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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  1. I love my tiny trailer and although I don't plan to "live" in it, I enjoy the freedom it gives us to come or go at will. Great info to consider!

    1. My wife and I are spending 10 days right now at a local state park. That's long enough to experience the positives and negatives of a living environment. We are just using a Clam Quick-Set screened shelter for the second time. That has opened up our camping experience because Sandy has set up her mobile office outside. I like the the tiny trailer experience of living both inside and outside at the same time. It's safe yet also liberating.

  2. Another great article. My wife and I are not fully retired but our Kodiak Rustic Trail Teardrops camper has opened up some new adventures for us. Because of the small interior size we do not plan to do much more than sleep in our camper. We have a kitchen that pulls out from the side of the unit and a great canopy that is also attached to the camper. Our set up takes less than 10 minutes from parking to when we are cooking in our campsite. We can't say enough positive about owning a tiny camper. We purchased our first Rustic Trail Teardrop two years ago, used it quite a bit and sold it for $200 less than we paid for it. We are now enjoying a new model with just about the same space. Thanks for your interesting writing on the subject of tiny campers.

    1. I think that's one of the attractions of tiny campers--we spend more time outside. Thanks for responding.

  3. My husband and I just finished 10 Days in the Smoky Mountains in our Little Guy 5 Wide. We bring along an LLBean screen tent that’s fits perfectly around the “cantina” off the back. It also has a Rain fly for rainy days. We both agreed that we could spend even more time like that traveling. Life is so simple and you realize how much stuff you can do without. The thing I like best is the fact that it “forces” you to be outside, which we never really need to be forced 😃. We pull our Little Guy with our Subaru Outback which means we get excellent mileage. It’s a win-win way to go for sure!

    1. You've expressed the lifestyle of tiny trailer travel in a clear, succinct manner. Thank you! We've found our screen tent to expand our living space very easily outdoors. When we camp and my wife does her mobile office work, the screened room allows her to do so without to much cramped space (and our "standy" is a bit cramped!) yet provides her the opportunity to focus on her work without battling bugs. I also have found the defined space to be a good set-up for cooking. It is indeed a win-win situation. We wish you the best in your travels.