Category Archives: General

And the Winner Is…

I am very pleased to announce the winner of our Help Name our RV Contest. I would like to thank everyone who participated in this, the first ever DreamBigLiveBodly.com contest. Many creative suggestions were submitted, and picking a winner wasn’t easy, but…

The winner is Janice Ebenstiner, whose single entry was selected by an international panel of judges (Diane and me). Her single entry was our favourite.

Henceforth, the name of our motorhome will be… The Dream Machine.

We liked The Dream Machine the most because:
• it makes reference to ‘dream’, incorporating a key element of my philosophy, the blog name, etc.
• ‘dream’ conjures up romantic images of all the dreams we can fulfill while traveling in our motorhome
• ‘dream’ also suggests that we’re living our dreams
• ‘machine’ helps others know that we’re talking about a piece of equipment (namely our RV)
• it rhymes
• it’s easy to remember, and most importantly
• it just feels right

At first I thought Janice might be making a retro reference to the van from Scooby Doo, but theirs was called The Mystery Machine (admittedly a better name if one is solving crimes, but not as good in our case). Nor is this the name of the van from Josie and the Pussycats, which was nameless as far as my crack research team (me) can determine.

As the contest winner, Janice will receive:
1) The pride of knowing that she is among the most creative and ingenious of this blog’s readers
2) The self-satisfaction of seeing the name that she proposed used regularly in this blog and our vernacular
3) Our heart-felt gratitude
4) The option of a guest blogging spot on DreamBigLiveBodly.com
5) A framed photograph of The Dream Machine taken during its naming ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding a bottle of sparking wine

The Naming Ceremony

Patrick and Diane standing in front of the Dream Machine holding glasses of sparking wine and signs that say 'Dream' and 'Machine'

Formal attire for the ceremony (I put on fresh shorts)

Thank-you again to Janice and to everyone who participated!

Reminder – Help Name our RV Contest closes in just 3 days!

Thank-you to all of you who have contributed suggestions in our Help Name our RV Contest. Only 3 days remain to get your entries in, as the contest closes on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

Please click this link for contest details. The suggestions that have been made so far are visible in the comments at the end of the post linked above, and may get your creative juices flowing. Among the good suggestions made so far, there seem to be a few themes emerging – dreams, our names, travel, and Germany. Can you come up with something new?

The winner, which could be you, will have the satisfaction of having the name they suggest used in perpetuity on this blog, and will be awarded a top-secret, fabulous prize. Have fun!

Help Name our RV Contest

We need your help!  We’ve been traveling in our motorhome for almost 2 months but it doesn’t have a name yet.  I read somewhere that it’s best not to force a name on one’s vehicle, far better to let it come naturally.  Perhaps we can help that process along a bit.

Readers of the blog already know lots about our motorhome and our plans (please see the archives in January and February), but here is some information.  Our motorhome is a Solera manufactured in America by Forest River.  The chassis is a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter made in Germany.  Our names are Patrick and Diane and, to the best of our knowledge, we were made in Canada.

The Prize – In addition to the glory of winning and our perpetual gratitude, the winner will receive a prize.

Contest Period – This contest will close on Sunday, March 24th at 11 PM PST.

How to Enter – Leave a comment on this blog posting.  Up to five entries can be submitted by each person.  The contest is open to everyone.

How to Win — A single winner will be chosen by the judge.  The judge’s decision is final and I am the judge.  The winner will be the person who proposes the name that best fits our motorhome and us.  Preference will be given to creative and fun names.

Details — The winner will be announced on the blog and notified privately by email.  The winner will have 7 days to respond with contact information or will forfeit the prize in which case the prize will be awarded to the runner-up.  The prize will be shipped anywhere in Canada or the continental United States.  If the winner lives elsewhere, alternate arrangements can be discussed.

Have Fun!

There and back again — Retrieving our motorhome

picked up our motorhome from the dealer in Des Moines, Iowa on December 28th.  I drove out into the night and a snow storm.

The roads were slick with uneven layers of ice still clinging to them from an earlier blizzard.  I sat idling in the parking lot while I figured out the controls, including the in-dash GPS.  I eased on to the freeway and headed west towards Omaha, Nebraska.  The steering was pulling to the left and I thought I might have a problem, but I kept going because the dealer was closed anyhow, and I later learned that it was just the wind steadily pushing on the broad side of the motorhome.  I stopped for fast food, then drove for a few hours before pulling in to a Walmart just off the freeway after 10 PM.

I headed in to the store to buy some road trip essentials – some jugs of drinking water, a tea kettle, a dozen diet coke, a variety pack of potato chips, chili chocolate, some $10 vinyl floor mats, and a plastic bin to hold my snowy boots.  It was cold out, 10 or 20 degrees below freezing, but I stayed warm in the arctic sleeping bag that I’d borrowed from my friend Lee.

A warm thick red sleeping bag on our RV bed

A sleeping bag for a North American winter

RV in a frosty parking lot with Walmart behind

My first night’s accomodation

The next morning I woke up early and the sun was shining.  I purchased fuel, mistakenly buying more expensive biodiesel which should be OK for our new engine (I hope?).  Although it was cold, the weather and the roads were clear, so I prepared to ‘make time while the sun shines’.  I drove 15 hours the first day, stopping only for fast food, fuel, and toilet breaks.

RV Front at sunrise in frosty, icy parking lot

I drove west through America’s heartland on Interstate 90 through Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.  I passed a lot of famous attractions – The Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, Sturgis (home of the massive annual Harley Davidson gathering), The National Museum of Wood Carving, The South Dakota Hall of Fame (OK, perhaps some of them aren’t so famous).  I went right by The Bridges of Madison County (made famous by the Clint Eastwood film of the same name), The ‘World’s Only’ Corn Palace (do we really need more than one?), 1880 Town, Wall Drug, and the Ranch Store (‘where you can feed the prairie dogs for free!’).  I also skipped the Car Museum (which has one of probably many General Lee’s from the Dukes of Hazard), Wonderful Cave (‘the largest in the mid-west’), and The Prairie Homestead (that can’t be very exciting, can it?)  I also missed the Badlands, Devil’s Tower (from Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind), Grand Teton, Yellowstone National Park, and the Rocky Mountains.  I’ll have to slow down next time.

Looking out the RV window onto a flat, snowy road

The view from my window

What I found interesting was that many of these attractions are advertised on billboards for 100 or more miles in advance.  I couldn’t believe that I was still seeing more signs for something hours after they began.  By the time I got there, I’m thinking, ‘maybe I should check this out? I can’t believe that someone went to so much effort.  Perhaps it’s good?’  But I suppose that’s the intention.

Motorhome beside road with flat, snowy prairie int he background

Miles of flat snowy prairie

The engine light came on at sunset of the first full day of driving, which had me worried.  It turns out that the engine light comes on when the fuel level drops to the point that one begins using the reserve tank.  Soon afterwards, the fuel warning light comes on.  Why wouldn’t it be the other way around?

I passed many helpful signs like, “Help manage our wildlife, wear fur”.  Also, ‘God Loves You’, followed soon afterwards by, ‘The Wages of Sin is Death’.  I guess that’s the carrot and stick approach.   I saw one that said, ‘Jesus is Lord in this Valley’, and I thought, ‘why limit yourself geographically?’  Did the probably well-intentioned author mean to limit God’s jurisdiction?

I drove another 15 hours the second day and came over Snowqualmie Pass late in the evening to arrive at Seattle.  I drove a little farther to get to the north of the city which would allow me to avoid most of the morning traffic.  I spent my 3rd night on the road in a Walmart parking lot in Lynnwood.  The weather was finally warming up, but still just above freezing.

A thick red sleepng bag laying on our RV bed

Another night at Walmart

Motorhome front under the street lights in a Walmart parking lot

On the morning of Day 3, I discovered that the kettle I had purchased at Walmart and had been using for the last 2 days still had what appeared to be the instructions inside, but it was hard to know for sure because it was just a soupy mess.  Surprisingly, it didn’t affect the taste of my tea.  I drove north to the Pacific Highway Truck Crossing at the Canadian border between Blaine, WA and Surrey, BC where the US Customs and Border Protection Office that handles vehicle exports is located.  I had submitted the required export paperwork to US Customs more than the 3 business days in advance that they require.  I waited while dogs searched the lobby and me until the agent returned to confirm that my motorhome hadn’t been stolen, stamped my paperwork, and sent me on my way.

One hundred meters later at the Canadian border crossing, I was instructed to park and take my paperwork inside.  They calculate and collect the Goods and Services Tax (5%), but they also wanted to charge me 6.1% duty, which came as a surprise.  I was under the impression that the Mercedes=Benz Sprinter chassis was manufactured in Germany but assembled in Charleston, South Carolina making it duty-free under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  However, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on our chassis starts with the letters ‘WD’ which means that it was made outside of North America (the ‘W’) in Germany (‘D’ is for Deutschland), and that is all the Canadian Customs and Border Protection agents consider.  I spent 3 hours at the border researching and calling people to try and prove otherwise, but I was mistaken.  It turns out that Sprinter cargo and passenger vans are assembled in the U.S., but Sprinter cab chassis, upon which our and all other Sprinter-based motorhomes are built, are shipped fully assembled from Germany.  So I paid the additional duty, watching some of my anticipated savings from buying in the U.S. disappear.  On the positive side, I did make it home in time to enjoy New Year’s Eve with Diane.

The other challenge with buying a motorhome based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis in the U.S. is the warranty.  Although a motorhome built on a Sprinter cab chassis has a full warranty if purchased and registered in the U.S., this warranty becomes invalid when the vehicle is exported and registered in Canada.  On most Mercedes vehicles Mercedes-Benz Canada would then honour the remainder of the warranty, but only after charging thousands of dollars to convert the vehicle to their, not Transport Canada’s, standards.  This surtax allows them to maintain a significant price differential, charging thousands of dollars more for the same new vehicles in Canada.  Unfortunately, Mercedes-Benz Canada will not honour the warranty for the Sprinter cab chassis, supposedly due to the modifications made to convert it to a motorhome.  However, Mercedes-Benz U.S. does provide a warranty for the same converted vehicles, so this seems to be a convenient excuse to discourage Canadians from buying in the U.S.

Back in Canada, I took our Solera for the required federal inspection at a Canadian Tire store, and then got it registered and insured at an Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) agent.  Upon registering it in Canada, my Mercedes-Benz warranty disappeared.  Do I sound bitter about this?  I shouldn’t, because I knew about it in advance and chose to import a Sprinter-based motorhome anyhow, but apparently I still have some energy about it. If we had purchased a Ford, the other manufacturer of motorhome chassis in North America, I would still have a warranty and I would not have paid duty.  But I would also own a Ford.

It took me longer to drive home than the estimates provided by our GPS and Google Maps because the speed limit most of the way was 75 miles per hour (121 kph).  In the motorhome I drove 65 mph (105 kph) on the highway during daylight hours and 60 mph (96 kph) in the dark.  I averaged 12.8 miles per gallon (18.4 Litres per 100 km), but this will improve as the diesel engine breaks in and I slow down a bit.  Diesel fuel averaged $3.70 US per gallon, and an almost-empty tank cost about $75 to fill.  When I picked up our motorhome it already had 800 kilometers (500 miles) on it.  My trip was 3220 kilometers (2000 miles), bringing our total mileage to about 4000 kilometers (2500 miles).

In hindsight, I still think that we made the right decision to purchase our motorhome in the U.S. and import it ourselves.  Even with the unexpected costs, we still saved significantly.  However, we are now relying on the famous German engineering and quality, as these savings could disappear if we have any major problems with our Mercedes chassis.  We are placing our bet on the Germans,  Would you?

There and back again — Picking up our Motorhome

We purchased our Solera from RV Direct’s dealership in Des Moines, Iowa.  Why so far away?  There are no Forest River dealers in British Columbia that sell this model.  In fact, there is only dealer in Canada (in Laval, Quebec) that sells them, and they buy them at RV Direct, import them just as we did, and mark up the price for re-sale.

After viewing their inventory, including pictures and the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price sheet online, I received a quote for our Solera from RV Direct in under an hour.  The price was 30% less than the MSRP.  Unlike cars, RVs have high markups and can be purchased at significant discounts, typically 20% and as much as 40% off for clearance models.

I spent a couple of days finding all the dealers on the west coast of the U.S. with Soleras in inventory to try and get a price close to what I’d been offered by RV Direct.  There were 11 Soleras available in Washington, Oregon, and California, and all were priced considerably higher.  As I expected, part of the difference was the cost of delivery to the west coast.  New American motorhomes aren’t shipped from the mid-west (typically Indiana) where they are manufactured, but driven, typically adding about 2200 miles and $3500 (roughly $1.75 per mile) to their cost.  I was prepared to pay this, but not the thousands of additional dollars that these dealers wanted in profit for the same product. Driving an RV across the prairies in the middle of winter can be risky (weather delay, rock and salt damage, accident) and since the mileage for the warranty begins when you leave the dealership, it also meant that we’d be putting 2000 miles against our 1 year, 12,000 mile limited warranty before we even got the vehicle home.  But the savings by buying in the mid-west were so significant, that I just couldn’t justify doing otherwise.

And so it was that early on the morning of December 27th, Diane and my friend Lee drove me to to Vancouver International Airport.  I flew first to Minneapolis/St. Paul where my connecting flight was delayed by a few hours.  I had just missed a blizzard that had hammered the mid-west just after Christmas and had shut-down the airports.  When I finally boarded the flight to Des Moines, most of the people on my plane had been waiting in the airport or nearby hotels for 2 days!  I caught the shuttle to a cheap hotel nearby and, since it was late, ordered some pasta to be delivered from a nearby restaurant.

The next day I caught a taxi to the dealer’s service area, a difficult-to-find garage behind a warehouse north of town in an industrial area.  Our Solera was indoors in a building which had a faint sewer odour (literally ‘eau de toilette’).  The dealer had prepped the motorhome by de-winterizing it, filling it with fuel, water, and propane, and testing all the essential functions.

The pre-delivery inspection is critical when buying a new or used RV.  The technician should walk you through all the features and functions of the RV to demonstrate that they’re working and to orient and educate.  Because this would be my only chance to identify any issues before driving the vehicle very far away, probably never to return to this dealer, I was prepared.  I had my own 295 item checklist ready, which I had compiled from similar lists I had found on the Internet (prepared by other detail-oriented buyers).

The technician was good.  He ran through the key things with me and then left me to do my thing.  My appointment began at 1 PM and around 4 PM he needed to start re-winterizing the coach, which he allowed me to watch and explained while I took notes.  Hopefully I’ll be able to do it myself next time.  The service department closed at 5 PM and, even though I hadn’t finished all my checks, at around 5:30 I signed the Forest River warranty document that says that I accept the motorhome.  This document also says that after this point Forest River and the dealer are no longer responsible for any damage.  So it is very important to identify any scratches, dents, or other damage on the initial inspection and have them noted on the warranty form, perhaps even more so than manufacturing flaws or mechanical issues which can be identified and addressed under warranty later.

I drove out into the darkness in the middle of a snow storm…

Introducing our new motorhome

We purchased a new 2013 Forest River Solera 24S. You can read about our search here The Search for our RV (Part 1) and The Search for our RV (Part 2).  We purchased the Special Edition model which supposedly has a number of upgrades, but I believe that every Solera available is an SE, making it more of a mandatory or ‘feel good’ upgrade package than a true option.

Passenger side of white motorhome on flast desert ground taken from low angle

Our Solera is 7.5 meters (24.5 feet) long, but almost a meter longer (i.e. 27 feet) with the rear bike rack we added (more about that to come).  It is 2.3 meters (7 feet 7 inches) wide and 3.5 meters (11 feet 6 inches) high, which Martin will be pleased to hear allows an interior height of 2.13 meters (7 feet).

It sits on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter 3500 chassis made in Germany.  It has a Mercedes Benz V6 3.0 Litre BlueTec Turbo diesel engine capable of 188 horsepower and a 5-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and tip-shift (which allows optional manual shifting).  The rear axle has 4 wheels for a total of 6.

It has a 26.4 gallon (100 Litre) fuel tank and should get 12-17 miles per gallon (15.6 L/100km), for an estimated range of 400 miles (630 kilometers).

Motorhome taken from front at 3/4 angle in a parking lot at night

Solera Exterior at night

Our Solera has the standard exterior (white gel-coat fiberglass with stickers) which was cheaper than the full-body paint and should be cooler in the summer.  It has a fiberglass roof (more durable and easier to maintain) and a 1-piece fiberglass nose cap (fewer leaks).

It has 1.9 cubic meters (67 cubic feet) of external storage across 5 compartments including a large ‘garage’ at the rear.  It also has a 4.6 meter (15 feet) long electric awning that extends and retracts at the touch of a button.

The cab from the rear with 2 seats, dash, steering wheel, and multi-media system

The Cab

The cab has an open feel and plenty of leg room because it doesn’t have a large center console (unlike the Ford chassis), but there is still plenty of storage in the dash, doors, and above the visors.

The cab multi-media system is feature rich (7” touchscreen with AM/FM, CD, DVD, USB, Aux, weather band, Bluetooth, an iPod dock, and GPS) but it’s quality-challenged.  There is also a back up camera where the rear view mirror would normally be.

Kitchen on the left, bed and bathroom in the rear, storage and dinette on the right

The interior looking back from the cab

The interior has a kitchen, bed, bathroom, vanity, dinette, and storage plus an additional bed (or more storage) over the cab.  The woodwork is cherry and the fabrics are what Forest River calls ‘fieldstone’.

Our Solera has a 2.75 meter (9 foot) long slide on the driver’s side that can extend the dinette, closet, and drawers outward to create more living space.  Everything in the RV is operational and there is sufficient room for 2 people to function when the slide is in, but having it extended makes a big difference.  Diane has said several times how happy she is that we got a motorhome with a slide.

The kitchen with cupboards, cook top, oven, microwave, and fridge.

The Kitchen

The kitchen has a single sink, a 3 burner gas cooktop, a gas oven, a range hood with an exhaust fan and a dim light, a microwave, and a refrigerator with separate freezer.  The fridge will run on propane or 110 V electricity.

The bed with a comforter with windows on 2 sides

The Bed

We have a rear corner bed which at 50 x 75 inches (1.25 x 1.9 meters) is 10” narrower and 5” shorter than a standard queen-sized bed.  Yes Martin, there is room to sleep diagonally or dangle one’s feet off the end of the bed.  Because the bed is in a corner, it’s a bit awkward to make and to get out of at night, but it’s very comfortable after we added a memory foam mattress topper.  Diane is very happy in the bed department.

Bathroom with open door showing shower and toilet.  Vanity outside.

The bathroom and Vanity

The bathroom has a shower with a glass sliding door and a skylight above.  There is a porcelain commode that flushes with a foot pedal, but very little leg room when one is sitting on it.  We haven’t figured out where to attach the toilet paper holder yet!  There is also a vanity with a small sink, medicine cabinet, and mirror just outside the bathroom.

Closet, panty, and drawers in cheery wood besider a 4 person dinette

Storage and Dinette

Beside the closet, pull out panty, and storage drawers is the dinette which seats 4 people.  There are seatbelts in the dinette for 2 people (not for eating and drinking but for driving!).  From the dinette we can also watch the flat screen, 12 Volt TV that swings out from over the cab.  We can plug in to cable TV when available, receive ‘over the air’ high-definition television broadcasts with the adjustable roof antenna, watch video from our laptop, or play DVDs from the cab multi-media system.

We’re very happy with the layout and features of our new motorhome.  As we expected in a new RV, we’re finding a few glitches, but we hope to have them worked out soon.  Perhaps all that research was worth it!

The Search for our RV (Part 2)

After several weeks of researching motorhomes and narrowing down my list (see The Search for our RV (Part 1)), there were still 10 different models we were considering, with nothing significant to separate them.  With a bout of analysis paralysis coming on, we applied a bit of intuition and started to focus on the ones that we simply liked the best.  Feeling the need to step back a bit, Diane suggested that we go down to Seattle for a night to inspect and drive a couple of our preferred units.  Sometimes a change of perspective is all one needs.  Besides, what problem can’t be solved by a night away in nice hotel, a seafood dinner overlooking the water, and plenty of wine?

We inspected 5 Class C motorhomes (those built on a van or truck cab and chassis) in detail:

Winnebago View showing front and right side.

Winnebago View 24J

The View has good aerodynamics and the best fuel economy.  The driver seats rotate and it has the highest quality interior of these motorhomes.  Unfortunately, it only has a 2=burner stove and no oven, so these would need to be changed.  It is also the most expensive.

Winnebago Access showing front and right side.

Winnebago Access 26Q

The Access is the largest of these motorhomes.  It has a queen-sized, walk-around bed in the rear.  It also has good Winnebago quality.  It has the most counter, closet, and storage space, and the largest water and propane tanks.  It is also 8.5 meters (28 feet) long and has the worst fuel economy of the bunch.

Forest River Sunseeker showing front and right side with slide extended.

Forest River Sunseeker 2450s

The Sunseeker has a full Queen=sized bed with Serta mattress, and heated enclosed tanks and dump valves. It is one of the most popular Class C motorhomes in North America, offering good value with a lot of features for the money.

Forest River Solera showing front and left side with slide extended.

Forest River Solera 24s

The Solera has a long electric awning and a large slide.  It is similar to the Winnebago View but of lesser quality and has a lower price.

Jayco Redhawk showing front and left side

Jayco Redhawk 26XS

The Redhawk was just introduced this year.  It has a 32 inch flat screen TV and some other flashy features but cannot be ordered with any options. It is the cheapest of the RVs we considered, abd appeared to be of very low quality.

I compiled a list of 411 desirable features that Class C motorhomes might have.  We then completed this checklist (a spreadsheet actually) by reviewing the manufacturer’s specifications for each motorhome in detail.  Based on the knowledge I gained from How to Select, Inspect, and Buy an RV, also from RV Consumer’s Group, we physically inspected  each of the units.  Four were in BC – 2 in Kelowna, 1 in Abbotsford, and 1 in Langley, and 1 was in Mt. Vernon, WA (north of Seattle).  An inspection takes about 1 to 1.5 hours, and involves getting underneath and into every nook and cranny of the motorhome. Note that doing this can be hazardous to your health, as I learned during an inspection in Kelowna when I stood up into the corner of an extended slide from a neighbouring RV.

Closeup of Patrick's head with bandage pulled back to revearl a large wound on right temple

RV shopping is dangerous business!

The RVs we were considering are based on 2 different chassis.  Two are based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 chassis which is shorter, narrower, lighter, has a 6-cylinder Turbo diesel engine, and is much easier to drive.  Three are based on the Ford E450 chassis which is 12 inches longer, supports motorhomes that are 10 to 12 inches wider, has a 12-cyclinder gasoline engine, and drives like a tank.  Sprinter-based motorhomes get 12-17 miles per gallon (mpg) using more expensive diesel fuel and the Ford only gets 8-11 mpg.  Sprinters also cost about $10,000 more, a difference in price that cannot be made up in fuel savings over the life of the RV.  On our upcoming North American trip, I estimated that a Sprinter would save us about $2,300 on fuel versus the Ford.

The biggest single influence on our decision was the test drive.  I drove one motorhome on each of the two chassis.  The Sprinter was much easier to drive and park, though it sways noticeably when driving over bumps, when walking around inside, and in high winds.  This is something that can be improved with after-market products like sway bars, enhanced shocks, air cushions, and stabilizer jacks, which could add as much as $6,000 to the cost of the motorhome.  The Ford felt rock-solid, but it was heavy, and I could hear the huge engine draining my wallet when we drove up hill.  Because it is wider it was harder to make turns while staying completely in my lane, and although we could barely fit its width in a parking space, we wouldn’t be able to open the doors if there were vehicles in the adjacent spaces.  Since Diane plans to drive the RV this trip, she wanted a Sprinter, but was concerned by the swaying.

In the end, we decided to buy a new RV in the United States. The cost of a new RV was significantly lower than an equivalent unit in Canada.  Even with the extra expenses associated with getting it back to and into the country, it cost the same as a used RV in Canada.

Which motorhome would you have selected?  In my next post I’ll reveal which one we chose!

The Search for our RV (Part 1)

Buying an RV is an analyzer’s worst nightmare.  There are thousands of new and used RV models to choose from in North America.  Only a few of these are great.  Some are downright dangerous.  Some key decisions that need to be made are:

Type – Should we get a motorized RV (a motorhome), a towable RV (e.g. travel trailer or 5th wheel), or a truck camper?

A generic white motorhome

One of many styles of motorhomes

A generic white travel trailer

An example of a travel trailer

A gerneric white camper on a white truck

An example of a truck with camper

Each type has pros and cons.  We decided that a motorhome would be best for our intended style of travel.  They work well for both wilderness and urban camping, whether staying in a campground or free camping.  The S&M Motel that we used in Europe as part of the ‘Great Trans-Atlantic Camper Van Swap is a motorhome.

Picture of the S&M Motel (the RV we're traveling in)

The S&M Motel

Intended Use  —  Very few RVs are suitable for heavy usage.  Most are designed for vacationers who use them less than 4 weeks a year.  These aren’t built to last or to stand up to daily use by full-timers or snow-birds.  The few that are are usually very expensive.

New or Used – We intended to purchase a used RV.  New RV’s typically depreciate about 30% in the first 3 years.  Like used gym equipment, it’s possible to find lightly used RVs at a significant discount.  In addition to the new car smell, new RVs typically come with a lot of small issues that need to be addressed.  A properly maintained used RV should have had all the bugs worked out, but careful research and inspection are required to avoid buying someone else’s problems.  Between our intended travels in 2013 and those of our friends Sue and Martin in 2014, we expect to put on between 50,000 and 80,000 kilometers over the next 2 years.  This is much more mileage than most RVs receive (typical usage is 6,000 km per year), so it’s essential that we buy an RV with very low mileage.

Size – We want the shortest RV that would meet our needs.  This makes driving and parking much easier.  Although larger units are impressive and tempting, and sometimes not much more costly, they don’t work very well in the city.

We attended a couple of RV shows and researched the major manufacturers online.  This helped us to develop a feel for what was available and to identify 38 RV models (yes, 38) that might work for us.  We used the reliability, value, and highway control ratings in the RV Ratings Guide from RV Consumer’s Group to narrow down our list a bit, removing those units that were rated as unsafe or of exceedingly poor quality.  We next developed our own key criteria list, 11 must-have and high priority features that our RV needed to have:

  • Full-time bed – that doesn’t need to be made up to  sleep
  • Full-time dinette – so we don’t have to set up a table to eat
  • 3-burner cooktop – the 2-burner ‘camp stoves’ in  some units just won’t do
  • Gas oven – a convection microwave just won’t cut it.  Very few RVs have gas ovens these days, as apparently most people don’t use them and end up storing things inside      them instead.
  • A slide – A wall that lides out to create more room inside when parked
  • Short cab overhang – for better visibility
  • Enclosed shower – so the whole bathroom doesn’t get      wet
  • Generator – more electricity on demand
  • Suitable for cold weather use
  • A model that is still manufactured – increases the      likelihood of getting parts
  • North American service network – dealers across      North America that can provide warranty repairs and service the RV

Applying these criteria only narrowed the list down from 38 to about 20, so we added 8 more criteria:

  • Fiberglass roof – more durable and easier to maintain
  • 1-piece fiberglass nose cap – fewer leaks in the most leak-prone area
  • Awning – manual or electric, the bigger the better
  • Front seats rotate – allowing them to be used in conjunction with the living area.       Very few motorhomes offer this, but some could be upgraded afterwards.
  • 2-way refrigerator – operates on propane and 110 Volt electricy.  Every unit offered this, but almost none had a 3-way fridge that could also run on 12 Volt electricy.
  • Counter space – the more the better
  • Double sink – makes doing the dishes easier
  • 110 Volt Water Heater – works on propane but can  also run on 110 Volt electricity when connected to ‘shore power’ (the RV term for being plugged in to external power)

This brought our list of potential RV models down to a more manageable number of 10, but it was still too many to begin detailed evaluations.  Analysis paralysis began to set in…

Our Next Adventure

Happy New Year!  Another lap around the sun.  An occasion for new beginnings.  The perfect time to begin another adventure.

When we returned from Europe in September, 2012, Diane and I had already agreed how we would spend our 2013, though it was not what we had in our minds when we left for Europe in April.  We had intended to return to Vancouver and settle down for a while.  Then our friends Sue and Martin asked us if they could defer their trip to the colonies by another year, meaning that they wouldn’t be needing the RV, the one we haven’t purchased yet, until 2014.  Since our home is currently occupied by foreigners, this gave us an opening to buy an RV a bit earlier and to use it in 2013.  A great opportunity to do some more traveling, and to make sure that our soon-to-be RV is fully tested and ready for our friends.

And so it was that we decided to pursue another travel adventure in 2013 – a circumnavigation of the United States and Canada!  We plan to leave Vancouver in January 2013 and quickly make our way down the west coast to the warmer weather of Southern California and Arizona.  We’ll cross the southern states during the winter then follow the sun up the eastern seaboard as the weather warms.  We’ll cross back into Canada by mid-summer, careful not to overstay our welcome in the U.S. (Canadians tourists are allowed to stay for a maximum of 6 months).  We’ll explore the Maritimes and Eastern Canada before heading back across the Prairies in the fall, hopefully crossing the Rocky Mountains before the heavy snow flies.

Other than this vague outline, we have no specific plans.  There are a few friends and family that we hope to visit along the way, mostly in the west.  We’ll follow our whims and the weather, travelling on the highways of life and the byways of experience.

I’m excited about what lies ahead and we invite you to participate in our adventure.  We hope that you enjoy the stories of our journey.  Because many of you have traveled in the United States and Canada, we look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions.  As it was when I started this blog, it remains my intention that we will all benefit from the experience.  Thank-you for participating and have a great 2013!

Bad Travel Photography

Many people enjoy taking travel photos.  Cumulatively I’ve taken between 5,000 and 10,000 of them on my journeys, and I’ve seen a lot of other people doing the same.  Based on this experience, here are some examples of bad travel photography.

The 1-Hander (also known as the Too Cool for School) – There’s a reason why most people have 2 hands.  If you’re too cool to use them to hold your camera, then you get the blurry photos you deserve.

The Spy – Taking pictures of people without their permission.  This is particularly egregious if they realize that you are doing it and you do it anyway.

The Bad Pad – I understand why people bring their iPad when they travel, but it was not intended to be used in lieu of a camera.

Patrick taking a photo of a couple in Greece with their iPad

The Bad Pad (by request)

The Bandito – Taking photos when doing so is not permitted (often seen in churches).

The “I don’t know what it is, but get a picture of me with it anyhow” – Posing in front of something without knowing what it is.  (Note – this item, The Bad Pad, and The Bandito were also mentioned in my post The Best and Worst Kinds of Tourism.

The Fly-By – If you can’t be bothered to stop walking long enough to take a photo, it can’t be worthwhile.

The Drive-By – If it’s not worth stopping the car for…  See The Fly-By.

Patrick taking a photo through the window while driving the motorhome

The Drive-By   (Do not attempt this yourself.  Professional driver on a closed course)

The Hold Out — Holding the camera with outstretched arms or high above ones’ head when it isn’t required.  Use the view finder or put your reading glasses on!  Worse when combined with The 1-Hander.

Patrick taking a picture of some Greek ruins holding the carmera with outstreched arms

The Hold Out

The Reach Around – Reaching over or worse around someone else (yes, I’ve seen it) to get a photo rather than waiting for them to move.

The Mosh Pit  – Taking a picture when the background or foreground is polluted with other tourists, especially if they’re in a position to partially block the subject.

Photo of Lion Gate at Mycenae with tourists in the foreground

The Mosh Pit (Lion Gate at Mycenae, Greece)

The “I’m more important than posterity”  — Using a flash when it is not permitted, something done to help preserve paintings or other priceless bits of antiquity.

The Smart Ass – Taking photos with a smart phone rather than bringing an actual camera.  A bit sleazier if this is being done to avoid paying the extra fee that some sites charge to take pictures (even though I don’t agree with this practice to wring more money out of visitors).

Patrick taking a picture with an iPhone

The Smart Ass

The “I’m on the case” – Taking photos with your smart phone or iPad while the case is hanging down below it, making it more intrusive.

The Narcissist – Taking a photo of myself (or my group) with an outstretched hand.

Patrick taking a picture of himself with outstreched arm

The Narcissist

The Monopoly — Standing to stop and review my photos or do anything else while I’m blocking the only access to something that everyone else wants to take pictures of.

The Busy Bee — Spending all your time running around taking photos of everything rather than experiencing the place.

The Cheese Any silly pose, but especially bad if you’re mimicking something in the background.

Patrick posing in an awkward pose to mimic the brightly coloured Thai statues in the background

The Cheese

The Loss of Perspective – Posing in such a way as to appear to be interacting with the background.

Diane appearing to be holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Loss of Perspective

I do try to refrain from these practices but I have been guilty of all of the above at one point or another (even The Bad Pad, but only at the request of others since I don’t own an iPad). 

And finally, the Worst Example I’ve ever seen of Bad Travel Photography… Taking pictures of your blond girlfriend who is posing like a model in front of a Nazi gas chamber.

What are your bad travel photography experiences?