Travel Vehicle Selection Process

When Holly and I started planning for our year long travel adventure, we knew we would need quite the vehicle to carry enough gear for our needs.

Plan #1 – Purchase an RV; after much research on web forums, we decided it wouldn’t be the best idea since RV’s get horrible fuel mileage and it would be inconvenient to take day trips without hauling a second vehicle, which would increase insurance costs and general maintenance costs.

Plan #2 – Purchase a pull-behind camper trailer and a tow vehicle making it easy to disconnect the trailer at any time to explore…this idea sounded great! Holly researched camper floor plans to figure out what trailer length would be ideal for a year of travel while I researched trucks to pull the camper. After much research, we decided a used Airstream (28′-35′) would be fantastic, these can be quite hard to find as most Airstream owners hang on to them for several years. We did drive to Bloomington, IN to look over a very nice mid-1980’s Airstream, but decided against the idea due to many forum posts of camper length issues out west in National Parks.

Plan #3 – Purchase a large truck/SUV capable of pulling an camper and holding all our gear for the year. While researching Airstream campers, I found that several folks were very fond of the Ford Excursion as their tow vehicle due to its interior space and towing capacity, it’s the travel vehicle of choice for large families or when needing to carry a lot of cargo…this is the plan we decided to go with, so the search begins!

A little background on the Ford Excursion…

  • Built 2000-2005
  • 18.8′ in length
  • 44 gallon fuel tank, great for long drives
  • 11,000 lbs tow rating
  • Engine options
    • 5.4 L Triton V8 – gasoline
    • 6.8 L Triton V10 – gasoline
    • 7.3 L Powerstroke V8 – diesel (2000-early 2003)
    • 6.0 L Powerstroke V8 – diesel (late 2003-2005)

I decided to narrow my search to the Ford Excursion with the all-time reliable 7.3 L Powerstroke engine, this proved to be difficult since the Excursion was only offered for three years with the 7.3 L engine. After two months of searching eBay, Craigslist, Autotrader and numerous Carfax checks, I finally found a 2002 Ford Excursion Limited edition (on eBay) in Tennessee with 161K miles that looked promising; no worries about the “high” mileage, the diesel engine is proven reliable beyond any normal expectations.

My brother-in-law traveled with me to inspect the Excursion in Tennessee, we were both very impressed with the truck; a few items needed attention, but the price was right, so I drove it home.

I had already researched Ford Excursion web forums for information on making it as fuel efficient as possible…in stock form, the 7,700 pound truck was getting an impressive 18 mpg, but the Powerstroke is grossly detuned from the factory. After crunching some numbers, it would prove cost effective to modify the truck slightly for an increase in fuel efficiency. I purchased a S&B cold air intake kit, MBRP 4″ turbo-back exhaust system and a TS Performance 6-position switchable power chip.

Excursion-Garden of the Gods

Excursion Modifications

When I returned home with the Excursion, I immediately started making modifications. The first major project was to replace the ball joints, I tore down the entire front axle and installed new Moog ball joints, it was also a great time to look over the front end, I greased the brake caliper slide pins and grease the 4WD system as recommended then torqued everything down properly during reassembly. After an alignment, the truck was great! I also installed the new exhaust system, cold-air intake & computer chip…these modifications made an immediate difference in power.

To help with towing and general control of the massive truck, I added a Hellwig rear sway bar and replaced the completely shot front sway bar end links. The end links were very cheap and made a huge improvement in the driving characteristics of the truck.

The Test

Holly & I had planned a trip to Colorado Springs, CO to visit Holly’s sisters family before Christmas, this would be our first trial run for the Excursion since we were driving 1,000 miles across country to CO, on top of that, we were going to tow our Toyota Avalon behind the Excursion for Holly’s sister. I rented a U-haul tow dolly and loaded the Avalon onto the back of the Excursion, the Excursion pulled the 4,500 lbs car very well, averaging over 18 mpg for most of the trip, it did drop to 15 mpg once we got in western Kansas due to a strong headwind and big rolling hills.

One the way back home the Excursion was trailer free, we averaged an amazing 22.5 mpg!

Prepping for our Travels

Final preparations were now being made to the Excursion for our year long travels. My good friend, Tom Mueller, helped me greatly and built a bike rack system that lays on the floor in the very back of the Excursion, this currently holds four bicycles. I wanted the bicycles to be safe all year inside the truck, plus they’re out of the weather and road debris that would cover them if they were on a hitch mounted bike rack.

Holly found a great deal on a Thule 688BXT Atlantis 2100 cargo carrier on eBay, it holds 21 cubic feet of cargo, which is around 7 duffel bags of clothes!! I did have to purchase new cross bars & towers for the cargo carrier due to the factory Ford rails being too close to the roof, I ended up going with Yakima roof rails and towers, they installed quickly and are rock solid.

Another item that needed attention was the fuel tank…I had noticed a slight fuel leak coming from the fuel tank, but only when completely filling up the fuel tank. I figured it was a bad fuel pump gasket, but couldn’t be sure without completely dropping the fuel tank.

I was fortunate enough to have the help of my brother-in-law and another good friend, Jason Fuchs. We dropped the tank down and found that plastic fuel pump lock ring was cracked…fortunately, this is a cheap part to replace; unfortunately, it’s only available from a Ford dealership. I called Ruxer Ford in Jasper the next morning and they were able to get me a locking cap by that afternoon! We had the truck back together and running later that evening, no fuel leak at all….thanks guys!

Final Thoughts

We started our travels by driving to Hot Springs, AR for a few days, the truck did wonderful averaging over 20 miles per gallon all the way there from Indiana.

I know it’s early in our travels, but the truck has been great so far…it’s a comfortable vehicle for a tall guy like me, making it easy to drive 250-300 miles at a time before needing to stop. Also, the 44 gallon fuel tank is nice…a bit pricey to fill up, but the fact of being able to drive 700+ miles before needing to look for a fuel station is great.

– E

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Comments
2 Responses to “Travel Vehicle Selection Process”
  1. Nick T. says:

    Your making me and my wife jealous Eric and Holly! Enjoy your year long travels. What type of camera do you plan on using? We are headed to Scotland in June/July and I have been looking for a great travel camera that takes excellent photographs.

    • mrericnewman says:

      Holly is the photographer in the group…she’s shooting a Nikon D5100 that she purchased from Costco, it came with two lenses and takes great pictures. A trip to Scotland sounds awesome! Enjoy!

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