It’s All About the Layout

When I look back on all the decisions we have made as full timers, I definitely believe our decision to buy our particular RV was the best one.  Fours years after our purchase we are still really happy with our choice, and I thought I would write a little bit about that for those folks who are in the planning stage, or maybe thinking about purchasing a new rig.  I want to preface this post by saying that I am not promoting any particular type.  The discussions about what is “best” are numerous on the internet, and I personally I think most of those dialogues miss the point.  You won’t find an answer to “Class A versus fifth wheel?” in this post.  (The answer is: 5th wheel. – Lee) And I won’t be delving into new versus used.  (New. – Lee) My take on it is: buy what you can afford and like, and everything else is secondary.  So in that spirit, here are some things I believe you should keep in mind when making your selection.

Layout, Layout, Layout

More than any other factor I believe the layout of the livable space should drive your choice.  You might have the fanciest RV on the planet, or the most structurally sound, but if you can’t walk around in the interior space and feel comfortable, what’s the point? If your RV is someplace you hang out in part-time this may be less of an issue, but for those of us who live in these spaces full time, it’s a very big deal.  Especially because as much as you might think you will be outside most of the time (and we definitely thought that), for most people I know that is really not the case.  For one thing, no matter how much you like to chase the beautiful weather there are still cold/rainy days, and for another you still need a space to take care of life stuff, and you should think about those types of activities when looking at your floor plan. Where will I pay my bills, cook my meals, get dressed in the morning, or take a shower?  (My recommendations, in that order, are: At a desk, in the kitchen, someplace we can’t see, in the bathroom. This really isn’t as complicated as she’s making it sound. – Lee) These are all activities that will happen most days (Most days? I prefer you take a shower every day, even if I don’t. Otherwise you smell funky. – Lee)  and if you are fighting the space it will make them less pleasant.

Along those lines I would also think about the types of indoor activities you like to do for fun and what that looks like in the space.  If you spend a ton of time on the computer, think about desk space.  Like to watch TV? Where will you be sitting, and how big is the screen? Love to craft? Will you have enough space to work in? You get my point.  You should also think about how much you want to entertain, or have people come and stay with you.  What does the space look like with four people in it, or six or ten?  Trust me it is MUCH different than with two, and you should think that through before buying, unless you aren’t planning on having many people inside, in which case don’t worry about it.

Finally, please keep in mind that as nice as our “luxury condos on wheels” are, under the wrong circumstances it can be a very small space.  We are currently living in 400 square feet, and although most of the time that works just fine, there are days where we are just getting on each other’s nerves, and everything feels tight and cramped. Being able to sit outside absolutely helps in those cases and also using the bedroom as a separate place to hang out during the day.  Thankfully those days aren’t the norm, but they do happen, and that was absolutely a major factor when we bought our rig.

Storage

Everything is a trade off in an RV, and as much as many of us strive for a minimalist lifestyle we all still have stuff.  And you really need to think about where that stuff will go.  Clothes, dry goods (including spices), pots and pans, etc are all items that have to go somewhere, and there are limits to what people are willing to go without.  The same goes for the items that can fit in your basement, so try to be realistic about what you can bring with you.  Cabinet space is key here, because although you can get creative with capturing unused space or adding new cabinets, to a large extent you are stuck with what you buy.  Think about where specific things will go, and take that into account when making your purchase.

When it comes to this topic you also have to think about weight.  Most full timers are really good at fitting a ton of stuff into a pretty small space, but almost all of us (in fifth wheels at least) struggle with being slightly overweight.  Each RV has specific ratings and just because you can find the space for an item you can’t necessarily take on the additional weight. In all fairness this one is really tough during the buying process, because folks generally don’t know how much their stuff weighs.  My take on this was to get as much storage space as I could without giving up the layout I wanted.  Speaking of which, I wanted to specifically mention outside TVs/kitchens here.  I know some people love them, which of course is fine, but many people have them in their RV and never use them.  That space has to come from somewhere, and giving up that much room for features that you might rarely use is something to think about. Most RV’s are designed for the weekend user/tailgater and some really cool features have limited appeal for a full timer.  Again, some folks love their outside TV’s and use them frequently, but we intentionally chose a model that didn’t have that feature because we knew we would never use it. Just something to think about.

Driveable vs Towable

I think most people make this decision first (we certainly did) and then move on from there, but in retrospect I don’t recommend that.  We know people who live happily in all kinds of RV’s and many who have live in multiple kinds.  There are offsetting pluses and minuses to each kind, and unless you have a very specific reason to prefer one over the other I would look at layout and storage first and then decide. During our original search I completely rejected Class A’s early on because they felt claustrophobic to me but have since been in several that I think I could definitely live in. Given our budget it is unlikely that we would have chosen something different, but I wish we had spent more time looking at them because who knows. (On the flip side, I desperately wanted a Class A when we started talking about this, but as soon as I started looking at them I completely changed my mind. I haven’t been inside one yet that I personally would be willing to live in. – Lee)

What I am cautioning against here is saying in your mind I absolutely have to have one or the other, especially if you are making that decision because you like someone else’s rig.  That’s human nature of course to see something someone else has and want it, but wanting something and living with it are two different things.  As much as possible, go into your choice with a blank slate, which I know can be tough, especially if you have lots of RVing experience. And I am not saying ignore what you know about yourself from previous camping, but recognize that casual use and living full time are two different things.  This was the one area where I actually think our lack of knowledge was a huge benefit.  But even with minimal experience, I closed my mind off to certain options early on and in retrospect that changed things.

Manufacturer

Lee might put this as the number one thing to look at, and in all fairness the two items above don’t mean anything if you don’t have a solid foundation, but I am not 100% sure a truly solid foundation exists.  All RV’s have issues and few of them hold up to the amount of use full timers put them through.  Whether you bought a used RV for $10K or a $250K version sooner or later you are going to have a mechanical failure.  If you are a handy person, you should definitely think about whether or not you can work on your own RV and what that looks like, but if you can’t then you should think about the manufacturer.  The problem is the RV industry is in constant flux and companies frequently go out of business or are bought out.  We personally know someone who was having a new rig built and during the build the company was bought out and a whole new crew came in and that had an actual impact on the build of their rig, and we know another person who owned a rig and the company went out of business two years later. Our original manufacturer, Open Range is now owned by Heartland Ridge and we have seen a difference in customer service since that happened.

Even if the company stays under the same ownership they won’t necessarily be helpful after the two year manufacturer’s warranty expires.  We had a suspension problem issue 10 days after ours expired and were flat out told we were out of luck.  This is where an extended warranty can be very beneficial, and I highly recommend one, but then of course you are trying to find good service centers while traveling, which for us at least has been a challenge.  My point here is many people seem to care about the name brand on the rig and that’s fine, but I wouldn’t give up layout or storage to get a specific manufacturer.  That’s just me though, as there are folks who swear by specific brands and if that really matters to you, fair enough.  Just please don’t think that will solve everything.

I would also add here to not be afraid of used.  We decided pretty early that we wanted something new and if we had to do it again I am not sure I would go that route.  We have met several people who bought wonderful “gently used” rigs and I think it would be fun to remodel one to my own specifications.  Yes, you run the risk of buying someone else’s problems, but since we stipulated all RV’s have issues, at least you theoretically have all the money you saved to address them when they occur. (I do not agree with this. While it’s possible to go over a used rig with a fine toothed comb to suss out any potential issues, for me I would never be comfortable with something used, no matter how gently. I would always be waiting for something to go wrong.  Also, other’s people cooties will be all over everything. – Lee)

Colors/Wood Tone

I know this is largely cosmetic, but it also the first thing you notice when you walk into someone else’s rig.  The wood tone/colors do matter, especially in a living space.  Darker tones can make the small space feel oppressive (at least to me) and lighter tones may not hold up well to extended use.  To this day one of my favorite parts of my rig is the color of the wood and that more than anything else makes the space feel warm and homey.

Along these lines accent colors and wallpaper are also a factor.  If you are talented you can change those things with time and money, but most of us live with what we originally purchased with perhaps some minor changes.  Keeping that in mind be very careful about bold colors.  Short term it might be fun, but can you live with it over the long haul? I would also add the color of the furniture to this category because in this small space the furniture really stands out. You might have a really cute couch that completely matches for example, but is it comfortable?  Going back to layout, if it looks great but you never want to sit on it, at some point you will probably want to change the furniture out.  When/if that happens will you be able to match the colors or will the color scheme continue to work without those accents.  Again, things to think about, and although in a perfect world we would have both, I would pick function over style every time.

Bells and Whistles

The last category are all the cute little features that we all love.  It’s tough because when you are looking for an RV these little touches really matter, but I would never pick a rig just for one little feature.  You may love that walk-in closet, pantry,  dishwasher, washer/dryer, bathtub, etc, but if the rest of the rig doesn’t work overall you aren’t likely to be happy.  As exciting as the whole process is, try to think about the mundane and practical.  It’s not as fun, but you will be happier for it in the long run. (My approach to things like this is ignore the “shiny”, you can appreciate it later, and besides shiny wears off eventually. Look for what sucks. If you can live with what sucks, you’ll be fine. This goes for rigs, cars, dogs, houses, spouses. It covers everything. – Lee) 

So these are my thoughts on the subject.  Despite everything I just said, buy what you want.  It’s your life and you have the right to live it however you want.  (If you screw it up and make a bad decision, we will all laugh and point. – Lee) But these are a few things to think about during the process, and if it helps in the long term it was worth taking some time to write it all up. I’ve been hesitant to even come close to this issue because folks do have pretty strong feelings about it, but new year and new rules, so I thought I would give it a shot.  As always, your mileage will definitely vary, and this is all just one person’s opinion..well two people’s if Lee chimes in! (As always, I feel I have brought a certain level of somber thoughtfulness and gravitas to the discussion. – Lee)


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8 thoughts on “It’s All About the Layout

  1. Always enjoy it when a full-timer with tenure goes back and shares some of their decisions and how they worked out. Totally agree with making sure the floor plan and space works. For us, we are going to let the floor plan we like dictate the length of trailer we buy, but keeping in mind we would prefer something closet to 35′ rather than 43′. I’ve studied all the construction methods. Most don’t matter as much as I thought they would. For example, I doubt anyone would buy a certain trailer just because of the way the slide mechanisms works compared to another. And for the most part, it appears you get what you pay for.

    Really helped to narrow the search for us by establishing a budget and discovering cargo capacity matters. Maybe the next consideration was tank size should one want to live without full hookups for more than a couple days or just off electric only sites.

    Please keep the opinions coming…

    Lee – also thanks for the input. Just look at what sucks never dawned on me. Good point.

  2. We also have a 5th wheel and the layout is perfect for us and our pets. Last weekend we attended the Phoenix RV show just to see if much has changed. We were relieved to find that not one other 5er came close to ours.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I always look forward to your next blog. Becki

  3. Something that we think that is important when shopping for an rv is the length. We want one that we will be able to take in state and national parks along with private campgrounds. Yellowstone for example has several campgrounds that can’t accommodate larger rigs. We want to be able to go to most any campground so length is definitely one thing we go by first. That’s just my two cents worth 😁.

    • It’s a fair point, but you really have to think about how much time you will spend in National Parks with smaller campgrounds than everywhere else. If it’s not that much time then I wouldn’t make that the overriding factor

  4. Thanks you two…not that we are looking for a new rig, but we are definitely looking for a smile!!! This post made me smile:o)) Just love when you two work “together”…kind of ying & yang style. I actually laughed out loud with Lee’s “what sucks” remark. Definitely a new perspective:o)))

  5. Tracy and Lee,
    Thank you for your post. It is always hard to find very many posts of this nature. I am glad to hear that you wouldn’t change anything.
    I am still in the investigation mode. 2020 is our target year to hit the road. I have looked at the Highland Ridge OR 3x and am glad that you are “mostly” satisfied with you decision to purchase it. I have read a few posts about suspension problems on the OR models. One of them from a couple traveling in Alaska. Would you mind sharing what issues you had and how they were handled?
    rick

  6. I stumbled across Camper Chronicles for the first time today and the title of your post caught my attention. My husband and I are not full timers, but we’ve put over 50,000 miles on two travel trailers over the past 10 years or so and that mileage includes three extended cross country trips. Our former trailer was a Jayco Jay Flight 27BH and our current one is a Creek Side 26RLS made by Outdoors RV Manufacturing. With both trailers, the layout was, indeed, the main factor that drove our decision to purchase. With our first trailer, bunk space for the kids was a top priority. When we bought the Creek Side, a rear living model that would provide more living space had become the priority since “the Kids” are young adults now and don’t camp with us as much as they used to. Even with the layout being the driving force, the weight of the trailer and its carrying capacity, it’s length, the amount and type of storage, the build quality, amenities and price of the unit and the color of the interior design were all important factors that we considered. (We already knew that we wanted a towable rig because we prefer leaving the trailer at the campground and taking the four wheel drive truck on our adventures. It carries our bikes and kayaks and more gear than we could fit in a smaller vehicle we might tow behind a Class A or C.)
    If I might offer a couple of suggestions to those who may be shopping for an RV or upgrading to one that will make full time travel comfortable . . . Visit a large RV show if possible, not just small local shows or a couple of local dealers offering RVs made by several manufacturers. Yes, it’s exhausting to work a big show and it often takes more than one full day if you’re seriously shopping, but having that many units on hand makes it easy to go back and take another look at any of the RVs you’re comparing. Once you get back home, looking at photos online just isn’t the same. I truly believe that touring so many RVs at the same time really gives you a feel for what you like and what you don’t. After a while, a particular layout just feels right. While you’re at the big RV show, take advantage of the opportunity to check the build quality of the units. Look at EVERYTHING in any unit you may be interested in. Open every drawer and cabinet. See how the main door opens and closes, how smoothly and securely the shower latch works and how easily the windows open and close. Build quality varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer and when a company chooses to use high quality materials and pay attention to detail in the manufacturing process it will be obvious. As for storage, Tracy mentioned how weight can be an issue and this is an area where we, as shoppers, need to do our homework simply for the safety of our families and that of other travelers on the road. You need to be sure that the weight of your camper plus any gear/food/clothing and any water you’re carrying in your tanks doesn’t exceed the cargo carrying capacity of your RV or the weight limit on your tow vehicle and/or your rig. Because both my husband and I are detail-oriented, we actually weighed everything that went in our travel trailers when we first set them up for camping. Someone else’s experience will certainly be different than ours but, in both cases, the total of our cargo topped out between 900 and 1,000 lbs. That includes all the food in the refrigerator, freezer and cabinets, plus paper goods, pots and pans, kitchen and bathroom supplies and clothing and shoes – but NO water at all in any of the tanks (and water weighs 8.34 lbs. per gallon!). That’s a lot of gear – and a lot of weight. And I don’t think we travel with anything unusual that others wouldn’t. So do be sure you run the numbers on the allowable weights for your rig – and your tow vehicle if you have one.
    I apologize for the lengthy comment but, since my husband and I just bought a new travel trailer last year, a lot of this was still fresh in my mind. We researched our purchase for over a year and it was time well spent – we absolutely love our Creek Side! Tracy and Lee raise some excellent points and it boils down to really thinking about your needs and knowing how you’ll use your RV. The more time you put into the research and shopping end of the process, the more likely you are to choose a rig you love and that’s a perfect fit for your lifestyle.

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