Monday, September 27, 2021

Transitioning from a Tiny Trailer to a Little Trailer--My Airstream Basecamp Experience

I remember the first time I towed a tiny trailer, my first trailer, a Rustic Trails Teardrop Camper Polar Bear. I had been practicing for a week the process of hooking up, driving around the block at home, and then backing into the driveway--two times a morning with left and right back-ins. After a week, I felt ready to take off across town to a county park four miles from home, where I successfully backed into a space and stayed three nights. The reasons my wife and my first trailer was a tiny "standy" I explained in the first post ever for this blog ("Why Such a Tiny Trailer?"), a little over three years ago. I'm glad to report that our move from "tiny" to "little" travel trailer by purchasing an Airstream Basecamp has not changed our overall camping experience much--some, but not much.

I listed in that first blog article four reasons why my wife and I had bought a tiny camper:
  1. We wanted a trailer small enough to fit those campground sites that aren't linked to the sewer system, sites that fit into the natural landscape, rather than bulldozed, "tract home" sites.
  2. We wanted a trailer we could pull with the vehicle we owned. 
  3. We wanted a small trailer that I could tow and learn how to back more easily.
  4. We wanted a trailer that put us outside more often, where even with our "safe haven" tiny room, the outdoors campsite was still our main living space.

The transition from a tiny to a little camper, surprisingly, doesn't really affect the first three reasons. The Basecamp, at sixteen feet, is still close to the RTTC in size, and we still fit into smaller campsites that the bigger rigs avoid. We pull the Basecamp with the same tow vehicle we used for the RTTC Polar Bear. The greater weight is noticeable but not significant, as the width-of-trailer increase from five feet to six and a half is not that much. I've added inexpensive mirror extensions to my Nissan Pathfinder's stock mirrors, which also is not a vital addition but does provide more of a view behind the trailer. In terms of backing, after three camping seasons of backing the tiny trailer, backing the Basecamp offers no greater challenges. In terms of these three points, the transition has been seamless. 

The fourth concept of living mostly outside is still relevant with our little Basecamp, yet I have found the increased space inside and the amenities of kitchen and bath have made a difference as we've transitioned to the new trailer. 
  • Space: With more space, it is easier for my wife and me to be in the trailer at the same time. It's also easier for use to engage in activities while in the trailer. One of us can cook, and one of us can work, for instance. Storage space is still at a premium, but there is more space and it is more accessible. 
  • Toilet/Shower: The toilet is, as one can imagine, more convenient because we don't have to set up the utilitent outside or take the walk to the campground facilities--although we do still use campground toilets if they are clean and pandemic-safe. I had wondered how I'd adapt to having a blackwater tank. (The Basecamp combines sewage and gray water). Would it smell and just be a burden? I've found there's no smell, and the draining procedure is straightforward, really. Not a bother. (We use Happy Campers tank treatment powder.) As for the shower, we've had the Basecamp almost a whole season, and I've only used the shower once, my wife not at all. We prefer taking longer showers at campground facilities. I've also continued my habit of taking sponge baths in the trailer, one I started with the tiny trailer.
  • Kitchen: We really like how we have our food available in the trailer. I have found myself cooking more inside, but mostly with the toaster oven or Instant Pot we take along. We opted to not buy a microwave, using that cabinet instead for storing our toaster oven and Instant Pot (plus our utensil organizer and tiny, cast iron baking dish). We haven't used the propane stove much but do use it for simple cooking, such as scrambled eggs or quesadillas. Smelly foods we cook outside with an induction burner or our old Coleman propane stove. We steam our vegetables in the Instant Pot, either inside our outside, but we release the steam outside. 
  • Sink: I'm listing our sink as separate from the kitchen so I can talk about it more directly. It's a tiny sink, and the current trip I'm on is the first time I've really washed a meal's dishes inside the trailer. I prefer to wash outside with the three-unit set-up we used with our tiny trailer: wash tub, rinse tub, and drainer. That works so well that it's easy to forego using the tiny inside kitchen sink. I just used the sink, though, on my current trip because it was raining outside and my site just wasn't set up for an outside living space. I found washing in an inch of water and then rinsing and stacking on a towel worked pretty well. Using the sink when brushing my teeth has become a habit, though. We do pack our own drinking water from home, and I have just recently purified the Basecamp's water system, following the owners' manual procedures. It's easy to notice that using the sink increases water consumption.
I suppose the most difficult or time-consuming aspect of this transition has been understanding and dealing with the greater complexity of the Basecamp's options: heating system, water system, sewage system, refrigerator, solar option, propane tanks, and winterizing and de-winterizing. That's quite a bit of new! The Airstream owners' manuals have helped, and another big help has been online Basecamp social groups, where I can ask questions. I slowly learning, though, and applying what I've learned. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that greater amenities includes more maintenance. With our first trailer, the Green Goddess, there wasn't much more than plugging in a 20-amp extension cord. Gone are those simple days, but also having many built-in services in the Airstream trailer means there is less to set up.

Transitioning to a little travel trailer from a tiny trailer has been easy. Gas mileage has dropped about half a mile per gallon, although the drop would probably have been greater if I lived in a mountainous state rather than hilly Iowa. Mostly, the greater inside living space has provided just that--a living space rather than a sleeping space. Even with the RTTC standy, the inside space was most conveniently a sleeping space. (Note: RTTC now makes the Polar Bear standy only in special, pre-sold batches because their smaller models are more popular.) We still get outside beneath the awning or in our Clam shelter for work or excessive rain, but the inside of the Basecamp is a liveable space, feeling like a mansion after three seasons in our tiny trailer . . . and this is not a slam on our little Green Goddess. It did what it was built to do, and it did it well. It was easy to transition to the slightly larger living space, though, yet still have a small trailer, only sixteen and a half feet from hitch to bumper. 

For two people, our Basecamp's larger footprint makes living easier. There's space to move around inside and to engage in life's routines. Especially for longer adventures, for us, moving from "tiny" to "little" was a positive move. We had great times during our three seasons in the Green Goddess, but now in the Basecamp, we'll be bumping elbows less and stretching out a bit more. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing your observations about differences between the two campers. The Airstream Basecamp is an eye-catching unit; nice to know that it is functional as well. Will you plan to use it into the beginning of winter?

    1. Yes, fall and winter are our favorite times to camp, if the weather isn't too extreme. We winterize the trailer (no water) and then use the toilet commode as a dry toilet, using a bag system.

  2. Tom, I saw three Basecamps on a semi heading north near Sioux City this weekend (immediately thought of you) and wondered if the supply has increased for that model. Take care and thanks for a great overview of the transition. Safe travels.

    1. I still hear there is a waiting list. We've been enjoying ours, and in a couple of weeks plan to do a weekend off the grid, using our solar suitcase.