Our last vacation of 2015 was a trip to visit friends in Hawaii for Christmas. During this trip, we had a lot of fun, but were also disgruntled with the amount that we had to pack into our trip due to the limited amount of vacation days we both had working standard office jobs. We came back from the trip feeling exhausted and depressed that our next vacation would not be for another six months.
During that trip, we found out that our friends were debating a move to Seattle, WA, a place that we have always wanted to live. We also wanted to make a change in our lifestyle, so we decided we would pull the trigger and finally do it. The wheels were turning, and we decided to sell our condo. So we began making all the repairs and updates to our two-bedroom condo that we never made for ourselves during the four years that we lived there. It was not until our condo sold that we decided that we would take a cross-country trip through the U.S. to see all 48 states before resettling again in the Pacific Northwest.
Humberto has always said he wanted to live in a van. I, on the other hand was less enthused. I liked my comfortable lifestyle in my stationary home with a yard and unlimited electricity, water, and Wi-Fi. Humberto however, said he would live in practically anything that moves. I had a long list of demands for our travel vehicle if we were ever going to “live in a van.”
The Van Demands
- Bathroom with shower and a real toilet (ie: not cassette or composting).
- Full kitchen with at least a fridge, stove, and sink.
- Living area that was separate from the bed, so you wouldn’t have to fold the bed up to use the living space.
- Work space enough for two laptops and all our gadgets.
- Adequate power – enough for heavy use of all our electronics.
- Good climate control.
- Good mobility, so we could zip around cities and parallel park easily.
- Ability to live off grid.
- Safe for Lucy, our Golden Retriever, to live in as well as be left alone in for a short time.
- Storage for all our camera, drawing, painting, and sporting gear.
Humberto interpreted the list-o-demands to be impossible to fulfill without building it ourselves. So, he began scouring YouTube and Instagram for all the bus and van build-outs he could find. Originally, we dabbled with the idea of building out a bus, but decided it would be too long in length to take into cities. For this reason, we also opted against Class A and towable RVs which are cumbersome and impossible to bring into a city unless you bring a car with them. Our small SUV wasn’t a good candidate to tow or be towed, and we didn’t want to have to purchase a new RV AND a new car.
We later opted against building out a van because being the designers and perfectionists that we are, we knew that the amount of researching, design, construction and trial-and-erroring would take us longer than we wanted before we could get on the road, and we were about to become homeless with the pending sale of our home. So, it was between a Class B and C. We wanted to make sure we were the shortest in length and we wanted to be as stealthy as possible, with no slide-outs, so it was a Class B van for us. Before we even knew the difference between the three classes, we found the Travato.
As soon as we saw the 59G model online we knew it was “The One,” so we made our first trip down to our closest dealer, Colonial RV in Lakewood, NJ, just to make sure. We looked at some other Class Bs, but the Travato had the floor plan that fulfilled my demands as closely as possible. It was also the most cost effective of the models we looked at, being a Dodge ProMaster instead of a Mercedes chassis. So, we did it! We bought the Travato!
Our two houses together! I cried about 4 times on move-out day.
How the Travato Measures Up
Besides the tank tablet we have to add after each tank dumping, and having to use Septic-Safe toilet paper, the toilet is as close to a residential toilet as I could ask for. After six months of travel we have used the shower only a handful of times, but its nice to know it’s there when we’re in a bind. The hot water even lasts for about five minutes, so I have perfected my quick hair washing technique.
The kitchen works extremely well for its size. The fridge is bigger than I need, but I am still happy to have it when I go too crazy at the grocery store. There is a two-burner propane stove and a sink. Both components have flip-down glass covers so you can maximize counter space when you need it. I didn’t ask for it on my list of demands, but I even got a microwave which is helpful when we’re plugged in and want to be lazy, or when I need extra sweater storage.
Meal prep in the Travato kitchen. We added a magnetic sheet behind the sink for our spice rack.
3. Separate Living Area from Bed
With the front swivel captain seats the living area in the 59g can comfortably seat five people, or three people and a dog-bench-seat-hog in our case, all while someone can be napping in bed in the separate “bedroom” area in the back. (Added bonus: The dining table folds down to create a big bed that we use for Lucy on long drives.)
Living Room in Travel Mode. Lucy has the best seat in the house!
4. Work Space
The living area has a long table that can be extended from 35 to 48 inches, which is one of the longer tables I have seen in most van floor plans.
Living Room in Stationary Mode. I LOVE our workspace! In major cities, the TV antenna picks up tons of channels so I can get my Bachelor fix.
It threw us for a loop when we found out that our outlets weren’t charged by the solar panel and we would not be able to charge our electronics unless our van was either plugged in to at least a 20amp power source or running the generator. We invested in an auxiliary lithium ion battery which can charge our laptops, phones, camera batteries, drone equipment, etc. multiple times in order to circumvent this problem. Other than that, our 100-watt solar panel keeps the lights, fan, tv, and stereo running and we have yet to run down the battery.
6. Climate Control
The van has a heater that can either be run off propane or electricity, or a mix of both. When it is hot, there is a pop-top fan vent and an A/C that can be run by the generator or off 30amp power when plugged in. All side windows are operable with screens for cross ventilation. The sliding door and rear doors have screens, so when we’re parked we can keep air coming in while keeping bugs out.
At 21’ in length, the Travato is able to be parked in a standard parking spot (with some overhang), and a back-up camera aids with parallel parking. There are very few cities where we have not been able to park, provided we are okay with a little walking.
City compactness in Savannah, GA.
While not in a location that is extremely hot or cold, it is very easy to live off grid for a few days. Our personal record for off-grid living has been 10 days, provided we use our toilet and grey water tanks sparingly, fill our water and propane as required, and use our auxiliary battery to charge our electronics.
9. Dog Friendliness
The fan and/or air conditioner, in combination with opening the windows and/or blocking the windows to decrease solar gain, usually provides adequate ventilation to keep our pup cool. If there is ever any question if it will get too hot in the van, we won’t leave her, or we’ll take her with us. We are constantly checking in with weather apps to help us plan our days to make sure Lucy won’t overheat in the van. The leather upholstery makes fur and dirty paw cleanup easy, and happens almost every day, having a water dog. Another clutch feature in the Travato 59g is the outdoor hose accessed from the back. There are days when Lucy gets a better shower than we do!
Lucy gets her own outdoor shower.
One great thing about the lofted bed in the 59g model is that you can fit a ton of storage under it. We keep our rv supplies, outdoor gear, seasonal clothes, shoe bin, books, and rarely used items under there. It may take some clever gymnastics to lift the bed and get to the thing that you of course packed in the farthest possible spot. But it is nice to know we have the space for all of the tchotchkes I’ve picked up on our travels. We’ve also added a bunch of hooks, baskets, and organizers throughout the van to maximize storage capacity.
I didn’t have this on my list of demands, (mostly because I was more concerned with the bathroom situation), but it has been reassuring that every new Winnebago purchase comes with one year of 24-hour customer assistance and roadside service throughout the U.S. and Canada. Our dealer also provides a helpline during business hours. I have only had to use this once, while in a panic about winterizing when the outdoor temperatures suddenly dropped, but most issues that we have ran into thus far are from lack of experience and can easily be Googled. Our Dodge chassis can easily be serviced at most Dodge or Chrysler dealers, which is extremely helpful when your vehicle is also your house. But my most important discovery has been a fabulous and extremely active Travato Owners (and Wannabees) group on Facebook that is a great resource for specific questions and has great ideas for modifications.
The Final Verdict
Overall, after six months of ownership, we still feel like we made a good choice with our decision to purchase the Travato 59g. There were obviously some things that we had to get used to after we went from living in a 700 square-foot condo to a 129 square-foot moving vehicle, but I feel that the 59g was the closest model we found that addressed everything that was important to us. We love that we can take our home almost anywhere a car can go. Winnebago did a great job cramming as may amenities as possible into a tiny, moving, living space; which we definitely appreciate as we’re whipping up a three-course meal in our sometimes-beachfront or sometimes-truck-stop home on wheels.
The only thing we knew about Key West prior to visiting was that it was the Southernmost point in Florida. We also knew it had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma just three months prior to our visit, but had no idea what to expect. Luckily, we were pleasantly surprised that we were still able to enjoy all of the go-to Key West activities.
Booking a Campsite in Key West
After learning that it was almost a three-hour drive on a single road, Route 1, to get to the actual city of Key West without a single Walmart or Cracker Barrel to boondock at, we decided to bite the bullet and book an actual campsite. We usually limit our campground stays to when we need to dump our black/grey tanks, fill our potable water, and charge a lot of electronics. Or if we simply just want to spread out and relax for a day.
Boyds Key West Campground.
On average we only stay at campgrounds once a week, but this time it was Christmas, so we decided to splurge. Many of the state parks and privately-owned campgrounds were decimated during the hurricane and some project they won’t even be ready to reopen until 2019. So, with limited supply, we jumped on the last available site at Boyds Key West Campground, the second closest campground to Key West, located on Stock Island, a short 10-minute drive from all the action.
Typical roadside on the way to Key West.
We were a little concerned after seeing the miles of debris that was piled along the sides of Route 1 that we may not be going to the paradise we were expecting, but that feeling quickly changed as we pulled into Boyds. Although the sites are very tightly packed, the place runs like a well-oiled machine with 24-hour security, clean bathrooms, game room, pool, and fully stocked camp/gift shop.
Our setup at Boyds. Lucy is waiting for Santa!
Everyone was in the Christmas spirit and we spent every nightly dog walk admiring the festive RV lights. The day we arrived, the campground ran a trolley for campers to see the various Christmas lights around town, but we were unfortunately too late for it. We did, however, get to see campground Santa and Mrs. Clause on Christmas Eve.
Exploring Key West
We ventured into town on Christmas Eve, with the first stop of course being the dog beach on Vernon Ave. Once we got Lucy, our golden retriever, as tired out as possible, we walked a few blocks down to the Southernmost Point (in the Continental U.S.) Marker.
Dog Beach at sunset.
A popular tourist attraction, we didn’t want to wait in line for a photo, so we just photobombed someone else’s shot. We took a brief drive around town just to familiarize ourselves with the area, expecting it to be a dead-zone, but it was a hot bed of activity both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Southernmost Point Marker.
Classic Key West Evening
During our stay, we also explored Mallory Square and ate some conch fritters and empanadas on the dock at sunset. This is the perfect place to be for all sunsets in Key West, as it is full of street performers, artisans, and delicious pineapple drinks.
This golden retriever collects tips and drops them in the bucket!
We wandered Duval Street and ended the night as we did any other night in the Keys, with a slice of Key Lime Pie from Kermit’s, my favorite of the four places I tried … and yes, I tried both Kermit’s locations just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.
My favorite drink in Key West!
Visiting the famed Ernest Hemingway House
The day after Christmas, I took a tour of the Ernest Hemingway House on Whitehead Street. I am not a cat person by any means, but part of the draw to take the tour is to see the 54 cats that inhabit the property. About half of the cats have 6 toes and a lot of them are descendants of Hemingway’s original cat Snow White. They have names like: Mark Twain, Pablo Picasso, and Elizabeth Taylor: the vixen of the house since she is the only cat who escaped the house’s one-litter-only rule to have a second litter.
Ernest Hemingway House.
Ten staffers stayed in the house during Irma with the cats and they all survived. The house, which is the highest point in Key West at 15-ft above sea level, sustained minimal damage compared to the towns north of Key West, in which many residents are still displaced. Clearly, I was focused on finding as many cats as possible during the 30-minute tour. Although, the guide was fantastic and even if you know nothing about Ernest Hemingway, the tour was very entertaining.
6-Toed cats are the stars of the tour.
Getting on the Water
On our last day in Key West we found Lazy Dog Adventures, a dog-friendly stand-up paddle (SUP) board and kayak rental company along the Cow Key Channel separating Key West from Stock Island and only a few minutes’ drive from the campground. After a quick SUP lesson we were off, Humberto and Lucy in the kayak and I on the SUP.
It was a shaky experience at first, but she finally got the hang of it!
Although by the end, Lucy abandoned the kayak for the SUP. She loved pulling seaweed out of the water as I paddled her around. They had a dog (and people) wash station so that we didn’t have to waste any water washing Lucy from our van.
Leaving the Island
One more sunset, seafood dinner, and Key Lime pie in town and we set off for our long drive off the island. About an hour into our journey, we realized we really wanted to do the drive during daylight, so we tested our luck by boondocking at a random boat launch. We’ve heard that Key West is not very good for boondocking, but thankfully we made it through the night without the dreaded 2.a.m knock.
Our last stop, before heading back to Miami the next morning, was the Old Bahia Honda Bridge which was great for photos and we even got to witness a shark rescue!
Overall, we had a great trip and did not feel that the recent storm prevented us from enjoying any of the Key West activities we were looking forward to. Our main suggestion would be to make sure you secure a campground before your trip, since they can book up very quickly and there are not many boondocking options. It may take a while for Key West to completely recover, but don’t let that stop you from making the trip!
For more from the Gunn family, check out their blog: AdventureGunn.com.