That is not necessarily true. Trucks do not come equipped with the right inverter for this job. If you want to run a residential fridge without electricity, you will have to invest in a beefed up power supply of batteries, larger inverter, solar and/or generator options. There are many posts from other RV'ers on how they accomplish this.
We have a 4-door Norcold RV fridge and we love it. The biggest decision for us was whether we were ready to upgrade to solar and a larger battery bank. At the time we bought our RV, that was not an option for us. Our RV fridge has served us well and I love the flexibility it provides.
6. Need A Generator?
Will you be staying mostly in campgrounds with unlimited electric or would you like the option to boondock, or stay overnight without an electric hookup?
We knew that we wanted to have the ability to boondock. We like meeting all the amazing people we come across in our travels. But sometimes, waking up to miles of nothing but trees and birds to keep you company is nice!
But we still need the ability to charge our batteries, and maybe make a pot of coffee.
So we either need a solar setup or a generator...or both.
Toyhaulers come with a generator already on board and ready to go. We love our Onan 5500 and will not own an RV without it. It has come in handy on so many occasions.
If you don't feel that a generator is something you'll need, we recommend at least getting an RV that has the compartment to hold one. If you change your mind, you wont have to figure out how to strap one on the back!
7. New or Used
When you start looking at RVs...go to a dealers lot and see what's out there.
We thought we were going to purchase new at the beginning of our search. We quickly found out that new RVs can come riddled with quirks and kinks that need to be worked out. But, they will have some sort of warranty that should cover most things.
Our advice: If you buy new...don't plan on hitting the road right away. Camp a few times in it near home and get a feel for it. Make sure everything in working and if you find anything that needs to be fixed, you will be close to your dealer to have warranty work done.
We purchased used. Our hope was that any kinks had already been worked out and we would just have typical maintenance and upkeep.
That has played out to be true for us. We purchased our RV at 4 years old. We saved a ton on the depreciation and we didn't feel so bad renovating, painting, etc one that was a few years old and not brand new.
Obviously, there are different levels of quality on the market. THIS IS IMPORTANT... you are going to. be living in this thing FULL TIME. Most RVs are not made to be lived in full time.
There are a few brands that are rated for full time rv living. But the majority of RVs are made for camping a few times a year.
Many of the brands that are rated for full time use were out of our budget. So, I used a little trick to test the quality.
I SLAMMED cabinets. Yes, I turned a few salesmen's heads but there was a purpose. If the cabinets sounded solid...it was better quality than one whose cabinets were flimsy and thin.
I opened all the drawers and looked at the quality of the wood inside. I tried wiggling toilets, open and shut all the doors, outside storage doors, and even looked at the underbelly to see what that looked like in comparison to others.
In the end, we realized that each brand of RV has about 3 different "tiers" of units.
They will have an entry level tier that is made with cheaper components, a middle tier that is a little better, and then a higher tier that is made with a little nicer trim, cabinetry, etc.
Bottom line: they are all RVs that are not made to live in...so choose one that will withstand the wear and tear.
This does not mean that you shouldn't get a "lower tier" RV to live in. It just means that each brand has different models and you should look at everything and decide what will suit your family and your budget.
OUR BIGGEST TIP: Go through the items above to help decide what is important to you.
Go look at EVERYTHING! Find a floor plan that you like. Then research brands that have a similar floorplan.
Once you narrow your search, you can do a search for that model in the radius you are willing to drive.
Best of luck...and please reach out with any questions!