Just over a year ago, our full-time adventure of living in a travel trailer and exploring the continent ended. To say it was unforgettable would be an understatement. To say it was beautiful would not do it justice. To say it was an opportunity to grow and explore our limits would be accurate.
The pros and cons of living full-time in a travel trailer will be different for each individual. We’ve written fairly extensively about that experience since it began in May 2017.
We’ve shared plenty of lessons we learned and takeaways that will hopefully help you in the decision-making process if you’re considering this route. But we’ve never done a complete Pros vs. Cons post to help give you the big picture of the experience.
I’d say it’s about time for that after nearly one-and-a-half years in our 200 sq ft adventure capsule and now a year of looking back and processing that unique period in our lives.
Pros and Cons of Living Full-Time in a Travel Trailer
Let me start off by saying that my level of gratitude for this opportunity we had to RV full time is completely off the charts. I know how much of a gift that is. I understand that the majority of the population could never even imagine having the chance to do what we did, for a variety of reasons. And I am thankful every day that it became a reality for us.
*If you want to get a better idea of how we made money while we were traveling to make this adventure possible, read this post.*
For us, this was not a “money-saving” move, not by a long shot. You can get a better idea of what it cost us by reading this post. But what we got out of it was utterly priceless, in so many ways.
Lastly, I want to point out that this list assumes you will be traveling while living in the travel trailer, not sitting stationary in a single location.
With that, let’s take a realistic look at the pros and cons, the positives and negatives, of living full-time in a travel trailer…from our perspective at least.
Pro – Lower Overall Purchase Price and Maintenance/Repair Costs
*To see all of the nitty-gritty details about our truck and travel trailer purchases, as well as the sales after the journey ended, check out this beefy post.*
As you might have picked up on in some of my other posts on the site, I am a details and a numbers kind of guy by nature. In most situations, I need the numbers to make sense before I can fully buy into a choice or a direction.
That’s not to say that I haven’t learned a thing or two about letting go from our full-time RVing experience. But still, details and numbers are in my DNA.
So when it came time to decide on the type of RV we were prepared to live in full-time, I took the decision very seriously. Since we were new to the world of RVing, we started out by considering every single type of RV from Class A down to travel trailer.
But as I covered in detail in this post, solid information provided by our salesperson about the realities of financing an RV quickly narrowed our search focus down to just travel trailers. It’s what made sense for us when we really started looking at the numbers, and specifically at the amount, we would be required to provide upfront as a down payment (20-30% of the purchase price if you’ve got “good” credit with a 700+ credit score).
THE SIMPLER, THE BETTER: WHO NEEDS “BELLS AND WHISTLES”?
As a child, I think my dad influenced me early and often with his perspective on simplicity…at least when it came to automobiles.
I distinctly remember when I was about 11 years old and we were buying the first new car that I had ever experienced: a gold 1986 Mazda 626 sedan. It was the first time that I remember hearing him talk about how we didn’t really need the “bells and whistles” on a car, like power seats or windows, that was just another opportunity for something to go wrong.
No, he was far more interested in the overall reliability ratings on a vehicle. He wanted to know whether this engine and transmission would stand the test of time. And since he was preparing to move our family thousands of miles east and into another country (Canada) in the near future, that reliability factor took on even greater significance.
He wanted it to get us there safely and without added hassle and expense, not pamper us along the way.
Honestly, I think in a lot of ways my own perspective on “things” in life mirrors his.
I felt it come to the surface as we looked at dozens and dozens of different travel trailer models. I would look at a fancy upgrade and think, “How long until that feature goes haywire?” I would see a model that had two slides instead of one and think, “That’s just another chance that we could face those dreaded issues with a slide I’ve been reading about.”
PESSIMISTIC OR PRAGMATIC?
You may see this as pessimistic; I guess I view it as pragmatic. I view it as playing the odds, for lack of a better term.
For our maiden voyage in this RV, I wanted to face the fewest possible issues and cough up the lowest amount of maintenance and repair costs I could. I wanted to keep things simple while still ensuring we had a reasonable level of comfort and convenience.
For our situation, the travel trailer absolutely made the most sense from a cost and simplicity standpoint. I have no regrets and view these factors as major pros for the travel trailer option.
Con – You’ll Rub a Few More Elbows with Family
Generally speaking, you are going to have less space in a travel trailer than you would experience in a fifth wheel. It seems pretty obvious, right?
Not only will travel trailers normally be shorter in length, but they will also typically include fewer slide-outs that create more interior space. On fifth wheels, you can find as many as four or five slides on a large rig, while travel trailers normally top out at two (maybe three in rare situations).
But what does that tighter space make things look like on a daily basis?
It looks like more coordination and cooperation during meal prep time to navigate the common space that serves as the kitchen/living/dining area.
It might look like using the dining room table as a study area, then reading area, then TV watching area, then sleeping area, requiring several transitions throughout the day.
And it could involve getting a bit cozier around the dining table than you might be used to. (Our norm was mom and dad eating on the couch, three kids at the dining table, to avoid those bumped elbows.)
TIME TO GET CREATIVE
But are there some ways to address this issue and create some more livable space…in the proper climates, at least.
After nearly a year on the road, we decided to purchase a fantastic pop-up gazebo that created additional outdoor living space protected from insects and (partially) rain. We all wished we would have made that purchase sooner, because it not only provided the additional space that is so precious during full-time RV travel but also added to the amount of time we spent outdoors on a regular basis.
Looking back, we still feel it was one of the best purchases we made during our time on the road.
So yes, you will have less indoor space to work with. But if you are willing to bring patience, cooperation and creativity along for the ride you can absolutely still make it a positive experience.
Pro – You’ll Need Less Truck to Tow a Travel Trailer
Surprise! It’s another financial advantage of a travel trailer! What can I say? It’s an important factor in my world of limited resources. (If you live in a world of unlimited resources, the next Pro that I cover below may still steer you in the travel trailer direction.)
As we shopped for an RV and narrowed our search down to towables, it was never far from my mind that an additional purchase was just around the corner: A truck capable of safely pulling whatever RV we purchased.
I had picked the brains of truck-owning friends and scoured online RV forums as I wrestled from the very beginning with what type of truck to purchase when the time came.
Many RVers proved to be outspoken proponents of buying the beefiest truck you possibly could from the beginning (normally meaning a 1-ton diesel). Their reasoning was that even if you buy a smaller RV now (travel trailer), odds are good that you will want to upgrade one of these days, requiring a larger truck.
They felt strongly that buying the “max truck” now would keep you from having to upgrade both your RV and your truck at the same time down the road, which could prove very difficult to pull off financially.
DIFFERENCE IN RESALE VALUE IS A FACTOR
Many also felt that the far higher resale values on diesel trucks, compared to gas trucks, further justified the higher purchase price now. Given the number of miles I was planning to drive whatever truck I purchased, this reasoning carried the most weight with me.
And it almost pushed me to opt for a 3/4 ton diesel instead of the 3/4 ton gas model that I eventually purchased.
But at the end of the day, I just wasn’t prepared to deal with that additional expense (easily $10-15K more) that a diesel truck would require. I was also intimidated by the additional maintenance and care that a diesel engine requires, having never even owned a truck before.
And because I was looking closely at purchasing a travel trailer with a gross weight of about 6,500 pounds, and had no thought of ever going with a larger RV than this, I knew that a 3/4 ton gas truck could get the job done.
You can see the reality that we faced at the end of our journey by reading this post, but the short version is that I owed $9,000 more than the truck was worth when I went to trade it in last year. (We put over 48K miles on the truck, so…)
Yes, I could have reduced that negative equity by trying to sell it instead of trading it in. In our situation, that wasn’t really a feasible option.
SO THIS IS A PRO WITH A CAVEAT
Looking back on it now, I can’t really say that I regret going with a gas truck despite the “financial reckoning” after the fact.
Is it possible I could have come out better financially if I had gone with a diesel? Yes, it’s possible. But that option would also have required a considerably higher monthly payment during our time on the road, which might have given me heart palpitations.
So the caveat is: You CAN go with less truck if you purchase a travel trailer vs. a fifth wheel. Only you can decide if you SHOULD go this route when you look at all factors involved.
Con – No Movie Nights At Your Place
During our travels, we spent a couple of weeks traveling up into Canada (Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia) with a family that we met on the road. It was some of the best times that we had during our journey.
These friends were traveling in a large fifth wheel that held their family of five. And it was a really spacious and convenient rig that we thought was amazing.
We were able to have our family of five crash their fifth wheel for both a movie night and a top-notch brunch while in Nova Scotia. (The movie was Robin Williams’ “RV”, and this was the first time any of us had seen it, believe it or not.)
This is in addition to the countless times that our 14 year old spent the night in the rig with their boys. So yeah, great memories all around.
That time together, with all ten of us enjoying one space, was really enjoyable and memorable.
When we commented about how nice it was to be able to entertain folks (something our rig would not allow), they said that this was one of the reasons that they had gone with this fifth wheel. They knew it would allow them to be hospitable with folks that they met and that was important to them.
Of course, we would have the same opportunity if the weather permitted and we wanted to entertain outside our rig. But definitely not inside.
Take that into consideration when you make your decision about which rig is the best fit for you.
Pro – Easier Access to More Locations
When we were making plans for our travels, I had big plans about being able to stay in state and national parks as much as possible. I quickly picked up on the fact that each park like this, however, would have its own limits on RV size that were normally more stringent than your typical RV park or private campground.
Basically, I determined that if I kept our rig under 30 feet in total length (with tongue included), I should have access to more than 85% of state and national park campgrounds.
Since I was already unsure if I wanted to tow anything larger than that 30-foot rig, this was kind of the deciding factor for me. Staying under 30 feet would give me an acceptable level of comfort with towing (something I was very new to) and would not limit our options in locations that we were very interested in visiting.
While we didn’t end up staying in nearly as many state and national parks as I had hoped we would, I still don’t regret the decision to stay under that 30-foot mark. It would have made some of our RV parks and campground stays MUCH more stressful and complicated to have a larger rig. We barely fit into some of the spots!
RV HEIGHT MATTERS ALSO
When you’re RVing the western portion of the US and Canada, you don’t run into many spots where the height of your RV requires you to reroute and potentially add distance and time to your trip.
However, if you find yourself drifting toward the northeastern US, you will quickly discover that the height matters a whole lot more. All of a sudden, you’ve got to be on high alert and ensure that you don’t head down the wrong road with low clearances that will cause you serious problems.
In our 10′ 6″ high travel trailer, we ran into only one situation in the northeast where we had to reroute because of clearance issues. If we had been in a fifth wheel, with typical heights of 12′ to 13′ or more, it would have been a far different story.
Yes, there are resources and apps available to you if you are in a larger rig that will help you route away from low clearance roadways. It could add time and distance to your travels, but it will keep you safe and out of trouble.
Con – Interior Clearance Is Much Lower
In our 26 foot RV, we had ceiling heights of about 6′ 6″, which is fairly typical. Since our tallest occupant was about 6′ 1″, we were able to make it work without any major difficulties.
I will say that I knocked my head going through our exterior doorway on more than one occasion. It required me and my oldest son to stoop down a bit to get through without incident.
There is no doubt that the lower ceilings in the travel trailers give you a “cozier” feel. Some might say a “tighter” feel. For some folks, this isn’t a problem. For others, it may be a night and day difference.
Because I have to say that hanging out in our friend’s fifth wheel while we were traveling with them was just a completely different experience. With ceiling heights at 9′ or so, it obviously just gives the whole space a very open and welcoming feel. The difference between the two really is a night and day difference, in my opinion.
The lower ceilings of the travel trailer are going to lead to amplified noise as well, so be aware of that if you have loud individuals (you know, small kids or dogs) along for the ride. Since my ears are pretty sensitive to noise, this would probably have proved very challenging for me with small kids or dogs in the rig.
Lots of factors to consider, I know. I hope that these “nuances” of each space help you to make the decision that is best for you.
You’ve Got the Pros and Cons of Living in a Travel Trailer…So What Will You Choose?
As I said from the beginning, all of these pros and cons are based on our personal experience and on the things that we viewed as “issues” during our travels. Some of these items may make no difference to you whatsoever, and some may be game-changers.
My advice is simply to be sure to talk through all of these pros and cons, and any others you can come up with, with everyone who will be living in the RV.
You need as many different perspectives and opinions as possible with such a major decision like this. Best to see things as clearly as possible now rather than realize your oversight after the purchase.
As you walk through it and move toward the full-time RV lifestyle, we wish you grand adventures, priceless memories and smooth travels! May the road rise to meet you.
Todd Bonner is the slightly quieter half of the dynamic TREKKN duo. He spends most of his time sharing information about RV travel and safety, RV accessories and tips, and the National Parks he has visited and still desperately craves. When he’s not busy working on TREKKN, you will often find him staring at breathtaking pictures of Glacier National Park, probably his favorite spot on earth.