Vehicle Living: What Route Is Right For You?

The internet loves #vanlife. #westielife, #RVliving, and so on and so forth are popular too. Maybe you’re starting to contemplate some time on the road yourself but there are so many choices: a Sprinter? A basic delivery van? A camper? Another RV?

Beth Lakin cooking in the Scamp

I’ve done a fair amount of living and and traveling in a vehicle and there are pros and cons to pretty much anything you choose. The most important suggestion I can make is to not get too attached to any particular form of conveyance. Until you figure out your travel style and what is important to you, you won’t really know what the most practical choice is for you. Keeping your investment minimal can allow you to switch vehicle forms as you sort all that out. (But although totally impractical, if anyone wants to buy me a Pendleton Airstream, $120k, I wouldn’t be opposed).

Without any more ado, I present to you…

3Up Adventures Vehicle Living Comparison

| SPRINTER | CARGO VAN | TRUCK CAMPER |

|LARGE TRAILER | SMALL TRAILER |CAR/TRUCK|

Sprinter Van:

I traveled in a Sprinter van with my ex from November 2013 until late January of 2014. We had purchased the Sprinter with an eye to traveling to Alaska the following summer, a trip covering a huge number of miles and making the fuel mileage of the Sprinter a real boon.

Pros: Fuel mileage. Our 2002 Sprinter would regularly get about 26-28 mpg as long as we were driving about 55mph. I’m a firm believer that for the budget conscious adventure traveler driving a bit slower to maximize your fuel dollar is totally worth it.

Head room. Being able to stand up is a really amazing thing in your travel vehicle. Although by no means a requirement, over the long haul putting your clothes on or cooking dinner without being stooped over is a really nice option.

Comfortable driving arrangement. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more comfortable long haul road trip vehicle. When we purchased the Sprinter, we drove it from Florida to Idaho in just three days with a little time set aside to visit friends and I have no complaints about long hours in the drivers and passenger seats.

Impressive ground clearance. For a 2wd van, the Sprinter has pretty impressive ground clearance. Our Sprinter made a jaunt up Baby Lion’s Back in Moab just to prove that it could. Although too top heavy and lacking 4wd capabilities, with tall skinny tires we found that we weren’t very limited at all.

Durability. Early Sprinter (T1N) motors were known for their durability, many running to 500,000 miles. Transmissions are generally expected to last 250,000 miles.

Cons: Expense. Sprinters are expensive. Although they get pretty solid fuel mileage, you pay for that savings up front. It takes a significant number of miles driven to make up the extra cost of the vehicle. Sprinters do retain much of their value and you might recoup a significant portion of that extra capital cost when you sell the vehicle it can be an uncertain proposition depending on how long you keep the vehicle and what condition it is in. If you’re looking to someone else to do your conversion work for you, you can add to an already significant capital expenditure

Maintenance. This point is largely addressed in my post “Is A Sprinter For You?” but it is worth mentioning that a mechanical breakdown can be an expensive proposition if you aren’t able to handle the repair yourself. Even if you are a competent mechanic, parts for a Sprinter are more expensive than for a delivery van and a hefty repair bill can put a damper on adventures in a hurry. Since Sprinters have become very common I’d imagine that finding a mechanic familiar with them isn’t as hard as it once might have been but still might pose a problem.

Creature comforts. For my ex-partner, the lack of bathroom meant forgoing a luxury they really appreciated. This is a sticking point for some people and not for others. I found that for me this wasn’t ever a really major issue. I didn’t spend much of my van time in areas where this actually was a problem. (#backpacking experience FTW) I did, miss a comfortable place to sit and read or type that wasn’t in bed, an option I experienced in other configurations. We did have swivel seats which helped a bit and I probably could have come up with a good table option to fix this issue. We did purchase a Mr. Buddy Heater for use in the Sprinter but never got a chance to test out how effective it was at heating the space.

Note: A Roadteck or Winnebago type Class B conversion might have a bathroom and feel really fancy but they’re really heavy and gas mileage will take a significant hit. Although their mid-teens fuel mileage certainly beats a full size RV, it comes no where close to a lighter DIY conversion. Additionally, that extra weight puts more strain on the drive train (specifically the transmission) and can lead to earlier failures of parts.

Sprinter sunset

Chevy Van (or Ford or Dodge):

Pros: Inexpensive. A gas powered Chevy van can be a really affordable option to hit the road. If you’re okay with simplicity, these plentiful vehicles can be converted quickly and you can hit the road with gas money in your pocket.

Fuel mileage. But wait? Didn’t I claim fuel mileage to be a Sprinter advantage? If gas is cheaper than diesel, getting 18-22mpg in a gas powered vehicle might be a better deal than 22-27mpg in a diesel Sprinter.

Parts & maintenance. Due to their ubiquity, parts for Chevy/GMC vans (a GMC Savanah and a Chevy Express are the same thing mechanically), are fairly inexpensive. You may be able to do the maintenance yourself or finding a mechanic should be a cinch.

ConsHeadroom. Being hunched over in your vehicle gets old. While you’re hopefully spending a lot of time outside adventuring, sometimes you’re stuck inside working, sheltering from the weather, or cooking and being stooped is less than fun.

Creature comforts. See Sprinter cons.

Van on Brown Mountain Jeep Road

Truck Camper:

Pros: Comfortable. The camper had a refrigerator, a table, a bathroom, a cooktop (many even have an oven), and a heater. Our bed was always made and was out of the way.

4-wheel drive possiblities. I’d been really insistent that we find a 4wd truck for this project because I felt that we were getting our 2wd vans into situations where it would be really nice to have that extra bit of security. It was nice a few times but mostly the camper was too big for us to get where it was really helpful (see cons).

Not too big. For the relative creature comfort of the camper, we didn’t take on too much of a hit on size (there were some, see cons). There was a lot of storage (and in our flatbed configuration there was a lot).

Fuel mileage. Depending on the size of the camper, they can get really heavy. The Lance 825 that I traveled in was really lightweight and small compared to many other options so it didn’t impact our fuel mileage too terribly but most full size trucks don’t get amazing mileage so this can start to add up.

Cons: It’s pretty tall. The downside of our flatbed configuration was that it put the camper up really high. This made going down some Forest Service roads sort of hard as we tried to avoid damaging the camper.

Fuel mileage. There are pros and cons (see pros).

The dog is underfoot. I’m mostly kidding here but because the amount of floor space in the camper is tiny the dog was even more under foot than usual.

Camper on the Colorado River

Travel Trailer (large):

Pros: I actually don’t have much that is positive to say about the toy hauler. We carried our toys with us which was nice but a small trailer behind the truck and camper was a much nicer option that accomplished about the same thing.

It had an oven, although again, many campers have that as well. Same thing goes for the bathroom (the large storage closet in the bathroom though was kind of cool: we rocked a gear closet in our mobile living space).

Cons: It was too big to heat efficiently and because of all the empty space around the bikes and the quad it just felt empty and kind of sad most of the time. (It was kind of cool to drop the back open on warm days though.)

Fuel mileage was dismal and it was just too damn big. We’d hoped to just move sometimes and mostly use the truck and our toys to explore but the simple fact is that I like wandering around too much for that. It cost us an arm and a leg to move plus we couldn’t get it into the good spots.

Beers on the "porch"

Travel Trailer (Scamp or other fiberglass):

Pros: ADORABLE. I seriously loved the Scamp so much. It wasn’t really meeting our needs at the time but I think SP and I would rock one with the XJ right now really well.

Compact. At only 13′ the Scamp was small and maneuverable yet it still had all the necessities inside. It had the dinette that I really liked in the camper, TONS of light (best in class with this!), the ability to stand up, a refrigerator and a really respectable amount of storage for its size.

Fuel mileage. We didn’t tow it like normal people for any long distances with the TJ so I don’t have a really good estimate on how it affected fuel mileage (we did, however, tow it across Arizona rather unconventionally) but I imagine that it probably wouldn’t be too big of a problem since they are SO LIGHT. Ours only weighed about 1200 pounds because it was so simple; newer ones with AC units and awnings (which I wouldn’t recommend) weigh about 1500. I would love to do a fuel mileage test with Ruth the XJ!

Cons: No bathroom. If this is really a con for you, current Scamp floor plan options have versions with a bathroom. This would reduce the “open” feeling that I loved so much but the loss of under bench storage would probably be made up for by the gain of an extra closet if a bathroom is really a big deal to you.

Trailer. It is a trailer and that does sort of reduce mobility. We also discovered that the frames are pretty lightweight for frequent off road use, however, the Jeep + Scamp size combination is only beat out by a van for off road maneuverability. They are much shorter than a full size travel trailer or the camper plus their lightweight nature makes them really easy to hookup and unhook leaving you with a Jeep (or a Subaru or a Toyota or whatever else floats your boat).

Scamp after axle with motorcycle

Straight up vehicle living (Cherokee, pickup, 4-Runner, Land Cruiser, etc.):

Pros: You’re in your vehicle, no encumbrances, no extra fluff. If you’re 4wd equipped you can just go (and often find yourself waking up to amazing views).

Fuel mileage: Okay fine, this pro is relative but I’ll happily take the fuel mileage of my XJ (18-25mpg) especially when I consider that I have full 4wd capabilities at my disposal all of the time.

It might already be sitting in your driveway. For all the glamour of being able to use the hashtag #vanlife on your custom build, I see way too many vans be built but then the builder either doesn’t use them or has spent way more on the conversion than they planned and can’t travel. You probably already know the maintenance concerns of your vehicle and they can be cheaper to fix (although not always) than a truck or van you purchase for a specific use. The lack of specific investment can also make it an excellent choice for seasonal or temporary mobile living.

Cons: Space. It’s a lot more like organized long term camping. You don’t have a nice table to sit at or a refrigerator or a bed you can sit up in and so on. This can kind of suck on a rainy day, although you have the flexibility to just drive to a coffee shop.

Bathroom/kitchen. Similarly to the space issue you’re going to have to do all of this outside your vehicle but if you’re only out for a couple of weeks at a time or maybe one big special trip, it might be cost effective to use the vehicle you already have.

 Sunrise

This post contains affiliate links that help fund 3Up’s adventures!

Summer 2016: Shed and XJ Living

It’s finally summer and I could not be more ready. Last summer, I made Francis (my FSJ) my home while I explored all over Colorado feeling free (and saving a bit of rent money in the process!). Since I’m moving again this year, I’ll be rocking a similar low-budget, high-adventure sort of lifestyle utilizing Ruth XJ and my storage shed.

Sprocket

This year, I’ve made the shed a bit more comfortable with an actual mattress, more consistent cooking area and better thought out storage of the things that I might want during the summer. It’s definitely not set up the way I would have it if I were living it full time since it is also doubling as a storage shed for someone who is eventually planning on having a house (albeit a smallish one).

Storage shed living

Cooking

Ruth is also a huge gas mileage upgrade from Francis (although I have sacrificed a bit in the space department) which will be great for chasing some more county highpoints this summer.

XJ Cooking

This summer is going to be one filled with working (yay, Provisions!), peakbagging, friends, adventures, gardening, dreaming, and long drives.

Summer 2016, I’m so excited you’re here.

Sunday Sermon

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to talk, mad to live, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light and everyone goes, ‘Awww!'”

Jack Kerouac

 

 

 

 

 

–Jack Kerouac

I’m GOING HOME!

Sometimes it feels like life is really just out to kick you when you’re down. Last school year was that time for me; I went through a divorce, I was starting a new career, had to change schools, and didn’t do myself a lot of favors in terms of staying active and being positive. That is not how I mean to live my life.

image

Fortunately, when school got out last year, I launched myself into my county highpoint project driving a lot of miles around Colorado with Francis the FSJ. For me, a road trip is almost always a mood lifter and a time for thinking about life. (Lissie’s cover of “Pursuit of Happiness” was the soundtrack to many a long dark mile last summer and excellent reading for this post.) I landed in a great school for this year and made some real strides as a teacher. I tried to embrace my situation to make the most of this year.

My heart, however, remained nestled in Ridgway, my little town at the base of the San Juan Mountains. Out loud, I told my family and friends that I was resigned to a couple of years of being away but I knew that I had to try to move back sooner rather than later. It was getting harder and harder to keep my focus in the present than on how and when I could find myself back home. I only became more convinced as time went on that I was doing the right thing by working towards a forever home here.

Fortunately, I was recently hired for the 2016-2017 school year at a district much closer to Ridgway. In fact,it’s within not-insane commuting distance meaning that things are back on track for eventually building a home on my property. I want to see how things go at my new school year and continue to improve my financial situation before I build but the wheels are definitely turning.

Next week is my last week in De Beque. I’ve had fun exploring and being located on I-70 was convenient but I’m overjoyed to be going back home.

This summer is definitely one of transition. I’ve acquired a summer job (that I’ve been working hard at over the last month already!) at a restaurant in Ridgway working towards some of those aforementioned financial goals. I’ll be splitting my time between my property, a friend’s place in Montrose, and the road (of course!).

IMG_9260

Because I’m tied to Ridgway quite a bit with a job (no complaints here!) most of my adventures will be tied to Colorado which is just fine since my main summer goal is more progress towards (finishing? maybe?) the Colorado County Highpoint list (I’m currently at 70.3% and itching to get out and do more)!

Running & Maintaining My Sanity

Every week a new article about how exercise and the outdoors help us feel happier. We retweet the articles, share them on our Facebook pages, and think to ourselves “I didn’t really need a study to tell me that.”

FS 105

But the minute life gets busy, exercise and adventures are the first thing to get set aside. When there are deadlines looming and to-do lists a mile long “I’ll do it later” turns into “I’m too tired, maybe there will be time tomorrow” and then tomorrow fills up and before you know it, weeks have gone by.

In the midst of my blitz to the end of my teaching program and the end of the school year I’ve let my fitness regimen lag a little bit but I haven’t let things go entirely—and the fact is that I can’t. I feel a little bit strange about this (re)realization. It’s nothing new to me that my mood is immensely better, that I’m more efficient at home and at work and just  a generally happier person to be around when I take the time to workout but I haven’t quite made peace with that yet.

I require exercise to be a functional adult.

Sitting at my desk last week towards the end of the day, I could feel this unspecified dread bubbling up within me. I was caught up on my teaching program requirements, only a normal amount behind on my grading, and my belongings were well on their way to being packed and moved to Ridgway. And yet: this weird, depressed, anxious, sad sort of feeling permeated around me and I didn’t want to teach or accomplish anything. I debated whether I could just spend the evening in bed cuddling with Sprocket.

Happy dog

At home, knowing the answer to “Can I really just be lazy tonight?” was a resounding NO, I changed into my running clothes. “Just do two miles,” I told myself. “You’ll feel better.” Just shy of two miles in the damp spring air, it all clicked and I changed my route to add another three. My mental clarity returned and the run felt good.

I have accepted rationally that I need the run, the yoga, the strength and core work. I need it to be the happy friend, teacher, daughter, co-worker, granddaughter, sister, aunt, and stranger that I want to be. Can I function without exercise? Sure, but not at the level I want to. Mentally, I feel almost defeated by this realization. Knowing is power, yes, but I’m not sure that I feel okay knowing that my grasp on happiness is as tenuous as that.

“At least it’s not drugs!” I think. I ponder the intersection of endorphins and the self-confidence that has grown in my body’s abilities (and, if I’m being honest, at least a little in its appearance). There is no sweeping epiphany though, no “This is how you live your best life.” Instead, there is a quiet knowing that I need that time for myself to be me and a searching for acceptance of that fact.

Grand Mesa

Homecoming Runs

School is almost out and I’m busily wrapping up my life in De Beque. I had a lovely year there but I miss home in Ridgway. I’ve been going down quite frequently this spring, working on some projects and I’ve also taken on a side job in a restaurant. In between everything, I’ve squeezed in a few runs that just make me smile SO MUCH.

A couple of weeks ago, we got to the property just as town was going into shadow but the Cimarrons were starting to get that gorgeous low angle light.

image

Sprocket even mostly forgave me for running past the river since I promised him he could climb Mt. Sneffles this summer (pictured just over his shoulder).

image

I mean, really:

 

image

And then the moon rose over the Cimarrons. The photo does not do any sort of justice to how gorgeous the full moon was coming over some of my favorite peaks.

image

Just as it started to get dark, we finished our run at Colorado Boy where no one seemed to think it was the least bit odd that I’d get to town on a Thursday, run, have a beer, and then go back to my little shed home.

I cannot wait for this summer. I’ve missed you so much, Ridgway.

 

April. Is. Almost Over. What?

April is sort of insane for teachers. As crazy as May is with the end of school fast approaching, I’ve always found April to be that kind of end of the year grind where you always seem to be behind and it seems like it’s never going to end. However, it doesn’t feel as dark and desperate as last year. It seems more like a temporary thing to push through and then the world opens up into the next thing instead of just being a whole bunch more question marks.

Selfie

So in short, April has been busy, just like I knew it would, but I’m making it. I’m only a couple of weeks away from finishing my teaching program and only another couple of weeks away from school being over. It hasn’t been a particularly adventurous time for me but everything ebbs and flows I guess.

Basically, dear blog readers, I’m telling you that I haven’t forgotten about this blog. Life has just been busy in other areas and I’ve had to prioritize that lately. Summer will soon be here and although it doesn’t look to be as footloose as last year, there will be plenty of mountains coming your way soon.