I agree, a pop up is not realistic for full timing. You mentioned eventually that you will want a 5th wheel or TT and then mention the cost of trail manor to be an issue. You might want to reconsider doing this then. You obviously will need a different tow vehicle (more cost) and then money for the camping unit. Also with a pop up you will have to store most of your personal belonging in the van with you as storage in a closed up pop up is almost zero.
I wouldn't recommend to anyone going from never having a camper to full timing in one. Especially for a family of six with an infant.
I think my surprise at the cost came from initially looking at a used RV site, then looking at new RVs. Having looked at a variety of them, now, I see the prices are more or less comparable.
We certainly won't be looking to do anything remotely long-term with a pop-up. We have found a local-ish place to rent an "expandable" trailer which we can tow with our van. We're planning to try that in the near future, then perhaps borrow or rent a Suburban (or other larger vehicle) to tow a rented TT.
Obviously, we're not about to start full-timing with no experience! Eventually, I think a Suburban with a bunk-house style travel trailer would be ideal for us. I expect that's a few years down the line, though, particularly as my husband is happy with his current job situation.
I have a 31' bunkhouse TT and a f250 super crew, both 2010 and would let them go for about $45,000 together. Truck only has 20k miles on it.
3 rows means large van or SUV and a TT. No 5th wheel RV. And with a large family, you need at least 3/4 ton. Suburban comes in 3/4 ton, older Excursion, and full sized vans are cheap used. No Expedition, regular Suburban, Yukon, Sequoia, etc. Minivan loaded up with a family's gear will be over its GVWR before adding any trailer tongue weight.
A & A parents of DD 2005, DS1 2007, DS2 2009 2011 Suburban 2500 6.0L 3.73 pulling 2011 Heartland North Trail 28BRS 2012 VW Passat TDI
A woman who worked for me bought a new Class A motorhome and traveled around with her husband and two children age 8 and 10 all over the USA. Something they had not considered was rain for day after day. They had two solid weeks of rain while in Florida and developed a severe case of cabin fever. They were divorced within a year of getting back home.
For your odyssey I would want a 5th wheel trailer and a 1-ton truck and the cost is going to be around $70-100K. If you drive around for a year and then sell the truck and the trailer you could easily lose around $20k on the deal. If you buy a used truck and trailer it will be better financially but you need to allow for breakdowns and repairs to the vehicle and the equipment in the trailer. With a crew cab you can handle 6 passenger. It may be easier to drive with the four children in the back of a motorhome but I would certainly want to rent a Class A MH and do a trial run for a couple of weeks and do so in the winter.
We have 6 kiddos (12, 10, 7, twin almost 4's, and an almost 2). When we had the twins, we chose to trade-in our Odyssey for a 12 psngr van (chevy express 3500 - i.e. 1 ton van). Since it was so expensive for us to travel anywhere (mostly hotel rooms and FOOD - yikes!), we looked for almost a year and found a used TT (30' bunk house - quad bunks on one end, queen bed on other, sofa and table make beds too - also, no slide-out). Our van can tow 7600 lbs, which, is really not that much for a 1 ton vehicle. Most trailers with slides, weigh more than this (or I was not comfortable getting that close to the recommended ratings). There are some fiberglass sided/aluminum framed TTs with slides that could have worked for us, but these were too expensive!).
Our longest trip to date was a road trip from San Antonio to Orlando to visit Mickey and company - spent almost 2 weeks "living" in our trailer. We were comfortable enough and had a great time. Food would have been an issue had we not been on a meal plan while at Disney, so we only needed to take food for the trek there and back, not so much while we where there at Ft. Wilderness. I think we could probably pack 3 or 4 days worth of food max in our small fridge/freezer. Of course, if you're near a grocery store - not a problem! We could probably pack "smarter" as well to make our meals more efficient, etc. - which is what you would do if you had to.
Bottom line, in my opinion, I see two options for you. Get a class A/C that can tow your Odyssey or trade in the Odyssey for a Van/Suburban and get a TT. If you get a bigger vehicle, get at least a 3/4 ton (1 ton preferred), becasue you'll have a much larger of choice of what you can tow. I probably couldn't have afforded it even if I had found one, but I would have loved to have found a 12 psngr diesel van when we were looking - apparently, they do exist.
Me, DW AND
DS-13, DD-11, DS-8, DD-4, DD-4 (Yup, Twins!), DD-2, DS-4 mos
'08 Chevy Express 3500
'04 30' Treasure Ship QBH, no slide
We have 4 kids, ages 10-6 (we had twins in the middle!)
We moved from a van to SUV (Honda Pilot), so we could have 8 seats...this allows the kids to take 2 friends along to movies, park, etc. Like you said, I miss the storage in the van, but I really like having the 8 seats versus 7.
My husband did not want to buy a truck as his vehicle to drive to/from work. He drives a little car for that.
So we tow w/ the Honda Pilot. We bought an all-aluminum toy hauler. The brand is Livin Lite (they sell all-aluminum products), their toy hauler is called the VRV. The toyhauler basically is an open floorplan; we put our 6 bikes in their, and archery, fishing, basketball, tennis, etc, etc. Hope to include kayaks soon. Livin Lite also makes a model that's more like a traditional RV, with kitchen & table, etc. Aluminum is expensive, so they do cost a little more. But they are extremely lightweight, so you might check them out if you really don't want to change tow vehicles.
There is a family that comes to our campground every year with their large home schooled family and they are full timers. They have a Wildwood which they pull with a truck the size of a medium U Haul. They have clothes, bikes and everything else in the truck. The wife follows the trailer with a 12 passenger van. This is the 3rd year I have met with them and I notice there is a new baby this year, so I guess the life works for them. I must say, their kids are some of the happiest and well mannered I have met!