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Reasons You Should Not Buy a Travel Trailer or Fifth-Wheel RV

There are lots of reasons people want to purchase a travel trailer or fifth-wheel RV. For example, they are looking for a way to vacation in a responsible, socially distanced way. But, just as there are reasons to purchase such an RV, there are also reasons not to get that shiny new travel trailer or fifth-wheel.

Purchasing an RV by maxing out the budget

An Airstream RV trailer along with others, wait in a long line to enter the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park

An Airstream travel trailer | George Frey/Getty Images

My people interested in getting their first RV are often mesmerized by an eye-popping grandiose camper and the romantic sense of getting away. The truth is, however, unless the purchaser is prepared, the experience can be much more than the budget is ready for. The purchases of that grandiose mobile palace or headquarters on wheels is only the beginning of the costs.

Vehicle upgrades, maintenance

It is important to note that the actual purchase of travel trailers or fifth-wheels are only the beginning of laying out cash. The pickup or SUV that is going to pull the RV must be prepared to do the towing. With a pickup truck, a fifth-wheel adapter needs to be drilled into the bed and installed, if the truck is not already equipped with it. Also, the truck or SUV must have a pulling capacity that can handle the trailer being pulled. It’s a rookie mistake when one think, “Oh, my rig can tow anything.” These upgrades can be pricy and cause many people to hold off on a purchase.

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Storage for an RV

Insurance is a monthly fee that many people already think of ahead of time. But, maintenance is not. Taking care of an RV is not the same as taking care of a car. Dry rot, leaks, and mice can quietly do their damage. So, since a travel trailer or fifth-wheel are more apt to be sitting for long periods of time, more care is necessary for them to remain optimal for the family getaway. Consequently, the extra labor has caused some potential owners to reconsider their purchase. Supposedly, they don’t consider themselves disciplined enough to take care of a new travel rig.

Storage is another thing people have on occasion thought about after they made their purchase. As great an experience owning an RV can be, storing one can be a pain. Finding out after the fact that a homeowner’s association will not allow a travel trailer or fifth-wheel to be parked by a home can cause much angst. So, finding a nearby storage facility to permit parking of the newly acquired vehicle can easily become a challenge, regardless of how inexpensive the storage fee might be. Therefore, lack of storage has caused many people not to buy a travel trailer or fifth-wheel.

Being naive with an RV purchase

The fear here is that somebody will purchase the most RV they can afford and not take into account the additional funding needed for other necessary things. Towing equipment upgrades, maintenance, and storage are somewhat costly but essential components for the recreational vehicle’s true enjoyment. Not having the budget prepared for those items can ruin what can otherwise be a pleasurable ownership experience. So, each of them should be looked at closely before the purchase, not after. If the added considerations are not feasible, then the purchase should not be made.

The Dreams and Realities of an RV in Retirement

Thoughts from owners, experts and would-be buyers of recreational vehicles

by Aaron Kassraie, AARP, January 24, 2020

Couple looking at their tablet outdoors while camping

En español | Many retirees quip that they often find themselves busier in retirement than ever before. One way some retirees (and near-retirees) are staying busy is hitting the road in recreational vehicles.

About 10 million U.S. households own RVs, and the majority of those owners have traditionally been over 50, according to the RV Industry Association (RVIA).

Ownership rates by age group cited by RVIA are highest among Americans ages:

  • 45-54 (11.4 percent)
  • 55-64 (11.1 percent)
  • 35-44 (11.0 percent)
  • 65-74 (8.8 percent)
  • 75-plus (5.5 percent)
  • 18-34 (4.9 percent)

Sales of RVs have grown steadily since the Great Recession, hitting an all-time high in 2017.

If you are getting close to retirement — or already there and looking for new ways to spend your retirement — here are some considerations from others in the RV world about purchasing a house on wheels.

The RV lifestyle

“RVers are friendly people. When you go to a campground, if you don’t know people, you will,” says Jeremy Puglisi, an author of books about RVing and cohost of the RV Travel Atlas podcast. “Everyone introduces themselves. Everybody’s friendly.”

In response to the increase in RVers, the number of campgrounds around the country is growing from today’s 18,000. RVers’ expectations are also growing.

“The RV industry is pushing to continue to expand, improve and upgrade campgrounds in national parks and on federal lands,” says Kevin Broom, director of media relations for RVIA. “A lot of those campgrounds were constructed in the 1950s and ‘60s and haven’t really kept pace with the modern RVs.” Dump stations, often found at campgrounds, are essential for RV owners, who need to empty waste holding tanks.

Parking is another ever-present challenge for RV owners, especially when campgrounds are few, full or far between. But it’s part of the lifestyle. Some truck stops, big-box retailers, churches, hotels, movie theaters, casinos, rest stops and other roadside locations will allow overnight parking. To be sure, check with the specific location so you won’t get a ticket or a surprise knock on your door. Websites including RV Camping and Free Campsites can help find places to camp and park.

Price ranges for new RVs

• Folding camping (pop-up) trailers:
• Truck campers: $6,000-$55,000
• Conventional travel trailers:
Fifth wheel trailers:

Motor homes

• Types B and C: $60,000-$150,000
• Type A: $60,000-$500,000

Source: RV Industry Association

Freedom of the road

David Schaum, 53, of Reston, Virginia, is a new empty nester, and as he and his wife approach retirement, they want to find new activities together.

“We both enjoy the outdoors. We both have really started working out, getting back into shape and hiking. So the places where we go hiking in the mountains has brought about an interest in possibly having a camper that allows us to stay out in the mountains for a few days,” Schaum says. “The funny thing is, I’m in the hotel business, so I can get a hotel wherever I go for free.”

For many, the most attractive part about owning an RV is being able to travel where you want, when you want. Kathy Dolan, 67, a longtime RVer from Haymarket, Virginia, says she and her husband “like to go to the campgrounds, go gallivanting in the towns and meeting people. Then we take it to another place.”

Naturally, an RV makes the nomadic life easier, since you already have your stuff with you, perhaps even your pets.

“You have more mobility,” says James Mercer, 60, of The Plains, Virginia, “and if you want to go somewhere, everything you need is packed right into that vehicle. All you need to do is buy food, and just get in and go fill up with gas.” Mercer and his wife, Raejean, 57, are retired and looking into possibly buying an RV.

“Most people have the dream to see the country and all the things they couldn’t while they were busy with their working lives,” says Tom Dewalt, a sales consultant for Airstream, a manufacturer of travel trailers. “We represent the opportunity to explore the country, see everything: art, all the heritage and historical sites, all the natural wonders of the United States. And there’s plenty of them.”

Realities behind the dream

Mike Miles, 70, a Maryland resident, says he and his wife would like to buy an RV to drive cross country and visit their kids. He’s hesitant about making a purchase because “there’s a lot of stuff on the internet saying things break easily, you can’t get it fixed.”

Dolan, the veteran RVer, can’t dispel that fear. “When you have a motor home, you spend a lot of time in the repair shop,” she admits. “Get used to that.”

At the same time, don’t let mechanical concerns and the seeming complexities of an RV be a deterrent from the lifestyle if it is something you’d really like to take on, says Puglisi, the RV author and podcaster.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help at a campground,” he says. “Campers are friendly people. A lot of RV owners are handy people.”

As for the expense, though the initial purchase price and ongoing maintenance certainly add up, it’s also important to calculate the potential savings on travel and vacations that can come with an RV over time.

“You don’t have to pay for airfare. Campgrounds average in price at $40 a night,” says RVIA’s Broom. “You don’t have to eat in restaurants three meals a day. You can eat out when you want, but you can also prepare your own foods.”

A study by CBRE Hotels Advisory Group, commissioned by RVIA, estimated that a couple vacationing in an RV could save between 8 percent and 53 percent, depending on the type of RV. The study weighed the costs of traditional travel such as airline tickets, hotel rooms and meals out, versus the unique costs of RV travel, such as fuel. Pop-up camper trailers offered the most savings, while large Class A and Class C motor homes offered the least.

We bought an RV! Should you?

(CNN) — Freedom to go anywhere. An ability to be totally self-sufficient. The potential for nonstop adventure.

These are just some of the reasons Michaela Sherer had spent years fantasizing about owning a Recreational Vehicle, or RV.

She and her husband always had found reasons not to get one. Then, earlier this year, when the coronavirus pandemic effectively grounded the airline industry and crippled most other means of travel, the 41-year-old mother of two raised the question: Why not now?

Michaela Sherer's daughter Lennon shows off the new family Wolf Pup trailer.

The Sherers discussed the idea. They did some research and settled on a travel trailer they could tow. They spent hours after hours scrolling options online — first looking at pre-owned units and then at new ones. The duo checked their calendars and saw a whole lot of nothing on the agenda for the rest of the summer.

“Finally, after all of this back and forth, we just thought, ‘Let’s do it,'” said Sherer, who lives near Omaha, Nebraska. “For us it made sense because it’s pretty much the only way to get out there and take a vacation right now without giving up something you really love.”

Ultimately, the Sherers ended up with a 23-foot Wolf Pup model from Forest River. It has an onboard bathroom and shower, a bunk bed for the kids, and more. The price tag: Roughly $17,000.

“Americans love the freedom of the outdoors, the enrichment that comes with living an active outdoor lifestyle, and the ability to go where you want, when you want.”

Record-breaking demand for RVs

This Nebraska family certainly isn’t the only clan to join the ranks of RV owners during this pandemic.

Across the country, RVs are selling almost as quickly as Clorox wipes. Some dealers report long wait lists. Others report units flying off lots within hours of arrival from the factory. Put simply, the industry can barely keep up with demand.

To put this surge into context, look at the numbers. A recent report from the Reston, Virginia-based RV Industry Association indicated that wholesale shipments of RVs in June exceeded 40,000 — the highest total since October 2018.

The same report indicated that the monthly tally represented a 11% increase from the same time last year.

Monika Geraci, the organization’s senior manager of marketing strategy and operations, said these sales are driven by people like the Sherers — folks who want the freedom to travel, but also want to be able to control their environment and adhere to social distancing guidelines as they explore the country.

“Americans love the freedom of the outdoors, the enrichment that comes with living an active outdoor lifestyle, and the ability to go where you want, when you want,” Geraci wrote in a recent email.

“RVing also allows more control over your environment. RVers are able to sleep in their own (beds), use their own (bathrooms), bring groceries and cook their own meals, and control when, how, or if they are exposed to crowds. And RVing has always been a fun way to travel and connect with family.”

RVing is a family affair.

Anatomy of a surge

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the recent boom is how quickly it all happened; nearly all RV manufacturers and many RV dealers were closed from late March to early May, but as the country began to reopen RV sales accelerated like a Lamborghini.

RV Trader, for instance, an online classifieds website for buying and selling recreational vehicles, reported that visitor traffic for July 2020 was more than 80% higher than it was in July 2019.

Executive Vice President Paige Bouma said the site recorded 5.4 million unique visitors in June, the first time since the Norfolk, Virginia, company was founded in 1989 that it had passed the 5-million threshold.

“There are so many people asking or trying to figure out how to get into RVing right now,” Bouma said, noting that demand for rentals has been just as strong. “In addition to RVing being safer during the time of Covid, most vehicles have WiFi capabilities, which means they’re easy to park and set up as remote offices, too.”

Luxury RV sales also on the rise

Ken Goss is owner of Goss RV Motorcoach Sales, which sells some of the most high-end motorhomes, and he said his sales figures rose 211% between June 2019 and June 2020.

Live the luxe life with an Airstream trailer.

Bob Wheeler, CEO and president of Airstream, reported that his company set an all-time sales record for the month of May, then beat that record in June. As of press time, Airstream did not have data for July, but in mid-July, Wheeler predicted it likely would be just as strong.

“We have enough demand right now to carry us through for a long time,” said Wheeler, whose company is based in Jackson Center, Ohio. “Our goal now is building a foundation: We want to take these people who have come to the Airstream lifestyle because of the pandemic and turn them into lifetime Airstream buyers.”

Meeting demand

You don’t need to be Adam Smith to understand that this kind of soaring demand necessitates consistent supply. Since factories reopened this spring, manufacturers have been churning out RVs at breakneck speed. There’s still a backlog.

For buyers, this has required patience. Some have had to wait weeks for their RV, complicating travel plans that already were postponed or rescheduled due to Covid. Others have had to travel simply to pick up their RV — essentially jumping head-first into their new lives as RV owners with epic road trips they’ll never forget.

The Bull family camp site

Shana Bull, a marketing consultant in Concord, California, also is a new RV owner. Like the Sherers, she and her husband had contemplated purchasing an RV for a while. When the coronavirus pandemic began, they felt an RV would be the safest way to travel with their 4-year-old son, who has cystic fibrosis and therefore has a compromised immune system.

One day in June, Bull and her husband visited a local Camping World to shop for RVs. The good news: They fell in love with a new 23-foot Coleman Light travel trailer for roughly $26,000. The bad news: The nearest one was 200 miles away.

“We knew exactly what we wanted and the nearest one was in Fresno,” she said. “So, we put $1,000 down to reserve it and a few days later (my husband) drove there, picked it up, and came back.”

What to look for

Buying a new RV is a lot like buying a new car — the process is way more complicated than it might seem. New or preowned? Drive-aboard or trailer? Luxury or basic? These are all questions that the Bulls and Sherers asked themselves in the early stages of the process. They’re also questions that all new buyers need to ask.

Another key decision revolves around what type of RV to buy. According to the RVIA, there are several different options, including motorhomes, campervans, caravans (also known as travel trailers and camper trailers), fifth-wheel trailers, popup campers and truck campers.

Each of these RVs has pros and cons. Prices range from a few thousand dollars for a small pop-up trailer to millions of dollars for mansions on wheels.

“There truly is an RV for every lifestyle and price point,” Geraci wrote. At the end of her email she directed first-time buyers to a site the association has built to help simplify the process:

“At one point we got stuck on a road in the middle of nowhere and had to do a 27-point turn to get out.”

Travelers who decide to purchase something they can tow must address an entirely separate set of questions about the towing capacity of the vehicle with which they intend to tow it, and the need to invest in a tow hitch.

Many travelers are getting hitches when they buy new trucks. Mike Betts, test operations supervisor at Nissan Proving Ground in Stanfield, Arizona, said the sale of tow hitches at Nissan dealerships across North America has increased 20% from June of last year — a fact that means more people are buying trucks with the intention of towing something big.

Betts cited results of a recent survey commissioned by Nissan indicating that 28% of 1,004 survey respondents said they were considering getting a vehicle with towing capabilities at some point in the next three months.

“We can’t say for sure people are getting the hitches for RVs, but drive anywhere, and you see way more RVs and travel trailers on the road these days than ever before,” Betts noted.

The Sherer children, Hendrix and Lennon, enjoy pancakes inside the family trailer.

Learning on the fly

Bull, from California, started small — her family spent their maiden voyage at a KOA campground about 75 miles from their house, in Petaluma.

Overall, the family loved the trailer experience. The Bulls were able to bring their two small dogs, who are 18 and 17 years old and are very clingy. Their son loved collecting pine cones and lining them up on the steps. Bull noted that her husband took full advantage of the onboard kitchen and made tortillas for tacos one night.

“For us (RVing) was the perfect opportunity to get out of the house and do something new while feeling safe in our own home away from home,” she said.

This June, she and her husband bought a 27-foot Keystone Passport travel trailer and christened it with a 17-day road trip to Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Arizona.

Together the duo and their two young daughters camped in national parks and explored the country between them. Every now and again the family even “boondocked,” which is what RV owners call it when they camp for the night in the middle of nowhere, or at a location without amenities hookups.

“At one point we got stuck on a road in the middle of nowhere and had to do a 27-point turn to get out,” she said with a chuckle. “It seems like part of this is accepting that you’re going to learn new lessons every time you go out.”

Within two weeks of getting their new RV, the Sherers took it to camp at Branched Oak State Recreation Area, about 30 minutes from their home. The following weekend they were planning to take it to Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area, about five hours away.

“Like everybody else, I’ve been stuck in my house with my kids for six months,” she said. “Any ability to use (this RV) to get a change of scenery at this point will be great.”

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Northern California. He, too, has had a lifelong dream of traveling the country in an RV, but will not be fulfilling the fantasy during this pandemic. Learn more about him at

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