In her offseason last winter, Mandy and I traveled around the Southeast USA for two and a half months. We lived in a pop up camper with us and our two dogs, Foxey and Luna. We never had any problems with squeezing ourselves into a pop up camper while working (mostly) full time on our laptops. We never argued, except when backing up our camper. That little guy liked to wiggle around.
After those couple months, we were hooked. We needed to get on the road full time. To do that, we wanted a bigger rig so we could bring our cat, Nimbus, along for the ride. Around the middle of 2015, we seriously started talking about whether we are going on the road.
Also around that time, we decided to move from our first apartment together to a new place in the trendy yuppie neighborhood of Shadyside in Pittsburgh. That ended up being a great apartment for us, but the rent ($$$$$) is what made us fully take the jump into living in an RV full time. Why spend $1,400 a month on an apartment when we could own a decent used camper for $10,000.
We made the decision to move into a camper. Yikes. We were scared. Where do we even start?
Luckily enough, I’m a huge nerd and love researching big purchases. I immediately started to peruse the world of used campers, but we had a few decisions to make.
We initially considered getting a tiny camper that our Ford Explorer could tow, something like the Starcraft AR-ONE 15RB. We saw one in person and it would’ve been a bit cramped for two adults, two dogs, and a cat.
We readjusted our sights on a larger camper. Somethings not too small, or not too big. Somethings just right. A 25 foot length seemed perfect for us. To do that, we needed to decide whether to keep our Ford Explorer (tows 3,500 pounds) or upgrade to a pickup truck.
I really wanted a truck and Mandy really wanted a bigger camper. So we bought a truck.
Travel trailer or fifth wheel
The next decision was what kind of camper to get. We’re tall and we loved the space of the fifth wheels. Some of the newer models are just plain huge, but the fivers seemed to command a bit higher price.
What really set us straight on getting a fifth wheel was straightforward. We’re new to towing something big behind our car, so we wanted something manageable for newbies. A conversation with Mandy’s grandmother about her experience with a fifth wheel all but convinced us. All signs pointed to a fifth wheel. Bigger space, easier to tow than a similarly sized travel trailer, but it all came at a higher price.
Our goal with our camper purchase was not to go further into debt than we already were. The idea was to set us up to pay off our student loan debt, not dig ourselves deeper. We had to pay cash for our camper. Debt was not an option.
We saved up over the course of 6 months and were on track to have $10,000 saved up by January of 2015, when we were planning on pulling the trigger. With a firm budget in mind, we started searching. We set up alerts on RVTrader and Craigslist all around the country.
We sat around watching the email alerts for anything good. We got close to driving out to look at a few, but nothing really stuck out to us.
In mid-November (a bit ahead of schedule), we found a solid fifth wheel that needed a bit of love with the exact floorplan we wanted. Structurally, it was great, but the inside was a bit “pre-owned.”
Oh, and it had a beautifully large slide out. The slider and huge windows were what made us sign on the dotted line.
Meet Keystone (and me and Mandy). She’s our 2002 Keystone Cougar 276 weighing in at 8,300 pounds fully loaded. This was our first home. And we paid cash. Sweet!
She’s a real beauty in terms of the floor plan, but I’m a bit biased.
The real shocker was the price. Keystone rang up at $4,911. We bought her from Camping World of Buffalo and they couldn’t have been more helpful through the whole process, especially Sarah and Bill. We ended up paying an extra $750 to have her cleaned and detailed. The crew there did a stellar job fixing all of the little things and resealing her.
All told, we were out the door for under $6,000, way under budget. That gave us room to put even more money into fixing her up and making it our own.
The decor really wasn’t that bad. I actually liked it more than most of the newer RVs coming out!
But there’s still work to be done. Mandy’s wheels were turning as soon as we pulled off the lot.