RV Confidential #12: Small RVs can make a great home away from home

By : JD Gallant May 05, 2018 2 Comments

Unless you are planning to full-time, a motor home or trailer under 25 feet should be a consideration. You will probably find it easier to fit in your budget for both purchase and travel costs, and you can take them almost anywhere and fit in almost any parking place.  Generally, small RVs are safer on the road because they have less mass for stopping or maneuvering. True, they may be a bit more like camping than a vacation home on wheels, but it all gets down to what you really want.     


Way back in the early nineties, small for trailers meant something like the Fleetwood 15F for trailers and the Winnebago on a Toyota chassis for motor homes if you wanted to stand-up plus basic utilities. They were good choices for thousands of RVers who wanted a little more than a tent trailer or a conversion van.



 But once we hit the 21st century, things changed. Small trailers with full living accommodations were showing up from almost every RV manufacturer. For example, this 23' feet Allen small fifth wheel is easy to tow with a moderately size truck and it’s just about the safest RV on the road.



 On the used market, you’ll find that some of these motor homes could accommodate a small family for an extended vacation. But you have to inspect and research closely because, like today, yesterday’s RV were not all built the same. For example, this Safari came with a great floorplan and a bunch of suspension and other problems that put the manufacturer out of business.



 Trailer coaches between 20’ and 25’ have also been a favorite for small families because they can be pulled with a moderately size truck or large van or SUV. In this range of travel trailer you get almost any floorplan such as this one that can sleep four people and a dog or two.



 Small class C’s in the 20’ to 25’ range without the forward overhang can work well for couples, but the overhead bunk is usually needed to accommodate families. Again, on shorter class C’s, be sure you get a good wheelbase. RV salespeople love to show how short wheelbase motor motor homes can maneuver around the sales lot. Don’t be fooled. Get a good wheelbase and stay on the road.




 Below the 20-foot length (such as in this Casita), you can get a travel trailer with accommodations good enough for snowbirding. And don’t let anyone tell you that single axles are less safe than tandem axles. The great thing about single axle trailers is that if the axles are well back and the hitch weight is between 10% and 15%, the trailer will follow without pulling the towing vehicle all over the road. It’s a simple law of drag and friction.



 Some of you will want to go for a really small motor home because they can be driven and parked like the family car. As I get older, I tend to want to go this way myself, but I just haven’t made the right connection with the right unit because I want to go used. There’s a lot of used class B’s out there (such as this Roadtrek), but it does take a bit of searching to fill specific demands like engine size. (Specifically, for towing a fishing boat!)



 A slide-in camper is often a great choice for the sportsman or anyone who needs to pull a boat, horse trailer, or cargo trailer. The great thing about a slide-in is that you can change your truck without changing the camper or change the camper without changing the truck. But matching camper and truck can be a bit technical. If you don’t do it right, you could get the best rock and roll ride of your life. But that won’t happen if you do your research before you buy. Northern Lite Camper is pictured above.



Teardrop trailers have their place in the RV arena. But you probably won’t want a teardrop trailer unless you want to travel economy for those short vacations or weekends. Having owned a teardrop when they were very basic, I can tell you that these modern tiny trailers are nothing like the sixties and seventies versions.  With porta potties, refrigerators, and sometimes an outside shower, I can truly say that this is camping in luxury.

But watch out for that axle placement!  Just like the big trailers, always be sure the axles are placed well back to at least a 70% back-of-ball ratio. (You’ll notice that the axle placement in the graphic above and to the right shows the axle with a very questionable placement. This could mean a lot of wobbling down the road.)  And don’t buy a teardrop with 50 pounds of hitch weight. Plan on about 10% to 15% of the trailer’s gross weight and don’t let a sales person tell you otherwise. A light hitch makes for dangerous travel regardless of the trailer size.




Airstream, an old favorite throughout the years, like everything else around us, has changed dramatically since its beginning 85 years ago. This company, which is still part of the Thor hierarchy, is apparently taking advantage of its iconic standing by giving more choices at a higher price. The 15 foot Base Camp (aluminum) in center photo is selling well above $30,000 and the Nest (fiberglass) on the right is selling above $40.000. But it is another choice for those of you who want to go small and don’t mind the price.


You can go overseas. Japan and Europe are producing some unique small motor homes and, to a lesser degree, travel trailers. In most cases, however, buying overseas isn’t practical because of changes needed to drive in the US, the high cost of shipping, and warranty coverage. Still, looking at other ideas about RVing might give you some insights as to how you want to go.




We know that things have changed and will continue to change, but we have to live with what we have today. Going small today seems to be the ‘in thing’ to do, and I doubt that it will change very much in the future. However, Americans today, as a rule, like big more than they like small, So If you have the inclination of going small, whether with a motor home, slide-in truck camper, or trailer, the biggest negative you’ll be facing will be your ability to put up with living temporarily in a smaller space than you are probably accustomed to. You will also be spending more time outdoors than you would at home. Going small in RVing for the first time will take some adjusting. For some it’ll be a rough road; but for others, the more you do it the more you’ll like it.




JD Gallant

2 Responses

Raleigh Joslyn
Raleigh Joslyn

March 05, 2023

Hi rv.org webmaster, Your posts are always well-supported by research and data.


August 18, 2022

Don’t know a damn thing about campers, but you sure did rise up the gypsy in me! Very interesting reading1

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