Our vehicle is a 2007 Provan Tiger motorhome

 named La Tortuga

This page discusses not only our Tiger, but also general information regarding equipment and systems you might consider for your own vehicle.

Kathy Tiger  001

The choice of a vehicle for travel outside the US and Canada is naturally a very individual thing and every traveler has his or her own set of features that are most important to them.  Having motor-homed extensively in several different units already, when it came time to select a vehicle for travel outside North America, we had some well defined ideas of what we felt we needed.

In the interests of fuel economy and world wide serviceability, we were very interested in one of the many units based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis.  Manufacturers make a variety of vehicles on this chassis and one of them could be an excellent choice for many travelers.  We found that none of the van-bodied units were large enough for us, and felt that the class C units on this chassis that were available to us in 2007 were larger than we wanted for the type of travel we had in mind.  In the future, perhaps a manufacturer will do something on this or a similar chassis that would be ideal.

After much research we determined that only a few manufacturers in the US or Canada were making vehicles that we thought would meet our needs.  Other travelers we have met have taken a great deal of time to create hybrid vehicles using different combinations of coach and truck chassis.  Their efforts have resulted in some very intriguing units, but as full timers with no fixed address or work space, we did not feel that we could accomplish this task.  Naturally, travelers living in other countries will have different choices available to them than we had in the US; also, in the years since 2007 other vehicle choices have become available.

Our Tiger is made by Tiger Adventure Vehicles in South Carolina, and they’ve been making them for many years.  It is one of very few units available in the US based on a truck chassis rather than the far more common van-based chassis.  We feel that the use of the truck chassis offers several significant advantages for travel in out of the way places: 

  • The availability of factory four wheel drive; 
  • Full power versions of the available power plants, including diesel; 
  • Greater ground clearance; 
  • Much better serviceability.  

The Tiger was the smallest of the truck-based motorhomes being offered to US buyers in 2007 when we were looking and that was very important to us as well.  It is only 19’ long on the standard cab truck, just a bit over seven feet wide, and only 9’ tall without the roof top air conditioner or other items.  From our travels over three winters in Mexico, we were fully convinced that small is beautiful when it comes to travel on the roads of Latin America or other less developed areas of the world.  To my knowledge, the Tiger still is the smallest such vehicle available in the US.

We have been very happy with our choice of the Tiger as we have lived and traveled in it extensively for almost eleven years; traveling over 200,000 miles (320,000 kilometers) through the US, Canada, and fifty-five other countries on six continents.  It has proven itself to be comfortable, reliable, and very capable of taking us everywhere we have wanted to go.  Certainly there are many satisfactory choices of a vehicle for travel such as this.  Only careful research and an accurate analysis of your own needs will lead you to a choice that you will be happy with.  We will say that we know two other couples with lots of over land travel experience who selected larger vehicles after looking at the Tiger and thinking it too small.  Both now say that they wish they’d chosen something smaller than they did.  You can learn more about the Tiger at their website .  

Some of the features we made sure were included in our vehicle were:

  1. Diesel power. Diesel gives greater fuel economy, and unlike in the US, diesel fuel is less expensive than gasoline in most of the world.  Diesel engines , particularly when turbo equipped, are also much less affected by high altitude such as is commonly encountered in both Central and South America.  Note that at this time care must be taken in selecting a diesel powered vehicle for travel outside the US, Canada, or Europe as many countries do not yet use the Ultra Low Sulphur fuel that is now required for engines sold in these countries. Our Tiger is built on a 2007 Silverado Classic chassis that uses the 2006 Duramax engine.  This engine does not require Ultra Low Sulphur fuel.  For further discussion of this issue check this link http://www.globalxvehicles.com/vehicle-8.  More recent information suggests that actually, diesel engines sold between 2008 and 2010 are much more tolerant of non-ultra low sulphur fuel than was thought at first.  Experience seems to show that travel in Mexico or other countries will not harm the emission systems of these vehicles for at least 40,000 miles and perhaps more.  Specific research on this topic should be done by anyone considering international travel in such a vehicle.  In 2011 second generation diesels were mandated in the US, resulting in additional emissions equipment.  A prospective buyer should look very closely at what limitations these regulations may place on their ability to take these trucks to other countries.

  2. Four Wheel Drive.  This is not really required, and whether you ever need it or not will be largely dependent on your desire to get off of the main highways and explore less traveled areas.  That said, the entire concept of road construction and maintenance in less developed areas of the world is often very different than we are used to in the US.  You will encounter some excellent roads throughout Latin America, but you will also encounter many instances where you may appreciate the added ground clearance and traction capabilities of an all wheel drive vehicle.  For us, it was important and we have never regretted it. 

  3. A well thought out electrical system that will allow you to be self sufficient for your electrical needs.  Campgrounds are few and far between in many parts of the world and as a result opportunities to plug in to shore power are limited.  In addition, even when it is possible to plug in, available current is likely to be much less than in a US campground and in most of the world the voltage used is also different (see below).  For all of these reasons, you should try to make yourselves as energy independent as possible.  Give thought to what kinds of appliances or accessories are important to your lifestyle.  This is not a weekend camping trip, but is your life for an extended period.  Do you like to watch movies on TV?  Do you rely on a microwave oven, coffee maker, or hair dryer?  How much time do you spend working on a computer?  These questions and others like them will serve to define your electrical needs and therefore the system you need in order to provide for those needs.  When possible, find alternatives to appliances you may use at home that are more energy efficient for use on the road.  One simple example of this is the use of a french press or percolator instead of an electric drip machine for making coffee.  Your system should include: 

    • Solar panels to recharge your batteries; 

    • Sufficient battery capacity - at least two deep cycle batteries and preferably more; 

    • An inverter sized to provide adequate power for your 110v appliances; 

    • A good meter to allow you to monitor the condition of your batteries and the amount of electrical draw of the various lights, pumps, and appliances that you need to run; 

    • While not a requirement, a generator to recharge batteries or to power certain appliances when shore power or sunlight are not available is a very handy thing to have.

    • Note: Line voltage available in most countries in South America, and indeed in the rest of the world is 220 volts, sometimes at 60 cycles (like the US), sometimes at 50 cycles (like Europe).  One way to address this is to carry a 220-110 transformer. Another solution is to have a 220 volt battery charger so that you can maintain the charge on your batteries when you have a shore power opportunity.  Sufficient solar capacity can often allow you to operate in a self contained manner without the need to plug in to shore power at all.  Research the various electrical components on your rig to determine their ability to handle differing voltages and frequencies and, as much as possible, try to ensure that computers, cameras, appliances, etc. are compatible with both 110 and 220.  See our 2016 Tiger Refit article for more information on these systems.
    • In addition, consult with people experienced in the area of RV solar electric systems.  Two companies that have consistently met our needs are D&R Family RV in Glendale, Arizona (drfamrv@qwest.net) and the folks at RV Solar Electric in Scottsdale, Arizona. 

  4. Adequate outside storage space.  No small motor home we know of has sufficient storage space for the spare parts, tools, hoses, extension cords and other equipment you will need for this type of travel.  As a result, factor into your decision making process what space is already provided and how you might add additional space if needed.
  5. Other Considerations.  If you are building your own vehicle from scratch you will have many options regarding appliance and plumbing issues; but if you are buying a ready made vehicle for international use be sure to consider these items: 

    • Propane capacity, as propane can be difficult to obtain in some countries. Also appropriate fittings and adapters to allow for filling your tanks in different countries (more on this below).

    • Holding tank capacities for fresh water and black and gray holding tanks, as opportunities for each of these are not always readily available;

    • A plan for water filtration and/or chemical treatment to ensure safe drinking water;

    • Included appliances.  Try to be sure you have what you need, without taking up space with things you don’t think you will use.

    • If given the opportunity, you may choose to delete a roof air conditioner as you will almost never have adequate electricity to run it and it takes up valuable space on the roof that can then be used for solar panels.

There are certainly other issues that will occur to you.  If you are considering vehicles or systems for a trip such as ours, we would be delighted to try to answer any questions you may have.  Send us a question.

Some specific equipment we have on our vehicle:

  1. Chevrolet Duramax Diesel, 6-speed Allison automatic transmission, Four Wheel Drive, Limited Slip Differential.  With more than 190,000 miles so far, we continue to be very happy with this truck.  Our fuel tank is only 34 gallons, but this is adequate as it gives us a range of over 400 miles.  Our overall average fuel economy is around 14 mpg (16 liters per 100 km).  This figure includes a lot of time in the mountains and on unpaved roads.  In highway driving we get over 16 mpg (14 liters per 100 km).  We have yet to encounter a region where we wish we could carry more fuel.  This truck does not require the use of Ultra Low Sulphur diesel fuel.

  2. Two 120 watt solar panels, two six volt deep cycle AGM batteries, Magnum 2000 watt inverter, Trace (Xantrex) model 500 meter, Onan 2500 watt propane powered built in generator.  With this system we can, and have, gone months at a time between shore power opportunities.  Be sure to see the attached article on the RV Systems page for a more detailed discussion of our solar power system.  Update 2016: As covered in our 2016 Tiger Refit report, we’ve now doubled both our battery bank and our solar charge capacity. 

  3. For appliances we have propane powered cook top, water heater and furnace.  We have replaced the original three way gas electric refrigerator with an all electric model that runs on 12 volt or on either 110 or 220 volt, and either 50 or 60 cycle.  This unit has reduced our propane usage by more than half and allows us to plug directly into 220 volt outlets when available in Europe or other regions if for any reason our 220/110 transformer were to be unusable.  We also use a microwave/convection all electric oven.  This is a personal choice and is something we took into consideration in determining our electrical needs.  Update 2016: As covered in our 2016 Tiger Refit report, we’ve made some changes to our appliances in order to reduce our reliance on propane.  We’ve replaced our LPG furnace with an Espar diesel fired unit and added an electric heating element to our water heater to provide hot water without using LPG when we choose too.
  4. Heating & Cooling. We deleted the roof top air conditioner on our Tiger for several reasons, most importantly because when traveling outside of North America you will almost certainly never have either adequate or correct shore power to operate it.  While it is possible to run A/C on a large enough generator, this is not a very attractive option.  Instead, we rely on Fantastic Fans, both the rooftop variety and their portable Endless Breeze unit.  These fans operate on 12 volts and give us excellent airflow.  For heating we rely primarily on a small catalytic heater that runs on propane and uses no electricity at all; when needed we also have a furnace as described above.  Both the fans and the catalytic heater can be researched on the Camping World website as well as many others.

  5. Tank capacities.  We have 33 gallons fresh water, 20 gallons black holding tank, 17 gallon gray holding tank.  These capacities allow us to go at least one week between needing to fill or dump, more if we have to.  We also use and recommend a macerator pump for dumping our tanks.  Campgrounds with US style dump stations are rare outside of the US and Canada.  As a result, travelers often end up having to dump in fields, down sewer grates or in facilities designed for cassette toilet systems such as those used in European motorhomes.  With a macerator pump, you are only dumping liquid and we feel it is much easier to accomplish emptying your tanks in any setting with a clear conscience.  In more urban settings, the macerator allows you to pump waste 100’ or more to reach a suitable receptacle.

  6. 15 gallon fixed propane tank.  With the original gas/electric refrigerator, this amount allowed us to go approximately six weeks between fills depending on weather and shore power availability.  Our switch to an all electric refrigerator more than doubled the time between fills.  Update 2016: Recent modifications made during our 2016 Tiger Refit should further reduce our LPG usage.  It is sometimes easier to refill removable tanks than fixed tanks, and sometimes the other way around.  Your choice of vehicle will dictate which type you have.  So far, we have always been able to get our fixed tank filled when needed, and while a larger tank would be nice, they are hard to find in a small RV.  In Europe, Mexico and Central America, finding fill opportunities is not difficult.  In South America it became more of an issue.  In Colombia and Ecuador it was more difficult, but we were able to find propane when we needed to.  In Peru we ran into our first situation where it seemed we would not be able to get propane.  To remedy that, we were able to locate an adapter in Lima that will not only allow us to fill in Peru; but, with the addition of locally available fittings, should let us adapt to other countries systems as well.  Not having such an adapter in hand before leaving the US was a major error on our part.  You can research the propane availability situation more at www.hackneys.com/travel/docs/propane4xvehicles.pdf, and at http://www.iwemalpg.com/LPGstations.htm.  For a good at LPG adapters you may need go to https://www.mylpg.eu/adapters.

Click here for photos of our Tiger

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving” 

~ Lao Tzu

“What happens tomorrow?  I have no idea.”  

~ Robert Redford, as Denys Finch Hatton in the film “Out of Africa”

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018