If you are interested in pursuing a trip like we’re taking I’d encourage you do some Google searches, make a visit to your local library, and visit local RV dealers. Suffice it to say the RV market is a complex one - consisting of powered RVs and towable RV’s of all shapes, sizes and price-points. Every alternative has benefits and disadvantages - and finding the right solution is a puzzle that you need to work out for yourself based on your budget, who will be on the trip, and what you intend to do while on the road.
What I am going to do here is outline the process leading us to choose what we did - which is a 30’ bunkhouse 5th wheel trailer.
We didn’t come to this decision lightly. I grew up taking long vacations in Class A motorhomes. MsBoyink had camped often in a pop-up. But when we decided to seriously pursue this Pipe Dream I decided that we would start with a clean slate and just see what options were out there. While we are keeping our house, our daily driver needs to be replaced anyway - so if we wanted to go towable we could just choose to buy a tow vehicle as our next vehicle.
Our first step was to visit a large local RV dealer, outline our plans, and see what they thought. Based on our plans of not being on the road every day, and trying to limit our drive times - when we are in motion - to around the 4 hour mark, they recommended a 5th wheel trailer and truck combination. They toured us through some rigs that were quite nice - some even with a bath and a half and dedicated kids rooms with slide-outs. What scared us was the price points of these rigs - most of them in the $30 - $50K range. Add a $15 - $25K truck to that and and it was more than we really wanted to spend. Most of them were quite long as well - 35’ or more. While we haven’t experienced life on the road yet, I just know that overall the longer you are the fewer places you will find to stay.
So for a while we looked mostly at bumper-pull travel trailers. Dollar for dollar these are the best deal in the RV market - both new and used. I found that used Suburbans - either in a big-block gas or diesel version - were pretty affordable. Between that and a used travel trailer I could see getting us on the road for the low $20K range overall.
Along the way we developed a rough set of requirements that would make a trailer ideal:
- 30’ long or less
- Permanent beds for everyone (that don’t have to be made up/down every night) - so “bunkhouse” models
- Seperate bedroom for the kids and the parents.
- At least one slide-out in the living area
- A place for me to setup a desktop computer for work
At one point we got pretty serious about a Jayco 32’ Bunkhouse model bumper-pull travel trailer. A local dealer had an ‘09 model they were looking to move and they put together a pretty attractive package deal on it. But it was winter, and between needing to immediately find storage and not yet having a tow vehicle we decided to wait.
We also thought for awhile about a Class C motorhome. While true bunkhouse versions are available - they are out of our price range (often selling in the $60K and up range). We could envision buying a used one with a rear full bedroom. I could take out the queen bed and make bunks for the kids and possibly fit a desk in that room as well. Then MsBoyink and I would sleep in the bunk over the driver’s area.
The challenge with that approach is that then we’d also need a vehicle to tow behind it - so the family could get out and go do stuff while I work. Budget-wise that put us up another $7K - $10K which I didn’t want to do. I’d also then have two drivetrains to maintain and repair.
So eventually we came back around to the towable idea. We spent the winter months looking online - watching eBay auctions (I was bumping into the maximum number you can watch at 200), and looking at Craigslist. We also found places where repossessed units are sold so looked there as well.
The search really kind of stagnated for about 6-8 weeks - between the cold weather and life just getting busy. Once spring hit, however, the wanderlust started to kick in and we amped the search back up. We still hadn’t fully decided between bumper-pull trailers or 5th wheels. We realized that after our initial exploration of the high-end 5th wheels we hadn’t really been in any of the lower-end ones. Another trip to a dealer was in order - and we spent a full Saturday on the local dealer lots. After touring a couple of dozen trailers we just really felt the 5th Wheels suited us better - mainly for the following reasons:
- They are taller - with more headroom in the living area (important for us taller folks)
- They overlap the truck while in motion - so a 30’ trailer only extends past the truck 25’-26’—making a shorter combination overall
- Due to the front being “upstairs” they just feel like they have more discreet living and bedroom areas
- Many people told us they were easier to hitch and unhitch and tow better (less susceptible to wind and sway)
- Are easier to maneuver and park due to the way they attach to the truck
- Can be pulled with a crew cab truck - so we travel in a safer environment than an RV manufactured mostly of furring strips and paneling (if you’ve ever seen an RV that’s been in an accident or flipped you know what I’m talking about)
- Allow for a choice of gas or diesel tow vehicles (diesel motorhomes are big $$)
- Allow a 4WD tow rig - for maneuvering in wet/muddy conditions, also allows us to do some mild four-wheeling or back-country exploration
So the outcome of the day on the dealer lots was that we had finally - at long last - settled us on the 5th wheel idea. We also found a floorplan that suited us well - models with 2 bunks and single slide-outs and right around 30’ long.
Now the decision was new or used. At the time the dealers had some units with damage from a recent hail storm - just little dings in the aluminum siding. We considered one of these but after sitting in it for about an hour really became aware that - regardless of what the sales person had said - this unit was not high-quality. We found door latches already coming off, missing spots in the cabinet veneer, the fresh water tank just loose in the frame rails. and the lower siding was very thin and susceptible to damage.
We decided to keep looking and evaluated a couple more new and used models. The initial used trailers were not well kept and very dirty. We found another higher-quality new one on a dealer lot and were headed up to view it when we saw a trailer sitting next to the highway. By this point we could immediately identify it as a bunkhouse model and a bit upscale with aluminum wheels and fiberglass sides. We circled back, noted how clean it was, and called the owner. We made arrangements to view it after continuing on to the new trailer. We sat in the new one, liked it, got a rough price on it, and headed back to the used one we had discovered.
Once inside we found that this used unit was the same floorplan as the new one we had just visited. The inside was as clean as the out, and it had many extras that told us it was an upscale unit when new. The owner came down on his price, and threw in the hitch (which run about $900). Our first RV purchase years ago taught us to be cautious, so we told the seller we’d sleep on it then call him in the morning.
Just as we wrapped up our conversation with the owner and walked out to our car, another couple stopped and was going through the trailer. We got in the car, looked at each other and asked ourselves what we were waiting for (it was the exact floorplan we wanted, very clean and well-kept, and thousands of dollars less than the new ones…). And - I’ll admit - the other couple looking at it made me nervous that if we waited we’d miss out - that had already happened to us earlier in the week). So we got back out and told the owner we’d buy it. A handshake sealed the deal and a couple of days later it was in our driveway.