A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

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A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Tue Feb 27, 2018 10:05 pm

Hello,

I have a family of four: my wife, myself and our two children. We like to go camping in the spring and fall and we have taken one family road trip with a camper. In the last four years we have owned four campers. One pick up camper, one pop up camper, one hybrid and my favorite of the four one single axle Viking Northwind (it was not a pop up camper with slide out beds, it is worth googling, the top does pop up but only 18-20 inches which creates standing room, similar to a Hunter fiberglass trailer but bigger, it had a table and bunks for four)

Each of the campers had their pros and cons.

My wife and I have developed criteria for what we need for our family in a camper trailer. Having been unable to find a trailer matching our criteria exactly I have decided to build it for us and I have my wife's support. She is an awesome and patient woman. We have been together since we were 17. I met her at 15, she wouldn't go out drinking beers with me then though. By the time we were 17 she had warmed up.

Our criteria:
We want to be able to stand up in it.
We all want our own beds, that means four single bunks.
We want to have our beds made and a table for four set up at the same time.
We want a kitchenette with about 5 gallons of fresh water, a tiny sink, a two burner stove top, a furnace and a small 2 cubic foot refrigerator., all inside the camper.
We want each bunk to have a small window and to be open to the center of the camper (no coffin bunks) and they should have as much head room as possible, especilly the two for the adults.
We want it to be under 2000lbs.
It would be nice if it wasn't horribly ugly, if we could get a "good t 20 feet" rating we'd be ecstatic.
We want a trailer hitch on the back to carry four bikes, one for each of us.

We do not want a bathroom, we see it as wasted space/extra weight. We can pee outside almost anywhere. Most campgrounds we go to have bathroom facilities. Who wants to poop in a tiny box with three other people? This is not prison! Who want to be in a tiny box with another person defecating? Not me. Yeah, no bathroom in my camper. I don't want the option to be there. Sorry to be explicit but lets just confront the reality of what we are talking about. Towing human waste around american highways, talk about a waste of energy and resources, not to mention added complexity and inconvenience.

We want to build it for as cheap as possible. My wife and I are both RNs, we are not rich, but by saving our money and budgeting wisely we are able to provide some cool experiences for our children. I spend a lot of energy buying and reselling most of our toys, vehicles etc. (Rule number 1 to financial independence, do not finance anything that does not appreciate faster than the interest on the loan) Believe me, if the prices were the same we would just be vacationing in luxury hotel rooms. Luxury hotels are not in our budget, we are value conscious which enables us to do and see more, so camping road trips it is. Plus we all get along well and we do enjoy camping too, it is just a little more work. I've been camping since I was a little boy both with family and friends. My brother camps with a tarp and a wool blanket. No joke.

Campers make camping a little easier, and comfortable, or at least they should. Ease and convenience of use were huge motivators driving our rough design ideas concerning this little simple camper. We tried to take ideas we liked from our previous experiences and have tried to identify what we saw as detractors from each of the camper designs we have owned to make sure they are left out. Over all we found most of the "luxury" type of stuff is not really worth the effort. What you really want is just what you need to be comfortable, clean dry warm beds, a social area to eat and play games in the rain and some food and water. I'll include a radio too but it wont be huge and it wont be on all the time either.

The camper I am building will be made of foam. I will use thin ripped plywood 1x3 strip pieces pocket screwed together for an internal frame which I will attach the foam wall and roof panels too. (I'll kind of build it from the inside out on top of the floor platform) I'll skin the whole thing in glue and canvas (thank you YouTube and to all of the people on there who have taught me how to do this). Thanks to you, the reader, for taking the time to check this out. I hope you enjoy it as I have enjoyed reading soo many other build posts. I'm glad to finally be part of a community like this so I can gain and share ideas about how to make these things work. I hope I can add some small thing of value too. I hope the camper I build will be much more durable than anything I could buy, cost much less money, be at least as functional and will be a good example of why it is worth building something for yourself. If successful my family and I will take this camper from coast to coast before my kids are grown.

This is my huge long intro. If you are still with me thank you for reading this. Don't worry, the rest of my posts should be much shorter. I'll even have some pictures.

So here we go!
Last edited by Bruue1 on Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A Tiny Trave Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Tue Feb 27, 2018 10:13 pm

Just to get things rolling here is the picture of the pop up camper I purchased as my "donor". It is a 1994 Starcraft Starlounge 1224. I bought it on craigslist for $400. There is not title.

I have now stripped it to its frame. It has a functioning furnace, fridge, power inverter.

It also had a water tank which was broken, and a stove top which is way too huge.

I sold the canvas off of it for $460 on ebay.
I sold the bag awning off of it for $100 on craigslist.
I sold the stove top on ebay for at least $65 (the auction is still going)

So far this project is making money, not counting labor. :twisted:

I'm feeling good about it, this is gonna go fast
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Re: A Tiny Trave Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Tue Feb 27, 2018 10:23 pm

Here are some pics of tearing the camper down.

One pic is of the furnace, fridge and inverter all of which are just an awesome score from this camper.
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Re: A Tiny Trave Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby pchast » Tue Feb 27, 2018 10:26 pm

Thats a real good start. :D
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Re: A Tiny Trave Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Tue Feb 27, 2018 10:34 pm

Here are some pictures of the frame prep. I think something is wrong with my wire brush wheel in the middle picture... :shock: :?

So my next step with this is to weld some raw receiver stock into the frame, I want the receiver to protrude through the rear bumper. ( for the bike carrier, rather than build some huge custom bike older I figured a 2 inch receiver would be more versatile)

I've only done very minimal welding and it was all with an eighties vintage Craftsman/Sears 115v AC buzz box I got fro free from a friend who got it free from his neighbor etc...

Just today I ordered a Amico160amp DC Inverter off of Amazon for $170. It got great reviews. I'm hoping to get practiced up once it gets here and to make some passable welds to attach this 2 inch receiver hitch to the trailer.

I know to clean the metal and use 6011 and 7018 rod for almost everything... any welding advice beyond that would be greatly appreciated. I should be welding this Fri/Sat if Amazon delivers on time.

Thanks for the support pchast! I'll stay on the project and should be posting some good progress photos as we go. :thumbsup:
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Wed Feb 28, 2018 5:23 pm

I got a lot done today. I included three pics with this post, the beginning, the fab work and the end of my 6 hour day. I'm sure someone with more experience could have done it much quicker. I think today brings my total hours of labor on this project to 20.

So I got some receiver stock off of Amazon, it came in a box with a CURT logo on it. The total price was $60, free shipping. It is raw steel, 48 inches long, there is a collar on the end and the pin holes are already drilled through it. I did put a hitch in it just to be sure, yes it did fit just like it should.

I fabbed up a plate and some brackets with rusty scrap that had originally been bolted onto the pop up camper. Now it is a set of clean install brackets for this hitch.

Everything is clean and ready to weld. Hopefully my little Amico 160amp DC welder will arrive on time from Amazon and this will be welded together by the end of the weekend. Then we can prime, paint and figure out the floor. :thumbsup:

I do have many more pictures showing individual steps. I'm posting slide show videos of this build on our little YouTube channel TheBruceVlogs. We have like 20 videos and 18 subscribers. It is not a big deal. We really only have it because my boy loves YouTube and wants to be on it himself. But there are a couple build videos on there. I do have the "Camper Build Part 1: Deconstruction" slide show for this project posted already, here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ub71z-AlDQ .

Rock N Roll
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Don L. » Wed Feb 28, 2018 7:01 pm

Hi and Welcome!

You look like you are off to a great start! And importantly you know what you want based upon past camping experience.

My first thought was did you have any old camper parts (fridge, windows, door, sink, heater, water tank, water pump)? It looks like you have saved what you can use from the pop up which is great.

On my build I scored some jalousied windows and a door which worked perfectly on the 2" foam. Windows by the beds are good.

What is your tow vehicle? Are you concerned about the height of the camper?

On mine I had fewer cross members in the floor so I removed one cross member and screwed the 3/4" plywood floor to the underside of the frame (in the standing area). It is more work but saves a little in height.

We seem to have similar requirements for camping in a trailer. I have no bath. I wanted beds, bunk and dining table and benches to stay in place for normal use.
My dining table will convert to a bed if needed but normally it won't. Our family is me, my bride and my son.

I like your idea of building a frame to attach the foam to. Since your trailer is 20' it will need some overall structural rigidity the the foam does not provide. I used all of the interior fixtures such as benches, beds dining table seats, ledgers, shelf supports, cabinets and wardrobe to provide a strong structure for the foam be supported by.

How will you attach the foam to the wooden frame?
Link to my foamie camper build viewtopic.php?f=55&t=67321
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Wed Feb 28, 2018 8:44 pm

Hello Don L,

Thanks for checking this out.

This pop up did come with a fully functional 3way fridge, furnace and power inverter. Yeah we're pretty stoked about reusing them. They really made this pop up the right camper donor for us.

That sounds like a score on your windows and doors. I like that style of door. We had an aluminum screen door with full jealousy glass in our first house. One day some of the panes got broken. I remember bringing a good pane down to the local hardware store for reference, the guy pulled a dust covered box out from under his work bench in back and said he had not needed these in a long time. He pulled out some pieces and cut them to length right there for me. It was awesome. I went home and installed them directly into my door.

We are going to tow this with a 2nd gen AWD Toyota Highlander with the 3.5 V6 and the tow package. Supposedly rated for 5000lbs. My 3500lb hybrid definitely felt way too heavy behind it, even with the electric brakes I have added to the TW and the distribution/sway bar. The Highlander is a great vehicle though. I have some decent Cooper ATS tires on it. It has done some amazing things, some things where I think a 4wd might have dug down and gotten stuck.

We're not too worried about height. I do want to stay under the 14' bridge limit. :D Seriously though this thing will either be stored outside under a tarp or in a pole shed with a tall door. I don't want to be too ridiculous with the height. When we are done I want to stand in it without hitting my head but I don't need more than 2 or 3 inches above my head and I am 5' 11".

Thats a great idea about dropping the floor, just like in some of the old vintage trailers. I did think about it too. I also thought about building little storage spots in the floor too, but I'm just going to pass on that. I'd like to see pics of yours though. Sounds cool. Do you have a thread on this forum? Maybe I'll search a little for it.

Family camping is great. I really enjoy waking up in the mornings all in the same little spot. Just the time when everybody is just laying around giggling, laughing and whining about wanting to go back to sleep. The majik passes by the time people are brushing their teeth, but that moment is special. So is spending a night playing Clue or Monopoly stuck in a little camper riding out a rainstorm. The rest is cool too but its the little times when you're forced to be close that are cool. Kind of like a family in a tiny hut trying to make a go of it hundreds of years ago. They must have been close families.

This trailer is actually quite a bit under 20' The actual camper box area is 10' 11" give or take an inch. The Tongue is four feet long from the front crossmember to the tip of the hitch. The bumper adds another 10-12 inches and the receiver hitch 4 inches past that. So the camper box external dimensions are going to be 7' wide and almost 11' long.

The internal frame I plan on will be pretty wispy. Like flexible. Very minimal 1x3 plywood pocket screwed together. I'm actually going to build it like a big cheaply made cabinet carcass, the walls will lay flat on the wide side of the 1x3 plywood strips. I figure the walls will give the rigidity much more than the frame. Then once the walls are up I'll be able to add strips of plywood wherever I want crisscrossing as needed for the bunk beds, seating and cabinetry attachments. I will be as minimal in construction technique as I can be with the framing, cabinetry and seating to save on weight. I will also build it strong enough to be used and to last. Its a Catch 22.

I haven't decided how to do the roof yet. It will be slightly crowned. I don't want 3 inch pieces of plywood extending down into the camper. I'd like the interior roof to be smooth. I'm still working that out. I do have a few ideas I'm kicking around, including just filling the spaces between the joists with foam. The joists would be slightly curved pieces cut out of plywood and notched into, glued into and pocket screwed into the top rails of the side frames. This is probably how it will go.

I'll make each wall prior to placing on the trailer. I'll glue some foam panels together with butt joints. Cut the wall shape out of that. The interior surface of the foam wall will be laminated with some 1/8 inch plywood or hardboard (probably before it is cut to shape). I'm not going to have any curved interior surfaces so I'm leaning towards a nice ply which I can also stain and poly. So I'll glue and screw the wood ply interior surface right to the 3inch wide frame strips. When its all done I think it will be solid. Hope so anyways.

Around the windows and doors I'll have some 1/2 inch pieces of plywood recessed into and glues into the foam such that it is flush with the facing surface. This will provide good attachment points for screws.

So far I have some more modern windows, black with radius corners, which I have scored used off of craigslist. I would like the door and other windows to match. Some cheaper marine porthole windows might fit the bill for my bunk windows. If I can't get a craigslist deal on a door I'll end up building one. If I build the door it will probably be square.
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Don L. » Wed Feb 28, 2018 10:14 pm

Should be some pics here; viewtopic.php?f=55&t=67321 edit- that doesn't seem to work but the link at the bottom of my posts will.

I got my windows and door off craigslist too and they works well for the 2" foam walls.

My ceiling is foam, crowned , or cambered as I call it, as I glued it together. The roof went on last. The roof spans 78" and I did introduce some camber to the roof as it was built. The roof was last to go on so when I glued each 4' wide piece across it I pushed the pieces up with a prop, beveled the sidewalls slightly and screwed it down on the walls until the glue cured.

Not trusting that to really hold, there is a floor to ceiling wardrobe/shelf unit that supports the ceiling. The ceiling was covered in a layer of 1/4" plywood which helps spread out the stress too.
I have noticed that the side opposite the wardrobe where it is not supported floor to ceiling lost some camber. So comparatively it looks like a sag but does not pond water.

Yeah, dropping the floor really adds work.

You will like a pre-fab door with a screen door with it. Just the frame of the door stiffens up the walls greatly.

For attaching things around door and window jambs I cut a kerf into the 2" foam with a little drill mounted circular saw or a soldering iron and stuck/glued either some 1/4" ply into the kerf or a piece of 't' shaped metal (used to hang suspended ceiling tiles) which gives the screws something to grab onto.
Last edited by Don L. on Sat Mar 10, 2018 2:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Thu Mar 01, 2018 8:48 pm

I do hope I can find a nice pre fab door with radius corners within a 150 miles of my house by the time I'm building walls. I'm hoping for more windows too. I don't want to pay new prices or even scratch and dent prices.

I have very little experience cutting foam, I'm going to have to start practicing. What did you find works best?

I did see your post yesterday, I found the link by clicking on your name. I left a short message. I think your camper looks awesome I love the shape and the paint.
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby GPW » Fri Mar 02, 2018 6:15 am

You know , if you give your locations , members could help each other with parts if locally close together… :thinking: And you could arange to Help each other with builds …
Bru’, a simple frame Plus foam walls makes a very strong structure...
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 8:42 am

Right on man. I did see the blog about the foam stream. Are you the builder? Good job! I went through the entire build thread a month ago before I became a member here. The shape is great and the exterior finish looks seamless. I'll be ironing out my canvas overlap areas for sure. If I can't get them smooth enough that way I might find something to feather over the seams as well. :)

I saw you built your own door, it looked solid, I like the drip flashing/cap above the door too. How is the entry door working now, years later? If I can't find a deal on a door I'll end up having to build one too.

Thanks for checking this out

Hopefully I'll be welding that receiver hitch on by tomorrow. My little cheap Amazon welder should be showing up on the door sometime today. Fingers crossed. :thumbsup:
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby swoody126 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 8:55 am

GPW wrote:You know , if you give your locations , members could help each other with parts if locally close together… :thinking: And you could arange to Help each other with builds …
Bru’, a simple frame Plus foam walls makes a very strong structure...


GPW, i would like togo back to your build thread

would you be so kind as to provide a link (since my searching adventure this morning was fruitless)

thanks

sw
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby GPW » Fri Mar 02, 2018 6:45 pm

Bru , After 4 years living Outside , we’re still in tip top shape , no leaks and no rot, no delamination … :thumbsup: This was my second Foamie … Bigger ,more comfortable for the wife … The door works great , no leaks and it’s so tight , it whistles when you close it … :o
Since we have this for EVAC , we must depend on it every year … Why we built a foamie as nothing else lasted as well living outside , uncovered…  ;)
We even tried a Jayco , and it didn’t even make it through the warranty period without leaking and rotting …despite the friendly assurances of the Dealer that it would be just fine … :roll:

Swoody , try here… viewtopic.php?f=55&t=45027
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Re: A Tiny Travel Trailer for a Family of Four

Postby Bruue1 » Fri Mar 02, 2018 7:43 pm

GPW Thats great. I hear ya and I believe it. I can't find anything mass produced that looks like it would last. Every used camper I had had some problem somewhere. I figure owning a manufactured camper is more about managing and minimizing leaks and rot than 100% preventing them. Except maybe those all aluminum LivinLite trailers but for all aluminum they have gotten pretty heavy. Each one looks like a mini mansion to me. :?

I'm glad I decided to go with foam and canvas I'm sure its the best choice for us. I kicked around the idea of fiberglassing but even the Scamps and Casitas end up with stress cracks and I am sure those guys are much better at fiberglassing than I would be on my first run at it.

Foam and canvas it is. I'll probably end up building a door too. It would be much cheaper. Spend the money on windows.
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