On Friday, November 1st the long wait came to an end when we signed the papers and took delivery of our new Leisure Travel Van Unity FX. Our first weekend was one of the greatest and most stressful adventures we’ve ever had! And, for those who might be thinking about buying an RV, I want to tell you what our first weekend was like and some lessons we learned along the way.
Packing – We flew to St. Louis to pick up our RV at Van City, so our challenge was packing all the items we thought we would need, including pillows and a comforter, into suitcases we could check on the plane. It was a challenge but we got it down to two rolling suitcases, two backpacks and a tote bag containing the comforter squashed into a vacuum bag that lost air and slowly expanded during the trip. Lesson learned – pack scissors.
The Big Day – We were so excited we didn’t get to bed until well after midnight and woke up at 5AM to get to the airport for our early morning flight. I’m glad we had time to enjoy a sit down breakfast at the airport after getting through security, because it would be a long time before we saw food or water again. I was also really glad the flight to St. Louis was a short one because I was too excited to concentrate on my ebook, so I spent to flight looking out the window at the landscape passing below us. Once we arrived, we grabbed our bags and headed outside where Dan, our salesman, picked us up and drove us to Van City. Lesson learned – bring snacks.
Taking delivery of an RV is somewhere between buying a house and buying a car. The amount of paperwork is about the same as buying a car. Which was great because I was not looking forward to signing my name as many times as I did when we closed on our mortgage. But, like buying a house, taking delivery of an RV includes a detailed walk-through, except, the buyer gets instructed in how to operate every system. I am so glad that I used my phone to video every stage of the walk-through. We began under the hood and over the next three plus hours went through every system and how it worked! There was no way either of us would have remembered everything even with Carolyn furiously taking notes. Sure, we got manuals, but they came in their own tote bag that weighs about 5 pounds. Digging through the manuals is not helpful for quick answers, but we can refer the videos. Lesson learned – Don’t watch – do. Make sure you are the one clicking the buttons, turning on the fan, and making things happen. The process is overwhelming and you will learn more by performing the task instead of watching it be performed. Especially if you are tired and hangry. Also, don’t be afraid to call a halt if you need a break or something to eat.
With our brains numb from lack of sleep and three hours of orientation, we were handed the keys and away we went to the first stop on our RVing adventure… Lunch. We were tired, hungry and thirsty and keep in mind, we’ve only ever test driven a vehicle this large and never actually had to park it. Now, we were driving on to the interstate for the first time. Carolyn was driving and, I’m sure, feeling a bit like Sandra Bullock’s character in Speed. We only had to go one exit down, but it was the most stressful mile we have ever driven. When we arrived at Panera we had to navigate our new house through the tiniest parking lot on Earth and park it for the first time. Fortunately, we were there after the lunch rush had ended so the parking lot was not as busy as it could have been. We parked near the back of the lot, turned off the engine, breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed inside for lunch. After lunch we stopped at Wal-Mart for groceries and a few things we weren’t able to bring on the plane with us. After a frantic shopping trip that included a Mini meltdown we loaded up our goodies in the RV and headed for campground. Lesson learned – build your shopping list in advance. Do not try to come up with it on the fly in a strange town and at a strange store, or you may forget important items like the ground turkey for the turkey burgers, or the coffee.
Our first camping experience was in a KOA near Six Flags which was paid for by Van City. It was a chance to use all the systems in the RV to make sure they work as expected while still fairly close to the dealer. Mercifully, all of the spaces were pull-throughs, so we didn’t have to entertain the neighbors by trying to back in our second hour of RV ownership. We pulled straight in, made sure the water and power would both reach, then engaged the automatic levelers for the first time. If you’ve ever ridden a camel or an elephant where you get on while the animal is sitting, then have them stand up with you on their back, you have some idea of what leveling the RV felt like when the vehicle lurched in each direction for a minute or so until it leveled itself and the process came to an end. After we were level we hooked up, put out the slide and made the RV our home for the weekend. We were utterly exhausted from lack of sleep, information overload and stress but we were also ecstatic to be in our new LTV. Lesson learned – go slow and do each set up step together. This will help prevent mistakes.
Since we forgot the main ingredient for dinner, and we had eaten such a late lunch, we cobbled together some fruit and protein bars and snacked our way though the evening as we dug into the bag o’ manuals to read about different components and, more importantly, to start registering warranty information with all the different manufacturers. The night was cold, but the furnace kept us toasty warm and the thermostat was as easy to operate as the one in our sticks and bricks house. It wasn’t long before we pulled down the murphy bed for the first time and went to sleep. Lesson learned – the mattress was super comfy. We were prepared to go right out and buy a pad, but it was not needed.
We got out of bed rested, relaxed and feeling a lot more confident than the previous day. We started the day with a brisk walk, which was less about healthy exercise and more about getting some free coffee from the camp store before evil Carolyn surfaced. I put on some gypsy jazz music, streaming it from my iPad through our speaker system and began cooking. But, I forgot one important step, the vent fan.
Moments later we confirmed beyond any doubt that our smoke alarm was working perfectly as it began beeping so loudly we just knew all of our neighbors were looking out their windows to watch the show. We learned a very important lesson, the smoke alarm is not conducive to remembering how to work the Fantastic Fan. In fact, it’s really only conducive to marital distress and random arm flailing. I finally managed, half by accident, to turn on the fan and clear the smoke. Silence returned and soothed our shattered nerves for a moment, but the omelette was now scrambled eggs. Then I had to make a second batch of scrambled eggs and, yes the smoke alarm still worked perfectly, but this time I figured out how to turn the fan on. Lesson learned – fan first, cooking second. Another lesson learned – the one unlabeled switch is the on-off switch. Also – the fantastic fan has a thermometer setting so that it will come on automatically when the temperature hits a certain point. If that is set (it was) and you turn on the fan while the coach is at a lower temperature, the fan will not turn on.
After breakfast, we took showers for the first time and laid to rest one of our worries about living in an RV. Would there really be enough room in the shower? Could Carolyn shave her legs in that amount of space? The answer was yes. Absolutely. Plus, having the Truma AquaGo Comfort Plus water heater and being hooked up to city water meant endless hot water, a luxury we don’t have in our sticks and bricks house.
We spent the rest of the day with friends who were kind enough to come visit us in the campground so we didn’t have to unhook. They took us to lunch, got us coffee and gave us wine. We love these people. We had awonderful lunch at Joe Boccardi’s in Eureka, Missouri then spent the rest ofthe afternoon hanging out in the FX. Saturday night we ate leftovers from lunch, watched some of our favorite YouTubers\ then pulled down the murphy bed and called it a night. Lesson learned – real friends bring wine. Oh, and the coach was very comfortable for four people hanging out.
Our first day to break down camp and get ready to drive the five hours or so back to Nashville. I built a checklist to make sure we didn’t miss anything. I started with a prepared checklist from the book Small RV Ninja and modified it as we went to make it work better for our rig and our own internal logic. Such is the advantage of having it on the iPad. It took a while to break down, but we certainly weren’t rushing. Near the end of the checklist was dumping our tanks for the first time. Thanks to the macerator it was very easy though I learned the importance of adding a hose clamp to the connection between the hose and the head piece. Thank goodness for nitrile gloves!
We finished our checklist and were soon we were on our way to stop at Ikea and then the drive home with our new baby! The first hour was a bit stressful as we learned how it handled, but then it became much easier as we got to know each other. It was a fantastic first two days of camping and we definitely fell in love with our FX!