If you would’ve told me a year ago that I would be the proud new owner of an RV, I would’ve promptly responded that you were off your damn rocker- in my mind, RVing was exclusively for retirees; families with lots of kids; or maybe for those with too much money laying around. Well, it turns out that moving into Year 3989484 of a global pandemic is enough to open my millennial eyes to the fantastic possibilities that RVing provides and shift my mindset to be a camper enthusiast.
I plan on sharing a lot of the lessons I learn about owning an RV on the blog, including everything from the costs of buying an RV, to must-have accessories, why I’m Team Trailer as opposed to the #vanlife train, and everything in between. So to provide some context about how we came to own a tiny aluminum home on wheels, I thought I’d share some information about Riggie Smalls (yes, that’s her name) and how she became the newest member of our family.
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Why would you buy an RV?
My husband, Justin, and I LOVE to travel- it’s pretty much our favorite thing in the world (ergo, why we have a travel blog!). And when COVID-19 promptly put a stop to that in 2020 (or, at a minimum, significantly changed the way we travel), we instead started focusing a lot of our energy on exploring our beautiful backyard in the Pacific Northwest, by getting out in nature and hiking or backcountry camping.
A lot of the places we like to explore, like Mount Rainier National Park, the Northern Cascades, or parts of Oregon, though, can be a four hour-plus roundtrip drive from our home in Seattle. And with two senior doggos, we always felt like we were rushing while hiking to get back home as quickly as possible, while simultaneously feeling guilty about leaving our furbabies alone.
We were looking for a solution where we could go on mini-adventures over the weekends, take our puppies with us, and be able to more deeply explore local destinations. And an RV checked all of those boxes!
Uh, was this a spur-of-the-moment kind of decision or…?
Nope! I’ve been lowkey stalking the Van Life subreddit since long before the pandemic, swooning over the idea of having a tiny house on wheels and waking up with the doors wide open, looking at the beautiful scenery outside. And, once coronavirus effectively shifted all of our travel plans from international adventures to domestic road trips, my obsession only increased. Justin, however, was not as sold on the lifestyle as me.
Whenever I brought up the idea of a campervan, he would counter with all the downsides- like the tiny living space or how complicated it would be to have your vehicle and your home be one in the same (we had met some vanlifers who had spent a TON of money on hotels, because their van had unexpectedly broke down).
One weekend in November of 2020, we drove three hours from our home to Olympic National Park, explored a beach while watching the sunset, and drove right back to Seattle. During the drive back home, we started talking about how fun it would’ve been to stay in Olympic that night, making a campfire, stargazing and waking up in the morning in its lush rainforests. And after talking and dreaming and iterating on what exactly we were looking for, Justin finally joined me aboard the RV train!
So why’d you pick a travel trailer as opposed to some other RV?
I wrote a whole blog post about why we decided to buy a trailer, but, in short, we narrowed down our RVing choices to a campervan (those white Sprinter vans that are all over Instagram) or a travel trailer. We wound up settling on the latter given the flexibility it provides (i.e., you can arrive at a campsite and decouple your RV from your vehicle, whereas a campervan, you can never “unhook”) and the fact we could find one that met our needs (within our budget) without needing to spend months and months building it out.
What kind of trailer were you looking for?
We wanted something small enough that could fit in the very tiny driveway of our townhome (or ideally, our even tinier garage) and was relatively light so that we didn’t have to buy some kind of monster truck to tow it.
We also wanted something that basically had all the amenities of a home- so a kitchen, bed, toilet, and shower- and had enough space for Justin, me, and our two dogs.
Finally, we plan on spending most of our time at free campsites, which generally do not have electrical or water hookups, so we wanted an RV that is well suited for that type of camping (i.e., a decent battery and solar panels).
So what kind of trailer did you buy?
After about a month of research and countless YouTube videos watched, we bought a used Alto R1723, manufactured by Safari Condo, a small Canadian manufacturer building some of the coolest trailers around. The R1723 is an ultralight trailer made of aluminum, clocking in at under 2000 lbs. (without all of its accessories) and with a retractable roof. When collapsed, the trailer looks like a standard teardrop and is 83.5” high (which is just tall enough for me, standing at 5’4”, to stand in and comfortably move around), but with the push of a button, the roof expands to a total height of 101” (which is PLENTY tall for 6’0” Justin to have a full-on dance party!).
This allows the trailer to fit into small spaces, like our garage if we needed to store it long term, and is more aerodynamic when towing. Plus, the entire portion of the walls that extend upwards is made of tempered glass, which makes the whole trailer feel light-filled and airy, like a treehouse. Justin actually found the Alto while Googling “Are there trailers with retractable roofs?” and fell head-over-heels with the classic, yet modern design and bright interior.
And most importantly, it met all of our needs- it has a king bed (with memory foam, y’all!), mini-kitchen, shower, toilet, and solar panels! If you’re interested in seeing a full tour of our Safari Condo Alto trailer, check out this post.
What was the buying process like?
Altos by Safari Condo have a cult-like following and are popular. Like REALLY popular. Being the frugal people that we are, we originally searched for a used one, but given their popularity and the limited amount manufactured, any used Altos that were put for sale online (usually in Alto-specific Facebook groups) were instantly snatched up, sometimes, in literally minutes.
So, we instead placed an order for a new Alto in early December 2020, with an expected delivery date of… April 2022 (as I’m writing this in February 2021, orders for Altos placed won’t be ready until October of 2022!)?! We put down a fully refundable deposit but, knowing we didn’t want to wait for almost a year and a half to actually get our trailer, we tried to keep an eye out for a used one.
Two weeks after we put our deposit down, an older couple in Louisiana put their 2020 Alto, with everything we were looking for (and way more) included, up for sale. We jumped at the chance and within nine days, had sold our car, bought an SUV capable of towing a trailer, got a tow hitch installed on it, and figured out insurance and a plan to drive 76 hours roundtrip from Seattle, through the snowy mountains of Idaho and Utah and… well, a bunch of other states, all the way to Louisiana (you can read all about our buying process here). Oh yeah- given our work schedules, we had to make that whole drive in about three and a half days.
The trip there and back was, for lack of a better word, awful- we pretty much drove continuously with four hour breaks for sleeping (although we did make a quick pit stop at the very cool Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas) and learned how to tow for the first time while extremely sleep deprived and driving through an epic snowstorm through the passes of the Rocky Mountains. But at the end of it all, we came back home the proud owners of Riggie Smalls!
Wait- you sold your car?! I thought you loved that little Prius-C.
Yup! We’ve been seriously considering getting an SUV anyway, given the amount of gnarly National Forest roads in our home state of Washington we drive on to get to hiking trailheads (I’d say it’s time, after one flat tire and at least 10+ times in the past year where we’ve driven for over an hour and then had to turn around during the last couple of miles because our car wasn’t able to make it down the forest road to the trail).
Thus, we traded in our beloved 2014 Prius-C, Gracie, and her 45 miles per gallon for a 2006 Highlander Hybrid. She wears all black and is old but strong, so we’ve named her “Ruth” after my favorite Supreme Court justice.
So have you used it yet? What do you think so far?
Three out of the last four weekends, we’ve gone camping and we love it! I am eagerly awaiting the warmer and longer days of summer but it’s been so fun even in the winter months to go on mini-backyard adventures, having campfires, waking up to a canopy of trees, and being able to be the first ones at our hiking destinations in the morning.
I’m really excited to learn more about the RVing lifestyle- there’s an infinite amount of wisdom out there about batteries and campground etiquette and free campsites and I’m excited to share all my newfound knowledge with you!
Do you own an RV or are you considering buying one? What kind of things do you have questions about? Let me know in the comments below!