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Class C motorhomes are fully enclosed units with access from the cockpit to the living quarters and are usually built on a full-size pickup truck chassis. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail/Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)
Class C motorhomes are fully enclosed units with access from the cockpit to the living quarters and are usually built on a full-size pickup truck chassis. (Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail/Ted Laturnus for The Globe and Mail)

Ask Joanne

RV advice for a family with three kids Add to ...

We have three small kids under the age of five, and we’d like to start doing some camping. We’re a single-car family, and we’re looking at the options of whether to buy a pull-trailer, or do we get a motorhome? – Gord in Medicine Hat, Alta.

RV travel is arguably one of the more convenient ways to holiday with young children: you can pull over and change a diaper, make lunch or take “time out” on a moment’s notice. You’re also probably making a few rows of air travelers happy in the process.

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Go RVing Canada may tempt you further; it cites the average cost savings of a seven-day RV vacation from Vancouver to Banff National Park using a lightweight travel trailer at 41 percent cheaper than the same vacation with a car/hotel option, and around 54 percent cheaper than an air/hotel option.

The hitch is, you need to invest some capital upfront.

To determine which type of unit is right for your family, there are a few things to consider, including your budget.

“It’s tough to do an apples-to-apples comparison, but normally a travel trailer is significantly less expensive than a motorhome, dependent of course upon age, size, etc. With a motorhome, you have an engine and drivetrain, and because of that insurance is typically higher. It’s almost like having another vehicle,” says one seasoned Alberta RV retailer.

Check with the manufacturer for the towing capacity of your current vehicle. Some lightweight trailers can be pulled with mid-size vehicles, including the family car. If this doesn’t meet your requirements, you’ll need a heavy-duty vehicle or pickup to safely pull a larger conventional trailer or fifth-wheel unit. If you have to purchase a second vehicle, going the tow route may not be more cost-effective than a motorized RV.

If economy is your foremost concern, don’t forget the hard-top tent-trailer. “The investment in a tent trailer is comparatively low, you’ve got plenty of sleep-ability and they’re easy to tow with almost any vehicle, but it’s just a lot more work setting up and taking down. There are also typically no washrooms, so when the kids are younger it can be a bit of a pain if you’re not close to the public washrooms,” says another dealer.

Many of the differences between a motorhome and travel trailer also come down to convenience.

An advantage with towing a trailer is that once you arrive and set up, you can use your vehicle for shopping or touring around. In a motorhome, you have to pack up first, unless you want to take a further hit on fuel economy and tow a car.

With a trailer, however, you don’t have immediate access to amenities when you’re travelling and pull off the road. For pure convenience with small children, a motorhome is hard to beat.

There are pluses and minuses for each type of RV. It really depends on your budget, and which extras you want and can afford. Don’t forget to forecast how long you’ll likely hang on to it, and whether the current sleeping arrangements will accommodate a growing family.

Because you’re new to RV life, I suggest renting before committing to ownership. (Any Robin Williams fans out there? Remember the movie RV?) That way you can discover which features you don’t like, and those you can’t live without. You may even decide that renting, without the worry of maintaining, insuring, and storing an RV, is the way you want to roll.

 
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