Downsizing RVs: From Class A to Van Life

Downsizing RVs: From Class A to Van Life 1

My husband Deas and I were full-time RVers in a Class A for five years. Recently, we made a very big change and downsized from our 35-foot RV to a 21-foot van.

We don’t travel full-time anymore, having traded RV life for something more stationary. Initially, we kept our big RV after returning to sticks-and-bricks life, thinking we would travel in it occasionally. But after a year, we’d only used the RV twice. Most of the time it was just sitting sad and lonely in a storage unit.

We wanted to keep traveling but began to realize that the bigger RV didn’t fit into our lifestyle as well anymore. Earlier this year, we decided to trade in our Tiffin for a Winnebago Travato.

So, what are the differences between the two RVs, and how are we adjusting? First, the obvious: the van is much smaller than our Class A. This has a number of benefits for us.

Pros of Van Life

Downsizing RVs: From Class A to Van Life 2

Drivability

Driving a 21-foot van is a vastly different experience from driving a Class A. I was never too comfortable driving our Tiffin, which meant that Deas did 99% of our driving. With the van, I’m very comfortable driving it. Being able to share driving duties means we can plan longer travel days.  

Route Planning

When planning trips in our Class A, a significant portion of planning was spent on determining which route to take. Simply using Google Maps isn’t advisable when your vehicle is 34 feet long and 13 feet high. We had to use planning tools that were geared to RVs and truckers and take into consideration things like bridge clearance and toll roads. With the Travato, we won’t have to worry about this aspect. Our van should be able to easily go most places a car can go.   

Parking

At 21 feet, our van can fit into most regular parking spaces. So, when we need to stop for gas or food, it’s as easy as just pulling into the nearest gas station or restaurant. With our Class A, we needed to plan our stops in advance to ensure that we would go somewhere that could accommodate a large rig, which was always a little stressful. With the van, these types of stops are much easier.

The other parking aspect we’re excited about is that our van can easily fit into a driveway. We park it in our driveway at our home, so we don’t have to pay for a storage unit any longer. It also means we can park it in the driveways of our friends and families. One of the first trips we took was to visit my sister and we were able to park the van right in her driveway.  

Campground Options

While we rarely ran into an issue finding campgrounds that could accommodate our big rig, we will have many more options available to us in a smaller rig. As more and more people have started RVing in the last few years, we were finding that we had to book campgrounds further and further in advance for our Class A. With our smaller van, we’ve easily been able to find last minute options, and there are many more sites available for us to choose from.  

Easier Set Up and Take Down

Our van has no slides and no jacks. Getting setup in a spot generally just means putting it in park. As we anticipate using this van for shorter trips and shorter stays, being able to easily set up, and then pack up when ready to leave, makes the whole process much easier. 

Drawbacks to Downsizing RVs

Downsizing RVs: From Class A to Van Life 3

But not everything about moving into a Class B has been an improvement. We’ve also learned what the downsides are.  

Less Interior Room

My husband is a big guy, and we also travel with two dogs. We are constantly bumping into each other, getting in each other’s way, and accidentally kicking over the dog water bowl. If we weren’t already very used to RVing and living in a small space with each other, this may have been a harder transition for us.   

Smaller Holding Tanks

We had huge tanks in our Class A, and once went a full three weeks boondocking before we had to dump our tanks. That is never going to happen in this van. I think we’ll be lucky to go a week before we have to dump, if we’re very careful. But we don’t anticipate this being too much of an issue, as we’re planning on much shorter trips, and shorter stays in locations.  

One Vehicle

Since we no longer have a tow vehicle, the van is our primary means of transportation. This means that if we are staying somewhere for a few days and need to go anywhere, we’ll need to pack up each time we need to leave. If we’re in a campground, we’ll need to make sure other campers know we are returning to our campsite. We have van friends who have had camp chairs and other items go missing when they were off running errands. This was a problem we never had when leaving our Class A in a site.

The other consideration with having one vehicle is what to do if you have a mechanical problem. Unfortunately, this is something we experienced first-hand when our van had a minor breakdown on our most recent trip – a frozen alternator rendered the van undriveable and we had to get towed to a service center. When we had a tow car, this was never an issue as we always had a second means of transportation.  

Final Verdict on Downsizing RVs

For us, we are more than happy with our new, smaller RV as the benefits of the added flexibility outweigh the less appealing differences. What works for one family or couple may not work for another, or in our case, what worked for us in our former RVing life no longer worked in our current situation. We’re very excited to get back to traveling and can’t wait to meet up with our many Escapees and Xscapers friends again. Especially the ones who have driveways we can park in!  

Jen-Nealy-Author-Bio

Author

Jen Nealy

Jen and her husband Deas were full-time RVers from 2013 to 2018, but after settling down in Asheville have become part-time RVers in a Winnebago Travato. They travel with two dogs and enjoy hiking and photography. Jen writes about their travels at NealysOnWheels.com

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