Deciding on the type of rig that will sufficiently house both paws and feet is an enormous challenge. There are pros and cons to every setup, and unfortunately because there is more than one single type of truck, SUV, trailer, and RV out there on the road, the choice is not exactly cut and dry.
Let’s look at some pros and cons of three common setups:
- All-encompassing motor and living space together
- Tends to be roomier, with more places for cats/dogs/people to sit or stand without being on top of each other
- A single RV can be cheaper than a trailer+truck or truck+camper setup
- RVs tend to be brighter on the inside than travel trailers
- You have to take your house with you everywhere you go
- If your RV needs to go in for repairs while you’re on the road, you lose your house
- Going off-roading or just “hopping into town” for a minute requires lugging your home with you
- Trailing a “toad” or smaller vehicle is possible, but that’s a lot of added weight and complication
- You can take off the camper and still have your truck. You can even switch to a trailer later if you want
- Clearance is better and you can camp/travel in more rough terrain
- If your truck needs service, you don’t have to take your house with you
- If you don’t like the camper, you can switch it out
- If you don’t like the truck or want something newer, you can switch it out
- You can fit in most campsites without busting out of size restrictions
- Wasted space – if you’re gonna drive around something that big, an RV provides more space/headroom
- Truck campers are generally taller than trailers, and can be really beastly in sizes
- Disengaging camper from truck and re-engaging is more complicated than using a simple tow hitch
- The cost of the two combined can be steep, for quite a small space
- You can easily “drop camp” and go gallivanting with your vehicle
- If you don’t like your trailer, you can switch it out
- If you don’t like your tow vehicle, you can switch it out
- Less room than an RV that provides cabin space as well (great for cats that love sunning themselves on dashboards)
- Can be darker inside than an RV
- Full rig length is generally longer than other setups
- Requires a reliable tow vehicle with adequate towing capacity
- Requires hookup and unhooking
- Can’t really park it on the street
Our ‘Which Rig Is Right’ Research
Deciding on the right rig when things such as AC/DC still only make sense in reference to the band, is a harrowing experience. We did some due diligence and looked at a few different options. Each one seemed to be oh so right and oh so wrong in some way or another. But in case you’re out looking, maybe our experience can help.
- 80s Minnie Winnie – The first one was an 80s Minnie Winnie for about 5 grand. Although spacious and affordable, it was a dinosaur of very questionable structural integrity. We drove this rickety carcass around the block, and left.
- Airstream Bambi – The second one we still think about, but know it wasn’t right. It was a 2003 Airstream Bambi Safari for 25k. We drove quite a ways to see it, but we had no way of plugging it in to check the systems, the walls were carpeted (why, Airstream, why) and the dealer was kind of creepy. 25k is a lot to drop on something that you won’t be using for months, have no experience with, and have no tow vehicle for. We drove home. I agonized a little bit.
- Toyota Dolphin – The next was a 21 foot Toyota Dolphin for 8k. It had about 120k miles on it, and it had experienced water damage previously. The guy had repaired it, but honestly water damage terrifies me. We left it, wondering if we’d passed on a good deal, and moved on.
- Sunrader – The next one was a Sunrader for 9 grand or so. It was really freaking cute. But it appeared to be SO low to the ground, was used primarily for surfing transportation, and the guy wasn’t really sure if anything worked.
- Dodge Balboa – After that was my personal favorite, the Dodge Balboa. At 18 feet this thing was flipping adorable. They had done some good upgrades, it was spacious, and there was a door on the back. Love. Alas, the dude said it would go about 50-60 mph pushing it, at about 10 miles to the gallon. No A/C. No fridge. And Liz was not happy that there wasn’t a bed big enough for two. We passed, but I still dream about it.
- Ford Balboa – The next was, you guessed it, another Balboa. This one was “toilet-ready”, which we found meant there was a hole in the floor where the toilet should have been. It was left unlocked in a beach parking lot, and we sat in it for a long time thinking on the choice. The particle board behind the seats crumbled when I touched it, and that was that.
- MPG Trailer – After that we checked out an MPG. And even with a slide-out, boy was that thing big on the outside and cramped as hell on the inside. We thanked them before they even got a chance to plug it in, and took a deep breath. It was beginning to feel hopeless.
- 90s Minnie Winnie – The last one was a 90s Minnie Winnie from a nice older couple of fellows who had taken it down to Mexico. It felt like a real home inside. He drove it around for us, and we liked it. But it was big, squeaked when driven, and felt like a lot of moving parts we knew nothing about.
- 2009 Shasta Airflyte – And then there was the Shasta. Meet Little Wing.
There’s just something about Shastas. Maybe it’s the cute little wings. Maybe it’s the canned ham shape. Maybe I was just born to love me a Shasta. I looked at vintage ones online many times, but balked at the idea of old systems paired with newbie owners. And the new re-issues seem fraught with issues and holy hell what a pricetag. This little 17-foot 2009 Shasta that we found on Craigslist, however, paired with the kindness of the sellers, sold us immediately. Ok, full disclosure, it’s all electric. I know. And we want to boondock when possible. I know. But just look. At. It. We’ll just have to bulk up the batteries and harness the power of the sun.
Not only were we lucky enough to find Little Wing and keep the rig with the Tracys while we were figuring out our lives, Dick spent hours on the phone and through email imparting knowledge about towing capacities and AC/DC conversions, and the like. Around the same time I also found a guy online named David; our own little housewarming gift from the universe. David also has a 2009 Shasta, and was one of the only ten or so hits I found while searching for 2009 Shastas online. David had posted pics of his rig, and I immediately reached out to him. And weirdly enough, he immediately reached back. Trailer folk. Much like boat people or Jeep people or any other group of enthusiasts, we were quickly learning that there are certain folks out there doing certain things, and man they are just a damn helpful bunch. David responded with more expert information than I could have possibly known to ask for. And after a few back-and-forths, he sent me about 12 very articulate emails detailing exactly what he purchased for his Shasta, down to the tint film he used on the interior lights to warm up the ambiance. I hope someday he wins the lottery.Brochures and Whatnot for 2009 Shasta Airflyte OwnersBonus: for anyone with a 2009 Shasta, below is a link to an article on the 2009 Shasta, and original Coachmen promotional brochures (courtesy of David):
Investing money in a new way of life is scary. Figuring out how to buy a rig and transfer a title from out of state, etc. is scary. Figuring out how to hitch up a tow vehicle and tow it around, oh man. Bulking up the electrical system and preparing for boondocking…what.
Deep breaths and baby steps.
And so…on to the next challenge: Choosing a Tow Vehicle.