Rich Woerner and his wife, Deirdre, spent a weekend in an Advanced RV to test out their vision for the boondocking lifestyle.
A few years ago, my wife, Deirdre, and I took a long road trip from our home in Massachusetts to visit her family home in California. As we were driving through the West, Deirdre spotted a Sprinter van and remarked that she could drive something of that size. A fantasy was born.
We visited RV shows and dealers to check out our options, but our requirements virtually eliminated every stock model we saw. We wanted a shower separate from the bathroom, and we also wanted the ability to carry at least two additional seat-belted passengers.
I came across Advanced RV and joined the email list, but I never quite believed they’d be able to deliver what we were looking for. Then, one of the emails sunk in, and I gave them a call. We discussed our shower requirements and concluded it could be done. Then came a realization. On one of the calls, ARV’s Mike Neundorfer asked about our previous RV experience. We had none. He suggested we try one out for a few days before we go any further, and that’s how we became the beta testers for Advanced RV Rentals.
We plan to use our RV to take an annual trip to visit relatives in Texas, California, Washington, and Illinois, as well as for shorter jaunts. Compared to making the trip in a car, the RV promises several advantages: we like the idea of traveling with our own kitchen, sleeping in our own bed each night, and having our own bathroom onboard.
For our test weekend, I planned a trip to my childhood home in Illinois. This would give us enough time on the road to see how it would feel taking an extended trip in a Class B, and it would also give Deirdre a feel for how the Sprinter handles. On long trips, we typically switch drivers every hour. We also like to read to each other, so cabin noise level is a particular consideration for us. I also wanted to test the RV’s boondocking capabilities, so we planned to stay in a private woods that my sister and her husband have turned into a small campground and picnic area.
We arrived at the Advanced RV facilities on Friday morning, completed our paperwork, and Frank gave us a thorough briefing on the use of the RV and its various features. We loaded up our supplies and hit the road for our eight-hour drive to Illinois.
At the first rest stop, the big decision was whether to take the path for cars or trucks. I picked the car choice. We filled the space to the max, but it seemed to fit, so we set about preparing lunch and enjoyed our first meal aboard.
Deirdre took the wheel for the first time. After an hour, she felt comfortable with the whole experience. The Advanced RV has a few features that are really helpful for driving. The blind-spot detection system displays a red triangle in the side mirror whenever a vehicle enters your blind spot. If you activate your turn signal when there’s a vehicle in your blind spot, you’ll hear an alert. There’s also an alert if you leave your lane without activating the turn signal. We were surprised by how often this alert sounded, but it’s reassuring to know that it would be difficult to unintentionally drift out of your lane without hearing an alert.
By the third shift, we tried reading aloud. We found the cabin noise level slightly louder than our car, but very manageable. Most of the noise seemed to be wind noise, as opposed to road or engine noise.
Our trip across the heartland was mostly uneventful. At one point, Deirdre felt that her seat was too warm. I looked in the manual but couldn’t locate the controls for the heated seats. We called Frank, and he quickly explained where we could find the controls.
The next test was preparing dinner at a rest stop. We used our George Foreman grill to cook the chicken, popped the sweet potatoes in the microwave, and sautéed the veggies on the induction cooktop. We were clearly testing the limits of the RV’s countertop real estate in preparing this meal, but everything worked flawlessly. Still, we concluded that, in the future, it would probably be best to save these types of meals for locations where we could do some of the prep work outside; the thaw/reheat approach is probably a better plan for rest-stop meals.
By the time we reached our destination, the sun had set. Fortunately, I knew the layout of my sister’s campground, having roamed the woods as a child, and we found a nice spot to set up for our stay. In order to simplify things for the weekend, we decided to use sleeping bags rather that standard bedding. This made setting up the bed extremely easy.
Saturday morning, after my run, I gave the shower a try. Not unexpectedly, it was a little different than showering at home, given the confined space and the limited water supply. Still, I accomplished my mission with no real problems.
We used the cooktop to scramble eggs for breakfast. Since we were parked on uneven ground, we leveled the stand-alone cooktop to facilitate our cooking.
My sister had planned a day of family activities, picnicking, conversation around the campfire, even assembling a new swing set for the grandkids. Of course, we gave countless tours of the RV—everyone wanted to check it out.
On Sunday, we repeated our routine. After breakfast, we set out on the return trip to Ohio. Along the way, we reflected on the weekend, discussed what we had learned, and started making plans to turn fantasy into reality.
Aside from making a few adjustments, such as allowing more distance for braking and turning, driving the RV was not much different than driving a car. Deirdre overcame her apprehensions in short order. The blind-spot and lane-assist features are a big help.
Road noise was slightly louder than in a car, but still acceptable.
Cooking and preparing meals in the small galley requires some modifications, but we succeeded in putting tasty, healthy meals on the table. In the future, we’ll likely prepare and freeze more meals in advance of the trip, which will make it easier to dine on the fly. The RV’s refrigerator/freezer was terrific, and the induction cooktop worked well.
The bed in our unit was a little too firm for our liking, but it turns out there’s a softer option. We tried that out upon returning to the Advanced RV facilities, and it seems perfect.
After using the Advanced RV’s shower-bathroom combo, we concluded that we didn’t need a separate shower. We also decided the bathroom sink was unnecessary; it’s more convenient to use the galley sink. Giving up the bathroom sink will increase the shower space and simplify the post-shower wipe-down process.
While under way, we spent most of our time in the captain’s chairs. But it was convenient to be able to use the bathroom while on the road, and it was nice to have access to all of our supplies while driving.
After our boondocking experience at the campground, we concluded that the Advanced RV is capable of extended time off the grid. Of course, to do so efficiently will require me to gain a better understanding of the motor home’s systems, and it might require a little more hands-on management than I’d anticipated. Our energy usage was greater than I expected, but I’m confident that we’ll be able to design a setup that meets our needs.
Renting the Advanced RV for the weekend was a great reality check for us. It allowed us to test out our vision for using an RV, and it helped us adjust our requirements for the design of the unit. The folks at Advanced RV are absolutely terrific to work with. Thanks to Brittany, Megan, Frank, Mike, and the rest of the gang for making the weekend work so well.