Lessons Learned: Truck & Trailer

These reflections came after completing our first year of fulltime RV-based travel as a family. A few months after writing this we had sold off our house and returned to the road fulltime on an indefinite basis.

Shallow Roots

While we are home from our one-year adventure of a US-based RV road trip with our family, we aren’t settling back into life as we knew it. 

We are resting, making some large decisions about our house and remaining possessions, doing client work, beginning a large update/change to one of our businesses, getting the kids back on track with a more formal curriculum, and caught up on their orthodontia. 

We may be putting down some roots, but think of us as potted plants with shallow roots easily moved…

Would You Do It Differently?

So, while we intend to “do it again” and return to full-time travel, this first year of mobility is something that can be looked at as a unique chapter in our family story.  We’ve been asked what would we do differently if we were to do it again as a way to educate other families considering a similar trip. 

Would we buy the same truck?  Leave at the same time? Take the same route?  Do church differently?

So here goes - the first in a small series of “Lessons Learned” posts.  In this one I’ll talk about the big pieces - the truck and trailer. 

Truck Desires

We bought a 2002 Chevy 2500HD Crew Cab short box with 89K miles on the odometer. It was a Florida truck with no rust and the cleanest undercarriage of any vehicle I’ve ever owned.

But I felt like I settled when we purchased it.

What I really wanted was a 4WD diesel version.  Still smarting from selling my toy Jeep, I had visions of doing some mild off-roading with a 4WD truck. 

I wanted the diesel engine for power and fuel economy. 

I wanted to pay cash and our budget was simply too small for a 4WD diesel in any kind of condition or mileage I was happy with.  I know diesel engines have higher longevity than gas, but having >200K miles on seats, steering components, rear ends, and suspension etc, wasn’t acceptable.

Truck Realities

Our truck has an 8.1L (or 496 cubic inch) gas engine, and the same Alison transmission as the diesels get.  The engine had plenty of power. There were only two times the entire trip I had my foot on the floor.

The transmission was awesome - in tow/haul mode it had plenty of “hold-back” - I was often on the gas going downhill. Because of this I always felt in control while towing and was never concerned about cooking the brakes.

I ran some rough calculations based on the purchase price of the truck, the miles we drove, our fuel economy and the average price of fuel. I ran those same numbers factoring the higher initial purchase price of a diesel truck, the higher fuel economy but also higher average fuel price. 

Our gasser truck cost us $1/mile while a diesel truck would have cost $1.10/mile.

Call it a wash - at least for a year long trip.

Offroading?

And that off-roading I wanted to do?  It would have happened exactly once - on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where you can drive on the beach in a 4WD vehicle. 

Otherwise I wouldn’t have wanted to jeopardize our tow vehicle by doing even mild off-roading, and in reality the truck is so long & big that there aren’t many trails it would fit on.

The longer the trip went on the happier I was with the truck - other than the normal maintenance the most significant issue we had was a rear window lift failing.

Truck Lessons Learned

  • Staying on budget is more important than perceived needs
  • Common wisdom doesn’t always apply to your situation
  • You don’t need a diesel puller to go full time
  • You don’t need 4WD to pull a 5th wheel full-time

Trailer

Ah, the trailer. 

So, we were literally on our way to a dealer lot to commit to a new 5th wheel when we drove past this one for sale.

It was the same floor plan, looked to be in great shape, and was thousands less than new.  The owner seemed genuine and the deal felt right. 

But we made a critical mistake.

While we had the truck inspected by a mechanic before purchasing, we didn’t have the trailer inspected.  And we should have. Looking back, I’m not sure why we didn’t. Probably because we bought the trailer first so didn’t have a way to get it to a RV service center ourselves.

Trailer Bad

We had issues with the septic system, the slide roof needed attention, and we ended up having to replace the entire roof on the trailer during our trip. 

If I add the cost of the repairs we’ve made to the purchase price we could have just bought the new trailer.

We’ve made it work, and still had an awesome year but now have a higher balance on our credit card than we’d prefer.

Trailer Good

Functional issues aside, the size and floorplan (once we made the furniture changes) have been perfect. 

The changes we initially wanted but didn’t get to (interior paint, wood floors, different window treatments, etc) would have been nice, sure.  But after a few weeks in the trailer our world was much more about where we were and what we were doing than the aesthetics of our trailer.

We’ve camped in rustic yet beautiful national parks where a bigger trailer wouldn’t fit, made U-turns in just 3 lanes, navigated small parking lots, all while still having enough room to live.

Yes, we have to share a bath.  Yes, we have to take turns in the kitchen.  But that would be true for most of the options we considered. 

Yes, we dream of a trailer with a funky interior, a bath and a half, a place for me to work that’s not in the thick of things, and a bit more space around the bed so you don’t have to be a contortionist to get the bottom sheet on. 

But do we need that stuff? Nope.

Trailer Lessons Learned

  • Have used RV’s professionally inspected
  • Bigger isn’t always better
  • RV furniture can be easily replaced with more comfortable and flexible pieces
  • Be prepared to make repairs on any RV - new or used
  • The trip isn’t ultimately about the RV or how cool you look going down the road
  • After a year living in an RV, we view space and the usage of it much differently. Our 1000 sq ft. house seems ginormous and there’s no reason my office can’t be in a corner of the sunny living room
Balmorhea State Park, Texas

Balmorhea State Park, Texas

Badlands, South Dakota

Badlands, South Dakota

Cooperstown, New York

Cooperstown, New York

At night in Panama City Beach, Florida

At night in Panama City Beach, Florida

Usery Mountain, Mesa, Arizona

Usery Mountain, Mesa, Arizona

Antelope Island State Park, Salt Lake City, Utah

Antelope Island State Park, Salt Lake City, Utah

Bridal Falls, Yosemite, California

Bridal Falls, Yosemite, California

Durango, Colorado

Durango, Colorado

Port Angeles, Washington

Port Angeles, Washington

After a hike on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

After a hike on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

Driving the Needles Highway in South Dakota

Driving the Needles Highway in South Dakota

Petrified Forest in Arizona

Petrified Forest in Arizona

Driving the Redwoods in California

Driving the Redwoods in California

Kueka Lake in New York

Kueka Lake in New York

Rockhound State Park, Deming, NM

Rockhound State Park, Deming, NM

Other Lessons From Our First Year Traveling

How About You?

What RV and tow rig did you get? Have you been happy with it?

15 Comments Lessons Learned: Truck & Trailer

  1. Picture of RickRickOctober 29, 2011

    Great post. Fantastic pictures. I didn’t realize you were on Hunting Island, SC. It’s home to one of my favorite family vacations ever.

    By the way, I was hoping your chairs would have been named the “Two Harlows”. :)

    Can’t wait to see where 2012 takes you guys.

  2. Picture of JennJennOctober 30, 2011

    Congratulations on a year well spent!!!!!!!!!

    That’s rad you bought both for cash!  We didn’t have the money to buy both our truck and trailer for cash.  We initially thought we would finance the trailer and buy the truck for cash.  We ended up finding an amazing deal on a killer 5th wheel (through a private seller) that had every thing we wanted so it was easier to financed the truck.  We felt exactly the same about getting an older diesel with high mileage…too much wear on other components.  We ended up finding another great deal (way below blue book) on a diesel with very low mileage and a year long bumper to bumper warranty.  We have a payment (which we planned on) but it’s very manageable so it all worked out. 

    BTW - I like that bike rack!

    That’s funny about “how cool you look going down the road” regarding RV interior!  I’ve never been able to see the interior of an rv going down the road!  ;-)  We’ve only been in ours a week and I’m SOOOO GLAD we redecorated it!  We had a blast doing it and created some special memories in the process!  I do totally, agree the trip isn’t about the rv but it sure is nice coming home and snuggling in a place that feels and looks like home. 

    BTW - Like your bike rack! A roof rack didn’t even occur to me.

  3. Picture of BoyinkBoyinkOctober 30, 2011

    I see you guys just got bikes. If your intent is to carry them on the back of the trailer then learn what we learned : bike carriers attached to the rear of a 5th wheel will fail. The bouncing action of the back of the trailer is too great. We started with ours back there and even after triangulating the carrier with winch-cable to the trailer bumper it failed. We bought the roof rack as the solution and it worked great - but it is a team effort to get bikes up and down.

  4. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael BoyinkOctober 31, 2011

    Ah Rick - thanks again for the chair delivery.  The Ikeas/Harlows were well used…

  5. Picture of brandon Buriebrandon BurieOctober 31, 2011

    Glad your back

  6. Picture of PXLatedPXLatedOctober 31, 2011

    I’ve been envious of your adventure - Am hoping to become a nomad myself at some point. Looking forward to your coming ruminations.

  7. Picture of Colin BurnsColin BurnsNovember 01, 2011

    Congratulations on completing the adventure. It’s amazing how quickly time goes :)

    Thanks for the look back, hopefully some of the lessons you’ve learned will help when we come to the states for our road-trip. Thinking that will probably be late 2012 or early 2013.

    Cheers,
    Colin

  8. Picture of BoyinkBoyinkNovember 02, 2011

    Cool - didn’t know a US leg was planned!

  9. Picture of Colin BurnsColin BurnsNovember 02, 2011

    Yep, RV’ing through the US is very very high on my plans :)

    I lived in Colorado for 6 months as a 21yo working in a Ski resort and absolutely fell in love with the countryside.

    Hoping that come late next year we might head on over, hopefully will have a few things set up better so I won’t need to be working so many hours (but we’ll see :).

    Cheers,
    Colin

  10. Picture of JudithJudithNovember 03, 2011

    I am still in awe of everything your family has seen & done this past year. Can’t wait to see where your travels take you next.

    I do have one question- is there a post that describes how you went about gaining the sponsorship/advertising for the companies featured on your trailer? Those are very subtle compared to most of the payed advertising options I’ve come across in researching the topic. TIA

  11. Picture of BoyinkBoyinkNovember 03, 2011

    Hi Judith -

    I wasn’t planning one because the sponsorships were such a small part of our trip. 

    But I can give a quick summary of what we learned:

    If your trip doesn’t have a philanthropic purpose, a hook, a theme - some way of it being more than just a family out driving around seeing the sights, sponsorships will be difficult to impossible. 

    You might see your RV as an empty billboard just waiting for someone to pay to put their message on it, but there’s no way to put metrics around and measure that investment.  Sure, a lot of people might see it, but are they the right people?  Will they take action based on seeing an RV-based message?

    And have the right expectations - if you think sponsorships are going to make an otherwise unaffordable endeavor affordable think again. Think “$100’s” not “$1000’s”.  Think gear/goods in exchange for blog posts or meetup coordination.

    Our sponsors grew out of existing relationships where it made sense to do so.  Success was mixed as business goals shifted on their end and trip realizations/realities became apparent on our end.

  12. Picture of Margie LundyMargie LundyNovember 03, 2011

    Great post! I’m looking forward to more, especially technology and church. We’ve learned a lot! Still looking forwarding to meeting on the road one day!

  13. Picture of JudithJudithNovember 03, 2011

    Thanks for the reply. Definitely not expecting much more than a conversation starter/point of interest out of ads. I will be doing a couple of free ones to raise awareness {Wounded Warrior Project & one for vision learning centers} as well as any paid ads. If we make some cash that’s awesome. Which is why I was curious how to get the smaller ads rather than the huge ones.

    Thanks again, I look forward to your continuing adventures.

  14. Picture of JJLJJLNovember 05, 2011

    Just wondering how it went without a table inside your camper. Were you able to eat outside most of the time? I like the open look of the changes you made, but…just wondering how you managed.

  15. Picture of BoyinkBoyinkNovember 06, 2011

    Stay tuned…:)

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