I am no stranger to the RV lifestyle.
Although my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they never let that dampen their spirit of adventure. For years our family vacations were spent going somewhere in one recreational vehicle or another. Starting with a slip-in truck camper, then graduating to a classy Airstream “silver bullet” travel trailer, some of my best childhood memories are the times we spent together traveling the eastern seaboard whenever my brother and I were on vacation from school. My mom and dad would close their glass business, put a “gone fishing” sign in the window, pack my little brother Mel and me into whatever RV we had at the time, and take off.
Fortunately, I married a guy who also has the travel bug. For years, Manny had lusted after and finally tracked down the Westphalia of his dreams, one of those “hippie” vans with a pop-top. We spent many a weekend and vacations crouching to cook, using a port-a-potty and getting eaten alive by gnats small enough to get through even the finest screening.
Wanting to travel with more comfort, we upgraded to an Airstream B 190, a Ford E350 van on steroids. Only 19 feet long, but with a blown out top —which we affectionately called the brain— it contained plenty of storage, a real flush toilet and a separate sit-down shower, a small fridge, an oven with an unbelievable four-burner range, sleeping accommodations for four and air conditioning. Although at first it felt luxuriously spacious compared to our Westy, we soon discovered major limitations if we wanted to use it for extensive RVing.
There were two sleeping possibilities: a pull-out couch and a cab-over bed with a large mattress. Since the cab-over bed was coffin-like with its claustrophobically close ceiling and access to it was a wobbly aluminum ladder, we opted to sleep on the pull-out couch. We discovered, however, that movement in the aisle is difficult—if not impossible— once the sofa is in the bed position. Being an early riser, I had to cautiously climb over my still sleeping hubby, before I could gather everything I needed to make coffee and —weather permitting— go outside to brew a pot.
For Manny’s 60th birthday in 2007, we flew to Europe. There we noticed that travel by RV is very popular and campgrounds are everywhere. We stopped at one in Assisi where we fell in love with what we thought was the perfect vehicle for us: a Hymer Van, made in Germany. A bed that stays a bed and doesn’t do double duty as a couch by day, a unique revolving toilet/shower —as one appears the other disappears— and a separate dinette and cooking area. At last, a permanent sleeping area and separate living space all in a van size unit, only 20 ft. long! And most importantly, on a Ford Transit chassis with a diesel engine, which is much more fuel efficient, getting approximately double the mileage than its gas-guzzling American cousins.
Our plan began to take shape. We would fly to Germany, buy one of these beauties, travel for a few years, then ship it home to the U.S.
Fortunately, Manny had the foresight to check with our mechanic about the ease of getting parts and service for the Ford Transit diesel engine. Imagine our surprise when we learned that Ford Motor Company had decided to make the diesel exclusively for the overseas market. Here in the U.S., only the gasoline model was available then. So bringing a Hymer Van back home was out of the question.
As he began to do more research on the rvforum.net, Manny found that people often ship their motorhomes from the North America to Europe, and end up selling them there, sometimes even at a profit. Apparently, Europeans love motorhomes “made in North America”. This made a lot more sense, since it is obviously easier to buy something on your home turf, where you know how everything works —from negotiating a good deal to getting loans to purchase the vehicle.
So now our plan changed 180 degrees. We decided to buy a motor home here, where we could get a diesel engine that we wanted, travel the U.S. and Canada, learn our motor home inside and out, then ship it to Europe and travel as long as we desired and either sell it there or ship it back home.
Although we needed something roomier than our 19-foot van, we still wanted to stay small since we prefer to keep a low profile. This allows us to optimize fuel consumption, to maneuver through any small town or village without a tow vehicle and to boondock easily and unobtrusively.
Manny noticed that many work vehicles, from plumbers to DHL delivery trucks are built on a Sprinter chassis with a Mercedes Benz diesel engine. Sprinter vans have engines that are a fuel-efficient powerhouse, and since they are available both here and abroad, they can be serviced anywhere. He found a Sprinter Forum online, where all motor homes built on that chassis are discussed.
Now that we are retired and wish to go RVing for extended periods of time—and of course want to stay married— we know we need a little more room than a 20 ft. vehicle could offer. Through careful comparison, we decided that the Freedom II Serenity, built by Leisure Travel Vans, was the ideal rig for us. A 24-foot class B with the amenities of a 34-foot class A, it has a sleek aerodynamic exterior and a luxurious interior with rich European styling. In short, it is a motorhome that feels like a true home —on wheels!
We realized that in most other RV manufacturers’ models, where a bed always stays a bed, the only space for living is the dinette. We thought that always sitting at a table would get tiresome very fast. In the Freedom Serenity II, there is an optional spacious sofa in the rear that, with the push of a button, becomes a recliner or a queen size bed. So the Freedom II Serenity is the only class B RV that offered us two separate living areas. That was the primary reason why we decided to buy the Serenity.
All the cushions are layered with memory foam, ensuring ultimate sitting or sleeping comfort. There is a full, dry bathroom with standup shower, a flush toilet and vanity. It has overhead storage cabinetry throughout, a hanging closet, three large drawers and a kitchen area that rivals the one in our apartment. Lots of windows and a skylight make it bright and cheery.
This is the first brand-new unit we have ever owned, and we flew to Manitoba on October 20th, 2010 to pick up our newborn, whom we named Serena, and to be instructed on how to handle and care for her. In the past, as we have gotten to know our motorhomes, we have discovered their many flaws. This is the first time that, as we cover more and more miles, the Serenity continues to confirm our choice!
In the last three years, we have traveled extensively throughout eastern Canada, averaging about three months each year. In April 2014, Manny and I will be bound for the heart and soul of American popular music through the Appalachian Mountains to Asheville, Memphis, and Nashville for a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, then Tupelo and New Orleans. Then we’ll head north along the Mississippi Delta following the route of the Blues to enjoy Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, en route to Chicago, following many famous blues musicians that went to the Windy City. In Chicago, we’ll enjoy Buddy Guy’s Legends. Then we’ll turn left for the next six months and go wherever the road takes us, eager to finally experience our legendary National Parks.
We will be blogging about our travels and you can come along for the ride at 2adventurers.com.