For those who thought living in a 41ft sailboat was crazily small for our family of four, now you may think we’re insane. We have moved to even tinier living, our 23ft travel trailer!
Going from boat to trailer is actually a pretty popular trend among sailors. Most of their trailers do move though, almost like land-sailing. Ours, on the other hand, is parked in one spot where it will stay permanently because she is an old beast that rattles and shakes and may not have many kilometres left in her anyways.
Lucky for us we have a lot of experience in living in tight quarters. After years on the boat, making the transition from sailboat to trailer has not been difficult at all. Many of the skills we learned to make live-aboard life enjoyable are very transferable to trailer living.
Whether you are considering living in a trailer for just a short period of time, like for some summer camping, or on a more permanent basis, here are some things to ensure everyone leaves the experience with happy memories.
These tips can also help if you are looking to minimize “stuff” in your life, live with less, and still be happy.
It’s very important that everyone feel they have their own space.
In our trailer, the only “personal” space our girls get is in their bunks. And even that they sometimes share between the two of them. But we can guarantee that that space is theirs. There is no way I am climbing into that upper bunk for anything other than when switching out the sheets.
In their bunks they have their toys, books, and some personal momentos, like pictures of friends from our numerous travels and gifts they have received.
Eben and I only get “personal space” once the girls go to bed. Then we have our bed to ourselves. The rest of the day our bed serves as a comfy reading spot, a fort of blankets to keep warm, or a place to sit and talk.
The layout of the trailer is even more important than it’s size. When we were trailer shopping we wanted to make sure everyone had sufficient space, and that we could live without being, literally, one on top of the other. Even though our trailer is only 23ft it is very well setup. The girls have their bunk beds at the one end, and Eben and I having our bed at the opposite end. Some adult privacy goes a long way in feeling comfortable living in a trailer!
Even though our indoor living space is small, we have 72acres of forest and clearings around us that the kids can freely roam. That is more than enough space, and the kids usually stay in the 1 acre around our place anyways!
Other than meals and sleep time, we are not often all inside the trailer at once. The girls are usually outdoors playing with their cousins, Eben is off working on some project, and I am roaming between the them all.
I admit that in the winter time, if we weren’t brave enough to go play outside, the trailer could start feeling a little cramped. But kids will be kids, layer on some more clothes and they will be outside until their fingers are numb.
Stay Clean And Orderly
One of the main ways to keep a small space feeling bigger, is to make sure that every item has a home. With 4 people living in 23ft of space, things cannot be left laying about. The mess would become overwhelming.
Cleanliness is key. And a great way to keep things clean is by having A LOT of storage. If your trailer doesn’t come with a ton of cupboards (ours doesn’t), you can easily create more storage space with bins.
Each of the girls have solid plastic bins at the foot of their beds where they keep their books, stuffies, and toys. We have handy collapsible Ikea bins above our bed for all of our clothing and extra stuff. These same bins are in the bottom of our one closet for extra divided storage for some of the girls clothing. We even have airtight bins for our dried food (cereals and such) to keep the mice away.
A friend of mine who does a lot of summer trailer camping also gave me the good tip of buying one of those hanging shoe storage units, to hang in our one closet to give us makeshift shelves for the girls clothes. Brilliant!
Another item that makes a huge difference in the cleanliness of our trailer is our entrance mats (plural). We have a large outdoor mat by the front entrance where everyone can remove their shoes before entering the trailer, and a second indoor mat to remove any crud people may have stuck to their feet.
I still sweep the trailer with our mini broom once a day because grass and dirt always find their way in, but those mats are a huge help in reducing the mess and keeping the trailer feeling clean.
Although these are hugely wasteful, I am a fan of Clorox wipes. I learned this trick from a “charter” friend. Having a container of wipes in the bathroom and kitchen makes for super quick and easy cleaning. Pull out a wipe, wipe down surfaces, throw away. I know, wasteful. But the ease of it is astounding.
Be Aware Of Your Power/Water/Septic Needs
If you are not plugged in at a trailer park, then you are most likely off-grid. Being aware of your water and power usage, and your septic situation, is crucial.
No one likes running out of water halfway through doing the dishes, or not being able to charge their phone and stay connected with the outside world. Staying on top of these power and water necessities will keep a smile on everyone’s face.
Eben set up our trailer to be powered off of solar panels and a battery bank, just like on the sailboat. We also have an portable generator in the event that we need more power. (We used the generator more often last fall when we were working our batteries hard keeping the trailer warm, but this summer we have yet to pull it out).
Because of the permanence of our spot we have made a big alterations to our trailer. We removed the toilet all together and replaced it with an “indoor outhouse”, i.e. a bucket with toilet seat in which you do your business and then cover with sawdust. Once the bucket is full, you dump it in a contained waste pile outdoors, and repeat.
We have quite a large shower and bath in our trailer but don’t use it because the amount of water we would gobble up would be too much. Instead we use the sauna that Eben’s brother, Jair, built on their property. The water comes from rain catchment and a nearby river, it gets heated over a wood stove, and then you bucket wash inside the warm sauna.
Without trailer mobility, getting fresh water here is a bit of a community process. There is one water truck on the property. To fill it someone drives down to the nearby river and collects the glacier runoff fresh water. Then we can fill our personal tanks.
We use this water for everything; cleaning, cooking, drinking. We got a Viqua UV filter to kill any of the bugs the water may be carrying, although, to date, no one has gotten sick from the water. But lets err on the safe side.
All this may seem slightly primitive, and not applicable to most moving travel trailers. But for us it is the best way to live off-grid, in a non-mobile trailer, and be environmentally friendly.
I think it’s safe to say that a good night’s sleep is necessary for a good mood. Unless you have a top of the line trailer, I doubt your bed is the comfiest ever. But there are ways around that.
We have friends that replaced the mattresses in their trailer with custom ones. Sure this is great if you can afford it, but it can also be costly. Instead we simply added mattress toppers to our beds.
A combination of comfy beds warm duvet blankets give us the best opportunity at sleep. Now if only the girls would stop with their sleep talking and night terrors Eben and I might get a decent rest!
Dark sheets are also a good idea. Although I love my white bedding, it’s just not smart. If you are not showering daily and spending a lot of time outdoors, chances are your white sheets would get filthy real quick. Yes the dark sheets get just as filthy, but if I can’t see it then I feel somewhat better until the next laundry day!
On the boat we had to worry about cockroaches, in the trailer we have to worry about mice. There are pests no matter where we go!
When we moved into the trailer I did a lot of research on keeping critters at bay. Some may be wive’s tails, some may actually work, but I didn’t care, I did them all. Better be over protected than not enough!
I cut up Irish Spring soap and put in every nook and cranny of the trailer, and I also hid Bounce dryer sheets in random spots (apparently mice hate the smell of these things). I bought a lot of mouse traps and have them in warm, dark, corners. And we have our food in airtight bins.
For the mosquitos we have screens on the windows, door, and hatches. I am constantly on everyone’s case to get in and out of the trailer as fast as possible. Do not let those blood suckers fly in the open door.
Last season we had a fly issue in our trailer. When we bought it the thing was FULL of dead and live flies. So I have a toxic spray can of One Shot to deal with them. I think I have killed most of them off because they are not as present this year.
To keep larger animals away, all food stays inside the trailer and our garbage gets locked up, out of reach. (We have a black bear that sometime shows up on the property.)
The Small Touches
Finally, to make your trailer feel comfortable, the small things are also needed. What are your creature comforts? Coffee? Get a good french press. Warm feet? Buy some comfy slippers. Decorate it as much as you can and make it feel like home.
It wasn’t smart to pour a bunch of money into our trailer. We are in the process of building ourselves a house in Canada and will be moving to Mexico in the fall. Because of this my budget for “decorating” the trailer was small-to-minimal. I stuck to bedding and throw pillows (since those can be transferred into the house later on).
Prepping for a winter in the trailer is a bit more intense. We did some of it last fall. But I’m not going to delve into that now because that would make this post go on forever!
These tips should suffice to help you minimize the stuff you have and the living space you think you need.
Our family is totally happy living in a 23ft trailer. We question ourselves often about the footprint of the house we are starting to build. I can tell you now, we have already made a huge adjustment to the house plans. We’re super excited about them.
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