Camping or Living: RVs as Tiny Houses

Recently my wife and I purchased a 27′ travel trailer and submerged ourselves into the nomadic lifestyle. And while it seemed as much like tiny house living as our actual tiny house trailer we soon realized it came with its own culture, own nuances, and own history; and a rich history at that!

In 2010 the recreational vehicle turned 100 years old. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), about 8.9 million households now own RVs. The typical RVer was 48 years old and earned a median income of $62,000. Among those under the age of 35, ownership rates are steady at 4.9%. According the last publicized study – a 2005 study at the University of Michigan – about 450,000 of typical RVers are full-timers. But there remains some undercurrent controversy about whether or not an RV is a tiny house. 

Says Ryan Harris, tiny house builder, blogger, and outspoken tiny house enthusiast, “A home is anywhere you hang your hat and feel comfortable and secure, so in that sense, an RV could certainly feel like a tiny home. Unfortunately, most RV’s [off the lot] are built very poorly, with flimsy materials and are not usually customized to the owner or by the owner, so in reality, for most people an RV makes a poor substitute for a tiny house and will never feel like a true home.” Not a glowing endorsement for RV living but a valid point and one held by a number of tiny house enthusiasts. On the other hand Kristin Snow who together with her husband Jason both lives and works out of a renovated and personalized 1965 Airstream Overlander notes, “We absolutely consider our Airstream to be a tiny house – just one that moves around more than most! Our goal in renovating and moving into our trailer was to embrace minimalistic living and simplify life as much as possible. Being able to use it for economical travel was the deciding factor in going with an RV versus a tiny house for now. Seeing as much of the country as possible for a few years will help us in deciding where, if anywhere, we want to settle down someday – probably in a tiny house!”

Photo credited to Evan and Gabby.

Photo credited to Evan and Gabby.

Kristin and Jason Snow towing their 1965 Airstream Overlander down historic Route 66.

Kristin and Jason Snow towing their 1965 Airstream Overlander down historic Route 66.

Whatever side of the debate one rests on the fact remains that drivers began making camping alterations to cars almost as soon as they rolled off the line. The first automobile marketed as a recreation vehicle was Pierce-Arrow’s Touring Landau, which debuted at Madison Square Garden in 1910. The Landau had a back seat that folded into a bed, an on-board chamber pot/toilet, and a sink that folded down from the back of the seat of the chauffeur, who was connected to his passengers via telephone. Camping trailers made by Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers also rolled off the assembly line beginning in 1910. By the start of the Roaring 20’s, dozens of manufacturers were producing what were then called auto campers. Before then people camped in private rail cars that were pulled along train routes by commercial engines. RVs allowed a certain freedom not yet seen. They allowed people to go where they wanted whether a rail existed or not!

NOTE: The Tin Can Tourists (a named derived from their habit of heating tin cans of food on gasoline stoves by the roadside) formed the first camping club in the United States. The club grew to include over  150,000 members by the mid-1930s. They had an initiation ritual, an official song, “The More We Get Together;” and a secret handshake. They can easily be seen as the predecessors of the Good Sam club of today as well as other niche groups that cater to RV make/model enthusiasts.

TinCan
RV camping and RVs in general really became popular though thanks to a group of men who called themselves Vagabonds. “The men – Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burroughs – caravaned in simple cars on annual camping excursions from around 1913 to the mid 1920s.” (Smithsonian.com) Their adventures solicited national attention. The trips were well covered by national media outlets and in turn sparked interest in other motorists to go car camping. With the funds to match their sense of adventure, the Vagabonds took such camping to new extremes bringing with them a custom Lincoln truck outfitted as a camp kitchen. While the men slept in tents they were showing that life lived on the road could be as fun and glamorous as life in the penthouses of New York and mansions of everywhere in between. They were the initial advocates of the RV lifestyle. The nation was being overtaken by the notion of taking your home with you and stopping wherever you wanted without sacrificing the comforts of your own home. The movement would become so popular in fact, that CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt would later capture this road romance with his “On The Road” series that began in 1967 and lasted some 25 years, causing him to wear out several motorhomes and cover some million miles.

CBS newsman Charles Kuralt is shown reading a map in the driver's seat of his "On The Road" motorhome. (AP Photo/File)

CBS newsman Charles Kuralt is shown reading a map in the driver’s seat of his “On The Road” motorhome. (AP Photo/File)

As Wall Street crashed in 1929 the Depression had its way with the RV lifestyle as well. Finding their way off the road some people began using travel trailers, which could be purchased for as little as $500 to $1,000, as inexpensive homes. This is the first time the United States becomes familiar with the notion of full-time living in a rather unconventional home.

War time rationing in the 1940s stopped production of consumer RVs, although – like many other types of companies – some trailer companies converted to wartime manufacturing, making rigs that served as mobile hospitals, triages, transports and even morgues. This usage didn’t last long after the war as returning soldiers on limited incomes craved the outdoor life as well as inexpensive vacation methods. The Interstate Highway System, having begun construction in 1956 offered all Americans a relatively safe and fast way to travel further than trains ran and causing a renaissance in the RV market. 

By the late 1950s motorhomes began to find their way to the market (albeit a far less popular one) due to price and availability. They were seen as more of a luxury though and even for the upper-middle class exclusively. That completely changed in 1967 though when Winnebago began mass-producing motorhomes labeled “America’s first family of motor homes” – between 16 to 27 feet long – which could sell for as little as $5,000 ($34,400.00 by today’s standards.) By this point heating and air conditioning had been introduced into RVs as well as on-board refrigeration and sanitation stations. No longer was camping considered a roadside novelty for families living on a dime. They had become more like homes than ever! Homes on wheels!

Molded from two giant halves, the Dodge/Travcos had a distinctive ridge in the middle where they met.

Molded from two giant halves, the Dodge/Travcos had a distinctive ridge in the middle where they met.

Perhaps though the most notable part of RVs is that they have changed design as technology has changed. Motorhomes and travel trailers on the market today include such amenities as satellite television, washers and dryers, shower stalls, work desks, and even fireplaces. They are more like a sticks ‘n bricks home than ever. And while they are completely portable and in a very simplistic way they still offer RVers what they want the most; the feeling of home and the ability to explore the open road. 

The dress code is casual. The drinks are always cold. The bathroom is but a door away. And the amenities of a larger sticks ‘n bricks are included by simplified in a mobile and tiny way.

Authors Note: Historical parts and timelining gathere from the Smithsonian.com.

 

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

48 Comments Camping or Living: RVs as Tiny Houses

  1. John Mauldin

    I must say I REALLY enjoyed this article! VERY well written and very factual.
    My love of the outdoors and travel led me to become involved in RVing at an early age. I began the RV lifestyle when I bought my first camper, a pretty remarkable popup that fit on the top of my new Ford Maverick, as a teenager. From that time until today, my love affair with RVing has not waned. In fact, some years ago, I abandoned my beautiful lake home for full-time RVing.
    In late 2003, after owning pop-ups, travel trailers, a class A RV, I purchased a KZ Sportsman fifth-wheel I still own today. And though many of the travel trailers of today are still what I consider to be slightly above “junk” in terms of the construction, the Sportsman has been the best investment in a quality RV I have ever made. It remains an excellent mode of transportation today.
    Still, I must admit tiny homes in many ways are what I would consider a “cut above” RV’s due to the individual styling as well as the quality of construction unavailable in all but a few RV’s.
    I personally like the idea of having a “tiny home” that offers the insulation from the elements almost non-existent with the typical travel trailer or other form of RV. Further, the more traditional “look” of a tiny house is very eye-appealing. To have a portable home on wheels means, to me, having the “best of both worlds”.
    As you state,”…..we soon realized it came with its own culture, own nuances, and own history; and a rich history at that!”, there is a camaraderie among those who enjoy the RV lifestyle that is missing in other dwellings. I have truly never met a more diversified group of individuals that those who enjoy the RV lifestyle. Most anywhere I have ever traveled. people are generally warm and welcoming and share the common enjoyment and enthusiasm of “life on the road” in an RV.
    My only complaint, if there is one, with the tiny house on wheels is the wind resistance and, as a result, the added cost of transportation, i.e.: gasoline to pull a tiny house vs. a travel trailer. There is no way around that issue. I have, however, compensated by owning a one-ton diesel truck with various modifications like oversize exhaust air induction and the like resulting in excellent pulling power and diminished gasoline consumption. (NOTE: In my estimation, far too many tiny house owners use undersized “rigs”)
    Regardless of whether you own an RV or a tiny house, the fascinations…..living minimal while having the ability to transport your living quarters to any place you desire to visit or land are key to this lifestyle.
    To have your own bathroom, your own bed, your own place to store and prepare food or relax in your own familiar surroundings are rewards I will never do without. Trailer Parts and Accessories

    Reply
    1. Andrew Odom

      Thank you so much for the kind words and affirmation John. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it!

      You are right. 95% of tiny homes are a “cut above” most RVs. However, they still lend themselves to tiny house history as we have adopted so many RV traits to the tiny house lifestyle. Everything from storage to building on a trailer with a hitch has come directly from the recreation vehicle influence.

      And boy did you hit a point with your notion of the wind resistance and how it effects portability and economy. You couldn’t be more right. Thank you again!

      Home is where you park it!

      Reply
  2. crowDogWidow

    My Airstream will most definitely serve as my tiny home. It has never been intended to be used for anything but. Full timing is what I got her for, as she was more accessible to me than a tiny house of wood was, from a financial standpoint, and less difficult to deal with in terms of legislation that would prevent me from living as I wish to live, on my own terms. Free. A Vagabond. Nomad. or at least with the potential to be…as it suits me, finding community among others of a like mind.

    Reply
    1. John Mauldin

      With respect to your statement about “legislation”, it is very important to note that many tiny houses do not have a holding tank for water and sewer, a MAJOR mistake. In Texas, where I have my residence, an RV park cannot allow a tiny house to park if they do not have holding tanks and if the government happens to do an inspection, the RV park can lose their licensing as an RV park, which would, obviously, be devastating. Other than that, making sure the wiring is done by a licensed electrical contractor and that the trailer is not too wide or too high (DOT regs), you are generally out of the view of governmental regs. Again, the holding tanks are ESSENTIAL!

      Reply
    2. Bob Ratcliff

      While I find tiny houses absolutely charming, it’s the usual lack of holding tanks and cumbersome sizes that make me view this as an alternative lifestyle – but only if you’re hooking it to the ground on a permanent basis. For those who want to roll down the road such as I have been nearly ALL of my life, RV’s simply make better sense. For those who own higher quality such as beloved Airstreams or Holiday Ramblers, just look at how well they hold up after 30+ years of service. Many well designed tiny homes easily hit the average cost of a well built RV. Having lived years in RV’s, those were always my easiest days overall but now many RV parks are charging $300 or more per month. I personally find the monthly cost a poor value & waste when compared to those dollars being adding to a typical mortgage. Meanwhile I keep grabbing wonderful tiny house ideas that I’ll incorporate in my next two projects that’ll be a separate tea & guest house that’ll sit alongside our 114 farmhouse. Tiny house intimacy is priceless – almost, but darn worth going after no matter how or what style you call home.

      Reply
  3. Bob Ratcly homeiff

    While there are cheaper RV’s out there, to call the new Tiny Home a higher quality alternative, I find this statement an error. Many tiny homes cost $60,000 – $100,000. When you’re shopping for an RV in this price range, the quality of the rig goes through the roof. Just look at how Airstreams are manufactured including the dreaded water test. With “any” home you get what you paid for. Now for those brilliant people out there who can do the work themselves, they’re the perfect example of sweat equity that makes your house a home.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Odom

      And that is what it is all about indeed Bob; turning a house into a home! Thank you so much for commenting.

      Reply
      1. kim

        i so love the tiny house concept but practically i must be missing something.

        as bob points out, tiny houses aren’t cheap. if you have a lot of time, skill and materials on your hands that’s cool, but for me $35,000 to 50,000 is a ton of cash and not a wise investment for something that isn’t legal to live in.

        i live in arizona. i am no code expert. but from everything i’ve researched it isn’t legal to have a tiny house park (mostly?) anywhere as a residence. you can just go rogue with it, like slab city. or if someone privately lets you park on their land that has already been developed and the neighbors are cool. but like an rv, as a full time residence on a normal lot they aren’t to code.

        in the end i got a used 94 rv for 10k in a park in the mountains. it is by far the nicest home i’ve ever owned, with all the amenities, great people and the space rent is under $300.

        as for my tiny house dream research it seemed to me RVers have been doing it forever. but i am still learning about all this.

        thank you so much andrew for your article.

        Reply
  4. Freddie Walker

    An interesting article on RVs serving as houses. Anyone interested in this lifestyle will most certainly be interested in learning of the Escapees, or SKPs. an organization dedicated to serving folks who have chosen to live this way.

    http://www.escapees.com

    What is a SKP?
    SKP was originally used as an abbreviation of Escapees. (Say S-K-P fast and it sounds like Escapees.) Many members began calling themselves SKiPs because it was easier to say. It has become a commonly used nickname. Escapees (SKPs) are Special Kinds of People who are always ready to help each other, but S-K-P can more accurately be used to designate the three distinct concepts on which the club is built.

    S – Stands for Support
    One important benefit of Escapees is the support members get from each other as they travel. Because some Escapees travel long distances from their home base and families, and because they may be on the road for many months at a time, it is important to be part of an extended family of travelers. Support also includes the many benefits and optional services that the Escapees Club provides.

    K – Stands for Knowledge
    Members often say that the money-saving tips they get from Escapees magazine alone more than pay their annual dues. Learning is also the keynote of the annual Escapades. Going to an Escapade is like attending a concentrated five-day college course on RVing.

    P – Stands for Parking
    One thing that makes the Escapees RV Club different from other RV clubs is that it offers members places to park. In addition to home-base benefits for those who join an SKP Co-Op or Rainbow Park, all Escapees members may use short-term parking at Escapees parks. This includes Rainbow’s End campground, located at the international headquarters in Livingston, Texas.

    Helping Each Other
    Escapees RV Club has a strong caring tradition that is an important part of our support network. Escapees members are well known for their volunteer spirit. You will find Escapees involved in many of your favorite charities or helping someone who is in need.

    We also have an important tradition of helping fellow Escapees; wherever you see the house-in-a-wagon logo, you know there is a kindred soul. All Escapees are expected to honor the logo by giving the assistance they can when help is needed.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Odom

      I love the Escapees; the history and the present. Every one I have met has been a fine person indeed.

      Reply
  5. Kari

    I think I would prefer a 5th wheel since with the slide outs you would have more room. At 54, I do not consider a ladder loft which I have to crawl around in a bedroom. I thought there was a company in southern Texas that was building tiny homes with slide outs and using a new R60 wall insulation developed in California. Now that I would like. It had solar panels and a unit that made 30 gallons of water a day, so you could be OFF GRID, which is my dream. I want a small house, not a tiny closet.

    Reply
    1. Nancy @ Little Homestead in Boise

      Sounds like the way to go! The are very little truly off-grid RVs I’ve seen for sale. Most are heavily modified by owners. And then there’s being really off-road. I would do a Mercedes Benz Zetros tricked out with solar, and water making also…

      Reply
    2. Andrew Odom

      The only tiny house with slides I am aware of are those built by Tiny By Design in Central Tennessee. It showed up on Tiny House Listings over a year ago and to my knowledge never sold. I can’t find a website for the company so I honestly don’t know what became of that model. I also don’t know anything about the R60. I have never heard of such a product except in extreme attic conditions and even then it is just two layers of R30 batting. Sounds interesting.

      Reply
      1. Jay Olstead

        Dear Mr. Andrew Odom, Having just heard our name (or lack there of) mentioned by you, I wanted to weigh-in on the subject. We are the company, who, months ago, stated that our technologies and innovations would be available. After years of research, no longer is R&D our calling. It took some time, however, our time table was created by someone with a Higher Authority. For this, we have no apology. This week we are officially launching Ragsdale Homes ” Tiny Wheeled Estates”. We don’t classify our product as a tiny home. A small home on wheels doesn’t have to be tiny. Our prototype 8′ by 10′ Sunday House has 216 square feet, the most in the industry. Additionally, it can be pulled by an SUV, med size van, or a light weight truck. This week is logo, website, landing page, and a better face book week. First, we will begin to manufacturer our patent pending Faast Track trailer, featuring a convertible, adjustable building platform which will adjust to SIPS, wood studs, and metal studs. Our platform will adjust from 3 1/2 inches to 6 inches. Other features include our first, ever, torsion bar independent suspension, resulting in a 14 1/2 inch deck height allowing for a ceiling interior height up to 12′. Our building platform will adapt to a wood floor or an SIP floor. If someone is a die hard wood builder, then he or she can build their floor in 50% less time if utilizing our method including a thermal break, reduced thermal bridging, just to name a few. We, of course recommend our Hybrid aluminum and steel clad 2 lb foam floor with up to 3 times the insulation of a wood floor, 35% lighter and 65% lighter. Doesn”t that make sense? Our trailer is the only one where the floor is independent of the walls. This allows a builder to get creative. For example: You can build a home with a Sip floor, wood stud walls, sip roof. Or how about a sip floor, sip walls, and a wood roof? Get the picture? Multiple combinations, depending on what you want to achieve. How about our proprietary, integrated SIP/VIP panels, 4 inches thick with ” R” 60 insulation. Heat your home with a few candles or cool your home with an ordinary igloo cooler filled with ice and a household fan. Perhaps, I’m exaggerating just a bit. Additionally, borrowed from the race car industry, ladder bar trusses running the length of the trailer where the 4 corners are the weakest point. Additionally, 3 trusses running perpendicular to the length, reinforcing the outer edge where builders got the bright idea to cantilever their floor to obtain more square footage for more interior space. Or how about bump outs, storage rooms, porches, room extensions, hovering beyond the front and rear of the trailer. Was that trailer engineered for that? You be the judge. Our trailer, to my knowledge, is the only one mentions the word ” engineered ” by a structural Engineer. We are now working with other builders to include our ” Room Roll Outs ” for a retro fit into an existing home or for a future build, increasing the square footage of their home up to 40%. We now have 5 models:
        1. Contemporary
        2. Sunday House Cottage
        3. Mediterranean
        4. Mississippi Creole Colonial
        5. Beach, Coastal model

        And now our first, ever, double side by side building platform, available on a trailer or on Helical Coil foundation. This is our answer to the double wide modular home. Width is 16′ and the lengths are 20′ 24′ 26′ 28′ and 30′, combined with up to 4 ” Room Roll Outs ” allowing for up to 860 square feet for growing families. However, 400 to 600 square feet is the norm with our collapsible roof, stand up, upstairs rooms, fireplace, Gourmet kitchen, a full bath and a half bath, just to name a few. Construction will begin on our first home at Houston Makerspace, located in the arts district, downtown. Our construction will be featured on National Television between August and October. Contact us at ragsdalehomes@gmail.com or Ragsdalehomesfacebook(We’re working on it) We’ve attached some links to our four videos in TouTube.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BF7X-y4xaCI
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1ZLigv1usU
        ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRypAKRJjKg
        Ciao,
        Jay

        Reply
    3. Jay Olstead

      On this page, I commented in response to your concerns. We wrote more than one article on the technologies we’ve developed over the last three years.
      1.) water: We’ve developed a Tropospheric water precipitation generator, capable of producing up to 30 gallons of 99.8% pure water on board every 24 hours. Held in a holding tank with a capacity up to 100 gallons, a device recycles the water every 30 minutes through the filteration system.
      2. ” Room Roll Outs ” Available in 5 sizes with a roof design to compliment any design. Will increase the square footage up to 40%. Can be a retro fit into an existing home or for a new build. Can be shipped in a DIY kit.
      3. Proprietary building panels are SIP/VIP integrated hybrid panels 4 inches in thickness with ” R” 60 insulation.
      4. How about a 48 volt 11,000 BTU solar AC….would that interest you?

      Reply
    4. Barbara Kvistad

      Check out Idahomes. They build tiny houses w/stairs to loft, plus downstairs bedroom. And google tiny homes stairs to loft or something similar, and you’ll find more builders who do stairs to loft. Look up hOMe that has headroom in staired loft. Also, check listings on tinyhouselistings, where you’ll find many listings w/stairs and/or downstairs bedroom. One just got posted today!
      This is just some of what my two-weeks of research has netted. I prefer to stay w/stick builds on trailers that have nothing ‘new fangled.’ Roll outs can be tested on someone besides me.
      Happy hunting.

      Reply
  6. Otessa Regina Compton

    A TALK SHOW HOST BY THE NAME OF NEAL BOORTZ, HAS A LUXURY MOTOR HOME AND DOES MUCH TRAVELING, AND BOY YOU SHOULD SEE HIS MOTOR HOME, IT EVEN HAS A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN TRANSPORT A SMALL CAR. IT IS MUCH THE PLACE.

    Reply
  7. bob

    While I do agree that full time RV living can be just the same as any tiny house living experience. I don’t agree that a RV is the same as a Tiny House.

    IOW: you can live the tiny house lifestyle in a RV, but it’s still a RV, or in a tent, or in a cave, or even (gasp!) in a 3000 sqft modern stick built house if your family situation requires that. It’s about doing away with excess and minimizing at that point.

    A Tiny House building is very different than a RV other than they both, often, are on wheels. As much as a RV manufacturer or builder may like to claim that any RV is getting closer to being like a stick built house, it is still not a stick built house and has a very long way to go to become just like a stick built house. Whereas a Tiny House building, usually, IS just like a stick built house. And some are on a foundation, most are on a trailer bed, but all are just much smaller than a traditional stick built house.

    Having said that, it is possible to “rebuild” a RV to the point where it *becomes* a Tiny House building by significantly beefing up the structure, adding significant insulation, and improving included features to where there is nearly no difference. The foundation frame, as part of the base structure, would need significant improvement to support such other structural improvements needed to make it a true Tiny House building. There are those who have built a Tiny House on a RV frame but I question the long term durability or strength of doing so without significant improvements to the frame since the original design is for something much lighter and made for constant travel… unlike true Tiny House buildings which are really made only for very occasional travel. I would dare to say modern Manufactured Homes (mobile homes) are closer to Tiny House buildings than a RV, albeit very large in comparison.

    Reply
    1. John Mauldin

      With respect to your statement about “legislation”, it is very important to note that many tiny houses do not have a holding tank for water and sewer, a MAJOR mistake. In Texas, where I have my residence, an RV park cannot allow a tiny house to park if they do not have holding tanks and if the government happens to do an inspection, the RV park can lose their licensing as an RV park, which would, obviously, be devastating. Other than that, making sure the wiring is done by a licensed electrical contractor and that the trailer is not too wide or too high (DOT regs), you are generally out of the view of governmental regs. Again, the holding tanks are ESSENTIAL!

      Reply
  8. Nancy @ Little Homestead in Boise

    Fascinating history! I would add too- a lot of RV materials are unhealthy. Off gassing formaldehyde, poor ventilation, a lot of plastics. This came up with people living full time in RVs after Katrina. People started getting sick. I’ve also seen RV’s being built in films and it’s all about speed not quality. Cheaply made. Really the opposite of well-crafted tiny houses. My biggest problem, with either, is that very few people seem to be into self sufficiency, growing their own foods and storing it. They are completely dependent on city utilities and buy almost all of their foods. This is most of what I’ve read, and I’m sure there are exceptions. Not my thing…

    Reply
  9. Janis

    Motorhome vs. Tiny Home. My downsizing journey, at age 64, has everything to with cost. Like many of us, the recession touched me in devastating ways. Now, as I begin the birthing of my retirement years, the cost of building a tiny house is out of the question, even IF I could do all of the work myself. Downsizing has been no issue thanks to the great support at CometCamper.com e-course. In very little time I chose to buy a 1977 motorhome for $1,500. I got lucky. It came to me out of the blue and was in the best mechanical shape imaginable. My mechanic/friend told me to buy it simply because the mechanical care is so easy. NO electronics and I can have it repaired at any auto shop (HIS in particular) vs. the high expense of RV specialty care. The greatest gift is its age. It has out-gassed much of its toxins (I had it tested for mold and everything else) The plumbing is new, the roof sealed properly, new batteries, new toilet. I’m a raw-foodist so I may remove the stove/oven. The propane and heating system is great although I will go solar as much as possible. The only thing I am replacing is the flooring and the ceiling. I do need more insulation. It’s true that it isn’t built nearly (not even close) as well as a Tiny House but I can remedy all of the comfort issues.

    As I finish up my commitment of caring for my 90+ year old parents during their passing(s), deciding where to live will be my next decision. I can’t imagine traveling around the country looking for the right location to settle while pulling a Tiny House. I only want to “move” once, even if it takes me a year to find the right place. I own a small truck and I am not interested, financially or otherwise, in trading up to a full size truck (that I would end up having to drive full time instead of my economical small truck) just to pull a trailer of any kind. I can pull my small truck with my motorhome if need be.

    My final reason for choosing this motorhome is simple: When the day comes that it, too, will permanently “retire” I can remove all of its worn-out mechanics and plant a garden in a renovated engine compartment. Of course, I will be ready to start building my Tiny House by then and it will eventually take its permanent place as a guest house.

    Thanks for letting me tell my story.

    Reply
    1. Susan Garrett

      A positive attitude in the face of financial insecurity. Very refreshing, and it will help you realize your retirement dreams. Great job!

      Reply
  10. magdalena mccann

    Fascinating and well written article, thank you!
    I hadn’t known before about the origin of the
    organization called “Tin Can Tourists”. I had assumed that the can of ham shape of most vintage trailers had inspired the name. My 1964 Santa Fe is actually shaped more like a bread box but gives me much traveling and camping pleasure, from Burning Man to quiet remote places.

    Reply
  11. Michelle Wolff

    Thanks for writing this as it’s been my question as well. I kept asking myself why spend $60k on a wood home when for less I can practically get a palace? I love RVs and the nice ones are SUPER! I think also that we can get into an RV much sooner than say having a Tumbleweed home built for us and in my mind the sooner the better. Great article!

    Reply
    1. Andrew Odom

      Thank you so much Michelle for taking the time to read through the article. Personally I don’t have a favorite as we have now lived in both forms of tiny house. And I don’t think I will even begin to start a spreadsheet of pros and cons until we have lived on board a boat, called a teepee or yurt home, and then gave a year or so to a Pullman train car. :)

      Reply
      1. Yvonne

        Andrew–I never considered a boat, but great idea! Love the idea of a Yurt and the Pullman train car! Or how about a caboose? My all time dream: A Dymaxion!

        Reply
  12. Christine Lund

    I have a new My Pod by Little Guy and it serves me perfectly. It’s tiny, lightweight and comfortable for shorter people. It only sleeps two adults but it’s perfect for one person. At 490 pounds, gas mileage is barely affected except out in mountainous territory. No kitchen, no bathroom but I don’t find it necessary. A tent room on back gives me privacy at night. Why travel and cook when you pass lots of restaurants along the way? This camper has a/c, TV, radio, solar battery (extra for the charging panels but provides 600 or 1200 watts) and a charging station. It has a hookup for cable service and electricity, a trickle charger for the lights and ceiling fan. Tiny but perfect for me. It’s 5×11 but the inside of the trailer is only about 5×6. It’s just a place to sleep and be entertained.

    Reply
  13. Aaron Lamb

    I think is all a matter of portability vs the amount you move around. I’m not sure I would want to move a tiny house very frequently due to its aerodynamics and weight and especially and long distances.

    If I was moving around every 3 months I would say an AirStream would be more of a practical dwelling.

    I personally think I will downsize to an AirStream and build my next home on terra firma.

    Reply
  14. Suska Matsik

    Thanks for the wonderful article, I really enjoyed the historical perspective!
    I also wanted you to know that there are some RV’s out there that are extremely well built.
    I am the proud owner of a vintage , 1973, Blue Bird Wanderlodge. She has an all steel body, chrome bumpers and was built to the safety specs of the Blue Bird school buses. Same body, same chassis.
    Her endurance is remarkable and she is suited for full timing .
    She is truly my “Tiny House”

    Reply
  15. s

    I, at age 61 am beginning to become “annoyed” at the experts who think “tiny” is suddenly new and that RV’s are of inferior production.

    My mother, grew up in upstate NY… Platsburgh NY and was on a dairy farm. Later, after she passed (we then lived in S. Oregon) we transported her to her once farmland (now a cemetary) to be burried with her family. My uncles/aunts wanted to know if we (siblings) wanted to see their “farm home”. I was stunned at how small it was (very very small) and housed 8 people!

    The Tiny is not new if one knows one’s history and RV’s are not shoddy if one buys quality.

    Please be factual as many do no research and all media is basically owned (by a few at the top) – do some real dd.

    <>Says Ryan Harris, tiny house builder, blogger, and outspoken tiny house enthusiast, “A home is anywhere you hang your hat and feel comfortable and secure, so in that sense, an RV could certainly feel like a tiny home. Unfortunately, most RV’s [off the lot] are built very poorly, with flimsy materials and are not usually customized to the owner or by the owner, so in reality, for most people an RV makes a poor substitute for a tiny house and will never feel like a true home.”

    Reply
    1. Andrew Odom

      With all do respect I don’t think anyone is saying that tiny is new. There is definitely a more modern form of tiny as we are seeing today. There is a different architectural emphasis altogether. And that is the premise for me continuing to highlight ‘Tiny House History’ as I am (many more posts to come in fact).

      Being an RVer myself I understand where Mr. Harris is coming from in regards to the seemingly shoddy construction of RVs, especially entry level. And for anyone who has ever gutted and renovated or retro-fitted an RV, we know that customization after the fact is a hard endeavor indeed.

      I appreciate your time and comments S and I do hope you continue to enjoy Tiny House Blog.

      Reply
  16. Mark

    You can certainly see the point of ‘S’. I sympathize with your contention and agree it merely a matter of choice. Not sure if the author intended to cast dispersion but I doubt he meant any disrespect for the RV industry or their kind. I too traveled the highways as full time RV’er, at least for a few years. And as a builder and user I can tell you (IMO) the travel trailer industry seems to be reluctant to emerging technologies. Some are more responsive then others but traditionally I think if attend an RV show, you will note how they lag behind in design advances. The boating industry for example is far more advanced and embraces new ways to use space, technology and design. Trailers do in fact skimp on traditional building techniques to reduce weight and cost. The cabinets alone have not changed traditionally in design since the 1950’s – large, wooden and boxy. They have been known to cheapen their own progress with such factory shortcuts. Insulation factors and roofing concerns are just a few that remain simple and outdated. While some trailers have embraced new all-aluminum and composite wall construction techniques they remain structurally inferior to traditional house construction. I think this was the direction the article was making, not that travel trailers do not have their benefits – they absolutely do have benefits and a fond place in our American travel traditions. I would agree that the trailer industry has a ways to go to improve innovations and design, whats more they could learn something from the tiny house industry that encourages exploration of new creative ways to use space. We buy travel trailers for alternative mobility, while we buy tiny houses for alternative yet substantial housing that just happens to be mobile. The affordability remains in the DIY project and less in the air stream reduction of constant traveling. The commercial travel trailer industry does not see any value in combining the interest of the two nor would it be profitable to do so, unless they welcome new advancements in design to offer an affordable DIY kit. Its a just my thought.

    Reply
  17. William

    When all is said and done, I think I
    ‘ll stick with my 69 airstream 31′ Sovereign, and my (work in progress) 62 airstream Tradewind. They both are small, have holding tanks, when completed, and are custom to my needs. I am amazed at how we join a group of like minded individuals (we think) and then get exclusionary. :-)We air streamers do it all the time. “My airstream is the real deal, yours is just a big bus made by Thor, or sorry but yours is not authentic, it’s a Mercedes Van with a fiberglass body and an airstream label. Or your airstream is low quality, made by a cake company. And Argosy?…they’re not real airstreams, cause they are painted instead of clear coated aluminum. In other words, it’s a big tent filled with people and homes of difference and thank goodness, since all-alikeness is what we are trying to avoid. Right? BTW their is a saying in the Airstream community that says: “Hey! It’s an Airstream? It leaks, sooner or later. :-))” cheers. billb,
    It’s raining here and mines not leaking, at the moment.

    Reply
  18. Yvonne

    Well written and informative article that I thoroughly enjoyed! Hubbs and I had a moment of insanity that stuck when we sold everything and purchased our Newmar Kountry Aire 5th wheel and headed out on the road full time 5 years ago. We love the lifestyle and have no plans to change at this point! It’s a great lifestyle. Can’t imagine having a big house ever again! Thanks for the fun article!

    Reply
    1. Andrew Odom

      Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment Yvonne. Glad to hear the nomadic lifestyle is working for you and the hubs. Have fun. Be safe. Roll on!

      Reply
  19. David Remus

    Has anyone here purchased or built a Tiny House like the one shown, and then put thousands of miles on it the same way someone might do with the travel trailer next to it? The trailer is designed to be on the road a lot, I would like to see how the Tiny House would hold up under the same treatment year after year.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  20. MJ

    Thank you for a well researched and informative (as well as entertaining) article. After living in ‘tiny homes’ – the one room casita I currently live in is over 40 years old and used to be a fish camp for locals – and boats for decades, I’m ready to go for a class c motorhome. Excitement is high!

    Reply
  21. christina nealson

    I sold 95% of my possessions and the dream house ten years ago and took to the road to write and photograph. The first five years was in a 35 ft. Winnebago Adventurer, the first MH that was designed and constructed with the fulltimer in mind. The past few years I’ve travelled with my dog and cat in a 4-WD pickup and a 19-Pioneer Travel Trailer. Both were outfitted with solar. Both were intended for boondocking, to get me into remote, wild places and off the beaten path. “Escapees,” mentioned above, is a godsend of information for the fulltimer. Meanwhile, my book, “Drive Me Wild: A Western Odyssey” based on fulltime RV-ing, was recently nominated for the Colorado Book Award. My trailer is my loft on wheels. Here’s hoping that the freedom and exhilaration of living a mobile, simple life will take hold and become more attainable, especially in the imagination. Writing about it is sure a start. Thanks for your article. Christina Nealson.com, aloft on wheels!

    Reply
  22. Ann

    I enjoyed this article immensely! My hubby has constructed his own RV’s since he was a teen and turned a potato chip van, ie small box van, into an insulated and heated living space in which he headed out on his own at 21. He was in the process of turning a wonderful old aluminum unibody bus into a home when we met. He discovered that my ability to handle the shifting was so bad that he is now working on a repurposed ambulance and a freight liner which if we ever get to it, will likely be totally gutted in the living area and rebuilt with new insulation. Meanwhile, I have been browsing Casitas as something to tow with my repurposed ambulance. I also like those toy hauler designs. We plan to eventually full time with our children. Challenges galore. My dream is to take my RV down and replace the laminated wood and fiberglass with something better, taking from boat building the much stronger shell engineering using thicker fiberglass, insulate it heavily, and again, use boat influenced elements in the living space. For shape, I love the rounded gypsy vardos, and I love the organic roundedness of the airstreams and the Casitas. Tiny houses are cool, but I want greater mobility.

    Reply
  23. Lori

    I love the idea of tiny homes of all sorts. At 51 now, I am toying with the idea of turning a Honda Odyssey minivan into a tiny house for me to try out life on the road. I plan to stay at campgrounds with facilities. If I really need to stretch out, I can stay in a motel occasionally. I want to head out without a written in stone agenda and explore this great country of ours!

    Reply
  24. Ej

    Andrew, great article! Here’s a link to some really old “house cars.” http://www.oldwoodies.com/gallery-rv.htm

    Just last week, I was pondering the ” new” tiny house movement, ” what’s the big deal? People have been living in RVs forever.”

    Home for this gal over the years includes studios, a 40 foot houseboat, 23 foot Class C, 18 foot travel trailer and bricks and mortar 900 to 2400sf. My heart is forever firmly anchored in the tiny. Freedom!

    My only regret is that my career is not one conducive to travel. Given that, I still bought the smallest sf allowable by my county….crazy rules!

    Reply
  25. Josh from KY

    What a great, well written article. My wife and I, along with our 3 year old son, moved into our ’99 34′ airstream last October (2013). We have completely refinished the inside to make it our own, and live most of the year on a few acres that we prepared for it. We have a separate laundry room that I built that also houses our large fridge and deep freeze, and a barn for the rest of things we need. We have raised beds for our veggies, and I hunt in the winter for our meat. It is simpler than when we lived in our house, and we haven’t looked back or regretted our decision once. We made mods (compost toilet, solar) to make it “off the grid” capable, but we have electric when it’s on our property. This is our tiny home and we love it. I have actually built a tiny home (also, it’s 8’x34′) that I use as my office for my construction company. But we like the airstream for the fact that we can easily hook up and take with us to Arizona in the winter or Colorado in the summer or the blue ridge parkway in the fall. I applaud folks who choose to live in a way that compliments their lifestyle, and have learned from many of them. This is how we want to live and we really enjoy it.

    Reply
  26. Shogota

    I have been considering the tiny house idea until I happen upon this website. I was reading the blogs, and am going to research the usedtravel trailers & or motorhomes. I like being off the grid more than being tide down in one location.
    Currently I’m living on an average, which I throuhly enjoy. Not too many people around. However, paying for utility s and up keep is a full time job. I gotta figure out a few things, like where I’m going to park said rv or trailer when I’m gone on a job for an extended period of time. Storing it at a storage facility can become a pain. I don’t know if being on the constant move be cool. Around the Kansas City, Mo. The parks here are only going to be open for a short time. Yes the summer is almost over. In the mean time I’ll do some more studying… Thanks for all y’all input. Been a big help.

    Reply

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