Gypsy Cargo Trailer

cargo trailer

by Chinle Miller

There’s not a lot you can do to a cargo trailer, or so I thought when I bought mine. Then, I got a wild idea to paint one wall a deep sunburst yellow, and one thing led to another. I ended up painting the other wall a Taos blue, which I initially thought might be a bit much, but then decided since I was going to live in it, why not make it like I wanted?

When it was all done, I added a handmade quilt a friend made for me, and it all matched perfectly, though I hadn’t planned it that way. Serendipity! It’s kind of cozy, like a gypsy vardo. I run everything on solar, and the trailer is insulated so it stays warm in the cool weather and cool when it’s hot. After a certain point either way, I do have to turn on the propane heater or my 12-volt fan.

kitchen area

After doing a bit more research on converted cargo trailers, I was pretty amazed at some of the things people have done. Some were simple, and some were as nice as anything I’ve seen. At 6 ft. by 12 ft., mine’s pretty modest, but the storage under the bed is great. I’ve now full-timed in it for a couple of months, and I’ll say it’s much more livable than any of the half-dozen other trailers I’ve had, which include a Casita and an Aliner. It’s also very easy to pull, and I can stealth camp in it about anywhere—I actually camped in a Montana DMV parking lot once when on the road.

living area

Living in a converted cargo trailer feels much more like living in a little cabin, except I can change the views when I want. It feels more substantial, more sheltering, than living in a trailer. And what I really love about it is the simplicity. There’s nothing to break or need repairs. I cook outside (unless it’s too windy), and I use a solar shower and porta-potty.


Life is simple and I can devote my time to writing, hiking with my three rescue dogs, cuddling with my three cats, and watching the sunrise and sunset. People think I’m crazy when I tell them I live in 70 square feet with six animals, but everyone’s happy. We get to be outdoors most of the time, even the cats, as I have a special cat-tent for them. I also take them for walks on leashes.


I’ve owned several nice houses (with the bank) and used to work in a high-paying professional field (computer consulting), but one morning I just flung it all over my shoulder and hit the road, traveling and living in a tent. Sure, being a nomad can be hard sometimes, but the benefits more than make up for it. I can live on almost nothing, and I find myself wanting little. I take great pleasure in things that some would consider unimportant, like watching the bluejays eat the nuts I throw out.

I’ve discovered that having a nice place to live, like my gypsy cargo trailer, gives me the underpinnings to enjoy a life of simplicity. Who could ask for more?

wall detail

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julie - November 27, 2013 Reply

love it! would’ve liked to see the kitties though

Brad - November 27, 2013 Reply

Awesome, simply awesome.

Pam - November 27, 2013 Reply

I love it!!! This summer I met a woman who had a 5×8 cargo trailer converted to a tiny camper! She had a fold-down murphy bed and shelves and a little table. I would love to use a cargo trailer and do what you have done!

Karen Heet - November 27, 2013 Reply

I would love to see photos of you with the dogs and cats and how y’all live within that space! I have two dogs of my own and often consider living in a tiny space, but wonder about the dogs. Any details would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

dawn - November 27, 2013 Reply

how long have you lived in your cargo? were do you keep it when not driving? how long do you planon living in it???

John Mauldin - November 27, 2013 Reply

I like what you have done with this trailer. Too, it would appear you are a bit safer because few would imagine someone living inside and, as stated, you can park it over night at a lot of places you couldn’t with a travel trailer. Thanks for sharing!

    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    It’s actually way cool to know you can park about anywhere when you need to, even on a nice safe residential street. I get to enjoy other people’s neighborhoods and see what their lives are like. But the best is to camp out in the wilds and anyone coming by just thinks it’s someone with a dirt bike or ATV out for the day.

GJD - November 27, 2013 Reply

This is kind of contrdictory. After foresaking life with a house and setting off in a tent in pursuit of simplicity, the author now finds herself beginning the slow climb back up the ladder of possessions. The closing line “I’ve discovered that having a nice place to live…” really says it all. Simplicity doesn’t mean miserable, it means living within your means. The tent and trailer are part of the lesson.

    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    Hi – It’s easy to look at one’s life in a nutshell and make observations that might be wrong. I’ve camped and lived a simple life since I was a kid, but I purchased houses for several reasons – the main one being to help my parents when they were elderly.

    Thanks for your comment- it made me think, and that’s always good. 🙂

Kari - November 27, 2013 Reply

Wow! Super job. That sounds like a dreamy life!

Donna Rettmann - November 27, 2013 Reply

I did the same thing with a 7×14 cargo trailer. Kitchen in the front. Bed in the back and a table with camping chairs in the middle. We loved it, and it is so much easier to pull and is so much better with fuel mileage! Put old camper windows in on each side and use a porta potty and solar shower as you do! It’s a great way to go camping!

Najja Foluke - November 27, 2013 Reply

Love it! Sounds like my kind of life. I just bought a Runaway Camper and I plan to do a lot of traveling with it. So, in essence, it will be my home for a while, though not in the true sense like you’re doing, but who knows? I may decide to take it to the next level and make it a full time home. It’s a thought, though I may need something with a little more room than 4X8. Keep on doing it.

Anton Ross - November 27, 2013 Reply

I dig hearing stories like this.

Nice photography, as well.

I went a similar route in 2008 when I bought and restored a lovely 36-foot sloop (sailboat). Been living aboard her ever since. And funny enough, I work for a large resort company named Spinnaker Resorts…as their Web Guru (official title). It’s a perfect fit.

Happy Thanksgivingukkah!

Kim - November 27, 2013 Reply

Thanks for sharing! I want to have a similar lifestyle and was leaning heavily towards a Casita, but you’ve given me an alternative. I also appreciate the comments regarding the safety of being “incognito” and being able to park in more places. My biggest concern is the shower. I’m assuming you set something up outside, but how does that work in very cold weather?

    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    I use a shower tent, one of those $50 specials, and it works just fine. When it’s cold, I heat the water on the stove and shower really fast. Gets the blood circulating!

      CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

      Also, I find that not having an on-board shower or plumbing means there are no pipes hanging low to get knocked around when I go off-road. The Casita was especailly bad that way.

Michael - November 27, 2013 Reply

What kind of trailer is this? I’m hoping to do a similar conversion of a 6×12, but find that very few have the side door located this far away from the front end. Did you have it custom built? Thanks.

    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    It’s made by a company in Oregon called Continental Cargo, a division of Forest River. It came insulated and wired for electric at the factory, also the windows and vent are factory installed. The rest is home built.

Susan Ingram - November 27, 2013 Reply

Stealth camp it! HAHAHAHAHAH

    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    When I got it, I had no idea how cool that aspect could be.

      Josie - November 28, 2013 Reply

      Great idea. I tried stealthing it in motel parking lots (where I thought I would be safer) a few years ago when I was dead broke but had to travel cross-country for a family emergency. I had a giant old Suburban with tinted windows, but seems like there was always a security guard shining his light in the windows. Also got run out of a Waffle House parking lot by a snotty waitress. Talk about a low point. Cargo sounds like the way to go!

Chelle - November 27, 2013 Reply

Hey! LOVE what you have done! And, love the animals on board. What do you have set up for kitty litter? And, may I please see the outdoor cat tent?

Be blessed! And, happy traveling!


    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    Go to Amazon and search on Abo cat tent and you’ll find it. I actually have two. They’re cheap and the cats love them. I never leave them unattended, though.

      CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

      I use one of those round litter boxes that you just lift the lid off, but you could use anything. I change it a lot because of the small space and it’s fine.

Richard Bryant - November 27, 2013 Reply

Nicely done. A photo of the rear cargo door treatment would have been neat to see. One writer asked about the side door – very good question. Same question could be asked about the windows and vent fan. Another writer commented about the Murphy Bed concept. There are many non-traditional folding bed designs now available that are more practical and multi-functional than the old Murphy Bed concept. Some tiny house suitable designs include a desk that stays in place when the wall bed folds down over the desk.

    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    The rear cargo doors are barn doors, which means they open from the side, not a platform to drive in on. I put shade cloth across the back so I can open the doors for circulation and my critters can’t get out. It also keeps bugs out and looks cool.

FreeRangeRadical - November 27, 2013 Reply

This is the best mobile idea I’ve seen yet.

Several years ago, I was an advertising manager and one of our customers made custom-built horse, livestock, and cargo trailers. I always thought that something like this could be done, but you did it! 🙂

Great job. Loved the story as much as the pics.

Shelby - November 27, 2013 Reply

Nice. this is how I travel, and work, at the same time. My last cargo trailer was 14 feet, ten inside with ETrac on the walls so I had two sleeping lofts made to hang off the Etrac plus, all the floor space was open because they were up so high! I had an awning, and a ramp and side door. Nose full of cabinets, perfect. But very heavy to haul. Now, I have a twelve ft. Vnose that has several Jalouse windows, the crank out type LOVe them, a roof AC/heat, sink/water, and a flush toilet (would not have put that in though), a light ramp and side door and awning. I can wall mount saddles on one side, and a fold down murphy one person shelf as a bed when the work day is done. It’s insulated with carpet actually and bead board on the ceiling to cover up lighting wires. I like the large windows for safety. And there is a low verticle window so the dogs can see out!! they are newer, sturdy, and light and aluminum too!

Lorraine - November 27, 2013 Reply

This the first trailer I have liked. It seems more substantial. I like the bright colors and art. Porta potty is okay and pets don’t need as much space as folks think… mine is at my feet all the gime and we also spend lots of time outdoors. I am more homebound because I love gardening. I admit my root cellar is 10×12 to store food I grow… but my home is small.

Peter - November 27, 2013 Reply

I’ve seen this done before, but I never get tired of seeing great Stealth RV/ trailer conversions such as this one. I think it may just inspire me to do likewise! Thanks for the post!!

Ryan - November 27, 2013 Reply

did you put glow in the dark stickers on the ceiling?

grammiem - November 27, 2013 Reply

I love it! With your income and your prior homes it’s obvious how you can afford it(just jealous I so wish I could have a small one) but it’s great to see you enjoy a simple life with this…we have a simple life too

    CHinle Miller - November 27, 2013 Reply

    Actually, this is about the cheapest way there is to get into a nice trailer. Cargo trailers aren’t expensive at all.

      dewhit - November 29, 2013 Reply

      You are exactly right about the very reasonable prices form brand new cargo trailers. They are lightweight structurally with heavier axles available and built to be used daily and are easily adaptable.
      One that was formerly a 24′ trailer used by a brick mason has been left as it is with triple axles and now holds a “insertable floor plan” that was framed and electrified and plumbed and can be slid into the trailer shell and the outside system connections made, PLUS, it leaves 6’on the rear and a ramp for a Smart Car that is carried for local use on longer trips.
      You have shown an excellent use of a very available and cost effective product.

Paul Craig - November 27, 2013 Reply

Wondering if you know the weight of your trailer? I was just looking at a cargo trailer today, so appreciate seeing what you’ve done with yours. Looks great!

    CHinle Miller - November 28, 2013 Reply

    The weight before the conversion was around 1300 lbs. I’m guessing it’s around 1800 now, with my stuff in it, maybe a bit more. It’s easy to pull, but if I were to do it again, I’d try to find the bullnose end which is better aerodynamically.

TomLeeM - November 27, 2013 Reply

I like the contrast between the simple outside and the way it looks inside.

Eldaka - November 28, 2013 Reply

How awesome! Love the simple life.

codfish - November 28, 2013 Reply

Great plan! Maybe I missed it, but how do you provide water- carry any with you? Also, would you explain a bullnose end and where I might see a photo? Thanks.

    CHinle Miller - November 28, 2013 Reply

    I carry water in seven-gallon jugs. I usually have anywhere from one to three of these at any time, and if I’m way out in the backcountry I’ll also get a bunch of one-gallon jugs. There are probably better systems, but this seems to work, as I’m usually in a town at least once a week or so.

    The bullnose is just a V-shaped end rather than the flat end. I don’t have any photos, but you’ll see them if you Google cargo trailers. They’re just more aerodynamic.

Lucy - November 28, 2013 Reply

Great ideas! What sort of vehicle do you pull with? Truck? SUV? What was approximate cost? I’m thinkin of doing something like this. You did the nice wood finish work yourself ?

    CHinle Miller - November 29, 2013 Reply

    I pull it with a Toyota SUV. You can buy a new trailer like this from the factory for under $4,000, and the conversion would add whatever you wanted, depending on how you did it. The wood trim came from the factory.

Mona - November 29, 2013 Reply

Conversions like this are getting more common by the minute. Almost all gooseneck horse trailers are selling with the front tack area converted into living quarters. (google living quarters horse trailers for more info)Some are outrageously expensive and lux but (!) they are fantastic for getting ideas from. Also there are many companies now specializing in doing these conversions and I’m guessing if contacted directly would be willing to do as much or as little as someone required. I’ve been toying with this idea for a couple months now as my neighbors have a V nosed cargo trailer for sale in their front yard so this post couldnt have been more perfectly timed! I wondered how a small one would turn out and I rather love it. Wondering why the microwave isnt put up on the wall and shift the cabinets down some, but thats just my brain always wanting to use vertical space.

    CHinle Miller - November 29, 2013 Reply

    That would’ve been a better way to do it. I use the microwave as a tool box because I’m usually off the grid and can’t run it from my solar. I’ll probably end up just taking it out. I would love to see more of these types of conversions – it’s a great way to get a nice trailer w/o costing a fortune, and you can put in exactly what you want. I’m actually wanting to sell this one and get a bigger one so I can have a big recliner to read and write in.

      Mona - December 1, 2013 Reply

      Having a sofa is awfully nice! I did a year in a 29 foot travel trailer with my three dogs, cat, two year old and husband. The animals were the least of the space eaters ;)If you find any horse trailer dealers, you will find lots of ideas to look at in the living quarters designs. The newer style ones are just like what you have except kitted out for equine travels and obviously larger. except for the trailers for minis, those are about the same 🙂
      There are lots of people in the motocross and snowmobile circuits who also have done things of this nature. Anyone who needs to haul stuff and have a secure place to sleep.
      About the only limit is the vehicle you are towing with. I’m guessing from some of your sleeping spots and wanting a bigger trailer you have something pretty decent sized!

Dewy - November 29, 2013 Reply

I love it. I can relate to the quitting computers. 23 years of 60 hour weeks was rough. Small is Beautiful – EF Shumacker. I don’t need the space of my 1bedroom apt to live. And I can’t have a furry friend.

Andre - November 30, 2013 Reply

Great story… Thanks for sharing it!

alice h - November 30, 2013 Reply

This would make an excellent sewing/art/craft workshop too. Much easier than starting from scratch and you could take it on the road for craft fairs. The barn doors could be opened up for a sales booth area, maybe with some kind of awning.

Eldaka - December 4, 2013 Reply

What an awesome idea. I would love to convert my own cargo trailer. Thanks for sharing.

monika - December 11, 2013 Reply

this is cool i got a used hertz truck standing in front of my house now i figured that would have been unuseable but this gives me hope

Katt Scheck - December 20, 2013 Reply

How did you install a door to get in and out of the unit? I have a Wells Cargo and thought of doing this for camping, but the doors open from only the outside. Someone could lock me in if they wanted to. They have the slide locks.

    Chinle Miller - January 21, 2014 Reply

    The doors were already there from the factory and that included a lock that you can lock from the outside with a key or from the insdei with a latch.

MsDawn Burton - January 29, 2014 Reply

Hi, I LOVE that you travel with six furr kids. I have downsized first to a 16×24 cabin and now to a 10×10 cabin, have also lived in a tent and 37 ft motorhome with 3 of my sons and my ex. It can be done! Now I am alone, 51, disabled and seriously thinking about hitting the road again. I would like to stealth camp as well but I have 2 large dogs, 1 med dog and 3 chihuahuas…. also all rescues. I was thinking of converting a delivery truck or maxi cargo van and installing solar, compost toilet and rain water collection. I would just have to get the dogs use to a leash as we have a 6 acre homestead in TX so they run free. Stay safe and blessed on your travels.

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