by Collyn Rivers – Updated 2020
What is the most suitable RV layout for me? This article shows how to choose the best RV layout to suit your individual needs.
Knowing how to choose the best RV layout for you can be a minefield for the first time. How many beds do I need and should they be singles or doubles? Will we need bunk beds for children or grandchildren? Do I need a separate dining area? Is a slide-out worth having? How big should the kitchen be? Do we need a separate toilet and shower or will a combined unit do? How much storage space will we need? Will we need an annexe? Layout questions are almost endless.
Many layout configurations exist, leaving an RV newcomer more confused than ever. There are, however, a few simple principles involved in RV design. Once understood, they will make it much easier to choose.
RV Layout Principles
A caravan‘s heaviest part is usually the kitchen. The cupboards alone are usually heavy. So too are pots, pans, crockery and appliances. The kitchen is ideally located over the caravan’s axle(s) as this assists towing stability.
Kitchens may also be at either end of a caravan. If so sited they should be small, or made of a lightweight material such as powder-coated aluminium. Avoid locating a standard kitchen at the front or rear of a caravan, especially if including heavy appliances such as a large washing machine.
Showers and toilets
Showers and toilets are usually located closer to the kitchen than the bedroom. This is mainly done because it simplifies plumbing. You may find a bathroom next to the bed(s), but this requires additional plumbing. A drawback with this configuration is the smell, including from toilet cleaning chemicals.
In knowing how to choose the best RV layout for you, dual-purpose spaces such as combined dining and sleeping areas often appeal. Many, however, can only be used for one purpose at a time. If for example, one partner sleeps whilst another needs a table to work on, is it possible both simultaneously? This applies also if the bed drops down from over a seating area.
In RVs generally, sideways-located double beds are shorter than single beds. This is because space is needed at their end for access and bed-making. Single beds are generally better for taller people (unless the double bed is extendable or part of a slide-out).
Almost all RVs have substantial under-bed storage. This is fine with motorhomes where weight location is not critical. Heavy stuff, however, must never be located at the rear end of a caravan. It seriously prejudices its stability. Pop-top caravans and camper trailers generally lack above eye-level storage.
First-time owners tend to carry far more than they need. Civilisation does not stop at the end of a motorway. Unless driving in the true outback one week’s supplies is all that needed.
Don’t seek to recreate what you have at home. RVs work differently. Make do with less and decide what not to take with you. Be creative in your cooking. Do more outside or in an annexe.
How to choose the best RV layout – for motorhomes too
Here, knowing how to choose the best RV layout for you is less constricting. Because motor homes have at least four wheels, weight distribution is less important than caravans. Mass should nevertheless be equally distributed across their original loading areas. Their greater stability enables more layout flexibility for cooking, eating and sleeping.
Campervan layouts are more constrained. Kitchens will be basic, beds double as seating areas. Few have inside toilets or showers. Storage is limited. But having said this, it’s amazing what people still fit inside them.
Motorhomes derived from delivery vans are nearly always long-wheelbase versions (along with higher roofs). Their main constraint is the width and the presence of a sliding door. That door limits where fittings can go. Unless automatic, such doors also make annoying whizz-bang noises when opened and closed. Standard width delivery vans are too narrow for full-length beds. Their beds are usually lengthwise. Dining areas are usually small tables behind the driving area and rotatable driver and passenger seats.
A motor home must (legally) have at least one seat that can be used when travelling on a road for each sleeping berth in that motor home, (there must be at least two). The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator strongly recommends that the seats face forward and are located towards the front of the vehicle. Seats designed to swivel or adjust must be capable of being locked against rotation in the position in which they will be occupied when the vehicle is moving. Installing new such seats, or moving existing seats must be assessed and certified by an Approved Vehicle Examiner. Other seats that are not fitted with seat-belts, nor used when the vehicle is moving do not need to comply.
Kitchens are typically galley-style along one side. The biggest issue for couples new to this type of RV is working out how to divide and sequence indoor activities amongst two people in a corridor that is wide enough for only one.
Coach-built motor homes can be wider and longer. They have more layout options. Island beds are feasible as are a separate toilet and shower and full-sized dining area.
Slide-outs (mechanical extensions to the side or rear of an RV) are becoming more common in this sector. They increase free internal space when at rest. However, as must slide into the RV while travelling they may not add other than space. Slideouts increase overall weight and enhance the potential for mechanical or electric failure and water leaks. Consider carefully what you will do with that extra space.
A-class motor homes and bus conversions offer the widest choice of layouts. These can truly become a home on wheels, albeit at a considerable cost in both weight and length.
Motor Home Layout Tips
There is a broader choice of motor home layouts, sizes and facilities than with caravans. Try out a few before narrowing down your choice.
Small is not necessarily beautiful with motorhomes. Consider buying a mid-sized motor home rather than a small one, but only if you are comfortable driving such a vehicle. Check that you will have enough storage space for all your gear.
Make sure a raised ‘Luton peak’ bed will be safe for its users. There is a risk of falling (unless the bed is located longitudinally – as some are) – or the person closest to the front must clamber over the other to reach the ladder down.
How to choose the best RV layout – general recommendations
Compromise, compromise and compromise. You will never find an RV that has the perfect layout. They are mostly designed for the ‘average’ person or family – or the rental market. So in terms of layout and facilities, decide what to you is essential, what is optional and make sacrifices accordingly. This the best approach re how to choose the best RV layout
Think too about how your lives may change in the years ahead and try to plan future changes into the layout of your RV. This may save you having to trade in your RV when circumstances change.