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Why go small? This time we’re looking at the case for owning a small RV

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. 

Simple minds

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. 

Really obvious

Camping in a corn field on a recent road trip.

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. 

Better mileage?

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. 

Size matters

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. 

Further mooching

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. 

Smaller rigs just leave you more space in the campground

More space

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. 

Less maintenance on a small RV

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. 

Fewer resources

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. 

The downsides

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. 

In summary

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.

##RVT1017

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Oliver Quibble
15 days ago

Question for you small rv owners:
What about the nights that are very hot and you you need to stop and find yourself staying at a Walmart or Cracker Barrel; how does it work for you without a generator?

We have a small motorhome (2006, gas 30′) and have thought about going even smaller. The smaller size is not an issue for us, we welcome getting even smaller.
But we think we would really miss running the A/C at those Cracker Barrels and Walmarts when boondocking.
Do you just suck it up and sweat all night?

Larry Wilkening
15 days ago

We have a smaller Class C motorhome (25’ total length). We’ve taken it from Western Colorado to Raleigh, NC twice in the last year. When we told the RV Park the size of the RV we usually got a spot to stay. We didn’t make a reservation until the day we needed it. I remember only 3 parks that couldn’t accommodate us. In those cases we just called another park.

Elizabeth Carter
15 days ago

We are a couple in our 80’s, been camping for over 60 years. We always “chose small”, even in the tenting days. Although we are on the road for 4 to 6 months a year, we have constantly honed down what we really need to have comfortable and enjoyable experiences. Number one is a comfortable bed. Two is a place to prepare simple meals in a dry place. Now that we are older, number three is a potty for the night hours. Everything else is gravy! We have traveled to 49 states, all of the Canadian provinces, and two territories. Our small footprint has made it easy for us to find places to stay. There is almost always some little nook that we can be tucked into.

Scott Holmer
15 days ago

Elizabeth, can you recommend a trailer for my wife and I? We are on the verge of retirement and want the smallest yet practical trailer. Definitely with a potty.

Bob p
15 days ago
Reply to  Scott Holmer

I’m not Elizabeth but we bought a Mesa Ridge 23RLS this summer and love it. The RLS means Rear Lounge Slide, it has a front bedroom separate from the living area with access directly into the bathroom which DW loves, the shower is on the small side but we can still use it ok. The couch is at the rear and the dinette is in the slide. One of the great things is the trailer is usable except the couch with the slide in. The kitchen is on the curb side opposite the slide so overnight stops can be made without “setting up camp” so to speak. It is easy to pull with our 2018 Nissan Frontier, we rarely ever drive faster than 63 mph and it easily maintains that speed. We have made two trips in East TN so far and it pulls our “mountains” with no problems. Good luck!

Bob p
15 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

P.S. we are in our upper senior years also

martin a
16 days ago

We had a 17′ Casita, now a 25.5 bigfoot with front cargo box. It is more comfortable for longer multi week trips. I still miss the less stressful towing of the Casita with a midsize tow vehicle, and the places that we could fit and get out of! If this becomes too much work we will likely downsize to a small trailer or a mini motor home if I find one that I can fit in and drive with a bad knee.

Dennis G.
16 days ago

For all the above mentioned reasons, we love our 29′-11″ class A. We fit into gas stations and two parking spots easily. We are also only 11′-3″ tall at both roof mounted A/C units. Finding 30′ camping sites is also much easier. We do not have a slide out, so tight camping slots work as well. Smaller can be better.

Kamwick
16 days ago

My ideal for non full-time travel is a small, gas efficient van that somehow could fit in my garage (maybe with a pop top?). Somehow, it would also have to have a toilet. Trying to figure out how to make this happen. Not ready to do business in the 5 gallon paint can from Loews 🙂

Mike Sherman
16 days ago

Excellent points Tony, you made me long for the memories of my first TT, a 1967 12′ No toilet, “refrigerator” required a block of dry ice but my son and I sure had good times in it. You brought up other valid points for ‘small’ vs ‘large’…the automatic stuff. I’ve paid for repairs to the electric awnings and have been stuck twice because the hydraulic auto-leveling jacks would not retract. Ah, and the ability to get into a real campground. Our 42’ 5th wheel keeps us restrained on where we can go. While the pluses have been sweet, I am glad we all have multiple options that cater to personal needs. I’m glad you highlighted the reasons for small, great perspectives.

Glenn L. Lygrisse
16 days ago

Every person has a different reason for owning an RV, thus different strokes for differnt folks. That being said we tow a KZ Spree RB240 with a Ford Expedition. We have towed to Alaska, to Quebec, Arizona, Florida, Texas and points in between. We feel this is the perfect RV for us. Small enough to get through city traffic, large enough for us two retired people as well as to live in for 3 months at a time. It does have a large slide (13 X 3) so that really adds when set up. As for tow vehicle, the Ford Ex, is great. When not towing it doubles as our second car and can haul up to 8 total people, great for the whole family. No desire for big, challenging and expensive.

wanderer
16 days ago

Well said! I think the big rigs are only suitable for people who are used to driving semis or buses.

I’ve known multiple people on a tight budget who thought they were getting the most bang for their buck by getting a nice big used Class A. But now they don’t travel in it, at 4-5 miles per gallon. Just cannonball from home base to snowbird country, and save up for even those journeys. That’s sad.

p.s. “going where the weather suits my clothes” was written by Fred Neil and sung by Harry Nillson, used in the film Midnight Cowboy, 1969.

Mike Hancock
16 days ago

We full-time in an Escape 21 fiberglass trailer and would not want anything bigger. We still have cabinets that are mostly empty. With 490 watts of solar panels we can go indefinitely without electric hookups as long as we don’t need air conditioning.

Bull
16 days ago

As I have grown older I have become a fan of smaller is better. What was important to me in life in my early 40’s I could give a schidt less about now that I am in my early 60’s. That 8500 Sq. Ft. house on 11 acres was cool then and now is a pain to maintain along with all the other CRAP from way back then !

I have been in the long process of gittin rid of lot’s of stuff that at one time was so important and is now laughable as to why I thought it was Kool or important. Same with campers and camping.

I never had a large camper but came very close to getting into the Prevost lifestyle. For once I made a good decision and did not buy!

Now the SMALLER THE BETTER particularly with campers. The 1957 R20 Avion is the perfect and very simple. That along with my Ford Bronco with a Hallmark camper mounted is perfect for those off-grid trips that increasing become more and more my favorite.

Patrick
16 days ago

What’s the max length to be labeled a small camper?

Is that including to the hitch or just the cabin?

Carl
16 days ago

Full time in my Escape 19. Perfect!

Gman
16 days ago

Wow, your story would be almost identical to mine, Cherokee Wolfpup 17RP, tow vehicle a Titan. Yes, our trailer looks very small parked next to 40+ RV with double full slide outs, it’s okay, we think it’s cute. Little guys gotta stick together, haha!

Curt L Coffee
16 days ago

Yes, smaller TT are great! But one thing that we have found out is that when you tell the RV park that its a 26 ft TT, yea, they have a spot. They don’t tell you its next to the trash dump, or behind the Bathrooms, or next to the pool, and so on. They will put you where no one else can go and some times its not pretty. Keep that in mind!

Roger V
16 days ago
Reply to  Curt L Coffee

Great point. We have a very nice Winnebago 21′ Class B motorhome and have experienced the same thing – that one “spot” that’s behind the office beside the dumpster that used to be paved maybe 30 years ago for example.

Elizabeth Carter
15 days ago
Reply to  Tony Barthel

You are so right Tony. I am going to remember your word, “suboptimal” when writing reviews! We just want a safe place to spend the night. We call it “having a flexible attitude”.

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