The great debate – getting a towable camper vs. getting a motorhome. I’ve done a lot of research on this and I’ve contemplated owning every type of towable camper you can buy.
In this post, I’ll share my findings and give you some thoughts to consider before deciding which one to buy.
Often-times you won’t have to worry about storing a motorhome. Many areas of the country will let you store your motorhome in your driveway or even on the street. This is especially true when you own a smaller van-based motorhome.
In fact, you may even be able to park a small motorhome in your apartment complex’s parking lot without getting into trouble.
In some neighborhoods, you’ll see motorhomes parked on almost every street. You won’t ever see this with towable campers.
Pop-up campers are easier to store because they can fit into garages without any trouble. Also, these types of campers are easier to hide inside of a yard.
Since these campers drop down lower than cars, they are harder to see from the street.
Many people who live in areas that do not allow them to park a camper in their yard will just put a cover over it and hide it alongside their house without getting into any trouble.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Travel trailers and fifth wheels are too tall and too long to store in most garages. Not only this, but you can’t hide them alongside most houses.
Neighborhoods will not allow you to park them on the street either so you’ll have to live in an area that allows you to park them at your house or pay to have them stored. This can make accessing the RV more inconvenient and owning the RV more expensive.
Travel trailers and fifth wheels are often hard to store. Pop-up campers will have to be stored but you’ll have an easier time doing it at home when compared to travel trailers and fifth wheels.
Motorhomes are the easiest to store since you can often leave them parked on the street.
Insurance Cost Varies
It is illegal not to have insurance on a motorhome. The reason for this is that motor homes are considered vehicles and you need to have liability coverage to drive them. In addition to this, you may need to get insurance to satisfy the requirements of any loans you may have on your motorhome.
Travel Trailers, Fifth Wheels, and Pop-ups.
Travel trailers, fifth wheels, and pop-ups are usually covered by your tow vehicle’s insurance policy. However, this will only include general liability and you’ll have to get separate coverage to satisfy any loans or to simply protect your RV against damage.
Luckily, this type of insurance is usually less costly than motorhome insurance since you won’t have to deal with getting liability coverage.
With a motorhome, you have to get insurance and with a towable camper, you might not have to get insurance. If you don’t want to get insurance on your RV, you’re better off getting a travel trailer.
Tow Vehicles Are An Option
Motorhomes powers themselves so you obviously don’t have to get a tow vehicle. This saves you time and money and reduces the number of items you have to maintain and insure.
In fact, you can often use a motorhome as a tow vehicle so you’ll have something to tow your other toys with.
Pop-up campers must be towed but you generally don’t need a large vehicle to do so. Often, you’ll just need to get a hitch and control for the trailer’s lights added to your vehicle so that you can tow with it.
Even if you do end up having to buy a tow vehicle, you won’t have to spend a lot since you won’t have to get a very large tow vehicle to do so.
The tow vehicle you end up will be good on gas and inexpensive to insure.
Travel trailers come in different sizes so the tow vehicle that is needed for one trailer might be completely different than what is needed for another travel trailer.
Typically, the heavier and larger the travel trailer, the larger your tow vehicle will need to be. This can drive up the cost of owning an RV and your gas mileage could end up suffering as well.
You can’t tow the fifth wheel without a truck.
In fact, in most cases, you won’t be able to tow the fifth wheel without a BIG truck. Fifth wheels are heavy and they have special hitch requirements. Also, the hitch you put in your truck bed will be more expensive than the hitch you’d have to put on your bumper when towing a travel trailer or pop-up camper.
If you don’t want to have to buy a separate tow vehicle, consider a motorhome or pop-up camper. People with smaller vehicles will need to get a tow vehicle to tow their travel trailer and people without trucks will need to get one to tow a fifth wheel.
Important Information Regarding Maintenance
Motorhomes require camper maintenance as well as vehicle maintenance. Sure, you have to maintain your tow vehicle but the maintenance on a tow vehicle is usually easier and cheaper than the maintenance that will need to be done on a motorhome.
Also, some larger motorhomes may need to be taken to a specialized RV mechanic to be serviced.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Travel trailers and fifth wheels will need regular maintenance on their components and appliances. This being said, the maintenance can often be done by DIYers and some types of campers rarely need maintenance at all. This is especially true when you own a travel trailer or fifth wheel made from fiberglass.
Pop-up campers need to have their canvas waterproofed each year and extra care needs to be taken to protect the soft materials that make up the walls of a pop-up camper. These side-walls often take damage within five years and it can be expensive to have them replaced.
The rest of the pop-up camper, however, is easy to maintain and you usually won’t have as many appliances to deal with when you own a pop-up camper.
You’ll probably spend the least amount of money and time maintaining a travel trailer or fifth wheel camper. Motorhomes require the most maintenance and pop-up campers generally fall somewhere in between.
Licensing and Legal Requirements
In many states, you’ll need a special license to drive a motorhome. You’ll also have to have tags and you’ll probably need to get the motorhome inspected each year. This inspection will consist of an emissions test as well as a safety test. These inspections, tags, and licenses all cost money.
If you’re unsure as to whether or not your state requires you to have a license to drive your motorhome, check out our post titled, “RVs and Driving License Requirements by State“.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Some large travel trailers and fifth wheels will require you to get a special license to tow them. However, this is rare and in most states, you won’t have to worry about this. You may need to get brakes added to your travel trailer or fifth wheel though and you’ll need to get a brake controller added to your tow vehicle.
You can read more about this on our post titled, “Do All Campers Have Brakes“.
A pop-up camper is usually so light that you don’t have to worry about getting a license or even a set of brakes added to tow this type of RV. The only item you’ll probably need to get is an electrical plug that allows your vehicle to activate your pop-up camper’s brake lights.
Legally, the easiest RV to own is a pop-up camper. The other types of towable campers are a bit easier to own than motorhomes and motorhomes are the hardest of all to own.
This being said, the legal requirements for owning RVs in general usually aren’t very strict.
Purchase Price Information
Motorhomes are expensive. Even a small class B motorhome will often cost six figures or more. On the positive side, however, you don’t have to buy a tow vehicle when you buy a motorhome.
This means that you can spend more on your motorhome without actually spending more.
Towable campers are less expensive to buy than motorhomes. Pop-up campers are usually the cheapest and travel trailers and fifth wheels will vary in price depending on their size. In addition to buying the camper, you may also have to buy a tow vehicle as well as the extra equipment needed to tow a camper.
How Much Headroom Do You Need?
Large class A and class C motorhomes often offer a lot of headroom. Class B motorhomes, on the other hand, do not offer much headroom. Tall RVers may want to consider getting a large motorhome for the extra headroom it will offer to them.
Travel Trailers and Pop-up Campers
Travel trailers and pop-up campers typically offer anywhere from six to seven feet of headroom. The amount of headroom you get will usually be determined by the length of the camper and the manufacturer of the camper. For instance, Airstream usually does not offer more than 6’8″ of headroom even on longer models.
Fifth wheels usually offer the most headroom out of any type of RV. This is especially true in the areas that sit outside of the truck’s bed. In fact, these campers are usually so tall that you actually have a small staircase inside of them to access the area above the truck bed.
People looking for a lot of headroom should consider getting a motorhome or fifth wheel camper.
Comfort While Driving
Motorhomes are often difficult to drive. These vehicles are much larger than regular passenger vehicles and even their height needs to be taken into consideration when driving under bridges or through tunnels.
Some people may not feel comfortable driving large class A or class C motorhomes.
Towing a camper is usually easier than driving a motorhome but this really depends on the size of the camper as well as the size of the tow vehicle. Also, setting up a camper so that it can be towed is harder than just jumping into a motorhome and driving off.
In many cases, you’ll have to add larger side-view mirrors and you’ll lose the functionality of your rear-view mirror as soon as you hook your camper up. You’ll have to get used to driving with the larger
Motorhomes and towable campers can be tough to operate when you first get them and you’ll have to learn a few new skills before doing so. Practice driving with your RV before heading out on any long trips and you’ll experience much less discomfort.
Resale Value Is Important
Motorhomes tend to lose their value quickly.
This is probably because they have vehicular components to them and vehicle technology can change quickly. compare driving a 15-year-old car to a new one and you can see why an older motorhome won’t be worth nearly as much as what you paid for it.
Fifth wheel campers hold their value better than motorhomes do but they can often be difficult to sell. This is because you’ll have to sell to someone that has a truck that can pull your fifth wheel. You’ll have less potential buyers when selling a fifth wheel camper so you may have to sell for less money than you’d like.
A travel trailer tends to hold its value better than the other types of campers do. This is because trailer technology does not change very quickly and you don’t have an engine to worry about. Also, the smaller the travel trailer is, the better it holds its value and the quicker it sells.
Pop-up campers tend to lose their value much quicker than the other types of towable campers and they even depreciate quicker than motorhomes. In many cases, you can find old pop-up campers for free on Craigslist. This is probably because the canvas often rips and these campers are prone to receiving water damage.
If you’re looking to buy an RV that will hold its resale value the best, consider getting a travel trailer. On the other hand, if you’re looking to buy an old RV, you might consider getting a pop-up camper or a motorhome as they won’t be worth nearly as much as they were when they were new.
Traveling With Ease
Traveling in a motorhome is usually the easiest way to travel. Smaller motorhomes can fit into regular parking lots and gas stations and you don’t have to worry about hitching and unhitching a towable camper each time you stop.
You’ll also be able to drive faster in most motorhomes than you can when pulling a camper behind you. This makes motorhomes great for cruising around the country or for short weekend or even day trips to state and national parks and resorts.
Not only this, but your passengers will have access to the fridge, the sink, and even the bathroom while you’re on the road.
If you pull over for just a few minutes, you can quickly use the facilities without ever having to get out of your vehicle. This is great for rainy days or when parked in areas where you don’t feel comfortable getting out of your vehicle.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Travel trailers and fifth wheels require more effort to get on the road. You may even need to unhitch them each time you stop to get gas. Also, parking with a travel trailer or fifth wheel can be harder and you may have to plan your trip around large rest stops and truck stops.
This being said, once you arrive at your destination, you’ll have a large RV that you can leave behind at your campsite or resort while you take your tow vehicle into town. This makes large travel trailers and fifth wheels great for RVers looking to stop at certain locations for longer periods of time.
Pop-up campers aren’t as tall as the other types of towable campers and they don’t weigh as much either. Because of this, these campers are generally easier to tow. Unfortunately, you still need to tow them and you’ll still need to find a parking space for them as well.
Also, once you get to your destination, you’ll have to do a little more setup since you’ll have to pop them up and take them down each time you want to travel or camp.
Ergonomics On The Road
Motorhomes do not require nearly as much setup as campers so physically they are easier on the body. The downside is that they can be harder to climb in and out of since they are generally much taller than standard vehicles.
Also, many motorhomes are narrow inside so they can be hard to move around in. This could be troublesome for someone with health problems.
Travel trailers require more work to hitch and unhitch. They also require more work to level and stabilize. Once set up, these types of campers are usually easy to get in and out of. Also, smaller travel trailers can be towed with smaller vehicles that are easy to get in and out of.
Fifth wheel campers are hard to set up in comparison to the other types of campers. These campers also need to be towed by a big truck so you’ll still have to climb in and out of a large vehicle.
On top of this, you generally have steps inside to get up into the area over top of the truck’s bed.
The upside is that you get a lot of room to move around inside and even if you’re tall, you won’t have to worry about bumping your head on the ceiling as you walk around the camper.
Pop-up campers are usually much lighter than other types of campers which makes them easier to hitch and unhitch. It also makes it easier to level and stabilize. In fact, some people buy hitch dollies which give them the ability to manually pull the camper around the campsite.
The downside is that you have to put these campers up and down on a regular basis and cranking them up can sometimes be difficult. Also, the beds simply sit on the sides of the camper so you have to climb in and out of them and you won’t be able to stand up in them.
This can be particularly frustrating when you have to get up and someone is sleeping between you and the way off the bed.
Utilities You Will Have On The Road
Motorhomes can be used for many other purposes other than camping. Firstly, you can use them as transportation instead of a standard vehicle. In fact, many travelers buy motorhomes to travel in since they end up getting both a house and a car for the price of one.
Secondly, motorhomes can be used to tow other items.
You can tow boats, small campers, and even cars behind a motorhome. This is great for people who want to maximize what they can bring on their vacation.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Travel trailers and fifth wheel campers can be great for traveling because you can store everything inside of them. With a motorhome, your space is a bit more limited because you also have passengers to store inside the motorhome as well.
Go with a travel trailer instead of a fifth wheel and you’ll be able to use your truck bed as well.
Pop-up campers do not allow you to store much inside of them. The main reason is that much of their space is diminished when they’re closed. The second reason is that these campers generally aren’t rated to carry a lot of weight.
On the plus side, you can get racks put on top of the camper so that you can transport small roof-top boats and bikes. This is great because these items will be kept low to the ground so you’ll have a reduction in wind drag versus what you’d have if your kayak was on your roof.
Stealth Camping Options
Motorhomes make stealth camping much easier.
In fact, you can often park a motorhome right out on the street. This is great for travelers who are just passing through a neighborhood on their way to a destination. It is also great for people who want to remain undisturbed near a beach or resort area.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
These campers are hard to stealth camp in and it will usually be obvious that someone is sleeping in them. Also, if you have to drive away from an area, you’ll have to get out of your trailer and back into your vehicle.
It is impossible to stealth camp in a popup and you may not even be able to put the pop-up camper up without unhitching it from your vehicle. Not only this, but it may not even be safe to park in a parking lot in a pop-up camper since you won’t have any protection from the canvas walls.
Guest Housing Needed?
Large motorhomes can often make great guesthouses. These RVs are big enough to accommodate extra guests and can easily be driven to a dump station after your guests have left.
Also, since you probably have the motorhome at your house already, you won’t have to go pick it up at a storage facility before your guests arrive.
Travel Trailers and Fifth Wheels
Travel trailers and fifth wheels can make good guest houses as well but you won’t always be able to use them in all neighborhoods. For example, I have a brother that lives in a housing development that does not allow people to park their travel trailers in their driveway at all.
If he brought his travel trailer home from storage one night, he’d end up being fined or sued.
With a small motorhome, he might not have this problem.
Also, when your guests leave, you’ll have to hitch up the travel trailer and tow it to a dump station to be dumped. After you’ve done this, you may have to drive it back to a storage unit.
Pop-up campers don’t make good guesthouses. Asking someone to sleep in your pop-up is almost the same as asking them to sleep in a tent in your yard. Also, pop-up campers are not very useful in cold or rainy weather so you won’t really be able to use them throughout the entire year.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to owning motorhomes as well as to owning towable campers.
Think long and hard about how you will be using your RV and it will be much easier to decide what type of RV will best meet your personal needs.
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.