If you follow our Instagram account, you might have noticed a slight – okay – major change in our method of road tripping. Yes indeed, it’s the third summer of Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around and we’re hitting the road in our third vehicle. This time, it’s not a van at all. We bought an RV.
If you’re new to the blog, it all started back in November of 2017 when a guy running a yellow light swerved into the wrong lane and hit my wife who was stopped at a red light, totaling our Toyota Sienna minivan. To replace the Swagger Wagon, Monica found an amazing 2003 Dodge conversion van with just 17,000 miles on it on Craigslist. That van was a beast throughout our two-month cross-country trek.
But then, in the spring of 2019, she spotted an irresistible VW Eurovan Westfalia for sale down the street. The poptop tent and the built-in kitchen and fridge were just too much to pass up. The Westy proved to be a tight fit for a family of four, but we made it work, using a tent for longer stays.
We planned to use that Westy this summer. We had plans to put it on the Amtrak Auto Train up to the DC area and start our trip there, ending up in Maine. We had tickets with a sleeper-car and everything.
Then came COVID-19. A road trip through the heart of the epicenter of the pandemic put our plans on shaky ground. But regardless of where we might travel, we were concerned about sharing public campground restrooms and shower areas with a bunch of traveling strangers all summer. And road-tripping in a small van requires a lot of breaks in hotels and restaurants.
We know the statistics. We read newspapers and avoid sensational cable news. We don’t worry about what we can’t control, but everything we’re learning about COVID-19 says it’s not something that people, particularly those with vascular Ehlers-Danlos, should take lightly. Particularly with emerging evidence that there are serious vascular elements to the disease that researchers are just beginning to understand.
The decision to buy an RV made me eat some words I wrote recently in in duPont Registry Tampa Bay:
A few months back I paid a visit to the Florida RV Super Show and wrote that piece about life on the road. In that article, I heaped praise on smaller, versatile RVs, singling out the newer rooftop tent models as the best way for a family of 4 to travel. Personally, I want nothing to do with towing a vehicle, and smaller RVs let you pull into the grocery store parking with ease. But, when it came to meeting our needs, there were two things some of those sleek vans didn’t offer:
- Air conditioning. As soon as you add a poptop tent to those vans, you lose AC. AC = Sleep. We live in Florida and it’a long drive to places we can camp without AC.
- A way to camp somewhat incognito. I’ll clarify: Obviously, a camper parked anywhere is still a camper. But the minute you raise the rooftop tent or push a button and open slide-outs the message is “people are sleeping in here” as opposed to “someone parked an RV here.” I don’t anticipate spending a whole lot of time “boondocking,” but I want the peace of mind that comes with knowing that when we’re in a pinch, we can pull into a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or truck stop, close the blinds, and get some sleep.
For us, the solution to sleeping 4, with AC, was to go with the classic Class C, Winnebago-style RV. Not too long – so we don’t have to tow anything; and not too used. And, preferably, no slides (less chances of leaks and fewer things to break).
After scouring the websites of local RV dealers (we have a few of the country’s largest within 45 minutes drive), we headed out to Camping World to check them out. Apparently, pandemics are good for the RV business. The place was busy and face masks were definitely optional. After looking at a half dozen units, we found one we liked.
But we didn’t feel like we’d seen enough to make a decision and we promised ourselves that we would sleep on it before making a purchase. So we left Camping World and went up the road to Lazy Days (world’s largest RV dealer, they say) to compare. They had nothing of comparable size and price. The salesman actually said, “Why didn’t you buy the one over at Camping World? Did they treat you wrong?” I appreciated his honesty and I hear lots of great things about Lazy Days.
We called Camping World to schedule a test drive for the next day and went home to ponder. That night I joined a FaceBook group for the brand of RV we were looking at (Thor) and took a 3 hour deep dive into the world of RV ownership.
The next day we went back to test drive a 2019 with low miles and no slides. A mere 24 feet long, this thing doesn’t feel much bigger than our old Dodge, and will fit in a larger parking space. With two queen size beds, a convertible dinette bed, a bath with separate shower (not one of those things where you shower on the toilet), it feels like the Guns n’ Roses tour bus compared to our previous accommodations.
As we marveled at the features, I looked out the side window to see another couple looking at it before quickly heading back to the main building. Our salesman ran out and discovered that they were going to try to buy it while we were still in it! I quickly handed him my debit card and had him run a deposit. My next thought was that the other couple was planted there to get me to buy – but we were getting the newest used RV on the lot, and I don’t think it was going to make it through Memorial Day Weekend unsold. And boy am I glad we got it. Ever since Googling “RVs for sale near me” my ads have been showing me older, more expensive versions of what we bought.
True Story: After we put down the deposit. They said they needed a few hours to get it ready. So we went home. Then I realized I still had the key in my pocket. So I went back to give it to them, then went home again. I crossed the bridge between St. Pete and Tampa six times that day. I hate going to Tampa.
A few days after our purchase, we took it on a one-night “shakedown” trip to watch the SpaceX launch. On a tip from a friend, we found a parking lot where we could watch the launch. Then we waited in the cool AC while the traffic cleared before heading off to our camp.
With State Parks still closed for COVID-19, we booked a non-traditional site via Hipcamp.com. It was a rustic farm of sorts (the main crop seemed to be old abandoned Winnebagos). We had a quiet spot behind a barn, with a 30am electrical hookup and fresh water. The owner was a sweet Russian woman who operated an adjacent property with tiny houses. With a storm outside and the AC humming, everyone slept great.
So, we’re ready. We’re booking sites from Jekyll Island to Cape Cod and thinking about heading west in the fall. Buckle up for Don’t Make Me Turn This Van Around – RV/Pandemic Edition.
“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a leader of a local non-profit, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker.