As we planned for both of us to retire we talked about getting an RV. We had two friends with RVs, one with a big Class A and one with a Class B. We sure didn't want to be bus drivers, but a van seemed awfully small. However, small was appealing. Our experience may be useful to prospective RV owners.
Our first dabble in the RV world was renting a 26 ft Cruise America Class C, and joining our friends with the Class A on Assateague Island for a week. We recommend doing that – renting an RV and going to Assateague. Did we like the 26 ft Class C? No! We learned a few things from the Cruise America experience: 1) We hated the corner bed / bath arrangement, 2) We wanted a vehicle with two separate living spaces, 3) We didn't want anything the vast size of that 26 ft Class C, and 4) We didn't want a wet bath.
We started our search with Navion/View size Class Cs. They seemed like a good size between the clumsy 26 footer and a van. But they were still tall and boxy – just shorter. The requirement of two separate living spaces was not something we started out with. But a spring week on Assateague Island often involves some chilly wet weather. We decided that sitting across from each other at a dinette table waiting for the rain to stop gets old fast. Suddenly our favorite Navion floor plan didn't seem so appealing anymore. There was only one model of Navion at the time (since discontinued) that offered two living spaces. We didn't want anything bigger and we were not sure we wanted anything as bulky as the Navion/View either.
Then our friend Betsy said,”You should really look at a Roadtrek, it is perfect for two – we would never go back to anything bigger.” Betsy and her husband had owned a big Class C, downsizing to a Class B after their kids were grown. They were now on their second Roadtrek – a 190 Versatile and had traveled everywhere. We had been in both of their Roadtreks before, but we went to look this time with different eyes after our rental experience. We were amazed, not only did it 1) not have a corner bed/bath, it had the biggest bathroom we had seen in a modest size RV, 2) it had two separate living spaces – one front and one rear, both with tables, 3) it was 19.5 ft long and only a bit over 8 ft high, and 4) it did not have a wet bath. It could pass for the conversion van sitting a a neighbors driveway. See floor plan.
We were astounded – how could such a small vehicle have so much more than the larger Class Cs? We were convinced the designer was a genius. The concept of “borrowed space” had been executed beautifully. Just like you can't be in two places at once, you don't need to have any “rooms” that you are not currently using. So your dining room, your living room, and your bedroom do not need to exist at the same time. The same space can be used for all three. And likewise your bathroom and your kitchen do not need to exist at the same time so you can share the same counters and sink. And your cab, den, study/office, and guest room do not have to exist at the same time, so same space can serve all the roles.
Then to our surprise, Betsy offered to lend us her 190 Versatile for a weekend. We boondocked on family property in southern Ohio. It was amazing! The spaces really can serve double and triple duties. The bathroom put our friend's Class A to shame with a spacious stand up shower and ample space for use as a changing room as well (not simultaneously of course). We decided during that weekend that a Roadtrek was perfect. However, we are tall so we didn't want crosswise sleeping. A 190 Popular was our floor plan of choice. It gives up the 4th seat up front and a slightly bigger bath area for the twins/king bed setup and a dinette that seats 4 people.
We got lucky and found a wonderful 1995 Dodge 190 Popular with 80,000 miles on the odometer a mere 35 miles from home. We have made many little changes to it over 7 years. We still marvel over the terrific use of space in our camper. When we check out the new Class Bs we come away a little disappointed and even more in love with our old Roadtrek. Tastes have changed in Class Bs. The RV buying public prefers small permanent wet baths to temporary large (and dry) aisle baths. Permanent beds are becoming more common – nearly half your living space is a bed 100% of the time? Two living spaces are getting rarer. Counter space is shrinking with the modern glass covered sinks and stoves claiming most of the counter top. Nothing in the 19 ft class comes close to what we have. And the lengths of Class Bs are growing – less use of borrowed space requires it. And the dark colors make interiors appear smaller, so then cabinets are removed to make the space look bigger, and storage shrinks. Manufacturers make what sells. But we have to wonder how people decide what they buy. Is it all based on what they are offered? Are the manufacturers just producing what newbie buyers say they want? If they saw a Class B with our floor plan would they love it as much as we do? Our ideas about what we thought we wanted changed significantly as we investigated, so maybe not. Our advice: look at many models new and used before you buy.
If you are shopping for a Class B, don't jump at the first nice looking vehicle you see. Don't make a decision based on one appealing feature. It is getting easier to rent Class Bs these days. Find a rental and try to spend more than just a weekend in it. Think about how you use it. Your priorities will likely change as you gain experience and see more floor plans. The right floor plan for you may be quite different from the next person.
We found our perfect Class B. You can too! We are so happy we didn't buy others we examined and some we originally thought we wanted. Don't be afraid to look at older campers – if the latest technology gizmos and color schemes are not a high priority, you might find something older that suits your needs better than a new one. Plus it will be less expensive. And once you have traveled in a Class B for awhile you will better understand what you really want – then you can order a new one with exactly what you want and need.