We are seriously considering getting a 15 passenger van and trailer and hitting the road for months at a time. We have 5 kids including an infant. So what do you recommend? How many feet long do you think a fam of 7 could comfortably get away with? Any suggestions for a van that would or would not be a good idea to haul the thing?
Congratulations on your exciting adventure coming up!
First of all, our situation is unique. Because we have a Christian music mission, we have to do more moving than most RVers do. Most stay in one spot for a week to a few months. We usually move every couple of days. That makes an enormous difference. Consider how much you will be moving before making your final decision.
You have a few basic options:
1) Van with travel trailer
This is what we do. The trailer has enough sleeping space for the whole family. It does not offer the most living space of any of the options, but because we move around so much, it is the best option for us. The Chevy Express van has enough room for the whole family and pet(s) in one vehicle and enough power to tow a trailer. Check your tow limits VERY CAREFULLY to keep your family safe and legal.
There are lightweight bunkhouses available that would be good for a large family. We have a Passport Ultralite 33-foot trailer with a bunkhouse and a half slide. That means half of one wall moves out 18 inches–a full slide would go out twice as far, but it adds weight to the trailer. Also, the 33 feet measures the tongue, so that is not all living space. We have about 29.5 feet inside. Our previous was three feet shorter, but we “only” had seven kids back then.
2) Truck, fifth wheel, separate family vehicle.
We’ve seen this before. A family wants the fifth wheel because they are roomier than a travel trailer. Unfortunately, you need a truck to tow the 5th wheel, and very few “affordable” trucks can seat a large family. Families who choose a fifth wheel will often have a separate family vehicle. With two drivers, one drives the truck and tows the rig, while the other drives the family in the other vehicle.
The benefit is that with a truck as your towing vehicle, you can consider more options for your rig–fifth wheel, travel trailer, toy hauler (which can be nicely rigged with extra beds). You have more towing capacity, too, opening up your options immensely.
If you’re heading to one location for a while, this is a very doable option. You might have some trouble finding spaces that take two vehicles plus the rig–I’m not sure, because we’ve never dealt with this. We do not use this option because of our constant moving. Plus I never grew out of that fall-asleep-in-the-car phase that most babies go through, so Steve does all the driving. Ha.
3) Motorhome with a tow vehicle.
This is the most expensive option for purchase and maintenance. It is also difficult to find a used or affordable motorhome with enough room for a large family, but there are some. If you intend to tow a vehicle large enough to fit a large family, you’ll probably need a diesel pusher, not a gas engine. Another option is to drive a vehicle behind the motorhome so you can get around once you’ve reached your destination.
The main things to consider are space for the family in the vehicle, space for the family in the rig, and towing limitations.
Don’t take the word of your salesperson when it comes to what your vehicle can tow–they do not always know, and they sometimes answer questions with a commission in mind instead of the safety of your family. We’ve heard stories. So check with the manufacturer.
So how many square feet?
As far as how many feet a family needs, it really depends on the family. The word “need” is subjective. Some couples live in a tear drop with a baby; others insist that their 40-footers are too small for them and their two kids.
For perspective, we have 10 people in around 250 square feet. Some days it’s perfect; some days we feel like we’re going to implode. (We’d explode instead of implode, but we’re used to taking up as little space as possible, so exploding is not an option.)
This is not a scientific answer, because there is no answer. There are pros and cons to each choice. You have to assess what you think your life will look like and go from there. I know people who jumped into this lifestyle with the biggest rig they could afford, found it horribly awkward to navigate, boondock, and cool/heat, and sold and got the smallest rig they could find. You’ll learn as you go.
Enjoy the adventure!