Why an American RV?

As Vanessa wrote in ‘Could you drive from Singapore to England?” we’d fallen in love with traveling via a RV back in 2011 when we hired one in Washington DC and drove south (and west) all the way to Florida. That rental was one way and we then flew to Denver, Colorado picking up a 2nd RV and continuing west through Death Valley until arriving in San Francisco from where we flew home.

The flexibility, convenience and ‘luxury’ was compelling. That was a true ‘trip of a lifetime’ but with work and school commitments we were always on a schedule given we had to be in San Francisco to catch a flight back to Asia. To tick off so many bucket list wishes somedays we drove for hours on end and although we saw so much, it was tiring. I had a cold for a few days and didn’t really feel great (especially after Vanessa knocked me out with a concoction of over the counter medication!) but we had to push on and get in some miles so as to keep on schedule. Several years later we took another RV on a big loop around Florida in 14 days. Far less miles than the previous trip and once again we loved every minute.

Xmas 2016 in Japan was planned as a holiday and I discovered you could rent a ‘RV’ there as well so we went for it. Talk about the sublime to the ridiculous though. In the US we’d opted for +30 feet class A RVs. In Japan, the biggest one we could find was 17 feet long!

Although we had an awesome week in Japan, there was so little space…driving, sleeping and even sitting down to eat was OK but there was almost zero storage space and no floor/standing space…we literally had to get out of bed 1 person at a time, get dressed and then get out of the camper so the next person could get up ! Remember, I said it was Xmas (and therefore really cold in Japan) ? So if you were first up, once dressed you had to stand outside in the cold until everyone else was ready ! Me and V are too old for this kind of nonsense, maybe if you’re a student it’s OK but we enjoy/expect some creature comforts. Oh, and that was all without the dog !

I suppose flexibility and convenience can be applied to all campers, big or small, but when you throw in the luxury of an American RV, it’s a no-brainer. Dual slide outs, a king sized bed, a full size shower, separate fridge and freezers, a gas oven, a combination microwave/oven, multiple TVs, air conditioning, a full sized sofa etc etc are all standard kit in a Class A.

When we’d committed to this adventure, we wanted to do it in a proper American RV but in all honesty we spent weeks going through all the pros and cons of every different combination ….

1. American RV & tow car

2. American RV alone

3. European style/size motor home

4. Car & caravan

We looked at lots of caravans and can see why that appeals. They are much cheaper and having a decent car to pull it gives you the car we knew we’d need for small journeys within Europe. In the end, 2 things discounted caravans though, firstly the space, and secondly the concerns about traffic accidents.

We also looked at European style motorhomes. Easier to drive and manoeuvre around towns, cheaper to buy & run and far fewer dramas about bridges and weight restricted roads. However, once again we came back to size/space…you need to remember this is not a 14 days summer holiday to France, it’s our home for 12 months as we travel across Europe and through 4 different seasons.

So that just left an RV with a tow car or an RV alone. For weeks, I was convinced the alone option was best, driving something 35 feet long is daunting enough without adding an A frame and tow car. American highways, garages and even most towns will swallow up an RV but Europe is different, small roads, low bridges, tight corners and villages on the route that we’d never seen before. Becoming increasingly nervous about how we’d visit the beach or supermarket in a RV won in the end and we settled on the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ strategy of a RV and a car. The RV has a 6.8 litre V10 engine so towing our Mini Cooper would be easy enough but the legality of towing a car behind a motorhome is a grey area. Obviously a car can tow a caravan and a car or motorhome can tow a trailer but a motorhome towing a car is very grey. In the UK it seems OK but the internet is full of conflicting opinions and stories about mainland Europe. Nevertheless we satisfied ourselves that there was sufficient grey area to give it a bash and even if we were forced by local Police to separate them, Vanessa could always drive the Mini until we reached the next border !

We bought the A-frame and had the Mini professionally modified to be towed by CAR-A-TOW in Poole http://www.caratow.com

The A-frame includes independent brakes for the Mini and all the lights being controlled from the RV so we did everything we could to make sure it was as legal and safe as humanly possible. The RV has a rear facing camera so as we drive along it’s comforting to see the Mini still attached !

We are 3 weeks into the trip so far and haven’t yet seen anything close to our size in Europe. Rolling into towns or campsites does feel a bit like ‘the circus is in town’ but I’m starting to feel that all the stares and inquisitive onlookers are more genuinely interested and intrigued than annoyed. Wait until the summer and millions of holidaymakers are on the roads with their caravans and roof boxes and I’ll let you know whether we’ve moved into a different space!

So far, no regrets at all but managing the RV consumes a lot of time and you’ve got to plan well, you can’t just rock up in a town and hope for the best. We bought a commercial truck TomTom (GPS) so we can stick to big roads but it’s really a house on wheels with electrics, water, gas, doors and windows and lots of things that need monitoring and dare I say, maintaining/repairing as you travel. It takes us about 1 hour from deciding to leave to actually pulling away. Joe is big enough and strong enough to be really helpful and Mikey has his own set of responsibilities before ‘lift-off’ and we’re steadily getting better. The boys run around in their hi-viz jackets guiding me in and out of campsites and so far we haven’t hit anything although we’ve destroyed plenty of grass and run over a few flowerbeds!

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