Dear RV Shrink:
We are in the final steps of making our RV buying decision. Maybe we overthink things, but we are now at an impasse. My husband and I have recently retired, sold our apartment in New York City, and have temporarily moved in with our kids while we transition into RV life. We are both avid wildlife photographers and have had this dream of traveling to every wildlife refuge in the country and spending a good amount of time at each one shooting stills and video.
We know we want a motorhome so we can tow our Jeep. The controversy has come down to size. I am arguing for a small Class C, but my husband is insisting on a larger Class A. My argument is that smaller is better. I contend we will get into tighter campsites, be more nimble in our travels, and have fewer maintenance issues. He thinks a 30-foot motorhome is a perfect size but, to me, we don’t gain much more in living amenities, lose fuel efficiency and reduce our camping options.
My husband recently found your column and has enjoyed sharing it with me. I thought I would like to hear your two cents’ worth as we mull over our options. —Small Problem in the Big Apple
I think you are on the right track for the lifestyle you are imagining. Your question brings a few things to mind. As for the length issue, there is one inconvenient truth about a smaller rig that could have a big impact on your plans. Depending on what you mean by “spending a good amount of time at each [wildlife refuge],” the rig size could be important. You will find that many wildlife refuge areas offer no overnight camping facilities. Those that do will have no water, electric or sewer.
To stay close to many remote refuge areas, you will often find yourself boondocking. How long you desire to stay in one place can be dictated by power, water and waste capacity. A 30-foot Class A motorhome will have twice the fresh/gray/black water capacity of a 24-foot Class C.
I have nothing against your choice, but compact does not always equate to efficient. I spend part of my year living out of a small backpack, on long-distant hiking trails, with everything I need weighing under 16 pounds.
But when it comes to an RV I want a system that allows me enough water, sewer and power capacity to last at least two weeks at a stretch. This means a rig large enough to carry that extra capacity yet small enough to allow me into the wild places where I prefer to spend my time. The fact that your husband is not arguing for a 40-foot rockstar bus tells me you are not that far apart in your desire for a rig that will meet all your needs.
Another plus for going to a bigger Class A would be fuel capacity, the extra storage space for gear, battery space for a solar system, add-on opportunities for bikes and kayaks, and perhaps extra propane.
Make a list of everything you might want to start out with or add later. Will it all fit into the storage space of the rig you are most interested in? If not, you will eventually want to step up to something bigger. Why not get it right the first time?
I can only think of a few places we enjoy visiting that exclude us because we are 30-feet long. In all those cases we have found nearby camping options that still work out perfect for us.
We often boondock with friends who are forced to leave early because they are out of power or need to dump and fill. Having the real estate on the roof and basement of a rig for solar and storage will be important whichever rig you eventually choose.
So, the bottom line is, do your homework, decide how you will be using your new home on wheels and what you will want to carry along with you, then find a unit that fits.
This is a common mistake even backpackers make. They buy a pack, then buy all the stuff they want to fit into it. Just turn that thought process around and you will discover things will work out a lot smoother.
It reminds me of criticism Dolly Parton would often get from her father about her tight dresses: “Girl, you’re trying to put fifty pounds of mud into a five-pound sack.”
Good luck; see you on the road.
—Keep Smilin’, Richard Mallery a.k.a. Dr. R.V. Shrink
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