top of page

T-Minus 100

Patrick Takes Stock of our Project


Here we are, at the point where we have passed the 100-day mark before our departure...a mere symbol since there is nothing major about this countdown other than moving from three to two digits! For many presidents or prime ministers, the effectiveness of their leadership or the potential of their political legacy is judged in the first 100 days of a mandate. So, let's do the reverse and assess our performance in terms of readiness to see where we stand.


The Itinerary


We started out ambitiously, nothing less than to go all the way to Ushuaia in Pantagonia, Argentina! More than 11,000 kilometers as the crow flies and almost five times more by motorized vehicle (taking into account that you can't drive between Panama and Colombia because of the Darién Gap). "Ma gang de malades " (i.e. you crazy fools) sings Daniel Boucher! The plan was revised after an estimate of the cost of crossing the Darién Gap, more than $10,000 USD ...not to mention the challenges of protecting the vehicle which, because it is too big to fit in a shipping container, would have to travel solo via ferry, accessible by anyone on the ship (i.e. roll-on/roll-off). In the end, we decided that we will stop in Panama to celebrate the holiday season and will return northbound afterwards. South America will be an adventure for another day!


The portion of the "outbound" itinerary for the United States is completed, the time in Mexico is partly planned and we will have to improvise a lot more for the section of the trip in Central America. We have a route but we will need to improvise more than we did for the United States or Mexico. In all, we plan to do a little more than 31,000 kilometers (round trip).


We are working on an itinerary that we will soon post on nomadlife2023.com and facebook.


The Recreational Vehicle


Various financial scenarios were considered prior to the acquisition of our RV. First of all, we looked at travel trailers and fifth wheels. These are by far the most popular models but we wanted a motorhome; so that we could be together during transit, with space to work or study during the drive. Next, we ruled out class A motorhomes (too bulky, expensive and fuel guzzling) and a class B or B+ (limited space for four and expensive acquisition cost with the popularity of the "Vanlife"). In the end, the class C had a good price/space ratio for our needs. The more we researched, the more obvious it became that a diesel engine was the best alternative. Given the high mileage we are going to do, the diesel engine averaged 17-19 L/100 km (as of last summer when we were doing our research) compared to 25-26 L/100 km or more for a gasoline engine. Also, a diesel engine does not lose its efficiency in altitudes whereas a gasoline engine can lose up to 3% of its power per 1000 feet of elevation gain.


Next, we had to decide between three scenarios: (1) a used motorhome, aged 10 years or more and requiring work, (2) a recent motorhome of 5 years or less requiring improvements; or (3) a brand new motorhome with all the bells and whistles. Our budget was set more towards the used model scenario. It was not easy to find because of the crazy market and we spent months scouring the internet. We planned to acquire the vehicle in the spring of 2023 but luck smiled on us in June 2022 when we found the rare pearl, a 2017 vehicle with low mileage (36,000 kms) and a diesel engine (Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500). The same new vehicle cost in the $200 000 CND or more according to the available models.


Indeed, luck smiled upon us but we are so happy to have purchased the vehicle sooner rather than later because we had underestimated the number of modifications and improvements that would be necessary to spend a full year in a 25-foot long, 9-foot wide, 11-foot high box!

We read countless articles and books on the aspects

of an RV purchase, which proved to be beneficial in many ways for beginners like us. As with the residential market, there was a lot of pressure to buy without an inspection and our stubbornness to have our chosen vehicle inspected almost backfired when a buyer came forward and was willing to increase the price without any inspection! This buyer did not obtain the necessary financing, so we were able to proceed with the purchase on the condition of having it inspected.


We were lucky but we had been saving for years to have the financial leeway to avoid borrowing from a financial institution and to be able to act quickly when the opportunity came to buy. How many sacrifices did we make for that? Many, but it was worth it.


RV Improvements and Logistics


The theme of logistics and RV improvements is quite vast when preparing for RV life. We will come back to different aspects of this topic in more details over the coming months, including humble advices. For the moment, we will limit ourselves to give an overview of the overall state of the preparations.


We did most of the work on the RV ourselves such as the installation of a front hitch, a spare tire with its support and a cargo system. Several dozen hours were spent researching and making interior improvements including changing the showerhead, water pump, water heater. The next phase of crucial steps of preparation will take place towards the end of April or beginning of May (when the snow melts) with the installation of lithium batteries, two solar panels and an inverter. This is an important investment ($10,000) and it will be essential for us to be able to operate autonomously for a few days like when we are boondocking.


One of the most difficult things to do was to find a reliable technician to help us with modifications when we don’t have the expertise to do it. We wanted to avoid the "walmart" RVers who may take advantage of the inflationary market by overcharging. We retained the services of Shelta, a small local company specialized in this type of work.


We used the winter period to inform ourselves on the best options for essential systems such as water treatment on board the motorhome, security and theft protection measures (alarm system, camera, safe), interior and exterior lighting, crucial spare parts, internet access in urban and remote areas, protection against electrical overloads, to name a few. All of this is in the garage waiting for good weather for me to proceed with the installations.


Getting information on these improvement issues was easy but skimming and fact checking was another matter. The "Van Life" or "Lifers" (living in RVs full time) phenomenon has boomed dizzyingly, but it has also given voice to charlatans and lunatics who seem to have a lot of time delivering their experiences on multiple platforms or taking over social media. Judgement is required, let alone when these "RV life influencers" are sponsored by corporate interests and therefore get kickbacks on the sale of gear or advice. They are legion, believe us, and can be well-intentioned, but you shouldn't drink their words or buy too quickly. In the end, technology moves fast and what was good in 2021 may be outdated in 2023 and the reverse is also true. Take Starlink for example, we had eliminated this option at the beginning of 2022 only to change our minds when Space X put on the market a "roaming" system thus mobile and adapted to VR.


One of our last steps will take place on July 5, just before leaving with a visit to Mercedes-Benz in Albany (New York) to perform a few free recalls, including the infamous "NOx sensors" that can fail and paralyze an MB Sprinter 3500 diesel at the wrong time. We will take advantage of this garage visit to change the oil in the transmission even if we are ahead of schedule.


Planning


I would love to share all of the different planning documents that we have written, just to illustrate the complexity of planning our adventure. From a financial point of view, how much will it cost to live one year on the road? I estimate the total cost of the Nomad Life 2023 project to be over $180,000 with a lot of contingencies and a conservative approach (taking into account high inflation and fuel prices and lower than anticipated income). A portion, $80,000, is dedicated to the "Cantley" phase, which is what we have spent to date ($20,000 excluding the purchase of the motorhome) and will spend ($60,000) for the preparations (RV improvements, adapted clothing, bicycles, vaccines, etc.) but also for the fixed expenses of our home (insurance, municipal taxes, financial support for our son at university, etc.). The balance, $100,000 is the real cost of hitting the road for a year, including an emergency fund, a motorhome repair fund and a lot of luxuries! At the time of writing this post, we currently have a $10,000 surplus for our budget.


But the planning goes beyond the financial aspects and obviously touches on the other aspects mentioned in this blog. One difficult aspect to deal with is that financial and insurance products are made for snowbirds who spend six months in Florida or elsewhere in the United States and return to Quebec for the balance of the year. Getting emergency medical insurance, for example, for a year was not easy. Most private insurance policies cover up to 180 days in a calendar year (30 days on most credit cards). We thought we were being smart by leaving a year spread over two calendar years (hats off to the RAMQ who understood our approach, so we didn't need to ask for a seven-year exemption), that is less than 180 days in 2023 and less than 180 days in 2024. A little more and the heads of the insurance representatives contacted would explode...No sir we don't do that...Finally, Blue Cross offers coverage that meets our needs at a reasonable price but it is still $5000. There are other companies based in English Canada or outside of Canada that offer this but they exclude Quebec residents because of certain peculiarities and regulatory aspects of the insurance plan (both private and public) in Quebec. Not easy to be a distinct society! On the other hand, it must be said that in Quebec insurers have more robust obligations by being subject to the Autorité des marchés financiers (the government body which regulates the financial sector).


In terms of road vehicle insurance, same problem: mainstream insurers generally cover periods up to 180 days outside of Canada. Not all insurers accept RVs, so we need to find one that accepts extended coverage. The Fédération québécoise de Camping et de Caravaning (FQCC for short: a provincial association of campers and RVers) has a partnership with Assurance Leclerc which offers Aviva products and which to my knowledge are the only ones to give coverage beyond 180 days but it does not come cheap. Insuring the motorhome in Quebec for 180 days is around $1000 whereas for a full year, it will cost us more than double that at 2300$. Of course, the risks are higher but more than double seems expensive...


Still on the subject of vehicle insurance, Mexico is a special place (and insurance policies in Quebec and Canada only cover Canada and the United States anyway). To drive in Mexico, you must have insurance from a private Mexican insurer. It can be obtained at the border but we prefer to settle this question before leaving. Again, it is not affordable for everyone since we will have to pay 1500 dollars for six months of coverage. I have read that the insurance available at the Mexican border is affordable, but I have also been warned that many Mexican private insurers are not financially sound as they do not have to maintain sufficient reserves to meet their obligations to their policyholders. Insurance is a product that one hopes will never pay off, but when it does, one expects it to work! Again, this is a question of risk management, which is different for everyone.


The Family


Stephanie recently wrote an excellent post about the fact that we would be educating the children "on the road" and describing the administrative hassles of embarking on such an adventure. I won't go into that again, but rather deal with the psychological aspect of undertaking our journey.

We have been thinking about this trip for almost two years and talking about it with the children. Our oldest, Michel-André, who will be entering university this fall, so will not be coming on the whole trip although he will be joining us in Central America to spend time with us. He will be 20 years old soon and he now has his life in Montreal with his friends and his girlfriend and he has not expressed a strong desire to go with us and that is completely understandable. It is beautiful to see him thrive as a young man and find his way. Despite this, we still feel like we are leaving him behind and we will miss him so much.


As for our two youngest sons, they will obviously be on the trip. They've come a long way in the last year in terms of adapting to the idea of the trip. Right now, they're very excited but they weren't at the beginning. As parents, we are running away from routine but we should not underestimate its importance for young children who may enjoy the safety of routine.


Christophe, who is 10 years old, was the most rebellious and often talked about our "poopy trip”. The prospect of quitting competitive gymnastics, losing his friends and missing his sixth-grade year of elementary school was upsetting to him. Christophe is an extroverted, energetic and passionate boy with an attention deficit. The pandemic showed that he was comfortable with a distance education model, in fact he performed better in such an environment. He could go at his own pace and turn to Stephanie for a more personal and tailored education. Our positive experience during COVID home schooling reassured us that doing school "on the road" would be beneficial for Christophe. For him, changes are difficult to accept and his first reaction is often rejection. With him, time was our best ally and over the months, Christophe tamed the idea of our adventure and he did so on his own terms. He asked many questions, shared his feelings, expressed his concerns and proposed accommodations. There is no more of this "poopy trip" and like a Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, he has made this adventure his own. We learned that it was necessary to create a space and give time for this process to take place.


As for our almost 12-year-old Francis, he had some concerns but his keen and adventurous mind was intrigued and stimulated by the project from the beginning. Of course, he was sad to lose his network of friends and activities (especially karate since he is so close to getting his green belt) but the fact that he is graduating this year and moving on to secondary 1 created a window of opportunity, a milestone between the end of elementary and the beginning of secondary school. Francis can be stubborn and we feared that he may not want to embark on a project of this magnitude but this was the opposite. Being more introverted, he led his own process to internalize everything. For example, he put together a "survival kit" with all the necessary elements to survive in the forest or in a remote area. He also played an important role as a facilitator with Christophe (he is the only one who speaks the "Christophe" language and translates for his younger brother concepts that may appear abstract at first glance).


We must emphasize the openness of Trivium Academy, the trilingual school that Christophe and Francis attend. We were touched to see that the principal and teachers were keen to collaborate but wanted to know more because they cared about the children’s education. We were able to access the grade six curriculum and textbooks so that Christophe could continue his schooling. In addition, Mrs. Auclair and Mrs. Roger made it possible for Christophe to return to the Academy in June 2024 to join his classmates for grade 6 graduation and the year-end trip. Monthly "MS Teams chats" will be organized with Christophe and Francis with the Trivium Academy students during the trip to touch on geographical, historical, cultural or linguistic themes of their trip, thus allowing our children to stay connected while adding an educational dimension. A special thank you to my friend Sylvain who is a math teacher in secondary 1 and who accepted to support Francis during this year on the road.


I will end this section by saying that for each of us it will be necessary to adapt to other places and cultures but even more so to the fact that we will not be on vacation during our trip. Traditionally, going on an RV trip is a sign of a holiday, but this will not be a vacation year. We will have to continue our day-to-day life, work to earn an income, educate ourselves to get back to the same level as the other children, plan homemade meals, repair the motorhome and solve the problems of daily life.


On the Right Track


So how do we measure our performance to date? There is no performance evaluation framework, no indicators and the Auditor General will not be interested in our case! Nevertheless, we feel that we are on the right track and we are giving ourselves an A for now! There are great and exciting times ahead, but there will also be adversity, challenges and possibly danger as well. We'll see how we react "under pressure" but in the end, if we feel that we cannot handle it, we will always have the option to come back home!



20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page