Monday, June 21, 2021

Travel Planning

If you've read Paul's book, The Joy of Efficiency, you'll see that we do detailed travel planning. We really pack the most into our travel time because we show up prepared. But, a multi week RV trip with a self-contained rig is a little different planning process. We tried a few trip planning apps, but finally settled on this free web based site MyScenicDrives. We're still learning and finding new tools and tricks, but it allowed us to map out a pretty detailed route plan. The numbers are points of interest, not days. We've reserved a few days at various campgrounds and state parks, and will just practice our free-range boondocking skills on other days. 

We were planning to run up and down the spine of the Rocky Mountains, trying to stay up in elevation and down in temperatures. We're planning on about 6 weeks to go 5,300 miles.

The best laid plans . . . were thrown out when we encountered some issues with the Travato before the final purchase. You can read about those here.

We cancelled a few early reservations and started working to salvage some of the trip. We will start 8 days later than we originally planned and had to modify our route and reservations - where we could even get them at such a late date. Looks like more boondocking for us. 



Sunday, June 20, 2021

RV Production and Delivery Issues

The RV industry has a big backlog these days. We get that. What's interesting is how little information is provided during the production and delivery. We could order a toothbrush online and have better tracking and status updates than on a large RV. 

We agreed to a price with the local dealer on Feb 2, 2021 and placed our order. The dealer said they had a production slot they could use and it should arrive by late May. We pinged our salesperson about once/month just to check status. In March he said we were slated to start production in early May. We boldly started making travel plans with an early July departure.

We got our VIN number on May 7th, which meant that a RAM Promaster chassis had arrived at Winnebago to begin transforming it into a Travato. Production took about a month and we got notice in late May that it would complete on June 3rd. Note, that we had to pull all this information - there was no voluntary update by the manufacturer or dealer.

After June 3rd all the dealer knew was that it moved into the delivery queue. They apparently didn't know when it was coming until the day it showed up in north Texas. It arrived at the dealer on June 10th, and we scheduled their next available window for pick-up, which was June 16th. On June 15th, the dealer emailed and said they had an internal miscommunication and ours would not be ready for pickup yet and the next date available was Jun 22nd. 

The dealer is about an hour away so we checked the status the day before and they said they were ready. Tue, Jun 22 - Pickup day finally arrived. After 45 minutes of driving toward the dealership, the sales manager called and said there was an issue with the Volta system so we couldn't pick it up today. We were only 15 minutes away. We drove the hour back home and awaited word on a resolution. The Volta is the 12.8kW lithium ion battery pack in place of the traditional gas generator.

A late afternoon call from the sales manager was not very helpful. He didn't have a cogent explanation, and finally just said they were working on it. The next day (Jun 23) I requested to talk to the technician. He called and said it was a communication issue with the Volta pack and he was waiting for the Volta technician to access it remotely and troubleshoot. No one called on Thu (Jun 24), so we told them I was coming to visit on Friday. We drove out there and saw the unit in a shop bay, but nothing had been done. They still hadn't connected with Volta. On Sunday night (Jun 27) I sent an email to the general manager of the dealership and told him they had some process problems in their vehicle delivery and prep service. 

The manager responded on Monday (Jun 28) morning and said he would review the issue. Then, I heard nothing most of the day. I contacted Volta directly and found their responsiveness to be very good. They were helpful and said that the dealer still hadn't set it up to remotely connect to the unit for troubleshooting. I emailed the dealership manager and asked for a status update. Late afternoon the technician called and said he first had the wrong cable, then their internal IT was blocking connectivity. He thought he had the ability to connect now, but it was late and he would contact Volta on Tuesday. 

On Tuesday (Jun 29), they finally connected but the late afternoon update was not good. They don't know why the system is not working and have to schedule a Volta technician to fly down. That will be July 7th at the earliest - 4 weeks after the Travato arrived at the dealership. The dealership, after a rough start of delaying my pickup and finding the issue as we were driving there, has been helpful and responsive. The tech called me with a daily update - even when he was working well past closing time. The manager has emailed a couple of times with updates. Now everyone needs to work together and get the van fully operational!

We'll probably start getting spam phone calls about our vehicle warranty expiring before we even take possession.

Wed (Jul 7). The Volta technician arrived today and replaced a component inside the Volta system - apparently the main CPU was fried. They reinstalled the pack and it finally powered up the systems. Volta wants to replace the DC-DC converter and power switch as they are concerned the failed CPU might have caused some cascading damage. Volta will ship those parts to our dealer, and they arrived on Fri (Jul 9) for installation. Our pickup is now scheduled for Wed (Jul 14) - 5 weeks after the vehicle arrived at the local dealer.

It's 2pm on Tue (Jul 13) and I haven't heard anything from the dealership since last week. I sent an email asking them if the vehicle has been checked out and ready for pickup tomorrow (Jul 14). Confirmation came at 4:25PM that they are ready for pickup on Wed!

We compiled a detailed pickup checklist based on some lists from other owners. You can find it here:

Pickup on Wed (7/14) went well. We knew more than the people at the dealership and got it all checked out. The 45 mile drive back home was uneventful, which is good. Just one issue appeared - the radio touchscreen went nuts and kept jumping back to one screen. I finally disconnected the chassis battery negative for a few minutes and reconnected and that rebooted and fixed it - YAY.  Boo, that only lasted a short while. We'll have to take it back in after our trip to have the car stereo repaired.




Sunday, June 13, 2021

RV Environmental Footprint

We live in a passive/active solar home (Westbrook House) and generally have a light environmental footprint. So how can we justify a Winnebago Travato camper van that gets about 15-17 mpg? Paul has driven a Prius since 2004 (Paul's Prius) and Elena since 2006. We calculated in that time, versus driving 25mpg vehicles (the US average), we have saved 8,374 gallons of gas. That saved us $21,689, which is more than the cost of one Prius. To offset all those savings we would have to drive the RV for about 150,000 miles, which is unlikely - we would have very sore bottoms.

The other way to look at it is the CO2 footprint. Our normal vacation mode for decades has been to fly somewhere, rent a car, and either stay in hotels or bring our camping gear with us. Because of the large CO2 footprint associated with flying, we actually come out slightly better by driving and staying in our RV. As a bonus, Bebop can travel with us in the RV.

The van also has a 12.8kW lithium-ion battery bank on board that can charge via plug or via an alternator while driving. Solar panels on the roof provide a little charge as well. So, we don't have a noisy and polluting gasoline generator to run. Cooking is all electric with an induction cook top and combination microwave/convection oven. Propane is only used for space and water heating, though modest amounts of heating can also be done with the batteries. 

Though we'll be using the traditional fuel made from dead plants and dinosaur poop to move from site to site, we'll be doing it with a modest environmental footprint - or in the case of Bebop, a paw print.

Here's our Travato gas use after 4 weeks on the road vs the gas we've saved in our Prius vehicles.


Fly / Rental Car Vacation


RV Vacation




Wednesday, June 9, 2021

RV Buying Process

Paul has a process that he uses for almost all purchases. It’s described in detail in his book The Joy of Efficiency.

First Paul & Elena visited a local dealer (1 hr away) in late January 2021 and checked out the Travato G & K floor plans. They liked the K layout on paper, and confirmed that in person. They also wanted a KL model so they could have the battery bank to run our A/C if I had to stay in the van. There was a 2021 KL in the lot, but not with the color/options we wanted. We’re in no rush, so they decided to order a 2022 KL.

They picked our options and asked for their best price – Paul even mentioned that he had seen 25%-30% MSRP discounts from multiple people on a Facebook Travato forum. They came back at 24.5% off. So he contacted two other dealers – one about 4.5 hours away and another near the factory. Everyone prices differently (some have doc fees or prep fees), so he just added up everything that was not TT&L and used that as the comparison price to MSRP. One other quoted 25% off, but another opened at 27.2% off (even including an $895 prep fee). Paul emailed the local dealer to see if they could match, and they didn’t respond. A phone call to the 27.2% dealer and he got them to 27.8% off. Less than an hour later the local dealer called and asked what price would make us a buyer. Paul told them the OTD price of the 27.8% off (in retrospect he probably should have told them a better number, but he is honest). The dealer said they would beat that by a little, and we ended up with 27.9% off MSRP.

We know others have found better discounts in the past, but inventory seems a bit tight, and they seem a little less anxious about sales. We could have played them back and forth for a little more off, but at some point it’s good enough. We got a year 2022 model at the very start of the production year loaded with exactly what we wanted. Set for a late May / early June delivery and the pick-up will be just under an hour away. Update: Our RV started production in early May and completed on June 3rd. It arrived at the dealer in North Texas on June 10th and we'll pick it up on June 16th.


The Joy of Efficiency


Choosing a Vehicle

Paul & Elena travelled extensively in the past few decades. They’ve usually flown to an area, rented a vehicle, and explored a loop from the destination airport - and left the dog at home. They’ve been thinking about getting an RV for a few years and have researched the options.

The first big decision was a trailer or camper vehicle. They tend to not stay at any one location for a long time, so the camper vehicle seemed to fit the needs better. Then they had to figure out what size. With just two people and a dog we decided a camper van, also known as a Class B RV, was the right choice for us. It is smaller and more nimble than most RVs.

Next they compared all the available models using the time tested research mode described in Paul’s book The Joy of Efficiency. We looked at specs, reviews, reliability data, and more and narrowed in on the Winnebago Travato as a good choice for us. It didn’t stop there, as there are two different floor plans that we had to analyze – and then a decision on a lithium battery system or a traditional gas generator.

We made our decision based on the floor plans and then we visited a local dealer and climbed into both vehicles to make sure we were heading in the right direction. We decided on the Travato KL model with the lithium batteries instead of a generator. The battery bank allows us to be quietly off grid – and keep Bebop cool if Paul & Elena are out on a hike where dogs aren’t allowed.

One interesting side note - When I was young my Mom, sister and I travelled during the summers of 73, 74, and 75 in a Winnebago Indian D-22.

Our 2022 Winnebago Travato 59KL

Winnebago Travato 2022 59KL