If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is too short to be bound to one place forever. People just want the freedom to travel, even with the unpredictability of international travel restrictions. In fact, these restrictions have made touring the country in an RV or campervan an extremely attractive option for those of us who want to get away on the weekends - or be nomadic full-time.
If you’ve spent any time on Instagram or TikTok, influencers will have you sold on the idea that people young and old should purchase and customize a campervan to travel the U.S. After all, they are more compact, have everything you need in one small space, and are less daunting than towing an RV. But before you forego the RV entirely and join team van-life, there are a few more things you should consider. Here are 10 things you should keep in mind before going all-in on your decision.
1. Using a tow vehicle gives you greater mobility.
You might think that a campervan would allow you to travel more freely, but that isn’t always the case. One perk of towing an RV is that you have to use a tow vehicle, which you can easily unhitch and go about your business, whether that’s going off-roading or to stock up on supplies.
If you were driving a campervan, you would have to dismantle and secure everything inside for every single drive you need to take. With an RV, you can leave your travel trailer at the campsite and use your tow vehicle as needed.
Note that campervans don’t usually have all-wheel-drive, so you are actually quite limited on how far off the grid you can go - not that people take their RVs off-road. However, the option is there if you uncouple the trailer.
2. You can more easily bring recreational vehicles.
If you have a tow vehicle, you can more easily bring recreational vehicles like motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, and jet skis. This isn’t important to everyone, but for those of us that get a thrill from zooming through natural splendor on a motorized vehicle, it might be the only reason you need to choose an RV over a campervan.
With a campervan, you would need to tow recreational vehicles in a trailer, which kind of defeats the purpose of getting a campervan in the first place. Why go through the trouble of towing while also sacrificing space and luxury? At least if you are towing an RV, you have plenty of room and comfort.
3. RVs have more space.
This is a good time to state the obvious, but somehow it gets overlooked when people are choosing between RVs and campervans. RVs simply have more space than vans. Even larger vans cannot compare.
If you are traveling alone, a campervan might be fine. But if you are traveling with a partner or a family, you are definitely going to want more square footage in order to get any semblance of privacy. This is even more important if you are planning on becoming full-time nomads. Perhaps you and your partner have remote jobs that you can do from the road. In this situation, you might want separate work spaces (or just really good noise-canceling headphones).
It isn’t a crime to want some personal space, and if you are the type of person that requires some alone time now and then, you do not want to be trapped in a cramped campervan with other people, no matter how much you love them.
4. RVs typically have private bathrooms and showers.
Speaking of privacy, you might want some when you need to shower or you know… do your business. This isn’t to say that no campervans have toilets, but they are never, ever private. In an RV, however, you have access to a bathroom with a door that can close and lock, so you never have to worry about when that gas station breakfast burrito hits you.
If you travel alone, a campervan toilet might be fine, but for those of us that travel with our partners, we might want to preserve a little dignity. No nasty rest-stop bathrooms. No digging holes in the dirt. Just a clean bathroom with toilet paper, a sink to wash your hands, and maybe a little Febreeze if you need it.
As for showering, you can install a shower in a campervan, but it is likely that shower is going to be outdoors. If being that exposed while you are naked makes you nervous, you would be better off with an RV that has a shower inside. Not to mention the limitations of showering in inclement weather.
5. You’re in less of a pickle if your RV or tow vehicle breaks.
It’s scary to think about, but breakdowns can happen. If your campervan breaks down, you’ll likely need to rent both a car and a hotel room, assuming you can find both in the middle of nowhere. Because campervans have more specialty parts, it can take weeks to repair them, so you may be stuck paying exorbitant prices just to sleep and get around in the meantime.
If an RV breaks, you can settle for just a hotel room. If your tow vehicle breaks, you can rent a different one. But you don’t have to get both. There are more RV dealerships across the country that are equipped to quickly fix RVs, and you can find small-town mechanics that have what they need to fix your truck or SUV. Put simply, it is less costly and more convenient to tow an RV if something goes wrong.
6. You can leave after you claim a campsite.
During the busy seasons, camping (even with an RV) can be stressful to say the least. There are so many people vying for limited campsites, and if you have a campervan, you need to stay put if you want to keep your spot. With an RV, you can unhitch the tow vehicle and go wherever and whenever you please without worrying about losing your campsite.
Many campgrounds have reservations to avoid this kind of situation, but many are first come first served. It’s when you are at sites like this that you’ll be grateful that you can claim your space with your RV while you drive off in your tow vehicle to have all sorts of adventures.
7. RVs require less maintenance than campervans.
One thing that people don’t usually consider when choosing between an RV and a campervan is the cost of maintenance. The ever popular Sprinter van, while sleek and compact, is not cheap to maintain - not compared to an RV. Van-lifers may also be sporting a retro vehicle, which can have its own host of problems from aged parts to costly repairs due to its rarity.
Then there’s the fact that campervans and tow vehicles accrue a lot of miles when you are driving them all over the country, much more than your standard vehicle. This increases the risk of repairs, which, in campervans, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for. Tow vehicles are more common and generally cheaper (and easier) to repair and maintain.
8. RVs are usually cheaper than buying and outfitting a campervan.
It’s not just the maintenance of a campervan that will cost you. They are also incredibly expensive to purchase and customize. Even a used campervan will run you approximately $40,000. New ones can be closer to $80,000, and that’s before you install a bed and other features. A fully outfitted campervan will cost about $100,000 total.
Meanwhile, you can get many RVs for about $35,000, and they come with all of the features and amenities you need preinstalled. This is ideal for most campers that don’t want to wait months (or even years) for a campervan to be complete. Some might think customizing a campervan is a fun project. Others would prefer to just get on the road and explore.
9. An RV might save your relationship. A campervan might end it.
When you are traveling with a partner in close quarters, you are bound to get into a few arguments. We all need space (some more than others). The smaller the space, the harder it is to get any alone time.
Do yourself (and your loved one) a favor and get enough space for at least two people. You don’t want them breathing down your neck as much as they don’t want you breathing down theirs. In many RVs, there are different rooms/areas to get away when you need to. One of you can be watching TV, and the other can be reading a book in bed. In a campervan, you are literally living on top of one another, and we’ll be honest, it can be suffocating. Save your relationship by thinking ahead and investing in the space you need to live in harmony.
10. It’s cheaper and easier to get insurance for an RV than a campervan.
Most campers aren’t living in their campervans, which means they often have two vehicles to insure: the van and their everyday car. There are several reasons for this: one is that campervans are large, making them an absolute pain to park; the other is that you will not get good fuel economy from driving a campervan around full-time. So, people opt for the second, more practical vehicle that gets better gas mileage.
With an RV, your tow vehicle is usually your only car. It detaches from the RV, so there’s no reason to invest in another car. Even trucks and SUVs are easier to maneuver than campervans, and they are better on gas, too. So, RVers only need to insure one vehicle, as opposed to two.
Furthermore, insurance companies are able to offer better coverage for RVs than campervans because they only recognize the cost of the campervan itself and not all of the modifications that you made to it. If you total your campervan, you won’t recoup the costs of modification. When you insure an RV, you’re covering the total cost.
There are pros and cons to both RVs and campervans, however, RVs seem to be the better choice for most campers. Van-life is certainly attractive on social media, but it disguises the reality of owning, driving, and maintaining the vehicle. For those of us that need something more practical, RVing may be the best option. Do your research and choose carefully.