If you’ve suffered from chronic wanderlust throughout your life, or have a list of far-flung destinations you’ve always wanted to visit but have never had the time for, then traveling in an RV might be the most satisfying way to spend your retirement. North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand offer plentiful facilities for motor homes; other parts of the world are beginning to catch on. Online resources are too numerous to catalog. You won’t be alone on the road.
The first thing you’ll need to decide is, what type of RV is most suitable for your needs. Because RVing is such a popular activity for seniors, and people of all age groups, styles and designs of RVs have proliferated over the years. You’ll need to do your research to determine which type of vehicle is best for you; purchasing an RV involves considerable expense, so be sure to make the right decision.
Two Categories of RV
RVs roughly fall into two categories: motorized, in which the motor vehicle and the living space are contained in the same unit, and nonmotorized, in which the living space is a separate unit that is attached to the motor vehicle as a trailer or drop-in camper.
Motorized RVs are further categorized into Class A, Class B, and Class C. The largest and most comfortable motor homes are in the Class A category. These are large houses on wheels, 25 to 45 feet long; premier models in fact cost as much as a very nice house, at $300,000 and more. Winnebago is the most recognized manufacturer, but scores of companies manufacture these luxurious vehicles; comparison shopping is a must. Standard equipment includes living and bedroom furnishings, one or two televisions, a full kitchen, hot water heater, full bath and often a separate half-bath, heating and air-conditioning, an electrical generator, and more. Options might include granite countertops, a washer/dryer and additional appliances, a GPS system, and satellite television and Internet. You can choose engines that run on either gasoline or diesel.
Comfort and roominess are the biggest positives of a Class A motor home. All facilities and appliances can be used while the motor home is being driven (not by the driver of course!). But there are obvious downsides too. Apart from exorbitant purchase costs, these vehicles promise mileage of only 6 to 10 miles per gallon. Once you’ve set up camp, you can’t use your RV to go sightseeing; you’ll need to tow a small car, bring motorbikes or bicycles, or rely on public transportation. Maneuverability is a big issue; the open highway is one thing, but urban streets quite another. Low bridges can be an issue. And some campgrounds and RV parks disallow vehicles longer than 35 feet.
Class B motor homes are miniature versions of Class A: measuring 15 to 20 feet in length, these motor homes are standard vans that have been converted into small RVs. Class B vehicles are also referred to as camper vans; as with full-sized motor homes, they are available with both gasoline- and diesel-burning engines. You won’t find a camper van with a washer/dryer or whirlpool bath, but they can be quite comfortable; costs are much lower than for full-sized motor homes (though can still approach $100,000), and gas mileage is much better too. Also, camper vans can be used for general sightseeing or for running errands while you’re traveling, and you can still tow a boat or an additional travel trailer.
Class C motor homes fall somewhere between Class A and B; these are built on a van chassis but are larger than camper vans, and are often characterized by a raised storage area or additional bunk that extends above the cab area. These vehicles can be from 20 to 35 feet long, and can cost $100,000 and more. They are roomier than camper vans, sleeping up to six people; all but the largest models can be used for sightseeing and running errands, although because of their height, a lot of close-in driving can be uncomfortable.
The largest of the nonmotorized RVs is the fifth-wheel trailer, which requires a pick-up truck with a fifth-wheel hitch installed in the truck bed. Because of this design, up to 25 percent of the trailer’s weight is borne by your truck’s rear suspension, so you need to ensure that your truck has adequate carrying capacity for a large trailer. Fifth-wheel trailers can be 20 to 40 feet long and can offer luxury comparable to that of Class A motor homes; there’s plenty of storage, too, and the raised area above your truck bed serves as an extra bunk bed, as with Class C motor homes.
If you’ve never towed a trailer, you’ll need to practice; fifth-wheel trailers can be long, although these kinds of hitches are more maneuverable than standard hitches. Because of their height, low bridges and branches can be troublesome. These trailers can cost anywhere from $30,000 to six figures, depending on size and amenities.
Travel trailers, which are hauled using a standard hitch, are available in a large range of sizes, from miniature teardrop trailers (often under 10 feet in length and 5 feet in height) to large rigs 40 feet in length. Costs vary considerably, although per linear foot travel trailers are cheaper than fifth-wheel trailers. You don’t need a van or pickup to haul a travel trailer, although make sure your vehicle has sufficient power to haul the size of trailer you intend to purchase. Maneuverability, particularly backing up, is trickier with a standard hitch than a fifth-wheel hitch.
A tent trailer, or popup trailer, is a compact trailer that folds down to a small size for traveling and pops up to create living space while you’re camping. The roof is usually solid and the walls made of collapsible canvas. These are very small and maneuverable, and can be towed by virtually any kind of vehicle, but you won’t have much space for living and you won’t have insulation against the cold or heat. Most people traveling with tent trailers also bring a large stand-up tent with walls made of mosquito netting that can serve as a living room, dining room, and kitchen while camping.
Finally, if you already have a pickup truck, you can install a truck camper: a small cabin that attaches to the truck bed, with a raised bunk bed area extending out over the cab of the pickup. These are among the least expensive of all RVs, can maneuver into remote wilderness areas, and allow for additional towing (of a boat, for instance). However, they offer limited living space, and can become unstable if you’re driving in gusty conditions.
Whether you require the utmost in luxury or are content to rough it, there’s an RV suitable for you that you can take out for months or longer on the road.