Choosing our Tow Vehicle

Truck evolution; how did we decide on the F250 Super Duty?

Originally when looking for travel trailers (TTs), we were looking at extremely light weight hybrids so we could use an SUV to tow the TT.  The first SUV we considered was the Dodge Durango (great tow capacity for an SUV!!!).  We wanted 3 rows of seats for kiddos, and the Durango has a towing capacity up to 8000 depending on the model.  Good gas mileage was also a key factor when looking at this SUV.  We next looked at the Chevy Tahoe, which also has 3 rows of seats but a higher towing capacity and decent gas mileage after we switched from looking at hybrid travel trailers (some soft sides) to longer TTs in the 22 ft range.

After realizing a TT in the 22ft range just wasn’t going to be enough for a family of 5, full-timing, we had to update our tow vehicle search and switch to looking at trucks, which have higher tow capacities. The added benefit to a truck was also the extra storage in the bed.  TTs typically don’t have a lot of (or any) storage space so a bed would be a much-welcomed storage addition.  This would mean the kids would have to share the 2nd row of seats in the truck so we needed a very roomy cab.

Great!  I thought.  We need a truck.  All I need to do is ask the tow capacity, make sure it is at least the weight of our trailer + an extra 2,000 pounds (for anything we load + an extra safety buffer for driving/towing control) and voila!  I’ll know if the truck will work.

Unfortunately, most vehicles didn’t have a simple ‘tow capacity’ number posted.  First I had to find out what goes into the tow capacity of a vehicle (lots of confusing internet research ensued).  Then I had to obtain the components needed to calculate the tow capacity by calling sales reps for each vehicle I was finding in my research (do you know how many sales reps a) have no idea what the GCWR or GVW is or where to find it? and b) try to mansplain to me about tow capacity without understanding even the fundamentals?).  I then had to calculate said tow capacity for each vehicle I found by combining the components of each vehicle (I created an excel spreadsheet to aid me).

Confused yet?

I sure was.

Make sure you do your own research into tow capacity, as I am still far from an expert, even after about 3 hours of research.   I found that typically, to find the tow capacity of a vehicle you need two things:

GCWR  – This is the Gross Combined Weight Rating of a vehicle -or- ‘how much weight this vehicle can move’

GVWGross Vehicle Weight -or- how much the vehicle itself weighs

If you take how much weight the vehicle can move (GCWR) and subtract how much it weighs (GVW -how much its already moving by simply driving itself), you get the towing capacity.  *There is a different, higher 5th wheel capacity since the 5th wheel sits partially on the bed of a truck but I wasn’t concerned with this since we had already decided on a TT*

What you don’t need from the sales rep is the GVCW – though almost every sales rep I spoke with tried to insist this was the number I was actually supposed to look for.  The GVCW is the Gross Vehicle Combined Weight, or how much the truck can carry total on its wheels, including itself.  So no, Joe, I don’t meant the GVCW.  Please stop, I know what I’m talking about, even if I am *just* a woman.

What I could consider a typical- everyday type- tow truck won’t tow a TT.  You have to move up into a more powerful truck like an F250 – and then only because we had decided on an Ultra Light trailer.  Many full-timers with big 5ers/TTs use F450s.

We had spent more than expected on our TT ($20k all-in), which had lowered our truck budget to $30k.  This sounds like a lot but while doing my research I didn’t find many contenders with low mileage (a must considering our upcoming travels) that fit the bill.  I feel we traded out decent gas mileage for low mileage on the truck we ended up choosing.  I’m not altogether still satisfied with this considering I’m a tree-hugger, but I think we got the best deal we could with our search parameters.

Our ‘little’ lady (pictured at the top!) was christened by our youngest – Vixen Truxie Strong-Puller because a) Santa’s reindeer area all female (they still have their antlers in the winter) b) I’m starting early teaching the boys that women are strong and can do pretty much anything men can and c) Noah names things according to their attributes.




Choosing our RV

There are so many different options!  When narrowing our choice down to a travel trailer, here was the process:

First, I looked at all the options:
1) Truck camper  (a piece that sits in the bed of a truck, extending over the roof)
You aren’t towing anything so this eliminates any problems associated with pulling 20-40 feet of something behind you.
You can drive this down through Mexico and take the ferry across into South America (no towing across the canal!).
The camper can be left behind at a site and you can take the truck on your adventures.
They are small.  They have a true limit on size – whatever fits in a truck.
It seemed like a lot of work to raise or lower the camper on or off the truck so it wouldn’t be a quick getaway once at our site
This would limit our vehicle to a truck

2) Driveable RV (Motorhome – Class A or C)
Many high-end options
More stable on the road
Pack up and go in a hurry
More storage underneath (Class A)
You need to tow a vehicle behind for maximum mobility at sites
If you have to have work done on the vehicle itself you’re out of your home for the time being (as opposed to having work done on your truck)
If you are towing a vehicle you have two motorized vehicles to maintain

3) 5th Wheel
Many high-end options
More stable on the road
Tow capacity for any given truck is higher for a 5th wheel than a TT
A huge array of size and slide options
You can’t get to your truck to pull away if there is a problem outside of your RV
Two separate ‘items’ to maintain
You can’t use (much of) your truck bed for storage

5) Travel Trailer
Many options  – hybrids, pop-ups, hard-sided, slides, no slides, lengths from 10′ – 40+’
Cheapest options that I found
Less manageable driving & maneuvering
You can’t get to your truck to pull away if there is a problem outside of your RV
Two separate ‘items’ to maintain
Much less storage space.

After looking over the options we decided a travel trailer was where we wanted to start.  From there I wanted to go as small as possible for two reasons: the first: I want the trailer to be a home base but I don’t want us to feel like we have to or want to spend all or even most of our time inside.  We want this trip to be about exploring and getting back to nature – an extension of our love of camping, if you will.  I have a big fear of having a space big enough that we (especially the kids) are comfortable being inside for a majority of our time. The second reason to go small: maneuverability.  I want to be able to handle the process, start to finish, by myself.  I know I will not feel comfortable driving or parking a huge TT!

Next, we needed to choose a floor plan:
There were a few things that were non-negotiable: we needed bunk beds for the kids (because Camille needs her own space to which she can retreat), a U-shaped dinette so all 5 of us could eat comfortably together, an outside kitchen, and something that we could convert into a king bed (because I’m not spending a year in a queen next to my husband).  I cannot sleep in a queen bed, as I am an extremely light sleeper (earplugs every night, sound machine, etc) and I am not a great person to be around when I don’t sleep.  Some other things we thought would be nice to have: a ‘bathtub’ – even a little one – in case we want to leave a boy in there to play in the shower.  I also wanted to have the eating area directly across from the kitchen to create a ‘kitchen space’,  and the couch directly across from the TV for a ‘living area’.  Strangely, this is remarkably hard to find!

Lastly, our budget:
Since we had decided on a pickup truck, which would be more expensive than originally expected – we were looking to keep the RV at or under a slim $20k (hard to do!)

I started by looking at the smallest TT I could see us in – an Rpod hybrid.  After visiting one, we realized it felt claustrophobic – it would be fine for weekend quick camping but definitely NOT for living in.  Also, some campgrounds won’t allow you to have soft-sided RVs.

The next TT I seriously considered was a Forest River with a murphy bed because ‘you don’t use the bed and it takes up space’ (my own words).  The next day I had a migraine so I laid down and napped . . . alone . . . in my bedroom . . .with a CLOSED DOOR.  Nope, the murphy bed idea went right  out the window!

My husband wanted an older, used, MONSTER of a TT – 40′ long.  Too long, too heavy, and too old (some campgrounds have a 10 year rule) for me.  I have heard horror stories of mold & water damage in second-hand trailers that weren’t maintained and I know that is not something we were prepared to take on. He was also in love with the idea of slides – the more the merrier!  I, on the other hand, am very wary of the added issues slides can cause.  I think they are great for the space, but they add a lot of weight & can have a multitude of issues.

We therefore negotiated our points and decided to find something with a maximum of one slide and a length of 30 feet inside.  Valentin was also very worried about storage space and we negotiated into getting a pickup, rather than an SUV for the bed storage.

We visited multiple Camping Worlds but the sales people didn’t seem to know anything about the RVs we were interested in and therefore couldn’t help us with similar TTs to compare. We visited a smaller private dealership where they salesguy knew all the RVs on the lot, and suggested some similar to the ones we were interested in.  He really knew his stuff & I would have been happy to buy one from them if they had the one we were originally there to look at.

After about a month of searching, I finally found something that had everything. I mean everything that we wanted.  One of the biggest deciding factors was the price – I do not think the TT we settled on is top-of-the-line in any way but we wanted to be able to pay cash for our ‘new home’.  We decided to order one from a very small very local dealer because I feel good about buying locally from a family business.  Check out Norman Campers in Smyrna, GA if you are around Atlanta!

Drum roll please . . . .our brand new Palomino Puma XLE lite 27rbqc will be coming home with us in about 6 weeks!!!!!

Check out the floorplan here!

How did we get here? Here as in we are moving into an RV to travel the world for the ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’….

Three years ago Valentin was reading the 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.  He’s always reading a self-help/ enrichment book;  he gets really caught up in it, then the obsession fizzles out and he moves on.  This time, however, one very big thing took: why defer our travel?  Why wait to do what we wish we had more time to do?  Why wait to live?

Valentin: “What do you think about moving to South America?  We can live for really cheap, stay as long as we want in each town, then move on when we feel like it.  The kids will pick up Spanish . . .”
Me: “OK”
Me: *getting excited* “Yeah, lets do this!”
Valentin:  “I really didn’t think you’d say yes!”

About a year and a half ago we decided to start a little more . . .local.  Rather than drop absolutely everything and move to another continent (because lets face it – this is a huge and scary/exciting change – and the thought of leaving EVERYTHING except what fits in a single suitcase and leaving EVERYONE you know and having NO HOME BASE AT ALL – is a little daunting) we decided to start with the USA.  How many states have you been to?  Been through?  Stopped and really learned?  I have only a handful to my name – I think I may have as many countries as I do states!  So why not here?  Why not this wonderful, beautiful, diverse and enormous land we call home?

3 years of research, planning, hoping, dreaming, saving & working hard toward this goal and now we are only 5 months away from making this our reality!!!