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Road Trips/Truck Camper

Road Tripping and Camping: What’s the Best Vehicle?

Do you love road trips and dislike hotels? Then you have probably been considering the question of which type of vehicle and camping setup is best for you.

Your 4 main options are as follows:

  • A car/SUV/Van
  • Motorhome
  • Travel Trailer
  • Truck Camper

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.

Car/SUV/Van

The biggest benefit of road-tripping and camping out of a car or SUV is the cost. Smaller vehicles typically get better gas mileage and this is the style of automobile that most of us use for daily driving.

The biggest con is space! If you are camping out of a car or SUV, then chances are that you are tent camping. Tent camping works great if you are just driving to one location and staying for several days in good weather. However, if you are changing locations frequently, spending a long time on the road, or camping in inclement or more extreme weather – tents can be a bit of a pain.

That’s not to say that you can’t camp directly out of your SUV. Just check out some of these setups for inspiration:

In 2019, I attempted this style of road-trip camping on a trip from Minnesota out to Shenandoah National Park. We built a platform for our Toyota Sienna, with storage containers underneath, a portable toilet, and a bed platform that converted into a couch.

And it worked for a week, but it was hard to change without standing up. It was also difficult to not be able to fully sit up on the bed platform. It was also a tight fit to get 2 dogs and 2 humans comfortable inside the van.

I did love the gas mileage and ability to fit in any standard parking lot though! And the dogs thought the bed was wonderful on driving days.

Motorhome

There are 3 main categories of motorhomes Class A, B, and C. Class A motorhomes are built on a coach bus platform, Class Bs are the smallest – think “vanlife” -, and Class Cs are built on truck platforms and often have the classic over the cab bed.

If you aren’t familiar with the different classes of motorhomes, this video provides a good overview.

What they all have in common is an open concept where you can walk from the driver’s seat all the way to the back of the vehicle. And most of them are apartments on wheels, with kitchens, bathrooms, and beds.

If you are driving a large Class A, then you have lots of space and amenities, BUT you probably can’t get into as many places. Many campgrounds have rough roads, tight turning radiuses, low-hanging branches, and short campsites. So if you like more remote campsites, a Class A motorhome isn’t for you.

Class B motorhomes are small enough to get more places, especially if you have a Class B van with 4×4. You’ll have less space and may not have a full bathroom, but these models still have all of the basic creature comforts while still fitting into most parking spots. Honestly, the biggest drawback of Class B Motorhomes is price. Most of these will cost over $100,000 new. If not for the price tag, this would be my first pick camping set-up.

Class C Motorhomes are in between the size of Class A and Class B. And when I took a 3-month road trip to all of the US National Parks west of the Mississippi River (in the contiguous United States), this is what I chose to live out of.

I originally bought a 1998 Class C Winnebago (pictured above). Unfortunately, it had an exhaust leak that the RV repair shop was not able to fully fix. So after purchasing a $10,000 vehicle and spending $1000 to fix the exhaust leak, fumes started to enter the cabin of the RV while we were driving through Arizona. And we ended up trading it in for only $2000 dollars when we bought a newer Class C RV (pictured below) that did last the rest of our 3-month road trip.

My lesson learned (that I probably should have already known): do NOT trust dealerships to be honest when you ask them about inspections. It was a costly lesson, but I will never purchase an older vehicle without a third-party inspection again. So, if you are buying used – learn from my mistake.

Happily, our Tahoe motorhome was reliable and we enjoyed finishing our travels in a newer vehicle. And as far as a Class C motorhome is concerned, we loved the ease and comfort of having an apartment on wheels. There was plenty of space for us and both dogs. And we could drive into a campground late in the day and simply level our RV and be ready for bed.

The biggest drawback was that there were some low bridges and narrow roads in National Parks that we had to skip because the motorhome was too big to safely be able to traverse those roads.

We ultimately ended up selling the Tahoe motorhome after our trip as we didn’t want to have a vehicle sitting around that needed additional maintenance to keep the engine in good shape.

The summer after was when we tried out camping in the back of our minivan. While the van was too small for us, we decided that we still wanted to have something to camp in that was an upgrade from a tent. So our next adventures took place in a travel trailer.

Travel Trailer

The biggest benefit of road-tripping with a travel trailer is that you can detach it from your car and leave it at the campsite once you reach your destination. You don’t have to pack everything up just to drive to a trailhead. So for those of you who like to spend longer in each location, a travel trailer is probably the way to go.

Being able to leave the trailer at the campsite also allows you to drive the winding narrow roads and pass under the low bridges we had to skip when we were driving a Class C motorhome. (For those that prefer a motorhome, many get around this problem by towing a small vehicle behind the motorhome. We never did end up attempting to tow behind our motorhomes.)

If you are interested in a travel trailer, you will likely be able to find a trailer that works for you regardless of your tow vehicle. From small pop-up or teardrop trailers that can be towed by an average car to large fifth-wheelers that require a strong truck to pull, there is something for everyone.

When we purchased our first travel trailer, we had a Jeep Cherokee that could tow around 4500 pounds. Now, be aware that you don’t want to max out your towing capacity and you need to factor in the weight of your trailer WITH water, luggage, etc.

For more information on figuring out how much your vehicle can tow, there are lots of great articles and videos on the internet. Here is an informative one from YouTube.

Since we didn’t want to max out our towing, we looked at trailers that had a dry weight of 3000 pounds or under. There are several options available on the market, however, we had trouble getting a trailer as we were looking during 2020 and apparently everyone was out trying to buy an RV.

But we did ultimately end up with an Ozark Lite and towed that trailer east to three national parks: Mammoth Cave, Great Smoky Mountains, and New River Gorge. That trip was successful and now we have plans to finish our national parks journey camping from a travel trailer.

The travel trailer has been pretty easy with the dogs. We just have to remember to move their beds from the car to the trailer at night (we could buy a second set of dog beds, we just haven’t yet). The motorhome was a little easier as the dogs could roam in the motorhome while we drove. Potentially not as safe, but easier. Otherwise, the travel trailer is just as easy as the motorhome for traveling with dogs.

Truck Camper

Another option for camping is to get a truck and either purchase or build a truck camper. While a track camper is typically smaller than a motorhome or travel trailer, it does offer more space than an SUV or minivan conversion. And depending on your truck and truck camper, you can often get to more remote places, navigate smaller roads, and still park in a parking lot compared to motorhomes/travel trailers.

While the travel trailer we plan to take to the rest of the national parks we can drive to offers many luxuries and more space when camping with multiple people, lately I have been really excited about overlanding in a truck camper. Currently, I am driving a 2005 Toyota Highlander with 200,000 miles on it. Since I need a new vehicle soon anyway, I have been looking at truck options.

When considering a truck camper, the most important factor is a truck’s payload – aka how much weight can your truck carry. If you want a nice, fancy truck camper with lots of space and features, you will need a bigger truck.

Personally, I really want a small, off-road capable truck and am willing to consider a small, lightweight truck camper. With that in mind, I have been really excited about the capabilities of a Toyota Tacoma Off-Road truck. Just check out some of these lovely Tacoma camping setups.

Aren’t they exciting? I just put down a deposit to get myself on the waiting list for a 2023 Toyota Tacoma and can’t wait to share my truck camper journey with all of you.

Which should you choose?

Which setup you choose ultimately depends on your travel style, where you want to visit, and how much space you need. But here are my general guidelines.

Pick an SUV or minivan if you want to travel on a budget!

Pick a Motorhome if you don’t want to tow a trailer, but still want the benefits of an apartment on wheels.

Pick a Travel Trailer if you want an apartment on wheels that you can leave set up at your campsite while you drive your tow vehicle to trailheads or into town.

Pick a Truck Camper (with 4×4) if you want to travel to more remote destinations, can’t afford a fully decked out 4×4 class B motorhome, and need more space than you get with an SUV.

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