If you're looking to hit the road and be a digital nomad or maybe you're just looking to binge Netflix when you get to your camping spot – then you'll need a great cell signal for your mobile Internet.
How I stay connected on the road as a digital nomad is a hot topic and what equipment I use to make sure I have a cell signal the majority of the time.
I have multiple devices, a cell booster system, and I'll show you how to set it all up and explain the process of how it's connected inside and out so you can decide if this is something you'll want in your travels.
First Method to Getting Internet on the Road
The first piece of equipment you'll need is a hotspot like a Jetpack from Verizon. Verizon came out with the most fantastic plan yet that us digital nomads have been waiting for forever!
It's a prepaid, unlimited, unthrottled, no cap plan. I purchased the plan to test it out, and so far it's performing well, even in cities too where there's more traffic congestion on the networks.
I know, amazing huh?
Make sure you watch the review and click the link to take you right to the exact place to get the plan if you're interested. Part of my video shows how to set this plan up because most of the Verizon agents don't know about it.
A hotspot works off your current cell phone and/or data plan. The major players in the market that have the most coverage nationwide in the United States is Verizon, #1, and AT&T, #2 as of this posting.
I have a Verizon hotspot as well as an AT&T hotspot. I like having both because sometimes AT&T is better in one area than Verizon or vice versa. My entire business and consulting practice are online, so it's essential that I almost always have a cell signal for the Internet – unless of course I just am taking a break and need some digital downtime.
Now, in my video from last week, I talked about how I use my Verizon hotspot with a new prepaid plan so check that out. You may want to look into that because the Verizon hotspot that I was on before with my regular cell phone plan just didn't work that well.
The hotspots will allow you to get Internet on the road, but what about when you're in rural areas or places where the cell signal is weak?
Boosting Your Cell Signal So You Can Boondock Most Anywhere
So here's the thing, as a digital nomad, you need to make sure you're connected everywhere you go. I'm online 24/7, and it seems like I'm always charging my equipment, I'm always online loading videos or answering emails, social media, etc.
As a digital nomad, it's very important that you are always online and connected. So to make that happen, I have the two hotspots with Verizon and AT&T.
The other thing that's super important to make sure you're connected is a cell booster. The system that I use is called a weBoost, and it is connected to an antenna on the roof that boosts the cell signal inside the van and to my devices.
weBoost Antenna and Cell Signal
The weBoost is mounted to the side of the wall under my bench seat so it's out of the way and that is connected to AC power. To have AC Power you do need to have your inverter on to make that work properly.
The antenna that came with my weBoost is not the antenna that I'm using currently. The one that came with the system is one that you hard mount onto your van or to your RV, and I didn't want to punch any holes in my RV, so I got the magnet instead. This antenna is one that I specifically bought because it has an earth magnet on it and is very strong so it will mount on top of the van and stay there, even if I drive with it.
I do take it on and off when I travel and then when I'm stationary I keep it up on the roof. The cable runs down the side of the van and in through the driver door, and then that connects to the weBoost inside.
The cell towers are far and few between, more so than in an urban area, so you sometimes to boost your signal. The weBoost has helped me so many times when I'm in rural areas, and sometimes it'll say I have no signal whatsoever or just maybe one bar and then I'll plug it in and voila, I can sometimes get anywhere between two, three and even four bars.
That will help me to get that cell signal in those rural areas.
If you're going to be doing a lot of boondocking, make sure you get some kind of a cell booster. There are different ones out there, weBoost seems to be the best one in my opinion, and so that's the one that I went with, and it's the first one that I bought when I started RVing.
I haven't had any issues with it, except the fact that – oh guess what? I had a different antenna, and that antenna was just a slender antenna that had an earth magnet on it. I would put it on the top of the roof, and I could drive around a lot with that one on, but I was on the coast so much, and with all the salty air it got rusted.
So I had to replace it with the one I have now which won't rust when exposed to the environment.
How to Set-up weBoost Inside of Van
So you have your cell booster set up now, it's plugged in, the green light is on.
Now the green light means that it is getting a signal from the antenna on top of the roof and that it's working properly inside. The next question is how do you get that cell tower signal boosted to your devices? Like your hotspot or your cell phone and how does that whole system work?
You have the antenna on top, you have the weBoost system connected to the AC power, so then you have an inside antenna that's plugged into the booster. I place it on my table where I do most of my work, and I'll place my hotspots up in the window so it's getting a signal outside and it's close to this inside antenna.
The inside antenna is what ties it all together so that you can get a good cell signal to your devices. The closer it is to the antenna, the better.
Making sure that I use my weBoost and cell booster and these two hotspots – that's how I stay connected most of the time.
Connecting to Free WiFi & Internet on the Road
Most of the time I use my hotspots in the current set-up I explained, but there are times when it might be necessary to seek out WiFi.
My goto places are typically places like a Starbucks or a place that offers free WiFi.
The only time I've had issues is when I go to other countries like Canada and Mexico where my cell plan will cap me at a half a gig of data a day. So I will make more use out of the Starbucks, or believe it or not, Home Depot has excellent WiFi if you sit out in their parking lot next to the contractor section. I'm sure that sounds weird, but I've done all over New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Quebec, Canada.
That's an option too if you are traveling and for some reason, you don't have a hotspot, or you can't get a good cell signal. Go to a Starbucks, or Home Depot, a Lowe’s, or Walmart. I've had sporadic luck with Walmart and better luck with Home Depot for free WiFi.
Keeping Devices & Gear Charged in Camper Van
The other thing about being a digital nomad is making sure that you have enough power to charge everything.
I tend to use a lot of power because I have a lot of things to charge like a computer, a camera – well several cameras – an iPhone, and my two hot spots. Those hotspots need to stay charged up so that I can always stay connected.
My weBoost needs to be plugged in so that it can get a signal as well and that draws energy using AC power so the inverter must be on. I do have my solar panels which charge the batteries, and most of the time this is sufficient for my needs.
All of the devices also use AC power, which means I need to have my inverter on to get power to the USB port and the plugs.
I have to turn on my inverter, and I have to make sure my lithium batteries are on, and then I will be able to have power to everything.
I'm pulling so much energy from my batteries, so I want to make sure that I'm getting enough solar power so that:
I am charged up by using my solar panels which means that my batteries have to be on to convert the solar energy to store into my batteries, or…..
I'm driving throughout the day to charge the batteries, or …..
I can turn on my under hood generator, which is part of the Hymer Aktiv van system and charge my batteries.
And that allows all of the batteries to charge in the van.
It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it and you understand the charging and solar power system. You get to know your van or RV and figure out how much power you're pulling in from the sun and how much energy you're pulling out of your batteries on an everyday basis. As a digital nomad, that is something that I have to pay attention to daily.
I'm very conscientious of how much power I'm using just to turn the lights on or how much power I'm using when I'm cooking. I want to make sure that I'm entirely powered up throughout the day and just managing how much energy I'm using and consuming.
One of the things you might think about too is getting that Verizon hotspot that's prepaid and that is not throttled and completely unlimited. Go ahead and watch that video so you can see how you can get that hotspot, make sure that you're always connected, no throttle and unlimited.
That's a big deal in this digital nomad community as well.
Have you heard of the new Verizon Jetpack unlimited data plan that has no throttle, and you want to know if it's legit? Then make sure you read this post all the way to the end or watch my video for my review of the new Verizon no throttle prepaid plan and how you can quickly get it set up.
What's Different About This Plan?
Alright, so you've heard of this new Verizon Jetpack prepaid plan, and let's be honest, us digital nomads have been waiting a very long time for a plan like this.
It's something that we all talk about, and something that's been a much-needed thing for us as we travel around the world or travel in our RVs. So, here's the good news.
I think it's legit, but let's check it out and find out.
I'm going to give you all the details on this new Verizon prepaid Jetpack plan, I'm going to show you my speed test and my review, and I'm going to show you how to set this up easily.
Trust me; it was a little bit of a headache for me.
I had to talk to four different Verizon agents to get this set up, and some of them didn't even know that the plan existed.
Some of the agents want you to set up a new account, and some say you can put it on your existing account if you already have a Verizon account. Some of their information was true, and some of it was not exactly accurate; however, I finally got it all squared away.
So I'm going to show you what I learned through the process so that you can easily set it up online or go in and talk to an agent and get this set up for yourself.
Verizon Prepaid Jetpack Plan
Good news! This new plan is also truly unlimited.
Now, where this differs in comparison to the old plans, like the one that I have on my Verizon plan which is throttled – this one is not throttled – in other words, there's no cap on it which is good. That's a huge plus for all of us digital nomads.
The other thing is that it is $65 per month if you auto prepay for it. It's advertised on the website at $70, but there's a $5 discount if you prepay.
This plan is for Jetpack, so if you already have one of those hotspot devices than you can still use it – kind of – so keep reading where I tell you how to set it up.
Here's the clincher, and you probably knew there would be one.
It is network-managed.
I talked to the representative to find out exactly what that means. The Verizon representative told me about network management, and there are essentially three tiers of priority in network management.
Emergency vehicles like police and ambulances or firefighters will get the first priority.
They are in the top tier.
The second tier are people who are post-paid, which means you have a standard account and you don't prepay for it. A post-paid account, which is like the current plan that I'm on where I pay for my cell phone and hotspot each month with an invoice. Note this hotspot is throttled at 15 GBs.
The third priority is prepaid, which is what this prepaid plan is at Verizon. Prepaid is at the bottom of the barrel. I don't know why they do that; it doesn't make sense to me that they would differentiate tiers between people who pay by invoice versus prepaid.
We're all paying money into it, but that's how they network-manage.
So, of course, when the representative told me this, I was a little bit concerned because I certainly don't want to be bottom of the barrel, and there are a lot of people out there who have the regular post-paid accounts.
Being at the bottom of the tier as a prepaid customer, I was concerned that the network management was going to be too much and it was going to be as if I was throttled like on my existing plan. I went ahead and decided to get the prepaid account and go ahead and test it out so that I can find out if it's going to be better than my original account.
Then, I can make some decisions on the original hotspot that I have on my account already, which is still under contract.
Is It Really a No Throttle Data Plan?
So, the big question here is, does this plan work, and is it indeed a no throttle plan as they say? The short, general answer is – yes.
It has been working really, really well for me, except for one specific situation in the desert – which is a bit weird. So far in the two weeks that I've had the new Verizon plan, it's worked well.
I will say, I was very skeptical in the beginning about it. Which is why I wanted to test it and really put it through its paces by taking it to rural areas, to urban areas, and testing it at different times of the day. This way I could see what kind of speeds I was getting and when I would see that slow down due to the network management.
The first thing I did to be able to test the Verizon Jetpack plan is I suspended my current, existing hotspot account, which is attached to my cell phone plan. I suspended it temporarily for two months so that I could test out the new prepaid Verizon plan and also still use my current Jetpack since I didn't want to buy new equipment.
My cell phone plan is still working on my original account where my original hotspot line, on the same account, is suspended.
I had to set up a brand new account for the prepaid plan, and I got a new SIM card.
I could've just left the old, original hotspot as-is and still paid for that account and get a new Jetpack and a new SIM card. However; I wanted to use this existing Jetpack so that I didn't have to buy new equipment, especially in case I didn't like the plan, and it didn't work for me. So, we suspended the old account, opened a brand new account, got a new SIM card, and I was able to use that new SIM card in the old Jetpack because the old SIM card is not deactivated, but just suspended. The old Jetpack was able to recognize the new SIM card even though this is still under contract which can only happen if you suspend the other account.
That's how we worked it out to use the existing Jetpack.
Speed Test of the Verizon Prepaid Unlimited NO THROTTLE Plan
When I purchased the new prepaid plan, I was in Dana Point, California, and I was there for about a week with the new prepaid plan working, and I had phenomenal results. I was surprised by how good the results were considering I'm in this city with a lot of people, and it's Southern California in the Los Angeles area, which is a vast urban area.
I was again, very skeptical of this new plan and whether it would really work because of the network management, but it did work!
I was able to upload a YouTube video on it within 30 minutes, something that might have taken me an hour to an hour and a half using my AT&T hotspot. The AT&T cell signal wasn't getting good service there at that point in time. Verizon was a stronger carrier in that area, so it was great to see that it was able to upload a video, no problem whatsoever, in a very populated, urban area.
Fast forward another week, and I went to the desert and decided to test it out in that area. This particular area that I was in has great service for AT&T and Verizon, and I decided to go ahead and do some speed tests in the evening and in the morning to see what that was like.
So, the first test I did is the Verizon AM speed test. This test underperformed especially compared to what the speeds were when I was in Dana Point, California, although I did not get an actual speed test on the record like I am here.
AT&T speed test in the morning did very well and again, this may or may not be because of the cell tower strength here. It may just be that AT&T has a better signal in this rural area that I'm in versus Verizon. So it can't be considered conclusive that Verizon is network managing and not a great plan yet. I still have more testing to do.
The evening speed test produced similar results as the morning. Even though both carriers are working very well in this rural area, Verizon underperformed, which was pretty surprising considering how well it worked in an urban area. There are not very many people out here where I'm at in the desert, so I'm not sure why that is, but it was just an interesting thing to note, and we'll continue testing it.
How to Set-up the Verizon Prepaid Jetpack Plan
Whether you have an existing account or your not a Verizon customer at all, you'll want to set up a brand new account. Prepaid accounts need to have their own account, separate from an existing Verizon account that you may have already.
Setting Up a New Account for New Verizon Customer
If you are a new customer to Verizon, this is going to be pretty easy. You just go to their website, and you sign up for an account.
Then you'll need to pick out your actual Jetpack. Click ‘next steps,' ‘new customer,' and then you'll see different plans, but the one you want to select is the unlimited data for $70, although it is $65 for auto prepay.
Setting Up a New Account for Existing Verizon Customer
If you're an existing Verizon customer AND you want to use your existing Jetpack, this is where it can get a little bit tricky.
You can go through the same methodology with setting up a new account with one difference.
Using Your Existing Jetpack
If you're like me and you already have a Jetpack, and you want to use an existing Jetpack, then you will need to deactivate the old SIM card.
The only way to deactivate the card is to either get rid of that original line on your existing cell plan or suspend the account like I did to make sure it's what you want after testing it for a bit.
The Jetpack will only recognize one working SIM card according to Verizon if the other account is still under contract – which mine is under contract. You then have the option of paying off the contract and then deactivating that line if you think the new prepaid hotpot line is the one you'll keep.
If you still want to use your existing Jetpack, then these are the steps that you need to go through to make sure that your old Jetpack works with your new SIM card.
Once you know the steps to get the account set up, then it shouldn't be a problem for you whatsoever, even if you wanted to go into the store and get it all set up there. Just present to them exactly what I showed you on the website by going to the prepaid plans option, and then click on the one that says $70.
Remember, it's really $65, but it's a five dollar discount for auto prepaying.
Review of Verizon Prepaid No Throttle Plan – So Far
So far I really like what I see with the plan. I had that one exception in the rural area, but other than that, I was able to upload a video pretty quickly, so I'm pleased with those results.
It's still a little too early to tell right now if I'm going to stay with this plan. I'll be testing it for two months, so I will do a follow-up video/post review after that time to let you know my findings. I'll show you speed tests again and the places that it worked well, and the places that it did not work well.
Then we can decide if it's a plan that's worth keeping, or should I go back to my original hotspot contract and just use that particular account for my backup to my AT&T account.
As I mentioned a moment ago, I also have an AT&T hotspot in conjunction with my Verizon hotspot. I use both of hotspots as backups depending on the area, but I'm going to put together another video and post soon that shows exactly how I stay connected on the road in my camper van and how I work remotely as a digital nomad.
I'm curious if you all have already been set up on this prepaid plan, and if so, leave me a comment below. I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on it, what your findings have been. Are you using it a rural area or a city area? So, make sure you leave me a comment below if you've already signed up for this plan.
If you are looking to move into a Hymer Aktiv van, or you're looking to do a custom van build, read this post thoroughly and watch the video to find out the things that I like and I dislike after downsizing into my Hymer Aktiv van after owning a Class C RV.
And if you want more how-tos on full-time RVing or traveling around North America, then subscribe to my YouTube channel and hit that notification bell, so you'll be notified every time I upload a video each Thursday.
So I've lived in my Hymer Aktiv Class B van now for about six months, and I feel like I've gotten to know it enough to figure out the things that I really love about it, and the things that I feel like could be improved upon and changed.
So I get this question a lot, it's “Do you still like your Hymer Aktiv camper van?
Do you like the fact that you downsized from a Class C into a Class B?” A lot of times that comes with the question, “Why?” Or, “What do you still like about it?” Or, “What do you not like about it?” Or, “What would you change?”
So the broad answer to that question is yes, I love my van, and I have zero regrets about purchasing this particular Hymer Aktiv camper van, or downsizing into a Class B van from a Class C.
Pros of the Hymer Aktiv and What I Really Like About This Camper Van
So while the Class C probably felt a little bit homier because it had the couch and a full bathroom with a shower and a lot more storage, I didn't mind downsizing into the Class B. It felt like a natural progression and I've really taken on the minimalist attitude of purging things I don't need in order to travel more freely.
1. Freedom and Being Nimble
Downsizing into the Hymer Aktiv did give me that freedom to be able to travel wherever I want and get into regular parking spots – which was a huge plus for me. I don't have to research every place I wanted to go to now and make sure that my RV actually fits into that particular spot.
I don't know if you saw my Lost Coast travel video, but that particular quest drive that I did on the Lost Coast, you could not have done in a regular RV, a Class C or above, or anything above really about 23 feet. I'm at 20 feet, (technically 19 feet 7 inches) and that was even pushing it probably a little bit. It worked out just fine, but I wouldn't have been able to do that in my Class C.
So as you can see, there are certain places that you can and can't go if you're in those larger rigs. You have to decide what is best for you in that particular situation. I'm excited to take Atti (my Hymer Aktiv and short for Attraversiamo) to the East coast this next year. The East coast is so much more compact and it was pretty difficult this last year to maneuver around in my 26 foot Class C RV.
2. Ventilation Through Roof Vent
One of the things I really love about this particular camper van is that it has a roof vent that provides a significant amount of ventilation.
It does have a nightshade that you can pull back as well as a bug screen so you can open the roof vent and keep pesky bugs away while still allowing air flow. It has a hand crank to open up the roof vent all the way. It, however, doesn't have an automatic rain sensor like the Fantastic Fans so you have to be careful if there will be inclement weather and remember to shut the vent.
It does provide quite a bit of circulation, especially when you open up some of the other windows and turn on the Fantastic Fan in the bathroom that sucks air through the RV. Another great feature of this roof vent is you can actually climb up on the seats and poke your head through the vent and take a look at your solar panels to see how dirty they are. Mine are very dirty right now being close to the coast.
3. VoltStart System Specific to Hymer Aktiv
Another thing that I really love is the VoltStart system. This actually allows you to turn on your AC when you need it and run it as long as you'd like – well if you have enough gas in the vehicle.
There's a toggle button to the left of the steering wheel to engage the VoltStart system. I like to use the VoltStart system to turn the AC on if I need to make sure it's cool in the RV, so that Lily stays nice and comfortable. The other feature is that VoltStart actually monitors your lithium batteries to make sure that they're completely charged up in case something is drawing a lot of power for it, like the AC, or if you're using your water heater or your furnace on electric. It monitors your battery charge remaining and if it the batteries need to be charged more, VoltStart will turn on your underhood generator in your vehicle to charge those batteries.
4. Large Kitchen Counters Compared to My Previous Winnebago
The other thing that I really love about this space is my kitchen counter tops. It's all flat and flush.
The glass for the stove top and the glass for the sink is flush with the countertop. So it just seems to give you a lot more room when you're trying to prep food, and is much bigger than my Class C RV. The only thing that I think I would want to change about it is the faucet placements. It's kind of in the middle of the counter area and it would be nice if it was actually pushed back just a little, so that you didn't have to knock up against it when you're prepping food.
So other than that one thing, I really love my kitchen countertop space compared to my Class C. Just seems to have a lot more room.
5. Nightshades in Hymer Aktiv are Top Notch
So another item to add to my things that I really like is the fact that it has these great night shades. When you pull the shades down it's pretty dark and you can't see any light coming through those the screen at all.
So it does get nice and dark inside of the van when you have all of the nightshades closed. Coupled with the dark tint of the outside windows, you can see any light inside the van from the outside at night. It gets super dark in the Hymer with all the nightshades down so you can sleep at night.
My Class C van did not have these types of nightshades and instead let a lot of light inside. If you were outside, you could see inside and see shadows in here.
6. More Ventilation with Pop-Out Windows
Another thing I love about this RV is the ventilation from the pop-out windows. You can open up the side window all the way by pushing it out and up. There's an amazing breeze that you can get when it's fully open, especially when you open the sliding door and have the Fantastic Fan on inside. It's astounding how cool you can keep the Hymer Aktiv.
So this is what it looks like from the outside. You can see how popped out it is. I have some friends who have Class B Mercedes Sprinter vans, and they want these windows because theirs only pops out a little bit and doesn't fully extend like the Hymer Aktiv windows. Hymer did a great job on these particular windows.
Now, the back windows, for the bedrooms, don't pop out the same as the living room window. It pops out about 1/4 of the way, but you still get some incredible airflow, especially when you turn the Fantastic Fan on to provide more circulation of air.
7. Ease of Emptying the Cassette Toilet
Another huge plus of the Class B camper van, and in particular to the Hymer brand, because it's so new to North America, is the cassette toilet. The cassette toilet is very easy to dump, and you can empty it in so many different places. It makes it more versatile than dumping than the Class C RV because you don't have all of the hoses and everything that you have to store and connect.
And it's just much simpler inside the Class B van, because you can literally just take the cassette to a lot of different places to dump, whether it be pit toilets, regular toilets, inside of rest stops, inside of your typical places like sewer dump stations or RV parks to dump your tanks.
It just gives you a lot more options when you're emptying your cassette toilet on the road.
Before owning my Hymer Aktiv van, I had never used a Truma Combi system, and I will tell you that I am in love with it. It has some great features to it that make it high on my list of things I love about the Hymer Aktiv.
One of the things that I really, really love about it is that it's quiet.
So with my Class C RV that I had, when the furnace was on, you could hear it. It was loud.
With the Truma Combi, it's not loud at all. You can hear it a little bit when it kicks on and just because it's quiet doesn't mean that it's inefficient. It's very efficient. It gets nice and toasty in here, especially in the bathroom.
So here are the controls for the Truma Combi system.
So to turn on the furnace, we click the button when it's toggled to the picture of the RV. You have the option of using propane or electric or a mix. I generally use propane to conserve battery power throughout the date. You can turn the temperature gauge to whatever your desired temperature is and then let it go. It's very quiet when on the low speed. I never need to increase the speed of hot air as it warms up the Hymer Aktiv very quickly.
Now let's turn on the water heater. You also have the option of using propane, electric, or a mix.
The water heater temperature setting gives you an option of Eco, which is slower to heat and gets up to 100 degrees and Hot, which increases the water temperature to 140, or Boost which heats up the fastest to 140 degrees.
I discovered just this morning that you can not operate both the furnace and the water heater on propane IF the water heater is on boost. It shut off the furnace when I selected boost mode. So I instead turned the water heater to electric, on the boost mode, and left the furnace on propane. That worked.
It's nice to have the electric option which I didn't have on the Winnebago!
9. Front Swivel Captain's Chairs
So the next thing that I really, really love about this space is the two swivel chairs in the front. Now, it may seem weird that I love these two chairs, because when it's facing forward, but watch what happens when you turn it around.
It opens up the living space now. You have two more chairs for guests, and to be honest, I sit in the driver seat a lot when I'm working. You might also be wondering how comfortable these seats are. Well, it's quite comfortable. I've never had any issues with it being uncomfortable, and I've driven for long periods of time, I've sat in it for long periods of time working, and haven't had any problems whatsoever, or any aches and pains.
Even the bench seats have been nice and comfortable. It's very cushiony an even though it sits straight up like that, I love it.
10. Ease of Urban Camping
So one of the other things that I love about Hymer Aktiv is that, as I was saying earlier, it's very nimble, and it also allows you to stay in urban areas a lot more easily. So I've been in Southern California, in an urban area, for probably about a month now, and have no problems getting around.
Stealth camp if you want, or street park if it's allowed. I do make sure that anytime I am parking or stealth camping, that it is legal. Some people look at stealth camping as parking in places where it's illegal to park and trying to get away with it. Maybe that's the technical definition; I don't know. Stealth camping, to me, is parking in particular areas where you just don't want people to see that you're inside.
So again, I make sure that it's completely legal.
11. Bringing the Outdoors Inside with the Backdoors
The other thing that I love about this is this view, opening up the backdoors to the bedroom area. It's pretty incredible. You can't do this in a Class C like my previous RV.
The doors open up pretty wide.
You can lay in bed, watch the sunset or sunrise. Read. Work. It's just a pretty incredible feature to have especially when you're in a gorgeous area to boondock.
Cons or “Needs Improvement” of the Hymer Aktiv Camper Van
So now let's talk about the things that I don't really like about the Hymer Aktiv, or that I would like to see some improvement upon, whether that mean that I do the improvement myself, or whether Hymer will do an improvement in the future on the Hymer Aktiv vans.
1. Refrigerator is Difficult to Get Into
One of the things I don't like about this Hymer Aktiv van is the refrigerator. It's relatively small, which I knew, but what makes it difficult is this is a galley kitchen, and it's a little bit difficult to get in and out of here. The door opens up to the right requiring you to bend down low to the ground to find your food. It's difficult to see anything on the bottom shelf and in the back.
It would have been better to install a refrigerator with sliding drawer like the marine grade Isotherms. My workaround for this was to purchase clear organizers that I can slide in and out of the fridge. It made a huge difference and is much more manageable now.
2. Shower Faucet Poorly Designed for the Bathroom
All right, so now we are in the bathroom, and one of the things that I do not use is the shower feature. The faucet/shower nozzle does not have an on/off switch to keep it on or to keep it off to do a military shower.
It also gets everything very wet in here, so even though it has this curtain that you can move over to protect the back wall it gets everything else wet. The other thing is that it has this little hole in the shower curtain so that you can put the nozzle through it.
So in order to conserve water, which you have to do when boondocking so you don't run out of water, you have to stick your hand through the shower curtain hole to turn the faucet on and off, and then slide your hand out, pick up the shower head, rinse yourself off, put it back down, slide your hand back into the hole in the curtain, and shut off the water.
There needs to be a shut off valve on the head of the faucet/shower head.
So it's just a really poorly thought out design, especially for people who are full-time RVing and would love to use this as a shower. It also would have been better to have a shower head attachment on the ceiling so you could use the same faucet/shower head to latch to latch at the top or down below.
This is probably something I could do on my own and fix it, but I don't even take showers in here anymore, just because it's been such a pain.
Instead, I bought a gym membership, and I go to the gym, work out, and take a shower or I utilize state parks, recreation centers, or any place that has public showers – even truck stops.
You'd be surprised, that truck stops have some nice showers. Some of them are like spas when you go in there. I even took a picture one time to show everybody what it looks like, the caption was, “Is this a spa, or is this a truck stop?” Guess which one they picked? They thought it was a spa.
3. Hymer Aktiv Ground Clearance – Underhood Generator
All right, so let's talk about ground clearance now. When I bought the Hymer Aktiv van, I knew that it was a bit lower than the Mercedes Sprinter van, which is another popular van when you're looking at Class Bs to do customizations. So I was okay with that. I knew that it was a little bit lower, but I didn't think it was going to be too much of a problem.
However, there's a couple of things that I don't like since I've purchased it.
One of the items is the underhood generator.
Here is the underhood generator with the black covering over it and close to the front bumper.
It's so close to the bumper that when you pull forward into a parking space, you can hit curbs with it because it's so low – and yes, I have done that! Unfortunately, nobody at the service department clued me into this when they were doing the walkthrough with me. I only discovered it through other Hymer Aktiv owners.
That is a major disaster waiting to happen. You can bust your underhood generator very easily with the placement in the front like this, even with that cover on it.
You would think that Hymer would put it in a place where it wouldn't obstruct your ability to park and damage the underhood generator.
4. Hymer Aktiv Ground Clearance – Propane Tank
So the other item is the propane tank that is low to the ground. The propane tank lives under the right side of the Hymer Aktiv just behind the sliding step and under the black plastic skirting.
You can see how low it is to the ground, and the unfortunate part is that the valve with the yellow cover is where you fill up the propane tank. That valve — I don't know if you can tell — is pointing at an angle towards the ground instead of straight out.
So what happens is, when they try to fill the propane tank, their hose attachment is hitting the ground. It's very difficult to fit the propane hose onto the intake valve.
The propane tank issue probably perplexes me the most – well, it may be the underhood generator too. I don't know why Hymer put that valve stem where it's at an angle, because it is tough to get the propane fill nozzle onto it.
I've looked at different ways of trying to fix it, so far I haven't figured out a way to do that. But the only manual way to do it, is to one, hope that when you go to fill up, that the concrete is a little bit on a curve or a slant. The other way to do it is to get some small blocks to roll your wheels up onto so that you're a little bit more elevated.
5. Sliding Screen Door – Love/Hate Relationship
So the next item is a pro and a con and it's a little bit of a love/hate relationship.
It is the screen door. Everybody loves this screen door – including me – but it is tough to open and close. So much so that I don't allow anybody to touch it. I'd rather do it myself because it's so hard to open and close. You have to figure out the right way to do it, and I don't want people to damage it accidentally.
It is nice, and it keeps the bugs out and keeps Lily inside.
You would think the natural, and easy place to open the door is at about waist level, but it's not. You have to slide your hand down towards the ground and push or pull it at the bottom where the plastic glide for the sliding door track is located. Then it opens very easily at that point.
This track, for whatever reason, is just challenging. I don't know why it's just so tricky, but it is, and it's not like you can put lubricant or anything on there to make it easier it's just the way that it's made. So yes, it's a love/hate relationship.
6. Bathroom Sink Placement
So the other item that I could do without is this bathroom sink. You would think it would be alright; it folds up against the wall, it's nice and tidy, organized, right? But every time you want to use it, you have to hit a little lever, and it pops down, and you have a sink.
It's great, except that it's very, very difficult to clean. There's this little trough, if you will, down at the bottom of the sink, and to clean it, you have to remove the whole folding down sink to gain access to the trough.
So I don't use it. I instead opt for the kitchen sink where I brush my teeth and wash my hair and face. If I were to customize this van more, I would not have the shower nor the sink, just a toilet. I most likely would also take down the walls to open up the space some more.
7. USB Plugs Use AC Power Instead of DC Power
Okay, so the next item that I wish were different is the USB plugs. Don't get me wrong; I love having USB plugs. However, you have to turn the inverter on to use it since Hymer connected the USB plugs to AC power rather than DC.
That seems a little weird to me, and maybe it's because in my Class C RV, I had USB plugs on DC power, so I didn't have to turn on the inverter to get power to the USB plugs.
There is a USB right over the dinette table, one under the kitchen counter area, and another USB over the corner by the bed, but it's hidden by part of the mattress. Another thing, they should have done is moved that plug up higher, so that it's higher than the bed frame and the mattress.
8. Awkward Kitchen Table Fold Out
So another thing that I would like to see improvement on is the kitchen table. Now, I like this kitchen table. It was one of the selling features because it can either be a half table or extend to a full table by folding it out.
It's great for when you have guests or using it has a desk and workspace.
The problem is that to extend the table from the folding position; you have to raise the folded part upwards which means that anything you have on the table will fall off unless you move it. I always have my table filled with my hotspot, my weBoost antenna, pens, computer, books, phone, and chargers, so it's a pain to extend it.
Once extended it's nice and large, and I love that about it the table. I wish it actually would extend out from either underneath, or it'd be nice if it slid out and then pushed up so that it's flush with the other side of the table, and then locks in place.
That's really just a minor annoyance with the table, but I use it a lot, and so it's just a small thing that I wish would be different, and something that I might also customize later on.
9. Spare Tire Placement
The last thing that I believe needs improvement is the spare tire placement. If you've been watching my videos, you know that I took my spare tire off and many people gave me condemned for it. It was a personal preference.
I couldn't get into my back door very easily, which I get into them all the time, so I decided to remove it. I don't even carry one at all.
Now, when I had my Class C RV, it didn't even have a spare tire either, and manufacturers are making RVs, a lot of times, without these spare tires. I do have roadside assistance, so if I ever have an issue, I'll call them, or ask for help if I don't have cell signal somewhere and get somebody out there to help me.
So the whole reason why I took the spare tire off, is because the spare tire was sitting in front of the back, left door and mounted to a secondary hitch. To access the left back door, you had to put the spare into its down position. Well, that thing weighs about 70 pounds and is very heavy and awkward to use.
What would have been nice, is if it had a swing-away hitch so that it could swing-away from the door, and you didn't have to put it in a down position. Now, I have seen some hitches that will attach somehow to these door brackets and bumpers; however, I don't think the bumper on the Hymer Aktiv could accommodate a swing-away hitch.
It would be nice if I could find a hitch mounted swing-away arm for a spare tire.
So you see it's not that I didn't want a spare, it's just that it wasn't very manageable for me. So if I could get that swing-away arm and be able to attach a spare tire again, I would really, really love that. So we'll see what happens with that, and I'll let you know in the future if I do get that swing-away hitch and find one that works for that particular area.
So all of these things that I have shared with you about the things that I really love about my Class B Hymer Aktiv, and the things that I would improve upon, are things that I have discovered in my first six months of owning this Hymer Aktiv van, and downsizing from that Class C to the Class B.
I'll probably do another followup in a year, to show you some of the changes and modifications that I've made, and hopefully, have attached another spare tire.
So now that you know the things that I love and want to improve upon in my van, if you're looking to full-time RV and want to learn some more information about how full-time RV, then we're having an event called the Full-Time Freedom Week, where I'm actually going to teach on solo RVing.
I get a lot of questions about solo travel and all of the different concerns that people have about solo RVing. I'll be guest speaking on solo travel along with 30 other RVers who are experts in their field. They'll be talking about all the things that you need to know, from what gear to use, maybe what RV you need to get, helping you discover that, and working full-time on the road, how to remote work, all kinds of topics.
So if you liked this post and video, please let me know by sharing it with your family and friends, and commenting below, “I like that van” if you're thinking about buying a van and joining the van life community.
One of the things I noticed after purchasing the Hymer Aktiv van is the sway when you turn corners or when you go over bumps. I discovered SumoSprings bumpstops for the rear and spring coils for the front from other Hymer owners who had installed as well.
I hadn't owned the Hymer Akitv too long when I noticed that going around corners I would take them slower to feel like I'm not tipping a bit to one side. I'm sure this is the case with many vans and RVs; however, I thought it could be more comfortable.
Not having the SumoSpring bumpstops wasn't horrible by any means, it's that it could be better and have a better ride.
The SumoSprings bumpstops on the rear will provide a stiffer ride, so the van doesn't sway to one side or the other when turning corners as much. It will also reduce the bounce when going over bumps.
The third advantage to the SumoSprings installation is that it gives you a one-inch lift in the rear. Considering how low to the ground the Hymer is – having that extra one-inch clearance is worth the installation.
Installing the front SumoSprings coils will provide a more rigid ride but also might give you about a 3/4 inch lift. Fingers crossed.
SumoSprings Installation Before & After
I found a company, Oakmont Service Center, while I was in Eugene, Oregon that could install the SumoSprings bumpstops on the rear and also the front SumoSprings coil which also will help to provide a more rigid ride.
Jacob did a fantastic job of installing the SumoSprings. He first read through all the instructions thoroughly, did a couple of tests before permanently seating the coil and the bumptops.
Before installing I measured both the rear and front from the ground to the bottom of the wheel well molding to see how much lift I received after installing.
I had heard differing stories on whether you could gain ground clearance on the front. Some people said they didn't get any lift and others stated about 3/4 of an inch. I was hoping for something – anything- because the underhood generator is too close to the ground already and scrapes on the curb when pulling into parking spaces. Now I mostly backup into spaces so I don't accidentally damage the underhood generator.
After installing the front coil springs, it didn't provide any additional lift which is a huge bummer. However, the rear SumoSprings bumpstops provided an extra one-inch lift. Not only was it lifted one inch, but it also prevented that sway I was getting when turning corners.
I have to say it's so much better now and I'm super happy with the SumoSprings.
I gave it a good workout while traveling down Highway 101 and 1 along the Pacific Coast Highway through California. I'm happy I had the SumoSprings installed before tackling that drive.
Long-Term Use of SumoSprings
The maintenance techs had a concern that the bumpstops were touching the suspension which apparently can make the bumpstops wear down and might need replacing over time. My understanding was that SumoSprings were produced to be tough enough to handle the friction and were made to touch the suspension.
I'll provide an updated SumoSprings review after a year to see if there are any changes to the bumpstops.
Have you installed the SumoSprings bumpstops to your van or RV? What did you think about it long term?
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!
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.
Before: Hymer Aktiv with all-weather 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!
Comparison of all-weather tires (left) and all-terrain tires (right).
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Wilhelm Hester – Wilhelm Hester Photographs Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49245575
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:
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.
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.
RV Park Rent
State Park Passes
National Park Pass
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.
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.
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.
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.
Since 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Rest stops in pit toilets or dump site, day use parks
Any where there are the typical dump sites like:
Wastewater treatment plants
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
Question #12: How Do You Make Money Remotely and are You a Trust Fund Baby?
Questions from Viewers
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
Dodge Ram Promaster Chassis
Kitchen Counter Space
Bed up in the back
Standing in “garage” of camper van
Garage of camper van under the bed
Living area bench and folding table
Hymer Aktiv 1.0 Camper Van Specs Compared to My Class C Winnebago 26 Foot RV