Friday, October 2, 2020

Tiny Trailer Owner Profile: Laurie and Dan Kinney, and Months on the Road

Want to hear in a nutshell why people love tiny trailer camping? Here it is from Dan and Laurie Kinney, from northern Michigan: "We both loved the concept of still living outdoors, but with minimal setup and a queen-sized indoor bed!"

After more than forty years of tent camping, the Kinneys made the transition to a teardrop trailer. "When we retired, we desired to travel and camp as often as we could. Cold, wet pack-ups really started to wear on us as we camped for months at a time. Dan was adverse to towing anything, but we really needed a new solution." They had their reasons for both wanting yet not wanting a tow solution, and finally experience played a role in their final decision.
"In 2015, we helped move our kids to Madison, Wisconsin. The move required us to pull a small trailer through downtown Chicago (yeah - GPS can be really stupid sometimes). We came through that experience unscathed, and Dan suggested we try to find a 5x8 camping solution.

"Moving to a pop-up camper really did not gain us much except sleeping off the ground. It still required setup, packup, etc. It still involved wet canvas. We had seen some new, vintage, and home-built teardrops on previous camping excursions and had even toured some. We both loved the concept--still living outdoors, but with minimal setup and a queen-sized indoor bed!

"We looked at several different styles from bare-bones all the way up to Vistabule and Camp Inn. We decide on TCTeardrops because they were willing to custom-build a teardrop with exactly what we wanted, and nothing else. We were able to re-purpose most of our tent camping gear."
They've owned their 5 x 8 TCTeardrop now for more than four years, towing it with a Jeep Liberty that came with a factory tow package. They added a 7-pin connector so that they could have on-the-road charging. They've been pleased with this set-up overall but do make sure they go in for the recommended transmission maintenance, since they tow through some rough terrain, "which includes mountain roads, NFS forest roads, BLM roads (if you can even call some of them roads - LOL), and beaches." They've found that their tiny trailer and tow vehicle meet their needs quite well.

Having camped in over 200 locations with their teardrop, the Kinneys have camped anywhere from a weekend, all the way up to more than three months at a time.  They love boondocking, particularly now during the pandemic, but their most common camping experience is staying in rustic (no hookup) National Forest campgrounds or BLM campgrounds. They look for out-of-the-way places as a balance to their other desire, which is to visit as many national parks as possible, including national monuments, sea shores, wild and scenic rivers, lake shores, recreation areas, and wilderness areas.

It seems like the Kinneys have camped everywhere--from the Atlantic coastline in Acadia National Park to the desert in California, to the Rio Grande in Texas and on up to the shores of Lake Superior and even into Canada. 
"We love forests and mountains but have really come to appreciate the beauty of our American deserts. Our favorite pastimes are hiking and kayaking, so water is a must, along with access to hiking trails. Since we are retired, we generally camp in the spring, fall, and winter months. We leave the summer to families with children. I would have to say that my favorite time of year to camp is spring. As we travel toward home, new growth is everywhere. Wildflower blooms in the deserts, redbud trees in the southeast, birds and butterflies return home . . . heaven!"

Their favorite stories or adventures come from a single place, the Chiricahua National Monument, both adventures in 2017, a week apart.

"On our first three-month trip out West in early 2017, we planned to camp at the Chiricahua National Monument. We got there mid-morning on a Thursday in February, and the campground was full until at least the middle of the following week. A back-up plan was formed--our very first teardrop 'boondocking' down a washboard National Forest Service road to an absolutely amazing spot. It is still our favorite campsite ever. There were three existing stone fire rings and a short path led to a creek we could hear from the campsite. It was the original homestead site of one of early settlers in the Chiricahua Mountains. We even found their family cemetery fenced off on the path to the creek. That experience changed us forever. We no longer worry about finding full campgrounds. We know we can find somewhere to park, and often it is an amazing and memorable experience when we go 'off grid.'"

"On the same trip, just a week earlier, we faced one of our most challenging experiences. While back-roading with our Jeep at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we had two flat tires in the middle of the desert, just feet from the Mexican border, and fifteen miles from our campground. While we had ONE spare tire, we did not have two. We did have a small tire pump and spent the next two and a half hours filling the flat tire with air for ten minutes, and then driving for 3-4 minutes. When we were pretty sure we would not make it home before dark, an amazingly generous family happened by and loaned us their far superior pump. They stayed with us until we were able to do one last fill and limp back to our campsite. It took a few days to schedule a tow truck to take us up to Gila Bend (75 miles away) to make repairs. During that time we experienced the kindness of dozens of generous campers. They checked on us every day, offered to take us to town for supplies, brought us ice, and offered to do laundry. They even offered to cook for us. It reaffirmed our belief that the people you meet while camping are the absolutely best humanity has to offer."

Living out of their tiny camper so many months of the year, their modifications to the camper and camping lifestyle that has evolved with their experience provides some especially interesting and informative points. "Since we live out of our teardrop for six months of the year, it absolutely must be 'home.' We added comfy pillows, a headboard, curtains, linens, etc. We bought really good kitchen supplies, which are mostly duplicates of what we have in our sticks and bricks kitchen."

Here is a list of their refinements to their rig and gear that make their camping experience easier and more fulfilling.

Be Prepared
We need to be prepared for whatever weather we encounter. Thus, many of our customizations allow us to enjoy the experience regardless of what "Mother Nature" provides. Adding the Foxwing and Sunseeker awnings, along with three extra walls has been a major modification. We also added a screen room that clips underneath the Sunseeker. Certain times of the year, the mosquitoes in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are pretty intense.

Little Red Campfire
Adding a "Little Red Campfire" to the mix has turned out to be one of our favorite upgrades. Many places we travel have fire bans. Other times, wood is scarce or expensive to purchase. It is absolutely fantastic for baking potatoes for dinner (or for use in breakfast the next morning)! We used to carry fireplace logs with us but have since moved to the small propane fire. It has kept us warm and dried us out on many, many occasions. We also mounted a 5-pound propane tank and eliminated the 1-pound disposables.

12v Water Pump
Adding a 12v water pump was one of our first modifications. While I first thought it was a nice idea, it is now my favorite mod. The water jugs sit in the galley, and with the push of a button I can fill a bottle or a pan.

Extra Vent Fan
Dan also added a computer fan to one of our two air vents. It pulls fresh air through the teardrop. This has helped greatly with condensation. We use a Buddy heater (sparingly--five minutes or so) to take the chill off the air when the temperatures dip into the teens.

Solar Panel
Another important mod was adding an 60 watt solar panel to the lid of our toolbox. It powers an AGM battery and makes it much easier to camp off grid.

Extra Storage
A storage box and storage tubes to our roof rack make it easy to access our gear, such as poles and walls for the awnings, kayaking gear, and extra tarps. We find that easy access to all of our gear makes camping so much more enjoyable!

Post COVID-19 
We added a small pressure cooker to our kitchen. We can now carry lots of dried beans, vegetables, and grains to prepare meals from our pantry with fewer shopping trips. I am even making vegan sausages from our pantry supplies! We also added a 3-bucket laundry system so we no longer need to visit local laundromats. From the coin shortage to local social distancing rules and closures--we will still have clean clothes!

After all these specific how-to suggestions, it's hard to imagine that there is more advice for the Kinneys to pass our way, but fortunately for us, the Kinneys were willing to share more of their experience and wisdom. The basic rule for successful camping? "Keep it simple. You need far less than you think you do. Items that can have more than one purpose are fantastic." Some rules deal with equipment and some with camping procedures.

Our first, and still most important rule--do not carry gear in the cabin. We make sure we can pull over, jump into the teardrop, and stay there if needed. When unexpected weather hits such as rain, snow, sleet, wind, or sandstorm, we can always hunker down with absolutely zero setup.

Compact Gear
Collapsible items are your friend--from Luci lights to teapots, pans, strainers, and buckets--anything that compresses or folds is worth it, even if it is a bit more expensive.

Make a List
Take a few trips close to home so that you can easily grab everything you forgot to pack. Make a list of everything you take, organized by where it goes (car, toolbox, galley, cabin, etc.), and check your list every single time (yes, you can forget to pack a toothbrush!). If you find you are packing things you rarely use, drop them from the list. We no longer carry things such as fireplace logs, a campfire popcorn popper, our Coleman oven, and filled sandbags. Add things you find you now need. We now carry mouse traps and ant spray (stories for another day).  We change our list a little bit every trip.

Be Spontaneous
We like to plan a bit for every trip, but teardrop camping allows for spontaneous travel. Do not be afraid to go off grid or to try something new. We have found that we can make lunch in parking lots and rest areas. We can sleep in some unusual places. Do not overthink. Just go and have fun!

Future trips and dreams for the Kinneys include travel through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern Wisconsin, and northern Minnesota this fall. "This winter (given the uncertainties of life in 2020) we plan to stay in the southeastern states all winter. We still plan to camp for 5-6 months of the year." Their dream trip would be a 4-5 month trip from Michigan to the Pacific Northwest, and then up into Alaska and back home. "There are still many national parks we have not visited, and we would love to add them to our teardropping experience."

This year's 2020 camping experience has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, forest fires, hurricanes, and heat waves and drought, all of which have created geographic limitations for camping and which have added the need for precautionary measures while camping. With their vast experience and comprehensive camping knowledge, the Kinneys have shown that it is possible to adapt to changing times and still find opportunities to safely enjoy the tiny trailer camping experience. We wish them and everyone who takes to the road safe and happy camping adventures.

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  1. Great article of the Kinney's marvelous adventures!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Thanks for the positive comment. I enjoyed writing this profile!