This will be quite a bit different from my usual post in that I am typically writing about some travel location, some adventure experience, or just simply photography. But, today I am going to write about a means of travel rather than a particular destination.
Here in the US, as well as in Canada, Britain and France, many people will travel in, or at least with, an RV — a Recreational Vehicle. There are almost as many types of RV’s as we can count, but to simplify we can break them down into three broad categories — trailers, motor homes and truck campers. Each type has numerous sub-categories. I have no knowledge of truck campers (a smallish self-contained camping vehicle which mounts into the bed of a pickup truck) being used much other than here in North America.
Today, I am going to write about traveling with a travel trailer, or even more specifically what we call a “bumper pull” trailer here in the US. That is what I have, so that is where my story begins. I own a 19 ft. travel trailer from a US manufacturer known as Lance. The trailer mounts on a “ball hitch” which is mounted to the frame of my pickup. I use a Ram 2500 pickup with a 6.7 liter Cummins turbo diesel engine to pull the trailer. What I want to talk about today is why do I do this, what are the advantages and disadvantages, and what is it like.
Why travel with an RV?
I do not always travel with my trailer. Obviously it is not always feasible or even practical. So, why do I do this at all? Have you ever taken a cruise? If so, you will totally get what I am going to say. I only have to pack once. I have my own bed (even more so than on a cruise ship), and I have my own bathroom that I don’t have to share with anyone other than my wife. That’s kind of cool when you think about it. Heck, I even have my own pillow. OK, maybe I’m weird, but it’s very homey.
Also, as you who follow me know, I am rather an avid photographer. I have been a serious photographer for more years than I’d like to count, so I have accumulated quite a selection of gear. That gear is large (bulky), some of it is heavy, and it is really expensive. I have one lens that costs over $2000 US. So, when I take my trailer, I have lots of room to stow my gear, and I can pretty much take anything I think I may need. I absolutely would NEVER check that gear on an airplane. No way, no how.
Additionally, as an investment advisor, sometimes my work takes me out-of-town for an extended period of time. So, having the trailer simplifies a lot of things that I will get to in a minute. Because many times I may combine a work trip with a few side adventures, I end up with a fairly diverse wardrobe. Maybe I’ll be hiking, so I’ll need my hiking gear. But then I am meeting clients, so I can’t exactly go around looking like I just crawled out of a cave. If the weather is quite varied where I am going, then I will need more wardrobe for that too. So, once again the trailer allows me to carry more clothing and shoes, and to keep everything nice and neat, just like it is at home in my closet. My nice shirts and pants have not been smashed up in my travel bag for days.
Have you ever been traveling for an extended time and just gotten really sick of eating out? Here in America it can be really hard to find healthy choices in reasonable size portions in many restaurants. I suppose that is one reason why so many of us can be rather large in girth. ☺ OK, seriously eating out gets really expensive, and I was really serious about the nutrition and portion sizes. So, I have an oven and gas range in my RV as well as a microwave oven. I also have small portable propane grill if I want to barbecue or grill a steak or something. The cost savings for the food alone is quite remarkable. And there is nothing like a home cooked meal. My trailer has an ample refrigerator with a separate freezer, so keeping fresh veggies and fruits is a breeze. And I can freeze packages of meat for future use.
By now, I am fairly certain you are getting the “why” picture. Really it is all about comfort and convenience. Heck my trailer even has a small TV with a DVD/CD player, so I can watch TV or watch movies for evening entertainment. Traveling with an RV is just simply about one’s desire to travel more comfortably with more than one would want to pack in a carry bag/suitcase.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Like anything else, RV travel comes with its good points and bad points. Let’s start with the disadvantages first. It is definitely more cumbersome. While towing the trailer (and in the US, a 19 foot [5.8 meters] trailer is not large), I must think through many more things than just traveling in a car or pickup. How am I going to turn around? Is there enough space. Will I fit under this service station canopy? Is this road wide enough for my trailer to fit without hitting anything? By the way, the trailer is 8 feet (2.4 meters)wide on the body and a little wider for the awning, and door handles. Also, the combined length of my truck and trailer is about 43 feet (13.1 meters), so maneuvering through traffic can be much more strenuous and taxing.
Last year I ended up taking the wrong ferry across Puget Sound in Washington state, and ended up being offloaded in downtown Seattle at rush hour. My ultimate destination for the day was an RV park about 15 miles north of the downtown area. Let’s just say that was quite the adventure, and that I got lots of looks from the locals. In short, one must pay a lot more attention to everything regarding space and traffic while traveling with a trailer.
Second, your fuel consumption for your tow vehicle will go up — a lot. My diesel Ram truck averages about 22 miles per gallon on the highway when not towing. In pure city driving (lots of stop and go), that can drop to around 15 miles per gallon. (Not bad for a vehicle that weighs over 6800 pounds [over 3084 kilos] and that can tow a vehicle weighing up to 17,000 pounds [7711 kilos]). But hook up that trailer (mine fully loaded weighs no more than 5700 pounds (2585 kilos), and that highway mileage drops to around 11 to 13 miles per gallon depending upon the terrain. City mileage really isn’t much different as the big issue here is aerodynamics. The trailer acts as a big sail behind the truck, catching lots of air at speeds; thus the increased fuel consumption.
So, the big rule for me as to when I may want to travel with my trailer is how long am I going to be out on my journey. The longer the trip in time, the more sense it makes to take the trailer. I will get to this detail in a minute.
RV’s of any type are expensive. If one is purely looking at costs, once can stay many, many nights in a hotel for the price of most RV’s.
The last major disadvantage than I can contemplate is that the trailer is essentially a rolling house with lots of parts and systems. Things can and do go wrong. Last year I got a roof leak around a fan/skylight that was right over my bed. Nothing like crawling up on the roof of your trailer in the rain at midnight to make you wish for a nice hotel. Maintenance and upkeep of all systems are an absolute must. That also involves some ongoing costs.
Now for the good points. Well, I mentioned many of these above. I get to pack pretty much whatever I want. I only pack once, and my clothes are hung in the closet just like at home. I have my own bed and my own bath with a full shower. I even take my electric toothbrush if I have 120 volt power. I have a full kitchen and can cook pretty much anything I wish and as often as I wish. I can even grill a burger, fresh corn, etc. You know about Jimmy Buffet’s song — “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Absolutely!! I have literally all of the comforts of home — heat and air conditioning if I have 120V power. I have some nice folding chairs and can sit outside in the shade of my roll away awning enjoying nature. I have a nice table that serves as my work desk as well.
Also, RV travel saves one a lot versus hotel lodging costs. RV park spots with full hookups (electric, water and sewer) are usually about one-third as much as a decent hotel/motel in many areas. So, the longer that I am going to be out, the more that the lower lodging costs outweigh the higher fuel costs.
In short, my trailer is literally my little home away while I am out and about. There is nothing like your own bed and pillow after a tough day hiking about.
So, what is it like traveling with the trailer?
Well, as you can gather from my above points, there are definite pluses and minuses. For the most part, I love it. Again, it is really about comfort and hominess. Wherever I go, this is my bed, bath, kitchen and living area. I never have to wonder what has happened on that bedspread. And a nice home cooked meal can be so satisfying after many days away. When my wife and I travel with our trailer to her horse shows and other events, we can take our dog. He loves to be with us, and we save on boarding costs. Sheri loves to be on the show grounds at the horse shows for more interactions with our friends and her horses.
RV people are generally nice, happy folks. I have really enjoyed meeting people from all over the country in the numerous RV parks at which we’ve stayed. The camaraderie is just plain enjoyable.
I have found some absolutely lovely campsites. Many times you get to be more “in your surroundings” than in a hotel. Yes, as I mentioned above driving is more work and requires even more attention than usual. But one gets used to these things quickly, and it is not nearly as bad as it sounds. Here are some really important tips for anyone pondering getting and traveling with an RV.
First, why did I choose a trailer versus the other RV types. The trailer gives me considerably more space and storage area than any truck camper. And it allows me the further convenience of once I have arrived at my destination, I unhook and just have my regular size truck for all of the daily driving, exploring, off-roading, etc. The ability to just jaunt around in the truck while still having my nice comfy trailer as my base is just really convenient and nice.
Second, if you are going to tow a trailer, a proper tow vehicle is a must. My truck was carefully selected for a combination of towing capabilities, daily driving capabilities and economy. The Cummins diesel engine is absolutely wonderful. It makes an incredible 800 pound-feet of torque, so getting up to speed with the trailer in heavy traffic is no problem. Climbing hills and mountains is no problem. I can maintain highway speeds (around 65 miles per hour) while pulling the trailer under almost all circumstances. My truck has an exhaust brake which runs off of the turbos that helps slow the vehicle while going down hills. The exhaust brake feature is really great while traversing mountainous terrain, long downgrades, etc. It saves tremendously on using the traditional truck and trailer wheel brakes. Towing is much, much easier with a proper vehicle. My truck also features an integrated electronic trailer brake set-up as well as special transmission gearing and cooling options.
I learned about tow vehicles the hard way. An underpowered and under-equipped vehicle makes towing miserable. My advice here is simple — do not scrimp. Get a proper tow vehicle, and your trailering experience will be much more pleasant.
In summary, RV’s are not for everyone, and definitely not for every trip. But if you enjoy the comforts of home, and if you like to have pretty much anything you think you may want for your trip, traveling with an RV is very pleasurable. There is just nothing like sleeping in your own bed while away and enjoying an afternoon tea under the awning shade while enjoying all that nature offers.