Anyone who has ever considered buying a motorhome has probably thought about buying a travel trailer as well. I’ve struggled with this decision many times and as a result, have done a lot of research on the subject.
Here are the most important things to consider before you choose.
Purchase Prices Varies A Lot
Motorhomes and travel trailers can both be expensive investments. However, motorhomes are often dramatically more expensive when compared to travel trailers. Expect to pay about three to four times more for a motorhome than you would for a travel trailer.
Here is a quick example to demonstrate this.
The Forest River Alpha Wolf 23RD-L – This travel trailer by Forest River has an exterior length of 29’4″. Some of this length is at the hitch and bumper but you’ll most likely get about 24 to 25 feet of interior living space with a travel trailer like this.
Inside, you get a queen bed, a large bathroom with a stand-alone sink shower, and toilet. You also get a kitchen, a dining table capable of seating four as well as a sofa with two end tables on either side of it.
The freshwater tank is 49 gallons and both the gray and black water tanks are 42 gallons. A new model will cost you around $26,000.00.
The Forester LE 2251 – This Forest River motorhome has an exterior length of 24’4″. Some of this is the driver’s area and some of this is the front of the vehicle where the engine sits. The seats can be used while camping and there is a bunk overtop of them so we’ll count that as living space but will subtract another 4 feet off of the size because of the engine compartment.
Even still, you do get almost everything inside that you got from the Alpha except the living area is exchanged for a bunk area. Buying this motorhome brand new will cost you about $56,000.00.
Each of these RVs has the same amount of living space but the motorhome costs $30,000.00 more than the travel trailer. It ends up being more than twice as expensive.
Insurance Cost Varies A Lot
Technically, a travel trailer doesn’t actually have to be insured. Buy a travel trailer with cash and you can decide not to get any insurance on it at all. Of course, if you decide to finance your travel trailer, the finance company will most likely make you insure the travel trailer for the full amount of the loan.
This helps protect both them and you in case the travel trailer is destroyed.
A motorhome, on the other hand, must always be insured.
Motorhomes are vehicles and the government has mandated that all vehicles must have vehicle insurance. Again, if you’ve financed your purchase, you’ll have to get full coverage. Since the motorhome costs twice as much, you’ll end up having to pay even more money for your insurance versus what you’d end up paying for insurance on your travel trailer.
Here’s exactly what you need to have included in your RV insurance.
This being said, to tow your travel trailer, you’ll need an insured vehicle. If you plan on having a vehicle anyway then this doesn’t increase your costs but if you end up having to buy a dedicated tow vehicle, it is something to consider.
Maintenance Also Varies A Lot
The maintenance on a motorhome is almost always more expensive than the maintenance on a travel trailer. Maintenance on a motorhome must also be done much more frequently than on a travel trailer.
This is because you’re not just maintaining the living quarters on a motorhome, you’re also maintaining the engine as well as all the other vehicle components that come with the motorhome.
At a minimum, motorhomes will need:
- Oil Changes
- Tire Rotations
- Tune Ups
- Brake Replacements
On top of this, you’ll occasionally find yourself doing major repairs like transmission rebuilds, shock and strut replacements, and even engine-rebuilds. This type of maintenance isn’t easy for the average DIYer and you may end up having to go to a special mechanic just to get your motorhome worked on.
Travel trailers, on the other hand, are relatively easy to maintain.
Some annual maintenance must be done on the tires, wheels, brakes, and axels but all of this is inexpensive when compared to maintaining a vehicle.
The interior and exterior of a travel trailer also need to be maintained but most DIYers will have the ability to do this. Even if the owner doesn’t want to do this kind of maintenance himself, he can always hire any general contractor to do it for him.
Fuel Cost Calculations
Motorhomes rarely ever get good gas mileage. The only exception to this might be a diesel class B motorhome. Even so, class B motorhomes rarely get more than 20 miles per gallon and it’s tough to compare them to travel trailers as travel trailers usually offer much more living space than a small class B motorhome.
Vehicles towing travel trailers rarely get good gas mileage either. The upside to this, however, is that once you arrive at your destination, you can drop the trailer off and go back to your normal gas mileage.
Motorhomes also have this advantage as well. Large motorhomes can pull towable cars that get great gas mileage. Once the motorhome gets to its destination, the motorhome can be parked and the towable car can be used.
For more information on cars being towed by motorhomes, please see my post titled, “Complete Guide to Tow Cars for RVers“. There you’ll learn everything you need to know to properly tow a car behind your motorhome.
Depreciation Is Important To Protect The Investment
If you’ve read my post on RV depreciation rates, you know that motorhomes tend to depreciation faster than travel trailers. This is most likely due to the fact that motorhomes have odometers and with each passing mile, the value of the motorhome goes down.
Also, vehicle technology changes quickly while trailer technology does not. Driving a motorhome that is just five years old can be much different than driving a brand new motorhome.
Lane-change assist, brake assist, 360-degree cameras, and many other technologies have all been added to vehicles in a very short period of time.
Go back far enough to buy a used motorhome and you may find you don’t even have power steering or power brakes. People don’t want to drive motorhomes with dated technology or driving systems and as a result, motorhomes can depreciate quickly.
A trailer, on the other hand,d haven’t changed much over the years. The only major change I can think of with trailers is the use of electric brakes over hydraulic brakes. Luckily, this is easy to update and doesn’t require any major structural changes to the trailer.
Update a travel trailer’s interior and appliances and a 20-year-old trailer can look and function just like a brand new one can.
Living Space Vs. Sleeping Space
Depending on the design of the travel trailer and the motorhome, you’ll most likely get more living space from a travel trailer. Not only this, but it is easier to put slides on a travel trailer and you’ll see them more on travel trailers than you will on smaller motorhomes.
Motorhomes, do have one big advantage when it comes to living space though.
This advantage is the fact that a motorhome’s living space can easily be accessed while on the road and while parked in rest areas. With a travel trailer, a person has to get out of their vehicle and walk back to the travel trailer. This is especially inconvenient in bad weather and while driving.
Also, when a motorhome pulls over for a quick bite to eat, the home is already at the perfect temperature. A travel trailer’s AC or heating unit will not be on during transit and the travel trailer might be too hot to actually eat in right away.
Cooling it down before eating in it will add time to the trip and may even require the use of a generator. With a motorhome, you just don’t have this problem.
Passenger Space Considerations
Motorhomes often do not have a lot of legal passenger space. Sure, you can pile 12 people into the back of a large motorhome quite easily but it isn’t legal. It isn’t safe either.
With a travel trailer, you can choose a large tow vehicle with seating for eight to even twelve people. All of these people will have seat belts and everyone will be as safe as they possibly can be in an accident.
An example of a tow vehicle with a lot of passenger room might be a Chevy Suburban or a full-size van with a long-wheel-base. These vehicles can tow well over 5,000 pounds and can offer a lot of passenger and storage space.
Did you know that in many areas of the country, you can park a motorhome right on the street in front of your house? With a travel trailer, you won’t have this option.
In fact, many towns won’t even let you park your travel trailer in your driveway and you’ll have to get a special storage space to park your travel trailer in.
Motorhomes are also more convenient for parking during transit as well. When you stop at a rest area on your way to your destination, you can often park smaller motorhomes in regular parking lots. Even if you can’t, it’s still much easier to park a motorhome in a large parking area than it is to park a trailer.
In some areas, you may even have to completely unhook your trailer so that you can park the trailer and the vehicle in different parking spots. This is not convenient.
Storing The Travel Trailer
You’re much more likely to have to store a travel trailer than you are to have to store a motorhome. However, stored motorhomes still need regular maintenance and they need to be driven from time-to-time. This keeps the battery charged, the engine components lubricated, and the hoses from drying out.
What this means is that you’ll need to be prepared to drive to your storage area on a regular basis to check on your motorhome and to take it for a drive. Travel trailers don’t really have this issue.
You can store a travel trailer all winter long without ever going to check on it.
Storage costs are usually based on the size of your trailer or motorhome so similarly sized RVs will generally cost about the same to store.
Drivability Varies A Lot
Driving a motorhome is more difficult than driving a standard vehicle but it is generally much easier than driving a standard vehicle with a trailer attached to it.
Also, the speed limit for a vehicle that is towing a trailer is only 55 miles per hour in most states. Motorhomes typically do not have these speed restrictions attached to them.
This means that you’ll probably get to your destination faster in a motorhome than you will with a travel trailer.
For example, a 300 mile trip at 55 miles per hour will take you 5 hours and 27 minutes to complete. A 300 mile trip at 70 miles an hour will only take you 4 hours and 17 minutes to complete. Round-trip, you’ll buy yourself an extra two hours and 20 minutes by driving a motorhome. This gives you that much more time to enjoy your vacation.
Here are our VERY best 15 tips on how to drive a big RV.
Versatility Is Great With Motorhomes
A motorhome offers versatility in that you can use your motorhome as a vehicle when needed. Did you walk out to your car today only to find that you have a flat tire?
No problem, take the motorhome to work! You won’t even have to worry about packing a lunch because you can cook it up right there in the parking lot.
Unfortunately, motorhomes lose some of their versatility when they reach their vacation destination. Imagine leveling your motorhome, hooking up the water hose, hooking up the sewer hose, hooking up the electricity and cable, and turning on your propane tanks only to remember that you have to make a quick trip to the local pharmacy.
You now have to unhook all of this, drive to the pharmacy, and then start the entire process back up when you get back. Now imagine you have to do this every time you leave your campsite.
When you have a travel trailer, you don’t have to worry about this as your vehicle is separate from your trailer. Also, if some people want to stay home while others take a day trip, the option is there. With the motorhome taken away, the people left behind will be homeless and without a vehicle for the day.
Tow Vehicles Is An Option!
The major drawback to a travel trailer is that you (probably) have to have a tow vehicle.
If you already have a tow vehicle then this isn’t a big deal. You may have to make some upgrades to your brakes, transmission, and suspension but you these won’t be nearly as expensive as buying a new vehicle.
Here’s our complete guide to getting the best tow car.
If you don’t have a tow vehicle for your travel trailer, then you’ll have to factor in the cost of buying one when you make your purchasing decision. This new vehicle will have its own set of maintenance guidelines and it will also need to be insured.
For example, a travel trailer might cost $30,000.00 less than a motorhome of equal size but it might require you to buy a truck that costs $35,000.00. Once you have this truck, you have to insure it and maintain it.
This means you’ll end up paying $5,000.00 more upfront and even more over the years. You’ll also have a truck that is depreciating as well as a travel trailer that is depreciating.
This drawback can also be a positive aspect of owning a travel trailer as well. Once you buy a tow vehicle for your travel trailer, you’ll be able to tow other things like boats and cargo trailers.
You may even be able to use larger tow vehicles to help you or your friends and family members move.
Convenience Is King
As we said earlier, a motorhome is much more convenient when it comes to driving and parking.
The downside is that it is a lot less convenient to use once you’ve reached your destination. Small motorhomes can be parked almost anywhere while small travel trailers still need a dedicated parking spot.
Motorhomes are also more convenient while you’re driving as passengers can retrieve items from the motorhome while in transit and motorhomes already have their temperatures regulated when you reach your destination.
In some cases, you can even sleep in your motorhome while parked on a city or suburban street which is something you just won’t be able to do with a travel trailer.
Another time when you’ll find motorhomes to be more convenient is when you’re filling up your gas tank. With a travel trailer, you may have to stop at a truck stop or unhook your travel trailer before pulling into the gas station.
On the flip side, large motorhomes don’t even have this option and you might not be able to fill them up at all at a small gas station. You’ll end up having to go to a truck stop to fill up and the next one might not be very close.
Where Do You Intend To Go?
Some motorhomes are too large to get to certain destinations. They also have drive-train restrictions which make them impractical to use in many off-road situations.
This means that you may need to have your tow vehicle along with you when you visit these places.
If you had a travel trailer, this would be a simple process as you’d only need to drop your travel trailer off at your campsite and continue on with your tow vehicle. With a motorhome, you’ll need to make sure you have a towable car or SUV that can handle the rugged off-road situation and not all motorhomes can be used to tow large vehicles behind them.
In other cases, you may find that a motorhome is the only way to enjoy a certain destination. Some state and national parks have length restrictions at their campsites and usually, these length restrictions are based on a combination of the vehicle’s length and the length of the trailer.
Tow your 25-foot long trailer with a 19-foot tow vehicle and you may end up going way over the length limit. With a 25 foot long motorhome, you’ll be able to park at campsites that would otherwise be off limits to you and your travel trailer.
Hooking up a trailer isn’t always easy. This is especially true when you’re towing a larger travel trailer that requires weight distribution hitches and stabilizer bars. Some people may be physically unable to hitch and unhitch a travel trailer to a vehicle.
Motorhome owners don’t have this problem. With most newer motorhomes, you just get in them and go. Once you reach your destination, you park in a flat area and you use automatic leveling systems to level out your motorhome.
Of course, some people may not be able to physically climb in and out of a motorhome. Motorhomes can be as tall as 12 feet high and getting into them isn’t just a matter of sitting down. With a rig this size, you actually need to climb up into them. Not everyone is capable of doing this.
In this case, it might be better for the person to buy a small travel trailer and a small tow vehicle to pull it with. The small tow vehicle will be easy to get in and out of and the small trailer will be easier to setup and take down.
Length of Trips
Different types of trips are better for different types of RVs. In most cases, you’ll find that short trips far away from home are better suited for motorhomes. This is because motorhomes are better for road trips and you probably won’t be traveling much once you reach your destination so you won’t have to worry about constantly hooking and unhooking your motorhome to your campsite.
Motorhomes also excel in extended trips that take you to multiple destinations. For example, people touring the lower 48 in just one year may want to get a motorhome because they’ll be doing a lot of driving and again they won’t be hooking up at one place for any long lengths of time.
On the other hand, travel trailers are better for people who will be driving less and staying at locations for longer periods of time. In fact, some people buy travel trailers just so that they can leave them someplace for an entire season. These people might drop their travel trailers off a few hours away from home and commute to them each weekend.
Even people who are only staying at one location for a week or two might also want to take advantage of being able to leave their travel trailers at their camping locations. An example of this might be people camping 15 to 20 minutes away from a beach for a week or two. These people could drive to the beach each morning without having to worry about unhooking a motorhome every day.
Safety On The Road
Motorhomes tend to do better in accidents than travel trailers. A motorhome does have a lot of weight but it also has a large vehicle surrounding all of this weight. Motorhomes also sit higher than travel trailers so the impact of the accident may not be as deadly as it might be in a vehicle that sits lower to the ground.
Travel trailers also have a lot of weight to them and this weight can make it more difficult for a tow vehicle to stop. Also, travel trailers can fall victim to trailer sway which can cause instability.
A trailer can even flip over during a turn which can cause the vehicle to crash as well.
There is more room for human mistakes when towing than with driving a motorhome. A travel trailer owner can forget to put their weight distribution hitch on, they can forget to lock their anti-sway bars, and they can even forget to lock their hitch down in place. These issues might not be apparent right away and they can end up happening when out on the highway.
Mistakes like this can prove to be fatal.
With a motorhome, these issues aren’t even something that needs to be worried about.
Motorhomes and travel trailers are both great fun and they both have their plusses and minuses. Think deeply about what you want to do with your RV and decide what you’d like to do the most. Once you know how you’ll be using your RV, you’ll be able to choose the one that best meets your needs.
Also, remember that just because you buy one or the other, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it forever. You may decide to start off with a motorhome so that you can tour the country and a few years later you might sell it to buy a travel trailer so that you have something to take to a local resort each summer.
If after all of this, you’re still unsure as to whether you should buy a travel trailer or motorhome, consider renting each one of them. Once you’ve had a chance to use both a motorhome and a travel trailer, you might find that you prefer one over the other and your buying decision will be much easier to make.
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.