“Buying a Used Camper for real travel adventures What a way to go!! by Bonnie and Bill Neely

We had an eight year old daughter, a six year old son, and a three-month old baby boy. My husband, then a rancher, was planning a business trip to Mexico to advertise for a large cattle sale he was having. I was not aware of how much he hated to leave his family for several weeks. I was too busy with three children’s daily needs! Early in the evening toward the end of May, with the Texas heat already pushing 100 degrees, he arrived home announcing, “I have a surprise for the family!”

In the driveway stood an old, nineteen-foot motor home. “Who’s here?” I asked. “No one. This is OURS!” was his excited reply. “What’s it for?” I asked, incredulous. “We’re all going to Mexico! ” he responded with great elation.

I was stunned beyond belief. “Are you crazy? We have a three-month old baby! I’m not getting in that thing!” “But, Honey, it’s great! I thought you’d love it! I just happened to pass it with a FOR SALE sign, and I thought it would be perfect. You and the kids can go with me.”

“But we have never mentioned camping in our whole ten years of marriage! You didn’t even ask me!” I cried.

“It was too good a deal to pass up! If I had waited it would have been gone,” he responded, still overwhelmingly pleased with himself and his good fortune.

“Well, I’d rather have a divorce than go to Mexico in that thing, in the summer, with three children, including our baby. You’ve lost your mind!” I angrily retorted, storming into the house, about to cry.

“But you haven’t even seen the inside yet. It’s great!” he said defensively, following me. “How much did you pay for that thing?” I asked. “It was only $5,000. Isn’t that amazing?” “Five thousand dollars!! I can’t believe you did that without discussing it with me! What were you thinking of?”

“I just want you and the kids to go with me when I go. It’ll be like a vacation. I’ve always dreamed of traveling through Mexico.”

“Well, I never even thought of it!” I replied, the tears of frustration and fury and fear taking over.

We fought, I threatened, he cajoled, he convinced, and we went. But there were several stipulations on my part. We had to have some protection. He didn’t believe in guns, but we had three children to think of. I would ask my single brother who had just gotten out of the army to go with us so we’d have another man along. Bill agreed. And my brother, who lived in South Carolina and hadn’t seen the tiny old box he was agreeing to risk his life in, jumped at the opportunity to “see the world and have an adventure!”

It took us several weeks to get necessary supplies, make vital repairs to the RV, and pack up. As we went in and out of the vehicle, stowing away loads of paper diapers, baby food, clothes, toys, etc., our elderly neighbor stood in her yard with a disapproving sour expression on her face. When my brother arrived and we loaded our final supplies (including two large hiking canes as our “weapons of protection”) into the RV and were about ready to take off, she had held her peace long enough. She came over and with hands on hips asked, “Why would anyone want to travel in that TRAMPER?” she asked loudly, as her bewildered good-bye.

Believe me, I kept asking the same question all the first 750 miles, until we were well below the border. The first few days were a battle until we all learned that in a tiny space everyone has to keep his things stowed neatly, because without “ship shape” order, people lose their tempers. Lesson number two was: do not serve food on the road in the interest of saving time.

I was playing short order cook and preparing sandwiches while going around our first set of mountains and Bill had to hit the brakes. I went flying to the floor just a second after returning the sharp knife to the drawer! I got a nasty bruise on my forehead, and we all learned a lot in a moment about life on the road.

It is now twenty-six years, five motor homes (each bigger and better than the one before), and about 250,000 miles later. That little TRAMPER proved to be the best investment in family life and fun times we ever made. We became addicted to seeing the continent and living in small spaces, delighting in each sight and each stop in towns and woods. We really had some pretty wonderful and some pretty scary experiences along the way, as I’m sure most campers do.