Buying a newish fifth wheel camper trailer: is it worth it?

I became convinced a few months ago that buying a fifth wheel camper trailer was the way to go. I bought one a couple of weeks ago and am currently on our first trip. I am not so sure it was a good decision. This post will analyze it a bit further.

I spent a lot of time on RV trader and craigslist and built a spreadsheet of 37 options. Most important to me was a bunkhouse for the kids and the four seasons package for winter camping. I bought my 2021 Keystone Montana 350BH from a private seller who had lived in it a year and worked out all the fresh from the factory problems. She and her husband had paid $77,000 plus tax for it brand new. I paid her $63,000. I think I paid a fair price- I didn’t get a rock bottom price, but I got the RV from a seller I trusted had taken care of it. It is a big investment and locks up funds in a vehicle that could have issues or be hard to resell.

My family is planning to visit my wife’s parents and friends in Los Angeles once a year for 3-4 weeks.

Option 1: No RV, fly down. The cost of plane tickets for the two of us and our three kids are around $250 per person, so maybe $1500 including tax. Renting a large SUV for 3 weeks would cost around $70 a day, so another $1500 there. An Airbnb or hotel for the five of us would be around $300 / night for three weeks, so a total of $6500. Altogether, the price here would be about $9,500.

Option 2: buy a fifth wheel camper trailer and drive it down. I already own an F450 truck. Depreciation on the camper trailer I bought is about $5,000 per year. Assuming this trip is about half my annual usage, depreciation cost of this trip is $2,500. Overnight full hookup RV spots near LA are $100 a night, so $2,100 for the trip. Filling my diesel tank at current high prices costs $250. I probably would need 2 tanks each way from Seattle to LA, so $1,000 total. I also have to do my own repairs and maintenance on the fifth wheel trailer, call that another $500 for the trip. Total cost: $5,100.

I guess the camper makes more sense financially. There are other tradeoffs though: the trailer has to be driven down, roughly 22 hours transport time, vs 2 hours flying and 3 hours driving to and from airports and waiting for a total of 5 hours. The trailer doesn’t have the conveniences a hotel may have: pool, breakfast, no hooking septics and electric up, etc. The trailer does have the benefit of having everything we need and not needing to load and unload at every hotel and worry about if the car rental and hotels have what we need.

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Joel Gross

Joel Gross is the CEO of Coalition Technologies.