The Ultimate Guide To RV Shopping

Insights from Trekkn RV Lifestyle & Travel
July 31, 2019
By: Keystone RV Team

When we started into the RV purchase process, we had a pretty short and tight time table looming over us. We were staring at a 100-day window in which we needed to buy the RV, sell our home and most of our possessions, and potentially purchase a tow vehicle before moving into the RV and hitting the road. 

And we were incredibly clueless and overwhelmed. 

We had never owned an RV before and had never even been on an RV trip of any kind. (I had never even owned a truck!) The entire world of RVing, though it had always been quite fascinating for us from a distance, now became a daunting mystery that we had to solve. And fast. 

You’re probably too smart to put yourself through something insane like that in such a short time period. But no matter what your time frame looks like for your first RV purchase, you are probably feeling like you're drinking from a fire hose as you try to process all of the RV buying information in front of you. 

Maybe you're concerned about making the wrong RV buying decision and regretting it for years. And you're realizing that you don't know what you don't know...and that it could bite you in the behind. 

Believe me when I say that I understand what you are going through. An RV purchase is a major financial decision that should not be taken lightly. The stress of the decision, however, should not shorten your lifespan. 

So, first of all, I have to encourage you to take a step back, breathe deeply and realize that everything is going to be just fine. Keep your eyes fixed on your dreams of travel, adventure and lifelong memories as you progress step by step through the process. And let that positive vibe pull you forward. 

To try and help you with that process, we want to provide you with some helpful tips that we wish we would have been given as we stepped into the RV buying process. We’ve been there and we’ve done that, so we fielded some questions from Keystone RV about our experience, what we learned and what we will do differently moving forward into a new phase of life. 

We truly hope our experience and insight provided below will help guide you through this process to a fulfilling and adventurous future with the right RV for your needs.

TREKKN:  In 2017, our family had decided we were ready for a change. And we don’t really do things small...we kind of go all in. 

With our oldest child finishing up her freshman year of college and our middle child preparing to graduate from high school, we began to dream about a radical shift in our lifestyle and in our priorities. Our youngest child was always up for change and adventure, so we felt like the timing couldn’t be better. 

We didn’t really know what that next stage of life would look like, until that fateful day that Julie had one of her “shower epiphanies” and came running downstairs, hair still wet, to tell me about it. 

“What if we sell our house, buy an RV and travel for a year?” As I stood there trying to process her words, I had to admit to myself that it sounded like a remarkable adventure for sure. But it was an idea that I was completely clueless about. I knew nothing about RVing, and especially full-time RVing. Do people do that? Is that a thing? 

A few dozen YouTube videos later, we were convinced that full-time RVing was indeed a thing. And it seemed to be growing in popularity pretty rapidly. If they can do it, why can’t we? So a few days later, after countless hours of online RV research to set the stage, we set foot on our first RV lot to start figuring things out and deciding if we could really make this crazy dream happen.

Keystone RV:
  Wow, that’s quite a start to your story! Since you were starting from scratch and learning everything as you went, what were the initial decisions (from the “30,000 ft view”) that you had to make in order to narrow the field of possible RVs to purchase?

TREKKN:  When I first jumped online and started researching RVs, I was looking at every type imaginable -- Class As, Class Cs, Fifth Wheels, Travel Trailers. I didn’t have a clue yet where to even focus my search. I didn’t have a feel for what might be the right fit for us from both financial and logistical standpoints. When we hit the RV lot, we wanted to get inside as many different types of RVs as we possibly could. We wanted to try them on for size and see the price tags that came along with each option. And I think by the end of that first day of looking, we felt like a towable RV was probably the route we needed to go for a few reasons:

  • Price -- We knew that we would be financing a portion of our RV purchase. Since an RV purchase is considered a “luxury purchase” by lending institutions, regardless of whether it’s drivable or towable, the towable option seemed to make a lot more sense because of the lower prices. Drivables we were looking at were 2-4X more expensive than the towables. Essentially, we would probably be financing the same total amount whether we went with a towable or drivable option, but with a towable RV a much smaller portion of that total amount would fall into the “luxury purchase” category. That approach seemed much more feasible and comfortable for us and our finances.
  • Living space for your “luxury dollar” --We quickly realized that a Class A or Class C RV was going to provide us with far less living space while costing far more money than a towable. With five of us going along for this ride (at least for some portions of the year), we knew the living space factor was crucial. This pushed us further to the towable end of the search spectrum, even though we loved the idea of a more comfortable ride in a Class C where we could all stretch out and have our space. (Our youngest was particularly unhappy with leaving the drivable RV option behind.)

Keystone RV: Okay, so pretty quickly you had it narrowed down to just towable RVs. How did you keep moving forward from there in the decision-making process?

TREKKN: I’ll be honest with you and say that the entire family was drooling over the living space and “creature comforts” that came along with the Keystone RV fifth wheel options we were looking at. Those things felt like small apartments on wheels and that was very tempting to pursue. But there were four primary sticking points with the fifth wheel options for us:

  • Price -- Yup, there it is again. We saw that it would cost us 2-3X more money to get into a fifth wheel compared to a travel trailer. Yes, it would provide more living space and more comfort, but at that point we had to decide that we were more interested in just making this adventure happen (at a price that made sense) and we were willing to adapt to the smaller space and fewer conveniences.
  • Vehicle Weight -- Fifth wheels easily weighed 2-3X as much as travel trailers across the board. Since we would be purchasing our tow vehicle as well, we had to factor in the additional cost we would have to put into that tow vehicle later in order to safely tow a fifth wheel. It just didn’t seem like a practical option for us and would likely require additional debt that didn’t seem very wise at the time.
  • Vehicle Length -- One of our primary reasons for wanting to hit the road was to see as many national parks and other natural areas as we possibly could. We had made a family trip to Yosemite National Park in California in 2016 and that really lit the fire to see much more.

After doing some research, I realized that having an RV over 30 feet would definitely limit our ability to stay in many of these locations because of their size restrictions. This obviously pushed us more toward the smaller travel trailer options. So again, we opted to give up some space and comfort in hopes of RVing to as many incredible destinations as possible. (Note: This discussion refers to actually staying overnight in our RV within these different state and national parks; plenty of nearby RV parks would accommodate much larger rigs.)

When I first jumped online and started researching RVs, I was looking at every type imaginable -- Class As, Class Cs, Fifth Wheels, Travel Trailers. I didn’t have a clue yet where to even focus my search." - Julie, Trekkn RV Lifestyle & Travel

Keystone RV: With those factors, it makes a lot of sense that you decided on a travel trailer as the right option to pursue. But how did you begin to narrow the field and determine which travel trailer would be the right fit for your family for this big adventure?

TREKKN: I guess this is where things started getting a little more complicated and challenging. We had cleared those big hurdles in the decision-making process pretty quickly and easily, but now we were down to the nitty gritty stuff. This is where the process slowed down just a bit and we really wrestled with the smaller details of each RV brand and model.

  • The “price vs. quality” comparison between RV brands -- After some more online research, we had arrived at a maximum amount that we were comfortable spending on our new travel trailer. With that price range, there were only three RV brands we actually liked and that seemed to provide enough living space to accommodate our family of five.

I dug into those three RV brands online and got a good feel for overall quality and customer satisfaction, specifically with the travel trailers. Within a few days, I walked away feeling very confident that Keystone was going to provide us with the quality product that we wanted at a price that made sense for our situation. So my search then settled solely on different Keystone RV travel trailer models, and more specifically on those models that were available at the local dealership we had started the process with.

  • Which features are “musts” and which features are “likes” -- Human nature is to want it all. We felt that nature a great deal during our shopping process, because we wanted the “perfect” RV. When we finally realized that what was “perfect” for all of us might not exist and that there would be tradeoffs, it freed us up to actually move forward and make a final decision.
  • Function over favorites -- In order to make a final decision, we had to take some time to talk through some different features and decide which ones were going to allow us to function best as a family unit in this tiny living space.

The number one “non-negotiable” on our next RV will be that it is fully equipped to boondock whenever, wherever and for however long we desire. There are so many public lands (Bureau of Land Management, National Forests, etc.) where we are able to camp for free for up to 14 days at a time, but we weren’t able to take advantage of that without modifying the Passport unit we selected. Honestly, that type of situation wouldn’t have been ideal for our family at that time anyway, even if we had been properly equipped. 

But when we buy our next RV, I want to be able to take advantage of all of the free, or extremely inexpensive, overnight options out there. Yes, there are the public lands I mentioned, but there are also awesome memberships like Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome and others that allow you to stay at hundreds of different locations with no nightly charge! It’s an absolutely fantastic way to experience the RV lifestyle very inexpensively and I plan to soak in every bit of that when we get back out there. So we will look at adding solar panels and the necessary power management system to whatever RV we choose in order to “set us free” from the hookups and allow us to just roam free.

Keystone RV: you think you might end up with another Keystone travel trailer?

Good question. And the honest answer is that it is absolutely a strong possibility. I feel pretty confident that we will stay in the travel trailer arena for our next purchase, and I’ve looked at several rear living floor plans in the Keystone travel trailers that I feel give us some excellent, lightweight options. By the time we buy, the 2021 models will likely be available and I am really eager to see what features are added and what improvements and advances are made as you continue to improve your RV offerings. I can tell you without a doubt that we will look long and hard at everything Keystone RV has to offer before even considering another RV brand. We had such a great first experience with our Passport that we would be crazy not to seriously consider another Keystone RV.

Keystone RV:  Thank you for sharing your RVing experience and your insights on the RV purchase process with us. I’m certain that those folks looking at making their first RV purchase will find the information very useful. Do you have anything else to add to the conversation before we wrap things up?

TREKKN:  Just two more things I should probably mention:

  • If you are considering following a path similar to ours that also involves selling your home and purchasing a tow vehicle, be sure you pay attention to the order in which those things need to happen. We were given some very good advice by our salesperson that ended up working out well for our situation, and it basically guided us to purchase the RV first, then sell the home, then purchase the tow vehicle. It felt weird having that RV sitting there for a couple of months while we got the other pieces in place, but I am confident that things would not have gone as smoothly as they did if we had not followed that order.
  • You should go into this RV purchase process prepared to put a sizable down payment (minimum 20-25%) on the table in order to finance. You might not end up needing that much, but it’s definitely better to overestimate that number and go in fully prepared than to be blindsided by it and have your plans derailed.

I think that’s it! Now get out there and find some RV adventures!

About TREKKN RV Lifestyle and Travel

Todd and Julie are dedicated to helping new RVers feel comfortable jumping into the RV lifestyle. Their number one goal is to provide ideas and tips RVers need to travel with confidence and create long lasting memories. After spending 17 month RVing with their 3 older children, visiting 36 states, 5 Canadian provinces and many National Parks, they have lived and learned from their adventures and are excited to share them with you!

Visit Todd and Julie at TREKKN.CO to learn more.