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We Bought a Trailer! | Cargo Trailer Camper Conversion: Part 1 ⚙️

In this post:

  • Project Intro

  • Defining our Budget

  • Determining our Camping Needs

  • Drawing our Initial Layout Designs


Project Intro

The van life movement and tiny house living has increasingly become more popular over the last ten years, growing into a "way of life" associated with fed up adventure seekers breaking free from the daily grind to explore the world in slow motion on their own time. Do I fancy myself one of these people? I'd like to, and I don't really have a problem with that, despite what some people might say! I love being a librarian and am proud of my career choices, but there is nothing that makes me happier than experiencing new places. Van life offers the opportunity and freedom to customize those experiences, especially since COVID-19 may change future expectations of what it means to have a family, maintain your physical & mental health, and successfully work certain full-time jobs all at once.

COVID-19 Pandemic restrictions clearly dropped a massive pin in everyone's ability to travel. It definitely squashed my habit of following wanderlust impulses willy nilly overnight, and I know I'm not the only one. So in the depths of quarantine, my mind screamed and shouted and searched for a way to break out of the monotony of my new all-things-at-home routine.

The solution? Spend quarantine months prepping for old dreams to come true. I can't take credit for pulling the trigger on such a massive purchase, but we now have a 6x10 cargo trailer in our driveway!

Even before Brian and I met in 2017, we both had dreams of experiencing the country, road trip style. (A deep love for travel was actually the first thing we connected on the night we met.) And three years later in September 2020, we finally bought an empty trailer to convert into our very own mini, oasis-on-wheels.


Defining our Budget

If you know me, you know I'm a planner. I reverse engineer everything. I ask way too many questions, need more information than the average person to make decisions, and always do my research. (Hello? Librarian.) So it made sense to me to start this potentially (very likely) overwhelming project by deciding how much we were willing to spend in order to build trailer guts that fit our camping needs.

So of course we made a spreadsheet 🤓

It includes several customizable pages to track needed materials, installation dates, and inspirational ideas.

Our main sections initially included:

  • Windows

  • For the Poops

  • Electrical

  • Insulation

  • Paneling

  • Luxury Items

  • Miscellaneous Tools

For each section we decided to track:

  • Material

  • Quantity

  • Cost Estimate

  • Actual Cost

  • Weight

  • Purchased From

  • Confirmation/Receipt

  • Installation Dates

  • Notes

  • Product Link

It is our goal to spend no more than a total of $7,000 - including the initial cost of the trailer - and so far this spreadsheet is helping us stay on track!


Determining our Camping Needs

We reached the decision of a $7,000 limit by asking and honestly answering questions about how we ultimately see ourselves using the trailer. As my cousin wrote to me in an email, "Are you camping out of it, traveling lots of miles, or living in it? Do you need 120V AC, or just USB ports? Do you need freeze-proof plumbing? Where will you be parking it? Will you be dirt-bag stealth, or Margaritaville RV-style?"

So many questions! Things got overwhelming quickly.

What we ultimately decided was that our trailer would not replace a real home, but rather be an extension of it, a get-away. After some discussion, we learned that our camping needs fall somewhere between "dirt-bag stealth" and "Margaritaville RV-style." We need a space designed to sleep two humans, a medium sized dog and a cat during weekend campouts and longer trips on the road to destination national park vacations. We want some amenities like a sink and a toilet and lighting but are genuinely fine with a simple design without a bunch of bells and whistles.

Function over form - but what form we do have must contain adequate storage and be aesthetically pleasing.


Drawing our Initial Layout Designs

Sketching our ideas has been so important for staying organized, remaining focused, and effectively communicating how we envision our final product to look.

We plan on installing a couple windows to let in natural light, placing the bed in the back near the barn doors, laying down vinyl flooring, putting a partition of some kind between the living space and the toilet, putting a 25 gallon water tank under the bed, and using the triangle portion near the front as a kitchen area.

There is still a lot to figure out - especially when it comes to the water pump and rudimentary electricity. (Battery packs? Solar? [oof that's expensive...] What is the best way to run wires?) Even some of our favorite build ideas in the beginning have since needed to be modified as we better understand our own limitations in the building process. For example, we first thought that we wanted a slide out slat bed but have decided a bench-to-bed model is not only more easily constructed, but also more conducive to our needs while still maximizing space and storage. This big change taught me quickly that it's important to remain flexible and adaptable throughout this whole process. Plans will change.


During the cold, snowy winter months (and we got a ton of snow this year on the east coast!), installation was at a standstill. So as a way to stay excited about the project and interact with the layout designs on a deeper level, I decided to make sense of our scratches and scribbles with not-quite-to-scale watercolor swatch illustrations:

This first painting went on to be used in my #bulletjournal during the month of February 2021.

I photocopied several copies from the original to cut up and use throughout my spreads with craft paper. It was so much fun!

Watch the full Plan with Me video HERE!


Up Next:

  • Insulation Installation

  • Cassette Toilet

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