Finding “The One”
After the initial realization that we could in fact move into an RV if we put in a little bit* of work, the search for “the one” began.
As those of you who know me (Elisa) may know, I tend to gravitate towards thorough (but rapid) research before making major decisions. A stunning example of this is the spreadsheet we compiled during our apartment search last summer, touring fourteen different complexes over the course of one weekend.
Looking for a mobile home is basically the same as looking for both a vehicle and a house. The process of finding the RV that would become our home required a couple of major (nested) decisions that narrowed the field substantially, while creating a list of must-haves to look for:
- What style of mobile home did we want?
- Did we want to keep our current car as a redundancy (a 2010 Honda Insight, a wonderful balance of fuel-efficiency and cargo capacity), trade-in for a truck capable of towing a home, or sell the Insight altogether and go with a self-propelled unit?
The decision to keep our Insight eliminated tow-behind options like
- Travel trailers,
- Pop-up campers,
- Toy haulers, and
- Fifth wheels.
Wikipedia does a pretty good job of delineating the differences between these. To summarize:
- Travel trailers - pulled behind
- Pop-up campers - pulled behind and expandable though soft-sided. Like a camping tent and a travel trailer had a baby.
- Toy haulers - trailers with an extra ‘garage’ on the back for hauling your toys (I had a total lightbulb moment on this one, I’ll admit)
Fifth wheels - no, not the awkward person along on a double-date; a trailer that is pulled along, with the front hitch centered over the bed of a truck rather than behind
- Okay, so what styles does that leave?
Motorhomes - integrated car + house in one.
Our plan is to drive the motorhome for travel, towing the Insight behind. Then when we get to a place, we still have the Insight for day trips and grocery shopping (though I still want to take Harvey the RV to a Whole Foods and unload my groceries straight into my car!). In addition, if there was ever trouble with the RV, motor or otherwise, we would have the Insight as backup and vice versa.
- What class of motorhome did we want?
Contrary to rational belief, these classes are not actually sequential/ordered along the same lines as the alphabet. In terms of size/amenities, the swankiest of the swanky will typically be a class A (think “ah-it’s-huge”), with the driving cab completely integrated into the house a la charter bus. Class C is the next step down (think “cutie”), built around the body of a cargo van (ours is a Ford E350 chassis), normally with a bed over the cab. Class B is the smallest (think “baby”), also built around a cargo van but without the cab-over bed. The link above will explain the difference in much more detail, and the image below shows B, C, A (in that order).
We also visited an RV rental place nearby to get up close and personal with the different styles. This is out of chronological order, since when we visited we were under the mistaken impression that we would be renting an RV to test out living in one. However, the exorbitant rental rates would have made it a very expensive experiment - on the order of $100/day!
Although we were trying tiny, I still drew the line somewhere, and the Class B was just a little too small for something that would become our full-time home and office(s). That left C or A, and given the cost difference as well as the fact that it would just be the two of us living in it, C seemed the more logical choice.
- What size/layout did we want?
Thus narrowing the options, we turned our attention to the floor plan. We found that after about 24 or 26 feet, Class C plans added on an extra bedroom at the back. As spry 23-year-olds who secretly missed our college bunk bed days, we decided just to use the over-cab bed as our main sleeping area, eliminating the need for a back bedroom at all. Since we will both be self-employed and working from (motor)home, we toyed with the idea of turning the back room into an office. However, separating off a chunk of the already-small living space would make it seem even smaller.
That left a layout that was common between multiple manufacturers, with an L-shaped kitchen butting up against a back bed alongside a bathroom wall all in one room, 24 feet long.
Meanwhile, the years of watching HGTV shows kicked in, and I began planning exactly how we would revamp the existing floor plan to suit our needs. I also fantasized about driving it up to Canada to meet Scott McGillivray… I really watched a lot of HGTV in my formative years.
More realistically, I decided we would rip out the back double bed, existing kitchen cabinets, dinette, and lounge chair. The lower cabinets would then extend all the way along the side wall and across the back, doubling as bar seating and desk space. The dinette (which converted to another full-size bed) would be replaced with a converting sofa, giving us more walking space instead of two booths sticking out into the ‘hallway.’ The lounge chair? Well, Christian has been wanting a bean bag for quite some time…
- What amenities/extras did we want?
This was the castle-in-the-clouds part. Initially, I was looking for something with a slide-out, washer/dryer, pass-through external storage compartments, electric awning, and solar panels… in the end, I was satisfied with a ‘dry’ bathroom (shower separate from the rest of the room) and a not-mini fridge.
Other priorities were that we wanted the basic systems (water/sewage, electrical, car) to be functional and well-maintained. We reasoned that we (along with copious amounts of help from my dad and the almighty Internet) could tackle cosmetic or even structural changes to the house, but anything deeper might be biting off more than we could chew. This meant that we were actually looking for something with an outdated or shabby interior, since it would likely be cheaper and we were going to rip it out anyway to replace it with exactly what we want.
We also wanted an RV with less than 100,000 miles. You’d have to ask Christian if there was a rationale behind this number, because to me it was really mostly arbitrary.
Whew! Okay, so now we knew what we were looking for. As organized as this process appears now, at the time we were discovering and answering these questions along the way, typically in a “Check out this weird-looking RV! … What’s a toy hauler? … Do we have to buy a truck?!” sort of fashion.
The main tool we used was RVtrader, which allows you to filter by model, year, miles, length, amenities, price, location, and more. We also tried using Craigslist, but after realizing that one of our top CL choices was probably a scam using the exact pictures and wording from an existing post on RVtrader we shifted away from it.
I pestered Christian with Facebook messages, texts, and in-person interruptions referencing the hundred and one tabs I had open in Chrome until we narrowed down our choices to a top five. Our first choice, upon checking the original website of the dealer, was already under contract. The next one was still available in Austin - and the rest of the story belongs in a different post!
Just don’t tell Harvey that he was our second choice. :)
Up next - inspection and our very first ‘road trip,’ complete with parking brake for 200 miles.