Choosing an RV for a Big Family

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Most RVers travel in twos. They are usually retired, have a small dog or two, and are blessed with limitless options when it comes to buying an RV.

But those of us with kids who want to go RVing (or even crazier: fulltime in an RV!) have fewer options, and usually less money because we still need to buy diapers, toys and thousands of crayons. We need to think about seatbelts and sleeping arrangements and frequent potty breaks. So, choosing an RV for a large family can be a challenge and you need to be very strategic. If you have, say, three or more kids here are some of your RV options:

Motorhomes

With a motorhome, you will have plenty of room to hold the kids as you drive. (You only need to make sure there are adequate seat belts available or have some installed if they’re lacking.)

class-c-motorhome

If you go with a smaller motorhome, say a Class C that is well under 30 feet (like the one pictured above), you can drive to most places without much hassle – but you’re still restricted from cruising downtown and checking out the city sights. With a Class C, you have a huge sleeping space over the driver’s seat in addition to a back bedroom and any convertible sleeping spaces elsewhere. The drawback is that you have far less storage space than a larger, bus-like Class A.

class a

If you get a bigger motorhome, like the Class A you see above, you can always pull a “toadie” (a separate vehicle that you drive around after parking the RV). But with a large family, you need to pull a pretty big car or minivan to seat all of you. Yes, it’s possible, but you will have two engines to look after and very dismal gas mileage, plus the extra hassle and danger of towing a vehicle. On the plus side, a Class A affords you more storage space and a smoother ride, and with a toadie, you can park the motorhome and drive your extra auto wherever you want without a problem.

Motorhomes and Keeping Kids in Seatbelts:

You can essentially “live” while driving, which is enticing. You can make a sandwich, watch television, use the bathroom, do school work, arts and crafts, and so on, as you’re traveling down the road. But that can be a double-edged sword. When you want your children to be seat-belted when driving, it can be hard to resist the temptation to get up and play or grab a snack. There are obvious dangers to running around a moving vehicle. Things can fall on them or worse yet, a sudden stop or accident without being belted in could be catastrophic. You don’t want to get in the habit of milling about when driving, and a motorhome set-up can be too irresistible for most kids to just sit still.

Pull-Behinds

So, your next option is a trailer, which is pulled with a truck or large van or SUV, or a fifth-wheel trailer, which is attached in the bed of a truck and pulled. With either of these options, you’re going to need a “tow vehicle” that is both capable of pulling your RV and also safely seating your entire family. The good news is that you can easily detach your tow vehicle from the trailer or fifth wheel and drive around with ease. No toadies needed! Your kids are safely belted in during driving times and there is only one engine to look after. No, they won’t have easy access to the fridge or bathroom, but you will probably be stopping frequently anyway, so that’s not too horrible of a problem. The only real obstacle is finding a capable tow vehicle that seats everyone. Let’s look at your pull-behind and tow vehicle options:

Trailers

trailer

Trailers are a great option for families. Many models come with a bunkhouse layout and for well under 35 feet, you can sleep eight to 10 people easily. You can pull a trailer with a crew cab truck (seats 6) or if you need more seating, look at either the 1-ton vans or full-size SUVS, like the Ford Excursion or Toyota Sequoia. Many can pull 10,000 pounds with ease and seating is anywhere from eight  up to 14 depending on the model. (Always check the tow limits carefully before moving ahead with any purchase.) There are many “ultra light” trailers on the market which might be tempting, but keep in mind that lighter isn’t always better quality, and if you’re going to fulltime, quality will be a huge priority.

Fifth-Wheels

fifth wheel

A fifth wheel is often the preferred choice for families who fulltime or plan to RV a good portion of the year. They are generally bigger and better-made than trailers, and offer a lot more storage space. Because they are taller (up to 13 feet tall), you’re likely to find models that utilize this space with lofts and bigger bunk beds than in a trailer. Toy hauler models come with “garages” that often include two queen sized beds that can be automatically lowered or raised into the ceiling. (If you have a large family, it’s worth checking out the toy haulers.) The only drawback for a fifth wheel is that they tend to be bigger and heavier, and you are limited to using a truck as your tow vehicle unless you employ some unconventional options.

Unconventional Options

Let’s say you want a fifth wheel but your family is too large for a crew cab truck. You could buy a specialized drop-axle hitch to attach to either a large van or SUV. (Check out the Automated Safety Hitch for more information.) Or you could add a row of seats to your existing truck right behind the cab. (Check out Cowtown Sleepers in Fort Worth Texas.) We actually use a Safety Hitch with our crew cab Chevy truck, and are about to get an additional two seats installed to make it more comfortable for our family of six!

safety-hitch-with-fifth

Above: A Ford Excursion pulling a fifth wheel using the Automated Safety Hitch. Below: A custom row of seats in a pick-up truck. This truck went from seating six to nine!

custom42walkindoor

Whatever you end up with, make sure you put as much time and thought into your choices as you can. Go to RV shows and look at everything. If you can go to RV parks, that’s a great place to get input from friendly RVers, and don’t forget to ask for input from the RV community online. RV.net has a great forum for newbies.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and get the best set-up for you and your family!

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{ 10 comments }

Stephen July 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Hi! Thanks for your lovely website. My family and I from Austrakia are considering a USA holiday and are pondering whether to RV or not. We have 4 kids under 9 and were wondering about the experience of the kids with seatbelts, where to sit etc – so your site has bene helpful. THanks.

I am intrigued by your comment above though “but you’re still restricted from cruising downtown and checking out the city sights. ” Could you please elaborate on that?

Tesla Falcon July 27, 2012 at 2:59 am

Most cities in the US are very unfriendly to large vehicles. Most were started in the horse & buggy days & are unable to accommodate long, wide or otherwise oversize vehicles like many Class A RVs & semis. (I’m a truck driver, full time RVer, father of 8, etc.) Because of this, the conventional route to explore distant cities while RVing is to find somewhere nearby to safely park the RV then make your excursion into the city in a separate & smaller vehicle, usually a vehicle that tows the RV or is towed (toad) by the RV. If you’re trying to save money by only renting a Class A or even some Class C RVs & not pull a separate vehicle, you’re likely going to find yourself missing out on a lot. For example, parking garages have maximum height restrictions. Most surface lots are small & unaccommodating of long vehicles. Parallel spaces may require 2 or 3 meters to be parked legally. Angle spaces won’t work at all. Etc. You can drive through the city & see sights, but don’t expect to be able to park downtown & do anything like tours, restaurants, shops, etc.

Tesla Falcon July 27, 2012 at 3:05 am

Forgot about right turns! Longer vehicles need more space for a right turn. Limos look long but that’s because they are so short & jet black. A Class A RV would likely hop a curb or two endangering pedestrians while also being dangerously close to oncoming traffic at the intersection while turning. So, even driving around the block becomes a challenge if not a nightmare. Thus when I said ‘drive through’ that’s literally what I meant: get on the right road & don’t turn until u are on the other side of the city. Even a big, solo pickup will find itself in more friendly territory in maneuvering downtown traffic than a big, long RV.

Tesla Falcon July 27, 2012 at 3:11 am

Click my name for my planned future RV based on a semi tractor w a custom RV as the trailer.

Stephen July 27, 2012 at 3:56 am

thanks very much for your explanation – a lot to think about there!! Enjoy your travels!!

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