Once the idea to start living nomadically had taken root, we began day-dreaming about our future home-vessel. One of the most important decisions you will make when becoming a full-time road dweller is choosing your rig. This subjective decision is different for everyone and changes as our own needs evolve.
Initially, I had it in my mind that I wanted to buy a small school bus and customize the inside to our tastes. At that time, we were living in an apartment with no off-street parking and in a town that did not permit RVs/ oversized vehicles on the street, making it logistically impossible for us to work on such a big project. We looked into VW camper vans (too small), Class A and C motorhomes (too big), and Sprinters and Airstreams (too expensive).
For several months, we researched and shopped in the smaller motorhome arena: Class B and conversion vans. We focused primarily on conversion vans, believing at that time that “stealth” would be an important factor if we wanted to do any urban boondocking. Pouring over Craigslist ads and local dealers, we visited several to familiarize ourselves with different layouts, features, and options, but nothing felt right. I think the nail on the coffin for conversion vans came after meeting with one seller and realizing there was no way that Cay was going to fit in this type of rig for any extended period of time. At just over 6’2’’, we already knew that finding a conversion van where he could stand upright was going to be a challenge, but as we shopped, we soon discovered that these rigs were not designed to accommodate large sleepers either. The seller of one particular van we were looking at stood around my height (5’2’’), but mentioned that she had a tall boyfriend who would often go camping with her and who was able to sleep “just fine”. She explained that he would sleep diagonally on the bed so that he could fit, which meant she could either sleep in the fetal position in one of the available corners or drape her legs over his. She also suggested to us that if we felt safe in our parking location, we could open the back doors and have our feet dangle out. Deflated, we drove away from that experience with the realization that without serious modifications and a larger budget, ready-made, used, conversion vans were not so easy to find. We had also found that storage would be an issue and that the craftsmanship in many of the more economical van models, didn’t hold-up when compared to how motorhomes were built.
One day, a friend mentioned that she had an acquaintance who had lived on the road with her boyfriend for several months and suggested we check out their set-up. Fortunately, we were all living in the Bay Area, making it easy to meet-up. Thus, began our introduction to truck campers. We met with them to check out their camper and learn about their experiences. This meet-up was vastly different than checking out a rig someone was selling; there was no pressure, and everything was purely for informational purposes. The insight they had to share was inspiring and we drove away re-enthused. Shopping conversion vans had left us feeling a bit dejected, and without direction, but speaking with this couple had introduced us to a whole category of campers we had completely overlooked.
The interior of truck campers are built much more like a motorhome, with a full bathroom and kitchen, and standing clearance around 7 feet in height. The cabinetry feels more solid, the layout is designed to optimize space and storage, and the over the cab bed was a standard queen. The more we thought about it, the more we liked the idea of having the camper and truck as separate units. Not only can they be disconnected, but either can be repaired or replaced independently, and having a truck with a cab adds storage space. Also, as we learned much later, truck campers are not considered vehicles (or RVs) in most states, so not only are they not taxed as such, they don’t require separate vehicle insurance, as they are considered an “add-on” to your auto policy, so it didn’t raise our rates!
Over the next few months, we researched makes and models and visited several dealers and private sellers. The process was magnified by the fact that we now had to separately find a truck and a camper. For the truck, we wanted an older model with less computerized parts. Something in the Ford, Chevy, or Dodge line as repairs would be cheaper and easier in the States. It needed to have a long bed to hold the camper models we were targeting, have an extended cab (for added storage), and needed to be a dually to support the weight. Knowing nothing about trucks and having never driven one before, I asked Cay to refine the list of criteria, and I made it my mission to hunt. After some time, we found our truck in September 2016 just outside of Sacramento, where we purchased our red, 1995, Ford 350. It had an extended cab, dually, and just over 120,000 miles on its original engine.
For the camper, we focused on Lance because we had liked the build, layouts, and reviews. Deciding on a specific model was a lot of trial and error, as we needed to educate ourselves in the world of truck campers to get up-to-speed on exactly what we wanted. Our final list of criteria focused on used Lance models that had a dry bath (toilet is separate from the shower), no slide-outs (adds weight and loses storage compartments), and sized for a long-bed truck (more living space). Finally, we limited our search down to the discontinued 1130 model, as it was the largest model built during its era without slide-outs and with a dry bath. It also offered an extra counter between the dinette and refrigerator and, starting in 2002, featured an added pantry cabinet. Hunting for a very specific model of anything that is discontinued took some time and effort, but in January 2017, we found and purchased our camper from a private seller in Redlands, CA and completed our search!
We lucked out, as the seller had not only taken great care of the camper, but took great care with us, spending the entire day walking us through how everything worked, where different connections were, and giving us a 101 tutorial on all things camper related. When our turnbuckles turned out to be too long to secure the camper to our truck, he even had the workshop equipment needed to saw metal and shorten them down for us. We could not have found a better camper or person to buy it from, and as we drove away with our “now home”, felt a renewed sense of relief and liberation.
Fast forward to today, and we are entering our 6th month of living on the road. Learning to downsize and navigate this way of life has been a big learning process for us both, but we love the simplicity and freedom that comes with our little mobile home. Choosing a truck camper has worked for us because it strikes a balance between size and ease of mobility. The compact space does not feel too confining, and we are still able to manage most parking spaces and move about in cities without great difficulty. Choosing a motorhome is a process of sampling what is out there to see if it is too big, too small, too expensive, too whatever… until it feels “just right” for you. The rig we ended-up with was not at all what we had envisioned when we started, but for now, is everything we never knew we wanted.