While we are home from our one-year adventure of a US-based RV road trip with our family, we aren’t settling back into life as we knew it. We are resting, making some large decisions about our house and remaining possessions, doing client work, beginning a large update/change to one of our businesses, getting the kids back on track with a more formal curriculum, and caught up on their orthodontia. We may be putting down some roots, but think of us as potted plants with shallow roots easily moved…
So, while we intend to “do it again” and return to full-time travel, this first year of mobility is something that can be looked at as a unique chapter in our family story. We’ve been asked what would we do differently if we were to do it again as a way to educate other families considering a similar trip. Would we buy the same truck? Leave at the same time? Take the same route? Do church differently?
So here goes - the first in a small series of “Lessons Learned” posts. In this one I’ll talk about the big pieces - the truck and trailer. In subsequent posts I’ll look at internet connectivity, technology, working/schooling/worshiping on the road, clothes, eating, our timing, and our route.
We bought a 2002 Chevy 2500HD Crew Cab short box with 89K miles on the odometer. It was a Florida truck with no rust and the cleanest undercarriage of any vehicle I’ve ever owned.
But I felt like I settled when we purchased it. What I really wanted was a 4WD diesel version. Still smarting from selling my toy Jeep, I had visions of doing some mild off-roading with a 4WD truck. I wanted the diesel engine for power and fuel economy. However I wanted to pay cash and our budget was simply too small for a 4WD diesel in any kind of condition or mileage I was happy with. I know diesel engines have higher longevity than gas, but having >200K miles on seats, steering components, rear ends, and suspension etc, wasn’t acceptable.
Our truck has an 8.1L (or 496 cubic inch) gas engine, and the same Alison transmission as the diesels get. The engine had plenty of power. There were only two times the entire trip I had my foot on the floor. The transmission was awesome - in tow/haul mode it had plenty of “hold-back” - I was often on the gas going downhill. Because of this I always felt in control while towing and was never concerned about cooking the brakes.
I ran some rough calculations based on the purchase price of the truck, the miles we drove, our fuel economy and the average price of fuel. I ran those same numbers factoring the higher initial purchase price of a diesel truck, the higher fuel economy but also higher average fuel price. I calculated our truck costing us $1/mile while a diesel truck would have cost $1.10/mile. Call it a wash - at least for a year long trip.
And that off-roading I wanted to do? It would have happened exactly once - on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where you can drive on the beach in a 4WD vehicle. Otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted to jeopardize our tow vehicle by doing even mild off-roading, and in reality the truck is so long & big that there aren’t many trails it would realistically fit on.
The longer the trip went on the happier I was with the truck - other than the normal maintenance the most significant issue we had was a rear window lift failing.
- Staying on budget is more important than perceived needs
- Common wisdom doesn’t always apply to your situation
- You don’t need a diesel puller to go full time
- You don’t need 4WD to pull a 5th wheel full-time
Ah, the trailer. So, we were literally on our way to a dealer lot to commit to a new 5th wheel when we drove past this one for sale. It was the same floor plan, looked to be in great shape, and was thousands less than new. The owner seemed genuine and the deal felt right.
But we made a critical mistake.
While we had the truck inspected by a mechanic before purchasing, we didn’t have the trailer inspected. And we should have. Looking back, I’m not sure why we didn’t. Probably because we bought the trailer first so didn’t have a way to get it to a RV service center ourselves.
We had issues with the septic system, the slide roof needed attention, and we ended up having to replace the entire roof on the trailer during our trip. If I add the cost of the repairs we’ve made to the purchase price we could have just bought the new trailer and had warranties (some new trailers have 7 year warranties on the roof, but it only applies to the original owner).
We’ve made it work, and still had an awesome year but now have a higher balance on our credit card than we’d prefer.
Functional issues aside, the size and floorplan (once we made the furniture changes) have been perfect. The changes we initially wanted but didn’t get to (interior paint, wood floors, different window treatments, etc) would have been nice, sure. But after a few weeks in the trailer our world was much more about where we were and what we were doing than the aesthetics of our trailer.
We’ve camped rustic yet beautiful national parks where a bigger trailer wouldn’t fit, made U-turns in just 3 lanes, navigated small parking lots, all while still having enough room to live. Yes, we have to share a bath. Yes, we have to take turns in the kitchen. But that would be true for most of the options we considered. Yes, we dream of a trailer with a funky interior, a bath and a half, a place for me to work that’s not in the thick of things, and a bit more space around the bed so you don’t have to be a contortionist to get the bottom sheet on.
But do we need that stuff? Nope.
- Have used RV’s professionally inspected
- Bigger isn’t always better
- RV furniture can be easily replaced with more comfortable and flexible pieces
- Be prepared to make repairs on any RV - new or used
- The trip isn’t ultimately about the RV or how cool you look going down the road
- After a year living in an RV, we view space and the usage of it much differently. Our 1000 sq ft. house seems ginormous and there’s no reason my office can’t be in a corner of the sunny living room