How the hell did we end up in an RV? And a dog friendly one at that?
Edie asked me those questions* a few weeks ago when I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post on Pet Travel Tails about amusing RV names that we’ve encountered on our travels.
How We Got Started
When Amy came up with the idea of GoPetFriendly I remember saying: You can’t tell people how easy it is to travel with their pets if you’re sitting behind a computer in an office somewhere … you have to do it. As it turned out, those words set us on a course that has dramatically changed our lives. For the better.
So BTRV (Before The RV), we put several thousand GoPetFriendly miles on our 2004 Toyota Rav 4. We removed the back seats, creating a sprawling den of inequity for Ty and Buster and all their accouterments. Our stuff? It got crammed into a smallish, hard-to-get-into, rooftop luggage carrier.
GoPetFriendly would have been a short-lived venture if the Rav 4 would have remained our mode of transportation. Cramped quarters, dog farts in said cramped quarters, and regularly schlepping belongings in and out of hotels were killing my enthusiasm. Yet, was I ready for the RV experience?
An RV? Really?
In retrospect, the idea of traveling in an RV gathered slowly … like dark clouds that foreshadow an approaching maelstrom. First, Amy and I just started noticing RVs on the road. Next thing I know, we’re at one of the largest RV shows in the country in Hershey, PA. I think we toured every vehicle on the lot – looking at a combination of price, size, and pet friendly features – and took scrupulous notes.
The funny thing is that I had never set foot in an RV until that show in Hershey, and Amy only had some previous pop-up camper experience as a kid. As the purchase decision inexorably progressed, we never rented or borrowed a friend’s RV for a week or even a weekend to see if we would like it. (Come to think of it, we didn’t have any friends with RVs. I guess friends don’t let friends drive RVs.)
Nope. Amy and I (mostly Amy) just jumped right in with both feet and got ourselves a brand spanking new 2010 Winnebago View. I believe this level of devil-may-care attitude is a shared and serious character flaw. Lucky for us, it has worked out really well.
What We Considered
Our RV is a svelte 24 footer, although we grew 2 feet this year when we added a much-need rear-mounted storage compartment. I believe the largest RVs – those resembling a tour bus – can stretch out to a neck-craning 45 feet. This may be an option when GoPetFriendly can afford a driver because you won’t see me handling anything that big anytime soon.
Kinda related to size. We did not want to tow a car (a “toad vehicle,” as it’s referred to in RV circles). Our RV is built on a Dodge Sprinter chassis, making it very light on its wheels. We always feel we can go anywhere a UPS truck goes, and we’ve negotiated some pretty narrow city streets. Hey, I’ve even parallel parked this baby a couple of times.
Engine Maintenance and Gas Mileage
The engine is a Mercedes Benz diesel. I’ve never been mechanically inclined and don’t much understand the difference between diesel and gas engines – I just heard that diesel was the way to go. We get about 14-16 miles per gallon – a Dogsend for an RV and a source of relief now that diesel gas has hit $4 a gallon. We get our best mileage driving east (harnessing the tailwinds) and south (going downhill).
We’ve got heat and air conditioning. There’s a pull-out sofa, dining table with bench seating, flat screen TV, and “full” bath. The galley area has a refrigerator, 3-burner gas stove, and convection oven. We purposely selected the bed over the cab model (meaning we climb up and down a 4-step ladder). My nose is about 10 inches from the ceiling, but it’s like the bunk bed I never had as a kid. And this option gives all four of us more floor space in the coach area.
Pet Friendly Features
Believe it our not, RVs don’t explicitly offer or tout pet friendly features. Contrast that with the pet friendly model offered via the Honda Element. So in our RV, we looked for a linoleum floor and pleather seat fabric to make the daily dog hair removal less of a hassle. The sofa has seat belts, which allows us to tether Ty and Buster’s harnesses to secure anchor points. We have a skylight in the front of the coach and an exhaust fan in the rear. This permits cooling air to circulate inside the RV when we occasionally have to leave Ty and Buster behind. There is also an outdoor shower that we use to wash off dirty paws.
With the options we selected, the RV listed for about $110,000. We approached Winnebago (actually visiting with representatives at the plant in Forest City, IA) about a marketing relationship. In exchange for advertising on the RV, Winnebago gave us a price discount that we couldn’t refuse. We are under no further obligation to Winnebago, though we would be happy to do almost anything for them because we like our RV that much. We did visit the plant again last September to give Winnebago an update on our travels and bark about some ideas that would make RVs even more pet friendlier to travel in. Stay tuned.
Mine, that is! I was 53 when we acquired the RV – well below the minimum required accumulated life experience that one usually associates with RV owners.
So, Are RVs A Great Way For Everyone To Travel With Pets?
Once you reach your destination, pet travel via air, auto, or RV is pretty much the same – you come, you see, you conquer. But as the saying goes, it’s not about the destination – it’s about the journey. And we find that RV’s are an absolutely fantastic way to travel with pets. Here’s what you’ll find:
- You’re not limited to your car’s trunk space. If more gear (yours or your pets’) will make the trip more enjoyable, an RV has room to stow it away.
- You have the option of cooking your own (healthier) meals. And by extension, you can save a lot of money if you just prepare your own breakfasts and lunches.
- You can sleep in your own bed. If you get bugs, you only have yourself to blame!
- If you need to run out, and assuming the campground allows it, your dog may be more comfortable left alone in the familiar RV than in a strange hotel room.
- RV parks accept more dogs and larger dogs than do most hotels.
- You are more likely to run into a breed restriction at a campground than at a hotel.
Sound like a slam dunk? If you already own an RV, it is. We can certainly relate anecdotal evidence that most people who vacation in an RV are also bringing their pets. Clearly, there must be a symbiotic relationship!
But what if you don’t own an RV? Then the decision may not be so easy. In the interest of full disclosure, here are some tidbits to consider.
- RVs are not inexpensive. Unless you travel often and extensively, you are unlikely to get back the cost of the RV from food and hotel savings.
- Gas prices are rising. We have a comfortable driving range of 300 miles, and it can cost $70 to $80 to fill up our tank every day that we’re on the road. If you need to travel in your gas-sipping Prius for economic reasons, an RV is not for you.
- It helps to be mechanically inclined. With an RV, your car is your house and your house is car car. If something goes wrong with either one (say, a roof leak or an oil leak), you could be sidelined for a few days until the repair is made.
The good news: You can rent. Companies like Cruise America, Camping World, and Go RVing will rent you an RV on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. We see a lot of these rental RVs in our travels. However, there is an additional fee if you’re packing your pets.
Certainly, our RV journeys with Ty and Buster have been 95% unadulterated fun. We find the whole arrangement to be pretty cozy. We’re nimble and self-contained. There’s a whole country out there to explore, and we’re blessed to be doing it in an RV with our dogs.
Article by: By Edie Jarolim