Living in a Travel Trailer - been there, done that

Living in a travel trailer isn't a desirable situation, but it beats the pants off of being homeless.

Living in a travel trailer is something I have experience with. It's better than being without a shelter, and it's way better than a tent. By design, a trailer is mobile, and sometimes you can pick them up relatively cheaply if you're in need of this type of housing.

My experience encompasses living in a vacation trailer on bare land and having two other travel trailers, each one with a dedicated purpose. It worked just fine for about a year or so, but it isn't something I'd want to do over the long haul, unless my job required frequent relocation, and I wanted a way to take my things with me.

Of course, such living arrangements might be forced upon you during a period when money becomes especially tight, and that was exactly the case in my situation.

With all of the homelessness washing over the country, living in a travel trailer is one way to be without a traditional home, yet not necessarily be on the street. I'd be willing to bet that there will be a new trend in America when people start to realize that the American dream of home ownership can be just too much like a nightmare, and they'll elect alternative housing like living in a travel trailer.

For those interested in this travel trailer lifestyle, let me tell you about my experience, and you can decide for yourself whether this is a viable alternative to whatever it is you have now.

Driven by Necessity

Backruptcy was what forced me to start living in a travel trailer.

After bankruptcy, it was clear that staying in a house just wasn't in the cards. Rent was too much, so I decided to live on a nice parcel of land that I was paying for. It wasn't convenient for work, but since most of my office work was done out of my home office, I could live anywhere I wanted to so long as there was electricity and phone.

As an interim measure, until I could get back on my financial feet, I was following the philosophy of an acquaintance of mine from Ohio. He used to say, "Do what you can do, until you can do better." I was biding my time, waiting for an opportunity to do better.

Living in a travel trailer certainly wasn't my first choice, but it became a clear choice what with having the land and having a large travel trailer on the land. I soon acquired a couple more smaller trailers and put them to good use. Thankfully, I had some remote land with a well and electric service, so that provided much needed water and electricity. A phone line was also present, so it was my home away from home, at least for a while.

Small Spaces

Living in a travel trailer isn't a glorious lifestyle, unless you enjoy living in very small spaces. I don't care how big your travel trailer is, it just won't ever be quite large enough for what many would consider to be a normal lifestyle. It might be fine for a cowboy or a sheep herder, but for the average person, it's just too small.

Before I started living in a travel trailer, I put most of my things in storage.

Nevertheless, it can work when it has to. If nothing else, you learn how to make every square inch count, and you learn to live a simplified lifestyle. Everything that isn't essential goes into storage, gets sold or given away, or perhaps donated to those who might be in need.

My humble abode was 31 feet in length. Thankfully, I was able to get my hands on two additional travel trailers, both about 18 feet in length, and I used one for a kitchen and eating area, and another for an office. That left the larger trailer for relaxing and sleeping.

Making it a Home

Painting the inside of the trailer made it more like a home.

I figured just because it's a travel trailer, and an old one at that, it didn't mean that it couldn't be a decent home. I tore out some of the seating and made room for a full size bed. Walls were painted and decorated. Unused items like a small inoperable refrigerator were torn out to make room for other things.

The key to comfortable living in a travel trailer is to recognize what activities are most important, and then make adjustments inside the shell of the trailer to facilitate those activities. It turned out that sleeping was the most important activity, so a regular bed was installed. Curling up in a comfortable full-size bed, instead of something that resembled a bunk, made life in my little Airstream trailer from the 1960s much more tolerable...almost downright civilized.


Electric service was another essential part of comfortable living in a travel trailer.

With a well and electric and phone service at my campsite, three essentials were taken care of. The last essential was heat, and that was provided by portable propane heaters that would augment small electric heaters.

Much of the electrical circuits were unreliable, so I modified the trailer to operate on 110 volts, and simply powered it via an extension cord.

Since the toilet and shower in the trailer didn't work, I constructed my own utility building of 8 foot wide by 8 foot long by 8 foot high. That allowed me to build the whole thing out of standard 8 foot length 2x4s and 4x8 sheets of plywood.

The building housed a generous shower of 16 square feet, a toilet compartment of the same size, and a 32 square foot area to house the washer, propane powered dryer, and a water heater also fired by propane. Attached to the outside the utility building was a wash tub.

A water tank provided gravity fed water to my campsite.

A water storage tank, perhaps 200 feet from the campsite, sat in an elevated position and provided gravity fed water to the shower, toilet, washer and wash tub. Holding 1,000 gallons, it lasted quite a while before requiring refill by turning on the well pump. A garden hose was also hooked up to the well pump such that it could be supplied by the water tank or under more pressure when the well pump was running.

It wasn't the lap of luxury, but this provided everything I needed to shower, wash and dry clothes, take care of "big business," do dishes, and run through the sprinkler.

While living in a travel trailer and having an office in one too, it's essential to have telephone service.

A phone line was made possible by having power poles that carried the electric service, so I enjoyed conversations with friends, family, associates and customers, whether hanging out in my home or office, or relaxing in a lawn chair in the shining sun.

My refrigerator stayed outdoors as it was full-size.

Oddly enough, my refrigerator was outdoors, backed up against the kitchen trailer. It remained outside during rain, windstorms and snowfall, seemingly unfazed by weather, and not affected by the mice that most certainly sought a hiding place underneath it.

Specialization Like Rooms in a House

Living in a travel trailer is relatively easy if all you're doing is relaxing and sleeping. With the bathroom and laundry facilities in a homemade structure, that left two other functions that needed to be sheltered; the kitchen and my office.

I used a trailer like this as a kitchen.

One trailer was dedicated for use as a kitchen and eating area. It was also used to store food, cooking supplies and other resources separate from the main trailer. Being able to cook in something that resembled a kitchen was a nice comfort that made living in a travel trailer more successful than it would have been if all of my daily living was confined to a single trailer.

My office trailer was similar to this.

Having my office in its own trailer also provided me with a big advantage for it allowed me to keep many of my important work-related items and activities separate from the main living area. This also minimized distractions and noise.

With precious little space for things, it was nice to be able to dedicate an entire trailer to my work. After all, it was my work that was going to help get me out of the financial hole that I allowed myself to get into.

Other Campsite Features

A large awning or canopy with steel structure helped make living outdoors very pleasant.

There was one key feature that allowed me to have a relatively civilized life between the three trailers -- a large tent-like awning. This essentially allowed me to have a life outside, under a roof. It afforded protection from the sun and light rain, thus giving me some room to spread out.

A sun shade or tent with screened sides would have provided a similar outdoor protected living space.

A small shed housed my electric service and served as a storage place as well.

A small storage shed constructed on a concrete slab was home for my electrical panel and meter. It also served as a place where I could keep several other items that required secure and weatherproof storage. With limited space, quite a few things sat outside in containers and under cover, or stored in the camper shell of my truck.

Living in a Travel Trailer No More

My life living in a travel trailer was a bit like luxury camping.

Through my own lack of effective control on my finances, I wound up living in a travel trailer. It wasn't my intention to live there, but I was very thankful to have my own land so I could set up shop and live something that resembled luxury camping at a remote yet well appointed campsite.

It was the lowest point in my life, yet I kept my composure and worked my way through it. I knew that living in a travel trailer was only going to be a short episode that would pass. There was no sense dwelling on the unfortunate side of it. The smart thing was to make the best of it and plan to do better in the future, and that's exactly what I did.

If you find the need to be living in a travel trailer, take heart, it can be done. It's not an entirely pleasant life, but it can be enjoyable. For me, it was a last resort. For you, it might be a choice for much more affordable housing. I'm never going back to living in a travel trailer simply because I've learned what forced me into that situation, and I'm on guard to never let that happen again.

Good fortune to you, and if living in a travel trailer is in your future, I hope it's by choice and not necessity.

Done with Living in a Travel Trailer, back to Cheap Housing

My experience of making a home out of several trailers taught me that it can be done, and it's way better than being without a place to call home. Here are other resources related to this topic that you might find useful.