Do I really need a fireplace in my RV??? Let’s face it…RV shopping is actually really fun! We love stopping by an RV lot from time to time to check out the latest and greatest RVs and the different features they have. However, when it comes to buying an RV people need to consider what features they actually need versus those that are just nice to have. Why find a balance between need and wants? Well, because these features will have a significant impact on the cost of your RV…but also the cost of use and maintenance over time. They could also impact your RV travel and lifestyle – in a good or possibly bad way.
Features of RV’s to Consider
Everyone’s needs are different. But it might take you some time as you go out looking and feeling out different RV’s for you to truly know what it is you want most. It’s also just something you learn over time. They say you start looking for your next RV the moment you purchase your first one. That’s because as you use it, you will quickly realize different things that work or don’t work for you and your family. And even though we fell in love with our RV right away when we saw it, as we use it we are realizing things that we don’t care for or want to improve.
Here are some main features of RV’s you should consider:
Beds – Number & Type
One of the first things people consider is the sleeping arrangements in the RV. The number of beds & the style of them will depend on your needs. Some people prefer to have a bed that always stays in place, so they don’t have to make it up every night before going to sleep, while other people don’t mind converting a bed each morning and night. Some people even prefer to have a separate bedroom area in the RV (which is what we have).
A lot of RVs will also have bunks, which are great for kids or teens, but not always fun for adults. Although depending on the head-room, some adults are happy to climb up onto a bunk, but others want an actual bed that’s on the ground. I’ve also seen murphy-style beds in some newer RVs, which is actually a pretty cool style because it lets you keep the bed made up with sheets & bedding…but you just fold it up and down. Some of them when you fold it up then a couch will open up in place of the bed – which is great for turning a sleeping area back into a living space.
Seating: Types, Arrangement, Size
Seating is very important in your RV, and it will highly depend on your situation. Think about how many people will be traveling with you, and if you like to entertain inside your RV. Most RVs will have some kind of dining area, so be sure it will fit your family comfortably. Check how the table folds down so you can get extra space when you aren’t using it.
Also, be sure to test out all the “relaxing” seating areas. If you are like us, then at night sometimes you like to kick back and watch a movie before bed. Test out the couch / lounging areas and be sure that you can actually see the TV comfortably. It’s important to be able to feel at home in your RV and relax the way you like.
Kitchens, Appliances & Storage:
Most RV kitchens will have some kind of cooking appliance, sink, and fridge. Kitchen sizes and the appliances will typically increase in size along with the size of the RV. So in most small RVs you will have tiny kitchen areas and appliances, and much more luxurious and grand sizes in larger RVs. Many modern RVs have microwaves too.
Usually your stove will run on gas, as well as your oven. Refrigerators often run on both gas and electric, and in modern RVs the system will automatically switch back and forth as needed. Microwaves often require you to be plugged into electricity to use it, or run your generator (which we will talk about later).
Another thing to keep in mind with RV kitchens is storage space. I’ve seen a number of RVs that don’t even have drawers, let alone any real storage space! Think about how many dishes you will need, cups, mugs, cutlery, cutting boards, matches, chip clips, tupperware containers, pots / pans, coffee pots, paper towels — and of course your food! All these little things add up – and it’s most helpful if you have somewhere you can organize and store them securely.
Very small RVs or trailers may not include a bathroom, but the majority of RVs will. In smaller RVs (and even camper vans) it could just be a wet-bath — which is essentially a tiny room that is sealed off, and you sit on the toilet and can shower at the same time! The advantage to wet-baths is that they take up very little space in the RV. The downside, is that they are cramped and everything will get quite wet in the room!
Larger RVs have nice sized bathrooms. They will have a toilet, sink, and either a stand up shower or small bath tub with shower. So you need to consider which type of bathroom you would prefer & definitely give it a test when you are RV shopping because even some big RVs have tiny / awkward bathrooms! I’ve been in large RV bathrooms where when I sit on the toilet, my knees hit the wall / door (Josh couldn’t even sit). And some showers Josh can’t even stand up without hitting his head, let alone move his arms to wash.
We love our current bathroom in our RV. it’s actually really spacious — we can put our arms out and practically spin in a circle. There’s plenty of leg room and while the shower is smaller than at our home, it’s fairly spacious for an RV and totally functional. Plus, we have a good deal of storage in our RV bathroom. There’s a good medicine cabinet above the sink + 3 large cabinets for linens, dirty clothes, and lots of other storage.
Definitely don’t overlook the storage in your bathroom – you will need it!
Entertainment Systems (Inside & Out):
A lot of RVs have stereo systems and some type of hook up for TVs. Older RVs may have the bigger TVs, while most modern RVs have space-saving flat-screen TVs. Take into consideration where the TV is mounted and whether or not it moves around. Again, you want to be sure you can actually see it well from where you like to sit.
One nice option on newer RVs are having an outside entertainment system! You may be able to just sit on your patio outside your RV door and flip open a panel to reveal a TV and stereo! These are great for entertaining and especially for tailgating parties. Our particular RV does have an outdoor stereo, but not a TV. However, we do have electrical outlets outside the RV so we could bring a table outside with our TV and plug it in if we wanted to.
Another thing to consider is TV connection. Many RVs have an antenna that you can move around to get a signal. Others may actually have a dome or portable satellite system. We actually have a dome satellite on our RV, but we would have to pay for service to use it…so we don’t. You may also have an outdoor cable connection hook-up — which is great because some RV parks provide cable TV to their campers. So as long as you have the cable connection, you can have lots of TV options!
Slide-outs are a cool feature where the walls of the RV literally slide outward when you are parked – basically expanding the inside of the RV. Slide outs are wonderful to add size to your RV and can really make it seem like a huge space! We have a couple slide outs on our motorhome – one in the living area (which expands the dining table and fridge) and another in the bedroom. When these slides are out, it makes these living spaces seem so much bigger, which is great for us as well because we have a pretty large dog!
The thing to keep in mind is that slides will add weight to your rig, and you need to be parked in an area where there is enough space to slide them out. It’s also important to consider whether or not you can use the features of your coach with the slides not put out. For example, when we are boondocking, maybe we don’t want to put the slides out because they may bring attention to us camping overnight. With our motorhome, we can still use the bedroom and living area even with the slides not out. But I’ve seen some RVs that when the slides are in you literally can’t move around — and some beds aren’t even usable! What good would it do if you can’t sleep in your bed?!?!
Other Important RV Systems: Pluming, Electric, Holding Tanks, etc.
Electricity & hook ups are pretty standard, although they may vary on different RVs. While you can usually plug into electricity if you are at an RV park, if you are camping “off grid” then you will need to have some other type of power. Usually there is some type of battery that will power your coach, and recharging could be done different ways. Nowadays a lot of people are installing solar panels so that they can recharge their batteries easily.
Others have different kinds of re-charging systems. For example, when we drive our motorhome it actually recharges our coach batter automatically! We also have a generator built into our RV that actually runs on gasoline from our main gas tank. What’s even more convenient is that we can start our generator with just the push of a button from inside our coach. However, the downside to generators is that they do use gasoline…and they are loud! Some places do not allow you to use generators anyway, so it’s something to keep in mind.
Propane is another type of power that many RVs will have. Propane gas is usually used for cooking, but can also be used for the refrigerator, furnace, and hot water heater. The size of your propane tank will vary depending on the size of your RV, as well as how it is set up in your rig.
Running water is a pretty standard feature on most RVs. The majority of RVs out there have a fresh water holding tank that you can fill up, then you just turn on the water pump to get fresh water out of your sink. You also have the option to hook up directly to water outside with a hose, for example when you are at an RV park. Smaller RVs or camper vans might have small fresh water tanks, oruse a different style of jug / pump system. Again, it varies with size.
Holding Tanks: Black and Grey – Of course if you have running water or a toilet, then it will need to drain somewhere! For simple waste-water from a sink or shower, most RVs will have a “grey tank” to hold it. For toilet waste, there is a “black tank.” Depending on the type and size of your RV, how these tanks work could be a little different. I know that some smaller campers and vans have “cassettes” that actually store this waste which need to be manually emptied, while larger rigs have big tanks and hoses that can be connected to sewers.
It is important to dump your waste appropriately – in a sewer system at an RV park, or dump station. A lot of dump stations are free at RV parks, and you can find local city dump stations for free as well as some of the large gas stations / travel centers / truck stop facilities. However, some of these places will charge you a fee to dump!
If you don’t want to pay to dump your RV waste, we recently found a great website for maps and information about nearby dump stations and you can filter the ones that are FREE! It’s called Sandi Dumps, and it was a huge help for us when we were on a recent trip to San Diego. We were able to find not only free dump stations nearby, but also those that had fresh water too (so we could refill our fresh tank).
Hot water heaters are pretty standard on a lot of self-contained RVs too. Some of them just run on propane gas, while others (like in our RV) allow you to use both propane as well as electricity. This is a great feature because you don’t have to use your precious propane for hot water all the time. You do have to wait for some time for the hot water to heat up, so be sure to turn this on a bit before you need the hot water.
Air-Conditioning is becoming a more standard feature. I remember growing up, we did NOT have A/C in our RV…and wow was it hot on some of our vacations! So it’s a pretty nice luxury to have fresh A/C inside an RV. But keep in mind that this will use power, and a lot of RVs can only run the A/C unit if they are plugged into electricity or if they turn on their generator (as is the case with our RV).
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Additional Amenities You Should Consider for Your RV:
Of course, there are a lot of additional features for RVs, including a number of luxuries that can really make your life easier on the road…or just make it feel like home.
Having a retractable awning outside is a really nice feature for getting some shade, but also for keeping the inside of the RV cooler in the summer months. Some awnings are automatic and can be set up with a push of a button, others have to be manually set up (like ours).
Some of the nicer RVs will also have their own automatic leveling system! Whenever you park an RV you need it to be level – for your comfort as well as running the appliances and slides properly. The good ol’ fashioned way is to use leveling blocks to do this yourself, but some of the fancy RVs have automatic leveling systems (my parents have this…Josh and I aren’t quite so fancy – so we have the blocks).
Having a back-up camera & monitor on your RV is a really nice feature. As you can imagine, driving around the bigger RVs can be a little scary, including changing lanes on the interstate! So having a back-up camera is wonderful for convenience and just to feel more assured. We have this in our RV, and I don’t know that I’d want to go without. It just really makes us feel a lot more comfortable driving it.
Other more luxurious (but less common) features of RVs include fireplaces, clothes washers and dryers and dishwashers.
Don’t Overlook These Features of RVs!
Lastly, there are a few things you shouldn’t overlook when it comes to your RV.
Basement storage is something that Josh and I thought we had enough of in our RV when we bought it, but now we are thinking that we could use a bit more! Definitely look around and think about how much space you will need to carry things like outdoor tables, grills, chairs, carpets, bikes, outdoor gear, etc. These things take up a lot of space, and space will be limited inside the RV. Overall, class A motorhomes have some of the biggest basement / outdoor storage of any RV. But we’ve seen some class C’s with massive storage spaces too.
Window coverings is another thing to think about. Most RVs will have some type of shades built in, because you will definitely want some privacy. Don’t do the metal blinds…those are so annoying when they clank around while you are driving (besides being horrible to clean). Our motorhome came with these special “day / night shades” which are really cool because you can put down just the day shades, it still lets good light in but gives you some privacy. The downside is that they are a bit expensive to replace, and you have to be careful that you don’t break them (we have a couple that already need replaced).
Flooring is another consideration in RVs. When I was younger, we always had carpet and I thought maybe I wanted carpet in our RV to make it more warm and comfortable. Now, I’m wishing we had all laminate and just used rugs! The fact is, your RV is going to get quite dirty just by the very nature of the situation. And for us…we have a dog! Luckily, we have some laminate in the kitchen and hallway, but I wish the living area and bedroom had it too…because cleaning the carpet is more difficult and we have stains from just 1 recent trip that require a whole shampooing soon (Grrrrr…).
Balance Convenience, Travel Style, and Budget
Having an RV really comes down to convenience…at least, the type of convenience that matters to YOU most. We really love RV travel, but everyone has different preferences. Some people want to have a complete home-away-from home, and in that case a lot of these luxury features may be just what they are looking for! Other people just want to be comfortable while in the mountains, yet keeping maintenance simple. While some people want something that’s more in the middle (like Josh and I).
The thing about smaller RVs with less features is that they may be more difficult to live in over a longer period of time (especially if you have kids or a dog) — yet they are a LOT more easy to deal with. You can maneuver in town more easily, and you don’t have to worry about as many things breaking or causing issues. Life is just more simple.
But larger RVs that are like luxury homes on wheels are awesome and come loaded with just about everything you could ever want. Yet, there are actually few places you can take them and it’s pretty expensive to park them. It can also be a real headache to deal with all the different systems, especially if things start to break or just not work properly.
So again, it’s all about finding that right balance of RV features that work best for you and your families needs, travel style, and budget. And if you always want to just test out an RV to see what you like or don’t like – then definitely look into renting an RV!
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