Comparing costs of traveling by RV between Europe and the United States

Ton and I recently completed a couple of short trips in the Pacific Northwest and as we were driving we found ourselves comparing the experience between camping in the US and in Europe. We also spent some of that time discussing our impressions of costs. So when we returned from our last trip I decided to take a look at the spreadsheets we keep when we travel to see the differences.

While we travel we keep an excel spreadsheet where we record all of our daily costs by category. We have been doing that since 2016 so it includes all of our trips to Europe, our Alaska trip, and our trips in the US. For this post I am comparing our two 2019 European trips, with two shorter trips we took this year in the US. The costs for Europe are averaged out over 110 days, while the costs for the US only include 24 days.

For this post I am only including the costs actually involved in traveling from the time we leave our home in Oregon until we return. The year we traveled to Europe we used airline miles for both sets of flights, so the airline costs are minimal. I am not going to include cost of ownership items such as maintenance, storage, insurance, and depreciation because I have not been very good about recording the costs associated with Scout our US RV.

In our spreadsheet we track the following costs associated with daily RV life:

  • Fuel
  • Eating Out
  • Camping
  • Entrance Fees (Parks, Museums)
  • Internet Access
  • Tolls (Includes costs of ferries)
  • Laundry
  • Public Transit
  • Groceries
  • Lodging

We are type A travelers so we move very frequently. An average week for us has about 4 different locations where we spend the night. Also, one of our favorite reasons to travel is to sample local foods, beers, and wines, so we eat out fairly frequently. Because of this our average daily costs may be a bit higher than many people. Also, the costs are expressed in US dollars, we keep our spreadsheet while we are in Europe in both dollars and Euros and update the exchange rate daily. It is not perfect but I think close enough.

Crossing from France into Spain.

Overall

The average daily cost for Europe was lower than the US. This surprised me a little as we have daily costs in Europe that we do not incur in the US. It was not a total shock because both Ton and I thought that overall it would be close, we just thought it would slightly favor the US.

Lower cost Europe by $7 per day.

Driving down a long lonely road in Eastern Oregon.

Fuel

The biggest difference between the US and Europe is not surprisingly fuel, but it does not favor the side you would think. Everyone knows fuel is much more expensive in Europe than the US. Last year while we were traveling fuel costs in Europe were approximately $6 per gallon. During our travels in the US this year fuel was around $2.50 per gallon. Scout’s 6.8l diesel with automatic transmission burns fuel at about 13.5 miles per gallon. François’ 2.2l with manual transmission gets much better mileage at about 20 miles per gallon. The biggest cause for the difference is we travel much farther per day in Scout than in François. Looking at our expense log due to the difference in miles driven we fuel Scout almost every day. In contrast because things are much closer together in Europe we end up fueling François only every 5 to 6 days. I thought maybe this was an anomaly caused by the trips we took in Scout this year, so I went back and looked at the expenses for 2016 and 2017 and they were very similar for fuel to what we see in 2020. So it is more about miles driven per day in the US. So even though fuel is much cheaper in the US we end up spending substantially more per day on it in the US.

Lower cost Europe by $33 per day.

Small neighborhood market in Sicily.

Groceries

Our impression was that groceries were slightly more expensive in Europe than in the US, and that is how it turned out. The difference this year was more substantial than in past years. I attribute that to the fact that this year we only had one long trip that we had to purchase groceries. The other two trips were only a week and we did not purchase food on those two trips but stocked the fridge from home. We did not have any costs on those two trips. When I looked back at our longer trips from 2016 and 2017 the average cost was lower than Europe but only by about $2 per day.

Lower cost US by $6 per day.

One of our favorite things to do while we are traveling.

Eating Out

Experiencing the local food is a big part of why we travel so we budget for eating out a few times per week. We were pleasantly surprised by eating out in Europe. The fixed price lunch is one of our favorite things there. We thought that eating out would be more expensive than at home but it has not turned out that way. The menu prices are higher than in the US, but they almost always include the service charge. When you factor in a typical tip of 18 to 20% the lower menu costs in the US evaporate. What we found is that our costs were very similar in both places and for the time we are looking at they were slightly lower in Europe.

Lower cost Europe by $2 per day.

Lodging

We budget one day a month for hotels this allows us a little break from François and some cities are easier to see from a hotel. Also, we stay in a hotel the day we arrive in Europe and the day before we depart. Currently because of my pre-retirement life as a consultant we have a ton of hotel points available to cover these nights so the cost is pretty minimal. In Europe we will sometime stay at US military short term quarters as it gives us access to the American washers and dryers there.

Lower cost US by $2 per day.

An “Aire de camping” in France, basic and cheap.

Camping

Before we left the first time for Europe I would have guessed that our camping costs would have been higher there than here. But as we traveled the first time, the well developed RV infrastructure and the variety of options to park were striking in Europe. This was the biggest surprise for me.

The opportunities to free camp there are many and we met a lot of people who took great pride in almost never paying to park. We tend to avoid urban free camping as we are just not that comfortable with it. The opportunities in Europe are probably greater than in the US, but like here because of abuses by a small number of people, becoming more difficult. We probably free camp (usually in a parking lot ala Walmart parking) about 10% of our nights.

Europe has something that I have not seen in the US and it really helps with camping costs. Each country calls it something different, but it is a parking area usually sponsored by the town or city that is designated for short term stays by RV’s. The services offered vary from a designated corner of the municipal parking lot with no amenities, to very nice facilities with water, dump stations, and even toilets. These are not posh facilities, usually just asphalt with no expectation to enjoy the outdoors. The great thing is the cost. They range from free to $10, with the norm being around $5. We probably spent around 50% of our nights in these facilities while traveling in France and Germany.

We also find that our Campground costs are lower than in the US. These are the equivalent of RV parks here. We are traveling in the shoulder season there and in Europe there is a camping organization called ACSI that is something like Passport America. The ACSI campgrounds generally go for $15 to $20 per night for a full service (electric, water, shower block) campground during shoulder season. As RV sales have taken off and demand has increased we are finding that RV parks even in the shoulder season are running $25 to $45 per night in the US.

So even though we most often camp in National Parks and other US government campsites and get our senior discount, the additional cost of US RV parks pushed the average daily cost in favor of Europe

Lower cost Europe by $8 per day.

Sometimes we just join with all of the other tourists!

Entrance Fees

We are very much in tourist mode while visiting Europe so our costs for sights is more. In the very popular sites in Europe we often find ourselves paying for guided tours which even raises the costs more. In the US we are now eligible for the lifetime senior discount card. This gives us free entrance to National Parks, and other US facilities. This has taken away our biggest entrance cost while touring in the US.

Lower cost US by $5 per day.

Internet Access

In a previous post I talked about our way of maintaining internet access. In the US we do not need this as our cell phone service provides it. Our cost for internet access in Europe gives us about 100 gb of data per month, and represents a discount for long term usage and taking advantage of periodic discount offerings from the provider we use.

Lower cost US by $5 per day.

Tolls

In the western US toll roads are pretty much limited to the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas and a few stray bridges. In Europe outside of Germany and Belgium most freeways are tolled. We try to avoid them, but there are times when they are unavoidable. Also, during 2020 we traveled in Italy and made the decision to use the freeways whenever possible and pay the tolls due to the quality of the secondary roads.

Lower cost US by $7 per day.

Laundry

One of the biggest chores for us is finding good places to do laundry. Laundry is more expensive in Europe. It typically costs $6 to $8 to wash and dry a load.

Lower cost US by $2 per day.

We have come to depend on the excellent public transit in Europe.

Public Transit

We almost never use public transit in the US. In Europe we frequently use it to get from the campsite to downtown, particularly in mid sized and large cities. In 2020 we also used a ferry to get from southern France to Sicily which was a bargain though it drove our cost per day up.

Lower Cost US by $10 per day

For us now that we have invested in a RV in Europe there is no significant difference between traveling in the US and in Europe on a daily basis. If you enjoy RV’ing in the US you will enjoy it in Europe, it is affordable, fun, and gives you another view of living on the road.

You can see our thoughts on shipping your American RV to Europe vs purchasing one there in this post Purchasing our RV in France.

Update on Performance of our Malayan

Update on Performance 2016

Scout on the spit in Homer Alaska.

After two years of being on the road we made the decision to take Scout back to Provan for some extensive work.  We had more teething problems than we liked and a couple of the problems were quite problematic. This made us reluctant to take her out of Oregon, never mind the United States.  After several conversations with Mark about these issues, and several attempts by Mark and Jay at Provan to perform drive way fixes to the issues in Oregon.   We decided it was time to go about doing them right.  In October of 2015 Ron drove Scout across country and delivered it to Provan.  The issues that were tackled are listed below in order of importance.

Replace the Webasto Heater.  Scout was originally equipped with a Webasto duo-top heater.  The heater never worked properly from delivery.  Within a couple of days the system began to fault out on a regular basis.  Usually in the middle of the night.  At first a restart would get the heater going again.  Over time it began to take multiple restarts to get the heater going.  As you know from the blog we are winter campers so not having a reliable heater was a major headache.  Most nights entailed a 0 dark thirty restart of the heater,  which did not make for a good nights sleep.  Finally one night in December, 50 miles south of Fallon Nevada the heater failed and would not restart despite all of Ron’s tricks acquired over the prior 15 months.  The answer was to drive back to Fallon and buy a cheap electric heater and stay in a conventional campground for the rest of the trip. 

Mark and Jay at Provan had been working the issues with the heater almost from the beginning and twice Jay flew out to Oregon to work on the heater, making major modifications in the heater’s set up to try to solve the problems.  On another occasion a Webasto service representative flew out and confirmed that Jay’s fixes  were in line with what Webasto expected and to check the fault codes in the heater to assist in troubleshooting the problem, we never heard from Webasto again.

The other frustration with Webasto was though they advertise they have service centers around the country, none of them will work on duo-tops.  In the case of the failure near Fallon we contacted the Webasto dealer in Reno and they said they would service it.  So after that call we back tracked an additional 60 miles to Reno to the Webasto service center.  After describing the problems to the service tech we waited two hours in the waiting room only to be brought out to describe the problems again to the Webasto guy at the truck service center.  He looked at the unit for about five minutes and said that he was not going to touch this unit as he had never seen anything like it before.  120 mile round trip wasted.  In addition there was supposed to be a Webasto dealer in Vancouver Washington near our home, but they were deemed not capable of helping us with our duo-top by Webasto’s own people.

After this misadventure Mark decided to install a brand new Webasto in Scout.  Jay flew out again to Oregon and installed the new one.  The first time we went to use it in Reno,  the new Webasto leaked tremendously.  Because the hot water tank for the Webasto was hooked directly into the water line we could not pressurize our water system without generating a large leak in the heater, and we had no way to bypass the Webasto.  We finished that trip by staying at campgrounds with showers and using bottled water.  The problem was a faulty pressure relief plate from the factory.  A new plate was sent to us and we arranged to get it installed at a repair center in Vancouver (not Webasto’s).  However, this new unit began faulting also, and by October would not work.  

At this point I contacted Mark and said that I was going to return the unit and he needed to fix it.  After several conversations Mark made the decision to find another diesel heater besides Webasto.  Initially Mark was in discussion with Aqua-hot about a new small diesel heater they were developing that sounded promising.  For about three months I was getting regular updates on the on-going development of the new smaller heater, when suddenly Aqua-hot stopped returning Mark’s calls.  So several months were wasted on the Aqua-hot.  

We have now installed a Rixen diesel heater.  I will provide more feedback after some use of the Rixen.  The early impressions are positive.  The unit consists of three distinct modular parts that can be placed in different parts of the truck. This actually freed up some space under the truck to move the two batteries that had ended up in the rear storage box under the truck, lowering and centering their weight.

Heater Update March 2018.  We have made two trips since the Rixen heater was installed.  I need to clarify one thing though, Rixen is the company in Oregon that imports and modifies the components for the heater/hot water system.  The components are from Espar which is a German company.  The Espar system while it has not been flawless has been a major upgrade over the Webasto.  We ran into one problem in Alaska when the air intake sucked in some dirt after a 500 mile trip on gravel roads to the Arctic Circle.  This caused the impeller to jam and a heater failure.  The biggest difference was that when we contacted Rixen by phone they were able to help us troubleshoot and diagnose the problem over the phone, and we had a choice of three Espar dealers in Alaska.   The one we chose was able to more than competently service the unit.  Since the service we have operated for several weeks with no other issues. 

Leaks. We had two major leaks in the truck, and one minor leak.  This was particularly frustrating as part of the reason to go with an aluminum body over a fiberglass body was the belief that we would avoid leaks.  

The first leak was in the flexible bellows connecting the house to the truck.  This began leaking about 6 months in.  We would get this leak whenever we drove in the rain and it was caused by water passing under the truck off of the road and the wheels, the leak was substantial whenever we drove in the rain.  

Jay flew out and resealed the pass thru and this stopped the water entering the truck.  However, after about another 6 months we began getting water into the house on the floor near the door.  The problem was pretty much the same as the previous issue except the water flowed into the house instead of the cab of the truck.

During the one year at Provan Jay pulled the bellows apart and resealed everything with a new sealant as well as rebuilding the metal support.  Hopefully this does the job, time will tell.

The second leak was in the roof.  This had been on-going from the beginning.  Each time Jay flew to Oregon he would reseal all of the holes in the roof and along the various edges where there were seams in the construction.  Despite this there was still a leak  Mark working with the company that supplies the aluminum house decided to retrofit a single piece of aluminum on the roof that covers all of the seams.  In addition the design of the roof installations was adjusted to minimize the penetrations thru the roof.  As a result we lost the decorative aluminum rails on the roof, and the wind spoiler on the front.  We agreed that it was worth it to lose the rails and spoiler to minimize the chance of leaks.  Again time will tell, though the repair looks very substantial, so I am optimistic.

The third leak developed on the last trip after two years and involved one of the windows.  It was a relatively minor leak and was repaired by pulling the window and resetting it as a fitting had worked loose.

Other Issues.   In addition to these issues there were some minor issues with internal adjustments and cabinetry that we had taken care of while Scout was there.

Upgrades.   We also added two upgrades to Scout while she was in South Carolina.  The first was a Froli bed system and lower profile mattress.  By doing this we gained a few extra inches of clearance between the bed and the ceiling.  So far we are very happy with the change.  

The second upgrade was adding an Aluminess bumper and two storage units.  This was a pricey upgrade, but we think the extra storage will be worth it on the long trip when it comes.  This storage came with only a couple of inch increase in over all length.

Shakedown Cruise

Shakedown Cruise Report

Scout in Saguaro National Park

We picked up the Malayan on January 6 and returned home on February 5.  During that time we drove 6468 miles in a great deal of different weather and road conditions.  Scout has met our expectations and I think will be ideal for our future plans.  A few observations.

It is a much more complex vehicle than our ERA.  Particularly the electrical system.  As I said earlier in the deciding on a vehicle section electricity is a bit of a mystery to me, so I have a lot to learn.  Except for the water leak we experienced the first night that was quickly and completely corrected by Provan the other issues were electrical.  However, they were small issues on the whole and easily corrected.  We also used the Provan dealer in Redmond Oregon to take care of one problem and they did a great job fixing the problem and getting us on the road within 30 minutes.

The truck drives wonderfully.  It is much less fatiguing to drive than the Sprinter was.  It tracks very well and handles wind much better than I expected.  We gave it a pretty good off road test on the River Road at Big Bend National Park in a variety of road conditions and it had no issues.  For the trip we averaged 13.4 miles per gallon which is about what I expected.  It is relatively maneuverable and we were able to park in downtown areas with no problems at all.  

We did not get as full a test of the ability to cut ourselves free from hookups as we would have liked.  The majority of the nights on the trip were below freezing, and only two of the nights could be classified as mild, (lows in the 40’s).  One night the low was around 7 degrees, and several nights were in the teens. For that reason we spent more time on the grid than we planned.   I am fully convinced that this is a true 4 season camper if we work one bug out, the grey water tank has a heater blanket that keeps it from freezing, but the valve to release the water freezes preventing dumping when temperatures are below freezing.  The webasto diesel heater really puts out a lot of heat, despite the low temperatures we never set the thermostat at higher than 40% of the dial.  The fan and motor do eat up a lot of battery, but when we did sleep without hookups we were able to fully recharge within 2 hours.

Over the course of the trip we became better at managing ourselves and our stuff.  The size is perfect for the two of us, and the compromise between the smaller size of the LT and less space for stuff is something I think is going to work for us.  I am also wondering if at least for North America we can do without the external storage box.

The quality of the materials in the Tiger have more than met our expectations, and despite some teething problems and a late delivery I am absolutely convinced about the level of craftsmanship and concern for the customer delivered by Mark’s team at Provan.

We spent most of our time without tight deadlines exploring in the Southeast, and it was enjoyable as it is the area of the country we have the least experience with.  Some of the highlights were the Redneck Riviera, and the Muscle Shoals area of Alabama.  We ran into some unexpectedly good museums and historic sights.  After that we were a bit more rushed than we wanted to be due to some unexpected work that came my way.  I wish we had one more day at Big Bend, and the Texas hill country,  but I expect there are more trips to Texas in our future.

The Malayan attracts a lot of attention.  We had over 25 people approach us at varying times during the trip to ask questions and take a look.  We saw several people writing down the Provan website that is on the back of the truck.

I am convinced that the investment in the truck is a good one and will meet our needs if  we push on to Europe and South America.

Provan Malayan

Once we narrowed our focus to either a used Earthroamer or the Bengal Tiger, I emailed Mark Guild at Provan www.tigervehicles.com with a bunch of questions about what modifications could be done to a Bengal.  Among the modifications I asked for were a cassette toilet, solar, and all diesel appliances.  He replied that the cassette and diesel appliance options were not really available on the Bengal, but he was developing a new model that was going to be debuted in the spring called a Malayan, it was the same size as the Bengal, but had an aluminum body like the larger Siberian model, and would have both the cassette toilet, diesel appliances, and a solar package as either standard items or options.  The aluminum body also allowed for greater insulation which gave much better cold weather capability.  While the price was higher, it was within our budget.  This sounded close to our ideal vehicle.  In February Ton and I visited Provan, where we were able to look at the prototype Malayan as it was completing it’s build and a completed Bengal.  From February to April there were a series of email’s between Mark and us about technical details, and of course price negotiations.  In April we sent a deposit check and the build began.

Decisions.

New Truck or Old Truck

Ron really wants to take the Malayan to South America and that poses a problem.  All trucks built in the US since 2007 require Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel (less than 15 ppm of sulfur).  The problem is in most of  South America ULSD is not available.  After a lot of research it became clear that there was a lot of risk to running a truck requiring ULSD on high sulfur diesel.  This problem is particularly acute in Central America and the Northern countires in South America where the diesel can be greater than 500 ppm of Sulfur. The effects of high sulfur diesel on a ULSD engine can be significant.  While there are plans to convert to ULSD or at least LSD (less than 50 ppm sulfur) in South America progress is slow.

One way to get around this problem would be to mount the cabin on a pre-2007 truck.  Ron talked to Mark at Provan during our visit about the feasibility of doing this and he said it was feasible. In fact he offered to mount the Malayan on an older chassis and when we returned from South America to remount it on a new chassis.  The other option would have been to purchase a truck with a gasoline engine instead of a  diesel engine.  We decided against this due to our strong desire for a one fuel system vehicle, and also a strong belief that we wanted the strength and durability of a diesel engine.

Researching availability there were plenty of low mileage F350’s and Chevy/GMC 3500 trucks available that would have worked.  However, after a lot of discussion of plans Ton pointed out that our plans were to spend at least a year and probably two in North America before visiting Europe and South America.  If we go to Europe first, then South America there will be another 5 years for the conversion to ULSD in South America to take place.  So the final decision was to go with a new truck.

GM, Ford, or Chrylsler

What truck to use?  Provan offers to build on all three 1ton trucks available in the US.  We quickly eliminated Chrysler from contention due to no real dealer structure in either Europe of South America (we decided that Fiat did not count). Update from 2020. Our impression of dealer support in Europe was wrong, while we do not see many American pickups in Europe the ones we do see are Fords, and RAM’s so Chevy is the least supported vehicle in Europe.   While the F350 and the 3500 series are North America unique vehicles  research did indicate that most GM and Ford dealers would take some degree of responsibility for repairs on the trucks in both Europe and South America.

It was an interesting discussion between Ton and I over the two remaining options.  It turns out Ton is a Ford Truck person and I am a Chevy truck person.  Actually neither of us knew this until it was time to actually pick a truck but like all good Ford v Chevy truck debates neither of us were going to give ground easily.  

The advantages for Chevy were:

1.  Independent front suspension.  Depending on how you are going to use the truck this is either an advantage or a disadvantage.  The Ford has a solid front axle which gives you better off road capability.  Our plans are 90% asphalt driving and 10% dirt road driving with no intentional off roading.  For those reasons the better ride and handling of the independent front suspension of the Chevy was a plus.

2.  Heavy Repair Issues.  Certain major repairs on the Ford are best done with the cab of the truck removed.  All repairs reportedly can be done on the F350 with the cab in place, but may take substantially longer.  Ford did have some early reliability issues with the diesel engine in the F350 that they appear to have worked out, but that weighed on our decision.  All repairs on the Chevy truck are designed to be done with the cab in place.  Once the cabin for the Malayan was mounted removing the cab of the truck was not an option so the Chevy had an advantage.

The advantages for Ford were:

1.  No 1 selling truck and most common platform for “adventure” vehicles.  Earthroamer uses Ford exclusively, the Malayan prototype we looked at was on a F350 so Ford is obviously doing something right.  We did not know this at the time, but the F series is going to go into limited production in Brazil in 2014 so there will be more support for the Ford in Brazil and Argentina.

2.  2013 was the last year for this model Chevy.  The Silverado was do a major model change for 2014 so we would be buying an older truck out the door.

The final decision though came down to something small.  Talking to Mark we could get a third “jump” seat installed in the Chevy, but not the Ford.  Since we wanted to have the capability to have a third seat for guests we finally settled on the Chevy as our truck of choice.  Of course this entailed getting an extended cab version of the truck.

LT vs HT

The next decision for us was between a LT and HT version of the Malayan.  The LT is 1.5 feet shorter and lighter than the HT.  The LT has a full size bed vs a queen sized bed in the HT, and also you lose a wardrobe by downsizing.  Also when we were talking to Mark initially he indicated that the LT would not have the convertible couch and seat belts that the HT has.  The prototype was a little boxy looking and I was a little concerned about the looks (One friend characterized  it as looking like an ice cream truck), the prototype was mounted on a regular cab and I thought the extra length of the extended cab would help with the looks.  When we visited the factory we tried out the full size bed and it worked for us.  If we went with the smaller vehicle we would be giving up interior storage and that is always valuable, particularly on longer trips.  But Ton was always pointing out the shorter Sprinters when we were driving our ERA (24ft version).  She seemed to think the extra flexibility with the 21 foot version of the Sprinter would have been beneficial.  The LT version was also substantially less expensive, so we decided in the end to go with the LT. 

Out Malayan LT I think the extra length of the truck does help smooth out the looks.

Options off the Provan List

We added a few options to the truck that were on the option list.  

-Fantastic Fan.  Wanted an all weather fan that did not add to the height profile of the vehicle. 

-Convection Microwave.  With more extended living wanted to have the maximum options for cooking.

-Firestone Airbags.  This was recommended by many people as a way to improve the stability of the truck and to help with leveling.

-Westin Brush Guard.  Wanted to have some protection for the front of the truck.

-Diesel Appliances.  Our target was a full one fuel vehicle.  A no brainer for us, though from a cost point of view we did think about it a little more before we finalized it as part of the truck.  In addition to the expense diesel stove tops have a reputation for being very slow to heat up.  This is supposed to be improving but time will tell.  If we have problems Costco is selling a convection electric burner for about $60 dollars we can augment the diesel with.

Non-standard Options

One of the nice things with Mark and his team at Provan was the ability to substantially customize the truck.  While we did not make extensive use of this we did ask for a few things.

-Safe.  We asked for a safe to be installed that could hold important documents and possibly laptops.  This turned out to be the most difficult request for Mark and his team, while they had mounted them in the past in Bengals, they had not determined the best place to mount one in a Malayan.  As of the writing of this, the safe is not finalized.  (Note after delivery.  There was not time to find a place to mount the safe so there is no safe.)

-Satellite Connection and mount a receiver for a tailgater.  Our initial plans have us shaking down in North America for a couple of years and we decided that we wanted to have some kind of satellite system for the truck.  Mark offered a standard roof mounted system, but we did not want it on the roof to maintain minimal clearance and to prevent any shading of the solar panels, plus we would not need it once we left North America.  We settled on a tailgater system as it is ground mounted when you stop, but we did not want to run a cable manually through the door or a window.  Mark put in a system where we could connect through the exterior of the truck.

Production Delay and New Options

Initially our truck was scheduled for delivery in July of 2013.  Due to several issues Mark contacted us in June and asked for a delay.  We agreed as we were more concerned to receive a high quality truck and had time.  Ron was doing some consulting in Brazil and Mexico at the time and we were not going to be able to use it extensively in the summer.  However, as part of the delay Mark surprised us with some upgrades.

-Improved cabinetry construction and materials.  After visiting a RV exhibition Mark decided he wanted to improve on the quality of the construction of the cabinets and said he would be including those in our truck.

-Upgraded flooring and couch material.  Based on the same criteria as above he also wanted to look at upgrading those options.

-Quartz Countertop.  During one conversation with Mark he mentioned that he was looking at a quartz countertop option but was concerned with the weight at a 100 lbs.  We were interested and asked him to install it, the 100lbs is an indulgence, but we thought it would add some class to the truck.  We are paying for this one. (Note after delivery.  There was some concern about mounting methods that caused us to decide to go with a standard countertop.)

-Couch conversion.  During one of our conversations Mark asked if seatbelts for a couch were a priority or the ability to convert it into a bed as they could do one but not the other.  As we do not expect anyone to be riding in the back, we opted for the couch conversion option.

Fred Cook aka Diplostrat

With the delay in the truck Ron had too much time on his hands to dream about Tigers and spent an inordinate time on the tigerowners.freeforums.org website.  It specializes in the newer Tigers primarily.  Through the website we made contact with Fred Cook who also had a Malayan under construction.  Fred had a lot of experience both traveling overseas and with off roading and was able to educate us on a great deal of things.  He had been in conversation with Mark for years about his truck and had a great deal of knowledge about the design of the Malayan that he was happy to share.  Based on his recommendations we decided on two additions to the truck.

-Sterling alternator to battery charger.  As I have said I am not particularly technical particularly with electricity, but this thing increases the efficiency of the transfer of amps from the alternator to the house batteries, resulting in a much more efficient charge when using the engine alternators to “fill” the batteries.  Fred did all of the research and initially had it installed on his truck.  After talking to him and following up with Mark from Provan, who shared Fred’s enthusiasm we added this as a way to reduce or possibly eliminate the need to use shore power. (Note after delivery.  After some issues with installation on Fred’s HT we decided to eliminate the Sterling.)

-In cabin storage cabinet.  Ton and I had been talking about how to use the space behind the drivers seat for storage.  We knew that in a smaller RV that using all of the space possible would be necessary.  I mentioned this to Fred and he told me he had designed a storeage cabinet for behind the drivers seat and was having Mark install it in his truck.  He shared the design with us and we also asked to Mark to install it on ours. Note from 2020 we ended up removing this as the storage was not as useful as we thought and it limited our view out of the side window, and it squeaked. We now use the platform that it was mounted on for dry good storage in boxes.

I want to thank Fred for his help in sharing his knowledge and experience with us.

Suspension and Wheel Upgrades

We have been studying various suspension upgrades.  It is clear that the truck will benefit tremendously from the upgrades, but we have decided to complete the upgrades after we return to Portland from the delivery.

We looked a lot at Wheels.  The Howe’s went thru two sets of wheels on their truck due to the stress of the weight of the cabin and the rough roads they travelled on in South America and Europe.  We spent a lot of time researching our options, but at this time we are not satisfied with what is available and are staying with the factory wheels as we assume they are at the same load limit as the axles.  We are going to continue to look at options until we come up something that will give us a safety margin above the standard wheel.

External Storage

The Tiger comes with 12cu ft of external storage.  Our experience with the ERA tells us this will probably not be enough.  On the ERA we had a Stowaway2 external hitch mounted storage box.  It served us well on the ERA and was just about the right size to hold the things we wanted to keep on the outside of the van.  Our research says that hitch mounted systems like the stowaway tend to fail on rough roads fairly quickly, but we have not found anything else that can be mounted permanently at this time.  So at least while we are using it in North America we will stick with the Stowaway2.  Note from 2020 we never did install the Stowaway on Scout. Instead in 2016 we added two Aluminess storage boxes on swing arms as well as an Aluminess rear bumper.

Deciding on a Vehicle

The Decision to Upgrade

Not an option we considered, but there are a lot of options out there.

When we decided on the early retirement it was done knowing that we would want to do a considerable amount of travel. After our experience with the Sprinter we knew that we enjoyed the flexibility and the pace that came with a small RV.  One of Ron’s bucket list items was a Pan American highway trip.  Ton tended to favor seeing more of North America.  The compromise was to look for a vehicle that could handle travel outside of North America, but start the traveling in North America.

Based on our experience with the ERA and research we set some criteria for our perfect vehicle:

1.  Under 24 ft in length, under 11ft in height.  We want a vehicle that can be manuevered in urban environments as we do enjoy towns and cities.

2.  Diesel engine.  Better fuel performance, and outside the US lower cost for fuel in general.  Diesels have longer life engines with more capacity to handle loads.  The one problem with diesel now is ULSD diesel.  Trucks built for the US market have required ULSD since 2007.  At this time most of Central and South America do not have ULSD.  We spent a great deal of time researching this issue and while there are some people who believe the issues are overstated, I think there will be long term problems running non ULSD diesel in a vehicle with ULSD.

3.  No propane.  Nearly every blog we read of people traveling overseas with propane appliances involved long technical discussions on how to find adaptors to fill the propane system, fit different kind of cylinders into the vehicle  and some interesting tale of how to source propane.  We wanted to avoid all of that if at all possible.

4.  Minimal or no requirement to plug in.  Our ideal vehicle would not require to be plugged in.  In many places we were considering to go there would be no electric available,or the electricity would not be compatible with North American standards.

5.  Comfortable cabin.  The one thing we never tried with the ERA was just sitting and relaxing for a few days in one place.  On trips like this we will have to learn to stop for a few days periodically.  We needed to find a cabin that would be comfortable enough to do that, without causing an immediate case of “cabin fever”.

6.  Capable of handling short periods of freezing temps.  We never planned to be caught in below freezing weather, but it happened on a regular basis to us in Oregon (including a Memorial Day Weekend).

7.  Rugged Enough.  We do not plan to intentionally go 4 wheeling, but we regretted missing out on some dirt roads in Alaska and Oregon that we want to go back and do.  Also, if we do head south we will need the capability to handle rough roads.

Vehicles We Considered

Our ERA.  The first choice was the ERA.  We were familiar with the van, and it had served us well.  The Sprinter is used all over the world, and getting work on the van would be easy in most places we would visit.  To give it the capability we wanted we would have to make massive changes in the electric system, and we would have to stay with propane.  In addition we needed to modify the bed, find a way to cold proof the water system, and modify the exterior to improve the clearance.  After a lot of discussion about how serious we were about having the capability to travel outside of the USA on a regular basis we decided to look at other options.

An internet search pointed us at some options that we would look at.

Earthroamer.  The first vehicle we researched was the Earthroamer.  It met all of our needs except for size, it is a really complete vehicle, but it is quite large.  The Earthroamer really set the bar for us, but cost was an issue.  New units were pushing up over $300,000.  We did watch the used vehicles on their website and there was one that was very intriguing.  This vehicle was a 2006 and the price was within our budget, and importantly it had an engine that did not require ULSD.  We actually planned to visit Denver to look at this used vehicle, but an unexpectedly large snow storm in February on our trip back to Oregon caused us to skip Denver.  By the time we were ready to go back and look, the unit we were interested in was sold.

Global Expeditionary Vehicles.  The GXV website had two variations of pickup based RV’s that we researched.  Their other vehicles were too large for our tastes.  We sent an email to ask some questions about the Turtle model.  They responded to our initial email, but never responded to a couple of follow up emails I sent.  We studied their websites for ideas, but eliminated them from our options.

Pick Up and Camper Shell.   We considered this option, but after looking at them at the Portland RV show, they just did not feel right to us.

Provan Tiger.  Looking at some websites we saw mentions of Tiger vehicles.  When we checked them on the web we liked the design and size.  The price fit our budget.  After reading the www.travelin-tortuga.com  and www.whiteacorn.com websites, these vehicles had done the trips we were planning on and handled them with a minimum amount of drama.  Mark at Provan responded within an hour of my initial email, and patiently to the barrage of emails I sent subsequently.  At this point we decided to focus on Provan as our primary option.