Updated: Oct 1, 2020
COVID, COVID, COVID. You’ve changed all our plans and still, we just won’t back down. We’ve got a new travel plan, and the first step is contained here: researching the best fitting RV for our family’s needs for semi-permanent RV-travel/living (Sleep 5, sometimes 6! Oh, and the dog, Nikki! And maybe a future cat!). And yes, again, a song reference. . . Bob Dylan!
As I explained in the post, Travel in the Time of COVID – Our Plan B, travel is a must for our family. Since international travel is not an option and my mom has to come with us (I want her to), the new plan is: RV travel the U.S. in preparation for RV travel in the rest of the world when we’re ready to start our worldschooling journey and the borders open back up.
So, the plan is moving forward quickly! It goes a bit like this:
Research RV options to try out;
Book a few RV rentals to see which one works best for our family and figure out how Dante can homeschool and Marino can work on the road;
Purchase an RV and hit the road, building endurance as we go. We will start with shorter 3-7 day trips. Then move up to two-week trips, then month-long trips. We’ll max out at six-week trips for now (my mom has a standing doc appt every 6 weeks).
This post covers #1 and starts in on #2. I will be sharing the whole process from start to purchase, to subsequent adventures in future posts!
What is our Criteria?
Must be the smallest possible size with a 5 ½ sleeping capacity
Ok. I say 5 ½ because our children are 7 (almost 8) and 3.5. By the time we are ready to move on from this RV, they will be 12 and 8 max. They co-sleep we us (and we love it and are soaking in every last day before my son says, “enough”). My younger one has no intention of NOT sleeping with us in the near future. So, she’s a ½ that fits in our bed and doesn’t count yet for sleeping capacity purposes. That means we will need one bed for the three of us, one for Baba, and one for Dante and zia Ale (when she comes along with us).
So, there are several reasons why we need to try to get the smallest possible size for our sleeping capacity:
I’m not the most confident driver of large vehicles.
The rest of the travelers are two children and an almost-79-year-old grandma who is legally blind. Maybe when zia Ale comes, she can also drive, but she’s not planning to come every time. That leaves me as the only alternative driver. So, for Marino to NOT be the only one driving, which has to be the case if he is to work full-time from the RV, it has to be the smallest possible RV if I’m ever to feel comfortable driving it.
Did you know that the bigger your RV is, the more restricted your destination options?
That might seem obvious to some. I just assumed an RV campsite is an RV campsite. Not the case. There are whole areas that are unavailable to larger RVs. I’m not just talking at the 30+ footers. Some sites or grounds work for 22-footers but not 26-footers. Also, if you plan to boondock*, which we do, then you also limit your options of where to park for the night.
*There is no official definition of the term "boondocking". According to www.rv-camping.org , it is parking your RV outside developed campgrounds. It look like like anything from parking in a WalMart or truck stops, federal and state campground, and any time RV hookups are not available (dry camping) have been referred to as boondocking.
We are definitely not paying to store that RV when we are not using it
We need an RV that can be parked in our driveway. The larger the RV, the more limited our choices are for the home we are looking to purchase now. Every house we see, we’re looking to see if an RV fits, if we’d have to widen the driveway, if the driveway is long enough, etc. We certainly do not need to limit our home options by buying an RV that is larger than we need.
This is good preparation for Europe
The bigger life goal, for those of you who didn’t know, is to head to Europe when the borders open back up and we are financially, emotionally and psychologically ready (2-4 years from now).
Let’s back up. The really big life goal is to become permanent nomads travelling the world. The next step, after we get RV life under our belts here in the U.S., is to move on to Europe – the only place that has Russian, Italian and Spanish immersion all on one continent (this was our original plan for summer travel over the next few years until COVID hit). Once we feel the children are fluent in all our “home” languages, then we can head to other parts of the world, and never stop.
So, with Europe next on our list, and knowing that many places in Europe have smaller, narrower and sometimes curvier streets that here, we know we will need a small RV (maybe even a camper van) to travel Europe the way we want to. Our experience last summer in Tarano, my Italian home base last summer, taught us better.
The point is that we need to get used to travelling tight and light because we might have to be tighter and lighter in Europe.
Must Not Be Modular
Again, there are several reasons for this choice. The main one is that we are no mechanical geniuses here and we just don’t need another possible reason for some sort of mechanical failure down the road. If one of them got stuck, you wouldn’t even be able to drive the RV to a mechanic. I wonder if you’d even be able to tow it with it being oversized on the road.
Anyway, some of the modular models don’t even have beds that fully extend out unless the module is out and, again, I wouldn’t want to be limited to which campsites or grounds we can stay at or place to boondock at because it is too wide or long with the module extended out.
Lastly, we just have to get used to small. There is no point in getting something small to get used to and just extend it out to make it bigger. We might as well just get something bigger, which we shouldn’t – see 1st reason.
It Does Need to Have All the Amenities of Home
We are a family that will be travelling 5-6 members at a time. We need to have a kitchen that will accommodate that. We love to grill but we are also thinking of those cold, rainy nights too. We can’t just have a mini-fridge if we plan to stock up at least with one week’s worth of food (I’m hoping for two). We also need a stove top and I really prefer the option of an oven.
Anyway, obviously we will need to figure out how to maximize storage. We might have to customize some things, like remove the microwave or install pull-out drawers (DIY because we’re not buying or customizing a new build – too expensive!). This is another reason we need to keep minimizing our belongings!
So, it needs to have one of those diner style booth/beds because we also need to all be able to sit together to a meal inside on those cold, rainy days as well. It also has to convert to a bed for Baba (and Nikki, the dog).
We definitely need a toilet, shower, sink combo. We are not trying to rely on campground showers for keeping our bodies clean.
On the Technical Side, It Needs to Have Large Enough Capacity Water, Electric, and Gas for our Needs
We don’t want to pay for full hook-up sites (water, electricity, sewage) every night. We want the option to dry camp and boondock. I honestly don’t know how much we will need/use but I hope we can get ourselves to a place where we can boondock/dry camp for at least one week. I don’t know if that is possible for a family of 5 ½. But I can hope and we can test them out and see!
Decent Underside Storage
Part of the excitement of this kind of living is that it forces us outdoors. It would be nice to have storage for our bikes and scooters underneath. Also, to extend our food-life, I hope to have space to store extra dry beans, rice, other staples, and we do some of our own canning, too – pasta sauce, veggies preserved in olive oil, etc. We’re also hoping to bring our Berkey Water system with us to syphon off some filtered water and store for later us, those times we do decide to go to a spot will water hook-up.
Which models have we narrowed down to?
One quick note: we’ve contemplated buying a large van and converting it. The only challenge is that none of us have the time to do the research required to get it done and ourselves travelling in the next 3-6 months. We are definitely contemplating a build for Europe. We’d just have to research and plan now, and find an affordable place in Europe to hunker down in while we build it out (in 2-4 years).
So, as of right now, we’ve found two model RV plans that fit our needs (still need to do a technical comparison):
1) There is a pretty standard 24-foot RV plan that fits our needs and can be found with different vehicle makes and models. Since the layout was so standard, I’m just providing one of many such examples:
2) A 21-foot RV plan that fits our needs. There is only one that we’ve found so far: The Coachman Freelander 19CB:
Everything else is bigger OR is modular OR all the beds are clumped all together and there is no semblance of privacy. With both of these models, I’m pretty sure we can customize some more privacy – e.g. install a sliding door by the bed, add a noise machine by the loft bed and curtain/protective net, etc.
Try them out! We need to rent one of each and see how they work. So, we’ve already lined up a rental (didn’t realize how expensive it is to rent an RV!) for the 24-footer and trying to find an available 21-footer to rent.
We are renting a 2008 Coachman Freelander fl2130QB for one week. Given that it is August, I only wanted to head north from Los Angeles, to cooler weather. East would mean Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico, which we’ve done once a couple years ago and I know, without a doubt, my mom won’t take that heat well.
So, we’ve locked in 4 nights at Millerton Lake and 2 nights on the beach near Monterrey, California. We’ll boondock the last night to see how it goes/feels. We’ll keep track of our water, generator, electricity, etc. use and see if it is even realistic to go ahead with a smaller RV rental or not. We’ll also track how well the space accommodates all our belongings, food for the week and whether there is room for more items we would need for longer trips.
If we handle that well, we’ll try renting the Freelander 19CB – the only 21.5-foot RV we’ve found that sleeps 5 and isn’t modular. Maybe for a random week so we can also test out working/remote-schooling to see how doable it is in an RV.
If the 21-footer works, it’s simple. We buy it. If it is a disaster, then we start exploring which 24-foot model has the best technical specs and capacity and we go for that.
By the way, I’m sure you’re wondering why not just do the 19CB right away, see if that works, and then, if not, move up in size. Makes the decision process easier (if it works, just get it) and less expensive (renting RV’s is expensive! I’ll stop repeating myself).
That’s all 100% true. However, now that we’ve come up with this post-COVID travel plan, we just can’t wait. And apparently, there are only two 19CB rentals near Los Angeles and we either have to go for 10 days (this rental company charges $250/nt!) or the next available is in mid-October!
We can’t wait until mid-October! So, since we’re curious about the 24-footer, we’ve justified renting it sooner than later as a way to ease into the RV’ing experience.
So, trip #1 is rented. We’re starting to plan what we need/want to bring. I can’t wait to share how this first experience goes!
Any advice, thoughts, questions, or other comments, please leave them here below or on the Facebook post!