SIX THINGS I’VE LEARNED FROM TINY TRAILER LIVING
May 15, 2019
For the last three years, I’ve lived in a small 18 foot travel trailer. It sounds like a very small space, but I really didn’t notice it, and it wasn’t that bad! Living in the Pacific Northwest, the winters were definitely not the most enjoyable, because it’s less desirable to go outside. So I was confined to my tiny space. Fortunately, for many winter months I was off doing Army training someplace else, so I didn’t have to deal with it much.
I’ve not done this necessarily out of necessity, but with a very clear vision in mind: to live simply and save money for my two-year investigative adventure after I quit my job. There are several things I’ve learned from living this way. None of this is awe-inspiring earth-shattering stuff. And some of your perspectives may differ from mine, but this is simply my experience.
To provide a little more context, I’ve lived in an 18 foot travel trailer in a camping club in Olympia, Washington for about three years while I’ve been stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). Trailer life actually isn’t THAT rare in the Army, since there are often a lot of geographic bachelors or people who just want to save money since we move about every three to five years.
To provide a little more context, I’ve lived in an 18-foot travel trailer in a camping club in Olympia, Washington for about three years while I’ve been stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). Trailer life actually isn’t THAT rare in the Army, since there are often a lot of geographic bachelors or people who just want to save money since we move about every three to five years.
Wildlife found on my campsite.
Anyway, I’m so fortunate to have found this camping club. It’s not your generic “trailer park.” There is anything on the spectrum of well-established tiny home/park model home with multiple outbuildings and a nicely manicured yard to something more my speed: a more transient set-up with a small, portable trailer and some rudimentary storage.
My dad trimming trees, clearing brush, and digging a trench to run some electrical wiring.
This camping club is quite convenient and has all of the accommodations I need. I receive mail. There’s coin laundry. There are showers, washrooms, and toilets available. There’s a small gym. A sauna. A basketball court. A pond stocked with trout.
And the best part: My monthly bill is rarely over $200 a month.
And that’s in the Seattle area! You Army people know how much the Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) is for this area. The fee I pay includes water, electric, garbage and recycling removal, and our membership fee that goes towards collective renovations and upgrades for common areas. It’s enabled me to save a lot. Something worth thinking about if you really want to be free. This place was quite a find after searching for over six months for living arrangements and coming up empty while squatting at my friends’ house, as they so graciously permitted.
SO LET’S GET TO IT! BELOW ARE SIX THINGS I’VE LEARNED:
1. Cooking outdoors is the bomb! (When it’s not freezing and pouring rain outside…as it often is in Washington)
I currently use a Camp Chef Explorer stove to cook outside with my cast iron skillet and a cast iron dutch oven (a recent gift). This summer I’ll also get my dad’s grill set up, and grilling will be my other main method of cooking. This gives you the ability to prepare large quantities of food and I have an outdoor fridge/freezer so I’m not confined to the small fridge/freezer in my trailer. But for now, my cast iron skillet has been phenomenal, particularly because of clean-up. Doing dishes here is not convenient for me at all. Since my trailer is so tiny and I want to preserve the cleanliness of the it for re-sale, I decided to not cook, shower, wash, or use the toilet in the trailer.
The old faithful Camp Chef.
My very small trailer’s intended use is short-term camping, and living in it is basically like living in a small bedroom. It would become quite dirty and probably smelly if I started cooking and doing dishes inside. This isn’t the case for most people at the park, as they have pretty large RVs compared to me.
But this is how I chose to live. Consequently, I have nowhere to do dishes. My only real option is to drive a half mile to the common area clubhouse where there is a large kitchen and use the sink area for everyone’s use. So, being lazy, I have done everything to avoid having to drag my dishes and soap and sponge and mess up to the clubhouse. The great thing about cast iron is you don’t have to wash it. I recently read about using a piece of chain mail (the material that knight’s armor was made of) to clean your cast iron.
It lies flat and can be stored in the pan. It’s malleable and conforms to any curves or corners in your cast iron. So I just scrub the hell out of the pan with this and rinse with the hose. If there’s some stubborn fat on the chain mail, you can boil a pot of water (if you live like a savage like I do) or rinse in the sink with hot water. It’s indestructible and was a wise investment. I purchased my chain mail scrubber off of Amazon here.
It’s been so fun cooking outside in the sun and I’ve really enjoyed it. If you’re considering living tiny, you’ll probably still have the ability to do dishes, but this is something to think about for kitchen efficiency and for camping! Cooking outside involves way less clean-up and allows you to get some fresh air and not bring cooking odors into your small living space.
2. Internet/cell service: Straight Talk has it all.
One of the MOST inconvenient challenges I dealt with in this living situation was cell phone service and internet. I absolutely had to have it for work. So I haven’t owned a TV since I was 18 and haven’t had the need for loads of high-speed internet for that reason. If I watch a film, it’s not that often and I use my laptop or even my phone. When I moved to this camping club, I immediately discovered I didn’t have cell phone service/reception. A few years prior, based on the recommendation of a friend, I broken free of the large cell phone service providers and bought into Straight Talk. So I’m not going to lie to you: WORST CUSTOMER SERVICE EVER. Seriously. But once I got the unlocked phone I needed and established autopay, it’s worked beautifully for me. $55 a month for unlimited everything. No contract.
It worked great. Until I arrived at this camping club. And I did NOT want to go back to any of the larger companies. The club had a Verizon tower in on the grounds, but my Straight Talk phone (a previous AA&T phone) worked on AT&T towers. So I had no service. And I didn’t want to part with my beloved Straight Talk! I’m not going to bore you with the months of trying different hot spots and buying a Verizon “burner” flip phone for work use while I was at home. I’m skipping straight to when it finally sorted itself out.
I learned that Straight Talk actually has two different SIM card varieties that work off of either AT&T towers or Verizon towers. So, I needed to purchase an unlocked phone and then order a Straight Talk SIM of the Verizon variety and I’d be good. After a bunch of tech drama related to that, I finally figured it out with the help of my boyfriend. Best cell phone service ever.
A feature Straight Talk didn’t have before that they now offer is the ability to use your phone as a personal hotspot. This has been all I have needed for internet. You’re capped at 10 GB, but I do most things on my phone anyway, and so I’ve not run into to many issues with the cap. When I have exceeded the cap, I just reset my autopay to start that very day, and I lost a few days from my previous month, but I needed the internet so I had to do it.
For keeping costs low, saving money, and being able to have the cell phone service and internet I needed for work, this has worked perfectly. I plan on using this same service for domestic travel and not dealing with any wifi hotspots or other services since this seems to be sufficient.
I’m telling you–Straight Talk is the most underrated cell service out there!
3. Low-tech drinking water is cheap, effective, and environmentally friendly.
So again, I don’t run water in my trailer. I don’t have convenient access to drinking water nearby so my dad helped me improvise. He lives about an hour away and has access to fresh, clean well water that he drops off whenever he comes to visit. We use the five gallon clear blue water jugs with a hand pump. It’s so simple and effective! We use the Primo Fountain and you can find the exact product or something similar at Walmart or Lowe’s, and I’m sure a million other places. You can also view it here on Amazon.
This is so much cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying cases of disposable water bottles. The water stays at room temperature and I’ve never at any issues with it. An inexpensive, low-tech nugget of gold. I’ve also taken this camping and it was very convenient as well. Throw it in the back of your truck or van and go!
Fortunately, my lot is right by a bathroom, which is great. Again, most people at this camping club use their own personal bathrooms and sinks, but I choose not to. So the bathroom being next door works perfectly. However, when I do need some non-drinking water/hose water to rinse my hands or a dish, I use water from my 2.5 gallon jug with a water spigot. I also throw this in my van or camping and it’s quite convenient
4. Material possessions: The farther you want to go, the less you can take.
This is something that continues to be challenging for me. I likely have less material possessions than the average person just because I’ve moved every three years and my campground living situation doesn’t afford me much space. But, trust me, I’ve managed to hold onto unnecessary crap. The rule of thumb I’m working to ruthlessly enforce on myself is if I haven’t used in a year, get rid of it!
Instead of serving some purpose or helping us in some way, many of these things tend to become more of a burden and ball and chain. I’ve sold items on Offerup, at our yard sale, and on Craigslist. With donations, I first donate to people I know, and then drop items off at donation centers if there’s no interest.
The fewer things you have, the more freedom you will have. Again, this is something that I struggle with. We are definitely caught up in a materialistic, consumer-oriented society. I’m hoping that life on the road for the next two years will teach me some lessons about material possessions.
I’m currently reading a book about a couple taking a van trip around the world. Something the couple said resonated with me. Ironically, “the farther you want to go, the less you can take.” This would also seem to apply with trekking, backpacking, traveling of any sort, and just life. The more things you hold onto, it becomes harder to keep moving.
4. Do your workout outside.
During my adult life, I’ve always been a gym person. This is a product of the Army culture I’ve been immersed in for the past 12 years. I loved it and I’m glad I learned everything I did because it brought me to where I am now. A significant amount of the fitness and health habits we experience in the Army are just downright terrible for your physical and mental health. That’s a fact. Chronic sleep deprivation, caffeine dependency, tobacco addiction, high impact exercise (such as ruck running), primarily sedentary work, and then of course, excessive amounts of alcohol and self-pity every weekend to forget about the work week. I imagine that there are plenty of other people can relate because although maybe not this extreme–they fall somewhere on the spectrum of this existence.
As I’ve finally been able to deprogram a bit during quarantine, I’ve been getting 7-8+ hours of sleep a night, cooking all of my meals, working out at least once a day–sometimes twice, and have felt my mental and physical health improve dramatically.
Again, the day I left my company command assignment was the week before the Coronavirus really began to effect us, so I have really had some quality time to myself.
Ironically, my goal in the next few months was to migrate from a more gym/equipment-centric mindset towards a minimal equipment, gymless mindset. The next two years of traveling won’t allow me to have reliable and consistent access to a gym. Not to mention, it’s something I don’t want to pay for. Quarantine worked out quite nicely because my gym dependence was swiftly cut off and not by my choice as all non-essential businesses closed.
As a substitute, I now have sunshine, a grassy area nest to a pond, an pavilion, a few elastic bands, a jump rope, some ratchet straps and wooden gymnastic rings, some gymnastic paralettes, and a yoga mat. What a concept. I’m working out outdoors in the sun and having so much fun doing it. I’m focusing on all of the things that I didn’t have the time for before. Dancing, yoga, mobility, and calisthenics are my new focus, and for most of them, the activity itself is completely FREE. I just need a little space and some music and had the one-time cost of buying a few pieces of equipment that are light and don’t take up much space.
I’m also doing more manual labor lately helping some friends, which has also been fun. Actual labor/work implies that it is for a purpose. As opposed to “working out,” which is quite honestly just fake work for fitness. Sometimes, that’s all some of us can do depending on our life situation. But the real ideal for me someday would to be able to manually labor for a purpose that I find valuable, get a workout for free, and also get to enjoy the fruits of my labor!
A thought I had the other day is how we have HUGE houses (compared to most places in the world) that we become indentured servants to. We have immaculately manicured yards that we pay someone else to landscape. We pay to go do fake manual labor and fake walking, running, and bicycling inside a building. Then, some of us go to another building where we pay to lie in some fake sun after we pop our Vitamin D supplements. When all along, you could have just worked outside on your yard in the sunshine, for FREE! Ok, I get that’s a bit of an oversimplification–sure. But you get the idea. What. Are. We. Doing. And in aggregate, our country is terrible health. So obviously, what we are currently doing isn’t working.
6. Have back-up/emergency heating methods on hand.
Being cold is miserable. My trailer has a propane furnace, which has worked fine for me during the winters here. But something I’ve used in my trailer as a backup and also in my shed if I’m working in there is a Mr. Heater (Buddy version) propane space heater. It’s amazing and has been a great investment.
It’s definitely a low-tech, portable, reliable piece of back-up/emergency equipment to use for a tiny house, trailer, enclosed hunting stand, or tent camping. It comes with the ability to attach one of the standard very small 16oz propane canisters, but I purchased a 10ft hose attachment so I could use a much larger propane tank.
I primarily use it to heat my shed now, but it also worked for me in emergency situations. I’ve also let friends borrow the heater when they needed emergency heating. They just hooked up their propane take and it was immediately ready to use. The one danger to be aware of is carbon monoxide poisoning. Don’t leave this heater on and go to sleep and always make sure you crack a window or door if you plan to leave it running for an extended period of time. Either way, I just use it to take the edge off before bed and right when I wake up. If you follow the precaution above and maintain a working carbon monoxide detector, you’ll be just fine.
You can purchase a Mr. Heater (Buddy) on Amazon here. It’s currently $74. Back when we purchased ours a few years ago, we got it for $34! I wouldn’t be surprised if these prices continue to increase. Below, there is also a much smaller version that could be a more minimalist/smaller space emergency heater. View it on Amazon here.
In any case, I love my heater and recommend that you check it out!
I hope this was at least a bit useful to you and you can pull some ideas for your own living if you’re also considering downsizing. Thanks for reading!