Category: Planning for a New RV


Drove to Ventura to see the Winnebago Travado on the Dodge Promaster; first visit my brother met me at Barber RV. I was glad for the company wanting to revisit the Travado after seeing the Aktiv. I’d seen the Travado several years ago and had not been impressed but changes have been made to the rig and my thinking now is different. I’m better able to understand the crowded interior as providing Class C like options in a smaller motorhome. Class B’s advantage is in the tight maneuvering, ability to park in a regular parking space and to go most anywhere a car can go. This makes the Class B motorhome a great rig for travelers who do not look to settle into a location but rather tend to keep moving. The B is perfect in areas as diverse as boondocking at wilderness camps next to a lake or high in the mountains without need for external hookups to exploring major cities being able to merge with city traffic and utilize available street parking.  Those traveling in a larger motorhome, a trailer or a 5th wheel (etc) need to have a tow vehicle or a rental to use for exploration.

travado-g

The Class B motorhome is fully self-contained and is built on a van body. The type of van varies, older B’s have been built on the Dodge Ram 3500 Van which is what I have, the Ford and the Chevy Van, to the more modern Mercedes Sprinter, the Dodge Promaster and the Ford Transit.  This is not a complete list, other vehicles have been used. Manufacture of the motorhome is crafted onto the van with different layouts, quality and styles. Here’s a very quick video that explains it a bit.   Or for a little longer explanation check this.

In searching for my next motorhome I need to make concessions esp. in price and cabin spaciousness and unless I import from Europe or am able to find time and resources to design my own am faced with limited options.  Class B’s tend to be the most expensive of the types (except for the top end Class A luxury) and not many are made. Mark asked good questions, Chuck, the salesman was friendly and easygoing. He turned the generator and air conditioner on so I could hear them and allowed me all the time I wanted.  He showed Mark and I the Winnebago Trend, a nice class C and a small Class A both on the Promaster at 25 feet.  Sitting in the cab of the small Class A was the most exciting, there is so much room, I felt insulated and spoiled, if I had the space to park a 25 foot rig I might be tempted.

I returned about a week later with my friend Sue to do a test drive of the Travado. I have dreams of taking her along on a trip, I find her company soothes me and she, like I, is not attached and so can travel with me and the dogs.  The table in the front (this is the G model there is also a K model with no table but has twin beds and the bathroom in the back)) converts into a second bed. This is a perfect area for my dogs to ride right behind the driver’s seat. The bed in back is like the Aktiv, a Murphy style allowing a partial walk through with storage underneath the bed; the mattress is thinner and easier to fold up but very comfortable as it employs a cleaver spring like device. On the other side is the rear side bathroom. Sue was amazing; curious and inquisitive trying everything, the fit of the bathroom which was very tight, prodding into the cabinets, the large refrigerator, the decent closet, we hopped on both beds and spun the drivers chair around in the table configuration for a hand at an imaginary game of cards over our imaginary drinks. She is fun to have along. It was Sue that said, yes please get the mechanic as we were checking the Promaster engine. The mechanic happily explained all and was the one who came along on our test drive. We both took a turn at the wheel; this is when I discovered that I truly liked driving and sitting in the Promaster.  It was comfortable and responsive. I would be very happy covering long distances like this. We were given as much time as we wanted and I came close to thinking this could be the rig for me.

Here is the K version.    And the one I’m looking at the G version.  (Guaranty RV)

My complaints however started to grow on me. The front table could not be removed, it could be lowered to make the bed but would not detach and it blocked ease of access from the drivers / passengers seats into the cab. Removing it would allow easy placement of the dog’s crates but the table was necessary to make the area into a bed. The door screens were flimsy, if one of my dogs looked at them too hard there would be damage, they seemed made out paper and were unstable in their tracks. The bathroom curved sliding door likewise was asking for trouble. The interior laminate veneer walls were thin with an air space behind them, some of the veneer was already chipping. My dogs are not little gentle fluff balls, nor am I, it worried me that I’d be replacing damaged interiors. Even a Command Stick On could tear those things. The rig needs cubbies and shelves yet will pose a challenge to attach such without damage or falling off, the salesman said I wouldn’t want to put screws in that thin stuff and suction mounts will likely not stay except for very light items.  Similarly the one piece modular bathroom enclosure would be challenging to install additional shelving, like for the dogs grooming equipment . . . then I stared dreaming . . . would be so cool if the back of the shower/bath opened in the back with a door, a recessed door to hold some storage items. The toilet could be moved far forward to allow room for getting in and the entire bathroom stall/enclosure moved up or shortened an inch or so from the back and rounded a little on the bed facing corner to allow a bit of a side view and air flow…..  I could pop the dog’s right in from the rear door for a cleaning which would be fantastic; hang an air dryer and I could avoid mounds of sand and dirt tracking in.  The bathroom door should slide open or push back all the way towards the bed so one could just slide off the bed into the bath… would be so much easier. Then there’s the TV.  It’s useless in its current location unless you have the neck of a giraffe so would need to be moved.  Maybe it could be attached to the bathroom wall, except that wall is too thin and weak or fitted behind the fold up area of the bed. Well, seems I’d just want to redesign a bit, sigh.

 

 

Travado enthusiasts have posted a plethora of modifications and projects, yet to buy it as is seems to be a work in progress. I would need some ingenuity, time and money to reconfigure and modify.  Would be fun but given the 6 to 8 weeks to get the rig and then time for a shake out and repairs I’d likely not have the time and maybe not the money. Taking all into consideration along with how tight it is for my friend, my dislike of the thin interior walls and other issues doesn’t give me the wow factor that would make it easy to spend so much.

I did not dislike the Travado, I liked it better than the Aktiv, but I did not have the chance to get to know the Aktiv as well as the Travado.  The Travado met my 2 biggest wishes, a second adult bed and an enclosed bath/shower in a rig less than 22 feet. It’s fun to drive and they are are improving with every model.

Sue and I had a great lunch, a real treat for me as I am so often along with my dogs.

After eating we headed to Thousand Oaks to see some other rigs continuing my search! I’ll cover that in the next post.

I love to follow the Fit RV; they currently have a Travado and have done such great modifications that their ideas have been incorporated into the updated models. Here’s a link to their list of updates.

 

I was reminded to post as wordpress sent me a notice that my stats were booming. I don’t think they were but nice to know I have some readers!  I will backtrack a little and post some photos and stories from a trip I took a few months ago to Santa Fe, New Mexico meanwhile here are my personal thoughts on the Hymer Aktiv (and up soon some other Promaster type class B motorhomes.)

Aktiv

I had an opportunity to see the Hymer Aktiv, a clean looking 19 .7 foot Class B on the short Dodge Promaster Body up close, actually it was kindly brought to my door for my inspection. I’d been in love with this little Class B from the first I learned of it. Hymer has been making motorhomes for around 50 years and has recently taken over Road Trek which they will continue to produce while introducing their own Hymer brand. (Hymer has an interesting history paying the way for the modern camper van for those curious.)  

The Aktiv 1.0 is their first U.S. offering. Several features like, the horizontal sleeping in the rear with panoramic views from the rear doors and side windows which I currently have has been one of my favorite pleasures when camping. . . tucked safe and comfy with blackout curtains that can be shut or opened to the whispering outdoors in sweet memorable sleeps with the LT’s rear parked up towards a river or a forest stealth watching wildlife, the shadows of evening and brightening of the dawn without needing to stir or announce my presence. . . I liked too the skylight in the front of the Aktiv, the seeming simplicity of the cassette sliding toilet, the table in front, the walk-though option with the bed folded up and out of the way, the ease of heating water and all those other modern technologies ….  if you haven’t seen it click on one of the Hymer links or this one.   I was surprised that this offering was on the shorter Promaster but eager to start my new van life!

With a few weeks delay due to sickness, storms and holidays the Hymer Aktiv rolled up and parked in front of my house. The rig attracted the neighbors who got real excited, a giant present everyone wanted to see.  The dealer rep popped out and opened up the van, first thing, well maybe second thing he did was to comment how he remembered me from years ago at the big  Pomona SoCal RV show. Having facial and conversational recall is undoubtedly an asset but his a posteriori knowledge of me made me feel pressured, after all I did not buy any of the Road Treks’s he showed me esp. the 19 foot Sprinter Agile he’d declared would be just what I needed and he’d had the perfect deal. Was he going to write me off as not a serious customer? A salesman wouldn’t do that, right?

I was so in love with the Aktiv I’d been digging in my finances, getting creative and prepped yet fully aware that drooling over videos was not enough, one has to see the object in the flesh. I’d invited Tom to help with the inspection. With the Road Trek rep, Tom and neighbors it was exciting more social interaction than I’d had in awhile; was a good feeling. In spite of all this attention and praise the Aktiv is not roomy. In particular, the area from kitchen to bedroom is an awkward squeeze making it difficult to access the storage and refrigerator, one has open drawers from the side after crumpling down low, the bathroom wall sticks out, too far. I could not resist the urge to want to push it in but it does not retract. There is somewhat of a Murphy style bed providing a nice pass-through when it’s lifted. The foam pads seemed very comfortable but rather thick and required some stacking and ‘unstacking’. Could one leave the bed made and still fold it up? I wasn’t sure. The bed size was perfect for me at 5’5″ but could be a challenge for a couple or a tall person. I didn’t see it closely but it appeared to have decent storage under the bed, but there was (as you will see) no time to check it thoroughly as I wanted. I opened the overhead cabinets surprised to find them shallow and non-connecting although they looked nice. In my ’96 LTV, the cabinets are big and not only connect allowing storage of long objects but I can stuff winter clothes or things I don’t use often all the way to the back of the rig (yes I’ve lost a few things back there!)

I was just getting going in my analysis of where I’d put stuff, things I needed like the dog crates and exercise pens, food, grooming equipment, camping and emergency gear, clothes for me and bedding; how would it work with the narrow midsection given my scrambling rambunctious dogs? I’d only spotted one rather diminutive closet / pantry? Needed to check that out, look for hidden space and try the bathroom for fit but rather suddenly the salesman announced that it was time for a test drive.  Did I want to?  Duh, yeah of course.

The driver’s seat was set too high, the rep being a rather tall fellow and confusing to lower, the sales rep struggled with it after I gave up and it dropped a bit but it was not optimal.  It’s done manually, and does easily swing around to face the interior in case one has company for dinner; now much later that another shop has shown me, it’s not hard to adjust at all. The rep and Tom were hitting it off and chatting so I set off a bit unconnected. Inherently I’m shy and I don’t like to bother people. I can act bold at times but I am what I am. At first I keep missing the brake pedal with my foot, the Promaster is more like a delivery van and I wasn’t used to it.  I was feeling hurry up, get things going vibes. The rep had been over an hour and half late in arriving due to gridlocked traffic on the 405, that’s kinda of normal these days, L.A. traffic is generally around 17 mph on average (fwy speed) even with careful timing it takes me at least an hour longer to get to my Mom’s house and an hour longer returning. BTW, the theory of building more freeway lanes cannot possibly work. It’s very basic and does not take a degree in engineering to understand why but I won’t go into it here… just keep in mind that cars (traffic) behave much like water in expanding to fill the space.

Remembering what mom said about driving the Aktiv long enough to determine if it was comfortable (which is important as I have a joint dysfunction along with hypermobility) and how it would do with a hill climb I headed to the freeway and took the turn up the mountain. The Promaster was super peppy. Yeah! I could happily image unfettered wanderlust with a few adjustments. The steering wheel does not tilt but it does telescope which again, I found out later. Also later I discovered that if one moves the captain’s seat to fit the steering wheel the Promaster is actually comfy and easy to drive and it is easy on speed bumps. At the moment however I was wishing the steering wheel would drop and for an arm rest on the door side but I wasn’t aligned right, not my fault. Never got to hear the radio, or see the backup camera nor the GPS, did it have one? U-turns were a breeze and the suspension a pleasure although the Aktiv rattled as if nothing had yet been adjusted or settled.  Tom didn’t want a turn to drive, I’d wanted him to so I could be the passenger and fiddle with stuff but it was fine. I returned and had to park on the opposite side of the street due to the senseless parking restrictions in my neighborhood; it was time to see the outside, check those things I’d not had a feeling for yet, like the build quality, I hadn’t seen the hookups and cassette toilet nor poked into the engine or the underhood alternator (which actually was not installed but I didn’t know that)  Those details I wanted to know to see if I could make the Aktiv work for me. Did the front table area make into a bed? This was on my wish list, I’d seen conflicting comments about it but the table does detach completely (I think) which I liked.

By this time there was more than just a little disillusionment but I was still in love with it so was utterly shocked, well, dumbfounded by the rep announcing that he had to leave! Had to get home to his wife!  This kind of sales tactic fails badly as I watched the motorhome depart. I was not happy. I’ve not heard great things about Mike Thomson’s and my few dealings with them had not been unlike this experience, they seem to provide a tantalizing taste, low on details (yet they were super kind to bring the unit out to me!) and then pressure with offers of special deals; we didn’t get that far but I require a relaxed approach where all my questions are answered, where the salesmen is informed about the product or can find someone who is. I don’t gamble with my money, I’m cautious and these Class B’s are very expensive. Time to go though the pre-buying steps are important to me.

A comment sticks in my mind, the rep told me lots of folks were buying the Aktiv for their dogs as they stay at a hotel and don’t camp in the rig. The dogs benefit from Road Trek’s new non-generator setup with alternator / inverter / solar / battery quick start, eco system… sorry I can’t remember what they call it, which allows the user to set a temperature that will automatically kick on the air-conditioner and if needed, will turn on the engine to re boost the battery. He said they listened to their customers and most of them travel with their pets! This scored a big hooray, all motorhomes should provide for the dogs and cats on board! The system will run everything, so no generator needed or plug in to AC .  HOW COOL but I’ve read that the system needs perfecting and it should be possible to do something similar on other rigs. And I did not get to hear the generator (this Aktiv did not have the eco boost system) or the air-conditioner.  I asked!  I’m being a bit nasty but the rep seemed lazy, I mean what’s the problem with turning on the generator and the air-conditioner for a prospective client? How long would that take?

fan-dog

Tom and I walked over to my LTV and stepped inside. All that space was a relief. My LT appears  larger but it’s actually a tad smaller. There is room to breathe, it’s comfortable and it does not beep or rattle; there is a place for everything.  Alas it’s not peppy or smooth, the engine roars and strains when in motion uphill, the bathroom while functional, sucks and there is no alternative to the underpowered generator although perhaps some adaptation could be added.  If only my LTV could smoothly jaunt along like the Promaster! Sigh.  My brain, was dong the, ha-ha, told ya so, nada is as good in person as what you think you see in pretty pictures … well, maybe that’s right. I don’t dislike the Aktiv, I still want to love it but I can’t see my load of dogs in there and maybe a passenger as well. Perhaps the Hymer Aktiv 2.0 will be better.

Next Up:  Mark and then Sue accompany me to Barber RV. The Winnebago Travado.

No decision yet

I’d been waiting to see a walk-thu of the Roadtrek Promaster  Zion but now that I think it’s mostly finalized I don’t like some of this design. Disappointing, but I have an argument in general with Roadtrek layouts and interior quality although I like their innovation and push towards independent camping.  I do prefer the kitchen on the traditional camping side, for those that don’t understand this, that means when you open the side sliding door of the coach, the kitchen is on that side where the door opens, the passenger side. This is normally where you’ll find a picnic table and campfire if you’re parked and pluged into a normal camp ground or RV park and the side next to the street or curb if you are on a city street. Some builds, and frankly I’m a little too tired to remember which years and which models after having viewed hundreds of videos and places the kitchen on the drivers side… Pleasure Way and Leisure Travel and some roadtreks or do I have that backwards???  (Yes I wonder why it all has to be so confusing.)  I also prefer not to have the bathroom directly across from the kitchen and even worse directly behind the drivers seat which is what the Zion and one of the Leisure Travel Vans does which makes the bathroom / toilet the first thing you encounter upon entering the unit. I’d like this space to have a desk, a chair, a cabinet or a couch…  that would be my ideal. It’d be a great spot for one or more of my dogs to ride, close enough that I could see them in a mirror, where they could be secured but out of the way of the driving area and any loose objects or doors that popped open.

I found this helpful list of units built on the Promaster: (Click on the link)  Right now I most want to see a Safari Condo Flex, esp the queen bed model which raises for under storage.  It looks like the Hymer may also arrive here in the US. . . more evidence that the small RV, in spite of its price-tag,  is growing in popularity.  I’ve yet to drive or listen to a running Promaster so am keeping my options open for a Sprinter.

For those who’ve asked my Dodge 3500 1996 Freedom Wide Leisure Travel drives and handles quite well, it’s by no means perfect but it’s comfortable and does fine even in strong wind… if you search back entries you will see all the changes I made to it; the rear wheel spacers, rear sway bar and front steering stabilizer are absolutely worth the investment.)  If I keep the leisure Travel for awhile longer I will replace the shocks (to Bilstein) and the tires to a heaver duty tire; the Monroe heavy-duty shocks are not sufficient for the type of driving I do as is evident by tire cupping.

 

I’m fond of my little LT, but I hope to do some serious distances in the coming year and I badly need improved insulation for the dogs and I long for a more usable shower… ergo I’ll keep up my search, but I don’t need to be in a hurry.

 

Just a song for the ones I miss

 

 

Somewhere Out There

Am seeking a newer Class B, B+ motorhome on the Diesel Sprinter although I’ve become interested in the Dodge Promaster especially as it may come closer to fulfilling my wish list. (not explored yet is Ford Transit which is soon to be available.)  My preference is for a short body…  20 to 22 or 23 feet but as you will see I’ve liked rigs that are almost 25 feet. I hadn’t seen myself as the towing type so the shorter the better for getting in and out of tight spaces and parking lots; however lately there are more and more restrictions for parking RVs (even small ones) in places like parks, coastal access or downtowns, so ultimately I may have to tow or become super incognito. For the moment I’m envisioning a nice bike, electric maybe, with a doggy cart and a basket for groceries. Of course a car for carting dogs is more secure as they can be safely locked inside when I’m shopping or sightseeing if the weather is right.

If I do get a car to tow, all wheels down, which is called a dingy or a TOAD, I’d like a vehicle with an opening sunroof to allow a fan for ventilation.  Envisioning future travels as one woman and 4 dogs is  daunting, maybe they won’t all come with on any given trip.  It’s a lot of future to plan.

 

My Wish List  

  1. Affordable
  2. Useable Shower
  3. Stealth  and boondocking capable: which includes the smaller body for “parkablity” and plenty of batteries, my dream includes an on-demand water heater, solar and other “independence” features.
  4. Room for 4 dogs.
  5. Easy (comfortable) handling for short and long distance, windy high mountains, strong winds, all kinds of weather and dirt roads.
  6. Clean and neat; I’d prefer a unit devoid of unnecessary clutter and built of better materials (i.e. no particle board or flimsy insulation.)
  7. I’d really like it if on occasion a second sleeping area could be devised.
  8. And it’s be super to have a “lounge” type design in which the front becomes a usable area for computer work, eating, reading, etc.

I’m not including standard features like efficient plumbing,  awning (which I don’t have currently and would love,) LED lights,  powerful air conditioner, quiet generator, plenty of storage, water filter, comfortable bed, nice stereo, swivel seats, superior insulation, and so forth only the things for which I’m especially using as selectors.

This leaves me a wide selection as I’m including used rigs to satisfy #1 on my wish list.  I’ve ruled out the current and past Dodge, Chey and Ford Van platforms due to their poor gas mileage. It can be argued that the greater purchase price negates the fuel expense, but I don’t like stopping for gas. I’d prefer more miles per gallon even if an illusion I’d be happier not seeing the bigger hit ringing round the pump, like a big loss on a slot machine every time I decided to explore what’s around over that hill or down a lonesome byway. Also, honestly I want something different than what I already have, not just a newer version of the same.  I’d love one of the new and upcoming 4×4 Sprinters but #1 on the list is very important!

One last note, yes, I’ve considered Class C’s truck campers, small Class A’s and even a trailer but, a small footprint and #5 ease of driving on all surfaces including parking and maneuverability in city centers keeps me riveted on the smaller Class B’s. Small is Beautiful

 

Here is my list of favorite contenders all Sprinters’ unless otherwise noted.) Later I may have comments about best years of the Sprinter and the engine size and other improvements and modifications etc… for now I’m thinking anything 2008 and over could work, 2013 being a prime target. Every year they add something so it can get confusing.

  1. The New Zion Roadtrek on the Promaster … I like the size of this but haven’t seen one, they’re new but cost a lot less than the Sprinters.
  2. Leisure Travel Free Spirit.. I don’t like the bathroom placement right behind the drivers seat, I prefer on open front lounge type arrangement. I do like the quality.
  3.  Leisure Travel Unity or Serenity … not sure if I want this long, but lots of comfort and room for everything!
  4. Airstream Grand Touring … very expensive but beautiful.
  5. Airstream Interstate … very tight aisle.
  6. Pleasure Way Front Lounge or Twin Bed … I don’t like the bathroom sink arrangement it’s impossible to stand in the bathroom so that would have to be modified, also I don’t understand why an upscale motorhome like this does not come with day/night shades rather than the curtains…  it would be another add-on. On some models the overhead cabinets are sure to knock more than a few bruises over the kitchen counter..  this is not true on some models but is on others, and the new one I test drove had a terribly uncomfortable front passengers seat.
  7. Great West Legend… on the non-extended Sprinter … hard to find these, I haven’t seen on in 2 years so if I found one would likley need to purchase from far away.
  8. Advanced RV … these are only on the 24′ so far and I really prefer the 20 to 23 feet for ease of parking but I love what this company is offering in specialty designs working the client.
  9. Roadtrek Agile or Adventurous, maybe the E-trek, I’m not thrilled with the interior workmanship of the Roadtrek so would lean towards newer.
  10. Outside Van … design your own option that looks very intriguing and beautiful but doesn’t satisfy wish #1, alas.
  11. …..  others that might be on this list before I find the right one!
  12. Keeping what I have with modifications

Up Next Time …. how I will make my decision