Our Roaming Home

Choosing a Vehicle

So once we had decided that we were going to travel for a year in Central America the next big decision was what vehicle to take. We first looked at our current vehicles to see if there was a contender:

  1. We have a 1986 Volkswagen Camper Van that is a lot of fun, pretty practical, but not so reliable.  It’s reliability had come into question on a previous trip to the Grand Canyon that was remembered by some second degree burns from an exploding radiator hose; a night on the side of a mountain road in Yellowstone; limping into Idaho Falls with regular rest stops to cool the engine; and pushing it away from the gas pumps in Butte, Montana when the motor refused to ever start again. That trip was capped off with a furious drive back in a rental car to make it to a family Thanksgiving gathering. As much as Alice (the VW Van) keeps trips interesting, she is not up to this trip.
  2. Our newest and most reliable vehicle was a 2005 Toyota Echo 4 door hatchback. Two adults, a dog, camping gear, and miscellaneous necessities for a year on the road may overwhelm it not to mention our sanity.
  3. We also had a 2000 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 extended cab truck and a 1995 truck camper. The truck had been purchased for acreage use, good for hauling stuff and a 4X4 to ensure we can get out in winter. It did not get great mileage and had the world’s worst turning radius. The camper was bought during one of Alice’s long and infamous stays in a repair shop. It is a lightweight molded fiberglass model but the interior design had a few issues.

The perfect vehicle for the trip would probably have been a combination of the three…a reliable four wheel drive camper van. We looked for a while but quickly decided that such a vehicle in reasonable condition was a) hard to find and b) a lot more money that we wanted to spend. We started looking for a two wheel drive model but were generally disappointed in either their quality or their price and were concerned about their rough road capabilities.

We finally decided that for the cost we were going to have to pay for a van we could address the shortcomings in the camper; upgrade our truck and still be money ahead.

The Truck: After a long search we found a 2004 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab. It has a 3.4 L V6 engine and a 5 speed manual transmission. With four wheel drive, locking rear differential and the TRD suspension package, it has excellent off road capability. With an upgrade to the shock absorbers (Bilstein HD) and extra leafs added to the rear suspension it was ready to haul the camper. There were just two other upgrades to the truck, a new stereo with auxiliary inputs and a Blue Sea Dual Battery Charger System.

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The Camper: Our camper is a 1995 Somerset built by Bracewell Industries of Vancouver, British Columbia. It is a 7′ molded fiberglass model with a manufactured weight of 490 kgs. (1080 lbs). I believe that Bracewell only made a few campers over a couple of years but have not been able to find much information about them.

Modifications

The interior was completely removed and redesigned for more storage, a better dinette and a more efficient kitchen. We were also able to address Kristel’s claustrophobia issues about sleeping in the upper bunk. The before and after photos below provide an idea of the changes we made to the unit.

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before                                                                 after

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before                                                                   after

Details

We’ve had lots of questions about the specifics of our mods so we’ve tried to include details on the various systems below. This part of our page is a bit of a work in progress; we intend to add to it over time to answer questions that crop up and report on the successes and failures.

New Electrical System consisting of:

  • LED lighting

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New Water System consisting of:

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New Propane System consisting of:

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Rear Mount Bicycle  Racks

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We used a clutch mount from Rockymount to hold the front forks. The rear wheels are held by wall mount system that is intended to hold the front wheel, but in our application holds the rear wheel. It allows you to set the rear wheel in and then rotate the bike and lock it into the clutch mount. The front tires are held on separate mounts.

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Shady Boy Awning

Shady Boy

8 thoughts on “Our Roaming Home

    1. Kristel

      It’s a bit hard to show in the pics (it’s small in there). Previously there were two tall cabinets on each side of the bed and it felt too closed in (I’m a bit claustrophobic and would periodically freak out). We relocated the cabinets so I could stop having panic attacks. Now there is more storage at the front of the bunk and the bunk is built out further.

  1. Paul Holtkamp

    Dave and Krystel,

    Got the address of your blog from Erin, I will enjoy following your adventure online. Thanks for sharing and have a great trip.

    Paul Holtkamp

  2. David McLachlin

    Hello Dave and Kristel:

    Dave M from DUC Ontario here: I’ve been following your interesting adventures into and through Latin America. I’m currently outfitting my Land Cruiser for (future) Overland Expeditions and have been looking for a quick setup awning that can handle some adverse weather (for everything from cooking or resting outside but having shelter from sun and rain).
    How is your Shady Boy working out? I like the concept of a light but robust awing and (relatively) fast and easy set up, plus fairly low cost. Its the practicality, durability, function and use (including setup and take down) in breezes, gusts and wind that I would most appreciate your feedback on.
    Cheers and best wishes through the coming Holiday Season,
    Dave M

    1. Dave

      Hi Dave,

      Great to hear you are following. The Shady Boy definitely has some pros and cons. The pros: very lightweight, fairly easy easy setup, completely self supporting (sort of), and has been durable. The cons: not good in wind (partly my problem as I have it mounted high, was better on VW van, but even with guidelines will pull apart in strong wind). It has been great providing shade on some exposed sites but don’t usually put it up for rain because of wind issues. Feel free to contact for more info on this or other gear. My DUC email is still active and checked.
      Good luck with your overland expeditions. Ours has been wonderful.
      Dave

  3. Angus

    Hey guys. I’m looking at buying your old rig. Can you please let me know a few more things about your modifications?
    Very excited,
    Thanks
    Angus

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