It’s been almost two years since we purchased our 2020 Winnebago Travato 59g and I thought it might be interesting to do a little recap on what we’ve learned so far and what modifications we’ve made (especially in regards to our mountain biking lifestyle!). We’ve driven our van (aka Bandit) across the country twice, so we definitely have a good idea about what works and what doesn’t!
Bandit is my first van ever and Andy’s first RV, so we really didn’t know much about Winnebago Travatos before we purchased ours. But after two years, we’ve come to know Bandit well and have some helpful tips for those researching their first Travato or new owners who want to make some improvements to the Travato they already have.
Even if you don’t have a Travato van hopefully you’ll find this interesting and helpful for your own road trip travels!
But first, let’s learn a little bit more about the story of Bandit because it’s a good one.
Learn about the upgrades and modifications we’ve made to our Winnebago Travato 59g named Bandit
The Story Of Bandit
We initially made an appointment with La Mesa RV in Phoenix to look at a used 2019 Winnebago Travato 59g with 25K miles. On paper it looked great – low miles and a decent price – but when we rolled up to check it out there was a little bit more wear and tear than we expected like ripped seats, a hole in the driver’s side mirror, a few scratches, etc.
We thought maybe we should just buy a brand new one?! There was an RV show happening in Phoenix right that moment and a brand new 2020 Winnebago Travato 59g was on demo. We went through all the motions, vacillated back and forth, and then ended up driving away that night with our shiny new steed! #stoked.
Fast forward a couple of weeks. Andy had a work trip in Boulder so he drove the van to Las Vegas for some warranty work and then hopped on a flight to Colorado. When he touched down in Denver he got a call from the warranty folks in Vegas and they said:
“Hey man, your VIN number doesn’t match your warranty paperwork.”
Andy promptly called the dealer in Phoenix (who we bought the van from) and they said:
“Um… not only does your VIN not match the paperwork, but it also doesn’t match your bank loan either.”
“Oh, and the vehicle you’re driving – we reported it STOLEN”
And this is where Bandit got the name, Bandit.
Apparently, all the vehicle paperwork and loan details had been drawn up for the USED van that we had originally gone to Phoenix to see. Not the brand new van we drove away with. They had no record of selling us our van.
So that all happened in January/February and then COVID hit in March and all the DMV’s closed (along with the entire world). It wasn’t until July that we were able to get Bandit registered and the original title that was supposed to be sent to our local DMV? 100% MIA.
It was a laughable ordeal.
Why we choose the Winnebago Travato 59G
What we were looking for
We went into the Phoenix Winnebago dealership with a pretty good idea of what we wanted in a vehicle:
- A van that would make mountain biking road trips more enjoyable (i.e. has a shower 🙂
- Not a full-featured spacious RV with many amenities we didn’t want or need like two tv’s and a couch
- Not a utility van that sacrificed convenience and comfort for interior cargo hauling ability
- Boondocking/off-grid capability with no real modifications required
- Dog friendly– it need to be able to keep the dog cool and comfortable inside the van for a few hours while we are out riding. We wanted our dog to get her own space for travel and sleeping as well.
What the Travato 59G delivers
After doing a bunch of research, we decided that the 2020 Travato 59G was the van for us. Why? Because:
- It’s easy to drive. After driving a 2014 Sprinter 2500 High Roof for a number of years, the Travato is much less tiring for long mileage days and more enjoyable on the highway in high wind situations. We drove ours through hundreds of miles of the derecho storm that hit the Midwest in Aug 2020 and it was actually quite manageable the entire time.
- The low platform height is comfortable. The Travato doesn’t feel like you’re falling out of the vehicle when exiting or climbing the Hillary Step when entering.
- Visibility is excellent for the driver- the rear windows are actually usable.
- Potentially low maintenance costs– oil change, air filter cleaning and tire rotation for $75 +/- every 8K miles
- There are significant cost savings vs paying for building out a similar van (this all depends on the price paid for the Travato of course, but with a bit of research it’s easy to see that RV MSRP is just a suggestion and excellent deals can be had).
- There are significant time savings over a DIY build of a van with the same features
- Turnkey option with a warranty
- Storage for bulky and dirty gear. Many vans/class Bs opt for comfort and convenience over cargo carrying, but the 59G balances the need for both quite well. Compromise is required here, though.
- A “large” shower and bathroom. A mountain biker’s must.
Even though we were pretty set on this van, that doesn’t mean that it has been perfect. We needed to make a few modifications to make it work best for us and our lifestyle, which we’ll cover in the next section!
Our Winnebago Travato 59g Upgrades & modifications
Modifications for driving & getting into dirt
We have spent considerable time in Bandit and have driven it across the country from California to Vermont twice.
It does great on the highway. Road noise/wind noise only ramps up above 75MPH (many western states have 80MPH speed limits on hwy sections) and it’s a quiet and comfortable ride most of the time.
The van also has plenty of power for our needs. We’ve had no problem ascending long grades in the mountains even when fully loaded.
We’ve driven our Travato off paved roads A LOT. Much of our camping and trailhead access requires travel on Forest Service roads and with a bit of off-road experience from the driver and proper tires, the vehicle can be driven on some very rough roads. The trick is not putting the Travato in a situation where it will get hung up or require traction that the front-wheel-drive can’t deliver.
Here are some of the things we’ve learned and done to the vehicle to make it even more enjoyable and suitable to our needs.
Rear SUMo SPRINGS
Bandit does great on Forest Service roads and despite our concerns, the generator height has not been a problem. We did install SumoSprings in an attempt to raise the generator a bit. (Easy DIY modification accomplished in the driveway that raised the generator ½”.)
The stock Nexen Roadian Tires are fine for highway travel, but they are not intended for traction or durability off-road. We did significant damage to our stock tires quickly. Driving on steep dirt roads where wheel spin was encountered (stock tires will spin easily at proper psi on steep dirt grades), we actually tore chunks out of the lugs heading up to Hartman Rocks. We also slashed the casings and tread on rocks. The stock tires became a safety issue for off-road travel very quickly.
We debated on going the “standard” BF GOODRICH KO2 route when seeking traction and durability in the dirt. Prior experience with KO2s on other vehicles was great for off-road/wet road traction, but they come with a MPG penalty and significant vibration that requires frequent balancing as mileage piles up. KO2s are excellent tires, but not the optimal choice for us considering the highway miles we need.
So instead, we opted for Michelin Aegilis Cross Climates (225 75 R16 C) and they’ve been great for the 12,000 miles that we’ve had them. We’re able to safely run a range of PSI to account for vehicle load, comfort, and off-road traction needs (5-10psi variance can be enough to reduce rattling, minimize vibration and eliminate wheel spin in the dirt). The reinforced/abrasion-resistant sidewalls provide more peace of mind on rough dirt roads. They are not as grippy as KO2s in loose/loose over hard-packed soil, but they offer significant traction and durability gains over the stock Nexians. They are great in the rain as well. We have yet to try them in snow.
Tire plugs and spare tire rack
When we bought our Winnebago Travato 59g there was no great option to mount a spare tire, but now there is an aftermarket spare tire mount that is specific for Travatos that we will most likely purchase in the near future.
Making Our Travato Safer For Our Dog
Running Board Modification
We love the running board beneath the sliding door and our 13-year-old dog likes it too and uses it as a step to enter the vehicle.
What we didn’t like was the large gap between the running board and the vehicle that could easily allow for injury to a slipped paw or leg.
The solution was to eliminate the gap by installing a scrap piece of lumber. Between sourcing the lumber (free from the local lumber yard scrap box), drilling 4 mounting holes in the wood that aligned with the vehicle mounts for the running board, painting it black, installing grip tape, and securing it to the vehicle with 2 Nite Ize twist ties, the project took less than an hour. So far, so good for 40K miles and hundreds of doggie entrances and exits!
We also use a “swamp cooler” system that we run off the house batteries and inverter whenever we’re leaving Aiko in the van for an extended period of time. The cooler box came from CoolInnoventions on Etsy. We fill it with reusable ice packs and a couple of inches of water and then refreeze the packs between uses in the Travato freezer.
This system can be placed throughout the van and will circulate cooler air around the dog. If it’s really hot, we run the generator and AC while we’re out riding.
Mountain bike lifestyle modifications
We’re avid mountain bikers (obviously!) so we needed to modify Bandit to make it fit all our bikes and gear. Here’s what we’ve done:
New Rear Hitch
The stock hitch receiver that came installed on the van began to fail almost immediately. We noticed sagging and lots of flex with two bikes on a lightweight 1UP rack. Something didn’t look right, even though we were well under half the tongue weight specified.
We wanted the ability to carry up to 4 bikes on a swing-away rack set up. The original setup would not do.
When the original was removed for inspection, the cracks were obvious.
We upgraded to a Drawtite assembly and things have been good so far. This was an easy install, but it did require grinding some metal off of the receiver mounting plates for proper fit on the vehicle.
Swing away bike rack option
This process was a puzzler. It took a while to suss out the correct combo of a swing-away hitch and vertical bike rack set-up that allowed quick access to the rear of the vehicle but would also be secure enough to carry bikes on rough and bumpy dirt roads.
A Kuat Pivot V2 combined with a Recon 4 Bike Rack met the van access and bike transport needs but required some modification to eliminate bounce and flex. (We haven’t loved the Recon rack because we’ve had issues with the baskets cracking. I think the newly designed 2021 Recon Racks fixed a lot of the flexing issues).
The solution for stability was to secure the rack to the rear of the van and not rely solely on the hitch mount. We attached climbing webbing to the upper door hinges and utilized quick-release ratchet straps to attach the rack to the webbing.
The webbing has to be de-tensioned and unclipped on the driver’s side to quickly allow the rack to swing away for rear vehicle access, but it’s really not that much of a hassle.
DIY Outdoor Shower
We fabricated a simple outside shower as many others have done. Mountain bikers get dirty, so we wanted a way to shower outside (which honestly we haven’t used much).
PVC pipe joined by a coupling serves as a curtain rod, provides stability, and prevents the rear doors from closing in the wind or when parked off-camber.
Heavy-duty magnets on the rear doors with snap links provide the mounting points for the curtain rod. Looped zip ties allow for the PVC rod to be clipped to the magnet’s snaps.
The curtain rod does dual duty as a clothesline on laundry days!
Carrying extra water
We often carry up to 8 gallons of water in addition to what is inside the 21-gallon Winnebago Travato 59g water tank. This allows us to boondock an additional few days depending on showering needs.
We use 4 of the 2 Gallon RotopaX water packs. They easily fit under the bed in a variety of configurations depending on the other gear we have stored there. We store them vertically or horizontally. They don’t slosh or slide around and it’s easy to lift a 2-gallon container to refill the onboard water tank.
The majority of the time, we access our gear from the rear of the vehicle. We do this to keep the “hallway” and living area free of clutter and to avoid having to kneel down to remove things from under the bed.
Plano Sportsman’s Trunks work great and fit stacked under the Winnebago Travato 59g bed. We started out using large expedition duffel bags for gear storage, but the trunks work and fit much better with the 59G floor plan.
Storing gear in this manner also makes it easy to access the additional storage cupboards under the platform. It’s rare that we need to lift the sleeping platform to access anything.
We can access the lower leftmost cabinet with the sliding door easily when the rear cargo doors are open. In this cabinet, we keep a folding camp table, 2 folding camp chairs, emergency tool bag, tire plug kit, Travato stock flat repair kit, 30ft shore power cable, and a few other camping odds and ends.
We’re able to store 3 Plano trunks, two ammo can bike toolboxes, a bike pump, extra water, an inflatable stand-up paddleboard, and a spare bike wheel under the bed.
Travato Kitchen Modifications
Since I love to cook, we made a few modifications to the kitchen in order to make cooking easier and more efficient.
One of my favorite mods that we did to our Winnebago Travato 59g is that we turned the “coat closet” into a very functional pantry with shelving. We bought two 3-tier metal shelves and screwed the legs together with double-sided threaded dowels. It works so well! To make your own pantry:
- Buy two of these 3-tier metal shelves
- Unscrew all the black rubber feet
- Take two of the metal legs to a hardware store and find a double-sided threaded dowel that fits where the feet were screwed in. You’ll need four of them (preferably 1.5-2” long)
- Use the double-sided bolts to screw two legs together so that you have four long legs
- Build the shelving inside the pantry (it won’t fit if you build it outside the closet and then try to move it in). I only used 5 of the 6 shelves, but build it how you think will work best for you!
Extra kitchen Appliances
These three items greatly improve cooking capabilities in the Travato. They all work fine on the house batteries and inverter when used individually.
- Coffee Maker: It makes decent coffee. We usually have to make two pots because it’s pretty small, but it beats washing coffee grinds out of a French press. The coffee maker stays “permanently” mounted to the dining table with Velcro.
- Mini Toaster Oven: I can’t imagine not having this toaster oven. It’s perfect for toast and baking quick dinners like fish. It fits nicely in the cabinet above the stove.
- 3 Quart Instant Pot: Make sure you half the recipes! We found this out the hard way. While it didn’t explode on us, the sensors inside the Instant Pot prevented it from building pressure and sealing because it was filled too high. It took us a good half hour of hungrily watching the pot to figure that out…
At first, we had the spices in the metal rack to the right of the sink, but they rattled too much so we sought out a different option. We found these cool spice containers on Amazon and attached them to the paneling with Velcro tape. No more rattling 🙂
I LOVE these nesting pots. They fit perfectly in the cabinet above the stove and despite having six different pots and pans to choose from, they really don’t take up much space. There’s a detachable handle that makes it even more space-efficient. We do also keep one non-stick frying pan in the cabinet as well.
Travato Shower & Bathroom Remodel
We like that the Winnebago Travato 59g has a ‘large’ bathroom. With a few simple additions, we made ours a bit more practical and easy to use.
First thing was to install a twist-to-fit tension towel rod above and behind the toilet. Plenty of room for his and her towels and enough space to let used towels air dry.
Toilet Brush Cleaner
We also installed a silicone bristled and rattle-free toilet scrubby brush on the wall behind the toilet as well to help keep things nice and clean.
Toiletry Caddy & Soap dispensers
Above the sink, we attached a toothbrush/razor/toothpaste bathroom caddy and a triple liquid dispenser for soap/body wash/shampoo. If I were to do it again, I’d just do a two-chamber dispenser for soap and shampoo.
We replaced the stock showerhead with a multi-stream unit that has a better spray pattern and doesn’t drip on your head when you go to brush your teeth (the stock one did that to us every morning and it was SO annoying).
The showerhead is secured to the stock mount with a Nite Ize twist tie that prevents it from rattling loose and getting ejected from the mount when driving off-road, but still allows for quick removal to use it as a handheld unit.
Shower Drain Modification
Last, but not least, we did the well-known shower drain mod where we removed the stock wire mesh drain screen and covered the drain assembly with cheesecloth, secured it with a hair tie, and then topped everything with a shower drain protector.
We did this mod almost immediately after purchasing the vehicle and the shower drain has yet to clog in 9+ months! Before the mod, the shower drain and pump would clog after just a few showers and as dirty bikers, we shower almost every day we’re in the van.
I’ve also heard that this 3D printed 59g-specific shower drain cover works really well.
Bedroom & Living space Modifications
I used to travel A LOT when I worked on ships and one of the best travel hacks I learned was to use packing cubes for all my clothes. This system works amazingly well in the van, too. I organize my clothes by type (eg. pants, short-sleeved shirts, etc…) and then just shove everything into the cupboards above the bed. The only trick is to be motivated enough to put each piece of clothing back where it belongs at the end of the day ?
Pro tip: use multicolored bags so you know which bag contains which set of clothes.
We currently use a large Laundry Sac as a laundry bag. It has a zippered top so you can keep clothes from falling out and the material breathable to keep air circulating. It can also be easily rinsed out when needed.
Other smelly outdoor gear-bike helmets, gloves, knee pads, shoes get stored in the airtight Sportsman’s Trunks under the bed.
This simple ‘coat rack’ makes for a very quick and easy storage solution for jackets, headlamps, hats, or anything you want hung up or in easy access from the sliding door.
The rack slots in behind the interior panel and stays put. No drilling or adhesion is required to mount. We did use the Dremmel tool to smooth out the sharp edges on the hooks.
We hope this post helps make your Winnebago Travato 59g more comfortable and efficient so that you can spend more time enjoying the open road!
We’d love to hear what upgrades and modifications you’ve made to your van. Drop a comment below!