Sunday, June 6, 2021

A Classic Fiberglass Tiny Trailer: a Family at Home in Their Trillium

At home in their little trailer
Tiny trailer camping is great for one or two people, but what about family camping? What about two kids that are in their active years and big enough to take up a fair amount of space? Ashley and Nick Smolak, based in northern Pennsylvania, are living that dream with their classic fiberglass tiny trailer . . . along with their young daughter and son.

When it comes to tiny trailer camping, the Smolaks decided to go classic with a 1979 Trillium travel trailer. "We bought it in January 2020, right before Covid hit.  We were SO so lucky.  We had been looking for about a year for a fiberglass camper.  We wanted something light that we could tow with our Outback and didn’t require much maintenance or difficulty in upkeep with a bathroom or extras."

1979 Trillium and Subaru Outback
They feel that the Subaru Outback makes a good match with their tiny trailer. Nick attached the hitch to the Subaru, which Ashley said wasn't a problem for him because he's handy. "Towing has been no problem at all.  The weight of our camper is about 1,200 pounds when loaded.  My husband does the driving. It took some practice when backing into a spot, but he’s got the hang of it!  AND the benefit of a fiberglass, lightweight trailer is that my husband can pick it up himself by the tongue and swivel and move the camper by hand.  It gets us into some great spots and allows us to turn the camper a certain way when we camp with friends."

The Smolaks tent camped since they had first met in 2006. "We always loved tent camping, and it allowed us to travel without the crazy cost of a hotel." Having their first child seven years ago didn’t slow them down, either. "Our kids love it and still ask to tent camp!  However, camping with kids is a lot of work."  After years of practice, Ashley knew she wanted a sink with a water tank. That was her only request when they began their search for a camper. "I knew it would make life easier to be able to wash dishes and babies and have water right there and ready."

Added shelves for storage
Not many renovations were required to get the Trillium ready for the road. "The only true renovations we have done are the added shelves in the vertical closet to utilize that space better for clothing storage.  And the other being replacing and painting new birch plywood cabinet doors over the sink, the closet and the lower cabinets under the bench seat.  The previous owner resealed the windows, replaced the linoleum floor, and put new cushion covers on."

Other additions are more for swank and comfort. "The newest addition is a three-inch bamboo and charcoal memory foam bed topper. What luxury! Sleeping on forty-year-old dinette cushions wasn’t cutting it anymore!  I decorated with inspirational prayer flags in the back window, a national park scratch off picture inside a cabinet door, and a vintage poster of Acadia National Park hangs on the outside wall of the tall cabinet."

Bunk set-up from another site
The Trillium's set-up works well for the family. "We sleep snug as a bug.  The dinette folds down to a full size bed. There is also a bunk situation.  The bench seat at the door converts.  The back of the bench flips up to become the top bunk, with a  spring rod attachment to prevent our kiddo from rolling out.  Then my youngest, four, sleeps on the bottom.  The dogs are cozy on the floor on a dog bed."

Efficient use of space
The camper has a two-burner gas stove that works well, just like a gas range at home.  Ashley feels it is much easier than the old Coleman camp stove they previously used.  There is an original Dometic refrigerator in place, but it has never been used as a refrigerator, but rather as a pantry.  "It's so tiny that it would be useless to hook up and cool.  We use a big cooler to store our refrigerated goods."  

All of the family's clothing and hats and coats fit into the vertical closet. "We built four shelves and pack efficiently.  I roll our clothing and have drawer organizers on each shelf.  We use coats that pack down also.  Our shoes fit under the bench seat in the cabinet.  I use a big laundry bag for dirty clothes and keep that in the back of the car."

A camp bath!
Although their camper came pretty well laid out for their needs, Ashley and Nick also decided to just jump into camping with their kids and to learn by doing. They say to just get outside and use the camper. "Don’t make any changes, or buy anything special for it until you are using it and know what you truly need while camping. There are a lot of beautiful images of white, squeaky clean, minimal vintage campers, and that is just unrealistic." As a family of four with two dogs, they needed to make their sixty square feet of living space as functional as possible, and that came with practice and finding out what they needed and what was "just fluff."

"Camping with kids is great," Ashley says. "They are so much more likely to entertain themselves when we are out in nature. I do keep a basket of small toys, bubbles, coloring books, and a board game in the camper, but my kids are happier exploring outside with sticks. We do a lot of hiking. Most campgrounds have a playground too which is a highlight for them. And if there’s a creek nearby--big bonus!"

At home on country roads
Camping doesn't always have to be with the kids, though. The camper can be a little getaway for mom and dad. "We’ve experienced so much in a little over a  year of having it, but I can say my favorite part about having the camper is the ability to pick up and go with ease. My husband and I were able to do date nights where we went away just the two of us for a night. Camping date nights are so fun!"

The Smolak family have camped with their trailer about twenty times in the short amount of time they've had it. They feel they are lucky to live in an area with great sights to see and a lot of camping options. Although they have mostly stayed in state parks or the Allegheny National Forest, they would like to explore more off-grid or boondock camping. They mostly travel to mountain areas with water access in northern Pennsylvania, with fall being their favorite time to camp. "Cooler temps and fall foliage is heaven to me!" says Ashely. "We’ve also winter camped three times with snow on the ground and night temps in the 20s, and it has its perks. Way less people out and solitude. We also enjoy the snow."

Classic comfort
Although most of the family's travels have been fairly local for them, they also would like to try some longer trips, having plans to do Mt. Washington and Maine this summer; Watkins Glenn, New York, for a race; and Knoebels Amusement park for an annual trip with Ashley's parents and their 5th-wheel camper.  They had plans for Rocky Mountain National Park last summer, "but Covid ruined that, so we are hoping for a trip out West in summer 2022! I can’t wait to take my kids to the Rockies and Yellowstone and experience that with them, like I did as a kid with my parents in our camper." The Pacific West Coast has been a dream of Nick and Ashley's for many years.  A trip to Olympic and Yosemite is on their bucket list, and "dreams of retiring and hitting the road one day are talked about a lot."

Ashley and Nick are fortunate to have found a camper that fits them so well. They are also wise campers to have realized that learning to adapt is important for happy camping. Their dreams of ranging farther north and west on their travels are grand, but what is really inspiring is that they are living the dream now, living outdoors and enjoying that fleeting, beautiful time when their children are growing up, stars gleaming bright and shiny in the summer sky. The Trillium is a flower "found in the southern Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States." There are about fifty species of this genus. This is such a wonderful symmetry: a beautiful Trillium trailer, a beautiful genus of flowers, and a beautiful family--all out and part of the beauty of nature. May all of Green Goddess Glamping's articles end so auspiciously!

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  1. Great article about family and their camper.

    1. Thanks, it was fun to write about such a great family.

  2. Really nice article! Inspiring.