Our RV Life and 9 Tips for Choosing the Best RV for You

Up until now, Bonny has been doing all the blogging and telling you all about our amazing trips and everything we’ve been up to.  For a long time she’s encouraged me to get on here and share as well but..well hell, I’m lazy.   Today I figured what the hell, I’d give it a go.

How to start? I thought about introductions, “Hi, I’m Ryan” but that sounded like the start of an AA meeting.  I thought about making some profound statement of self but I’m just not that deep.  I thought about starting off with a little about myself but, “lazy couch potato, home body in search of adventure, loves long walks on the beach, eating, and naps” just sounds like the dating ad of a destined to stay lonely looser.   Nope, none of that’s me.

So I figure I’ll just start with talking about how I love to travel.

My current favorite way is in our 2015 Heartland Cyclone 4200

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CYCLONE 4200
CYCLONE 4200

Back in 2006 we bought our first 5th wheel toy hauler (Baby Huey) and we loved it.  It was amazing to take the whole family, dogs, motorcycles, dirt bikes, quads, kayaks, and just take off.  It put a whole new level of adventure at our finger tips and went far beyond the concept of everything and the kitchen sink…it had 2 sinks.  It was a 2006 Raptor 3612DS.

We bought it in June of 2006.  Bonny remembers this well because I dragged her all over town in the Phoenix summer heat looking at everything and not knowing then what we wanted or having any experience with them.  One super hot afternoon we happened to drive by a dealership overflow lot and stumbled on the Raptor.  They had it locked up but had fortunately left the back deck unlocked and I let myself in.  As soon as she walked into it Bonny proclaimed it “The One” and the rest is history.  It was our home away from home until 2011.  We had both gone back to school, had no money and even less time, and in a moment of weakness we let it go to save some money.  We regretted it for years!

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2006 Raptor on its first trip, on top of hill at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey California

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On the Beach in San Felipe Mexico for the Baja 250, 2009.

After my dad passed away we used his 2006 Weekend Warrior bumper pull for a little while.  It was a nice upgrade after not having anything but for us it really wasn’t the right way to go.  The Raptor had a full 12 foot garage with a door to close off the smells from the living area.  The Weekend Warrior was a single open area that you had to unload to drop the beds and the crappy little couch.  The Raptor had 2 slides that really opened up a ton of livable space while the Weekend Warrior didn’t and was tight and confining.  The Raptor being a 5th wheel pulled well and was stable on the road, the Weekend Warrior being an overly long bumper pull wiggled and pulled terribly by comparison.  We just didn’t like it as well.

Last year after not having one for far too long and missing that lifestyle and freedom, we decided it was time to go shopping again.  Well maybe I decided and Bonny just loved, understood and humored me enough to allow me my whims.  Again I dragged her all over town for several months.  We looked at almost everything we could in the valley and spent countless hours online looking at new models.  We would hear about a new model somewhere and jump in the truck to go look.  Even as far as Tucson we would go to see if this one or that was the one for us.  A few times we thought we had settled on the right one but our expensive tastes would prove too much.  Then we would settle on a cheap one but couldn’t bring ourselves to pull the trigger knowing we just wouldn’t be happy.  It’s amazing how many options and different floor plans there are today.  When we bought the Raptor in 2006 it was cutting edge and had a layout and features very few had seen before.  Now years later the manufacturers have really stepped up their games.  The list of models is staggering and there are so many great units to choose from the choice is daunting.  If you’re ever in the market good luck. I can only offer a few words of wisdom.

  1. Know what your absolute needs and minimums are.  For us it was enclosed garage, large refrigerator, largest available fresh and holding tanks. For you it might be something else.
  2. Know your budget and stick to it.  These things can run from 20,000 to the budget of a small country.  Salesmen are great at moving you from what you think you can afford to what they think you can afford.
  3. Towed, 5th Wheel, Toy Hauler, Class A, Class C…..What fits you? We wanted a toy hauler so we could take the toys obviously.  We wanted a enclosed garage.  We wanted a 5th wheel so we could get size and stability coupled with ease of towing.  We planned for this and the year before had bought the new truck, Chevy 3500 HD Crew Cab Dually specifically for this purpose. But what fits your lifestyle?  Consider all your options and price point.
  4. Know what your going to use it for the most!  We take ours way off the beaten path and so excluded a number of units that didn’t have the ground clearance or the ability to dry camp (camp for extended periods without being hooked up or connected to anything). This might not be your thing.  If you look forward to going from RV park to RV park our priorities are going to be different.  Smaller tanks might makes sense in exchange for other features we don’t need.
  5. Get the smallest one that works.  WE DIDN’T DO THIS!!! We got one way bigger than we needed.  This has been a problem a number of times.  There are roads we can’t travel, parks we can’t go, turns we can’t make. On our first trip up the Pacific Coast Highway after getting it I had to be half way into oncoming traffic lanes many times to get around bends in the road without scraping the side on a cliff wall.
  6. If you walk into one and it feels wrong, get out! Don’t try to talk yourself into it because the price or something else is right.  Wrong is wrong and there is one out there for everyone.  We had one we looked a number of times, kept going back, almost bought it.  Finally I was sitting inside it on the couch, windows to my back, facing the kitchen with no natural light or windows and realized I just didn’t like it.  It felt like a cave.  I never would have been happy.
  7. Layout is important, its one thing you really can’t do anything about. If the layout works but there are little things you wish were different, its ok.  If they layout isn’t to your liking or you struggle to see yourself in it comfortable, don’t get it. You will be surprised with what you can change and modify to your needs or tastes.  I will get into modifications I have made later but just for example, ours was home 2 hours before I changed the functionality of the AC system to how I wanted them.
  8. Do your research on the Manufacturer and the Dealer if buying new. Any brand that’s been around for a while will have negative stories on the internet. Read them anyways, but with an open mind.  Look for the good and bad.  Is the bad really bad or just an isolated angry customer. Is the good just the manufacturer posting on the net to create a presence.  If you look long enough you can see through the BS and find what is real.  We bought the Raptor from an RV place that was horrible to deal with and we couldn’t trust. The internet told us this but they were the only one that had our unit.  True to internet postings, they showed us how horrible they really could be.  A year later they were out of business. Such a surprise.
  9. Warranties on these things are usually 12 months.  A couple brands will warranty them for 2 years.  The expensive motorized ones are covered longer for powertrain items.  This said, think about how handy you are.  Are you going to be able to fix things 13 months down the road when a tire blows and rips out all the wires under the living room slide and the refrigerator wont work?  (Yes this happened) If not, think about a service plan and really know what it will and won’t cover.  Make sure you get it from a reputable place and develop a good relationship with them.  I like to fix my own issues and make changes, so I didn’t get a service plan or worry about warranty much but that’s just me.

After looking at everything we could find (Bonny must have thought RV shopping had become our full-time job) we finally brought home BIGFOOT!!!  We bought it from La Mesa RV in Mesa Arizona but they have locations all over.

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North of Flagstaff on day 1 of our trip to Yellowstone!

 

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First trip in the new RV

 

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Pretty F’n Happy with the new rig!

 

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View off the back patio at Campland on the Bay in San Diego

We brought her home in May of 2015.  Remarkably this also happened to be the day we brought home Achilles our huge loving Cane Corso as a puppy.  Talk about making big life changes.

Why did we buy such a huge rig?  (Bigfoot is 44 feet and weights in at almost 17,000 lbs empty).  Well let me tell you why.  We walked into it the first time and were immediately stunned by how much openness and light there was with the big side patio down.  At that time there were only 3 units I know of that had side patios.  This one, the Heartland Road Warrior 420 (Same manufacturer but slight changes, and the Keystone Raptor 384PK.

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Heartland Road Warrior 420
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Keystone Raptor 384PK

The Raptor was a beautiful unit and I love a lot of things about the Raptor brand.  Our old Raptor had served us extremely well and I knew this one would have as well.  The 14 foot garage would have been a huge plus as well.  I just did not like the way the patio came off the garage.  For those of you who might be in the market now, they have a new unit that has corrected that and comes off the main cabin.  Had this been available when we purchased it, this story might be different.

The Heartland Road Warrior was a very close second place for us and we spent more than a few hours sitting in one trying to decide between that one and the cyclone we ended up getting.  It was close.  For us it just really came down to feel and slight layout differences.  The kitchen just seemed more open and part of the family environment.  The opening to the patio just seemed to bring in more from the outside.  And the Road Warrior had a full-sized residential refrigerator made for your traditional home.  I was just a bit concerned about its power consumption, and is it built for the 8 hour earthquake it would experience every time we went anywhere?  If it broke, it would be far to large to get through the door to get out so it would have to be repaired in place.  What would we do when this wasn’t an option.  Our Cyclone while having a really large 4 door refrigerator still has the one built by an RV company specifically for RV’s with dual fuel propane and electric.  Yep, that’s the one for us.

Some of the other reasons we got the Cyclone?  Well, the big open layout was number 1.  Full king sized bed.  Tons of storage.  Large fresh water tank.  2 Large grey water tanks, 2 large black tanks.  2 Fuel tanks, 1 for generator and 1 for toys with a electric pump.  Pre-plumbed and wired for washer and dryer.  Powered electric recliners in living room.  Kitchen with a ton of deep storage.  Loft bunk with vent and AC ducts. 3 AC units. I could go on and on and on.

Now, over a year with it and we have had an amazing time.  Not one seconds regret (other than it being really, really big).  We truly feel like home when we are in it.

In my next posting I will talk about why Living and Traveling in an RV makes sense for us and might be for you.  And then I plan to post about the numerous custom modifications I have made to make it just the way we want it and the changes I still plan on making.  Hopefully I stay motivated.

Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

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