I’ll freely admit that one of the mistakes we made on our RV journey was getting a camper that was too big and too heavy. Our 5th wheel weighed 10,500 pounds empty which is a lot of weight. Even at 35 feet long, that was still a small fiver! Some are 40 feet long and weigh closer to 15,000 pounds. The numbers may not look like much on the page but the difference between a 10,000 pound and 15,000 pound camper is huge.
5th wheel campers are roomy and comfortable. The way they’re designed provides lots of interior room for storage. Towing an 11,000 pound 5th wheel is easier than towing a heavy travel trailer but that doesn’t mean it’s fun. If you want to do a lot of traveling and see the country, then a big, roomy fiver is not the way to go. If you want to go big and do a lot of traveling, get a Class A –a coach style RV. Traveling in a Class A is not fun either, in my opinion, and it can be expensive but it is comfortable and way more convenient than towing a heavy trailer.
Lots of people full-time and travel in a Class A. In fact, I’d say that is the majority of full-timers. That is the comfortable way to travel but the trade offs are weight and expense. Class As are a lot of work and the maintenance can be expensive.
With a 5th wheel or big travel trailer you’re making the same Faustian bargain. More room but also more weight. More weight means more expense and setting up and taking down a big fiver everyday is a lot of work. Having a Class A or 5th wheel also means there are places you can’t go because of weight. If you’re not doing a lot of traveling and you’re spending weeks or months at a time in one place, then a big camper is not a bad option. If you’re moving daily or weekly, it’s a chore packing up and moving anything that size.
At the opposite end of the scale are people going ultra-small and living in vans. One of the biggest criticisms of My House Has Wheels is that I didn’t spend enough time on free camping and van dwelling. There’s a reason for that and the reason is that it’s not fun. Van dwellers are, for the most part, getting by with only rudimentary plumbing. They’re giving up a shower and are going to the bathroom in a bucket. Apologies to my van-living friends but screw that.
Vandwelling is also not the lowest rung on the full-time ladder when it comes to space. There are people living in SUVs and even a few full-time in their Toyota Prius. I own a Prius V and never once thought about sleeping in it, yet there are a lot of people doing just that.
Come on, does that look like fun? Not to me. Maybe adding a truck tent to one side you could use it for weekend trips at a state park or campground but the whole toilet in a bucket thing takes on a whole new dimension when you’re storing it in a Prius. I’m also not a big fan of spray bottle bathing in the backseat. For a kitesurfing, kayaking, SCUBA diving or skydiving weekend, that’s great, but living in it, in my opinion, is going too far.
One odd advantage of a hybrid Prius is that owners say they can sleep in the back with the engine and A/C or heat on. The only time the engine runs is to charge the battery, which drives the A/C and heater the rest of the time. Most owners say the engine only runs a few minutes out of every hour and burns very little gas. I can testify to the truth of that feature but I’d still want a carbon monoxide detector if I was doing that a lot. I’ll gladly concede one point to the Prius campers; it is the cheapest vehicle to operate, both in terms of cost and the utility you get in return. My Prius V is far and away the most economical car I’ve ever driven and a marvel of automotive technology. It’s like that go-cart you always wanted when you were a kid.
Don’t think for a second that I’m mocking anyone who’s living in their car or SUV because they can’t afford anything else. That group I call the “motorized homeless” and that’s a whole different discussion with a lot of political ramifications which I’m not getting into here. I’ll only say that it’s true that our dysfunctional housing market and outrageous housing costs are pushing people to extremes to keep a roof over their head. For some people that’s the roof on their car. I would never make fun of anyone forced into that circumstance and neither should you.
If you’re living in your Prius because it’s a cheap way to travel around and see the country, then good for you. I need a bit more room and a toilet, but don’t be constrained by my lower limit for convenience.