Before I go any further, let me make this clear. We love Regina! (Regina is our 2007 Toyota Sienna with a platform bed and a tent “living room.”) There are so many great things about our current camping setup. Reliability, MPG, and the fact that there are no monthly payments involved. There are a lot of things that we can do because of the flexibility that a minivan camper gives us.
However, there are also a lot of things that we can’t do, or are difficult to do. “Boondocking” on National Forest or BLM land. Pulling over at a Walmart or a Pilot to catch a few hours of sleep. Cold weather or inclement weather camping. And most notably for Molly, traveling with a future canine companion would be difficult with our current setup.
So, we’re looking ahead and starting to think about what would make sense for the next phase of our lives. I’ve ruled out conventional Chevy 6.0/8.1 and Ford V10-powered Class C’s because of fuel economy, and I’ve ruled out all 2007-present diesels because of the maintenance cost/issues with the emissions equipment. I’ve also ruled out RV’s built on the Ram Promaster platform because of maintenance and reliability concerns.
Option #1: A small, Transit-based Class C.
Something like Coachmen’s Orion series would fit the bill nicely. Powered by a gas V6, this unit is not much bigger than a Class B at about 24′ feet long. That means you don’t need to pull a car behind it, because you can park it just about anywhere. Folks are reporting between 11 and 14 MPG, compared to 7-9 MPG for most Class C’s. The price of a two year old unit seems to be hovering around $40k, which would put the payments around $340 per month on a 15 year loan.
Option #2: A Chevy-based Class B.
There is a lot to like about this option from the standpoint of reliability and fuel economy. One of Roadtrek’s offerings comes to mind here; 15-18 MPG is easily attainable! The downsides come into play quickly in the form of storage and price. Being performing musicians, we have a lot of gear. There isn’t really anywhere to put it in one of these units. We’d have to add on a hitch box or something on the exterior, and the cost is high. You’re looking at a price of at least $50k, which pushes monthly payments north of $400 per month on a 15 year loan.
Option #3: A pre-2007 Sprinter Class B.
This is the sweet spot in a lot of areas. MPG is great; around 20 MPG. Reliability is good without the added emissions equipment present on newer diesels, although cost of maintenance is still an issue. There is a ton of usable storage space in units like the Gulf Stream Vista Cruiser. So, what’s the catch? Financing is the big one. It is extremely difficult to get a loan on an RV that is more than 10 years old, which is why these older units are often such a bargain.
From what I’ve seen, you can feasibly pick up a 2004 or 2005 Sprinter Class B for around $30-$35k, but good luck getting a loan on one. Most of us don’t have that kind of money lying around, and recently married musicians CERTAINLY don’t! (It’s also worth noting that rust is a huge problem with this generation of Sprinters.)
Option #4: DIY.
This one is super appealing from a cost standpoint. You could start with any number of vehicles; a used Ford Transit, Nissan NV Cargo, or a Chevy Express. You can get a GREAT van to start with for anywhere from $8k-$18k, and financing is easy. But there is a great deal of labor involved in converting a van to an honest-to-goodness RV. There are issues to think about with weight distribution, insulation and condensation, and a whole host of technicalities with wiring, plumbing, and the like.
Option #5: A-Frame travel trailer.
For a while, we really thought an A-Frame style travel trailer would be the best option. It’s certainly the most cost effective, at around $6k-8k for a used unit. It doesn’t have much impact on MPG because of its light weight and low profile. We could even pull it with Regina.
But the convenience factor is a concern; pulling and hooking/unhooking a trailer all the time isn’t appealing, plus, it doesn’t help us much with a dog. We would always have to book a campspot, set up the trailer, and leave our dog there before playing a show or going out and about for an extended period. We also wouldn’t be able to just pull off the road at a rest stop to catch a few winks during a long drive, or do much cold weather camping. That being said, it’s really hard to beat the value.
So, what will we do? We don’t know yet! For now, we’re sticking with our current setup and continuing to gather information. If you have any thoughts or ideas, let us know!