I have been dreaming of owning a trailer, 5th Wheel or RV for at least 25 years. Milton and I had looked at Hi-Lo trailers back in the nineties and the possibility of owning one was part of the reason we bought a tow package when we bought our Ford Ranger. We never did get the Hi-Lo trailer after getting the truck, getting side tracked with other things that came up in life but in the back of my mind, I continued to contemplate having a trailer one day to travel with.
Over the years, we would subscribe to Trailer Life magazine from time to time and we would attend RV shows. I realized that most trailers had relatively low ceilings for 6'4" men and discovered 5th Wheels. For several years, we looked at 5th wheels and I dreamed of owning one some day. The problem was that the 5th wheels we liked would require a more powerful diesel truck. By this time, we had gotten rid of the Ford Ranger anyway.
One fantasy that I entertained for a while was to buy a 5th wheel and just hire someone to move it from place to place. We could set it up in Palm Springs for a year or two and go there during the winter to get out of the rain in the SF Bay Area. Then we could have it moved it to San Diego for a couple of years. Then maybe Phoenix. In this scenario, I was't really thinking in terms of short term vacations as much as a moveable second home where we could spend the winters. To see how it might feel to live in a 5th wheel, we found a company in the San Diego area that would deliver a 5th wheel to any of the local RV parks and we planned a road trip around this. You can read about that "adventure" at this link: San Diego Road Trip and 5th Wheel
The road trip to San Diego and living in the 5th Wheel at the lovely RV park in Mission Bay was a positive experience for us but after that, I started looking at diesel trucks and realized just how expensive they were! I was still working at that time and one of my co-workers had bought a "used" diesel truck for twenty-something thousand and suggested that I could do that and get a used 5th wheel for another twenty-something. This seemed like a pretty good compromise but then, in my looking around, it was really difficult to find a used diesel truck and used 5th wheel in that price range. I was also concerned about buying something used that had no warranty. I am not mechanical at all and worried about buying a truck that might need a lot of work or getting a used 5th wheel that leaked when it rained. I had a cousin that had bought a trailer for thousands of dollars from a private party and the first time it rained, it leaked and was "totaled."
One day, while visiting an RV dealer and looking at 5th wheels and dreaming, I was talking to the salesman about my budget and my dilemma of finding a reliable truck and not wanting to pay more than $500 a month for whatever I got, he suggested that a class A motorhome might work better for my needs and budget. He pointed out that I could get a used gas class A for around $80,000 and the payments would come out to about $500 a month AND I could write off the interest on my taxes. That did sound pretty good.
I had never really considered class A motorhomes before then. Up to that point, I couldn't see how it made sense to combine the motor and drivetrain with the "trailer." It had always seemed like it would be better to have a truck which could be used for other things and a mode of transportation when you arrived at your destination. If there were problems with the truck, you could still live in the 5th wheel while the truck was being repaired. But, the tax write off was very enticing. Later, I would talk to my friend about this and he told me that he WAS able to write off his truck, too, because of his rental properties and using it in regards to this "business." So, I wondered if I wanted to become a landlord for the purpose of writing off a truck or wouldn't it be easier just to get a class A?
I started leaning more toward the class A idea and started taking a look at them. We went out to Mister Motorhome in Elk Grove and looked at the used ones they had to offer in the $80,000 price range. The used gas class A's they had looked pretty nice. There were even a couple of older diesel class A's in our price range. After this, I started seeing ads on t.v. and elsewhere for brand new class A's in the $80,000 price range. We went to Manteca to look at some of these and then down to San Jose to See Grins. Manteca Trailer salesman were very nice and answered all of our questions. The first salesman at See Grins admitted he had only worked there for a week and didn't know much about the R.V.'s. He went and got a salesman with more experience to help us and that salesman was helpful initially, up until he found out we were not going to buy something that day. Then he seemed to lose interest in us and gave us his card and told us to call him when we were ready to purchase. Of course, we were NOT ready to purchase that day and were still in an "exploratory" phase, but with his attitude, we would never consider going back to him for anything.
Since we had stayed in a 5th wheel in San Diego but now were thinking about a class a, and we were planning a get away to to Palm Springs for the White Party, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to rent a class A for a few days and see how we liked living in one. How different would it be from the 5th wheel experience?
El Monte RV Rental
I started doing some research. I looked at "Cruise America" but they mostly rent class C motorhomes and we knew we were not interested in something that small with low ceilings. Their rigs seemed more geared toward family camping. I also looked at Road Bear and then El Monte RV. They were comparable in a lot of ways but the selling point for El Monte for me was that they had a location in San Bernardino, which is about 60 miles from Palm Springs. I had never driven an RV except for a ten minute test drive with a salesman in Manteca on a country road and still had a lot of anxiety about driving one in real traffic on a freeway.
El Monte requires that you buy insurance from them or have a "rider" from your insurance company. We had our home insurance through Allstate since we had owned our home but our auto insurance through Geico. I called Geico and found out that they are not willing to do "riders" for RV rentals. I called our Allstate agent and they would be willing to do a rider for an RV rental if we had our auto insurance through them. Their auto rates were about they same because we got a homeowners discount and so it was an easy decision to switch our auto insurance over to Allstate. The rider through Allstate was less expensive and more comprehensive as far as I could tell than the insurance through El Monte. Because I had never driven a class A motorhome, I wanted to be sure we were covered completely in case of any unforeseen accidents.
To get the "rider," our Allstate agent needed information about the RV we were renting. I had called El Monte in San Bernardino and spoke to "R," who assured me that she would fax a form to my Allstate agent with the information he needed the following Sunday, four days before we would pick up the RV. I let my Allstate agent know to expect the fax when he came in on Monday. On Monday, my agent called to say there was no fax. I called El Monte and spoke with "F" and she got the fax sent that day. I WAS surprised in San Bernardino that they still put a $1,000 on my credit card in case there were "damages." I thought that was what the rider was for but I did get the $1,000 back when we returned the RV so no big deal.
When we were taken out into the lot to go through the RV, Milton and I were both disappointed that it was much shabbier than we had expected. It was a 2006 "Flair" with 2 slide outs. I knew we had reserved a "Flair" but I didn't realize it would be ten years old!! It had over 90,000 miles on it. The agent, "F," who was very kind and helpful, went through everything on the RV rather quickly and I felt overwhelmed with trying to remember everything!! Milton and I were taking pictures as she went over each ding and scratch on the motorhome, of which there were plenty! She explained how to use the slide outs, the propane, the hookups, the generator and a lot of other stuff. Thankfully, I had done a lot of research and had watched youtube videos so I was able to follow the orientation but it was a LOT of information!! The ugly blue carpet had stains & floor outside the bathroom was pretty "soft." The whole checkout process was pretty fast.
In the checkout process, at one point, I was asked if I wanted to pay $25 to have the gray and black water tanks emptied on return. At first i declined, saying that the purpose of this trip was to learn about those kinds of things. The agent said that was fine but if we didn't empty the tanks before return, we would be charged $75 to do so upon return. I thought about it for a minute and figured that $25 wasn't so bad and I could still try to empty the tanks if I wanted to have the experience but if there was a problem, it might be good to just let them do it. At the end of our four days, I was so glad I had paid the $25!!!
My anxiety was pretty high when I was handed the keys. Milton was going to follow me to the Happy Traveler RV Park in Palm Springs in the Prius. I didn't dare have the radio on or any distractions. I was extremely tense and aware of every bump in the road and every rattle and groan of the RV. It seemed very noisy on the road but I did develop some confidence in my ability to drive one of these behemoths and that was one of the main purposes of this "adventure."
One of the things we were disappointed about was that this RV had a "tube" tv rather than a flat screen and, even with Happy Traveler's "cable" at the RV park, we would only be able to get about 3 English speaking channels. San Bernardino is only about 60 miles from Palm Springs. The gas tank appeared full when we picked up the "Flair" & you are expected to fill it up on return or El Monte will charge $6.00 a gallon!! We paid somewhere around $3.00 a gallon and for the 120 miles there & back came to $80! That seemed like a lot of gas but we are used to driving Prius's that get about 48 miles to the gallon.
Happy Traveler RV Park
The biggest anxiety I had about Happy Traveler was that all of the sites are "back-in." I had such minimal experience with driving a Class A motorhome, that I worried quite a bit about those back in sites. I was assured by Happy Traveler that I would be given an "Easy Back In" site. I watched some videos on youtube about backing in an RV into a site but all of those assumed backing in from the driver's side of the RV. That WOULD have made it much easier and anything called an "Easy Back-in" site should certainly be from the driver's side as it is much more difficult to back in from the passenger side!!!
Upon arrival at Happy Traveler, we discovered that they don't take credit cards at all!! But they DID have our reservation, so I was happy for that!! There was a very sweet older woman to greet us and to tell us where our site was and since we didn't have $220 in our pockets, she said to just bring the cash by later. I'm not sure why they didn't mention the need for cash in our correspondence before our arrival. There was an office, but apparently there was new management and some transition and maybe some drama. I don't know, regardless, during our stay, there was rarely anyone in the actual office but they did refer people to a space where assistance could be found.
We were given these little slips of paper with passwords for the "wifi." Unlike most hotel wifi, each device had to have it's own password and the passwords were only good for 3 days. The wifi would turn out to be very spotty and not very useful at all. Thankfully, my iPhone could be used as a "hot spot," although that bumped up our phone bill. I have never stayed in a motel with wifi as bad as Happy Traveler.
The toilet in the RV we had rented was plastic and had a hand flush at the height of the toilet seat. I think the 5th wheel we had in San Diego was a foot flush. I remember having used that one with no problem but this toilet looked like it might be problematic with "solids" and so I never used it, opting to use the toilets near the Happy Traveler office.
(After we got home, I did see an article and a youtube video that explained better how to use an RV toilet. Apparently, you pull the handle half way to fill toilet with water before depositing solids.)
El Monte had given us one pack of chemicals for the toilet and one roll of one ply tissue. They also insisted that we use a "pressure regulator" when hooking up to water at the RV park which then made the water pressure useless for taking a shower, (although, just enough to get water all over the floor because of the poorly designed shower screen).
The alternative to taking a shower in the RV was taking one in the Happy Traveler showers. Milton did this one of the days we were there. I looked at them and thought they looked to disgusting to use and will include some pics here. Between the non-existent water pressure problem in the RV, the poorly designed "shower curtain" and the disgusting Happy Traveler showers, I ended up not taking a shower for THREE days!!! I was so glad to get back to a motel after dropping off the RV!!!!
It is hard for me to see the "economics" of owning a class A motorhome for short trips like this one. For anything less than 8 weeks a year, I think it makes more sense to stay in motels, where you usually know the quality of the motel/hotel chain before you leave home. It would only make economic sense in my mind if one were going on trips of more than a couple of months at a time or just parking it somewhere for the winter season and using it as a second home.
A basic model, gas Class A runs about $80,000 or a nice used diesel pusher for about the same. Financed, about $500-600/mo? The payments could be tax deductible but even then, when you add in gas to get to where you want to go, insurance, the cost of an RV park, the costs go up. And then there are the inconveniences of having to make your own bed, hooking up and unhooking and having to deal with sewage hoses and then having to pay for storing the RV when not in use. The "dream" of having an RV for short vacations is not so much a "dream" at that point as it could be a nightmare.
I suppose if one had a million bucks and could get one of those 2-3 hundred thousand luxury models with the ceramic toilet and shower that a 6'4" man can stand up in and not use a "pressure regulator" so you could have decent water pressure, and you could get a good phone plan so you could have wifi at a decent cost and not be dependent on whatever is available at the RV park and have satellite t.v. so, again, you are not dependent on the RV park. I suppose if you had a family of four to six, the economics might get better, too. This RV rental from El Monte and staying at Happy Traveler was more like "camping" & we are not campers. When we are on vacation, we want to relax. Maybe, for a full timer, the economics would work but not for vacations less than 8 weeks a yr.
Happy Traveler showed us another major drawback to an RV vacation. With motel or hotel chains, as I mentioned before, there is a certain level of quality expected and you are pretty clear about what to expect when you get there. If you are dissatisfied, management will usually try to move you to a better room or make things right. I guess there are some RV Park chains that are more reliable, where you kind of know what level of quality to expect. The RV park in Mission Bay, where we had stayed with the 5th wheel was 100 times better than Happy Traveler, more professionally run and had better wifi and cable. I know it is possible to find good RV parks but Happy Traveler would not be one of those.
I chose this RV park primarily because it seemed the closest to downtown PS but, while there, I did see several others that might have been better choices and only slightly further out.
We had been to Palm Springs a couple of times before this trip for The White Party weekend when thousands of gay men descend upon this small city. We did go to the actual "White Party" on one of those visits but it is pretty late at night for us at this point in our lives and too expensive for out budget, too. We usually go to a couple of the pool parties which are in the afternoon, much less expensive and still a lot of fun. On this visit, though, it rained A LOT! Essentially the pool parties were rained out. We were so glad we had not purchased our tickets before coming!! We had been to Palm Springs in the winter previously when it rained a little. We are feeling at this point that Palm Springs does not have reliable winter sunshine! We also learned that there really ins't much else to do in Palm Springs if your not attending White Party pool parties or other events or playing golf.
A friend had recommend we try Lulu while in Palm Springs, which is located in the heart of all the action on Palm Springs Drive. We stopped in around noon and made a reservation for 3pm but probably not necessary. There were four stylish millennial women taking reservations, talking among themselves but one could be distracted long enough to take a reservation. When we arrived at 3pm, we were told there would be about a 5-10 minute wait. I'm not sure if it was because we were a gay interracial couple or that we were "older" and not "cool enough" or what, but we watched other's walk in and could hear the interactions with the hostesses. Several walk-ins that did not have reservations were taken to tables before we were seated. I think there may have been one other party that had children that was made to wait also. After a few minutes of, what appeared to be discriminatory practice, I returned to the four hostesses and pointed out that we had a reservation for 3pm and we had been waiting about ten minutes while they had been seating others just walking in. Three of the hostesses looked at me perplexed but the fourth grabbed some menus and said, "we can seat you now." When we got into the restaurant, it was surprising to see how many empty tables there were!!
Apparently the "cool" looking people are seated out on the patio or toward the front but we were happy with our oversize booth on the back wall. The waiter assistant came and introduced himself and was very nice. Our waiter, David, was also very nice and accommodating. These two made Lulu a much more pleasant experience for us than the hostesses in the front. If you can get passed them and their attitude and obvious biases, the rest of the experience isn't so bad. I had the chicken piccata but was disappointed there were no capers. The food was average at best. We watched one table of two millennial parents, a baby and two toddlers while waiting for a food. Like so many parents today, they essentially ignored the kids and let them run wild, climbing all over the chairs, sitting on the top of the tables with their diapered behinds and wandering off to other tables to play with their toys. I am always surprised when people have children but no interest in actually raising them or teaching them anything!! Of course, that wasn't the fault of Lulu and this is a review of the restaurant, not parenting skills. Overall, the experience at Lulu was nothing special for us. We have much better restaurants in the SF Bay Area with far less attitude.
Our favorite restaurant by far on this visit and others, was Sherman's Deli and Bakery. It is such a great, casual, friendly atmosphere and excellent food. We highly recommend it!