Monday, April 20, 2009


In 1980, I bought a decade-old VW van that had been converted into a camper with a small sink, a bed, a tiny closet and teeny refrigerator. I drove it to Alaska (a 4 month trip) and Baja, and out to Colorado from California - my first experience with an RV. Ten years later, I was living on a houseboat - with both AC and DC power and propane - when Odel and I met. Odel had NO experience with RV’s, so the old VW van and the houseboat provided the sum total of our combined knowledge about RV’s.

Six months before Odel retired in 2003, we made the implusive decision to sell our house, most of our belongings (whatever didn‘t fit into our new “rig“) and our cars to become fulltime RV‘ers. With no knowledge of RV’s, how did we decide what we wanted?

The first decision: buy a truck and trailer/5th wheel (aka 5’er) or a motorhome and a towable vehicle? We didn’t know anything about either. We decided on a motorhome for four reasons:

1. Matching trailer size (weight) to truck size (towing/stopping capacity) seemed way too complex to us. We didn't want to figure it out.
2. We didn’t want to have a truck as our “around town” vehicle after we set up camp.
3. Neither of us had experience backing a trailer.
4. My fantasy of our new life included an expansive view of the adventure ahead, enjoyed from a big, comfortable captain's chair with a footrest!

It was the right decision for us. We are totally motorhome-biased so if you want advice about 5’ers and trucks, you’ll need to search elsewhere. There are some advantages to 5’ers, though; here is what we’ve observed in our travels:

5’er wins: A 5th wheel in “camp” has more living space than a motorhome of the same size - in the motorhome, you lose space to the “cockpit” area, and slides in 5th wheels are usually wider than those in motorhomes. If you intend to stay put for longer periods of time, you will have more usable space in a 5th wheel of the same size.

5’er wins: 5th wheels have a better door position than most motorhomes: you often enter into the kitchen, which I consider very handy. Few diesel motorhomes have mid-entry doors, so you are always walking through the living room to go in and out. On the other hand, once you get indoors, 5th wheels have additional steps to access the bedroom, a potential problem if you have mobility issues.

5’er wins: A motorhome towing a car means two engines that need maintenance - which means more money and time spent on maintenance. If your motorhome needs engine repairs, your home goes to the shop.

5’er wins: If you unexpectedly encounter a tight situation, a truck and 5’er can backup to maneuver - a motorhome, towing a car four wheels down, can’t. We have had to unhook the Jeep 4 times in 6 years when we ended up in a spot that didn’t allow turning without backing up. On the other hand, we’ve seen inexperienced drivers back their trailers into positions from which they were unable to extricate themselves without damage.

MH wins: Parking, setting up and packing up a motorhome is significantly faster and easier than doing the same with a truck/trailer combo. We can back into our space, level, and be fully deployed in about half an hour - longer if it was a really buggy drive, since Odel cleans the front of the motorhome each day that we travel. When we’re ready to leave, hooking up the car for towing is a 5 minute job. If you intend to move frequently, a motorhome is the easiest choice.

MH wins: Motorhomes are far easier to back into a space and to drive in general. The towed vehicle tracks inside the motorhome’s path so, if the motorhome makes a turn, the toad is going to make it, too.

MH wins: If you pull into a rest area for lunch on a rainy day, no need to get out and get wet on a dash to the bathroom or kitchen - you’re already home. On a too-hot day, fire up the generator and run the rooftop air conditioning as you cruise down the road - your home is cool and comfortable when you stop for lunch or arrive at your destination (and your generator is exercised).

MH wins: Though we all know it isn’t safe to wander around the motorhome while underway, it is great to have access to the bathroom and refrigerator without the need to pull over. Need to formulate a quick Plan B? All our campground directories are right at hand, along with anything else we might need - not back at “home” behind us.

MH wins: We love having our Jeep as an “around town” vehicle when the motorhome is parked. It’s comfortable, can go anywhere, gets significantly better mileage than a truck capable of towing a large 5’er, and carries plenty of “stuff”.

MH wins: Luna is much happier in the motorhome than she would be in a truck. She has easy access to her condo, her food, water and catbox. A happy cat makes a happy family.

MH wins: The passenger seat is basically a lounge chair. The foot rest comes up, the cushy back reclines to a comfortable angle, the view out of that big front windshield unfolds like a movie. We can see over the tops of all the sedans, SUV's and pickup trucks ahead of us, anticipating slowdowns.

MH wins: Fortunately, we have never had to leave a site quickly in an emergency, but it would be far faster to get both the motorhome and Jeep out of harm’s way if necessary. Two drivers, two motors, no need to take the time to hook up.

MH wins: Our coach carries 100 gallons of diesel fuel. It can be a shock to fill the tank (!), but we can drive 600 miles before we even think about looking for a fueling station. For us, that is usually 3 or more days of travel.

MH wins: Most motorhomes come equipped with large on-board generators, located in a spot that could not otherwise be used for storage. Most 5’ers give up storage space to carry a generator. Not an issue for everyone, but we do like having the push-button convenience an onboard generator adds to the fulltiming life.

I’m sure there are other considerations - I’ve heard folks say that 5’ers have more storage space… true? I don’t know… but I do know that we don’t need more storage space than we have, so I don’t care. We know at least five couples who have moved from a truck/5’er combination to a motorhome/toad combination, but I can’t think of anyone who has gone the other way.


Today's photos, from top:
Birch bark canoe at Grand Portage National Monument, Minnesota; "hot spots" in Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; sunlight plays on the mountains near Wapati, Wyoming, west of Cody; scene from the re-enactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer's Last Stand), Hardin, Wyoming; Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana; boats on Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana.


  1. Very good post, Laurie, with excellent logic. I love my 5ver and the space it gives me, and as I have been settled in the same places for months at a time, I wouldn't want to give it up. On the road for an overnight stop I pull into the space and pull out in the morning. No hitching or unhitching, which is probably not the best way to do it but it worked for me on my "maiden voyage". The main attraction of a MH to me would be not having to get out in order to get in.


  2. You are so right that people generally think that whatever rig they own is the best (otherwise, why would they have chosen it!). Good job in laying out the advantages of each. On the Escapees website forum there are endless discussions of this issue, if anyone wants more information -- way more than necessary, in my opinion! We have a 5'er and love it, but it's definitely a matter of priorities.

    Love your photos, by the way -- nice to revisit old experiences.


  3. Thanks for the very descriptive, and unbiased rig comparisons.


  4. I found that a Motorhome is exactly that.. a home when on the move...But a 5ver is like a House on wheels!! Home is where you park it!! I feel like i'm on a bus even when they are well over a million dollars. I Love my 5ver-4 huge slides and 40 feet long with all the bells..;)