In 2004, my wife and I were living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. The DC area real estate market was beginning to show signs of weakening, and we had finally had it with the cost of living, traffic congestion, and rushed pace of life. It was time for us to move on.
After much research, we decided to move to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Located between my parents in suburban Philadelphia, and her parents in suburban Baltimore, Lancaster offered a much better quality of life. We bought a townhouse condominium like the one we owned in Maryland, only twenty years newer and with a full basement. And here’s the best part, the cost of our new home was less than half what we sold our Maryland home for. Less than half!
With our new small fortune, we had some intriguing possibilities to explore. Naturally, we put most of it into the mortgage for our new home and invested a healthy sum in CDs.
By this point I was already suggesting the unthinkable – a cross-country trip in an RV. I had been dreaming of a cross-country trip since high school, but never envisioned a time when I could actually afford to go. Obviously I married the right woman because my wife said yes. Yes? Really? Yes! No way. Yes way! Wow. How cool is that? She rocks.
And so began a very long period of RV research. We explored RV dealerships and cruised RV web sites. We participated daily on the RV forums. We talked, planned, and plotted. We had lists upon lists of questions, concerns, and financial projections. In short, we were going nuts. It was early Spring, and we had many more questions than answers. More than once we canned the whole idea of RVing in frustration. After all, we could always go on a cruise or fly to Europe instead.
To make matters more complicated, I started to fall in love with truck campers. I had seen some layouts and interior photographs on the web and they just made sense to me. We had already determined that we wanted to steer clear of major cities and campgrounds and boondock as much as possible. A truck camper seemed perfect. And there was another major factor pushing me towards a truck camper, resale values. Trucks were selling for good money in our local classifieds. When I called about used trucks, there were often multiple people interested, or the trucks had already sold. As the truck would be at least half of the investment into our RV, this was a very good sign.
Used truck campers were few and far between. I searched the web daily looking for decent used truck campers within 100 miles of us and found only a handful going for seemingly high prices. Dealerships had some trade-ins but their prices were also quite high. Again, this was an excellent sign for resale value.
The opposite was true when looking at all other forms of RVs. Motorhome values in particular seemed to tank as soon as they drove off the lot. And since we were determined not to tow a trailer or 5th wheel, a truck camper was clearly the answer.
Back to our research. I am probably preaching to the choir when I say that the research often necessary to purchase a truck and truck camper can be very involved and frustrating. In an ideal world, we would just choose a truck and camper within our budget and go. And if it weren’t for the issue of payload, it might be just that easy.
I wish that I was exaggerating when I tell you that I personally spent more than two months researching trucks, payload, tires, shocks, springs, air bags, and on and on. I felt like I was working the Payload Incorporated night shift and taking Payload 101 all at the same time. Again we almost threw in the towel more than once for a small Class C or that cruise through the Panama Canal.
Why all the research and concern? Well, the consensus on the web forums was that payload could be a life or death issue. Too much weight could break an axle or explode a tire at 65 MPH, and that’s never good. There were folks that seemed okay with being several hundred or even thousands of pounds over weight, but my wife didn’t buy any of that. Why risk our lives to go RVing? We were determined to stay within the payload ratings and be safe.
About this time, GM was running their, “Employee Discount Program for Everyone” campaign. Used trucks cost about the same as new GM trucks, only the new trucks had a warranty and that nice new truck smell. I went online and found the truck that satisfied our desire for payload safety: a 2005 Chevy Silverado 3500 DRW 4×2 work truck with the smallest gas engine offered. In effect, this truck had the most payload available and could handle almost any truck camper. And it was dirt cheap for a new truck at about $26,000 out the door. We bought it.
At about the same time, a used 2004 Lance 1030 popped up on the web. The seller wanted $18,000 for it and we didn’t even bargain. Even when fully wet, the 1030 would be at least 700 to 800 pounds under the payload rating of our truck, probably more. In the end, we didn’t need shocks, springs, air bags or anything. It just worked.
Starting that August, we took that truck and camper cross-country for six months. We went to the Badlands, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Craters of the Moon, Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Zion, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Big Bend, Mammoth Cave, Great Smoky Mountains, and many, many more totally amazing places. We went up 10% inclines and down 14% grades. We went through snow and pouring rain. And we had the time of our lives. It was so much fun that it’s hard to explain to people who haven’t done anything like that.
It was all so worth those months of intensive research. Without getting weird about it, I can tell you that it was the best thing I’ve ever done – a very real life changing event.
When we got home, we sold our truck and camper as planned. We got almost all of our money back on the camper and took a bath on the truck. This was during the gas price hikes after Katrina, and nobody wanted our gas-eating monster. Lucky for us, we found another couple who was going truck camping and liked the idea that our truck had all the hardware and tie downs ready to go. Sold.
And then something else happened. Something not entirely unexpected, but none-the-less remarkable. About three or four weeks after we sold our truck and camper and began the process of re-entry into “normal” life, my wife began to have signs of truck camper fever.
Of course I had it all along, but was doing my best to hide it. I thought if I could just keep it quiet for a while it would wear off. But no. We were hooked.
The moral of this story is two fold. One, if you’re out there researching your first truck and camper, keep going! You’re going to be fine. Don’t forget that those of us in the industry are here to help you. And it’s all very, very worth it.
The second moral is to be careful with all this truck camping stuff. It’s highly addictive. Once you’ve hit the road, you’re never going to want to go back to a normal life. You’ll be one of us – and better for it.