Purchasing a new RV is a deeply personal experience. There are so many things to consider, and you will ask yourself a lot of hard questions. What type of RV do I want? What type do I really need? How am I going to use it? How often am I going to use it? What can I afford? As I went through our process with Chantelle and Champlin, we began to discover an important criterion that we had not seen on any of the many lists that we discovered and distilled—how do you find an RV with which you connect emotionally and expresses your personality and aesthetic?
Defining the Right RV Type
RVers fall into two basic camps according to the type of vehicle they select. Some people tow their RV. Others drive it. Travel trailers have a bumper hitch pull and “fifth wheels” have a bed hitch but they share the characteristic of being unmotorized themselves and in need of a tow vehicle. I think of these as the Conestoga Wagons of the road.
We’ve had one, a small 21-foot travel trailer (TT) that I really liked (it was, after all, shiny and new!) and it would have been great for weekends and even some extended vacations but was far too small for our family of three (and often, guests) to live in full-time on the road. Add to the size/space issue the fact that our old (much loved!) Honda Pilot was maxed out pulling it and we knew we had to do something else.
We purchased this baby new and thought we would use it for three to five years and upgrade as Champlin got bigger. We took one 10-day trip from Colorado to Tucson and it performed perfectly but we knew that she would not work for our intended use. We had to reload, assess why it didn’t work, and start over. We ended up in a 40-foot Newmar Kountry Star diesel-pusher and our Pilot became the towed (“Toad”) vehicle instead of the “tow-er.” We went from one camp (pulling our RV) to the other (driving it). How had we whiffed by so much?
RV Course Change
As Chantelle and I were driving back from Tucson with Champlin, we began talking about our realization that the TT wasn’t going to make it. It was one of the popular Ultralight trailers that we realized we had selected based on one of our first criterion for picking an RV—keeping the Honda Pilot.This was, as much as anything, a heart issue. Chantelle and I have, in the time we’ve known one another, changed houses like most people change their underwear. It is frequently an affliction of builders and general construction types. Our friend Ben (also a builder-guy) used to joke that when the lights started to burn-out, it was time for him and Betty to move out. This was before LED lighting—think incandescent!
Our need for change doesn’t seem to extend to vehicles, however. We hang onto them until they, literally, gasp and die. We love the Pilot and its (post-market) kick-ass sound system. We’ve had some great trips in her (even though Champlin says she is a Decepticon). Prior to the Pilot, we had an old Odyssey, but never “bonded” with it or the rather frumpy image it bespoke (unlike the trendy, cutting-edge 2004 Pilot…). You know you want one too….
As we talked, I was still mired in the tow-vehicle camp and we began to calculate the costs of acquiring a new tow vehicle that was adequate plus a larger trailer and we were in a range we didn’t like. Plus, we would have to sell the Pilot. That’s when the brilliant Chantelle came up with the idea that changed our life: why not keep the Pilot and buy an RV to tow it? My reptilian brain struggled with the concept, but my Sagittarian bling guy was totally jazzed. It had never occurred to me that we might aspire to the noble pusher. If the trailers were the Conestoga Wagons, the diesel-pushers were the great ships of the road.
A diesel-pusher (or just pusher) is a self-powered vehicle. It is known as a Class A (they look like buses) and is differentiated from other Class A RVs by its rear-mounted diesel engine (hence the name). There are also Class A buses that have a forward mounted gasoline engine (gassers) and each has it vocal proponents. The Newmar Kountry Star (AWFUL NAME!!) is a coach mounted on a Freightliner chassis with a Caterpillar engine. It’s an OTR truck with a house attached. Or is it? From the moment we saw the Golden Snail, we were hooked. The Snail connected with us on an emotional level. I’m certain that for people who view cars (and trucks) as something more than mere transportation, the way the vehicle makes you feel is easily as important as the measurables. Don’t sell this feeling short; it’s important.
For us, a Class A coach has more in common with a ship than it does a camper. Some will disagree, but I don’t camp in the Snail, I voyage, and the places we stay are the anchorages of our trip. She is vehicle and home. She protects us from the elements and transports us to new shores with new friends. Like any complex ship, she has systems that require constant attention and management. So far, she has safely and comfortably transported us for over five thousand miles and we will be adding greatly to that over the coming months. Creating a positive emotional connection with your RV will allow you to better care for her. How?
Understanding the Heartfelt Connection
When we feel a positive affection for someone, some place, or something, we tend to it more thoroughly. We strive to understand its nuances and its needs. We work to do the extra that does more than “maintenance”; we move toward nourishment and support of the object of our affection. I find that I enjoy working on and maintaining the coach.
I want her to function easily and effectively and I want her to look good doing it. I seek out tips on maintenance and better ways to shine and protect her exterior. I upgrade the finishes in the interior and seek out the replacement of worn or older parts with newer technologies. With each new “reach”, her continued reliability reinforces my positive feelings for her and keeps me energized about her care. I think if you polled RVers, and especially those that travel full-time as we do, regarding the factors that create satisfaction of purchase, you would find that dependability is number 1 or 2 on their list of criteria for their RV. Our shared travels have created a bond between my family and the Snail.
Finally, feeling in harmony with our “ship” gives us a sense of joy as we glide down the road on a cushion of air in our pusher rig. The Pilot rides happily behind us, tethered to her ship. I think that people who have already experienced a positive connection to their own RV already know to listen to their hearts, as well as their minds, when evaluating an RV purchase. The check list of measurables will ensure that you have purchased, technically, the “right” RV. Making sure that you have listened to your heart will grant you satisfaction in that purchase.