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In the beginning…

Airstream Travel Trailer

Airstream Travel Trailer

I am no stranger to the RV lifestyle. Although my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they didn’t let that dampen their spirit of adventure. For years our family vacations were spent going somewhere in one recreational vehicle or another. Starting with a slip-in truck camper, then graduating to a classy Airstream “silver bullet” travel trailer, some of my best childhood memories are the times we spent together traveling the eastern seaboard whenever my brother and I were on vacation from school.  My mom and dad would close their little glass business, put a “gone fishing” sign in the window, pack my little brother Mel and me into whatever RV we had at the time, and take off.

Fortunately, I married a guy who also has the travel bug. Before our “sailing the world” phase, Manny had lusted after and tracked down the Westfalia of his dreams, one of those “hippie” vans with a pop-top.

VW Westfalia Hippie Van

VW Westfalia Hippie Van

For years, we spent our weekends and vacations crouching to cook, pooping in a port-a-potty and getting eaten alive by noseeums small enough to get through even the finest screening.

Then, we upgraded to an Airstream B 190, a van on steroids. Only 19 feet long, but with a blown out top —which I call the brain— it contained plenty of storage, a real flush toilet and a separate sit-down shower, a small fridge, an oven with an unbelievable four-burner range, and sleeping accommodations for four. Although at first it felt luxuriously spacious compared to our Westy, we soon discovered major flaws if we wanted to use it for full-time RVing.

Airstream B-190

Airstream B-190

We opted to sleep on the pull-out couch, rather than in the cab-over bed with a large mattress but claustrophobically close ceiling.

However, movement in the aisle is impossible once the sofa is in the bed position. Being an early riser, with a great deal of difficulty I had to climb over my still sleeping hubby, trying not to wake him, before I could gather everything I needed to make coffee and —weather permitting— go outside to brew a pot.

During our European Adventure three years ago, we noticed that campgrounds were everywhere. We stopped at one in Assisi where we fell in love with what we thought was the perfect vehicle for us. A Hymer Van, made in Germany. A bed that stays a bed and doesn’t do double duty as a couch by day, a unique revolving toilet/shower —as one appears the other disappears— and a separate dinette and cooking area. At last, a permanent sleeping area and separate living space all in a van size unit, only 20 ft. long! And most importantly, on a Ford Transit chassis with a diesel engine, which is much more fuel efficient, getting approximately double the mileage than its gas guzzling cousins.

Our plan began to take shape. We would fly to Germany, buy one of these beauties, travel for a few years, then ship it home to the U.S.

Fortunately, Manny had the foresight to check with our mechanic about the ease of getting parts and service for the Ford Transit diesel engine. Imagine our surprise when we learned that Ford Motor Company had decided to make the diesel exclusively for the overseas market. Here in the U.S., only the gasoline model is available! So bringing a Hymer Van back home was now out of the question.

As he began to do more research on the, Manny found that people often ship their motorhomes from the US. to Europe, and end up selling them there, sometimes even at a profit. Apparently, Europeans love motorhomes “made in America”. This made a lot more sense, since it is obviously easier to buy something on your home turf, where you know how everything works —from negotiating a good deal to getting loans to purchase the vehicle (which we talk about in the “RV financed yet?” blog entry).

So now our plan changed 180 degrees. We decided to buy a motor home here, where we could get a diesel engine that we wanted, travel the U.S. and Canada, learn our motor home inside and out, then ship it to Europe and travel as long as we desired and either sell it there or ship it back home. Although we needed something roomier than our 19-foot van, we still wanted to stay small. We prefer to keep a low profile, in order to optimize fuel consumption, and to be able to maneuver through any small town or village.

Manny noticed that many work vehicles, from plumbers to DHL delivery trucks are built on a Sprinter chassis with a Mercedes Benz diesel engine. Sprinter vans have engines that are a fuel-efficient powerhouse, and since they are available both here and abroad, they can be serviced anywhere. He found a Sprinter Forum online, where all motor homes built on that chassis are discussed.

For weekends and vacations, this small motor home was ideal. However, now that we are retired and wish to go RVing full time as a lifestyle —and we want to stay married— we know we need more room.

Through careful comparison, we decided that the Freedom II Serenity, built by Leisure Travel Vans, was the unit for us. A 24-foot class B with the amenities of a 34-foot class A, it has a sleek aerodynamic exterior and a luxurious interior with rich European styling. In short, it is a motorhome that feels like a true home —on wheels!

We realized that in other models, where a bed always stays a bed, the only choice for living space is the dinette. Always sitting at a table would get tiresome very fast. In the Freedom Serenity II, there is an optional spacious sofa in the rear that, with the push of a button, becomes a recliner or a full queen size bed. So the Freedom II Serenity is the only class B RV that offered us two separate living areas. That was the primary reason why we opted to buy it.

All the cushions are layered with memory foam, ensuring ultimate sitting or sleeping comfort. There is a full bathroom with standup shower, flush toilet and vanity. It has overhead storage cabinetry throughout, a hanging closet with three large drawers and a kitchen area that rivals the one in our apartment. Lots of windows and a skylight make it bright and cheery.

This is the first brand-new unit we have ever owned, and we’ve been thrilled to watch its birth over the last two months through pictures sent by Don Klassen from the LTV factory in Canada. We have named her “Serena”, and we flew to Manitoba on October 20th, 2010 to pick up our newborn and to be instructed on how to handle and care for her.

We blogged all the way way home to Flourtown, PA. In 2011, we went back to the factory in Winkler, Manitoba to attend our first —but not last— LTV Rally, and blogged some more.

Then, look for us in the spring 2014 as we start a full-time life aboard Serena. With a harmonica in his pocket and a guitar slung over my shoulder, Manny and I will be heading to the heart and soul of American music, Memphis, Nashville, the Mississippi Delta and New Orleans.

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