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 my husband and business partner, Matthew, 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 survive the transition. There are certain realities one doesn't consider when looking at luxury RVs for the first time.
Fast forward to today, I have lived in almost every type of home that rolls or floats, and we've 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 luxury RVs can be relatively easy 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 limiting your trips 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 it's your primary home where you spend most of your time.
The key feature to look for when buying a luxury RV is not the number of TVs. I mean, who needs an indoor or outdoor entertainment center in a place where you've gone to disconnect from screens to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature? And no, it's not about the floor plan, living space, the bathroom's size, or the number of luxury appliances, like a washer, dryer, fold-down deck, or electric fireplace. Don't take the bait when an RV salesperson flashes around a bunch of luxury RV features -- that should not be your highest priority. The most important factors you want to have included are:
1) quality craftsmanship
2) excellent customer service.
The concept of living full-time in an RV or taking extended trips is not a new one. The reality, however, is most RVs are not built for full-time living. There's a reason RVs are called, Recreational Vehicles. By definition, they do not allow living in it for more than a weekend trip to a campsite with full hookups. Why is this a problem? The simple fact is that most RVs are designed for fully hooked-up RV park use only. They're not designed for off-grid use for more than a weekend or a few days. The minimal water storage and electric capacities don't allow for it!
I've spoken with the CEOs 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...” or "There's not much demand for it." Traditional RVs designs didn't focus on off-grid luxurious amenities because customers were buying RVs anyway, with some trying to go off-grid and having a disappointing experience. The problem was they had already bought their RV.
Today's RV buyer is much more informed and has a different mindset. As a result of the pandemic, increased urban crime, and congestion, we have acknowledged the need for a deeper connection to nature and have manipulated RVs to be something they are not – full-time living vehicles. Buyers have been blinded by luxury features instead of focusing on what an RV should deliver. Truly getting into the Great Outdoors, and expressing our deepest needs, is what truly matters. Unplugging from society is what luxury RV features should provide. In a word, it's freedom.
No matter how much customization is done or the expensive gadgets are added, the most essential component of the most expensive luxury RV should be a solid foundation. In the past decade, we have designed and managed the renovation of more than 400 luxurious RVs. And we discovered that no matter how pretty something is, it will have limitations unless it's purpose-built from the ground up. Since most luxury RVs are not built for extended or full-time use, they do not use the materials or quality craftsmanship required for a sturdy home.
The RV industry has done a bit of sleight of hand by making consumers think "lightweight" was better when it means cheap junk. 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 instantly. 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. Naturally, most manufacturers are optimizing for profit, so they slap together cookie-cutter trailers with plywood, laminates, and plastic tightly held together with staples and toxic glues. Their goal is to make the greatest profit based on volume and speed, not quality and longevity. That smiling salesperson you see waving in your rearview mirror as you drive away after buying the most expensive luxury RV is not concerned about your issues down the road. You're in for a rude awakening if and when you have a problem in the middle of a desert, and you think the dealer's customer service will fix it for you.
How do I know these things? Not only have I experienced this firsthand in the many RVs I've lived in, but I've also worked with these companies. I've been on the side of poor customer service experiences. Today, 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 finding 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 motor was installed in the slide-out mechanism of our trailer, and there was a good chance it would fail and break again. What was the company's solution? They hoped it didn't affect too many trailers and dealt with each issue when it came up. 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, for the manufacturer, 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've now been on both sides of the equation as a consumer and partner of America's most expensive luxury RV. As a consumer, when the slide-out was stuck, I couldn't access half the drawers of clothing and had to give up our unit to a service center for two weeks to resolve the issue. Did I mention we lived in the RV full-time and were on the road somewhere in Tennessee when the slide-out motor 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 luxury RVs in mint condition and offer alternatives to make your life on the road easier. This is why it's critical to understand the warranty and who the service point of contact is. A luxury RV should come with a direct line to dedicated support, not a 1-800 number answered by someone at the call center for a huge RV company such as Camping World.
When considering luxury RVs, make sure you are buying something built and designed for your intended purpose. That includes off-road use. Did you know that most manufacturers 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 need a travel trailer space that covers all bases.
This calls for adaptable and separate spaces. I don't know how people living in a van can 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 highlighting a bathroom that doubles as a storage closet or shower.) 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 simultaneously, I can't imagine it being successful in such a small space. 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 a shared office needs to be used by another person? The whole situation makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it, not to mention most vans are too short to stand up.
If your primary motivation for going out with a luxury RV is to bring along your ATV, snowmobile, or golf cart, then a toy hauler might be a good fit for functionality but not so much for interior space with luxurious amenities. This is a utility trailer or mobile garage with sleeping quarters attached. (Is that old grease I can smell?!?) There's also the consideration that breathing these chemicals isn't a healthy environment. Fossil fuel and other fumes often waft over to the main living space, which is unpleasant and can cause breathing disorders, headaches, or worse. I'll have to admit a toy hauler 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 on display. They planned to convert the garage into a bedroom for their daughters. Something originally designed as a toy storage space with no windows was more like a cold, dark dungeon than a cozy place to fall asleep at night.
Multi-functional spaces are great, but not if you need to perform all the functions simultaneously. Having separate rooms where you can stretch out and have some elbow room is critical. You'll need two comfortable spaces if you're working full-time in your RV with someone or more. Working from home offers great freedom but can also be challenging if you are in tight quarters and the rest of the family is with you. The perfect RV allows one to close the door and have a peaceful phone conversation while the rest of the family engages in separate activities in other dedicated RV spaces.
Your definition of a luxury RV must include a separate work or sleep space with a door between. Even better, if you're parked where it's temperate outdoors, wouldn't it be nice to have a fold-down patio to create a third space? Luxurious RVs should also include accommodations for our furry friends. It's so compassionate to have a place for pets to 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. Space allocation of amenities needs to be well thought-out. When everything has a place, it's easier to keep things in place. Capturing additional floor space by moving components such as a kitchen island out on the patio or a murphy bed into the bedroom will provide ample convertible interior space for kids and pets to read, play, and even exercise indoors.
Luxury RVs should also 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 go out searching for a laundromat instead of planning an excursion to a National Park? Your health and time are precious, especially these days. While we can't buy more time, having the luxury of choosing how you spend it is invaluable. I would rather press a button and enjoy returning to an RV 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, can tow your trailer if you opt for a tow behind an RV. As you may have picked up, we tend to choose a Ford or Dodge RAM truck when shopping for a new tow vehicle. We find they offer the best towing experience and 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 a personal choice, as long as the numbers work out. I'm writing from our 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. Over the years, my parents were loyal to Honda sedans, and my first car was a forest green 1996 Geo Prism 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 initially intimidating, especially with him being such a longtime truck expert, but after enough practice and hands-on learning, driving a truck became second nature. A recent poll discovered that women said safety was why they loved their trucks. A pickup truck's overall size and height provide a sense of protection that cars and SUVs can't match. One woman summed it up, saying, “I decided on a truck for safety."
Not only am I comfortable and feel safer driving a truck, but I also prefer it. Whether we're towing or out for a drive, it fits our lifestyle, including dogs, beach trips, mountain bikes, emergency items such as jugs of water, blankets, toolbox, etc. We also spend a lot of time driving and like the extra interior 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. Something must be said about having all that storage space in the back, especially when you are out in the middle of nowhere. All in all, I officially consider myself to be a truck person.
If you live full-time on the road, your luxury RV becomes a critical part of your life. It was like a traveling storage container for overflow or larger items. If you go the van route, you and your partner will likely not be caravanning in separate vehicles. To begin with, a van is extremely limited in space (don't forget the bathroom doubles as a storage closet!)
While larger motorized luxury RVs may not be as limited in storage and living space, you are still living out of your car. It's quite a different experience having an RV set up at a campground or public land site and having a nice truck to explore or run errands. Having a car that is also your home provides zero separation and can make you go nuts, to put it mildly. 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 driver's 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. A motorized RV may be fun to travel in, but it will be the most expensive vehicle you hardly ever drive.
As I mentioned, disconnecting 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 it. You may or may not want to roll with a setup this large. 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 less spacious than a truck, you're pretty much stuck with whatever storage is in your RV. While large class As contain a lot of outer storage 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 driver and passenger's seats, 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 above the driver's seat?!?). You'll likely only be able to fit the many remotes and user manuals that come with all your TVs -- and don't forget that high-tech electric fireplace!
The experience of living in a mobile RV space is also not as convenient as one might think. While it may be nice not to have to pull over when another 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 outweigh the positives.
And the noise. Oh, what a terrible sound to have to listen to each one of your belongings rattling against the cabinets, drawers, and refrigerator from every room while you take each turn. Have you ever rented a Cruise America RV? I recommend you do it. Everything is vibrating at such a level that I thought it might fall apart and open up at the sides like a cardboard box. Why would you spend hours in a luxury RV that felt like a 6.0 earthquake? If you are sensitive to noise, you may want to rethink a motorhome or any motorized RV combined with a living space. And in case you don't mind cabinets opening up and plates flying out like saucers while cruising at 70 mph down the freeway, 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 the 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 and talked with many RVers, van lifers, and tiny house dwellers. I hope this list of key features and items to consider when purchasing luxury RVs 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.