Living in a Pop-up Tent Trailer in Baja Mexico

January 29, 2012 Mulege, Baja California Sur, Mexico – by Gabriella Morrison

Just eight months ago the idea was born that we (Gabriella, 41, Andrew, 38, and Terra, 12) would sell half of our worldly possessions, let go of our rental house, buy a pop-up tent trailer, leave our known world behind and spend several months living a more simple life. Our motivation was to let go of the patterns that have kept us living in stress and endless to-do lists by thinning down the amount of distractions and busyness we had created over a lifetime. Our hope was that in doing so, we would re-discover who we are and what our nature is when we aren’t inundated by media, television, phone calls, email, billboards, etc…

What we’ve found is that happiness has nothing to do with having a large home (we are living in a 150 sq ft trailer) and that less is so, so much more. That the best way to get to know those you love is to share a tiny space. That the best way to live a life that feels inspiring and fulfilling each and every day is to thin ourselves from all the clutter and unnecessary possessions that create a distraction from who we really are.

We left behind a life in which we had finally ‘made it’. Our financial situation was better than ever and we were able to surround ourselves with the beautiful house and items that we had only dreamed about. What had caught us off guard in this lifestyle was that our stress levels were continually rising. The more we had, the more afraid we became that it may go away. Thus, the more we worked to create more money. Working while being fueled by the fear of loss is draining and unhealthy. So, here we were in a large, beautiful home, with all of our nice things, and we were simply too busy to enjoy them because we were always working and worrying. It was a vicious cycle that was taking a toll on all of us and we knew we needed a drastic change to reassess our lives and how we wanted to live.

We are over four months into being ‘homeless’ and living minimally. We have never felt more relaxed, content, grateful and able to enjoy the natural rhythms of life as we experience it now. We have bonded as a family in a way that we didn’t think was possible. We have learned by living in tight quarters and spending 24/7 with each other to be tolerant and compassionate. Daily we get to know each other on a deeper level and at the end of each day, we love each other even more for it.

It’s not to say that it’s all been a bed of roses. The first month was rifled with challenges such as intense media withdrawals in addition to learning how to live in such tiny quarters. Sometimes it felt unbearable. We didn’t have a language to deal and communicate these struggles as a family because in the past we had always been able to avoid those intense feelings by taking refuge in some other part of the house. We had to create new pathways for communication and to get really clear on what was important to each of us, and what we could let slide. At times during that first month we seriously considered calling it quits, not seeing anyway out of the emotional discomfort we found ourselves in.

Since that first month it’s gotten more and more wonderful. Our time in Baja has been magical on all levels. We live within the rhythm of the sun and surround ourselves with a lot of silence and listening. There’s a lot to hear in silence actually and when one slows down enough, all the wisdom and guidance one needs can be heard. Living with minimal expenses ($8 per night camping space right on the beach, food, gas, occasional meal out) allows for a sense of abundance and wellbeing. Seeing how little we really need in order to have basic needs met has tempered my fears of losing possessions due to a lack of money.

We’ve been learning invaluable lessons that we will bring up with us when we re-enter our life in the US. First off, kill our television. We will never again have television programming in our lives. As a whole, it is toxic to us as individuals and to our global community. Secondly, lower our expenses dramatically. It is a wonderful feeling to go to sleep knowing that we are living not only within our means, but also saving resources as we go. Thirdly, we don’t want to live in a large house again. They cost a lot, take hours to clean, create places for people to escape to rather than learning how to deal with problems as they arise, and use enormous amounts of resources to maintain. Fourth, create time daily to be still and to listen. It’s vital to recharge one’s batteries on a daily basis to maintain a sense of joy and content.

Terra

I suppose that we didn’t need to come all the way down to Baja to learn these pieces; however, I think that we needed to experience this process for ourselves so that it felt real and true for us. We wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. In living with less than we ever have, we have gained the most.

Follow Gabriella’s blog at http://www.smallhouserevolution.com/

48 Comments Living in a Pop-up Tent Trailer in Baja Mexico

  1. Maija

    This would be a dream come true for me. Thank you for sharing. I’d say “enjoy”, but it’s obvious you are doing just that. Blessings.

    Reply
  2. NewNomads

    Good for you! Simplifying your life and recognizing the things that really make you happy is often difficult in your “known” world. Being in a space without the typical distractions makes you deal with one another much more openly.
    Thanks for recognizing the media hype is crap!
    Mexico is an amazing country and the people are among the kindest and most gracious in the world. We spend a few months in different parts of the country and have never felt threatened or in danger.

    Reply
  3. George

    It’s so funny how most of us all think you need all those belongings we have like 2 cars fancy house big income and the results tons of debt and unhappiness.

    Reading a story like this is a great way to remind me that we don’t need so much to be happy.

    Reply
  4. Harry Symonds

    Gabriella, Andrew,
    It is wonderful to finally see how you have been living over the last few months. I am sure it has been a life changing experience for you and the kids.

    Will talk with you soon

    Harry

    Reply
  5. Patti

    It’s cool to learn of single people who have done this, and perhaps more so when a family can live minimally too

    I hope to be following that lifestyle soon myself; the process to get there certainly is not easy though

    Reply
    1. Gabriella

      Hi there Patti! I agree…there is a lot of social conditioning that would lead us to believe that a family with kids needs a lot of space. The transition into all 3 of us living in such a small space was rough the first month for sure (we are now living in a space smaller than our daughter´s bedroom) but once we all kind of settled into our reality, we found ways to make it work and then more recently have actually been finding that we have been thriving. We are lucky though in that we are doing this in a remote setting outside of our regular lives. There is so much pressure on kids these days to have nice things and to fit in and to live in a trailer is not really that cool. So, I really love hearing from others who are living small with kids in the US and other countries. We just keep having the conversation with the 3 of us of how much we are getting out of this experience and how the less space we have, the simpler and sweeter our lives seem to be. And that´s something that she gets to see each day and does honestly believe at this point.

      Reply
  6. Joe3

    What a beautiful setting, I hope you’ll pass on the name of where you are…I’d love to spend some time there. Idyllic setting? Living within your means is wonderful, what a great experience for you as a family…and for your child, teaching that societal demands of ‘bigger, better, best’ and advertisings ‘have the latest gadget’ isn’t always productive to happiness. Knowing and loving each other is priceless. Those are lifelong lessons that can’t be purchased. Thanks for sharing your experience

    Reply
    1. Gabriella

      Hi there Joe3! We are staying specifically at Los Cocos beach about 25 km from the town of Mulege which is a lush river valley halfway down the Baja on the Sea of Cortez site. Sadly, all of Baja has been historically empty of tourists bc of the bad press that Mexico is getting. The locals are struggling to make ends meet but still are so gracious and proud (they´d never complain to you about it). We have felt completely safe here and to make it really, really clear, Baja is a world away from the violent crimes that are happening in some main land Mexican cities. People choosing to not come to Baja bc of fear of violent crime is as ridiculous in logic as a foreigner not going to Oregon bc of stories of crime in Detroit. If you get the chance to visit this area, you will likely fall in love as well! Idylic? We sure think so!!! :)

      Reply
  7. El Quijote

    We’ve enjoyed a similar simplification living here in Baja. Funny, I had to go thousands of miles by land travel to get to where “I” am. Thinking things through on a beach by the Sea of Cortez is probably not for everyone, but has been for me what I needed. It is a process still continuing today after some years.

    Reply
    1. Gabriella

      That’s great to hear El Quijote! It has been amazing to connect with so many people down here who have been able to retire early or make their life savings go so much further by spending half the year here. In the process they’ve found their quality of life go way up and stress levels way down.

      Reply
  8. Amy

    Hi gang!
    I’m quite inspired by your Baja adventure. We may have to take heed and follow in your footsteps one of these fine days. Leaving SF for a life of simply living sounds like a must do on my list. Thanks for making your journey accessable to us all through your blogging! Love seeing you all so happy and enjoying life!
    Sending big hugs from an old Little Applegate friend!
    xoxo,
    Amy

    Reply
  9. Scott

    Great post. Very well written on the attributes of carefully choosing needs from wants. I also enjoyed visiting the family’s website. Awesome adventure. Bravo on dropping the tv and stepping back from all the digital static that eats away at our family time. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  10. stephanie

    Did you get resistance from your 12 year old at first when deciding to undertake this journey? About leaving friends etc? Do you get cell service or have to travel into a town once a day or less to use the internet? Are you living on savings there, or are you able to still generate income from afar? Are you homeschooling your daughter while away? We did away with tv service which was FABULOUS but we still use netflix but I am probably going to even put the chokehold on that for my daughter, almost 9. Thanks for your great post.

    Reply
    1. Gabriella

      Hi there Stephanie! Our daughter went through a full range of emotion early on. Upon us first suggesting this journey she loved the idea and as the date of departure approached, her level of fear increased. She told us she didn’t actually believe we would actually, really go! :) It was hard for her to leave her friends but there was a part of her that really wanted to go as well (she is passionate about marine biology) so we did our best to support her in her process by allowing her to have her full experience and to remember that it was going to be a process. In time she began to sink in. We talked a LOT the first several weeks. Andrew and I would casually go into conversations about how hard it is to switch gears and to detox from electronics when she was around. We wanted to give her a reference for what she was experiencing and why based on what we know about ourselves and her. And in the meantime, WE were going through our own withdrawals as well, so the first weeks were ROUGH! One of the big pieces we’ve loved about being down here is that our daughter is getting to rediscover herself without the influence of media and societal pressures. The transformation in her has been enormous. I can’t recommend this experience for kids enough…
      We do get cell service when we go into the towns and we come into town about 3-4 times per week to check email and buy groceries. We use the cell very rarely though and we don’t do texting or anything like that down here.
      We actually are living off of the money that we made from selling half of our belongings before coming down here!

      Reply
  11. alice h

    Congratulations! You are helping shape the life of a future well-rounded and amazing adult. Your daughter may have ended up that way anyway but experiences like this stay with you forever. Excellent for developing the inner “BS detector”.

    Reply
  12. Trish

    Wow this is amazing. I will be following your blog. I used to be so afraid of the same things you were. And I have downsized my life considerably. I can’t get rid of my rather expensive horse addiction, but it is what I live for. I was thinking of a vacation somewhere near the ocean – I haven’t seen it in years. I wil look into Baja. Free of tourists sounds ideal! I could never again stay at one of those horrid all inclusive resorts.

    Reply
    1. Gabriella

      Great to read your story! I just love hearing from so many people and to know that we are a part of a wonderful and dynamic movement. Any time one of us breaks out of the ‘machine’ I feel more hopeful.

      Reply
  13. cj

    Thank you for sharing a story of success…redefined properly. Absolutely love what you’ve done with the living room. ;)

    Reply
  14. Alex

    “Thirdly, we don’t want to live in a large house again. They cost a lot, take hours to clean, create places for people to escape to rather than learning how to deal with problems as they arise, and use enormous amounts of resources to maintain.”

    Never really thought of that.. How large spaces give us an environment to escape from instead of confront each other and communicate.

    Reply
  15. Paula

    Reading your story touched me because the “trappings” that you described I feel are very much a part of our threesome life. Our son is 15 and I recognized much of your description. We live in a beautiful part of the country but there is such a default to the computer for us or the television it’s weighs on me. Family meeting is in order! At least making conscious time together to be outdoors as a family once a week and leaving the tube off moreso would be a start. We have an elder that we’re responsible for so no going away. But I’m inspired to create in a different way that will throw us into togetherness more! It’s also nice to hear that you have no worries about crime where you are at. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Reply
    1. Gabriella

      Hi there Paula! I’m so glad to hear from you. I think it’s so important for us as parents to connect and talk about how to best support our families in this era of high speed everything. I think you’re totally on the right track with having meetings, spending time in nature. It’s one thing to live minimally and to unplug as an adult either solo or in relationship and a TOTALLY different thing doing so when there are pre- and full teens in the equation. I can say with full trust now though that there is another way and, I believe, a better way than how we were living our lives before questioning it.

      Reply
    2. moontree ranch

      Paula,

      One of the thing we have done to help “unplug” is what we call “pioneer night”. It is a evening spent using no electricity, We use our collection of oil lamps and candles, we share stories, read books, sing songs and play board games. My two daughter spend the bulk of their time with at their mother home ( which is in suburbia and sports many TV’s constancy blaring away) at 11 and 12 they are very much influenced by “modern” consumer culture but I feel I am giving them an alternative view point. It seems to be sinking in sometimes as they have asked to share pioneer night with some of their friends.

      http://kmswoodworks.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/from-winter-straight-into-summer/

      Reply
  16. Benjamin

    Boy I wish half my possessions would fit an a 150 square foot trailer! I’m afraid I have a long way to go yet.

    Congratulations on a wonderful move!

    Reply
  17. Daniela

    Que hermoso que hayas encontrado tu paraiso en Mexico, se dice que rico es aquel que poco le falta , entonces ustedes son millonarios. congratulations i am doing the same change on my life, less its more, less space its more love, hahahahaha now i have more love in my litle house.

    Saludos amigos

    Reply
  18. T

    Hello,
    I came across your story…wonderful! I’ll be going camping in Baja next week. I’ve heard Dengue fever is common there and maybe Malaria which surprised me. What are your thoughts? Have you heard about any cases there?
    Thank you!!
    T

    Reply
    1. Gabriella

      Great to hear you’ll be coming down T! I haven’t heard a single peep about Dengue or Malaria. We haven’t seen a single mosquito, even in Mulege which is actually pretty lush compared to desert Baja. Keep in mind that there is a TON of misinformation out there. Before we actually came down we nearly decided not to do it bc we became so afraid from all the stories we were hearing. Once down here we’ve yet to see a single one of the scary stories come true. Have a wonderful time down here!

      Reply
  19. Marti

    Gabriela: I was so excited to see your adventure unfolding. When I was on winter break in 1994 during graduate school my boyfriend and I spent an entire month living at Mulege in our tent and out of our Toyota landcruiser at a location very similar to where you are. We loved Mulege and the people and we were quite able to live comfortably for that month. I could have stayed forever. And this was from Mid December to Mid January. Our days were spent sea kayaking, snorkeling, swimming and on occassion going to the Pacific side of Baja Sur to whitewater surf kayak.

    Now that my daughter is 15 I’m looking towards the time when I can again downsize. And Mulege has a lot of appeal. I’ve gone from living out of a Landcruiser and tent to 2700 square feet and now down to 1300 square feet. I am purging some more and by the time she is in college I imagine I’ll be living a tiny house life again myself.

    Enjoy!

    Reply
  20. Chris-Ann Wheeler

    Hi Gabriella!!

    Man, can I relate! My husband and I were feeling the exact same way you described living outside of Seattle, and tho’ I miss it terribly we sold our house and moved to Joshua Tree, CA to begin what has been the ongoing process of simplifying our lives, getting rid of distractions, and most importantly, figuring out what TRULY matters. We now live in a 965 sq. ft home, but are looking to downsize even more in the future. We love that we are working hard to leave the smallest footprint possible and be good shepherds of this precious earth. I think one of the biggest lessons I learned is how much we have been brainwashed to think that being a consumer is our wonderful “duty” and having things contributes to personal happiness. For me it has been just the opposite. The less I have the more free I feel to focus on the things I really care about!
    Thanks for sharing, your story is inspiring and affirming!
    C.W.

    Reply
  21. Paul Blair

    Gabriella; You are fortunate to have learned this lesson early, THINGS don’t matter as much as the video poison box would have you believe. I visited Tanzania some years ago, and was struck by how happy many of the people were in a place where the average income was a few hundred dollars a year. I thought long and hard about how and why Tanzanians could be happy with not much and Americans could be unhappy with all that we have. The answer, I believe is the gap between what we want and what we are able to have. TV makes us want WAY more than ANYONE is ever going to have. Tanzanians didn’t want much (no TV in most places) and what they DID want they were able to have. SO, we can KILL ourselves to have all the latest gadgets, or disconnect from the GOTTAHAVIT box and learn to ENJOY the simple life.
    Camping is good as long as you leave the TV behind. Congratulations! you have clearly learned the best lesson life is likely to teach. All the best to you and your family. My wife and I are semi-retired snowbirds living in a 17ft Casita trailer in Florida with our dog (and NO TV) for the last month. NEXT year we will do that for longer (;{D>

    Reply
  22. Tony Thomas

    Great Story! My wife and I sold everything five years ago and live in a 320 square foot motorhome. We live half the year in Canada where we work to make our money to live. The other half of the year we go to the southern US to spend the winter. Increasingly, we find the popular materialism and “must have” attitudes exhausting. We spend time in RV parks where this attitude continues even into the retired age group. North American life is so chaotic and rushed. We find just being around this pace stressful. For the winter of 2012/2013, we are going to leave our motorhome in the US and camp/travel Baja in our mini-van for two months… checking out future spots. Hope to see you!

    Reply
  23. jason

    Thank you for sharing!

    My pregnant girlfriend and I are considering doing something similar. I am debating between a small airstream, egg shaped fiberglass trailer, or pop up trailer.

    I would imagine the pop up trailer would be cooler in hot climates… would you buy a different kind of trailer if you were going to do it again?

    Thank you

    Reply
  24. S. Bernardo

    Hello! What an inspiring tribute to a simplistic lifestyle. We have children and so..the question comes to me: What about medical care and dental? How does one obtain those needs when living such a removed life?

    Reply
  25. steve kruzich

    You know, I wouldnt’ be able to do what you do but i did at one tmie have the 60 dollar an hour job and worked 16 hour days and the stress and all ended up taking all that away from me. I became disabled from it, heart surgery and congestive heart failure. Lost everything i owned in 2007, took what money i had and moved here to kansas. Bought me a mini farm for 32k, 350 a month payments which is doable on my disability, and started over totally. Today i have gained important things in my life instead of stuff.
    I still don’t have furniture in my house hardly, what i do have is third or fourth hand, and even my woodshop tools are second hand and old. I do make beehives with them and cutting boards and other little projects, i raise bees, Angora Goats for fiber to sell and have a cow and calf as of yesterdays birth.

    Its a small house, 900 sq ft, probably more space than i need but since it is almost 100 years old no one is ready to take it from me. :)

    My critters are my life now, and that is major since i used to be a Information Technology execuitve, and I am 500% happier today than i ever was making 120,000 a year. I don’t have hardly a dollar to my name but i do have my critters and my best friend lives down the road from me and i have everything i need.

    Living life with God providing all my needs has greatly simplified my life, and sure does cut stress down and lets me enjoy life. I can pretty much do what i want now, and my animals give me tons of love and entertainment as well as some of them provide much needed money at times of the year when i can sell fiber.

    I have lived more life in the last 6 years than i did in the last 30. Yesterday i for the first time in my life had to pull a calf out of it smama and witnessed a miricle from God. The calf had been inside with the water broke for 2+ hours and i knew he was dead. So i began the process of getting him out so i didn’t lose my cow peaches. Well when we got his head and legs out he gasped and started breathing. It astonished everyone there that was helping and we all were very tired from trying to get him out and we got this renewed energy to get him the rest of the way out and standing up. I did all this while i was suffering in pain from a torn muscle in my chest. It hurt bad the whole time i was pulling on the calf. This morning, i woke up in pain still but happy in that pain as i stood at the gate to my pasture an watched a 12 hour old calf, standing up and eating his much needed breakfast. It was so beautiful to see this. I watched mama walk across the pasture then stop, and look back and moo at her baby and let him catch up to her. I am so blessed. I love this life. ;)

    Reply
  26. Joe

    I’ve lived this same way for 10 year, but more. I’ve lived on beaches, in the mountains, with street artists, friends all over the place. Your story sounds great, but if you really want all the stuff that you talk of here, donate the money you received from selling your stuff to people who really need it (like the locals you now live with who are losing tourist dollars due to bad publicity). Although better than not doing it or at least a good start, I always thought it’s easy to do this with a wad of money in the bank. Really let go of the conditioning and the idea of having things we really don’t need. Utilize a skill or trade you have (or develop one) to make the measly $8 a day. Unless of course this life changing life change is just temporary or a publicity stunt. Of course, maybe you did donate most of the money.

    Reply
  27. Kate

    I am supposed to be in Sayulito right now (with a friend whose plans changed) checking out how it would be to move to the area. Have you tried leaving Mexico for the States yet? I had an experience of just spending one day across the border with a VW van and going into Mexico was fine. Trying to come back to the states they wanted to tax us for the guitar, camera, other items we had brought into Mexico with us. They wanted us to show them receipts that we had purchased the stuff in the states which of course we didn’t have. I was really nervous.
    How do you manage mail for things like renewing car insurance? What about a driver’s license? Maybe you don’t plan to stay there that long. I’m hoping to move there for years. Any suggestions on websites where you did get good information?

    Reply
  28. chris peters

    I really enjoyed reading about your on going adventure outdoors. I have considered packing up my pop-up canopy and traveling the west coast this upcoming summer. Wish me luck!

    Reply

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