How to Buy an RV: Your Complete Guide to Travel Trailers
The number one question I'm asked: how did you buy your RV?! I understand. When we first started looking at RVs the options seemed overwhelming and I had no idea what to pick.
But after lots of research and careful planning, I think we picked the best RV for us and I hope to help you on your journey. Buying an RV is such a great decision, especially if you want the freedom to travel on your own terms. But there are a lot of options, so this guide will help you find which RV is right for you.
In this post I'm going to share why we went with a Flagstaff Super Lite 23FBDS Travel Trailer, as well as things you need to ask yourself as you find out what you want in a motor-home or travel trailer. I'll also take a look at the actual RV buying process, typical costs, and pros and cons of different styles to buy.
We just hit the road for our first ever month-long trip! As I write this, I'm looking out at the painted mountains of Wyoming and gearing up to head to Yellowstone National Park with our two dogs. You can follow along with us day by day on Instagram @heleneinbetween.
Why should you listen to us about picking an RV? Well, mostly because my husband, Michael, is so incredibly meticulous about research. We spent a solid year and a half determining what RV would be best and spent a lot of time and energy looking into each brand, make, and model.
How to Research for the Best RVs
The best bet is the internet! You can Google for the best RVs and find the best makes and models over the years. This will give you a good overview of different RVs, how they look, styles, floor plans, and so much more.
I suggest not only reading, but also watching YouTube videos to help you understand more about RVs and which one might suit you best.
Books to read for RVers
We found some INCREDIBLY helpful books for RVing, especially for your first time. These books map out literally everything you need to know about RVs from terminology to set-up, boondocking, and so much more. When you start hearing about different RV types, hitch types, axles, landing legs, etc, it gets overwhelming. These books are a great place to start.
RVing Idiot's Guide – my top pick. This is easy to read and gives it to you straight when it comes to your RV. Read the first couple chapters to get a good overview of what you need.
Living in an RV – This book is all about what it was like living in an RV full time and traveling across America. Whether you plan to live in an RV full time or not, this guide is super helpful and gives great insight.
RV Camping – Want to learn more about going off the grid (aka, not just in RV parks?) then read this book! It will help you understand what you need to know about boondocking and more.
I actually LOVED my experience of visiting dealerships. Sincerely, it was a great experience (and not at all like going to a car dealership with the high pressure). I do want to let you know it is important WHERE you buy your RV. The dealership is the one who is going to walk you through the process of your new RV and help you get to know your RV. This is also where you'll have maintenance done or repairs that come up. This is a place where you want to have a good relationship, since this is where you'll get questions answered and might have to wait for repairs.
After visiting multiple dealerships in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we went with ExploreUSA RV Supercenter. They treated us so kindly, always seemed to remember us, and had incredible patience as we asked a million questions about our RV.
We walked through multiple models with them and they also talked us through the pros and cons.
A great way to see a bunch of different brands, models, and makes is to go to an RV show. Not only do you get to go inside and compare, literally side-by-side RVs, the shows are also super educational. There are demonstrations, tips, and seminars that go over things like setting up your RV, technology you'll need to know, cooking, maintenance and more.
In February 2020 we spent a weekend at an RV show, going into numerous models and learning everything we could about what we liked and what we wanted in an RV. More on that below!
Why We Picked the Flagstaff Super Lite Travel Trailer
As soon as we walked into a Flagstaff RV we knew this was the one for us. The quality was leaps and bounds above other brands. Sturdy and pretty countertops, a bigger than most interior, great floor plans, beautiful and thoughtful interior and colors, and a family brand.
But what really sent me over the edge on definitely picking Flagstaff was their story. I spoke directly with Flagstaff to get their take on the brand.
For 44 years, Flagstaff RVs are built in Millersburg, Indiana with a staff that takes pride in their work, along with a level of manufacturing that is centered on customer satisfaction. They strive to build the best product in the industry, and, they are constantly innovating. Of course, you want an RV that looks good, but there's so much more under the surface. You need it to hold up and to last. Flagstaff focuses on building high quality, first.
This is why Flagstaff has so many repeat customers- a testament to their craftsmanship. Flagstaff also offers a variety of models and makes from super small pop-ups, all the way up to 39-foot fifth wheels. But again and again, customers come back to Flagstaff.
I'll never forget multiple people telling me, “If I were to buy a travel trailer for myself or my family, I'd go with Flagstaff.”
Flagstaff is at the perfect intersection of premium materials and construction and value for your hard earned dollar. They are one of the few six sided aluminum construction. This makes a lighter and stronger trailer than their competitors who choose to build from cheaper wood which is also more susceptible to water damage, breakdowns, etc. They didn’t stop at the exterior though. All of the supports for the seating and sleeping areas are also constructed of aluminum.
Flagstaff also utilizes a hardier ⅝” plywood subfloor which is satisfyingly solid under your step and will resist warping over time. There is radiant foil on the underbelly, slide out floors, and fronts of their units. Their units maintain a low overall height to minimize wind resistance while towing and stray limbs in camp, yet a high ground clearance for rougher roads. They also utilize a torsion rubber suspension that is superior to the standard bouncy leaf spring found with other manufacturers.
They provide a comfortable Serta mattress in their Super Lites with optional heating, stone like kitchen surfaces for a luxurious touch, innovative features like a hot water bypass which eliminates water waste while heating up the shower, tire pressure monitoring, and standard ground solar prep with optional roof prep. New amenities which we’re loving in our 2021 unit include roll-up shades instead of the finicky folding type, and beautiful and bright cabinetry color.
The final inspection before leaving the factory for your home is a crucial step in the RV buying process. You’re essentially buying an entire home on wheels. There’s a lot of different systems and equipment that, when working smoothly, provide an enjoyable and relaxing camping experience. Plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling, etc. are all things you don’t want to have to worry about. After walking in and out of dozens of units it was very clear some manufacturers don’t take this inspection very seriously. Piles of leftover sawdust in the corner, light fixtures or blinds not fully installed, screws driven in crookedly, etc. Every Flagstaff unit we walked into was showroom ready.
We went with the Flagstaff Super Lite 23FBDS for many reasons, but really, it hit all of our checklist needs (which I'll share below.) To summarize, the model itself has huge windows, a great floor plan, high-quality features, is made very well, and is the perfect size to tow with our Jeep SUV. After traveling with it, I can honestly say this was the best decision for us.
I hope this gives you an understanding of why we chose this brand. Buying an RV is a large purchase and one you want to be fully satisfied with. We know you’ll be satisfied with Flagstaff.
Checklist of what we wanted in our RV
When searching for an RV keep a running list of things you like. The checklist below will help you when making your buying decision, but don't forget to write down the things that are important for you.
- Premium, high quality materials
- Large windows
- Good use of space and storage
- Well made
- Two seating areas – important for us since we'll be working on the road
- Dual axle – important for towing ease
- Efficient slide design – and easy to maneuver in and out. Having slides is VERY important for us for space.
All of these items in our checklist helped us to finalize our decision in buying the Flagstaff Super Lite 23FBDS Travel Trailer.
Questions to ask when picking an RV:
1. Will you be in your RV full time, part time, or only a few times a year?
For us, we are doing part time. We are spending half our time on the road and the other half at home. After living 3 years in Europe and traveling about 80% of the time, we knew we wanted more flexibility and wanted to spend time with friends and family. So we felt part time was best for us!
Knowing this will help you determine the size that's right for you.
2. Who's going to be in the RV?
We have me, my husband, and our two dogs. Having a smaller trailer was just right for us and I feel that we have plenty of space. Safety is SO important for me. So having something smaller also makes me feel a bit more comfortable when it comes to towing.
3. Do you want a driveable (motorized) RV or towable?
There are benefits to both. If you want a big drive-able vehicle you'll be paying more. But there are great benefits, such as being able to very quickly set up wherever you park. Typically, these are called motorhomes (or motorized RV) because you've got the motor and the home in one. These are usually about double the price of a typical towable travel trailer. Also, if you want the ability of going off-roading or into town, you might want to tow a car behind the trailer.
Towable is generally less expensive and you will need a vehicle to tow the camper.
Pros of Towable RV
- Can easily unhitch and just have a car
- If maintenance is needed you can still freely move
- Especially with smaller campers, it's easier to get around
- Can come in any size from large 5th wheels to smaller pop up campers
- Fuel economy is typically better
- More options on space and floor plans
Cons of Towable RV
- You'll need a car (and the right size) to pull it
- Maintenance for both travel trailer and for your vehicle
- More time consuming to set up at campsites
Pros of Morotzied RV:
- Easily accessible bathroom (and really, everything) while driving.
- All in one, meaning you don't need an additional vehicle
- Typically larger so more storage
- Easier to set up at campsites
Cons of Motorized RV:
- If you need maintenance you're stuck
- Fuel economy is typically worse
It comes down to personalized preference here. But for us, and our needs, I personally think for first time buyers or those that want more flexibility, a towable travel trailer is the way to go.
4. What vehicle will you use to tow?
We knew we wanted an SUV which means we needed something not too big. We looked hard at the different specs of each model to ensure that not only could we tow the trailer, but also the additional weight we'd be putting in the trailer (food, clothes, water, etc.)
We went with a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a diesel engine that could tow ours, and it's worked out very well.
5. What size do you need?
Michael and I are semi-minimalists. When we lived in Germany for 3 years we had 2 towels, 1 skillet, 1 pot, and one plastic bowl. Honestly, it was just fine for us. So we knew we wouldn't be packing tons of stuff in the RV.
We actually have left over storage in our RV. We are also just two people and two dogs, so the Flagstaff Super Lite works well for us.
If you're a family of 4 you might want to look at larger models or 5th wheels.
6. Where do you plan to travel with the RV?
Are you staying put near or around your area? Flat roads? Mountain driving? During summer or winter?
For us, we wanted an all purpose travel trailer that could go up in the mountains, in the 112 degree southern weather or through harsh winter climates. The Flagstaff models were proven to hold up in all which is why we felt this was best.
Also, think about the activities you'd like to do so that you get an RV that can fit your needs.
7. What features do you need?
Remember to think about what's most important to you! And keep in mind our checklist above.
8. What price range are you comfortable with?
RVs range in price but you also need to consider the price of fuel, maintenance, storage (if applicable), parking, and more.
I firmly believe in getting what you pay for when it comes to RVs. As you see when you look at different brands, they have all different features, but make sure to look at quality. Are they made out of wood or aluminum framing? This makes a big difference in holding up over time.
RV Pricing and How much to Spend on an RV
As I've mentioned, buying an RV can really range in price.
You can go anywhere from a cheaper pop-up camper for $10,000 all the way up to a fully equipped motorized bus for over $200,000.
Our travel trailer from Flagstaff, the 23FBDS, MSRP is roughly $39,000.
Dealers can sell this for around $28-30,000 depending on freight. This is a top of the line travel trailer, fully equipped with everything we need.
The Process of Buying the RV
Buying an RV is very similar to purchasing a car. You'll get financing (if needed), sign paperwork, go through for about an hour to an hour and a half of everything inside the RV. Again, this is a fairly in-depth process and you want to buy from someone you can trust. If you're near Dallas I recommend checking out ExploreUSA.
The bottom line: picking an RV is all about personal preference, however, some company's quality is MUCH better than others. That and safety were first and foremost very important to us. We wanted something that would hold up for years and on the road and keep us safe.
An RV gives you the freedom to roam, see the world, and gives you comfort on the open road. It's truly a wonderful and different experience to travel this way.
One of my favorite parts is the RV community itself. Everyone is welcoming and kind. So jump on in and join the club!