There are many trade offs to take into account when considering a camping lifestyle. One of the first decisions is whether you like any kind of camping. Next is whether you want to tent camp or camp in some kind of RV. While cost is often a major factor in deciding between tent camping and buying an RV, it certainly isn't the only factor. Tent camping can be done in a wide variety of locations. It also gives a more primitive, adventurous spirit to outings which can be very satisfying, even if not as comfortable as an RV. RV camping provides better protection from the elements along with significant creature comforts that can rival residential environments. RVs make a really good base camp for a lot of other activites such as riding OHVs, hiking, fishing, hunting, rock hounding and more.
If you choose tent camping, one of your biggest choices will be what kind of tent to buy. If you have a large family you will need a large tent. If, on the other hand you plan to do a lot of backpacking, you'll need a very light weight, compact tent. I've used 10'x14' cabin tents for family camping and a tiny little back packing tent that is really little more than a sleeping bag cover for solo back packing. Each one is equally enjoyable in its proper environment.
If you decide you'd like the additional creature comforts and security of camping in RV, you'll need to do some research to figure out what kind of RV will work best for you. There are many options, ranging from relatively inexpensive tent trailers with minimal facilities to huge luxury RVs with amenities that rival high-end residential homes. Budget may be a significant factor for most people, but intended use and desired lifestyle will also play an important role. You will need to decide if you want a self-propelled RV (motorhome) or a towable (trailer). Another option is truck camper. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type. Trailers are usually less expensive, but you also have to consider the cost of a tow vehicle unless you already have a vehicle capable of towing your chosen trailer. There are many trade offs in choosing between the various options within each category. Motorhomes range from Class B van conversions that are essentially the same size as a regular full size van, to Class C's, built on a cutaway van or truck chassis, to large Class A units that resemble large buses and, in fact, are sometimes built on bus chassis. Trailer options begin with small tent trailers and can range up large fifth wheels measuring 35' in length or more. In between are a variety of "bumper pull", goose-neck, and fifth wheel trailers. Bumper pull trailers use a standard trailer hitch that is usually mounted below the bumper. Goose-neck trailers have a trailer ball mounted in the middle of a pickup bed. Fifth wheel trailers connect via a special hitch similar to those used by large semi-trailers, which is also mounted a pickup bed. The towing characteristics of each type of hitch will be somewhat different so you'll want to research the handling and load capacities and, if possible, try out any options you want to consider BEFORE you buy. Truck campers allow you to remove the camper from the truck when it is not in use and use the truck for other tasks. Truck campers tend to be less spacious than motorhomes or trailers and are usually more top heavy. If you live in a state where there is a lower speed limit for vehicles towing trailers (such as California), you may want to consider whether you can live with longer travel times. The argument for differential speed limits is based on the assumption that large vehicle are safer at lower speeds and ignores the more pragmatic and scientifically proven "85 Percentile" approach, which recommends universal speed limits should be set to the speed 85% normally driven on a given stretch of road. Consistent traffic speed has repeatedly been shown to be safer than situations involving "traffic sheer" (different speeds in different lanes, known to be one of the most dangerous practicies), yet many states continue to post differential speeds for trucks and vehicles pulling trailers, thereby creating traffic sheer.
Once you have decided on what type of RV you want, you're likely to face many more tradeoffs before you finally select a specific vehicle. Some of the normal issues you will face will include new versus used (usually determined up front by budget), age or mileage versus luxury features (you may be able to get luxury features you want and stay within your budget by buying an older model), power versus fuel economy (if you need to tow a boat or OHV trailer you'll want more power and will probably have to sacrifice fuel economy to get it). Whether you opt for an older model to get more features or a newer one to minimize mechanical risk and potential maintenance cost, will depend on how badly you want the features and what resources you have (skill, tools, money) to handle additional maintenance. Some other considerations may include intended use: do you plan to stay mostly in campgrounds with full hookups or will you be doing a lot of "boondocking"? Class A motorhomes generally have larger fresh water and waste water holding tanks than Class B or C units and allow you longer boondocking stays. Class C motorhomes, oddly enough, often offer bunkhouse configurations that provide more beds and may be better suited for large or growing families. Nearly all modern motorhomes are self-contained and, therefore, suitable for boodocking.
Where you are in your life may be a significant factor in making tradeoffs. Having a young family will obviously swing things in favor of "bunkhouse" motorhomes with lots of sleeping capacity and room for growth. And older couple may favor more conveniences and more luxury. RV manufacturers know this and you'll find that those huge, high end, luxury coaches are often designed mostly for two people. A young family may want to favor a late model low mileage unit. An older couple may choose to spend the same amount of money to get an older coach with more amenities. The longevity and resale value may be more important and of more use to a younger user while comfort and convenience may be more appealing to an older couple.
You may want to consider whether certain accessories or features are essential in your initial purchase, or whether you can add them on later. Some features, such as slide-outs, are not practical or cost-effective to add on to existing vehicles. Things like hydraulic levelers are pretty costly and usually require expensive professional installation. If you're a moderately good handyman and have the right tools and equipment, you may be able to install awnings yourself and anyone with basic mechanical skills can add wheel simulators to improve the appearance of a rig with standard steel wheels. Likewise, you can probably add or replace a microwave oven or TV without too much expense or difficulty, but replacing a refrigerator is a much bigger job.
New versus used is often a legitimate question when buying camping equipment or RVs. So-called "pre-owned" (used) items are less expensive to purchase than new ones, but sometimes repair or maintenance costs may favor buying new, especially if you're not a Do-It-Yourselfer. If you decide to go with used items, be sure you are aware of any necessary repairs they may need before you buy. Also consider whether you have the resources (parts, materials, skills, tools, time or money) to affect the repairs or the financial resources to hire someone else to do it. Used tents, camping stoves, lanterns, and even sleeping bags are often a good bargain. Some people have concerns about using personal items like sleeping bags but a trip to the dry cleaners should take care of that. Check tents to be sure all the parts are there and that there are no major rips or tears. Look out for leaking fuel tanks on stoves and gas lanterns. They are not easy to repair and can be costly to replace. You can usually save a LOT of money on used RVs, but shop around to get the best value. Keep in mind the best value does not always mean the lowest price. Consider age, mileage, condition, features, and how you plan to use the RV. Buying a huge luxury motorhome won't be of much use if you plan to mostly visit Forest Service campgrounds that often have size limitations. And cute little Class B won't hold more than a couple of people (surprisingly, a lot of large luxury RVs are designed for only two people too). Are you going to use your RV for a base camp for other outdoor activities? If so, consider whether the CVWR (Combined Vehicle Weight Rating) is sufficient to accommodate your toys (boats, OHVs, etc).
You will encounter trade offs in choosing gear and equipment to support your camping and related activities. Cost versus features will often be a factor. Size and weight versus durability and convenience is also a frequent issue. Availability of replacement parts may feature in consideration of vintage RVs and equipment.
As you go forth you will be looking at tradeoffs associated with just about every outing. Where you go and for how long is a frequent factor in choosing a destination. Do you have enough time to make the trip and enjoy it? Would there be a better time to go, based on weather, accessibility, and your own personal or family schedule. You will make tradeoffs regarding menu and supplies, even about clothing.
There are many trade offs to be considered for other activities to be paired with camping. First, do you even want or need any additional activities? Then do you prefer group activities with high social interactions or more private and primitive experiences? Do you enjoy using motorized toys? Do you already have friends with which you would like to share an activity they enjoy? Your budget (both available time and money) may help you determine what activities are within your reach and whether you should pursue new or used equipment.
Let the trading begin!