Recently, Mike Sherman, full-time RVer and Honorary Correspondent at RVtravel.com, made a very good case for the reasons to go big and have a larger RV. I saw that and, as a small trailer enthusiast, I wanted to share my thoughts for why I think small trailers have the advantage.
The first thing I have to clear up is that the RV industry is incredible. There is literally “something for everyone.” In fact there’s almost no “right” or “wrong” answer. I’ve seen people adapt to all sorts of RVs.
The question of whether to go motorized or towable doesn’t have a single answer either.
There are as many reasons to do things as there are humans making decisions. What’s right for you is what’s right for you. But some people are shopping, based on the popularity of my daily RV review articles. So I thought I’d highlight some things that may not be immediately apparent.
But first let’s talk about the obvious. Smaller RVs cost less than larger ones. That alone might be why some folks choose smaller RVs.
If you’re talking towables, which we are here, then there are circumstances where the vehicle required to tow a smaller trailer is far less expensive than one required to haul around a huge fifth wheel, for example.
What may not be very obvious is the fact that RVs are horrible in the aerodynamics department. If you’re thinking of getting a smaller travel trailer to save fuel, keep shopping. One of the biggest factors in fuel economy in RVs is overcoming the lousy aerodynamics of a giant box. I get almost the same fuel economy, or lack thereof, no matter what is hooked to the ball of my pickup.
What I generally tow is a Rockwood Mini Lite 1905S. It is a single-axle travel trailer with no slides, just the way I like ‘em. We also have a 1970 Aristocrat Land Liner. Why?
Moochdocking in a small RV
I can easily camp in friend’s driveways along the way. Whenever I hit the road I get to visit plenty of my former neighbors and lifelong friends who have chosen to escape California for greener pastures outside the state.
Oftentimes these folks have just enough driveway that I can park my trailer in their driveway and spend a few nights without paying for an RV park. Furthermore, I get to do what I enjoy when I see my friends … see my friends.
This is also true of mooching, er, camping with family.
I don’t have to worry about traveling to an RV park in the dark and hoping I made it before they close the front gate. And, since many of my friends share my love of craft beer, if I’m sleeping in their driveway I don’t have to monitor how much of that we enjoy.
Typically when I do this I don’t impose upon them for any services whatsoever. We have a decent solar system on our trailer and we arrive with our holding tanks empty and fresh water tanks full. Other than my enjoyment of the people I came to see, I don’t really want to take anything other than photos and memories.
I’ve also found that services like Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts, two of my favorites, become really open to the fact that I have such a small rig. I have stayed at a lot of breweries and railroad museums including those that don’t officially have an affiliation with services mentioned.
When my rig doesn’t take up more than two normal parking spaces it’s not much of an imposition to let me stay the night. Then I always make sure to patronize the services of my host, either the day I arrive or the following day.
And there is no challenge in getting me to buy a growler of beer or a T-shirt commemorating my stay at a brewery or something that reminds me of a stay at a railroad museum. In fact, when I mention the size of our rig, many, many restaurants have even let us stay. That means we can have dinner the night before and breakfast before we hit the road.
Campgrounds and a small RV
Lest I sound like the ultimate cheapskate, I also pay to stay at campgrounds. Having a smaller rig has helped me out here, too. Many campgrounds will have limited amounts of space available, as we’ve read here on RVtravel.com. But just as many of those campgrounds seem to suddenly have a spot when you call and tell them you have a small trailer with no slides.
In fact, it’s amazing to me how many times a spot just “opens up” when we tell them the size of the trailer.
Maneuverability of a small RV
I think it must be pretty obvious that a smaller rig is more maneuverable. But I’ve had to make U-turns on two-lane roads, find my way out of tight spots at campgrounds, pull in when the campers across the street at a campground decided to see just how many vehicles they could cram into a spot, and more.
I have zero issues getting into filling stations, and I can park my entire rig in two tandem parking spots. So going to many grocery stores is no problem whatsoever.
In fact, I am so good at backing this thing up I have parallel parked it in two adjacent street parking spots. Yes, the other drivers get angry and salute me as I do so. No. I don’t care.
It might seem counterintuitive to say that smaller RVs have more space. What I’m referring to is the space they consume. When I’m in a campground the smaller travel trailer that I have leaves me more space in that spot so I can use my awning and zero-gravity chair to enjoy what I came here to see – the sights.
By not literally filling the entire campsite with RV, I have the space to wander around and stretch out and enjoy the great outdoors.
My rig has a rail on the side where I hang a flat-top griddle and table. Most of my cooking is done outdoors which is why, if it were to build my own RV, I would have a gateway of some sort to get to the refrigerator in the rig, as is done in the SylvanSport VAST. They’ve also figured this out in the inTech Terra Oasis travel trailer, which is one my wife and I are considering purchasing.
When I was handling warranties at the RV dealership, I got plenty of calls from folks at campgrounds whose auto-leveling systems and slide room systems had failed, leaving them stranded. As mentioned, I have a 1970 Aristocrat Land Liner in addition to my modern travel trailer. In that simpler vintage rig, everything still works 50 years later. I like simpler things that just do their job.
Smaller trailers with fewer parts means fewer repairs.
Storing the small RV
Our trailers sit on our own property, but we purposely live in a rural county. For those who live in more populated areas, storing your rig when you’re not using it is a consideration and, again, smaller RVs win here, too.
I will admit that most of my time in my RV journeys are spent outside. So that means I go where the weather suits my clothes, as Jimmy Buffett once sang. In fact, I pulled the couch out of my rig and use zero-gravity folding chairs instead, which generally end up outside under the awning. That’s just the way I like to camp.
But on those rainy days when I’m doing more writing than average, I like the fact that I can keep my rig very comfortable with a single 13,500 BTU air conditioner. Bonus, I installed an RVSoftStart™. That means I can run the whole thing off a single 15-amp plug most of the time. Of course, my rig is wired for 30, and there are even fewer issues when using that plug.
Having a single axle means a set of new tires costs less. Repacking the wheel bearings, which I do annually, is also just less time-consuming. I can jack up the trailer with the bottle jack from my truck.
Of course, there are a few down sides, and I admit I am looking for a slightly larger trailer.
Since I now work on the road more, I would like a better place to do that work. I would take my dinette out and put in a desk; however, the water heater is under one of the dinette benches in my trailer and a drawer is under the other.
The newer models of Rockwood’s Mini Lite line have 12 more gallons of water aboard. That would translate into 2-3 additional days before I have to fill. Typically what brings us in from boondocking or “moochdocking” is the fact that the fresh water tank is empty. Although we’ve found that Venture Wipes have been a great solution for lessening this issue, i.e., using less water.
There are people who don’t like the Murphy bed that’s in our particular trailer, but I love it. By night there’s a bed, by day there’s space to spread out (on the aforementioned folding chairs). But there is no audio break between the bedroom and the dinette where I work. I tend to get up at 5 and want a cup of coffee along with a space to tell the stories I do.
My wife, on the other hand, can stay up much later than I can. So there are a good six hours of the day where one of us is up and the other isn’t. A slightly longer trailer would facilitate this, too.
While I’ve read about people hating the bathrooms in their smaller rigs, this one has the bath across the entire rear of the trailer. As such, there is plenty of closet space and legroom on the seat for making those life-changing decisions. The shower is spacious, too, and it uses a real shower curtain, not a glass door that breaks half way to your destination.
I guess the trailer we have is almost perfect. It’s paid for. It has almost all the space we could want. And, aside from fresh water tank capacity, it serves the way we camp really well.
And there’s the bottom line. Whatever your style of camping, it’s good to know this in advance. Because there is no one answer.