10 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Fulltime RVing

Lorraine and I met quite a few couples at the RV SuperShow last week in Tampa, many of them looking to buy their first coach to hit the road full-time in retirement.

Our first coach is closing in on the four-year mark and we have been full-timing for almost two years now. Here are a few things I wish I had known before making the transition to full-time RVing.

Don’t buy a new coach. Buy a gently used coach.

There is a significant depreciation cost in the first few years of ownership, easily into the hundreds of thousands if you buy into a mid-level or higher model of diesel pusher. We have met a surprisingly large number of people that decide the lifestyle is not for them after only a short period of time, often less than a year, and they sell their lightly used coach at a steep discount. We should have purchased one of their coaches and avoided the steep depreciation expense.

Bigger is better.

We constantly fight with our basement bays. We have a 40-foot diesel pusher. The bays are not as tall as the larger coaches and the storage space is more limited. I am generally going in and out of the basement bays on a daily basis. The bays are difficult to access and I am constantly playing Tetris with the things that we carry in our bay. The extra 4 to 5 feet of length of a bigger coach may not seem like much, but it is significant.

Canada is not like the United States.

It is far more difficult to full-time in a motorcoach in Canada. The weather makes it challenging to find a decent spot to park the coach in the shoulder months (April and November). There isn’t a single Class A Motorcoach resort in Canada. Most RV parks fall into the rustic category, not much more than a dirt field.

The lifestyle is expensive.

We spend more on the RV lifestyle in our coach than we did in our sticks and bricks house. When we factor in all of the various costs (fuel, insurance, maintenance, site fees) it is more expensive than we first thought. We spend at a level that we can afford but it is not any cheaper than how we were living beforehand.

There is always something going wrong.

We knew that the RV lifestyle would bring its own set of challenges. What we did not fully appreciate is just how many things do go wrong with a coach. Most of our issues have fallen into the minor category but the ownership experience is quite different from that of owning a house or a car. You have to learn as much as you can about the various systems and you need to be mechanically inclined. Either that or be prepared to spend a lot of money on RV repairs.

Dealers are not great at servicing.

If we were to buy new again, we would not worry about where we bought the coach. We would bid the configuration out to a number of dealers, get the best price and ensure that we included the factory delivery option. We would take our coach to the factory and/or to the chassis manufacturer for service. We would only use dealer servicing as a last resort.

The RV community is amazing.

We were initially a bit concerned about community. Would we make new friends? Would we have a sense of feeling at home? Would we tire of moving around? So far it has been a wonderful experience. We have experienced tremendous community and we have connected with so many terrific people in our travels.

Minimalism is rewarding.

We have everything we need inside our coach. We do not miss the house or the pile of stuff that we had collected over the past 40 years of marriage. It is hard to describe, but there is something liberating about not carrying around so much stuff.

No need to rush.

If nothing else, I wish I had known to take my time before we started out on the road. I have always been so driven in my career that I seemed to be in a constant state of rushing to achieve something in life. There are slow days in retirement and I have to remind myself that it is okay to spend time just chatting with friends or enjoying a long walk with Lorraine and Tabby (our golden retriever) or sitting outside enjoying the sun and reading a book. In fact, it is okay to take two weeks to drive down to Florida from Ontario. Or a month. Or two.

Life in our coach is so much better than I expected.

Decades of being an executive in large corporations taught me to live in a state of constant worry. To always be thinking about what might go wrong and how to plan accordingly. I carried that worry with me into this lifestyle. It has turned out to be so much better than I expected. Lorraine and Tabby have been patiently teaching me how to be content with life. And that is perhaps the best thing to know before going out on the road. You bring yourself into any context or situation. As we age, we need to be in the moment and we need to be optimistic. There will always be challenges in life. Being able to spend this time together in our beautiful coach enjoying wonderful friendships and experiences is such a blessing.

RV SuperShow Day 2

I attended a session with the Newmar executive team yesterday.

Kevin Bogan, Vice President of Operations for Newmar, chaired the meeting. Other Newmar executives present included Matt Miller, now a Vice President at Winnebago Industries reporting to Michael Happe, CEO of Winnebago (Matt remains as President of Newmar Corporation), John Sammut, Vice President of Sales (Newmar), Matt Utley, Vice President of Service and Facilities Development (Newmar), Ron Stichter, Vice President of Engineering (Newmar) along with a few other folks.

Kevin opened the session and, as expected, spoke about the acquisition by Winnebago. Kevin provided the standard talking points about how everything will stay the same for customers. Even better for the future.

Kevin then introduced someone else. Someone from Winnebago.

Ashis Bhattacharya.

This is how Ashis describes himself on LinkedIn:

I am a growth-focused business leader who has worked in multiple companies (Winnebago, Honeywell, Moog, Motorola Solutions, Bain & Co) and industries (Outdoor Lifestyle, Industrial Components & Machinery, Telecommunications) around the world. I presently work with Winnebago Industries, the world-renowned brand in RVs, heading strategy, acquisitions, advanced technology and I also head the Specialty Vehicles division of the company.

My approach to business starts with gaining a deep understanding of customers and markets, and using that knowledge to work with product development and marketing teams to develop differentiated offerings and marketing approaches. I am also a big supporter of customer insights research and human-centered design as a way to understand customers better.

At Winnebago, I have worked on closing 2 key acquisitions over the past couple of years, Grand Design RV and Chris-Craft. I work with the leadership and management teams to bring in a more strategic approach to business and growth. I have also led the introduction of an all-electric RV for short-range commercial applications. Digital customer engagement is an area of great passion for me.

From what I gather, Ashis is the point person from Winnebago to oversee the integration efforts with Newmar. Ashis is a peer to Matt Miller, as they both report to the Winnebago CEO.

It was interesting to me that Ashis felt compelled to speak to this group.

Don’t get me wrong. Ashis, although not as strong a communicator as Kevin or Matt, said all the right things. He came across as friendly and seemed focused on ensuring a good customer experience. But, at the end of the day, Ashis is just another MBA; a hired gun with no particular focus or passion about the RV lifestyle. He has been with Winnebago just over three years. He brings no prior experience or exposure to the RV industry. I doubt that he has ever spent any time using an RV.

Newmar is now part of a publicly traded business, accountable to shareholders. Things will change for the company. Hopefully for the better, but, knowing how public corporations work, especially those ones that are run by MBAs, I’m not so sure.

The format of the meeting was largely a Q&A session with the attendees. I did not learn much new except for Newmar’s plans to spin out a mobile service offering in a few select areas starting with Florida.

Later in the day, Lorraine and I spent time looking at the Newmar, Entegra, and Tiffin coaches. That was in between extended sessions talking with people.

In the Newmar section, we really loved the Essex. That was our favourite Newmar coach. In the Entegra section, well, let’s just say that Thor followed through on Bob Martin’s promise to decontent their high-end coaches (Bob is CEO of Thor). We would not buy an Entegra coach. Lorraine and I were really impressed with a 40-foot Tiffin Phaeton coach. Really well done with an expansive floor plan that seemed much larger than our coach. Nice bus. We also enjoyed walking through the Allegro Bus coaches.

We will be back to the show today. We will also be in a meeting with ITR, manufacturer of the OASIS heating system. I wonder if they have any spare pumps? I’ve already replaced two defective ones and I need to replace a third.

Third day dry camping. All good so far. We leave bright and early tomorrow morning.

RV SuperShow Day 1

Day 1 at the Tampa RV SuperShow done.

We spent roughly six hours at the show yesterday. A few observations to share with you.

We walked. And walked. And kept walking. Roughly 18,000 steps. By no means did we cover the entire show. If you come out to the event, be sure to bring some comfortable footwear.

We dehydrated. Unlike last year, when the temperatures were quite cool, the weather this week is quite warm. The winds were very still and it was very hot and humid yesterday. Coupled with a lot of walking and we dehydrated quickly. We will be carrying a lot more bottled water with us when we wander out today.

We kept bumping into YouTubers. My, my. They are out in full force at the show. You can easily spot them. They are the ones walking around holding a selfie stick, talking to their cameras. They have been busily posting content on their YouTube channels. Some are high profile with lots of followers, others are hoping to gain more followers. I follow most of them online. A bit odd to see them in the physical world.

Might just be my own observation, but most of the new product from the RV industry looks, well more cheaply made than before. We noticed this as we went through the various manufacturers. Even this ForeTravel at $1 million had a few misses.

I found several examples of poor quality in that coach including a badly hung door, malfunctioning cabinets, rough grout work and this screw wedged into the slide out mechanism on the floor. Not something I would expect to find in a million dollar coach.

The crowds yesterday built up around 10am and people started leaving the show in large numbers around 3pm. When Lorraine and I returned to the show late in the afternoon, the crowds had literally disappeared. That was the perfect time to walk through coaches and visit the exhibitor booths.

Aside from bumping into YouTubers, we kept bumping into fellow travellers at the show. This happened to us last year as well. We spent a fair amount of time just catching up with old friends as we walked through the show.

What did I buy? I was asked this question many, many times yesterday. Sure, there are all sorts of deals to be made at the show. But we are not here shopping. Yes, there are a few items I would like to get for the coach. We’d like a name sign. We’ve been meaning to get one made for several years now. Perhaps we will finally get one this year. I’d like to get a portable shade for the driver’s side window. The sun visor on my driver’s side window has regulatory limits which means that my arm gets scorched when driving the coach with the sun on that side. Magna Shade has a portable sunshade that you can stick to the window and it would provide better sun protection when driving while leaving the mirror still readily visible. We’d like to get some underbody LEDs to provide a glow to the coach. And a floor mat for the front cockpit. Along with a few other odds and ends. But no new coach. I did not see anything in our price range that compels me to trade in the coach. Especially now that we seem to have most of the bugs worked out.

Newmar had their executives out in full force to the show this year. Likely still trying to calm everyone down about the Winnebago acquisition. Matt Miller was quite visible and accessible at the Newmar booth yesterday. Although things seem to be pretty much the same with Newmar, I have noticed a few unique additions to the Newmar website. Like this new link in the footer section:

Well, if you are focused on producing shareholder value, I guess you need to include a link to your corporate Investor Relations page from your recent acquisition’s website.

We’ll be chatting with the Newmar execs later this morning. I expect to hear the same company line: we are still Newmar and we will still operate as we did before.

The buildings do get much busier with the warmer weather. Attendees seek refuge from the heat. We found it was best to visit the booths first thing in the morning or late in the day when the crowds have thinned.

Looking forward to spending more time at the show today.

Tampa RV SuperShow Arrival

We have arrived to the Tampa RV SuperShow.

We will soon cross the gates into the show. No particular plan. We have the next three days to take it all in. The show will attract roughly 70,000 attendees so it will start to get busy although I expect most of the crowds will be coming in on the weekend.

We, on the other hand, will be leaving first thing Saturday morning. I have band commitments this weekend and, in between attending the RV SuperShow, I will be practicing my guitar. No rest for the weary.

Here is a video of our arrival:

Quite the process. Coaches queue to enter. Coaches move to a staging area to unhook. Coaches move to a parking area. And there it is. All settled in for a few days.

We have a great spot. Wide open at the front nestled under a large tree. Cellular data is good so far allowing me to post and upload some content.

Lorraine and Tabby wandered around the Newmar campsite and, predictably, met many old friends and made many new friends. Several couples that we know from Canada are here and it was great to catch up with them.

Somewhere over 200 Newmar coaches in this area. I haven’t counted them myself but it is a pretty big gathering of fellow Newmar owners.

Power is provided by these big diesel generators strewn throughout the parking area. Only 30 amp service so we have to be mindful not to trip any breakers.

The parking is thoughtfully laid out. Although all the coaches are spaced relatively tight, it feels open.

This was one of the main parking lots last night. I suspect it might be a tad busier this morning.

Looking forward to walking through the show this morning and checking out all of the new coaches and RVs.

Distracted Driving

It is so easy to be distracted when driving. I find that I am far more focused when driving our motorcoach than when I am driving our car. With our motorcoach I keep our highway speed at 62 mph and I am constantly checking the road ahead and I am constantly checking my mirrors. Lorraine looks after the navigation as I do not want to be scanning GPS devices while driving.

And I certainly do not want to be checking my smartphone.

I’m not sure what led to this particular incident but the end result of clipping a semi-trailer was devastating. Fortunately the driver survived without any injuries. He was the only person on board.

Here is a video of the incident along with the a brief tour of what remained of the coach in the wrecking yard.

In reviewing the video, it looks as though the driver was not anticipating the road ahead until just a few seconds before impact. Here is a frame taken about 5 seconds before the coach clipped the semi-trailer.

What caused this incident? I wasn’t in the seat and I don’t know what else may have been going on as the driver approached the truck. The driver appears to react much too late in this situation. He may have been distracted. He might have been going too fast. He may not have been looking down the road. Or perhaps he was squeezed in by traffic and had no option to avoid an impact.

The aftermath shows just how little protection we have in this class of motorcoach. If there had been someone in the passenger seat, I suspect they would have received serious injuries.

Be careful out there.