Friday, September 13, 2019

This Is Mongolia!: Tiny Trailer Owner Profile

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer

People living in a house will "never understand the life of those who live in tents," was the comment of friends of Ariunbold Myagmarkhuu who accompanied him on a tiny trailer camping trip this summer. Ariunbold, or "Ariuk," for short, lives in Mongolia in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.

Ariuk feels his friends' observations are true, and provides as support the following story about his first camping trip with his new camper:
"One night, it was so windy that our fathers had to get up at night and tie the tents to our cars to keep them on the ground. While they were doing this, my family and I were sleeping in our trailer as if you were sleeping in your bed at home. Later in the trip, the wind actually blew the tent away one morning just after everyone got out of it for breakfast."

Mongolia is in northern Asia, between China and Russia. It is slightly smaller than Alaska and more than twice as big as Texas, or as Ariuk describes: "The size of Mongolia is about the size of Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah and Colorado combined, with population of three million people. There are about twenty million people living in those states." Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with two people per square kilometer. The terrain consists of areas of vast semi-desert and desert plains, grassy steppe, and there are mountains in the west and southwest. The Gobi Desert is in the south-central part of the nation.

The mean (or average) altitude is a little over 5,000 feet, with the country's low point being Hoh Nuur at 1,837 feet, and the high point being Nayramadlin Orgil (Khuiten Peak), at 14,350 feet. According to research, Mongolia has a "sparsely distributed population throughout the country, and the capital of Ulaanbaatar and the northern city of Darhan support the highest population densities. Its natural hazards (always a concern for campers) are "dust storms; grassland and forest fires; drought, and "zud," which are harsh winter conditions."

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer

The rig that rides the steppe is an Ecocampor Teardrop, a Chinese brand/model which Ariuk pulls with a 2014 Chevrolet Trailblazer, the Asian version, which is called the Holden Colorado 7. The SUV has a 2.8L i4 Duramax II engine, and a 6-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle has a custom-fitted hitch and is wired for towing lights and electric brakes.

Because Mongolia is so sparsely populated, all camping is boondocking, according to Ariuk. "Off the grid is the only option in Mongolia in terms of camping. There are camp-bases or tourist-bases, but they are more like a motel in middle of nowhere." In Mongolia, Ariuk says, "people consider camping as going out of the city for a few days with with a tent and kitchen gear. Everything else is called 'out for fresh air,' including hunting."

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Tiny trailer travel in Mongolia

Most commonly, Ariuk, family, and friends camp "by a creek or river, since there would be no town or camp-bases nearby." And, simply put, he prefers camping close to water. Ariuk adds, "I personally favor winter (no mosquitoes), but when camping with the family, our favorite is summer, specifically July."

Mongolia camping
the river Mukhart

Tent camping was the family tradition until the extended family began including people of greater stature and circumstance in life. Then Ariuk decided he had to up his game--and he bought a tiny trailer. 
"The camping actually was an offshoot of off-road driving and fishing trips that I started enjoying since the early 2000s. I was so young a kid back then that the wind, rain, thunderstorm, snow, ice and my old Toyota Land Cruiser with leaf springs never bothered me. However, I started thinking about changing the way we do camping in 2009 as we welcomed a VIP into our family. In 2013, I purchased a utility trailer and then mounted a rooftop tent onto it, as a result of the VIP coming in our family and our love for camping. There was always a boiling dream inside of me since I can remember, the dream of 'towing a trailer.' Then a second VIP came into our family in 2016 and the first VIP showed his interest in a caravan a couple of times, so I purchased the tiny trailer in 2018."
Ariuk has modified his teardrop by removing the kitchen, since the larger group he camps with get up early and would be busy in the teardrop kitchen while his immediate family was still sleeping. "The modification is that I took out the kitchen unit. I don’t want people cooking and making all kinds of smells, especially early in the morning, because the kitchen will become a shared one. Tent people get up early and we don’t."

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer

Having stepped up his game to include a teardrop trailer, the plan for their first family outing with the rig was for a 10-day outing. The first stop was to be in an area of sand dunes. The second night at a small village, and the third night on the river Baidrag, a freshwater river in the desert "with lots of fish." What was unexpected was for the trailer to break down on the way to the river. Aliuk explains this adventure in the Mongolian wilderness.

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
"The main destination of this trip was the beautiful oasis named the Mukhart River in the middle of the sand dunes. A bio reserve for the area is named after beautiful Lake Haagchin Khar that feeds the river Mukhart."

"The river Baidrag is about 100 kilometers to the northwest of the small village where we stayed, and the road is paved. We didn’t take any photos of river Baidrag, but it was a red color because of all the floodwater it had collected upstream. When we reached the river, the flood had made the water undrinkable and too high for fishing. Also, the dirt in the river was making the color of the river red, making the fish not able to see the bait. We had heard about the flood before we left the small village but wanted to see it. Plan B was to drive 150 more kms north to a creek named Zag. The paved road ended right before the bridge over the Baidrag River, and a dirt road with rocks and big holes began. On this type of road, if you drive below 40 kms/h you’ll feel everything on the road, and if you drive at around 60kms/h then it feels a bit smoother. With the trailer, when driving at 60km/h on a dirt road, braking is a challenge even with an electric brake. So, on one of those many holes and bumps on the dirt road, the trailer axle broke from its frame." 

Mongolia camping
Lake Ulaagchin Khar
"We found out about the broken trailer frame at a smaller village after we had driven about 90kms. The smaller village had a number of signs for welders, but none I could reach. We decided to stay there to try finding a welder again in the morning. Luckily, we found one that evening, and he agreed to start working on the trailer early in the morning. That night was so windy that the other two fathers in our group had to get out of their tents in middle of the night to tie down their tents to the cars. The next night was our turn to sleep in the tent, as the trailer was not finished at the shop or yard, but I saw what they had done with their tent and did exactly the same before going to sleep. We had brought a tent just in case if anything happened, like kids wanting to sleep outside."
Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Ariunbold Myagmarkhuu and the village welder making repairs

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Damaged camper frame

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Repair completed, about 20 hours of work

"The welder cut off the damaged part of the frame, filled it with metal with similar thickness, added a couple more layers of L-shaped metal under the frame as the bolts were long enough, and bolted the axle back to the frame. When you write about it, it sounds pretty easy, but actually it took about twenty hours of work. The electrical wires had been cut into two pieces, and fixing that added another two hours of work. We managed to hit the road after two nights and a morning. The trailer hasn't broken down again since then. A funny thing happened at the yard while we were bolting the axle back to the frame--the welder actually expressed his wish to attend a college to learn more about welding and get better at it. I saw the things lying around in his yard that had pretty good welds on them, so I asked, 'You are a good welder. Why go to college for it?' He said the yard was actually his dad’s!"
Everyone was tired when the repairs were finished and they finally took off. "The wind makes you tired, especially when you have nothing to do but to wait." The trip had to have another two days of rest added, bringing the total to fourteen days out in the wilderness. They had accomplished their goals, though, and certainly had a successful and memorable first trip with the camp trailer.

Mongolia Tiny Teardrop Camper Trailer
Vast, open spaces and few people characterizes the boondocking experience in Mongolia

"I love my tiny trailer," Ariuk says, and advises tiny trailer owners to love and enjoy their trailers, too. Ariuk and his family plan to go camping "again and again." As for where to camp and for how long, "Nature and weather conditions really make the decision."
"My wife and I think that people who spend more time in nature love, care, and respect everything around, including trees, tiny creeks, crickets, birds, and most importantly human beings. So, the tiny trailer dream is to be camping with it with the next generation of 'VIPs' or, in other words, grandkids."
Like many other tiny trailer owners around the world, Ariunbold Myagmarkhuu finds bringing family and nature together a worthwhile pursuit. Because of the geography of the land he lives in, independence and self-reliance are a big part of any camping trip he and his family take. I can't help but believe, though, that as far as Ariuk's family is concerned, the "VIP" of the family is none other than Ariuk himself. Safe travels, and may the wind be at your back.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tiny Trailer 10-Day Basecamp:Keosauqua

My wife and I are camping for 10 days at Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, the longest we've ever been out with the camper, and the longest we've ever stayed at one place. We arrived at about four o'clock in the afternoon on Labor Day Monday and set up camp: trailer, utilitent and portable toilet, and the screen room. We saved the trailer awning and our signal booster antenna for the next morning. Now we have no more setting up or breaking down for over a week. That's why I used "basecamp" in this title of this post; we plan to stay here and relax for a while. However, our camp will be the center of a number of diverse activities.

My wife will work, but she and I will still take time to hike. I will take day rides with my bicycle. We brought good, healthy food so we can eat well during our stay. Halfway through our stay, we'll head home to check the house, renew our cooler ice, and buy some fresh food to bring back to camp.

Today on the second day of our excursion, we're taking it easy. The temperature will top out at ninety degrees today, and then the highs will be significantly lower for the duration of our stay. We're relaxing, enjoying our air conditioner, and just experiencing what it's like to have a living space outdoors--and I say "outdoors" because I am currently in our screened room, using the shade and our box fan to to stay comfortable. One of the realities of camping this season has been the pernicious gnats or tiny flies. The screened room provides a haven away from the pesky insects, which has been a real relief.

Later in the afternoon: It's 4:30, and after a quick trip back home for a computer connector left behind and then an ice cream, we are in our camper, using the air conditioner and, once again, balancing off-gassing chemical smells with the need for cool air. We're hitting somewhere in the middle--neither quite cool enough or with quite the fresh air we'd like. We're getting by, though. My wife had a good day with her work, and I completed our basecamp set-up and had some good writing time. We hope it's cool enough to sleep well tonight (last night was), and tomorrow should be a whole new day of quiet interaction. And I hope to have some fun cooking!

Bronze statue at the state park, honoring the CCC workers

Keeping with the plan to use our camp for different fun activities, on Wednesday, Sandy and I first took a walk to a park shelter and picnic area, somewhere around three miles. We followed the asphalt road, which was less buggy, turning off onto the road to the shelter, a more more quiet and tree-lined experience for us. I was raised camping in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, so the experience of walking down a Midwest road or trail where the deciduous trees form a green canopy over our walkway is a view that I never tire of. I always feel like I am in the nurturing embrace of nature, whether surround by the greens of spring and summer or the bright fiery colors of fall. Even in winter, the stark, bare branches are beautiful in their sleep. Trees are a miracle, some tall and timeless.

Lunch was fun to cook, with me using our new Clam Quick-Set shelter to be out of the sun and away from the insects. It was enjoyable to work in our new camp configuration. One thing I did in the afternoon was to order a 25-foot 30 amp extension cord and an pig-tail adaptor to 15 amps. That way I will be able to use the extension cord while cooking and use two cooking appliances at once: Instapot pressure cooker, induction burner, and/or toaster oven. That should allow for less cordage!

When Sandy got to work after lunch, I went for a bike ride for a little less than two hours, traveling around ten miles and seeing parts of the park I had not seen before. Buildings and bridges of Lacey-Keosauqua State Park were built between 1933 and 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. Lacey-Keo is Iowa's second state park, established in 1921.

CCC hiking trail bridge

The first part of my ride was to the Lake Sugema day access area, a bit over four miles round trip. That wasn't long enough, so I also traveled the park road northeast out of the park, past Ely Ford, which was three miles one way. It was good to know the my ten miles that day will also allow me to ride a loop, taking the park road northeast to Highway J40, through the hamlet of Pittsburg and on to Keosauqua, then taking Highway 1 to the park's main entrance and back to camp, a 10-mile day ride.

Ann-Margret, Pat Boone, State Fair, 1962

The little hamlet of Pittsburg is connected to author Phil Stong and his novel State Fair (1932), later made into several movies and musicals over the years--one movie with Pat Boone and Ann-Margret (1962), the first movie with Will Rogers (1933). Evidently, the novel (it's been many years since I've read it) contained "loose" behavior of the farmer's daughter at the state fair, and the novel was banned for twenty-five years from the local library in Keosauqua. Stong said, "Iowa generally felt that Iowa girls wouldn't do such things." According to my research, the novel--which out-sold all expectations--had a dark side that contrasted city and rural farm life. It must have struck a chord of honesty in the readers. The movies, of course, sweetened up the plot and ending.

Wednesday night was cooler, so Sandy and I tossed an extra blanket on in the middle of our sleep. I woke up early and decided to provide a fun start to the day, building a campfire and then baking potatoes for a later home fries and scrambled egg breakfast. Needless to say, we ate lunch a little later than usual! (I am glad to note that over the night, a raccoon did not open the cooler and steal the baked potatoes.) The toaster oven baked our red potatoes beautifully, and the induction burner provided the heat for our potatoes and eggs. The outside kitchen seems to really settling into an easy set-up. Before lunch we took a short walk but found the gnats more lively in the heat.

Our mobile office

We have found the Clam shelter to be an effective space for Sandy to work. In the late afternoons, we mount two or three wind screens to block the sun. Then if necessary, we use a box fan to move air. The result is an effective work space for Sandy. For me, I use the space for both computer work and cooking. It's great to be out of the sun and away from the bugs. I've been inside the shelter today with Sandy, cooking, writing, and reading. It's supposed to rain later in the week, so I will probably add the guy ropes to the tent before then. I have it staked now, but the guys should stabilize the structure in case of thunderstorm winds. Of course, if the forecast is for severe winds, then I'll probably put up the shelter and the trailer awning.

Friday I took Sandy home for one night. She hadn't slept well and just needed a night home in bed. We restocked groceries, washed a couple of loads of camp laundry, iced up the coolers, watered the garden, and I headed back to camp. Sandy will be coming Saturday afternoon, catching a ride with her daughter and the grandkids. The kids will have plenty of company here at camp. I arrived back at camp to a campground filling up with the weekend crowd--lots of big rigs and happy kids!

13-foot Scamp shows up Friday evening

I met a couple from Iowa City that arrived with a 13-foot Scamp. It's a pretty trailer that meets their needs. They've traveled more than we have, and have taken the trailer to Texas to visit kids and to camp. Their Scamp has a bed/table in back, a stove and sink, and a small sofa in front that can also be a bed. They did not want a shower/toilet up front. I did notice, though, that they had a Luggable Loo inside. Most of the rigs here now are large American models with slide-outs, pulling by large American pick-ups. I'm sure they are comfortable, but I just don't want to tow something that big. I also like the smaller trailers that because of their size have access to more unique or natural campsites.

Saturday night brought rain, and even though the rain and thunder kept us up, we enjoyed the experience of being together with the sound of the rain falling upon the roof . . . in this case a peaceful sound since the storm was not violent or excessively windy. Our awning (we use large suction cups, adjustable tent poles, and a white vinyl tarp) held up well, as did our new screen room. It rained quite a lot, and the next morning after checking the trailer, I was pleased to find that a couple of leaks that we had last year are now fixed, thanks to my builder/carpenter son-in-law.

On Sunday we received a second and unexpected visit from our grandchildren and their parents, which was fun. While I was swinging my granddaughter (age 4), she said, "Grandpa, Mom and Dad are walking the dogs, Grandma and Jake are back at camp building a fire, why don't you and me take off and go to a playground all for ourselves?" I told her we could do that sometime, but the playground we were at was the only one nearby. She said, "Okay!" with a smile. Doesn't get much more cute than that!

Sandy and I decided, though, after the family left, that with more rain coming and then heat up to ninety degrees--and with another phone call from more of the family--that we'd pack up and head home. It had been a great trip with hot and cool weather, rain and shine, solitude and family, and work and play. There was a sense, though, that some family needs, and especially the heat and bugs coming after the rains meaning high humidity, that heading home and regrouping was a good idea.

I write this at dawn as the work week begins. Although our 10-day camping trip ended up being six days, I didn't want to change the title or the dream. As I've said before, flexibility is a big part of a "perfect" camping trip, and, after all, ending our camping trip early just means we can begin planning our next trip!

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Friday, September 6, 2019

On-the-Road Camping Regrets? Not So Much with Tiny Campers

A recent Kiplinger article, "13 Reasons You'll Regret an RV in Retirement," addresses trials and tribulations of RV living, and it does a pretty good job of removing the romantic patina of life on the road. After reading the article, I thought it would be interesting to take each of those thirteen points and consider them from the perspective of tiny trailer owners.

The "cons" of the article were determined by interviewing retirees who owned RVs: "We spoke with retirees who spend much of their time in recreational vehicles for their guidance on the cons of RV living in retirement." The thirteen reasons Kiplinger posits center around two main issues: expenses and lifestyle. I suppose that's not too surprising--you've got to buy and maintain the RV . . . and you've got to live in it, and living in a camper is a significantly different lifestyle than living in a house. Let's look at these thirteen points from a tiny trailer perspective.


Kiplinger says RVs are expensive; you'll immediately spend money upgrading boring decors, and RVs depreciate quickly in value. A lot of numbers are thrown around--$6,000 for a pop-up trailer, and up to $600,000 for top-end motorhomes. Tiny trailer prices have a range also, but that range runs from around $6,000 for simple "beds with wheels" and up to $60,000 for some of the top-end Airstream single-axle trailers and other luxury models. A previous Green Goddess Glamping article, "Five Bellringer Tiny (or at Least Small) Trailers," previews some mid- and upper-range trailers.

The difference, of course, is that the top-end, luxury small trailers cost ten percent of the top-end Rvs. Looking at the truly tiny trailers, many of the tiniest can be purchased new for 2-3 percent of that top-end RV price tag. A good, mid-priced example of a quality tiny trailer is the Nucamp T@B 320. For around $20,000 the 320 has bed, kitchen, and toilet/shower facilities. If you're interested in a "hard-sided tent," for your tiny trailer, then the $6,000 to $12,000 price is not hard to find. Hiker Trailers and Rustic Trail Teardrop Campers (I own an RTTC Polar Bear) are two companies of many that build simple, durable tiny trailers at a reasonable cost.

Once you buy your tiny trailer, expense negatives are also less. Remodeling the decor will cost less (less space), and, to be honest, many tiny trailer builders do a good job of adding natural wood and/or "Airstream" aluminum to really create a beautiful build. Three other costs that the Kiplinger article mentions--gas use, value depreciation, and insurance costs--are also downsized with tiny trailer ownership. Gas use? Well, first, you probably won't have to buy an extra tow vehicle, and if you do, it won't be much bigger than your current car. Next, anything purchased that is a form of road vehicle will lower in value over time; however, many tiny trailers are considered works of art by the builders, and with good maintenance, even used units may not experience huge price drops. Since insurance is tied to unit price, insurance costs will be less for tiny trailers.

Added to expense costs are RV repairs and maintenance. The simple truth for most tiny trailers is What cost? For a basic "hard-sided tent" tiny trailer, the main upkeep issues are ensuring the caulking holds and greasing the wheel bearings. For more tricked out rigs like the T@B 320, there are the winterizing maintenance routines all RVs have, and the possibilities of heat/ac and water-related issues are present, as they are in all the larger RVs. With my Polar Bear, which I bought used (used once!) for $7,000, there was an issue with leaking, but my carpenter son-in-law fixed that with a tube of caulk. Maintaining any unit is an on-going reality, but a smaller size generally means fewer dollars.


Moving from a house to an RV big-boy bus is a real experience in downsizing, but living in a tiny trailer is an entirely different reality. It's not just downsizing; it's adopting a philosophy, one that can easily be traced by to Henry David Thoreau and his time at Walden Pond--living simply. Adding to living in a tiny space is the experience of living life on the road, common to whoever is a nomad, whether in a big or tiny rig. Let's take Kiplinger's lifestyle negatives one at a time and see how they relate to tiny trailer living.
  1. "Health Care Can Be a Hassle" Not having access to a doctor or clinic that you know can be an issue, and trying to find compatible, in-network facilities can be a challenge. However, these challenges will exist regardless of the size vehicle you are driving or towing.
  2. "You'll Have to Deal with Your Own Waste" This is true. A motel is just like home in that you just flush and forget. For camping, whether you own an RV worth over $100,000 or a small, self-contained unit such as a T@B, the units will have tanks that have to be drained. The tiniest trailers have no such accommodations and use campground facilities or portable toilets (which also have to be emptied). I've written about tiny trailers and toilets already, so I'll just provide a link: "The Consistent and Loud Case Against Bathrooms in Tiny Campers."
  3. "Quarters Are Close" The Kiplinger article states: "Even in the largest of motorhomes, your traveling companion is never more than a few feet away." With tiny trailers, this proximity can often be measured in inches. Sharing a tiny trailer means close quarters. If one person wants some space, then someone's going to have to go for a walk. For the most part, though, folks who choose the tiny home or tiny camper lifestyle choose space restriction because it eliminates cumbersome possessions. In many ways, owning a tiny trailer opens up the world because you spend more time outdoors. 
  4. "RVs Aren't Easy to Drive" Pardon my language, but, "No s**t, Sherlock!" Having come to tiny trailer ownership via bicycle camping, I have no desire to be one of those senior citizens herding my huge RV down the road. I'm not going to own a rig I don't enjoy driving. For those folks with the desire, skills, and temperament to drive the big rigs, I just step back and let them pass by. It's not my lifestyle, but live and let live. Tiny trailers can be pulled with the car you already own, and even though backing them is tricky because their turning response is so quick, I find the small size of my trailer reassuring. It literally ain't no big thing.
  5. "Overnight Parking Can Be Problematic" The article mentions overnight spots such as Walmart, Cabela's, Cracker Barrel, and others, but overnight parking is the same challenge, whether with a big or small rig--except, of course, that finding a small spot it more likely than finding a large one. That's one great thing about tiny trailer living. You can get the trailer into so many more interesting spots and aren't limited to "Sewer Alley."
  6. "You"ll Need to Get Rid of a Lot of Stuff" Whatever you need to get rid of to live in your 45-foot 5th wheeler, multiply that by about twenty for tiny trailer living. That tiny trailer choice really does, to repeat myself, come down to a philosophical choice. What is the emphasis of my life? Thoreau, in his essay "Economy," says that a great deal of our working life is not for our survival needs; rather, it is to buy stuff . . . and then to buy a building to store all our stuff! That is extremely dry humor, but it's a good consideration.: how much of our lives' time are we willing to spend to own and house our stuff?
  7. "It Can Get Lonely on the Road" My first reaction to this idea is that it's not easy being lonely when your partner is practically sitting on your lap in your tiny trailer. The retirees who expressed the thought have a sincere sentiment, though. When you go camping to "get away from it all"--well, you do. That is another lifestyle choice to consider, one I expressed in this article: "Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely." Spending significant time away from home can mean you are "slowly written off invite lists, no longer on speed dial," as the Kiplinger article says. One interesting aspect of tiny trailer life, though, is that many other campers find tiny campers and the tiny-camping lifestyle fascinating. It's pretty common to pull a tiny trailer into a campground, get set up, and to have someone come over to see the little rig. "It's so cute!" is a common expression--not matter how you feet about the word cute. Yep, tiny trailers are conversation starters.
Spending a lot of time on the road with your camper, whether large or small, requires a particular lifestyle. Unique living requirements enforce a unique routine--paying attention to the small details, picking up stuff and immediately putting it away, spending more time outside. (See "Keeping Organized in a Tiny Trailer.") Living small intensifies or narrows certain lifestyle choices--and expands some. The continuum of RV living--and tiny RV living--is not for everyone. If someone finds too many of the realities of tiny living to be negatives, then a change will be required, either in perspective or lifestyle.

The Kiplinger article identified its RVing negatives through interaction with retirees who had lived in their RVs for a significant amount of time. For retirees who camp often with small or tiny trailers, there can be negatives beyond or instead of those listed by Kiplinger. Mobility issues can eliminate the possibility of small trailers for many. Lack of storage space is another reality of small trailer life that is constantly present. Fragile health or special bathroom needs can be a reason for ruling out small trailers. These kinds of issues are intensified even more by a move from small trailers, which may have small kitchens and bathrooms, to tiny trailers, of which many are "beds on wheels" that require crawling for getting in and out.

There are many reasons to camp tiny, many of them expressed by different tiny trailer owners in my article "Why Such a Tiny Trailer? Teardrop Owners Speak Out." Depending on one's point of view, a glass can be half full or half empty--even a tiny glass. If you happen to be one of those folks that enjoys or who would like to enjoy tiny trailer living, it's a friendly group, that's for sure. And my advice, for whatever it's worth, is to find your safe haven, whatever it's size and shape, and to enjoy the seasons as they pass.

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Monday, September 2, 2019

Tiny Trailer Security: the Valentino Approach

Karen and Louis Valentino
Occasionally I run across an online social media post that provides a focused, unified examination of a particular topic of interest to tiny trailer campers. My latest find is on trailer security, explaining a multi-options approach to dissuading thieves. This married couple's approach to discouraging someone stealing their tiny trailer addresses the hitch, the receiver, and the wheels. Without further explanation, here is the "Valentino Approach."
I recommend employing multiple deterrents. I first learned about this idea when researching bike theft. Just like with bicycles and other items that can be stolen with relative ease, a large portion of thieves are opportunists who will move on to the next guy if it looks like a hassle to steal your [insert toy here]. For our Hiker Trailer my husband did a huge amount of research. We use four deterrents: Trimax wheel lock, heavy duty latch lock, locking lug nuts AND a Proven Industries receiver lock. 
Trimax: The Trimax lock has a very good reputation, and Louis decided it was the best way to secure the wheel. One comment I read against it was that you can pull the wheel and replace it with another, but that is not a quick and easy task. An opportunistic thief is not likely to be prepared to do that. 
Locking Lug nuts and latch lock: Both of these can be defeated fairly quickly with the right tools, but the point here is to slow down the thief, ensure they have to have the tools on hand, make it more obvious s/he is at work, and to further delay theft. 
Receiver lock: We went with Proven Industries after viewing a good (and, of course, obviously biased) video on their website. It can't simply be beaten off like a lot of other receiver locks. 
GPS Locator: We also have a Tile hidden on our camper; it is a locator that works through Bluetooth and allows us to see the location of our camper on our phones. We have checked several times while on the road, and it has shown us exactly where it is. (Luckily it has always been where we expect it to be!) If you are interested to learn more about how Tile works, I recommend reading more on their web site. 
While a high number of thefts are opportunistic, and the more deterrents you have the better, some are planned. These thieves target their objectives and are patient. Your teardrop trailer is more likely to be stolen from its storage location (apartment parking lot, outside your home) than when camping. Anything you can do there will be helpful. We are lucky; our Hiker lives in our garage when not on the road. Some of you who store yours outdoors have good solutions I haven't had to give thought to. I think a key would be to try to block access to the tow bar/chains.
Editor: Regarding the Tile device, one FB comment was as follows--"As a note, Tile only works as short range because it works off of Bluetooth. Once the Tile is too far away from your phone you won't be able to locate it. (I believe 300 foot range) if you want actual far distance tracking you must buy a real GPS locator that usually has a subscription fee to it."

Karen Valentino responded in the following manner: "Tile is NOT a GPS device. But even if the Tile in my camper goes out of range of my phone, there’s a high likelihood I will locate it. Tile works through crowdsourcing. Say someone steals my camper. Any phone in the area of the camper that is running the Tile app will detect our Tile, and when that phone next connects to the Internet, it will push its location up to the Tile servers. Tile is prolific; it’s on many, many keychains, devices, wallets and valuables because  people use it to find misplaced items. We have been miles away from our camper, and when we access the app we can see that its last recorded location is right where it’s supposed to be. So this option is not as robust as GPS, but the only cost is the Tile itself - no ongoing service fee. And eventually, if not immediately, the thief is likely be somewhere where our Tile (and camper) will be detected."

Here’s a link to a “how it works” video on the Tile web site: .

If interested in an additional perspective on trailer anti-theft security besides the Valentino Approach, try another Green Goddess Glamping article: "Security: A Starter Pack for New Teardrop Owners."

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Friday, August 30, 2019

What's the Perfect Tiny Trailer Camping Trip?

First off, yes, I know that the "perfect" camping trip isn't possible without being flexible and allowing things to occasionally move in unexpected directions. Given that, my wife and I have reserved ten nights at our favorite spot at a local state park, and I'm going to dream a bit about what will make it perfect. Follow along and dream with me. At some point, I'm sure, your dream will take a left turn and take off on its own. That's the way dreams are.

A Good View

Indian Lake, Farmington, Iowa

One main reason why I camp is to get out of the house and by extension to leave behind man's mark on the world. If I were a purist about this need, then I'd be backpacking in wilderness areas. Right now? I like to at least have a campsite with a good view. Sometimes our view of untrammeled nature is in small scale--when the trail drops down into a hollow or when I look in the direction of the woods and not the highway. Sometimes the weather paints a new face on a familiar scene, as in the photo above, where I woke up to a couple of inches of snow and a whole different dawn, the trees coated with ice. I try to find the older style campgrounds that were created for smaller rigs without full sewer hook-up. Those usually provide more space, a more organic layout of campsites, rather than the chevron patterns often seen, especially in full hook-up areas, and more older trees and shade.

The Pastoral Midwest

Howell Station Campground, Lake Red Rock, Iowa

Much of Iowa is farmland--corn, beans, and pasture. The campgrounds fit into this Midwest landscape, often pockets of woods tucked among the fields. It's not uncommon to wake up at dawn to the lowing of cattle in the (not so far) distance. It's kind of peaceful; certainly, it's part of the Midwest experience. Having been raised camping in the Sierra Nevadas, Midwest campgrounds with beautiful lawns, deciduous trees, and lightning bugs was a new experience. Over time, I've come to discover the quiet beauty of the Midwest camping experience. To use words from my English literature background, it's bucolic or pastoral. It's easy to imagine the life rhythms of 150 years ago--fewer machine sounds (and no handheld electronics), potato salad and watermelon, a picnic blanket or a fishing pole. A second quality of camping I've come to cherish is that quiet hush of nature amid the busy, varied sounds of nature. There's a silence beneath the bustle of nature, a silence that somehow gets lost in the buzz of modern life. That peaceful coexistence is something I find on Rails to Trails bike rides, out in my garden, but especially in the quiet, mid-week hush of a county or state park at sunrise or sunset.

An Abundance of Water

Dawn, Lake Sugema, SE Iowa

An abundance of water landscapes, river or stream, lake or sea, can never grow dull, can it? I would love to camp by the ocean, but most ocean expanses we have to share with a million other people. People pollution is a relative term, I suppose. Some people like or at least don't even notice the company. I am reminded of the austere and uncompromising poet Robinson Jeffers, who lived on Carmel Bay in California, building a forty-foot stone tower on the coast for his sanctuary. In his poem "Hurt Hawks," he writes: "I’d sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk," his unflinching and shocking affirmation of the unboundedness of the spirit (rather than any advocacy for murder). In a more mild manner, I can say that for me, water and space have a
healing, nurturing influence on me. A perfect camping trip would have to include some time immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells--the full sensual experience of water.

Embrace the Unexpected

1st Place, bacon-wrapped, stuffed pork loin

Although routine and familiar vistas are a big part of why people find camping relaxing, too much of the same thing can become tedious. Every kid will tell you that even the most serene pond needs a pebble tossed in once and a while, and for camping, the unexpected and surreptitious can send ripples of enjoyment through our quiet, outdoors idylls. For my wife and me, one such experience occurred when we were camping at a county park. Camping from midweek to midweek, we discovered that on the weekend a Dutch oven bake-off was scheduled. We knew the campground would be full, yet that weekend we met two other teardrop trailer owners who had come to compete in the bake-off. That Saturday we spent the morning watching the dozen or so teams cooking and spent a wonderful time learning all about Dutch oven cooking while interacting with all the contestants ("The Tear Droppin' Ladies at the Dutch Oven Cookoff"). As campers, we have to be open for such moments, finding beauty in the unexpected. Including the great variety of the world into our private lives enriches us.

Get Active

Hiking at Jefferson County Park, Iowa

Finally, a perfect camping trip would include a chance for me to be active. Hiking and bicycling are the two main activities that I have engaged in so far. Some folks I know canoe or kayak, and I'm not disallowing those pursuits, but I'm not the "otter in the water" kind of guy that some folks are--or my wife is, for that matter. Also, in Iowa, the agricultural practices have polluted many of the waters, so swimming areas are posted with signs stating that water is tested once a week for E. coli--not a real incentive for me. Last winter when the temperatures were below freezing, my wife and I took long walks in our local county park. It was a joy--the exercise and fresh air, the good company, the lack of biting bugs. We hope to hike a lot more this fall.

There are many "perfect" possibilities that I've left out, of course. I've posted so many inspiring photographs from others on this blog. This is such a beautiful world we live in. I hope someday to be able to just take off and to visit many wonderful places and to camp in awe-inspiring settings. Until then, though, I'll discover and enjoy all the backyard beauty that I can, sometimes alone and sometimes with my wonderful partner. Also, the added satisfaction that the drive is no more than half a day's journey is an added pleasure. My dad was an old trucker who found long drives relaxing. Myself, I find short arrivals relaxing--but I'm willing to experience the alternative and see  what it's like. Here's to perfect campsites and to the knowledge that "perfect" really comes from inside, that seeing harmony outside us requires possessing harmony within us--yet . . . what better place to find harmony within ourselves than within the cosmic harmony of nature? Maybe "glamping," in the deepest sense, is the beauty within us that we radiate into our camping world. Lights and bangles optional.

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(Note: As the content for Green Goddess Glamping evolves, sometimes content focus will dictate that articles will be posted on some Facebook groups and not others. Articles on Dutch oven cooking, portable toilets, or bicycle day rides, for instance, could find posts in different groups. The best way to ensure that you are receiving all articles is to subscribe to follow this blog by email notifications.)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Review: Yeti Tundra 45 Hard Cooler

Like most folks who camp, my wife and I don't want to have to change out our ice too often when camping. An efficient food cooler is an important component of camping convenience. We've found this season that the Yeti 45-quart cooler is an excellent, "tiny trailer-sized" choice for our particular camping needs, for several reasons.

Our first choice of a Yeti was the 75-quart cooler. We were tent camping then, and it really worked well, keeping our food cold and containing enough space to meet our needs. However, we discovered that the unit was just too heavy for us to manage easily. My wife's wrists were strained when carrying it. More importantly, though, I found that it was too heavy for me to easily maneuver by myself. That especially became a problem when I camped by myself. Not only was it difficult to pick up and pack by myself, it was also ungainly getting it into the camper due to its length. Our daughter needed a large cooler for her Costco trips, so rather than selling the unit, we gave the large Yeti to her.

Then we bought two Yeti 45s and are really happy with this combination. The 45s are easier to fit into the SUV or into our tiny trailer when on the road. Although all Yetis are heavier than other coolers of comparable size, the 45s are manageable by me alone. Even the cooler we fill with all the dairy products, which is usually the heavier of our two when loaded, is fine for me to pack out of the kitchen and house, down our outside steps, and into our camper.

We need two coolers because we cook with a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits. In our last trip, the "veggie" cooler was packed with pre-washed and cut vegetables and also containers of watermelon that we had pre-cut for our trip. Between the vegetables, melon, grapes, and a couple of bottles, that fills the cooler. The second cooler is for our dairy products, macaroni and/or potato salads, and the more perishable materials.

We have a small freezer unit downstairs in our home, so I freeze plastic storage containers with lids that I bought from WalMart that are around 14 x 8 x 5 inches in size. Leaving enough room for expansion with freezing, I have a nice block of ice to add to the cooler when camping. I keep the ice in the container so that the inside stays drier. In addition, I add a few re-freezable cooler bricks, depending on the temperatures and how many groceries we have.

During our last trip, temperatures were in the mid-80s. We kept our coolers mostly in the shade, and after five days of camping, there was still ice--a pretty good chunk for the dairy cooler and a smaller chunk for the veggie cooler. I'm not sure about why there was a variance, whether it was because one was opened more than the other, cooler placement regarding sunlight, or variability in the two coolers. If we had been considering camping for a longer period, we would have added ice to the dairy cooler probably a day earlier. As it was, the coolers did a good job.

We've used older and less expensive coolers, and they work if the stay is for fewer days and if you're willing to buy and add ice during the camping trip. One thing I'm interested in for the fall season is how well the Yetis work when it is cold out. Last year when the camping temperatures dropped into the teens, I was using my old coolers to keep my vegetables fresh yet also as insulation at night to keep them from freezing. With my old cooler (over 35 years old), some of my vegetables were ruined by frost with only broccoli and kale getting by. I should add that we also took our old cooler once this summer with us with the Yetis, and the ice in the older cooler lasted about half the time as in the Yetis.

Yetis are expensive but seem durable. They definitely do keep cold longer than the inexpensive coolers I've bought. I think that even if someday we own a tiny trailer with a refrigerator, we will still take one Yeti along on our trips for fruits and vegetables. Considering I've owned my old metal-sided Coleman since I was in my 20s, I'm sure these Yetis will hold out for as long as I continue to camp, although I wouldn't mind living and camping long enough to wear them out!

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Friday, August 23, 2019

Buying a Tiny Teardrop Camp Trailer? Newbie Considerations and Needs

I'm heading down memory lane today as I write about a recent Facebook tiny trailer group posting:
I am so excited - I’m shopping for my first teardrop trailer. What are your best suggestions for a first time buyer (brand, size, places to look)? They can get so pricey, so I want to make sure I know my stuff.
Many tiny trailer owners buy multiple rigs over the years--and a variety--but can you remember that first buy, the look of that first rig you bought, seen in your rearview mirror, or the beauty of that sweet little thing sitting in your driveway or at the campground?

The Green Goddess, a priceless memory.

The responses to the above newbie's group post were varied: providing advice on trailer types and builders, and some providing advice on how to go about making a choice. Although always interested in the eye-candy of new tiny trailer models, I found the comments most interesting were those advising on what to consider prior to a tiny trailer purchase.

Consider the Possibilities

The first comment was, "Without knowing your needs (requirements), it's difficult to make a recommendation." The advice was to browse the tiny trailer groups and to find out what's available. The prospective owner responded, "I’m big into camping and used to live in Africa, so I’m used to roughing it. But as I get older and I’m a solo traveler, the security of a teardrop is what I’m looking for. And . . . having a bed is pretty nice!" The response addressed two reasons why many people move from tents to tiny trailers: security and comfort. 

Another important consideration for choice was that the camper was planning to go solo. The group administrator, who had happened to have been that first commenter, added, "More than anything, your camping style has a big effect. We started with a 4x8 and quickly realized, for long months on the road it was not for us. Need a bit more room. However, for weekends, it was fine." 

When considering possibilities, "how many and how long" are important considerations. The responding administrator, Mark Busha, now owns a Prolite Cool, 13-foot tiny "standy" trailer that has a bed at the back and a small table in the front, providing more space for one or two campers. He has added a small, portable propane stove inside for a kitchen. Becky Schade, though, a full-time RVer who travels solo, decided over time to move from a Casita standy to a tiny Hiker Trailer, a teardrop (or "squaredrop") that meets her needs. It is possible for a couple to enjoy traveling in a tiny trailer, though. Consider Jo and John Fesler, who travel the country every camping season in their little teardrop, an RTTC Papa Bear.

Tiny trailer owner: "Keep it simple and add what you need. I need everything because we are in it 4-6 weeks. All showers, cooking and every night we sleep in the Teardrop. Also camp free most of the time!"

Thinking about your camping style and needs is a big first step when choosing which tiny trailer to buy. Another aspect to consider which may not be immediately obvious but is important is your tow vehicle. Do you want to tow with your current vehicle, or are you willing to buy a new one? The very smallest tiny trailers can be pulled by almost any vehicle, but it's important to match your tow vehicle and trailer. Check your owner's manual, and if you are a complete newbie, check with your local mechanic. The local automotive shop I use provided me with useful information when I asked.

Explore the Lifestyle

Even though I had grown up heading out with my parents in a variety of travel trailers and truck campers, owning my standy tiny trailer, the Green Goddess, has been a revelation. My wife and I did take the time to research and consider our possibilities. Even choosing our little trailer was a cautious step--a used trailer for $7,000 was for us jumping in with both feet, but in shallow water.

Tiny trailer owner: "My wife and I almost made the mistake of buying something we hadn't even seen in person, luckily someone beat us to it before we could continue. That experience made us slow down and really think about what we wanted."

One bit of advice from tiny trailer owners was to try out the camping experience by renting a trailer. "Rent one," was one man's advice. "We rented one first. We quickly learned what was important to us." A woman camper added, "Yes! Rent first if you can. Find out what you like, want, and need, or don’t. For example, I preferred more counter space than having a small sink." Whether you rent a tiny trailer or not, in-person interaction is important. "Sit in, lie down in, and walk around as many styles and brands as you can find! We had decided on a teardrop, but they were all very expensive and ridiculously heavy. We had decided on a bare bones TD, but the manufacturer took too long to get back to us and we fell in love with the 'square drop' style. So that's what we bought."

Some of this interaction can be "virtual," in that photos and narratives can be experienced online--not as concrete as in-the-flesh interactions, but useful nevertheless. I suggested that the looker read some of Green Goddess Glamping's owner profiles and travelogues to get a feel of what it's like to live and travel in a tiny trailer. The prospective buyer responded, "Tom Kepler great! These links are super helpful!" 
In a follow-up query a few days later about how the prospective tiny trailer buyer was doing, the response was the following: "It’s going really well actually!! This feed has been super helpful with tons of information for me to create a list of requirements, dream items, and also some great brand recommendations." Then some details were supplied. "I’ve realized that I really am looking for a teardrop that could work two fold - one for camping and having fun in the wild wild lands of North America but also for work." Deploying and working multiple times a year to national natural disasters, she is forced to live in "large shared sleeping spaces" with one hundred or more other disaster relief workers. Now she'll have the option to drive to the location and "bring this new treat with me so I can have my own little pod and get some real rest while I’m deployed for 2-3 weeks. So - because of that I’ve added more to my list of 'ideal' items, such as solar panels." This is a perfect example of how research and consideration can provide much more utility and pleasure down the road.

Tiny trailer owner: "I have a microwave and electric fridge plus counter and storage space. For one person, it works out good. I usually stay at KOAs for the power and showers."

Regarding lifestyle, one important suggestion was geographic, specifically if campsites will be primitive boondocking or more developed campgrounds. Matching your needs, the camper, and the campground can help in decision making. For instance, my wife and I take an induction burner for cooking in developed campgrounds, but it would be useless when boondocking, as would a built-in microwave that some trailers have. If you plan to be a boondocker, then good suspension and clearance are important issues. One FB group member explained this viewpoint.
"I suggest you make two lists. (1) Decide what kind of camping you like and intend to do for the short term and long term. (2) Make a list of features you absolutely need and those that are nice to have. Come up with a budget; rank and prioritize those features. Be sure to include everything, including tow-vehicle + insurance. This will help narrow your focus."

A Deep Desire for Tiny

At some point, having interacted with a number of trailer options, the question of what you really want and need has to be forthrightly considered. Yes, that's right--forthrightly: in a manner "free from ambiguity or evasiveness, going straight to the point," according to Merriam-Webster. One experienced teardropper summed it up well.
"It’s really important to think about how you want to camp, and proceed with that in mind. Teardrops and tiny trailers vary widely. Some people want to truly glamp and have sort of miniaturized 'regular' trailers with TVs, stoves, sinks, et al. Others want a step up from tent camping--what my husband calls a 'bed in a box'--with many activities like cooking and cleaning being done outside the camper. Once you know how you want to camp, it will be quicker to determine which brands and options do and don’t fit."
Just like the philosophy of living in tiny homes, there is also an idea framework that is structured within the choice of owning a tiny trailer--a choice that is becoming more and more popular. I've considered the idea of why I own a tiny trailer, and I've interviewed other owners to also consider why. Out of my research, Green Goddess Glamping has published enough articles on the subject that I've established a page to aggregate those articles, which number six at this time. The articles range from thoughts on solo camping (and Henry David Thoreau), to tiny camping challenges and joys, and on to interviews with other tiny trailer owners. The link for those articles is below.
If you're interested in tiny trailers, don't be shy about asking on FB. Tiny trailer owners in the appropriate groups will proudly post photos, URLs, and will talk your leg off. It's a great way to begin your search. You can even limit the discussion to region.

Whatever your final decision as to what kind, size, and brand of trailer to buy, it may literally pay to take your time. Here's an experience of one tiny trailer owner. "We've had four campers in the last two years. The first one was too big, then the next one was too small." The couple then bought a third trailer, "but since I'm tall, the bathroom was awkward and the bed was too short and it didn't have an outdoor kitchen which I really like." They ended up buying a fourth camper, driving through several states to pick it up, and are happy with that final decision. "Well worth the drive, so make sure to look around."

Our new owner's first rig: "And here it is!! My first teardrop!"

So many tiny trailers, so little time . . .

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Monday, August 19, 2019

An RTTC Kodiak to Remember

"Beautiful sunny and breezy morning here on The Outer Banks. Nice difference from what greeted us yesterday when Cape Hatteras lived up to its reputation with last night’s violent storm. But the Kodiak held up like a champ! Guess I’ll keep her lol! — at Cape Hatteras National Seashore."
Inspiration and design are two attributes of a dynamic individual, and I think I've met a tiny trailer owner who is about as dynamic as you can get. Rustic Trails Teardrop Camper owner Lynn Keel was active on the RTTC Facebook groups even before she bought her RTTC Kodiak trailer. She read comments, asked clarifying questions, and started at some point jotting down information that would help her provide the RTTC company all the information it would need when its employees began building her rig.

Now she owns her Kodiak, and keeping with Lynn's dynamic approach to tiny trailer camping, she has systematically continued to improve and personalize her little home away from home. Let's let Lynn speak about how her little home-on-wheels project is progressing.
"Completed Phase Three of camper optimization project. (Note: The first phase was insulating the cabin and installing the initial air conditioner air flow improvements. Phase Two involved enhancing trailer stability via permanent stabilizers in the front of the trailer)." [See article "How to Weatherize Your RTTC Camper"]
Before checking out photos of Lynn's inside beautification of her Kodiak, below is a photo of the stock interior. It's a nice, neat and clean look, but lacking the "Home Sweet Home" touches that only a proud owner can give.

Factory stock interior

Lynn's Phase Three Objectives
  1. "Continued improvement to air circulation by adding low voltage USB-powered fans to the rear of the camper."
  2. "Bed optimization, allowing for the set up and take down in less than 30 seconds."
  3. "Installing redesigned seat cushions with back support that have a dual purpose of serving as part of the bed mattress setup. There is also an additional benefit of no longer having to store cushions at night, which equals more available space in the cabin."
  4. "Keeping the Lagun table up whether in eating / working mode or when shifting to the bed conversion. Again, saving storage space."
  5. "Mounting a shelf on the rear wall for fans, storing eyewear, phones, books, etc., at night.
The above is a long list, involving three weeks of designing, construction and installation work, which finally led to Lynn's trailer looking so spiffy. She thought up all the modifications during a recent camping trip. Now Lynn wants the photos to do the talking.

USB-port electric fans. The USB plug-ins were added by the factory builders at buyer's request.

The sleep-ready bed, the table swiveled out of the way, the seat cushions folded out.

Custom seat cushions, the back cushion folds down as part of the mattress.

Lagun table, the camper set up as a work station.

Rear shelf--the "Open House" display.

It's no surprise that Lynn is "very happy with the results," saying she's now "setting my sights on Phase Four. Let the 'tweaks' continue lol."

Even if you don't own an RTTC trailer, it's a joy to see how a little TLC can elevate a functional design into a work of art. I don't know about everyone else, but I'm looking forward to seeing what Lynn's Phase Four brings!

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