It’s our one month anniversary of arriving the United States after a three week stint traveling around New Zealand and things have finally settled down enough to write this blog post. Up until now the trip has been one of dealing with issues that could threaten to derail the whole project of traveling the Pan American Highway. Probably the biggest of these issues has been choosing, and then buying, a vehicle to take us on the trip. My plan had always been to do it in a Toyota Prius. For the fuel economy, environmental credibility, boot space and minimalist vibe. However, after inspecting a few potential Prius’s in Los Angeles I realised that, this time, I’m not buying a car. I’m buying a home. This’ll be a place that two of us will be spending most of our time over the next 6-9 months and we need to it do a lot more then just drive from A to B in the cheapest possible way. And for two people a Prius is just too small, especially in the US where we’ll be sleeping in it a lot.
Finding a camper conversion
So, in the end we started to look for a more traditional camper van. Not a huge RVs that Americans seem overly fond of, but a normal van that has been converted into a something with a bed, simple kitchen and basic living facilities. In the US they call it a B-Class Camper (https://www.thorindustries.com/rv-types/motorhome-class-b). The problem is that in post-Covid America these are very hard to come by and are extremely expensive. A van from the 90s with 150,000 miles on the clock could easy be on sale for over US$20,000. And then there’s all the complications that come with buying a set of wheels in the US as a foreigner. And, there’s not a lot of website dedicated to selling these affordable campers, the few websites out there generally offer a market for the more expensive end of town ($50,000+). In the end we resorted to Facebook, where there are a bunch of Buy/Sell nationwide groups for Campers. Fortunately for us we managed to find a couple in Aspen, Colorado looking to sell their recent conversion for a reasonable price, and being from Argentina, they were understanding of the issues we’d face to switch title of the vehicle. We booked a video call with them while we were in California and made a verbal agreement to purchase it after two weeks.
A road trip to buy a camper
That gave us two weeks to get from Los Angeles to Aspen. We rented a car and started a mini road trip through Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado camping out in National Parks, visiting interesting sites and generally taking our time. The weather was really hot during the day but at night lowered to a comfortable enough level to let us sleep in the tent without any problems. It was a nice chance to visit the South West before the school holidays and before the weather gets insanely hot. One trick we stumbled upon concerns one way car bookings. A one way rental from Los Angeles to Aspen was REALLY expensive whereas LA to Denver wasn’t so bad. So we booked our drop off location as Denver. However when we got to Aspen we just took the rental to the Hertz desk in Aspen and said we’d like to drop it off here instead of Denver. Somehow we paid the Denver price, didn’t get charged an extra change-drop-off-location fee and everything went super smooth.
Getting title for the camper
In the end this went super smoothly, much easier than it would have been had we purchased the van in California. In the US it’s super important that you get a piece of paper, The Title, proving ownership, and new plates. This was especially important for us as we needed the Title whenever we cross into a new country in Central and South America. Aspen has a DMV office where we needed to bring all the paperwork to do the transfer of title. We needed:
- The original title from the seller
- My passport
- An I-94 from Homeland security proving that I was legally in the US
- Verification of Insurance (I applied for and received the liability only insurance via a simple online application with Progressive Insurance)
- An completed application for Title, signed by both the seller and buyer
- Having a postal address in Aspen (we just used the address of the sellers)
It was simply a matter of walking into the DMV office in Aspen, handing over all these forms, paying the State tax which is based upon the purchase price of the van and voila, it’s all done. They printed and handed me over the Title straight away (in California they post it and it can take up to 3 weeks) and also handed over the plates for us to screw onto the car. It took all of 10 minutes.
At that point the van was legally ours and our adventures on the Pan-American can now begin!