2021 Update: I’ve now been a vagabond with my Safari Condo Alto for five years now, and I’ve summarized that experience in my post Five Years a Vagabond.
I picked up my Alto 1743 on May 2, and except for about 40 nights spent in hotels and housesitting, I’ve been living in it ever since. So this six-month anniversary felt like a good time to look at what works, what doesn’t, and what changes I’ve made and am thinking about making in future. (Note: This may be a boring post if you don’t own an Alto or even an RV, so feel free to skip it!)
First, and biggest point of all, I love my Alto. I can often be found humming “Me and My Alto” to the tune of that old Harry Nilsson song “Me and My Arrow” because just being in it or around it makes me happy. I have not seen a trailer yet, online or in person, that makes me think for a second that I bought the wrong thing for me. Of course, waiting 14 months for delivery did give me a lot of time to think if this was love at first sight or just an infatuation that would fade over time.
Happily, after six months, I can confirm it was love at first sight, from the pictures on the website in October 2014 to a visit in an owner’s Alto in April 2015 to meeting my Breeze in May 2016. Key to that confirmation was the generous owner who left me alone for a half hour so I could imagine myself in my own Alto; at the end of that 30 minutes, I was sure this was the one.
The hardest part of the ordering process was selecting options. I listened closely to Denis Messier, the excellent sales advisor at Safari Condo, as well as three friends who have a combined total of a lot of RV experience. I also read blogs, scoured the web via google searches, and read some basic RV camping books. In short, I did my research. In the end, though, the choices were all mine, based on what I thought I needed to travel around with a far amount of boondocking (dry camping) on the roadmap.
I also had never towed a damn thing, so I had that learning curve to scale, too. Bella (my Subaru Outback tow vehicle) needed the equipment to tow 2500 pounds or so of trailer and stuff inside it, so I had the guys at Torklift Central in Kent, Washington install an Eco-hitch with a two-inch receiver and wire me up for a 7-pin connector and brake controller. These guys are well-known for such work and I have been happy with everything they did.
The rest of the review is in parts, for easier posting and reading.
Standard Safari Condo Options
Fixed roof Alto – I knew I would be full-timing without a base or storage unit, so everything needed to fit into the Alto or my Subaru. The fixed roof model of the Alto has a huge amount of storage space (more than the retractable by any measure), and I have not used it all yet. My possessions includes a telescope, a small guitar, and a 24-inch widescreen monitor, to give you an idea how much stuff this model can hold.
Exterior color – Of course, I got blue. It’s one of my three most favorite colors (along with purple and green, which were not offered, sadly enough). It makes me smile every time I see my little blue Alto so it was worth the extra couple hundred bucks.
Interior colors – light cabinets and turquoise fabric-covered cushions. Even in the dampest, most overcast of days (which feels like about 90% of the time in the Pacific Northwest…), it feels like and airy inside my trailer. Which is good because when it’s raining, that’s where I usually am.
The one thing I don’t like about the fabric is that it snags. A lot. On almost anything. I just cut the black threads as they snag and hope it all works out. While I definitely wasn’t a fan of the beige or red options (the only other choices), I’m not completely happy with the quality of this fabric. On a more positive note, it handwashes really well.
This photo also shows the Big Front Window (BFW), which lets in a huge amount of light, even on a rainy day in Quebec (which is where this was taken).
12V fridge – small point, but I don’t have to worry about propane right now. I was new to the whole propane thing and so my gut feeling was “the less the better” about it. I was committed to using it for cooking (propane-only stove) and for heat and hot water when dry camping, so adding one more thing using propane just seemed too much. It keeps things cold, since that is its main job, I’m down with that. I do have one sad note, though: the freezer section is wide and thin, so it cannot handle pint containers of ice cream. Sigh.
The fridge does run a lot to keep things cool, and I am noticing it more perhaps with all the rainy days while I’m dry camping this month because it drains down the battery more quickly than I would like. In Death Valley, the battery was able to handle it better and I also started turning it down to 1 or completely off if the outside temp was going to be below 45F.
Truma Combi Eco heater/water heater – This little powerhouse can run on shore power (11o v) or propane, so it’s my main source of heat (again, in the Pacific Northwest in summer, you can still need heat in the mornings!). It is fast and efficient and takes up little space in one of the storage areas. When running on shore power, it is virtually silent and I sometimes have to put my hand to one of the vents to make sure it’s still working. When on propane, it is slightly louder but still almost unnoticeable. The vents are well-placed to quickly heat up the Alto. My only complaint, and it is tiny indeed, is that I have to get out of bed to turn the heat on in the morning.
Weight distribution (WD) bars – I love them. Having driven for hours in a cross-wind in Ontario, Canada (on the way to Sault Ste. Marie, for you Canadians in the crowd), my rig felt solid as a rock and didn’t get pushed around in the wind at all. Same for towing into headwinds and crosswinds the day I drove across South Dakota. The one time I had to not use the bars (while my hitch ball was being replaced), I noticed the car did not feel as stable, and the tongue was not level with the tow vehicle by the time I arrived at my destination 60 miles away. YMMV (your mileage may vary) but for my particular rig, WD bars are the bomb.
Rear-view camera – This little thing sits below my radio panel and shows me what is going on directly behind me. I have extended (tow) mirrors but there is still a blind spot if someone is tailgating me, and that makes me nervous. The camera lets me see those idiots so that I can take advantage of the next turnout to let them go by me. And I’m happy to do that, any time.
Solar panels – This seemed like a no-brainer at the time, and it still does. Let the sun charge the battery whenever possible. Doesn’t entirely meet my needs, especially in rainy or overcast weather, but it does provide a significant boost to the battery. As I get more into the sunny southwest, I hope they can show even better battery charging strength. I’ve been working with my cousin (a contractor with a solar company) to figure out how much I use and how well my panels meet the need.
Caravan mover – This is an essential piece of my equipment. What is a caravan mover? It’s a set of wheels and motors that lets me remotely move the trailer anywhere I want. And I would give up solar panels and rear-view camera before I give this up.
Trailer spots are two kinds: pull-through and back-in. Pull-throughs are harder to find and usually cost a bit more at RV parks. Back-in spots are the more common kind but, as the name says, you gotta back that trailer in. And that’s where I get stopped. My lifelong confusion of left and right in giving directions means I can barely back my car up and so backing the trailer up has been a frustrating experience for me. I’ve had lots of advice from tons of people, but so far, it is the one thing I cannot figure out. My brain simply isn’t working that way, at least not yet. So I use the caravan mover to get the trailer into the spot. It takes me five minutes or less to clear off the road, and that’s about as fast as any big Class A can back into their spots, so I figure I’m not inconveniencing anyone for an overly long amount of time. And as a bonus, I can make the trailer’s big front window face any direction I want to get the best view for longer stays. Comes in quite handy for that, too!
Awning – The awning has honestly been a mixed bag. It’s great at providing a shady area, kind of like a second room. But in the rain, it’s been problematic, with water pooling on the fabric, causing it to sag to the point where there is a permanent stretched area 🙁
Front screen – This is the best part of the awning in crowded campgrounds. It provides privacy and separation and an introvert like me really appreciates it at those times.
I think that’s it for standard options, although I may have missed a few. If you have questions, please message me on FB or leave a comment on this article.