Fall has arrived and with it end-of-season RV sales and the used RV Sales market bubble. In other words, it’s the perfect time to get a great deal on a new (or new to you) RV!
If you’ve visited an RV dealer lot recently then you’ve seen the dozens (hundreds?) of different RV floor plans to choose from – with more interesting layouts available every model year. While that’s a good thing, all the variety can make it difficult to know which floor plan is the best layout for your needs. This is especially true if you’re picking out an RV for the first time, or if you haven’t experienced much RV camping.
A good floor plan is important in any home, but it’s especially important in the limited space of an RV. In our few years of RVing, we’ve met many (most?) people who regretted their initial RV purchase because the layout – or other feature – didn’t work for the way they lived and camped. This is an expensive and avoidable experience, as the value loss on a $50K – $200K RV in the first few years is in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Save yourself money before you buy. Read this article and do your homework before you go shopping, then buy the right RV the first time with confidence!
Whether you’re looking to buy a Class-C or Class-A Motor Home, a Fifth-Wheel, or a Travel Trailer, there are a number of features, or keys that make some RVs more functional and useful than others. Without further ado, here are the 8 most important keys to choosing a good RV floor plan.
8 Keys to Choosing the Right RV Floor Plan the First Time
#1 – Pay Attention to Entry Door Location & Traffic Flow
Most RVs are designed to maximize traffic flow into and around a relatively small space. Of course some models have better layouts than others. First, notice how traffic will flow into the RV. Some RVs have a mid-ship entry door, while others have entry at the front. Some Travel Trailers have dual entries which can be helpful.
Poor entry door location can create traffic logjams, especially if you have kids or travel with family. This could even cause a dangerous fire hazard, especially if the entry is in the front and the bedroom is in the far back without another exit.
Entry Door Location Near the Kitchen – If you eat outside a lot (we do) you may want your entry door to be close to your kitchen for easy access and minimal tracking through your RV. Our fridge is literally just inside the door and this works well for our lifestyle and saves us a lot of sweeping or vacuuming.
Winnebago designed their Journey 40R model with the kitchen in the front of the coach near the entry door, making it fast and easy to bring food outside. Wherever the door is, be sure it works for the way you plan to live. (With smaller RVs distance to the outdoors is obviously not as much of an issue as in some 40+ foot units.) Also, make sure you’ll be able to prepare meals without people walking through your kitchen area. Our RV isn’t that big but we have a corner kitchen area where one person can cook without interruption.
Keep Entry Away from ‘Living room’ – Ideally you want to have a conversation area where people can talk and watch TV without interruption. We’ve found that the dinette-facing-sofa layout allows people to talk to one another well. If there’s the option, a triangular seating arrangement is ideal. Our RV has swiveling cab seats near our sofa and dinette. This creates seating for up to 9 people in a relatively private area! At any rate, it’s preferably to have the living area set away from the traffic flow into the kitchen and the bathroom.
Bedrooms and baths: I’ll talk in detail about these rooms separately. Fortunately most RVs are designed well with bed and bath tucked toward the end of the units, so their placement is generally very functional.
#2 – 2 Wall Slides are good, 3 or more are Better
Wall slides, (sometimes called slide outs, pop-outs, tip-outs, or just ‘slides’) weren’t available until the 1990’s. That’s when RV manufacturers made the structural and manufacturing advancements for slides to became a viable option. Since that day, the vast majority of 5th Wheels, Class-A and -C, and Travel Trailers have at least one slide and for good reason – there’s no better way to increase the living area in an RV.
Slides make a tremendous amount of sense. An RV or Trailer generally needs to be 8′ wide or less to travel down the road. This naturally restricts interior floor plans, as all RVs require a walking aisle. Enter the slide, and suddenly an RV in use can be 30% – 60% wider than in travel mode. That’s a huge increase in useable space – especially in a shorter RV.
Some people still warn against slides – “no slides, no problems” is something we’ve heard more than a few times, but the additional space that slides provide is more than welcome – in even the largest of RV floor plans.
We have three slides in our 31-foot Winnebago Aspect, and they almost double our useable living space. Our two opposing slides in the living and dining area are especially spacious and help reduce that ‘hallway’ feeling some RVs have. This also allows our relatively compact RV to hold up to about 10 people in the living area and kitchen without feeling too crazy.
Also – We’ve had no problems with any of our slides in almost 5 years of full-time RV living.
We’ve found that following these tips will keep you and your slides happy:
- First, invest in ‘slide toppers’ to protect your slides from debris and the elements. Slide toppers protect against leaking, protect your slide seals, and keep sticks and leaves from getting into and damaging your slides. The alternative is that you make sure you religiously sweep the top of your slides before you retract them.
- Second, most slide motors are powered by the chassis (engine) batteries. To make sure they get full power, always keep the engine running during slide operation. This is especially important after being out camping for several weeks. The chassis battery is likely to be low, and the slide motors pull a lot of will pull from the drained chassis battery and that causes a lot of strain on the motors.
- Finally, maintain your slides properly. Slide seals should be lubricated every few months. Some slide tracks are self-lubricating, others require dry or wet lube. Read your owners manual, and make sure to follow the instructions. Standard stuff, but easy to forget in the long list of RV maintenance.
#3 – Select Floor Plans With Space Optimization Features
Here are a few examples of RV Space Optimization Features that are surprisingly useful:
- Dinettes – We’ve all seen dinettes that serve as an eating area and a bed. Some can also be used comfortably as a desk, and all dinettes offer significant storage which we use for extra sheets, blankets, and pillows. You may be tempted by a traditional table and chair setup over a dinette. While attractive, these table setups don’t have the storage that a dinette does and usually can’t convert into an extra bed. These are especially important features in smaller RVs.
- Swiveling Cab seats are another great space-expander. They swivel around to your living area, adding to your seating space. This setup works best in a class A where the floor is even with the cab. This allows the seats to pivot easily and also makes them easier to use – vs sitting down in the lower seatwell of a Class C – although they’re good to have either way.
- A sofa that reclines AND turns into a bed is a win because it allows you to recline, sit upright, and sleep. We have a Winnebago Easy-Rest sofa with a built-in ottoman that hides under the sofa. The Easy Rest acts like an oversized recliner, and it reclines in infinite steps with a button on one side. Both Rich and I can watch TV in a comfy reclined position and we love it! Our guests also report that the queen bed, (which the Easy Rest turns into when the foot rest is extended and the seat is fully reclined) is roomy and comfortable. We’ve even had couples use it on occasion with no complaints.
- Beds that drop down over the cab seats – and retract again when not in use.
- Pop-up countertop that expands your kitchen counters, as well as the traditional sink and stove covers that do the same. These countertop add-ons are surprisingly useful and welcome, even if your RV appears to have decent counter space. More counters are always better!
Look for any or all of these space optimization features when shopping for an RV. You’ll appreciate the flexibility they provide – especially if you have pets or when you have visitors!
#4 – Unless you’re RVing solo, Choose a Floor Plan with 2 or more distinct zones or rooms
Some RV manufacturers use ‘open space’ design to maximize floor space – often by combining the sofa and the bedroom. While this does work to maximize useable space, it also means that when you’re both (or all) in the RV, you’re all sharing the same space. Even if you both/all get along really well, there are times that privacy is nice – watching shows or movies, during phone calls, playing music, or even if you’re an introvert and just need some alone time to recharge. Yes, the outdoors is usually an outstanding optional ‘room’, but if it’s cold, raining, or at night, that may not be an option.
That’s why if you’re planning to live full or part-time in your RV I definitely recommend at least 2 zones or rooms: a dining/kitchen/living area, and a bedroom separated by at least a sliding pocket door. Ideally these zones are separated by the bathroom, since this helps buffer sound from phone calls or TV.
There are exceptions to this rule, and if you’re a couple who lives in an open Floor Plan then I applaud you!
Rich and I knew we’d be working from our RV, so 2 rooms + the bathroom area were a must for us. We have a bedroom that’s at the rear of our motorhome, which is separated from our kitchen/dining/living area by a split bath. The bath area also has a door on one end, and a sliding accordion screen, which turns that area into a dressing area. This layout works very well for us, providing the perfect sound buffer when one or both of us are on client or personal calls.
Some larger RVs have 3 or 4 zones or rooms plus a bath-and-a-half. Others offer bunk beds that are separated by a curtain, and while they aren’t technically a separate room, I would call them a separate ‘zone’ since they offer some privacy. Toy Haulers include a garage that converts into a separate living area for guests once the toys are removed. We’ve seen 5th Wheel Toy Haulers with 4 different living zones and two patios! If you have a family and are planning to do much RVing I definitely recommend looking at these multi-room models.
#5 – Look for Unobstructed Kitchen, Bathroom, and Bed when Slides are In
In our opinion one of the best things about RVing is the ability to pull into a rest area or parking lot and get drinks, make a quick meal, take a nap on your bed, or simply use the bathroom. Most RVs are designed with this travel mode in mind, but some – particularly some 5th Wheels and Travel Trailers – are not designed to be used when the slides are in travel mode.
With this in mind, make sure you can get to important kitchen areas such as your fridge, your dry goods, your silverware, glasses, and dish ware. Same goes for your bathroom and bedroom! I’ve seen some models where it was virtually impossible to get into the bathroom, bedroom or both – which is NOT a good thing in our experience. You never know when you are on the road and find you’re too tired to drive all the way to your next campground. This is especially true if you stop at WalMart, a Truck Stop, or other overnight spot, where you may not be able to extend your slides in order to get some shut-eye.
We’ve pulled into truck stops and rest areas to catch a few hours of zzz’s, and it was super important to be able to get into our bed. Also, if your bedroom has a slide – you may want your bed to be oriented longitudinally (in the RV, the long way as the name implies). This is because most models that have a slide in the bedroom also orient the bed laterally across the RV. If your bed is oriented laterally, the bed often tucks under the wardrobe about 6-8 inches when the slide is in – and your bed becomes shorter until you open the slide again. Ours is one of these lateral orientations, so at 6′-4″ Rich can’t fit on the bed when our slides are in. Not a deal breaker but something to think about.
#6 – A large enough bathroom so you can dress, shower, and move around in it
Since RVs are generally between 150 – 350 square feet, it’s reasonable to expect a much smaller bathroom than you’d find in a traditional home. We don’t think the RV bathroom needs to be very large, since you’ll likely spend little time in it when compared to other areas. However, you do want to make sure your shower is tall and large enough so you can stand and wash in it comfortably. Rich is 6′-4″ and we had to cross off a number of RVs from our list as he literally would have had to sit or contort himself in some way in order to shower!
It’s also nice to have room so you can dress in your bathroom area. As mentioned, ours is known as a split bath, with the shower on one side of the hall to our bedroom, and the water closet/sink on the other side. If we open the doors, the space in the middle serves as a decent dressing area. I’ve been thankful for this space many times, including those times we had visitors. Also be sure you’ll have enough storage space for the basics in your bathroom – such as room to put a waste basket, some personal items, and a few towels. I’ve seen plenty of RVs that didn’t even have space for a small waste basket to sit on the floor.
#7 – Well Laid-Out Dining and Living Space
I’ve talked about the living and dining area earlier on, but I can’t stress it enough. People spend the majority of their waking hours in an RV relaxing, working, talking, visiting, eating, and watching TV in their living and dining areas. This space comes in handy when you have visitors, when it’s been raining for days, and when you’re doing projects. This is also when our living area opposing slides come in handy! As mentioned, swiveling cab chairs give you more seating space and provide a comfy conversation areaa when situated next to a sofa on one side an dinette on the other. Avoid the ‘hallway’ style setup with the dinette next to the sofa across from the kitchen area. This makes it difficult to have a conversation with other seated people and is less than ideal in our experience.
If you like to watch TV, pay careful attention to its placement. I’ve had a crook in my neck because I have to turn my head to the side in order to watch our living room RV from our sofa. This isn’t a big problem because we often watch TV in bed, where the TV is directly in front of us. Swivel mounts also help with TV viewing angles and can be added after the fact. I personally like the corner TV/Fireplace option like Winnebago’s Journey offers with the wraparound sofa, but setups like this are usually available only in larger RVs.
#8 – Bedrooms that meets your family’s needs.
I talked about bedrooms earlier on, and again bedrooms are very important. If you’re active and like to explore, then you’ll probably spend more time asleep than awake in your RV.
Floor plans that have the bed in the rear corner of the RV with the bath next to the bed can work ok if you’re single and not too tall. It is difficult to find sheets that fit – and making the bed can be an adventure, so we recommend against selecting a floorplan with a corner bed in general.
We prefer a ‘walkaround’ bed, even if the space around the two sides is narrow. This makes it easier for both of you to get in and out of the bed, and it also makes it easier to make the bed every morning which helps me feel sane!
If you will regularly have children or more than two adults in your RV, then bunk beds are a good way to go. Bunks are also great if you have large dogs. Class A’s layouts often place the bunks in the hallway across from the bathroom, which is a decent layout and a good use of space. Some fifth-wheels or toy haulers actually have a separate bedroom for the bunks!
I strongly recommend against any long-term living situation that requires someone to fold up the bed each day. It will become tiring after a while – plus living room areas don’t provide a personal space which we feel is important for campers to be happy!
Bedroom placement: I prefer my bedroom to face the rear of the campsite, so I can (hopefully) see the great outdoors. If your bedroom is in the front of your RV (like in many 5th Wheels) then you’re closer to the road and likely to hear road noise from cars driving past your bedroom. That said, all floor plans have trade-offs. While Fifth wheels tend to have front-facing bedrooms, at least the bedroom sits several feet off the ground which helps to buffer noise.
One Area that Doesn’t Matter as Much as You May Think (In Our Opinion)
A big kitchen. If you cook a lot, you may be saying, ‘No way!’… and I hear you. Bear with me while I play devil’s advocate for the small kitchen. Consider how much time you spend in your RV kitchen any given day, and you’ll find it’s a pretty minor percentage – especially when compared to the time you spend in your living area, bedroom, and outdoors. We spend minimal time with breakfast and lunch, and eat a fair number of meals out as that’s part of the fun of travel.
Even if you cook three times a day, and spend an average of 1 hour cooking and cleaning dishes each time (unlikely) that’s only 3 hours in the kitchen per day out of 16 hours. It makes more sense in our opinion to spend the other 13 hours sitting on a comfy sofa than standing and looking at lots of kitchen counter space. Make sense?
Also, if you’re like most RVers then you enjoy cooking outside on a grill or over a fire. We grill at least a couple times a week, and use the picnic table more than our kitchen to prep for those meals.
Here’s a little story about how we work in our very small kitchen in case you still have doubts: First of all, we love to cook and we prepare 80% of our meals at home. While our kitchen area is very small, it functions well as it includes nice features like a pop-up counter extender, sink covers, and a stove cover. This gives us enough room to prep meals for the two of us – especially considering that we’ve equipped our kitchen with space-efficient utensils. We also prep our food carefully and wash dishes and put food away as we cook to minimize clutter and we use our dinette as a backup kitchen prep space if needed.
We even make our 12-cubic foot refrigerator work for us, in that it can easily hold a week’s supply of food – as well as beer, condiments and other supplies. (Admittedly, this is accomplished with some Tetris moves on my part.) The freezer holds up to two week’s frozen goods, too. We also have a few collapsible bins and boxes in case we need extra ‘pantry space.’ If you plan carefully, you’ll be amazed how creative you are when space is at a premium!
As a complement to our RV kitchen, we cook on our O-Grill 500 Portable Grill, and our Waring Hot Plate as we love grilling fish, steak, and corn on the cob and other tasty meals outside a few times a week!
All that said, if cooking or baking is your passion, then you may opt for a model that has a larger kitchen. If so, a fifth-wheel is probably the best bet, since they often come with larger kitchens with islands as they’re designed for full-time RVers. We decided against a fifth wheel for a number of reasons but we recognize they’re very popular because of their larger kitchen and living areas.
Finally, if you love to cook outdoors WITH the convenience of a kitchen, you might enjoy one of the many RVs that offer the popular outdoor kitchen.
Don’t Forget RV Windows!
I cannot stress how important it is to have a decent number of windows in your RV! Same goes for the size of the windows. We’ve seen some RVs that are very depressing, simply because there weren’t many windows – or the windows were very small. It’s super important to have the option of letting air and light in when you’re in such a small space. Plus when you’re in nice camping spots, you’ll want to see and smell the nature around you.
That said, look for a model that has more of the windows along the “patio” side of your RV, rather than the side where your hookups are that also face your neighbors patio area. RV parks are designed so each patio faces the next RV’s hookups for a reason – to give you privacy when sitting outside. Therefore you want your larger windows to face out to your patio if possible. Windows are a bigger topic, so we’ll discuss more about them in a future post.
Now find that floor plan that suits your lifestyle!
I hope this article gives you insight into what floor plan features to pay attention to from a full-time RVer. There really is nothing more expensive in the RV world than buying an RV and realizing it’s not laid out well for you. This can ruin your RV experience, and we hope that by reading this article and following our suggestions, you can avoid this misstep.
RVing is supposed to be fun, so I hope you have a good time shopping for your RV too. Envision how you’ll live in your home-on-wheels and think about the things that are important to you and your family, and you’ll choose the right RV the first time. If possible get your family in the RV and actually hang out in there for a few hours before you buy. Good RV dealerships won’t have a problem with this.
If you have any additional thoughts about floor plans and how to make sure you choose the right RV, please contribute in the comments below.
Until next time, Happy Trekking!