Jeremy and Stephanie Puglisi are the co-hosts of The RV Atlas podcast and the authors of See You at the Campground and Idiot’s Guide: RV Vacations. They like to hitch up their RV every chance they get and head out for adventures with Sweet Maggie the Camping Dog and their three sons, Max, Theo and Wes.
The First Time We Bought a Toy Hauler
Jeremy & Stephanie Puglisi
We bought our first Toy Hauler two years ago, but Stephanie and I were already veteran RV owners. We were comfortable in our groove. I drove and she navigated, and it all just clicked.
Hitching and unhitching; towing and backing up; basic RV maintenance; picking the best routes and navigating gas stations; surviving in a small space with three rambunctious boys in the back seat–we had all of that stuff completely wired. Our RV adventures had been nearly drama free for eight years.
We drove a Jayco White Hawk 29SQB, just under 33 feet long with a dry weight around 6,000 pounds. It towed like a dream and was incredibly reliable. We loved every inch of that rig. But after six years, we needed more space.
Our three boys were growing. Stephanie wanted more privacy in the master bedroom, and I wanted more room to bring gear like kayaks and stand up paddle boards. The White Hawk had taken us to some magical places, like the Great Smoky Mountains and the rocky coast of Maine, but we it was time to move on.
Toy Haulers called to us. When we stepped into the Jayco Octane SL 272, it was love at first sight. With a huge, private bedroom and tons of room for hauling gear, we could easily fit five bikes, two kayaks, and two stand up paddle boards into its garage. Stephanie loved the huge windows and natural light that poured into the rig. Our three boys loved that they each had their own spacious beds and room to spread out. We were all sold.
But little did we know that our brand new Toy Hauler was about to make us feel like rookies again. We were about to embark on the new RV learning curve, and we were about to do some damage to our brand new RV in the process.
The Toy Hauler was a foot longer and a bit heavier than the White Hawk, but it looked fairly comparable in size to us. How different could it be from towing the White Hawk?
Very different. Because the Toy Hauler was six inches wider than our previous rig at 102-inches wide. A typical towable RV is 96-inches wide. Six inches might not seem like a huge difference when it comes to towing, but the difference became obvious as we passed through narrow East Coast toll booths. Things got tight mighty quick.
On our first trip with the new rig, we were heading into Pennsylvania to camp at one of our favorite spots in Lancaster County. The first hour of the drive was uneventful and I was feeling pretty good about myself. New Jersey traffic had nothing on us. Like I said earlier, we had this whole RVing thing wired, right?
As we pulled through the toll booth right before the Ben Franklin Bridge, we heard a loud scraping sound, followed by an even more unpleasant cracking sound. Stephanie looked into the rear view mirror and gasped.
“Pull over now! You hit the side wall of the toll booth and the awning arm snapped off. It’s flapping up and down and it’s gonna hit one of those cars!”
“There is nowhere to pull over! We’re gonna have to drive over the bridge.”
Cue three little boys freaking out in the back seat and one dog whimpering at all our anxiety.
We watched the awning arm bounce up and down in the wind as cars screeched past us, honking their horns as they raced under our flapping awning. It was our most stressful moment as RV owners.
On the other side of the bridge, the Philadelphia traffic surged, giving no opportunity to pull over. I had no choice but to stop in the middle of the road before the arm split off. Cars whizzed by me on both sides. Stephanie led the boys in a last-minute prayer for my safety.
I walked back to the broken awning arm assessed the damage. The bracket holding the bottom of the awning in place had scraped against the toll booth wall and popped off. The awning was intact and it would be a cheap and easy repair–but I still needed to secure the awning arm and get to the campground.
Another day saved by an RVers best friend: bungee cords.
My confidence suffered for a few months after, but I eventually mastered the finer points of towing the Toy Hauler. The bedroom did provide Stephanie with more privacy, and it’s so easy to pack up our gear for outdoor adventures. We have towed the Octane all over the East Coast and into Canada, and it’s truly our home on wheels.
The repair to the awning bracket was simple and only cost a few bucks. But we still have a big scratch along one side. I was going to cover it up with a sticker, but I decided to leave it alone.
Because the scratches, screw ups, and mistakes are all part of the journey. I think of them as trophies that everyone should see. If we hide them, we don’t learn from–and neither does anyone else. And If we aren’t willing to learn from our mistakes, we might as well stay home.
For us, that’s just not an option.
Here are our top tips for first time Toy Hauler owners:
Check your payload capacity. Toy Haulers have heavier dry hitch weights to counterbalance the weight of the gear that can be loaded in the garage. Make sure your truck has enough payload capacity to handle this weight.
Get the “screen door” option for the garage. With the garage door down and the screen door deployed, we get great views of the campground, lots of extra natural light, and plenty of fresh air.
Measure twice, buy once. Make sure your Toy Hauler’s garage area will provide ample space for all of the gear you plan on bringing–and any gear you may add in the near future.
Expand your campground repertoire. Toy Haulers typically have large black and grey tanks and plenty of cargo carrying capacity to add a solar set up or a generator–perfect for off-the-grid camping.
Consider exterior storage solutions. Most Toy Haulers have awesome interior cargo space, but can lack exterior storage. Think through where and how you will store your sewer hoses, power cords, and outdoor cooking equipment.