Pull Behind RV vs. Motorhome Beginner’s Decision-Making Guide

Essentially there are two different types of campers to consider when making the first decision. There are ones that you attach to your car in some way and pull behind your car (what we call pull-behinds), and the ones that are also a car themselves (motorhomes). Each has benefits and drawbacks, so knowing which version you’d like first will help cut down on your shopping overwhelm by half.

Written by

Bronwyn Laurence

Published on

November 8, 2021

There was a study done once that asked populations in different countries if they would rather have 8 or 50 different ice cream options when walking into a creamery. Turns out, the United States was the only country that, on average, would rather have 50 options than eight. We know options can feel empowering, but they can also be crippling and lead to indecision or worse: impulse buying without a proper knowledge-base. I mean, you don’t want to end up with orange sherbet when you were really hoping for Rocky Road just because the person behind the counter was tapping their foot impatiently, do you?! So when you and the family are ready to ditch the tent and upgrade to an RV, we are here to help you map out the basics and make sure you feel empowered to make the right decision for the whole gang. Read on!

Essentially there are two different types of campers to consider when making the first decision. There are ones that you attach to your car in some way and pull behind your car (what we call pull-behinds), and the ones that are also a car themselves (motorhomes). Each has benefits and drawbacks, so knowing which version you’d like first will help cut down on your shopping overwhelm by half.

For starters, both vary extensively in size so you don’t have to worry about that now. Mostly this decision is made when thinking about the types of adventures you want to go on. Do you want to lock down your camping spot for a few days as a home-base and still be able to take a car to your hikes? Then a pull-behind could work best for you. Or do you not own a car with a decent towing capacity and will be on longer road trips more often? Then a motorhome would be most comfortable as it allows passengers to have access to the kitchen, bathroom and all other amenities while being on the road. It is worth noting that it is absolutely not safe to have anyone ride in the pull-behind trailer, so if you have an anxious pet or many kids, make sure everyone fits in the towing car.

Also, the driving experience in general is different. If someone in the family has experience driving and parking a trailer already, this could feel most comfortable and safe. If not, then a motorhome may feel more familiar to every potential driver. Everyone’s driving preference is different so it is worthwhile to discuss what everyone works best in before diving into a purchase. After all, the camper does need to be able to get to the campsite safe and sound in order to be used!

If you predict you will be taking the camper down 4WD dirt roads that are poorly maintained in order to get off the beaten path, the pull-behind trailer is a better option. It tends to be more maneuverable than the motorhome alternative. However, if you are only interested in campsites that are easily accessible then the motorhome would work perfectly.

Maintenance-wise, it is imperative to remember that a motorhome still, well, has a motor. So naturally the upkeep will be more expensive than a pull-behind trailer that does not operate like a car but more like a box on wheels. Upfront the pull-behinds tend to be cheaper but you do need the proper car to be able to tow them. If this isn’t already in your inventory then the motorhome may be more cost-effective for you in the long run.

Now barring these two options, there is one more important decision to make before working on settling on an exact type of make and model of second home. And that is, do you need a bathroom and/or shower in the rig, or not? This is based on how you plan to use the camper, long-term or short-term living, if you are the type of person that needs to shower daily or not, if you plan on going only to sites with restrooms or want to go backcountry as well, and if you mind using the outdoor facilities (if you catch my drift). This is completely based on personal preference, but is an extremely important factor to decide upon before shopping!

Once you have had enough time and discussions to decide on which type of moveable home suits you best, you can skip down to the related section. However it is important to make the next decision of size while being completely realistic. How much space do you need for all of your adventure gear, your family and fur babies? Do you want some of this space to be outside (like having an awning along the camper to create an outdoor room) or to have all of your needs met completely inside? What can you afford? Being a realist here has the potential to save you money, make everyone comfortable, or create your perfect adventure setting. Know what you prioritize in space and amenities before heading into the showroom. Now here’s our breakdown below:

  1. Pull-Behind Campers: There are so many different types, so we will just focus on the most common ones that you will find these days. We’ve taken a moment to outline the basic pros and cons of each below.
  2. Pop-up Campers: The OG of campers. We fit my family of 6 and dog in a pop-up camper easily every trip! This is a convenient, cost-effective way to pull a 3-bedroom house behind the truck. Setup is more extensive than other pull-behind options but not too much more confusing. However many models are not 100% waterproof where the mesh bedrooms pop out which can absolutely be a bummer. There are curtains and extensions you can buy to provide coverage but it will usually cost extra. You also must be able to fit most of the camping gear in the car still, since the pop-up packs down into itself and leaves little room in the trailer to pack more.
  3. Tear-Drop Trailers: The girl-next-door of campers. These elegantly shaped, easily maneuverable trailers usually have a kitchenette, a few drawers and a bed. There are ones that are much more high-end with pull-out fridges, sinks and even a stereo system but generally work best for a low-maintenance couple looking for a weekend getaway home on wheels. If you prioritize storage or being able to stand up in the rig then this is likely not for you. You end up doing most activities like cooking and lounging outside of the camper. There are more options coming onto the market recently that are large enough to roam about in, but in my opinion these are less “tear-drop” than they are travel trailers (outlined below).
  4. Travel Trailers: The highest variety of campers. From floor plans to weight, this category alone could consume your shopping experience. Generally, these have full kitchens and bathrooms, and have solid walls lending itself to better insulation. Read: nice in the winter. However depending on the size it might not fit in most campsites. Also the set-up is more extensive, and it is important to make sure your truck can tow not only the trailer but all of its weight when fully packed up and filled with water.
  5. 5th Wheels: The Mansion of campers. These have tons of storage and living space, great for large families and heavy adventuring. Because of this some people will want nothing less while others find it to be expensive overkill. Again, it is all a matter of preference. And like the travel trailer, it is important to have a truck big enough to tow this monster. It also may be difficult to find campsites with the proper size and hookup accommodations if hoping to travel on a whim.

Motorhomes: Driveable adventure houses! There is incredible variety in layouts, engine types, amenities and more which you can investigate further once you know which type is best for you.

  1. Camper Vans: Also known as Class B Motorhomes. From Westfalias to Tigers to Sprinter vans, these are all the rage right now if you are dreaming of living full time on the road and have a compact setup that still usually touts 4WD. They fit in a standard driveway or small campsite and are built on a smaller wheelbase than your traditional motorhome. The main drawbacks are that because of the size the amenities are usually not full-sized, some you may not be able to fully stand in, and because of their hipness they are often one of the most expensive per square foot.
  2. Other Motorhomes: The true Home on Wheels. They have tons of space and storage, often have bunks over the cockpit and big engines. Just like the 5th Wheel the classic motorhome can be difficult to maneuver and may not fit in most campsites. They are not the most ideal adventure vehicle if you want to explore the backroads nearby and can quickly become incredibly pricy. This is a great option especially for those who may be living on the road with a family and do not always need to stay in a campground.

Whew, we know that is a lot to digest. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all decision here. Knowing who you will be using it with, what length and kind of adventures you are looking to take, your budget, and what amenities are non-negotiables for you will help whittle down your options so you can find the perfect ice cream scoop, er, I mean RV, for you. And regardless, we are sure that whatever decision you make will fill you with joy and stories for years to come.

Happy Camping!

Bronwyn xx

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