RV Shopping

Despite our decision in the fall of 2009, it would still be two years before we actually bought a camper… But we were officially looking, the purchase was eminent. We were now in the process realistically trying to determine what kind of camper would be ideal for us.  This task is both fun and overwhelming.  There is a lot to choose from out there!

Here is what we had: A Toyota 4Runner with four wheel drive, six cylinders and a nice tow package.  We decided that we would look for a travel trailer that we could tow with the vehicle we already had.  This was our cheapest and most efficient option.

1. We were newbies and thought that it is best to start small.
2. Motorhomes by nature are more expensive than travel trailers because they have an engine.
3. We did not want another vehicle with an engine to maintain.

Our 4Runner has a maximum towing capacity of 5000 lbs.  This was our jumping off point.  We were looking for a travel trailer that was under 4000 lbs. DRY.  Meaning under 4000 lbs. without water in the tanks, without propane, and without all of our belongings inside.  (We will get to more of the technical side of RVing and some of the jargon in another post…)  To be honest I felt that we should be looking for a travel trailer that was under 3500 lbs.  I wanted to error on the side of being conservative.  Rob, my husband, and most RV dealers assured me that 4000 lbs. would still be appropriate.  Oh, also we wanted to stay under $12,000.

Features that were important to us:
1. Bed that was separate from the dinette, meaning that our bed could stay a bed and would not be a surface that would be turned into our dinner table. (This can be a tall order for some of your smaller RVs)
2. Toilet and shower (Some small campers have toilets, but not showers)
3. Refrigerator. – I need a place to keep my insulin.
4. Decent storage for clothes and gear / good use of space.
5. Double axle wheels for safety

Bonus Points:
1. A big back window (sometimes you are parked/backed in to scenic places in campgrounds and it is nice to be able to enjoy the view from inside the camper.)
2. A centered bed, not against a wall, so that we would each have our own side of the bed and would not have to crawl over each other to go to the bathroom.
3. Good insulation in the event we wanted to take the camper to a cold climate and do something fun like go snow skiing…
4. A slide-out (a wall that literally slides out to make the area inside your rv bigger when you are parked.)
5. Flat screen TV.
6. Retractable awning.
7. Couch AND Dinette (In small RV’s you typically get one or the other, but not both though there are some exceptions).

When you are shopping for an RV, it is just as important to know what you don’t want as much as what you do want.

Don’t want, Don’t need:
1. Bunks.
2. Other built-in’s for families with children.
3. Shoddy materials or workmanship.
4. Overly “decorative” interior fabrics and appointments. -There are some pretty hideous interiors out there…
5. Any kind of canvas pop-outs.
6. New or used didn’t matter to us…

At some point in this process you start to think that you should be able to design your own custom RV.  “Why for the love of god and all things holy can’t I have a nice closet where those bunks are???”  “It would be so much better of a use of space if the bed was a loft bed with a dinette, or storage underneath!!!!”  What you eventually realize is that you will not find the “perfect” RV!  It does not exist.

Find an RV that you like and that suits your most important criteria, be happy, and go camping.  Understand that if RVing is something that you really enjoy, you have not just purchased your “forever home”, but rather your very first trade in.  The more time you spend in your rig, the more you will figure out what things about it you absolutely love and which things you want to be different when you get your next one.

Having said that… DO A TON OF RESEARCH!!!  
1. Search online and learn about what you need – get very familiar with lengths, weights,  materials, brands, manufacturers etc.
2. Find product reviews and forums for the campers that interest you.
3. Go to as many dealerships in your area as possible.  Look, listen and learn. The features you think are important to you will change.  In general RV sales people are not pushy like car sales people.  They tend to enjoy their job and are RVrs themselves.  Also they are aware that (a.) An RV is not a “necessary” purchase.  (b.) This is a big decision that may take some time… (c.) They truly want to put you in an RV that you are going to be excited and happy about.  This is not to say that they don’t try to wheel and deal.  They do.  Just be prepared and don’t buy until you are ready.
4. Go to RV shows.  THEY ARE A TON OF FUN!  You can see nearly every kind of RV available all in one place.  It is a great place to compare, contrast and take notes.  By the time you leave, your feet will be sore from walking and your head will be spinning from the shear magnitude of these events.
5. Your very best resource is people you meet who already own an RV.  They have experience under their belt. They know what they like and don’t like about their own rig(s). They will be very honest.  They are excited to talk about their camper.  Best Method: The Campground Camper Walk. – Go tent camping at a State Park or other campground. In the early evening, just after the dinner hour, while campers are still enjoying the outdoors at their campsites, take a walk.  When you see a rig that you like, if the owner is outside (do not knock on any doors!!!), approach him or her and tell them that you are in the market for an RV and start asking questions about their rig.  What do they specifically like or not like etc?  They will tell you!  Also nine times out of ten, they will even give you a tour of the inside, outside and all of the systems.  They love it!  You will learn a lot!  And if you are anything like Rob and I, you will fall in love with the RV lifestyle and culture a little more.
6. As a general rule, don’t buy your RV from a salesperson who does not or who has not owned an RV themselves.

These are the basics.  In my next post I will finally tell you about our RV, why we bought the one we bought, what we love about it and what kinds of compromises we made.

If you are an RV enthusiast yourself, please feel free to add more helpful tips in the comments section.  Also, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at info@MassiveTinyDreams.com

*Additionally I hope to have some guest bloggers in the future contribute stories and insight about what they love and don’t love about their campers and motorhomes…

The Last Straw

We were on tour in Florida with our old band, Before Dawn, which was just us at that point.  We we were a duo. It was October of 2009.  It was hot and humid, surprisingly so for Halloween.  We had played several shows.  It was our thinking that October should be a good, comfortable month for camping. Instead of paying for hotels on our drive back to Texas, we decided to tent camp at a State Park.

As you might imagine, tent camping when you have hundreds of pounds of guitar amps, monitor speakers and instruments in your car is a little different than say having a cooler with food and an extra sleeping bag.  We went very minimal with our camping gear.  After all, it was only going to be an overnight…We had our tent, our air mattress, a sleeping bag and a quilt.

It was actually turning out to be a really beautiful evening.  We had driven as far as the panhandle of Florida and it was quite a bit cooler, pleasant really. We were staying at, Falling Waters State Park.  Yay, a waterfall!  After spending late nights playing loud rock music in dirty bars, and days on end driving, despite being rather exhausted, we were excited to go on a little hike and try our damnedest to change mindsets, relax and enjoy camping?

We really wanted to hike to see the waterfall for which the park is named, but it was getting dark fast and we only made it halfway there before we disappointedly decided we better turn around and go back to camp.  We still needed to set up our tent and bed, get firewood and make some sort of dinner from the items we were able to find at the only store that was around for miles. It was a very weird old Walmart… If you spend time traveling the country via interstate, you know exactly what I am talking about.

We were trying so hard to enjoy ourselves!  We were trying so hard to accomplish these normally fun camping tasks with enthusiasm.  We were trying not to be the tired, cranky babies that we really wanted to be.  And, ”jeeze, the temperature really is dropping now that the sun went down.”

We ate our dinner. I don’t remember what it was. We went on our requisite “camper walk” whereby we walk around the campground and voyeuristically observe others enjoying the conveniences of motor homes and travel trailers. We sat by the warm fire and fantasized a bit about what kind of camper we might want some day. Then we turned in for the night.

From the screen window on our tent we had a clear view of a travel trailer at a campsite across the way from us.  We could make out the outlines of comfortable, warm, cozy people watching television.  We had camper envy. We were really jealous.  Also, we were VERY cold.

After nodding off, we both woke up around 3:30 am absolutely freezing.  There was no going back to sleep at this point.  This was Florida!  What the hell?  We put on pretty much every single piece of clothing that we had with us.  We were getting cold from the ground up, so we let air out of the air mattress thinking that the air in the mattress was keeping us cold. We took the quilt that was covering us and put it underneath us. Now we were cold on top. We tried to both cram into the only sleeping bag we had with us.  We were miserable and I was pretty sure I was starting to get a sore throat.

Even though, at this point we were probably more tired than we have ever been, at first light we got up and started packing our stuff.  There was no point in staying.  We were in no mood to hike and all we wanted to do was get home.  When we got up, we realized that there was frost on everything!  How cold was it???  I looked at the thermometer I had recently added to our camping gear.  It was 35 degrees and all we had had with us to keep warm was a summer quilt!

Thirty five degrees!  That was the last straw!  We were now officially in the market for a camper. Consuming large amounts of caffeine, we drove 13 hours from the panhandle of Florida back to Austin, Texas and spoke almost exclusively of our necessity for a camper.  We were going to somehow make it happen!  This was now more important to us than the vague social concept that one must buy a traditional home first.

On Our Radar

Because of my parents RV, the concept of RVing was now on our radar, though it would be at least ten years before we would entertain the idea of getting one ourselves.  Rob and I started to take notice of them everywhere we went.  We started to realize that the different kinds of RV’s that exist is vast!  We noticed them on the road, we noticed dealerships on the side of the road that for some reason had been completely invisible in the past, and we noticed them in campgrounds, now with some curiosity rather than scorn.

We went on a few overnight trips and did various fund raising events with my parents in their RV for their dearest cause, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. We had a ton of fun!  We met other RVrs.  They are some of the most friendly and warm people you will ever encounter.  They are also extremely enthusiastic about their rigs and will gladly answer any questions you might have.  We started to amass a bit of experience and jargon to go with it…. Despite being somewhat fascinated, it still seemed like something other people did, not us.

The thought that we could be a part of this interesting little club had not occurred to us yet; though my mom every once in a while would subtly suggest it and point out small campers that might be appropriate for us… We just thought, “it is nice for you, but no, that’s not us.”  I am certain that this block existed because we are absolutely NOT the typical demographic that the RV market appeals to and we never once saw people like ourselves with an RV.  It is no secret that the largest population of RVrs is retired folks; we actually partied with a lot of retired people during this process…  The second largest population is families with children.  We are a very long way from being retired and we have no plans to have children.

We are artists, we are theater people, we are a fucking rock band!  AND then, that is where this all started to make sense for us.  Touring.  Between 2005 and 2011, we had been doing a lot of it.  There were certainly mornings that we woke up not knowing where we were geographically or whose house we had crashed at, not because of being intoxicated, but rather because we were working hard and constantly on the go.  We thought, wouldn’t it be nice to sleep in the same bed every night?

We are not famous or on a record label, our tours are completely self-funded.  We were crashing at the houses of generous friends and family, staying in really crappy hotels and every once in a while even tent camping while on the road and performing in clubs.  We were often exhausted, getting very little quality sleep and eating poorly (especially bad for someone with Type 1 Diabetes).

The idea of getting an RV started to become a big fantasy.  We would talk about it and imagine ourselves with our own mobile bed, kitchen and bathroom. Even though this fantasy was starting to bloom, it still seemed like it stopped there.  We thought, one day, maybe we will be able to afford such a luxury.  We also thought that it was important to buy a house before we bought something seemingly frivolous and of our fantasies like a Recreational Vehicle, even if it was for work………………………………….

Too be continued!

Update: 2/3/16 – We no longer perform as Before Dawn, from Austin, TX.  We have an L.A. based rock band called JagLyonz, if you want to know more about us go to www.JagLyonz.com.  Here are a few photos from the old Before Dawn days!

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American Dream

When I was in college, and for about a year thereafter, Rob and I lived in a duplex in Orlando off of Dean Road.  I remember being in the kitchen of that place when my mom called and said, “Guess what?  We bought an RV.”  At the time I did not know anyone with an RV.  How strange I thought…  I figured my parents were being eccentric.  An RV?  Whatever, it is probably just a “phase…”

Not too long after that she called to say that they were going to come visit in the RV.  They wanted to pick me up, but they couldn’t come down our street because their rig was too big and there was not a good spot to turn around. Ok?  I guess, I will meet them at the end of the street, on the corner of River Pines Court and Dean Road.

The day I was to meet them came around.  Rob was at work, doing Science Theater at The Orlando Science Center.  My parents had a plan. We were going to the Science Center to eat lunch with Rob and see a few shows and exhibits via the new RV.  My father, a Chef by profession, of course was going to prepare our lunch in the RV.

My mom called to let me know that they were in the vicinity. I went to the corner as instructed to await their arrival.   “HOLY SHIT! THAT’S A BUS!”  is what I thought as the 40’ diesel pusher with the words American Dream emblazoned across the side, elegantly rumbled up to greet me.

I had never seen the inside of one of these things before.  When the door opened, there was my mom, dad and two dogs all excited for me to get in and check this thing out!  It was glorious, and yes, I still thought it was a little strange.  This massive RV had tile floor, gold colored fixtures, leather sofas and a “slide out” that makes the room large enough to entertain guests.  This was a Motorhome?

I was so green.  I had so much to learn.  But this was the beginning… Even though I was initially against that kind of “camping” and said stuff, like, “ridiculous!”,  the truth is I didn’t understand it yet.  This would take some time…
Eventually I would love and even obsess over RV’s.  They have two key qualities that really reach the core of my being: 1. Extreme mobility / opportunity for travel and adventure 2. Minimalist living quarters that demand cleanliness, organization and economical use of space.

A side note to this is that I had just been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  Deciding where to keep my insulin refrigerated while camping in a hot climate started to become an issue.  Nevertheless, I still was not convinced by the motorhome and its fancy convenient refrigerator!

It would take some time, some trips, some campgrounds and some experiences to win me over.  I initially found it somewhat uncomfortably formal… It kind of bothered me that you could have a full cocktail bar, non “camp food”, watch TV and charge your cell phone while attempting to be outdoorsy.   These activities seemed mutually exclusive to me.  None of it fit into the boxes of preconceived ideas that I had built in my head. Somewhat stubbornly, I thought, “this is NOT how I learned to camp!”

Camp Lust

To most of our friends and family, it is no secret that Rob and I are in love with camping.   It floats our respective boats! In fact, it goes beyond love, it is a deep passion.  It is a lifestyle that we seek out!  We are aware that there are a lot of different definitions of camping and that it means something different to different people.  We are not snobbish about it, and really, we love all of it!  Backpacking, car camping, RVing, overnights, extended trips, State Parks, National Parks and private campgrounds, they are all wonderful and serve their purpose.  In my opinion camping is the best way to travel and see the country.

My exposure to camping came at a young age.  In fact there is a distinct possibility that I may have been conceived while my parents were camping.  When I was a baby, my parents took me tent camping, according to my mom, camping is a great activity to do with babies.

When I was a kid, from the time I was 7 until I was about 14, I went to summer-camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin at Camp Nicolet for Girls in Eagle River. I spent the whole summer in the National Nicolet Forest. We stayed in cabins but went on hikes, cookouts and overnights, this served to enhance my love of camping as well as sharpen my skills in the realm of packing a backpack, making a fire and general outdoor survival.

When Rob and I met in college, I shared my love of camping with him.  My sister gave us a tent for Christmas. Planning and going on camping trips quickly became one of our favorite pastimes.  We got to see and experience places that we never would have gone to or even thought of going to otherwise.

Our first camping trip was a three day trip to Ocala, National Forest in FL.  We went to Lake Eaton and Juniper Springs.  They were both amazing.  At Lake Eaton we heard something big in the woods at night and it scared us, branches were snapping under the feet of whatever creature was lurking.  We imagined that it was some sort of large wildcat, it was probably just a raccoon…?  We hiked the Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail, which was magnificent.  It is about 80 feet deep and 450 feet wide. The flora and vegetation completely changed as you hiked deeper into it.  It is similar to an Oak Hammock, featuring magnolias, live oak, dogwood, lobolly pine and sabal palm.  The temperature and humidity even changed…It got a little cooler, but more humid.  It was fascinating!

At Juniper Springs the water was so impossibly clear that it was almost invisible.  We swam, we hiked and explored, we cooked our meals and ate outdoors. The scenery and the sense of relaxation that came from spending time outdoors was beautiful. Our love of camping as a couple grew.  We knew this would be something that we continued to do together always…