Astoria Oregon Pacific Coast Highway Part 1 / Van Modifications

Astoria Oregon Pacific Coast Highway Part 1 / Van Modifications

My first road trip after a little sabbatical is to Astoria, Oregon on the Northern Oregon Pacific Coast Highway – also known as Highway 101. I am so excited to get back out on the road after a month-long stay in Washington waiting for warranty work to complete.

If you'll remember about a month ago, I was on the Washington Pacific Coast Highway along the Olympic Peninsula, which is the start of Highway 101 from the north. I've driven the Oregon Pacific Coast Highway before – about three years ago – in my car, and that drive was one of the moments that made me start thinking about RVing even more seriously.

I had Lily with me and had to get a hotel to sleep in while I explored the area, but it was hot and I couldn't leave her at the hotel and couldn't leave her in the car. I remember thinking, “If only I had my home with me – this trip would be different.” Little did I know then, that three short years later I would be back on the same stretch of the Oregon Pacific Coast Highway with my home.

It's funny – I didn't even remember that until I pulled into Astoria.

The manifestation of your dreams can become a reality when you start to focus on what you want to create in your life.

It's my Create. Do. Live principle.

Dream up what you want during the Create Phase, put it into action during the Do Phase, and the result of your actions is the Live Phase. I'm in the Live Phase of what I've created, and it's pretty sweet!

Related Post/Video: Part 2 of Northern Oregon Pacific Coast Highway

Hymer Aktiv Warranty Work

Warranty on the Hymer was an interesting process – not interesting as in fascinating – but a bit of challenge. I had to call Hymer almost daily to make sure things were moving quickly because the dealership doing the warranty work said it could 2-7 weeks to get repaired since they have to wait on Hymer to approve the warranty and to send the parts.

I love my Hymer, but the warranty process – well – it just plain sucks.

The dealer said the process was pretty good by most RV industry standards. Seriously?

Something needs to change in the RV industry. I realize that supply is at an all-time high with the manufacturers, but they also need to add infrastructure that supports the demand, whether that be hiring more people or creating a more efficient process.

I really want Hymer to succeed in North America, so I hope they listen to all of us who are actively trying to work with them through these processes.

Two items needing repair:

  • Roof vent wouldn't open due to the hand crank being stripped inside so it wouldn't crank the roof vent open.
  • Somehow they forgot to add the back awning clip to the van. I'm really not sure how they missed that during the quality control inspection.

Thankfully these were small items that needed repairing and nothing major.

Camper Van Modifications

While we're on the subject of the camper van fixes, I made two other modifications to the Hymer over the last month.

I finally removed the microwave since I didn't use it that much. Now I can use that space for storage.

It was relatively simple to remove the microwave by unscrewing the two bolts at the bottom and then pulling the microwave out. I ended up donating it to a thrift store while I was in Bend, Oregon at the Xscapers Convergence.

Next, I needed to fill in the exposed area to the van, so nothing fell back between the wall and the camper van itself.

Time to get creative!

I headed to Lowe's hardware store and found a piece of peel-and-stick flooring for $1.08 that worked almost flawlessly. Granted it's not the same color as the backboard, but once I put the storage items in there, you won't notice it.

The peel-and-stick didn't stick so well, so I instead used Gorilla Tape to hold it in place. You can see that part of the van has some exposure at the top. I left it there in case I needed access to the area, but the board is there to keep things from falling behind the wall and nothing should drop back there with how I added the flooring strip.

I also left the AC electrical outlet accessible in case I needed it.

Now I need to find a way to hold the storage items up there. I was thinking of a bungee cord hooked into eye hooks, but I think I found a solution with some cargo netting. I could also add a wood lip to the area that would also work. I'm still undecided, so more to come on this.

The other camper van modification I made was to replace the all-weather tires that came with the Hymer Aktiv to the BF Goodrich All Terrain K02 tires. Since I tend to stay in areas that are rocky, can be muddy, gravel, and dirt roads, I wanted a tire that would hold up on these surfaces and also reduce any accidental times of getting stuck again.

While I was in Mount Vernon, Washington area, I contacted Discount Tire to order the tires and have these mounted. They also bought my all-weather tires at $70 a piece, so I didn't have to deal with trying to sell the old tires after installation of the new AND I don't have anywhere to store the tires waiting for a buyer.

Hymer with All Weather Tires

Before: Hymer Aktiv with all-weather tires

Hymer with All Terrain Tires

After: Hymer Aktiv with all-terrain

The difference in the tread is incredible and, well, the all-terrain tires are just much cooler! Not only do I get a zillion questions a day about the Hymer Aktiv, but now I get stares and head-bobbing-approval nods from people on the street when they see my tires. It's pretty funny!

All Weather vs All Terrain Tires

Comparison of all-weather tires (left) and all-terrain tires (right).

All Weather vs All Terrain Tire Comparison

Comparison of all-weather tire tread (left) and all-terrain tires (right).

Cons of All-Terrain Tires

People have said two cons to getting all-terrain tires are:

  • Road noise
  • Reduction in gas efficiency

So far I haven't heard a difference in road noise, but I have had a decrease in gas efficiency.

With all-weather tires, I was getting about 16-17 mpg on average, and now with the all-terrain tires, I'm getting between 14-15.5 mpg which is about a 10%-15% loss of gas efficiency.

So with most things, there is a trade-off.

In this case, I'm okay with the loss in gas efficiency to ensure that I can travel to those remote boondocking spots without bursting a tire and possibly save myself from getting stuck.

Free 4 Day Mini Course Budgeting

Prevention in Getting Stuck Again

To also ensure I could get out of a jam if I did get stuck, I heeded the advice of a friend and purchased the Maxtrax extraction boards that you can push up next to your tires to gain traction and also dig out the sand around the tire if needed.

These boards are kind of long, so I wasn't so sure I wanted to even purchase it due to the limited storage in the camper van. However, I felt like I wanted the peace of mind in case I really needed to get unstuck; I could do so without calling a tow truck.

Last time that cost me $300 when I was in Yuma and got stuck in the sand!!

So when I received the Maxtrax boards, I found a convenient spot that was a bonus.

I missed my adjustable bed in my sticks and bricks home where I always slept with my upper torso slightly elevated. Score!

Not only did the spot under the head of the trifold mattress work for storing the Maxtrax boards, but now I have an adjustable bed again. Sweet!

Maxtrax Extraction

 

Maxtrax Extraction under bed

Overall, I love the new tires and can feel a difference in how the Hymer drives on those rougher roads. Now I need to get the Sumo Springs to stabilize the ride a bit more on the rear side of the camper van.

Astoria River Walk and Overnighting on Oregon Pacific Coast Highway

My first day here I overnighted next to the Astoria River Walk on the east side of town at a place I found on the Chamber of Commerce website. There's a map that shows all kinds of things to do in Astoria, but interestingly also indicates RV overnight parking. I ended up staying over in that street parking area for several nights as I explored the area.

Astoria Oregon Chamber of Commerce Map

So when it was time to stroll along the Astoria river walk, we were really close and just had to walk across a small parking lot.

The Astoria river walk is alongside the Columbia River that pours into the Pacific Ocean and where cyclists, runners, and walkers are enjoying the scenery. Alongside the river walk is the Astoria River Walk Trolley system that takes you all along the river walk from beginning to end.

Astoria Riverwalk

Astoria Oregon Columbia River

Astoria Oregon Old Buildings

There's shops, restaurants, breweries, and cafes all along the river walk too. Walking along the path and visiting the local eateries you'll also discover the sound, and maybe a sighting, of the sea lions in the area. If you don't like noise at all while sleeping, the area I parked is probably not the place for you. You can hear the sea lions, somewhat faintly, but you can hear them.

Lily and I enjoyed a pleasant stroll along the waterfront and people-watched along the way and took in the sights around. I even spotted a sleeping sea lion all by himself around the shore area.

Astoria Oregon Sea Lions

Rising over the Columbia River is the Astoria-Megler bridge that connects Washingon and Oregon. It's the longest truss bridge in North America at just over four miles long.

Astoria-Megler Bridge

It was such a beautiful day with the sun shining and the cooler temperatures. Thankfully all the forest fire smoke had also cleared out.

We've been under siege in the Pacific Northwest for weeks now with the forest fire smoke. It's just awful, and it's hard to breathe – not to mention all the ash dust in the camper van.

Astoria Difficult Area to Overnight in for Free

Overall, the Astoria, Oregon area is a tough place to find free overnight camping. There is a Walmart not too far away, but the police regularly patrol it and give out fines. The rest areas show restrictions signs for no overnight parking.

There's a Safeway in town that has an area for RV parking, and I've seen people stay there overnight, but there is also a clearly marked sign stating no overnight parking by City of Astoria ordinance.

Where I parked overnight that was on the Chamber of Commerce map, there are no signs for no overnighting which makes sense considering the Chamber of Commerce has designated that is RV overnight parking.

There's the Fort Stevens State Park along the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean; however, it's incredibly full right now, and everyone is packed in like sardines.

Along the Oregon Pacific Coast Highway, there are some recreation areas, but signs clearly marked “no camping” though I saw people camping over there.

Fort Stevens State Park along Oregon Pacific Coast Highway

While I didn't stay at Fort Stevens State Park overnight, I did make use of this beautiful park during the day.

It's right off of Highway 101's Oregon Pacific Coast Highway and overlooks the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River.

Astoria Oregon Map

It felt so amazing to breathe in the ocean air and feel that crisp ocean breeze on my skin! This is my happy place! It's Lily's happy place too in the sand. I think she loves it as much as I do.

Fort Stevens State Park Pacific Ocean Beach

Fort Stevens State Park Beach

We also stumbled upon this shipwreck on the beach which I later discovered was the Peter Iredale, a four-masted ship that ran aground in 1906 on its way to the Columbia River during a northwest squall that forced the ship into the shore.

Four-masted_ship_PETER_IREDALE_at_anchor,_Washington,_ca_1900_(HESTER_634)

By Wilhelm Hester – Wilhelm Hester Photographs Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49245575

Fort Stevens Peter Iredale Shipwreck

Remains of the Peter Iredale shipwreck

Story Chasing Crew – Insider Crew Access on Patreon

It's finally here! The Story Chasing Crew insider access page on Patreon where you can decide on what level of insider access you'd like. I took your suggestions and added different reward levels for different pledge access levels. You get to choose how much insider access you want.

So – to make sure I got your requests right and didn't completely mess this up, I'd love to chat with you all this Saturday, 9/1/18 at 10 am PST on a Live Stream Q&A on YouTube so you can tell me your thoughts on the page and see if I need to make any changes.

This will be my first time doing a Live Stream, so I'm sure I'm going to be nervous – so be gentle with me! I'm so accustomed to talking to the camera and editing, so this is all new to me. I can't wait to speak with you all this Saturday.

I hope to see you there and get your feedback!

A special thank you to Francine Roach for being the first Patron to subscribe to the Story Chasing Insider Crew page on Patreon!! Thank you!

It's time to move on and continue down the Oregon Pacific Coast Highway and find our next adventure and hopefully some prettier spots to overnight camp. See you Saturday! This is only part 1 of the Northern Oregon Pacific Coast Highway journey with more to come soon as I accomplish 3 different quests along Highway 101:

  • Northern Oregon Pacific Coast Highway
  • Central Oregon Pacific Coast Highway
  • Southern Oregon Pacific Coast Highway

All three are different quest drives in the National Geographic 300 Scenic Highways & Byways book.

Related Post/Video: Part 2 of Northern Oregon Pacific Coast Highway

Road Trip Report & Map

Take a look at all of the places I've been on: Full map of all my travels

Miles: 52

Average Miles per Gallon: 14.35

Road Conditions: No issues, roads are clear.

Weather Conditions: Cool at night and warmer during the day between 65-75 degrees.

Time of Year Visited: Mid August


Overnights & Places Visited

Overnights/Cost: 

  • Designated Chamber of Commerce RV Overnight Street Parking – Astoria, Oregon / $0

Places Visited/Cost:

  • Astoria River Walk / $0
  • Fort Stevens State Park / $30 annual pass
  • Downtown Astoria / $0

RV Accessibility:

  • You can drive through here on the main road in any RV though some streets in downtown Astoria will be tight and even more narrow through the residential streets on the hill.

Cell Phone Signal Strength:  No signal in some areas of Fort Stevens State Park and 4-5 bars everywhere else in Astoria.

Park Pass:  Oregon State annual pass


Video/Audio/Gear Used

Panasonic Lumix G85 Camera – For most still images and vlogging

Sony Action Cam FDRX3000 – For dash cam and walking/talking video

Joby Gorillapod – Used for holding the cameras as a tripod or mounting to just about anything to capture a shot.

Xenvo Iphone Wide Angle (and Macro) Lens – Clips onto your iPhone did give you a wide angle view of your surroundings.

Ulanzi Metal Smart Phone Cold Shoe Mount – Attaches to a selfie stick, but allows you angle the camera and it has a mount for an external microphone.

AllStays app – Use on phone or desktop for finding gas stations, RV parks, campgrounds, propane, and more on your travel route.

Verizon Data Plan – Best nationwide coverage as of this post while traveling.

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How Much Does Living In An RV Cost // It’s Cheaper Than You Think

How Much Does Living In An RV Cost // It’s Cheaper Than You Think

Welcome to another series of Workshop Wednesday's. I get the question all the time, “How much does living in an RV cost?” and “How can you afford to live full time in an RV?” I'm going to show you my full-time RV living expenses so you can see my budget, see how these expenses can change based on your travel style, so you can then crunch the numbers and put your budget together.

Make sure you sign-up for my free 4-day mini-course where you'll get a full copy of my budget, a template for your budget, and tips on how to save and slash your budget so you can travel full-time in an RV.

When I first started out researching on how much living in an RV cost, I quickly found that there are so many variables to living costs. Much of your RV living costs are based on your travel style and the type of RV you are living in full-time.

Living in an RV Costs Significantly Less Than a Sticks-and-Bricks

I found that my expenses are much lower in an RV then when I lived in a sticks-and-bricks home. Now that I'm in a Class B campervan, the Hymer Aktiv that is 20 feet, my expenses are even lower than when I lived in the first RV I purchased, the Winnebago Spirit that was 26 feet.

Living in an RV and lowering my monthly expenses have greatly increased my happiness. I save money, and I get to live an incredible life traveling all over North America. My home and all of my belongings go with me where I go, and I can change locations when I want. This week I may be craving the mountains and the next week I can be by the ocean.

That's one of the many benefits of living in an RV – you can change locations at will.

No more utility bills.

No cable bills.

No landscaping bills.

No house insurance (kind of)

Less consumption of decorations, furniture, “things.”

I'm sure Amazon noticed! I'm an Amazon junkie! I still shop there since it's highly convenient for travel when you have the Prime membership. I also now have a rule, if something comes into the RV, then something must go out. Storage is limited and you need to be aware of the weight of your RV, so you don't have a tire blow out.

How Much Does Living in an RV Cost?

How I RV and travel can be much different than yours so when I show you how much living in an RV cost; keep in mind that these numbers can fluctuate drastically.

You are in ultimate control of how much living in an RV costs you. I try to live as frugal as possible, but I also want to LIVE, so some of my expenses are based on the things that are important to me; like enjoying sight-seeing tours, watching Netflix at night, making sure I always have an Internet connection, and continually accomplishing my quest travel goals which mean sometimes higher fuel costs.

I tend to travel, on average, about 1,500 miles per month; however, that number can change quickly if I found a great area that I want to spend more time in or if the weather is terrible, I might drive more to locate more desirable temperatures, less wind, or no snow.

My RV Living Budget

Before you look at the budget, remember, this is based on how I live, but it gives you an idea of how much living in an RV cost each month and a starting point for you to begin your budget.

I did not include the cost of an RV since this can be vastly different for each person whether you finance your RV or pay for it upfront in cash.

Also, I save every month for every expense even if I pay it annually or it's an expense that varies from month-to-month. For example I save every month for RV insurance, but I pay this expense annually, or the cost for hair care is saved monthly, but buying the products to color my hair or cut it vary and aren't monthly expenses.

EXPENSE

Fuel

RV Insurance

RV Maintenance

RV Registration

RV Park Rent

Club Memberships

State Park Passes

National Park Pass

Groceries

Eating Out

Hot Spot/Internet

Laundry

Cell Phone

Propane

Water

Mail forwarding

Mailbox Rental

Entertainment

Total

 

BUDGET

$400

$100

$100

$9

$100

$4

$10

$7

$300

$50

$65

$10

$148

$15

$5

$13

$12

$200

$1,548

Living in an RV Cost Breakdown

RV Gas & Maintenance & Insurance

I travel on average about 1,500 miles per month, so I budget $400 per month. Sometimes I'll spend that much and sometimes I don't. It depends on how much I decide to travel that month and if I've found an area I'd like to stay in longer. I'm very flexible with my travel so I can make adjustments where needed to make last-minute decisions on places I'd like to visit.

RV insurance is pretty reasonable, in my opinion, especially considering my insurance also covers being a full-time traveler, which is an added cost.

Though I don't incur maintenance costs every month on the RV, and I have a 6-year warranty on the Hymer, I do save each month for future maintenance which can include the cost of purchasing new tires, which isn't covered by the Hymer warranty, oil changes, and washing the RV.

RV registration is paid annually, but I do save for it each month.

Daily Park Rent & State/National Passes

RV park rent or any place where I would pay a daily rate in exchange for a parking spot and possibly hookups is an expense I save for monthly though I rarely use it. Most of the time if I were to pay for a spot, it's because I wanted to visit a particular area and the boondocking or even dry camping, like at Walmart, isn't plentiful or non-existent. Also, I might pay RV park rent if I were with the Xscapers group and we were having an event somewhere and that was the designated location. So I just save up for it each month just in case I need it.

This is another area with how much living in an RV cost that you can be drastically changed by your travel style. The daily rent at RV parks or campgrounds can get expensive each month, depending on each campground of course.

Since purchasing the Hymer Aktiv, it's much easier now to stealth camp in places and not need to incur that fee since I'm entirely self-contained.

State park passes are annual fees I pay to a particular state that allows me certain privileges for a more extended period. For example, I knew I would be in Washington State for a couple of months, so I purchased the Discover Pass that is $30 annually. It allows you to make use of any of the on-site dump and water stations and also allows you to day park for free. Typically parking in a state park can be $10 per day. Also, some Department of Natural Resource campgrounds are free if you have the Discover Pass.

New Mexico is another state that has similar privileges as Washington, but in addition, you can get deeply discounted rates at state park campgrounds.

The national park pass saves me a ton of money. I get in free to all National Parks and Monuments across the United States.

Free 4 Day Mini Course Budgeting

Groceries & Eating Out

I don't eat out very much but reserve some funds monthly that I can save, primarily if I'm socializing with others. It's so much cheaper to cook myself and save that money.

Cell Phone, Internet, Propane

For cell phone, data and Internet connection I have a Verizon plan for my cell phone and then a Verizon hotspot. In addition, I pay another $65 a month for an AT&T hotspot. You may or may not need two hotspots, but I do for the sake of making sure I almost always have a connection in case one area serves Verizon better than AT&T or vice versa.

Since my entire business is online, having a data connection most of the time is critical for me.

My propane costs last year were much higher since my refrigerator used propane or electric to cool; however, it was much cheaper to keep it on propane.

Now that I have the Hymer Aktiv, my refrigerator is all electric. The furnace and water heater can either use propane, electric, or a mix of both.

So far since I purchased the Hymer in May 2018, just 3.5 months ago, I still am 2/3 full on propane and haven't added any more propane since my date of purchase. My budget may be a little high on this, but I'm still budgeting so when it's cooler in the winter months when I might need the furnace more, I can have enough funds budgeted if I need it.

This is another area with how much living in an RV cost can be different for each person. You may not need two hotspots or even any hotspots depending on what you do for a living, if you're retired, or just use your cell phone for calls and data.

Mail Forwarding

Since I sold my house and I don't have any relatives in Washington (my current domicile state) that can handle my mail for me, I chose a mail forwarding company where I pay an annual fee and then they can forward my mail to me once a month. I'm also currently looking into the Xscapers program of mail forwarding that can be completely digital so this cost might change as well.

Since purchasing the Hymer, I decided to go ahead and get a gym membership so I can work out when I'm in the cities and take a shower in the facilities. That's the one thing that is harder in the van is to do yoga and I don't like rolling my mat out in front of everybody, depending on the area, and working out in public. Also, I prefer not to take showers in the Hymer as it's just more of a pain. Instead, I'll wash off every day with a wet washcloth and wash my hair in the sink.

Entertainment

Lastly, you have to have an entertainment budget! Well, I guess you don't have to, but if you can, it's nice to have dollars set aside for when you're traveling and places you want to visit cost money. There's a ton of free sites out there to visit and explore, but some also cost.

I don't always use the full $200, but again, I keep the money set aside for those months where I might spend more than $200, like when I get together with friends or family, and we tend to go out and do more.

I hope that helps you to understand how much living in an RV cost each month and gives you enough information to either make some decisions for yourself and put a budget together. If you are looking for more information on budgeting and want my budget template and my budget, then sign-up for my free mini-course.

All of the costs here are specifically for traveling in an RV; however, in my free mini-course, I provide my entire annual budget in full, including my personal expenses and items you'll want to think about when you create your budget really. Plus I'll give you tips on how to save money and slash that budget to the bare bones on items like insurance (the things we must pay but aren't fun) so you can either save that money or use it to enjoy yourself during your travels. Along with an overview of each expense and the possibilities in how it can vary so you can adjust your budget accordingly.

Video/Audio/Gear Used

Panasonic Lumix G85 Camera – For most still images and vlogging

Sony Action Cam FDRX3000 – For dash cam and walking/talking video

Joby Gorillapod – Used for holding the cameras as a tripod or mounting to just about anything to capture a shot.

Xenvo Iphone Wide Angle (and Macro) Lens – Clips onto your iPhone did give you a wide angle view of your surroundings.

Ulanzi Metal Smart Phone Cold Shoe Mount – Attaches to a selfie stick, but allows you angle the camera and it has a mount for an external microphone.

AllStays app – Use on phone or desktop for finding gas stations, RV parks, campgrounds, propane, and more on your travel route.

Verizon Data Plan – Best nationwide coverage as of this post while traveling.

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Cassette Toilet Emptying in Campervan / Helpful Video Tips

Cassette Toilet Emptying in Campervan / Helpful Video Tips

Cassette Toilet Emptying in Camper VanSince purchasing my Hymer Aktiv campervan, I've received so many questions about the cassette toilet that came with the campervan. It's an anomaly here in North America; however, European countries primarily use the cassette toilet instead of the traditional black tanks. 

Cassette toilet emptying in a campervan is much easier than a traditional black tank. I'm going to go through the pros and cons of a cassette toilet, how I use the toilet, how it's different than a black tank, and how NOT to empty the cassette cartridge – because there is definitely a way NOT to empty it!

In my cassette toilet review, I go over how to use the toilet, the swivel operation, the full tank sensors, how to empty the cartridge, the blade operation, using chemicals to keep the odor down, and where to dump the tank and how often.

I’m going to explain to you the entire process on how to operate and empty a cassette toilet so you can determine if a cassette toilet is right for you over the traditional black tanks. 

Why Hymer Used a Cassette Toilet Instead of a Black Tank

My Hymer Aktiv campervan came with a Thetford cassette toilet instead of the black tank to aid in keeping the weight of the campervan down. Since it's a Class B RV and considered a campervan, you already have limited space and storage, especially if you are planning on traveling full-time.

In order to maximize space in the campervan, installing a cassette toilet instead of the traditional black tank makes sense. Not only do you reduce the load of the vehicle, reduce the space needed for the sewer tank (cassette toilet in this case), but you also don't have to carry the sewer hoses, commonly called “stinky slinky”. Hoses associated with black tanks can store in a compartment or container where it cannot touch anything else due to possible contamination. Well, and then there's the smell. Yuck!

Hymer is a brand that is very popular in Europe, and it has taken the philosophy of the cassette toilet and brought it here to North America in its campervan lines to date.

Let's Talk Pee & Poop

An interesting thing happens when you first start RVing that is different than owning a home especially if you boondock or dry camp more than staying at RV parks.

You become acutely aware of your water consumption and – well – how much you go #1 and #2. Okay, so maybe you don't want to talk about or hear about #1 and #2 and think it's gross. Well, I would agree that it can be gross in certain situations, but it's something we all do and is very typical. Plus, when you start to RV, you'll find that we ALL talk about it.

In a traditional home, where you connect to city water and sewer, you might not think about your use as much for sewer and water. You might be conservative, but you still have an endless supply of water at your fingertips by turning on the handle and letting the water flow.

You can go to the bathroom at all hours of the day, every day, all day, whenever. You get my point – right?

In an RV, you become intimately involved with understanding how long you can stay out boondocking and dry camping without needing to empty the cassette toilet or a black tank. In my old RV, the black tank was 23 gallons, and I could wait three weeks before needing to empty the black tank.

That's not the case now. Now I must empty every 4-5 days. You'll find out why coming up.

How the Cassette Toilet Operates Inside the Campervan

You might have seen from my van tour how small the bathroom is and that it's a wet bath, which means the shower and toilet are all-in-one. I don't take showers in there, because it's just a pain. I have to move things around and then dry everything off afterward. Instead, I use public showers, go to the gym, or truck stops. It's just easier. That's a whole other topic that I can post on later.

Hymer Aktiv bathroom

No Toilet Paper

While I do in fact use toilet paper, I do not flush it down the toilet. I didn't flush it in the black tank toilet either in my other RV. This way it keeps anything from getting clogged and saves on capacity in each tank before having to empty.

Instead, I dispose of the toilet paper inside of a garbage can with a lid on it and then empty it fairly often.

#1 & #2 in the Cassette Toilet

Some RVers have a cassette toilet where they prefer only to go #1 in their toilet to cut down on the number of times they need to empty and also having to clean it. I prefer to use it for both #1 and #2 only because I'm a solo traveler and only need to empty it every 4-5 days and it's just more convenient that way. As long as you use the chemicals made for the cassette toilet, you shouldn't get any smell from it.

I don't typically like to use chemicals, but I was thinking that when you are in a home, and the city manages your sewer for you – they are also treating the waste with chemicals to help break it down, which is precisely what I'm doing.

So for now, I'm just using the cassette toilet like I would any other toilet, except for the toilet paper usage.

How Often Do I Empty the Cassette Toilet

I generally am emptying the cartridge every 4-5 days of usage; however, that can depend on where I'm at in the city or in the wild. For example, if I'm doing a bunch of errands and I'm in and out of stores, I'll use the store facilities to go to the bathroom.

If I'm out in the wild, I'll go #1 outside using my pStyle urination device for women which saves me from having to empty, and I can boondock longer.

One of the advantages to those who go #1 in their cassette toilet is that they can empty their cartridge in the wild – as long as it's only urine with no chemicals.

Swivel for Comfort

Since this is a small space in the campervan, the cassette toilet has an added feature that it can swivel to the left and right. When you are sitting down on the toilet, you can swivel the toilet to a position that is comfortable for your legs.

You can also swivel it all the way to the right if you use the wet bathroom for showers so you'll have more space to stand up or sit down to shower.

Flushing the Toilet

Just below the toilet seat, in the front, is a grey lever that you can move to the left and right to flush the toilet. The lever opens up the bottom of the toilet where the blade is at and empties into the cartridge below.

Once you empty the toilet bowl, you hit the blue button on the wall behind the toilet, and it will add water to the toilet bowl to rinse it off. You must have the water pump on for this to operate correctly.

Tank Sensor Button

The tank sensor button on the Thetford cassette toilet only shows when the toilet is full. The sensor function is different than the black tank which will show you how full it is at all times. However, I found in my other RV that those sensors would get dirty and not always be accurate.

How to Empty the Cassette Toilet Outside of the Campervan

On the driver side door is a doorway that opens with a key to the box cartridge on the inside that holds the waste. Once you open the door, you pop up the orange handle to release the cassette toilet cartridge and then pull it out from the side of the campervan.

Opening Cassette Toilet Door

Thetford Cassette Toilet

Screw open the lid to the cartridge and slowly empty the contents into the sewer receptacle. Once the cartridge is tipped over and draining, push the pressure valve button at the top to release the pressure, so all the contents empty faster.

Emptying Cassette Toilet

WORD OF WARNING!

Do NOT push the pressure valve until after you start emptying the contents else you risk raw sewage spilling through the button sidewalls and onto your hand.

How do I know this?

I was the one who was wondering what that button was for and pressed it while it was right side up spilling nasty sewage onto my hand. Another moment to throw up.

So now that I've entirely disgusted you with my cautionary tales (there's still one more below) – doesn't it make you want to RV? It's such a small part of RVing so don't let this deter you. Remember when I said you would become intimate with #1 and #2 – I wasn't lying!

Okay – so now that the cartridge is empty, you rinse it with water then dump it again until the contents run clear.

Rinsing Cassette Toilet

Next, add about 2 ounces of the cartridge chemicals to the tank, then add about 2 to 4 ounces of water to the tank. Put the lid back on, slosh the chemicals and water around the cartridge, and then put the box back into the side of the campervan and shut the door.

Done Cassette Toilet Emptying

It's that simple. Well – if you do it right and don't do what I did in the beginning, but that's why you're here – to learn from my mistakes!

Pros & Cons of the Cassette Toilet

Pros:

  • More freedom of choices to empty the tank which can reduce your costs of paying to dump if you can’t find a free dump station.
  • You can dump at traditional RV dump sites like state parks, RV parks, wastewater treatment plants, but now you can roll this small tank, like a suitcase, to a pit toilet, bathroom toilet in a house, and the rest areas off of the freeway.
  • Easy to clean by adding water and sloshing it around to clean the insides and then dumping into the appropriate receptacle.
  • No more dreaded poo pyramids! I never had this happen, but I've heard horror stories on it. Poo pyramids occur in black tanks when there isn't enough water and chemicals in the tank to break down the fecal matter, so the poo keeps rising. Gross right?
  • No “stinky slinky” sewer hoses to store so saves on storage space as well.
  • Super fast and easy to empty.
  • No longer need to flush the black tank or put the rinsing wand down the toilet to clean the tank. Instead just put some water in the cassette toilet, give it a shake and empty.

Cons:

  • Condensation on the inside of the toilet lid. I haven’t figured this out yet, and fellow RVers have noticed the same on their cassette toilet. Some say it's when you're in areas with high humidity, but I'm not 100% sure just yet as it also seems to happen when I was in a dryer area too.
  • Need to empty more often because it holds 4.6 gallons compared to 23 gallons in my other RV. It's a con only because I was able to last three weeks in my other RV, but that said, it's not a deal breaker for me, and I seem to do just fine with finding places in that time frame.
  • Tank sensor only shows when full and not how full it is at each level as it rises. This is a real bummer because when it's full, you can't go to the bathroom at all in it and need to find a place to dump before you can use it again. I had made the mistake of using it when it was full which leads me into how NOT to dump the cassette toilet.

How NOT to Dump the Cassette Toilet

One morning, shortly after I purchased the Hymer Aktiv, I woke up and saw the cassette toilet was showing full. So I went ahead and used the toilet thinking that I would dump the cartridge and then I would flush what was in the toilet bowl.

BIG MISTAKE!

I pulled the cartridge out and everything that was in the bowl, #1 AND #2, fell through the bottom of the toilet, onto part of the cartridge remaining in the cartridge bay, and the rest splashed inside of the cartridge bay.

I almost threw up multiple times cleaning that mess up. It was awful! Just awful! I've never had kids, so I don't know what it's like to clean up poo, but this was all over everything.

After I cleaned up the mess, I knew I just had to figure out how that happened. So on closer inspection, the blade at the bottom of the toilet is the same blade on the cartridge in the cartridge bay, so when you pull the cartridge box out, anything in the bowl will spill through because there is nothing below it to stop from emptying since the blade is attached to the cartridge.

There needs to be a big warning sign somewhere in the bathroom about this when you first purchase!

I learned my lesson, and that won't be happening again!

All-in-all, I love the cassette toilet and it's ease of use. It really works for me and my travel style. I'm still loving my Hymer too!

Have you ever used a cassette toilet? Are you trying to decide on getting a campervan or something larger? Leave me a comment below.

Video/Audio/Gear Used

Panasonic Lumix G85 Camera – For most still images and vlogging

Sony Action Cam FDRX3000 – For dash cam and walking/talking video

Joby Gorillapod – Used for holding the cameras as a tripod or mounting to just about anything to capture a shot.

Xenvo Iphone Wide Angle (and Macro) Lens – Clips onto your iPhone did give you a wide angle view of your surroundings.

Ulanzi Metal Smart Phone Cold Shoe Mount – Attaches to a selfie stick, but allows you angle the camera and it has a mount for an external microphone.

AllStays app – Use on phone or desktop for finding gas stations, RV parks, campgrounds, propane, and more on your travel route.

Verizon Data Plan – Best nationwide coverage as of this post while traveling.

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Hymer Aktiv Camper Van Tour Q&A | Your Most Common Questions

Hymer Aktiv Camper Van Tour Q&A | Your Most Common Questions

In May 2018, I finally purchased a Class B camper van – after 7 months of really thinking I could downsize more – I published my video camper van tour of the new Hymer Aktiv and received an amazing response from viewers.

I even surpassed my top video views and hit over 61,000 views on the video so far! So thank you all so very much!!!!

Since the camper van tour video was published there are many questions that came from viewers that want to know more information about:

  • Why I decided to downsize again.
  • Why I decided to go with the Hymer Aktiv camper van over other Class B vans.
  • Questions about specific areas of the Hymer and its systems.
  • How to live in such a small space.
  • Organization of my things.
  • How I make money remotely.
  • ….and more.

So I decided to put together a video answering these camper van tour questions.

You have several options for learning more:

  • Read below and skip to the clip for that question
  • Read below the summary of the video
  • Watch the full video here

Question #1: Why Did I Downsize from a 26 foot Winnebago to a 20 foot Hymer Camper Van?

 

Questions from Viewers

Joans Question

 

Summary Answer

  • Either downsize or get a tow car on the Winnebago and I didn't want to tow.
  • Easier for me to get into tight spaces.
  • Explore more areas that are length or height restricted on East Coast.
  • Better gas mileage
  • I didn't need as much space as I had on the Winnebago, like the couch or the bench on the other side of the dinette.
  • More kitchen space. Surprisingly my camper van has more usable space than the Winnebago did.
  • Ease of getting around like some of the highways, roads, bridges with height restrictions.
  • Hymer Aktiv has Voltstart which isn’t a reason for downsizing as much as it was a perk to downsizing.
  • Freedom to travel all road in my quest travel with the National Geographic 300 Scenic Highways & Byways book.

Detailed Video answer at 0:45

Question #2: Why Did you Downsize to a Hymer 1.0 Camper Van Instead of 2.0 Camper Van?

 

Questions from Viewer

jbowderdel Question

 

Summary Answer

  • I chose the 1.0 just for the ease of parking in a regular parking spot and I honestly didn't feel like I needed the extra foot of space.
  • Love how nimble she is, which I know the 2.0 is as well, but considering I was downsizing to be able to go more places, I just wanted the smallest space I felt like I could still be comfortable in.

Detailed Video answer at 3:27

Question #3: How Easy is it to Find a Hymer Dealer Since I've Never Heard of Hymer Before?

 

Questions from Viewer

Gloria Question

 

Summary Answer

  • So far my experience has been somewhat favorable. I've had 2 experiences where I needed warranty work and was able to get right in. (View the video for more details on this)
  • Hymer is only 2 years old in North America which is most likely why people haven't seen it very much. However it's very popular in Europe.
  • As of the time of this video Hymer's USA website shows 104 dealer locations in North America
    Hymer Locations North America

Detailed Video answer at 4:22

Question #4: Did you Test Drive or Look at Other Vans Before Purchasing the Hymer Camper Van?

 

Questions from Viewer

Penny Kemp Question

 

Summary Answer

  •  I originally looked at B+ vans like the Leisure Travel Unity camper vans before I started traveling a year ago and while I really liked these I opted instead for the 26 foot Class C thinking I needed more space at the time.
  • Before purchasing Hymer I had looked at the Roadtreks, the Winnebago Travato, Sprinter van custom buildouts.
  • Chose Hymer for big selling factors:
    • Already built out and had everything I wanted.
    • Voltstart system to charge the batteries
    • Refrigerator runs on electric rather than propane
    • Bed can stay down the whole time
    • Work station area for eating and working
    • Swivel chairs to make more seating
    • Counter top is bigger than my 26 foot and with stove and sink glass lids it opens up the space for more counter room
    • I didn't have the time nor means by which to custom build a van and this one had clean lines and I like the lighter colors inside for the walls, wood, and seating

Detailed Video answer at 7:03

Question #5: What is Your MPG and How Much Was the Hymer Camper Van Purchase Price?

 

Questions from Viewers

Garitt Bondsteel Question

Jamie Smith Question

 

Summary Answer

  • Retail price is over $100k; however dealers always will come down off of those prices signficantly and you can negotiate a reduction of 20-35% most of the time.
  • If you have the flexibility to look all over the US for an RV, whether it's a Hymer or something else, than you have a better chance of finding a deal that's suitable for you.
  • So far I'm getting about 16-17 mpg fully loaded and sometimes more if I'm coasting down mountain passes and not doing too much up hill climbing.
  • Surprisingly though she does very well with the gas mileage through the mountains. I baby her going uphill and rarely go over 3,000 rpms uphill to 1) baby the transmission, 2) save gas, 3) enjoy the journey.

Detailed Video answer at 11:00

Question #6: Do You Think the Hymer Aktiv 1.0 Camper Van is Suitable for 2 People Comfortably?

 

Questions from Viewers

Cocominga Question

 

Summary Answer

  • I absolutely think 2 people could occupy the Hymer comfortably. We're the Russos have done so quite well even when their larger husky, Leo living in the Hymer.
  • There's more living space with the 2 front chairs turned around and then of course there's the outdoor living.

Detailed Video answer at 13:25

Question #7: Where Do You Empty the Cassette Toilet (Black Tank) Waste?

 

Questions from Viewers

Guiseep Nero Question

 

Summary Answer

  • Rest stops in pit toilets or dump site, day use parks
  • Any where there are the typical dump sites like:
    • State parks
    • BLM
    • Wastewater treatment plants
    • RV parks

Detailed Video answer at 15:03

Question #8: The Hymer Mattress is Very Firm – Have You Made Any Modifications Like a Mattress Topper?

 

Questions from Viewers

Allyson Olson Question

 

Summary Answer

Mattress is very firm for me as well and I had several nights of tossing and turning.

My old mattress was a Tempurpedic 4 inch topper that was quite comfortable but I didn't want to put it over the firm Hymer mattress, because I didn't want to deal with how heavy it is to move around when I wanted to access underneath storage where you have to lift up the end of the bed.

I decided to live with the mattress for 2 months and then reevalute, but after just a couple of weeks I've grown really accusotomed to it and actually like it now. It's probably also gotten a little less firm with the use.

Detailed Video answer at 17:00

Question #9: Do You Leave the Queen Mattress Down All the Time?

 

Questions from Viewers

RHS Tools Question

 

Summary Answer

I got the Hymer 1.0 and I leave the queen bed down all the time.

If I need to access storage underneath I lift up the one folding mattress at the end of the bed or crawl under into the garage storage.

Detailed Video answer at 18:51

Question #10: How Do You Level the Camper Van When There are Hills and Slopes?

 

Questions from Viewers

Tom Question

 

Summary Answer

  • I just try to park on as level spots as I can.
  • Don't want to store leveling blocks.
  • I sleep with head on drivers side so that if I'm off level I make sure the van is pointed with passenger side facing downward. If you're parked on the street usually that will happen automatically for the rain water runoff.
  • I have slept once on an 8% slope so I had to change my position to be from corner to corner so I wouldn't roll towards the kitchen at night.

Detailed Video answer at 20:27

Question #11: How Does the Voltstart System Work Especially with Keeping Pets Cool?

 

Questions from Viewers

Jay G Question

 

Summary Answer

Voltstart is a proprietary system with Hymer as a different way to recharge your batteries, so for example if I want to leave the RV with the AC running then I can engage Voltstart.

You can charge batteries in the Hymer these 5 ways:

  • Shore power
  • Solar panels
  • Driving and using underwood generator
  • Turn vehicle on which uses underhood generator as well
  • Turn on Voltstart which utilizes underwood generator by turning on the camper van

To engage Voltstart you must:

  • Turn on your batteries, in my case I have 2 lithium batteries (also referrred to as the Ecotrek system).
  • Make sure Inverter is on which will now give you AC power to all the outlets in the camper van.
  • Toggle Voltstart button to the on position.
  • Turn on AC to desired temperature (if you want to use the A/C)
  • Exit vehicle and much sure all doors are closed.
  • It will cycle through this recharge 5 times before you must restart the system.

Also make sure you have plenty of fuel in the van.

Disclaimer about pets: Have a backup system like a temperature monitoring system, etc. Review the video for a more in-depth analysis on using a backup system. I use the Canary Home Security System to monitor Lily visually and the temperature to make sure while I'm away from the camper van that she is safe and the Voltstart system is functioning properly.

Detailed Video answer at 22:37

Question #12: How Do You Make Money Remotely and are You a Trust Fund Baby?

 

Questions from Viewers

AGloriousLife Camper Van Tour Question

Terry Question

 

Summary Answer

I seem to get this question a lot lately about how I work remotely and how I make my money, especially since purchasing the Hymer. So let me tell you a little about myself.

  • My background is mostly in property management and real estate accounting.
  • I started working in accounting at 17 years old.
  • Bachelors Degree in Accounting with a concentration in forensic accounting
  • I've been working as a Director of Accounting for a private equity firm that acquires and develops multi-family housing for the past 8 years.
  • I have a business where I provide business consulting and holistic life coaching as well as this new adventure of travel vlogging.

So no, I'm not a trust fund baby. I didn't receive any inheritance, no alimony, no anonymous donations (unless you'd like to send one to me then email me and I'd be more than happy to accept your donation), no legal settlements.

I just work and save. I know, pretty hard to believe huh?

Well it's true. I also teach people how to achieve their goals and dreams just like I've done and experience.

Detailed Video answer at 29:08

Let me know if you have any other questions about living in the van, how things work, etc, by leaving a comment below!

Video/Audio/Gear Used

Panasonic Lumix G85 Camera – For most still images and vlogging

Joby Gorillapod – Used for holding the cameras as a tripod or mounting to just about anything to capture a shot.

Manfrotto Travel Light Compact Tripod – For steady, long shots, steady panning, and wind conditions. Super compact, folds up into a case for minimal foot print.

Sony Digital Voice Recorder – Recording external audio for those times where the camera is further away or there is a need for boosted audio.

Lavalier External Microphone – Coupled with the the Sony Digital Voice Recorder to capture external audio and clip onto shirt.

Verizon Data Plan – Best nationwide coverage as of this post while traveling.

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Camper Van Tour of my New Hymer Aktiv 1.0 | Van Life

Camper Van Tour of my New Hymer Aktiv 1.0 | Van Life

You all have been hearing me say for months that I really should downsize into a smaller RV considering my travel style and knowing I could downsize more – so I did it – I traded in my 26 foot Class C RV for a much smaller 20 foot Class B Hymer Aktiv 1.0 camper van.

Uh huh – you heard me right – a camper van.

I can hear the gasps now from my non-RV friends who thought moving into a 26 foot RV was – well – crazy. Now she’s in a 20 foot camper van?

One of my dear friends, when I called to tell her the news, thought I would be trading into a bigger RV, like a Class A. I know, it’s a shocker!

Truth is, I didn’t use all the space I had in the 26 foot Winnebago RV and so downsizing, purely from a spacial point of view, seemed perfect.

Then of course there’s the BIG reason I decided to downsize into a camper van, which I’ve been talking about for months in some of my videos, especially when I traveled on the East Coast.

Why I Downsized into a Class B Camper Van

Hymer Aktiv Camper Van New Mexico

Though I just started this journey a year ago, I’ve known for about 7 months that I wanted to downsize. It was either that or buy a tow car, which might have been cheaper, but I really didn’t want to tow a vehicle nor did I want to purchase a trailer.

I needed a solution that provided me with even more freedom to explore.

Hymer Atkiv Camper Van Tour

Getting to know so many other RVers and what solutions they have come up with made the decision easier for me on what I knew would be best for my situation.

Over the winter I met RVers who pulled trailers like the tear drop trailers, Airstreams, casitas, and longer trailers, traveled in camper vans of all sizes, drove Class C RVs like me but towed a vehicle behind, and then there were the big Class A RVs with tow vehicles as well.

Class A was definitely out since it was much bigger than my Class C.

Though I like the idea of pulling a trailer, unhooking and having a vehicle to go explore AND leave my campsite up, I just didn’t want to tow and instead liked the idea of being able to leave quickly and go.

Class C RVs were out since I already had one and the only other option was tow a vehicle. Again, same decision as not wanting to pull a trailer and having to hook and unhook the tow car. I would also lose freedom and flexibility to travel into some of those areas that I really wanted to explore without unhooking and leaving the RV somewhere. Just pulling into a grocery store as is in cumbersome sometimes and my 26 foot is considered smaller by most RV standards.

While all of these options are completely doable and you’re really giving up one thing for another – it’s just a matter of personal preference and the way you want to live and travel.

Lastly, there was the Class B camper vans that provided so many of the things I really wanted and would allow me to have the freedom to travel without restrictions.

Top 10 Reasons I Decided to Downsize into a Camper Van

  • I was looking for something that was easier for me to get into tight spaces.
  • It was either downsize or get a tow car on the Winnebago and I didn't really want to tow so I opted to downsize.
  • When I was traveling on the East Coast, where it's more congested and with more compact spaces and land, I couldn’t explore some of the areas with the size of my 26 foot Winnebago and I really want to explore that area more and not be restricted.
  • Ease of getting around some of the highways, roads, bridges with height restrictions.
  • My quest travel with the National Geographic 300 Scenic Highways & Byways book either states you can't go on those roads at all or highly advise not to in a larger RV. Considering I’m on this major quest to complete all 300, I need something that will allow me the freedom to be more mobile and go anywhere a car can go.
  • Better gas mileage.
  • I didn't need as much space as I had on the Winnebago, like the couch or the bench on the other side of the dinette since I only use the one.
  • More kitchen space. Surprisingly my camper van has more usable space than the Winnebago did.
  • Hymer Aktiv has Voltstart which isn’t a reason for downsizing as much as it was a perk to downsizing.
  • I can take it around those tight corners and not be nervous of the places with no guard rails, like when I was in Lake Tahoe.

The 2018 Hymer Aktiv 1.0 Camper Van Tour

So now after deciding on which camper van to purchase – the Hymer Aktiv 1.0 – I’ve produced a video camper van tour to show you the outside and the inside of the Hymer Aktiv.

When I was down south for the winter I found a dealer in Albuquerque, New Mexico and ended up purchasing from them in May 2018 – just one year after I started this journey.

I still don’t have a name for her, because I love my original name of Liz for my Winnebago. It’s the name of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat Pray Love, which completely inspired me to go out and create my own adventurous stories.

I was thinking Liz 2.0, but I dunno. Maybe she needs to have her own identity. Comment below if you have any ideas. I’m looking for something that really speaks to me and symbolizes my journey and the freedom this new camper van provides to me.

A Sneak Peek Inside the Camper Van

Hymer Aktiv 1.0 Camper Van Specs Compared to My Class C Winnebago 26 Foot RV

 

 

Help me name her! What are your suggestions?

Video/Audio/Gear Used

Panasonic Lumix G85 Camera – For most still images and vlogging

Sony Action Cam FDRX3000 – For dash cam and walking/talking video

Joby Gorillapod – Used for holding the cameras as a tripod or mounting to just about anything to capture a shot.

Verizon Data Plan – Best nationwide coverage as of this post while traveling.

Blue Yeti USB Microphone – I use this to do the voiceovers for my videos. It's made such a huge difference in the audio quality of the voiceovers. It's smooth like butter!

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