I’m going to share a secret with you. I haven’t always lived in a trailer! Thinking back to my first time buying a trailer with Matthew, my husband and business partner, there seemed to be an endless number of things to consider. It was a whole new world for me, and often overwhelming to the point that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go through the transition. There are certain realities one just doesn’t consider if you’re buying a luxury RV for the first time.
Fast forward to today, I have lived in pretty much every type of home on wheels (even a boat), and designed countless mobile spaces for others to call home. I’m going to share with you three very important things that I’ve learned in my experience over the years. Searching for the perfect luxury RV can be a relatively easy task as long as you know the right things to look for. Here are three real-world applications to consider when shopping for your perfect RV.
Unless you plan on keeping your trips limited to a day or two, I’m going to consider part-time or extended-use to mean more than a few days at a time and full-time to mean that is your primary home where you spend the majority of your time.
The key feature to look for when buying a luxury RV is not the number of TVs. I mean really, who needs an entertainment center outside in a place where you’ve gone to disconnect and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature? And no, it’s not the floor plan, or living space, how big the bathroom is, or whether or not there are luxury appliances, like a washer dryer or fold-down deck. Good spot to use keywords. It might surprise you: quality craftsmanship and excellent customer service.
The concept of living in an RV or going for extended trips is not a new one. The problem is that’s not what most RVs are built for. If you consider the name, Recreational Vehicle, -- there’s a reason RVs are called, well RVs. By definition, it does not allow for the other life functions that must occur outside of weekend trips to a campsite. Why is this a problem? Well, the simple fact that most RVs are indeed designed for weekend stays and not daily use. I’ve spoken with CEO’s of billion dollar motorhome companies and when asked why they did something about a design feature, they just said – “It’s just the way it’s always been done.” That means that your RV is not going to be able to withstand the daily wear and tear of being used on a more frequent basis. As humans we have acknowledged the opportunity for a deeper connection to nature and have manipulated RVs to be something they are not – full-time living vehicles.
No matter how much customization you do or expensive gadgets you add on, starting with an improper foundation will result in a poor experience. We've renovated over 400 trailers in our past work and have found that no matter how pretty you make something, it will have limitations unless you build it purposefully from the ground up. Since most RVs are not built for extended or full-time use, they do not use materials or quality craftsmanship required for a sturdy home.
Let’s think back to the childhood story of the three little pigs. The two pigs that used straw and sticks built their homes quickly and hap hazardously, then laid down to enjoy a nice nap. Once a gust of wind (the big bad wolf) came along their houses fell apart in an instant. The only pig whose house resisted the wolf’s gusts was the one that intentionally and methodically spent his whole day building his home from durable bricks.
The RV industry is no different. Most manufacturers are optimizing for a profit, so they slap together units with plywood and plastic tightly held together with staples and toxic glues. To make the greatest profit, their goal is based on volume and speed, not quality and longevity. And if you’re having a problem and think customer service is going to fix it for you, you’re in for a rude awakening.
How do I know these things? Not only have I experienced this firsthand in the many RVs I’ve lived in, I’ve also worked with these companies. As a consumer, I’ve been on the side of the poor customer service experience. And as a professional in the RV industry, I’ve sat at the table with the CEOs of some of the largest companies and heard them speak about hitting quotas and margins at all costs. Cutting expenses by selecting cheaper materials or vendors that offer the lowest prices instead of the best performing products is the status quo.
I remember a call I was on a few years ago where it was discovered that a faulty rotar was installed in the slide out mechanism and there was a good chance it would fail and break. The solution? Hope it doesn’t affect too many of the units out there and deal with it when the consumer faces an issue. The thing is… when you pump out thousands of RVs off the line a year, it’s a nightmare to recall a part and get ahead of the issue. Instead, it’s a game of “hopefully it doesn’t break before the 1-year warranty is up and it won’t be our problem anymore.”
Guess what? I was that consumer. I wasn’t able to access half the drawers of clothing in the slide-out and had to give up our unit to a service center for two weeks to get the issue resolved. Did I mention we were living in the RV full-time and were on the road somewhere in the middle of Tennessee when the rotar on the slide-out broke? There was nothing luxurious about it. But that RV sure did have a “luxurious” appearance in the marketing materials.
Great customer service should be proactive about keeping your luxury RV in mint condition and offer alternatives to make your life on the road easier. Be sure to understand your warranty and who your point of contact is. A luxury RV should come with a direct line to a dedicated support, not a 1-800 number that is answered by someone at the front desk at a huge RV company, such as Camping World.
When considering a luxury RV, make sure you are buying something that was built and designed for the purpose you intend to use it for. That includes off-road use. Did you know that most manufactures will void your entire warranty if you take your RV off-road?
If you are using your RV for more than a few days at a time, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be cooking, cleaning, working, showering, adventuring and rethinking your life’s decisions. With the rise of remote working and learning, you really do need a space that covers all the bases.
This calls for adaptable and separate spaces. I really don’t know how people living in a van are able to perform all of these functions. I suppose they may hold an executive office, or what is fondly referred to as the bathroom (I always laugh when I see a video that highlights a bathroom that doubles as a storage closet.) Imagine having a dog, two adults and a small child all sharing the same space behind a steering wheel. There just isn’t anywhere to go. If anyone needs to talk at the same time, I can’t imagine it being successful in such a small space. Just imagine being on a work call in the executive office, a child doing Zoom learning and the other adult preparing a meal. What happens if the “office” needs to be used by someone else? The whole situation makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it, not to mention most vans are too short to be able to fully stand-up in.
And unless your primary motivation for going out with your luxury RV is to bring along your ATV, snowmobile or golf-cart, a toy-hauler is not going to be a good fit. I see this more as a utility trailer or traveling garage with sleeping quarters attached. There is the consideration that it isn’t a very healthy living environment. Grease and propane fumes often waft over to the main living space which are not only unpleasant but can cause regular headaches or worse. I’ll have to admit a toy hauler just isn’t something that made sense for my lifestyle. I remember attending an RV show several years ago and speaking with the proud owners of a new toy hauler that was on display. Their plan was to convert the garage space into a bedroom for their daughters-- it seemed more like a cold, dark dungeon than a cozy place to fall asleep in at night.
Multi-functional spaces are great, but not if you need to perform all the functions at the same time. Having separate rooms where you can stretch out and have some elbow room is critical. If you’re working full-time in your RV, you’ll need two spaces that have a comfortable surface and would be appropriate to be on camera in. Working from home offers great freedom but it can also be a challenge if you are in tight quarters and the rest of the family is home with you. Being able to close the door and have a peaceful phone conversation while the rest of the family is engaging in their separate activities is key.
Even better, you have an outdoor area like an enclosed fold down patio that allows you to create a third private space where you can close the door if needed. Also great for getting pets from out under your feet and giving them a place they can rest comfortably without being tripped on and yelled at.
If you’re familiar with the French cooking term, mise en place, you’ll understand how important it is for everything to be in its place. Figure out where you’ll be able to study, work, watch movies, sleep, lounge, eat, keep the dog, etc. When everything has a place, it’s easier to keep things in place. Being able to capture additional floor space by moving components such as a kitchen island out on the patio or a murphy bed situation in the bedroom will provide ample space for kids and pets to play as well as indoor exercise.
A true luxury RV will include a washer and dryer, a dishwasher, and a central vac because cleaning, chores, and laundry still need to happen while on the road. Who wants to have to go out searching for a laundromat while planning out an excursion to a National Park? Our time is precious, especially these days. While we can’t buy more time, having the luxury of choosing how you spend it is invaluable. I rather just press a button and enjoy coming back from a long hike to clean dishes and clothes.
I feel like this one gets overlooked quite a bit. You need a tow vehicle that first and foremost is capable of towing your trailer if you opt for a tow behind RV. As you may have picked up on, we always decide between Ford and Dodge RAM when it’s time for us to find a new tow vehicle. We find they offer the best towing experience as well as ride performance; we also have preferred dealerships that we've used over the years that make the process painless. (Disclaimer: If you prefer a different make, that's cool too, as long as the numbers work out. I'm writing from our own personal experience and understand you may have grown up in a Chevy family. It's ok, we can still get along :))
Never owned or driven a truck? It’s OK, you can learn! I did not grow up in a truck family. My parents were loyal to Honda’s sedan offerings over the years and my first car was a forest green 1996 Geo Prisim passed down from my sister. Can’t picture it? Google will help you out. It most definitely was not a truck.
It wasn’t until I met Matthew that I owned my first truck. It was intimidating at first, especially with him being such a longtime truck expert, but after enough practice and hands-on learning driving a truck became second nature.
Not only am I comfortable driving a truck, I prefer it. Whether we’re towing or out for a drive, it fits our lifestyle: Dogs, beach trips, mountain bikes, emergency items like jugs of water, blankets, tool box etc. We also spend a lot of time driving, and we like the extra space a truck offers. And thanks to the help of backup cameras and tons of practice, I can confidently parallel park or back up into a parking space. There is something about a truck that feels safer, especially when you are out in the middle of nowhere. All in all, I officially consider myself to be a truck person.
If you are living full-time on the road, your vehicle becomes a critical part of your life. For us it was like a traveling storage container for overflow or larger items. If you go the van route, it is likely you and your partner are not going to be caravanning in separate vehicles. A van is extremely limited in space to begin with (don’t forget the bathroom doubles as a storage closet!)
While larger motorized vehicles may not be as limited on storage and living space, you are still quite literally living out of your car. It’s quite a different experience having a trailer that is setup at a campground, public land site and having a nice truck to explore in or perhaps run errands. Having a car that is also your home provides zero separation can make you go nuts to put it simply. Even if you get a million-dollar Prevost or Marathon motorhome and towing a companion car along for the journey, you are still living in your mode of transportation. It just doesn’t feel like home. I remember when we were in our motorhome, we’d often sit in the drivers and passenger’s seats to eat because the designated dining space was so small and poorly designed. It felt awkward and not luxurious at all.
As I mentioned, being able to disconnect from your RV is a huge plus and super convenient. If you’re a truck person like me and want to opt for a class A or B, the reality is that you’re going to need a massive +40-ft class for an RV powerful enough to tow the LV. You may or may not want to roll with a setup this large. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen something like a beautiful RAM 3500 diesel truck being pulled behind any RV.
Another consideration is storage – if you opt for a tow vehicle or companion vehicle that is less spacious than a truck, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever storage is in your RV. While large class As do contain a lot of outer storages in the hatches, interior storage can be compromised. If you consider the footprint of a motorhome, the first 25 percent is taken up by the drivers and passenger’s seat, dashboard etc. You may get a few measly upper cabinets near the TV (who thought it was a good idea to put a TV directly about the driver’s seat?!?) you’ll likely only be able to fit the many remotes and user manuals that come with all your TVs.
The experience of living in a moving space is also not as convenient as one might think. While it may be nice to not have to pull over when other member of your crew needs to go to the bathroom or get a snack because you are already in your space, I can say the number of spills, messes and bruises on account of moving parts or unexpected bumps in the road outweighs the positives.
And the noise. Oh, what a terrible sound to have to listen to each single one of your belongings rattling against the cabinets, drawers and refrigerator while you take each turn. Have you ever rented a Cruise America RV? Everything was vibrating at such a level that I truly thought it might just fall apart and open up at the sides like a cardboard box. If you are sensitive to noise, then you may want to rethink a motorhome or any type of motorized vehicle with a living space combined. And in case you don’t mind cabinets opening up and plates flying out like flying saucers while you’re cruising at 70 mph down the freeway, might I suggest you invest in a quality first aid kit.
Finally, there’s the issue of safety. While most, if not all motorhomes today, provide seatbelts in their seating areas in back, if I had a family with small children I definitely wouldn’t travel in a motorhome with them walking around the back while in transit. Which is going to happen.
I have experienced these things firsthand as well as have talked with all sorts of RVers, van lifers and tiny house dwellers. I hope this list of key features and items to consider when purchasing a luxury RV has been helpful to you. The more you can ask yourself these questions ahead of time and have honest and realistic conversations as a family, the more enjoyable your experience will be.