There’s been an RV boom in the United States as travelers seek ways to maintain social distance while still enjoying life on the road. Here’s a little story about our journey and why we may have jumped the gun on #vanlife. May it be of benefit to you in your RV purchasing decision!
How it Began
Before the pandemic, we were avid travelers. We split time between Texas and Baja, and enjoyed flying around the world nearly monthly. A desire to be on the road longer without leaving our two dogs behind meant an RV had always been on the “maybe” list.
We had researched a ton. Never having owned even a brand new car, we understood that nothing devalues within five minutes of leaving the lot like a brand new RV. So right away, used was the smart option. But what to do?
In Baja you see all kinds of the coolest rigs, from well-worn 1980’s Toyota Sunraders to brand new million dollar Unimogs. We wanted something in-between.
Motorhome vs Travel Trailer
Our first consideration was motorhome versus travel trailer. We opted not to purchase anything with an engine, as neither of us are mechanics, and we didn’t want maintenance on one more vehicle. That narrowed things down to a tow-behind travel trailer.
Next consideration? Our tow vehicle. Not wanting to upgrade from either the LandCruiser or the Toyota Tacoma, we needed the lightest, smallest RV possible. But still, with room for the dogs. Nothing is worse than chugging 20 mph uphill with your engine overheating because you bit off more tow weight than your car could chew. Did we? The jury’s still out on that…
Boondocking vs Campgrounds
The beauty of travel is getting away from people, right? We knew we’d mostly be boondocking, which means camping overnight without access to plug-ins, water or sewer. That meant we wanted a trailer with decent water capacity, fuel capacity, and a fairly simple way to hook up to solar. Ha. Did I just say simple? We would soon find out that nothing is simple when it comes to RVing.
Why not just outfit the LandCruiser with a rooftop tent, fridge and outdoor kitchen? For one thing, it’d be hard for our 10 year old dog to make it up the ladder to the rooftop tent. With 2 people and 2 dogs, potentially working on the road, we wanted a bit more “indoor room.” And if there’s one thing that makes dispersed camping feel like total luxury, it’s that indoor shower and bathroom.
The Chosen RV
After obsessing on Facebook marketplace for what seemed like forever, we finally found our unicorn. A Baja edition Jayco Jay Flight SLX 145rb. This little gal had a low enough dry-weight that she seemed perfectly towable. A decent floor plan with a bathtub-style shower. A fridge that would run on propane, and yes, AC because we like to live like kings sometimes.
The Baja edition meant a slightly larger water tank, cool off-road tires, and a higher ground clearance for when we’ll be dirt-road driving to those BLM dispersed camping spots.
The RV Money Pit
We got this gal for a deal, but not a crazy deal. We made our purchase peak COVID and the previous owner knew what he had. Still, we saved nearly 50% by not buying new, and the little bit of cosmetic-only hail damage made us less attached to a covered parking spot.
Right away we had to upgrade a few things. The 12V battery she came with was totally dead. And turns out the electronic brake controller in our LandCruiser was too.
With high ambitions regarding our work-on-the-road while boondocking life, we also made the following purchases:
- WeBoost cell phone booster for better online access in the wilderness
- Tons of hooks, bins and towel racks to maximize storage
- Tire covers to protect both tires plus the spare from sun damage
- Rear airbags on the LandCruiser for a level connection to the trailer
- A sway bar because we want to be extra safe on windy roads
- An EMS surge protector because we’ve heard horror stories about campground electricity, and at this point, what’s another $300?
The Solar Saga
So we had to buy a new battery anyway, right? What a perfect time to upgrade to a solar system. Turns out, it’s actually impossible to do this on a budget unless you’re an electrician, or married to one.
First, the battery: After a ton of research, YouTube videos, forum discussions, we found out that two 6v batteries in series is just as good if not better than one 12v. So we made the switch. Plus, this was the most cost effective way to get the number of amps we needed.
Second, the panels: Let me remind you again that we’re not handy. Although I am super proud that we managed to get our WeBoost antenna up on the roof, we weren’t eager to drill into the one thing that keeps water from leaking into the trailer in order to install some solar panels. Nor do we have much space up there.
So we opted for a suitcase system from Renogy, which is going to be a pain because we’ll have to set it up and take it down when we set up and break camp, but it seems like it’ll do the trick on keeping our batteries charged for our small usage.
Third, we don’t know what we’re doing: Once all that money was spent and the solar system was up and running….we figured out that 12v battery power has nothing to do with powering the electrical outlets in the trailer. So basically, we invested a ton of money in solar panels and batteries to run our water pump, and nothing else.
With less than a week before our trip, there was no time (nor money) to purchase and install a 12v to whatever-watt-volt-I-don’t-know inverter, so we opted for a workaround.
We bought a 12V to AC inverter that can plug into the one 12v outlet we have in our RV. Worse case scenario, this doesn’t work and we can plug this thing into the car and charge our laptops while we’re driving instead.
Was buying in to the RV boom worth it? To be determined! We’re prepped and ready to head out on our first big trip from Texas to Washington State. If you hear from us while we’re on the road, you know at least maybe the WeBoost works…