I think one of the assumptions people make about us choosing to collapse our life into the Vanilla Guerrilla is that we had a wealth of experience with the RVing lifestyle.
I’d never been inside an RV before we were bought ours. In fact, I’d never even been in an RV before we’d sold our house, given away 90% of our possessions, and decided we were going to live on the road full-time.
But sometimes you just know. And I just knew this was the life for me.
That certainty is not as crazy as it sounds.
In the 1980s, I’d spent most of a year biking and backpacking through Europe, so I knew I loved travelling slowly and being self-contained. In 2013, Brent and I spent four months driving around the southern US in our little Honda Fit, so we knew that we travelled well together in tight quarters. Most of all, we knew that whenever we took an extended road trip, we never wanted it to end.
So we were pretty confident we would love the lifestyle; the rest was about deciding what kind of vehicle we wanted to do it in.
“Big enough to live in; small enough to drive”
After a lot of discussion, Brent and I agreed we needed two things to be really comfortable for long periods on the road:
- our own bathroom with a toilet and a shower,
- and a separate sleeping area, so you didn’t have to rearrange things (or people) to “make up the bed” at night, and so we had two distinct physical spaces to live in.
That pretty much took campers and teardrop trailers and mini-vans out of the equation.
We also knew we wanted something we could be somewhat spontaneous in. We didn’t envision ourselves as classic “snowbirds” or “sunbirds” who most typically drive to one spot, set up for the winter, and then return to a set destination for the warmer seasons. Our desire was for a truly “mobile home” – something that could meet our lifestyle requirements while moving from place to place.
Motorhome or trailer?
This was probably the most significant decision we had to make. There are pros and cons to each, and in the end I think it comes down to your personal preference and circumstance.
Here’s the thinking that went to our own decision-making:
- We didn’t own a truck.
We would have had to buy a bigger vehicle, which was counter-intuitive to our idea of simplifying and downsizing.
- We didn’t have a lot of “towing” experience.
The idea of manoeuvring a trailer didn’t appeal to either of us. And we didn’t want to deal with hooking and unhooking every time we wanted to drive the vehicle alone.
- We liked the idea of having access to everything inside one vehicle.
There’s an immediacy to being in a motorhome that you don’t have with a trailer; you know what’s happening with it while you’re travelling down the road. And silly as it sounds, we liked knowing that – in an emergency – we could just pull in the slides, climb in the cab and drive away.
Having ruled out 5th wheels or trailers then, we finally landed on a 28′ Class C motorhome – a little bigger than a standard RV rental vehicle (that’s where the separate bedroom comes in), but still smaller than a standard Class A bus.
Reliability and Price
Brent and I have a lot of strengths (especially when they’re combined), and lot of interests. Unfortunately fixing car engines is neither of them. It was important for us to have something mechanically sound.
The 2011 Triple E Regency that we found was highly rated, made in Canada, had low mileage, and was in our price range. It’s got a V10 engine on a Ford E450 chassis (apparently), and I asked Brent to summarize why he liked this for us:
“It’s one of the most common platforms in North America, including Mexico; the parts are cheap and plentiful, and it’s been virtually unchanged for the past 25 years, so you can always find a mechanic to fix it.”
Perfect. Then we bought a BCAA RV membership for backup.
By the time we flew out to Alberta to look at one on the lot there, we’d pretty much made our decision to bring it home.
What sealed the deal for us was how clean and functional it was inside. It was barely used, with almost no trace of the former owners. The perfect neutral space to start out in.
And thus, the Vanilla Guerrilla was born. (And extra points if you can find the Warren Zevon song connection to the name!)
So everything’s perfect, right?
We met a long-term RVer in Mexico who gave us one of our highest compliments yet:
“You actually did pretty good for your first RV.”
Our first RV???
Brent and I have learned a lot about ourselves, our preferences and our RV in the last three years.
Tow cars are a good thing
We had originally scoffed at the sight of large recreational vehicles pulling cars behind them. We thought it was a sign of excess; people trying to bring all the “comforts of home” with them on the road.
On our first outing, we actually left the Honda behind thinking we would hike or rent bikes or use public transit for any errands or day trips we wanted to do.
It was after we’d finally found a campground in Yellowstone on a busy holiday weekend, spent ages levelling the Guerrilla, pulled out all its various bits and pieces, and got ready to go exploring that we realized it was a 4-hour roundtrip – by car – to the sites we wanted to see.
Our first major investment was in a towing system.
Our second major investment was in a rather skookum solar power system.
Harnessing the power of the sun
What you can’t see – or rather hear – in the photos below is the noise of our generator. Turns out Brent and I prefer dry camping or “boondocking” – which is essentially camping without hooking to up any external water or power supply – to any other kind of camping.
Running a generator for hours to keep the batteries charged is not conducive to the peace and tranquility of this kind of experience.
So again, because “mechanically-inclined” is not a phrase you would immediately apply to either of us, we turned to the experts to assess our needs and install a system that would work for us.
A shoutout here to AM Solar in Springfield, Oregon. They solved a lot of puzzles to seamlessly install a virtually invisible system that allows us to plug any cord into any outlet and have it work.
More specifically: “We have two AGM batteries under the bed and some sophisticated wiring that connects a charge controller and a power inverter to two 160-watt panels on the roof”.
I know this because Brent told me. I also know I can now plug in the coffee grinder without turning on the generator.
And I know that we added a lot of weight to the vehicle by doing this. Extra weight is an issue. So is a lack of clearance.
If the Vanilla Guerrilla were a classic ’67 Chevy Impala, then being a “low-rider” would probably be a cool thing. But when you like exploring off the highway as much as we do, it turns out the low clearance of both the RV and the Honda can be a bit of a challenge.
Imagine tilting the front of the RV up even a little at a sharp angle. We didn’t know what a “tail-dragger” was until we screeched and scraped through a few of the mighty storm culverts and impressive speed bumps that are everywhere in the southern states and Mexico.
So is a 4X4 conversion of the RV next? Do we lift the RV up six inches and trade the Honda in for an SUV with better clearance?
Or do we get a “short” Class A bus, which is the same length as ours, but with higher clearance and a bigger windscreen (for better sightseeing) and a king-sized bed in the back?
Or do we just the accept the RVVG for what it is?
In that way, our mobile house is like any house. What are the tradeoffs between what we have and what we want? And do we feel strongly enough about its shortcomings to make a change?
These are the things we love to think and talk about as we squat in our rental house plotting our next great RV adventure. But there’s no rush.
Right now, we’re just feeling pretty chuffed at having almost “nailed it” as rookies.