The Best Small RV Rig
Camping, RV-ing, Travel Tips, Useful Info

The Best Inexpensive Small SUV-Based (No Truck!) Camping RV Rig

What do you do if, like us, you are a passionate traveler, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic traveling the world is not in the cards? That’s right, you travel in your own country. And if you are lucky, that country offers amazing places to explore. However, traveling by car and staying in hotels can be costly, especially for people like us, who like trips of one month or more. So, if you start thinking about money-saving ways to travel, you will undoubtedly think of RVing. You need an RV rig that is the best for both your needs and your budget!

People who read our blog, know, that besides being travelers, we are also avid boaters (read about our adventures in the Bahamas!). So, an RV would be just like a boat, only on land. A land-yacht! We have experience living in small spaces, but, comparing to a boat, there is even more room because you can incorporate outdoor territory as your backyard.

There are numerous options one can choose from while shopping for an RV rig. However, they are vastly different in terms of comfort and, most importantly, budget. You can have a big bus and tow a small car. You can have a fifth wheel mounted on a pickup truck or you can have a pickup truck or a large SUV and tow a RV trailer.  Probably the cheapest way is to tow a pop-up camper. But how to choose something that will not bankrupt you, but at the same time provide the desired level or comfort and mobility? In the end, hauling a large camper and obstacles that come with it, may turn the whole trip into a money pit and traveling nightmare!

So, we sat down, weighed all the pros and cons and came to a conclusion as to what rig would be perfect for us. Maybe it could be perfect for you, as well.

RV Rig

The Reasons to Choose a SUV-Based Rig

  1. NO truck. As we are a one-car family, we use our car for a lot of purposes, so we needed a city-car, a business-car, a car that’s more elegant than a truck, you name it! So, I said to Michael “look, I don’t want to drive a truck, let’s find another way!” A car that was right for what we wanted, had to be an SUV.
  2. Easy to maneuver. Michael is experienced in driving big rigs, but I, on the other hand, always have issues even driving big cars. I wanted a rig that I can handle even when for some reason Michael is unavailable. When sailing, I always felt more confident that if something happens to the Captain, I can bring the boat home. I guess it was the same for me when RVing.
  3. Small enough to cover hard-to-reach areas. We learned that some campgrounds, especially in mountain areas, or small state parks do not accommodate big rigs. Also, it’s a lot easier to drive a smaller rig on narrow and winding roads.
  4. High level of creature comfort. Having said all the above, we still wanted to have comfort. From our boating experience we learned what kind of creature comfort items we needed for our next “vessel”. I personally wanted a comfortable center-lined bed and a real shower. On the boat, we only had a V-berth and a couch that turned into a bed. In both cases, whenever one of us got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, he woke the other one up. As for the shower, the so-called “wet shower” on the boat turned out to be absolutely useless. A wet shower is a type of a shower that doesn’t have a separate cabin. Instead, you stand on the floor of your bathroom somewhere between your toilet and your sink and while you wash yourself, the water goes all over the place. On our boat Elysia, we simply washed ourselves in the cockpit. But in a camper? Trust me, a separate shower cabin is a must-have. Plus I wanted real walls and plenty of storage cabinets. So, a pop-up was out of the question. We needed a small, light-weight, but a spacious and sturdy travel trailer.
  5. Cost. Yes, it is probably more convenient to simply have a bus or a large van. However, the cost for such a rig was completely out of our budget. As we already had a car that could tow a trailer, our choice to have an inexpensive, but comfortable travel trailer was completely justified.

The Right Car for a Small RV Rig

If you want to avoid buying a truck, you need to make sure your SUV has enough towing capacity. There are several options, and we chose a 2017 Chevrolet Traverse. With the towing capacity of 5200 pounds, it was more than enough!

Make sure you get the car with the factory installed towing package. It seems that it is easy to just add a hitch to any car, but it is not true. Without the factory towing package, no matter what aftermarket gear you install, most SUVs can only tow 2000 pounds. Besides the hitch, a factory installed towing package usually has several other features such as an electrical plug for the trailer wiring, extra transmission cooler on the motor, wiring for the trailer brakes… Our Chevy also had an anti-sway feature included.

Even though the wiring for the trailer brakes was built-in, we still had to add a controller. We chose the Tekonsha 90160 Primus IQ Electronic Brake Control, which was very easy to install. All you need to do is remove the plastic panel under the wheel and plug the unit into the existing port. Then you fasten it to the panel with two screws. To make sure that there is enough cable, we also purchased an extension cord: Tekonsha 3026-P Brake Control Wiring Adapter for GM (if you have a different car, please make sure you pick the right compatible model!).

Electric Brake Controller

A Light but Comfortable Travel Trailer for a Small No-Truck RV Rig

When choosing a travel trailer for a small rig, you must first of all pay attention to the weight of the trailer. In the ads you will usually see the dry weight. Note that the dry weight doesn’t include anything you will put in the trailer.  As a rule of thumb, the weight of the cargo is about 1000 pounds, give or take. So, for our needs the trailer weight must be about 3500 pounds dry (we chose a trailer that weighs  3250 pounds).  Add 1000 pounds of cargo, and make sure you still have a bit of headroom for going uphill or, for example, carrying extra water.

While looking for the perfect trailer for us, we were a bit disappointed: many older trailers that had our desired comfort level were heavier than the newer (2017 and later) models! More modern models were a lot lighter! So, our options narrowed a bit and we had to consider buying a newer travel trailer.

Finally, at TravelCamp, Jacksonville, we found the perfect camper for us, a 2019 Shasta 18 FQ, a 22 ft-long travel trailer.

2019 Shasta 18FQ Floor Plan

As I wanted, it has a center-line queen-size bed, a large bathroom with a separate shower stall and a nice kitchen. It doesn’t have any slides (slides add to the weight), and the refrigerator is rather small. The models with a bigger fridge didn’t have any counterspace, which was no good for us. Luckily, we have an extra Dometic CF-50 cooler/freezer, so we had enough room for groceries!

RV Rig
RV Rig

A Perfect Hitch for Extra Comfort and Safety

To make for safer and more comfortable driving, we added a self-leveling hitch bar system. It was probbaly the most expensive addition to our rig, but let me tell you: the hitch is worth its weight in gold!  Towing the RV trailer is so smooth due to the fact that the hitch keeps the trailer and towing vehicle completely level while driving and navigating roads. The dealership offered an EZ Hitch Round Bar Self-Leveling Trailer Hitch with free installation, so we went with it. But I can imagine, dealerships often inflate prices and you can find a better deal if you do your research and explore other shopping opportunities. Just make sure it’s the right one for the weight of your trailer and your tongue!

The hitch comes with sturdy leveling bars. There is a special tool that makes it easy to mount them for every trip. Driving feels like the car and the trailer are one and the same vehicle. I cannot stress enough how confident and comfortable it made me feel while driving our RV rig in all kinds of weather and all kinds of terrain.

The Hitch
Leveling bars
Leveling bars

Conclusion

All in all, our RV rig proved time and time again to be the right rig for us. It’s not luxurious, but it doesn’t come with big costs, it has enough space for comfort and enough mobility. It’s easy to drive and set up. And basically right away, without any trouble, we could venture out on a 3-month-long journey and explore 10 US States! Read about it in our next posts!

RV Rig

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