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A guide to pimping out a vintage travel trailer and going large on the coast of Baja.

It’s so simple to buy a cheap vintage travel trailer and experience a whole new way of living that I’m stunned more folks haven’t figured it out. Is it a big secret? Too intimidating? It is considered kooky? Well, if you’ve ever dreamed of ditching it all and heading south of the border, here’s a handy guide to get you started on the road to freedom.

1. Acknowledge the Beast Within

Oh, you know what I’m talking about. That little sing-song voice inside calling out when you least expect it. It’s saying, “Are you kidding me, this is my life? Is this all there is? And, I pay how much rent for this dumpy apartment?” If you can just answer with “It’s time to change things” the next time the monster kicks in, you might find yourself calling a tin can box home. And, trust me, you will be the envy of everyone you come into contact with.

2. Research Galore

There are a bundle of websites out there with vintage trailers for sale. You can buy one already restored or you can buy a way old-school one and put your own flair into it. I opted for my own flair. Going this do-it-yourself route allowed me the opportunity to explore options I might not have run across. Things to think about: Do you really need a bathroom? How important is a fridge vs. icebox? Is a shower imperative? For me, none of these things mattered and by not giving a hoot about luxuries, I managed to save loads of money.


3. Time to Drop the Dough

Once you’ve determined what your exact specifications are, it’s time to lay down some dinero. I didn’t want to spend a wad of cash and my deciding budget was based on this simple premise: If the shit hits the fan down a back road in El Salvador and I have to abandon the trailer, what amount of dough will I not miss? I settled on $1,000 for the trailer alone and for this pittance, I managed to get this glorious little 14’ looker. 1967, baby!

4. Get Hitched

Ah, the hitch. I have an old, 2-door Ford Explorer and it was a bit hectic trying to figure out what I needed to be able to lug around 1500 lbs. Turns out that U-haul can install a sturdy trailer hitch ($350) in less time than it took me to down three frosty cold beers at my local cantina. Whatever you do, don’t go to a dealership to get the install done. They will charge much more and babble on and on with warnings, your nerves will be shot before you even pull out of the driveway.

5. Assess Your Needs

Once I had my trailer safely parked in my parents’ front yard, I tore her apart. I got rid of all the previous owners paraphernalia and took a good look at her from top to bottom. I knew some mad decorating was in order, but first I tried to imagine a/ where I would be parking this trailer and b/ what I wanted to come home to once she was parked. My thoughts leaned toward unexplored beach villages throughout Central America, so a cute awning and the ability to generate my own power were in the cards. When you’re dead alone grilling some fish on a deserted beachfront in Veracruz, the last thing you want is an annoying generator to kill the moment.

6. Go Solar

There was a very brief moment in time when I thought my dad and I could just install the solar panel I’d ordered ($400). But once I opened the box and pulled out all the cords and wires and mounts, I took a quick trip down to my local RV center to get some intel. Thankfully, those boys hook up solar panels all the time and they were able to sling the whole kit together on my roof in just a few hours ($200). I used two marine batteries I already had from my sailboat and tucked them away in a closet so they were out of sight. Make sure you put a vent wherever you hide your batteries since you don’t your home to burst into flames while you’re out exploring. In the end, I made sure I was covered for all possible camping scenarios: propane gas, 110 volt power, and solar.

7. Decorate on a Dime

My needs were simple. I wanted a funky global feel with lots of vibrant colors, soft candles, and eye-catching fabrics. I also needed some 800-count bed linen. After painting the interior walls (from station wagon brown to soft eggshell), I did a massive Ikea shop for kitchen supplies, storage containers and rugs. I also recovered the cushions with some old curtains and safety pins. I ended up with a cozy vibe and not a soul would know that I barely spent $100 decorating.

8. Where Ya Wanna Go?

The best place in the world to RV has got to be Bahia Concepcion, a remote getaway on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja. The minute you cross the Mexican border, it feels like you have gone rogue. You can park directly on the sandy beach for a few bucks a night and kayak, swim, fish and drink cervezas to your hearts delight. And, the good thing is that most folks down in Baja are like-minded and trying just as hard as you to get off-grid. Make sure to get Mexican insurance for both your vehicle and your trailer though (1 year $300), since insurance generated in the USA does not apply once you cross the border.

9. Hit the Road

Hauling around a 1500 lb mini-beast is way more doable than it sounds.

Hauling around a 1500 lb mini-beast is way more doable than it sounds. In fact, these little tin cans are so light, it’s easy to forget they are attached to the back of your vehicle. I’d be hauling down the highway at midnight, texting away and guzzling a Red Bull when I’d glance in my rear view and freak out thinking a blue and white squad car was on my tail. Then I’d realize it was just my little trailer keeping time with me. Driving in a straight line is cake. Hairpin curves are too. Backing up is a different story. But, it’s like a boat. You move the wheel one way and the trailer goes the opposite way. As soon as you make that connection, you could almost pop wheelies with your baby and not think twice about it.

10. Set Up Camp

Your first night camping out will be pretty wild. Once you unload the trailer off your vehicle, all you have to do is put some support under the wheels (rocks will do) and sling up your awning. The sun glazing over your solar panel throughout your trip will have loaded up your batteries to capacity and you’ll be able to power up pretty much anything you might need. Things like microwaves, AC’s, and blenders require way too much amperage for a small solar panel, but that’s what hand-cranked blenders and swamp coolers are for! Time to crack a cold one, gaze at the stars and make some new friends.

Helpful Websites:

The best vintage trailers can be found at Tin Can Tourists.

Community Connection

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About The Author

Misty Tosh

Misty Tosh is a producer and director in the wild world of indie filmmaking and television. Past shows have taken her to Africa, Spain, Mexico and Nicaragua, and when she's not ensconced in production mayhem, she can usually be found in an exotic third world locale tracking down the indigenous liquor. She's in the midst of creating an NGO promoting sustainable community empowerment in distant lands and is currently on a volunteering/research escapade from Mexico to Panama in her 14' solar powered vintage travel trailer.

  • http://www.bravenewtraveler.com Tim Patterson

    Loved this article. You’ve got style, Misty, with writing and travel and life, and I hope to meet you on a beach in Baja someday.

    Tim

  • http://www.bigsweettooth.com Misty Tosh

    Thanks man…I can’t even begin to explain how fantastic Baja sounds right about now. I’m rockin’ a Sea of Cortez montage as my screen saver and everyone thinks it’s the Greek Isles. Funny.

  • http://www.wranglingrhinos.com N. Chrystine Olson

    I’d have a cold one with you on the beach under that wonderful awning. I need a Baja fix now!

  • http://www.tincantourists.com Forrest Bone

    Enjoyed your article.
    Thank you for the link to the best Vintage Trailers at Tin Can Tourists.
    We would like to offer a sample newsletter, Tin Can Tales, to anyone mentioning Misty Tosh

  • http://www.surfergrl.co.uk Kat Dawes

    Oh, I have that little sing-song voice!

    I did this in Australia (camper van, no power save a one-ring gas burner though) and loved every minute of it. Next up is Ireland, then Europe (I’m from the UK).

    Can you give any more details about the solar panel and batteries, any online guides you read or anything? I have to get me some of that!

    Thanks!

  • http://www.bigsweettooth.com Misty Tosh

    Hi Kat–Really the only thing that I did is google the hell outta things…you know, using all the primo key words: off grid, vintage travel trailers with solar panels, RV’ing with solar, etc…

    There is a wealth of information out there and trust me, it gets very, very confusing. But, if you have any really specific questions, shoot them my way. I might be able to help. Tell me what your situation is and what you are looking to do because in the end, it was a really easy process.

    Thx for reading! mst

  • Chuck Afflitto

    Right On Misty, Way to travel!! You seem to have a great being about yourself,this is wonderful for everyone to see.
    That trailer is nice and it has a lot of character!
    Your writing is very indulging and makes you want to be part of a great escape!!
    Thank You, Chuck

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  • jon

    layed off for a bit so i bought a 67 15′ little camper to play with. 500 was the price just about broke the mans arm giving him the money. im the third owner. i have now striped the paint form it and polished the aluminum under, repainted the trim. every surface inside was repainted. tons and tons of work but very little cash. i have less that 800 bucks in the silly little thing and its so cool. the fun is making somthing old yours. a new trailer would not be nearly as fun.
    thanx for the story
    a kindred spirit
    jon

    • Mark

      I agree… What kind of trailer did you purchase? And the total! Did that include the purchase of the trailer?

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/eperceptions Kathy

    We’re doing this too! A little differently though. We picked up a basic 5×8 cargo trailer in August this year, and went from Arizona to South Carolina with it before we’d even had a chance to start doing anything to customize. Now we’ve got a basic bed that folds up into a couch, and we laid an old 7 foot kitchen pantry on its side to use as storage cubbys.

    Pictures and details can be found here: Our Cargo Trailer Camper

  • http://www.intelligenttravelblog.com Marilyn Terrell

    I love it that you used solar panels instead of a noisy generator. Here’s a tip for people who might want to just sleep in a vintage trailer, not drive or buy: The Shady Dell in Bisbee, AZ:
    http://www.theshadydell.com/
    Another great place for caravanning besides Baja is the South Island of New Zealand:
    http://bit.ly/2a0by

  • Johanna

    hey, we are currently in the process of cruising baja in our vintage 66 cardinal canned ham. was curious, what did you do for a fridge? this has been a puzzle for us as the trailer only came with an ice box and constantly feeding it ice is a huge hassle.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Earl-Harris/100001381707580 Earl Harris

    It all sounds lovely but these days, a trip to Mexico is pretty much a suicide mission. I wonder if you guys are even still alive since you abandoned the blog.

    • Sashaseyb

      Suicide mission?  Really?  I dunno.  There are a lot more guns in the US.  Not to mention the people are so much nicer and happier.  : )  As for cartels and other criminal activity, once you cruise through the border towns and into the interior, it’s pretty safe.

  • randy

    Just re-joined society after three years in a 16 foot, 1970 Aristocrat (with two cats). The finale, was a trip from Portland Oregon to the southern edge of Mexico with seven cats this summer!
    Loved this Blog!  – Randy

  • Mageshkumar4001

    Too many beautful themes to choose from. I adore them all.
    Box
    Trailers

  • Scott

    Nicely done Misty.  There is certainly much to be said for a small life.  Like you, I’ve lived in sailboats and have spent the last eleven months living in a Basque sheep wagon in south-central Utah.  What I love most of all is the space.  Those who knew my boat and my wagon see the similarities in them.  A Womb with a View ;)

  • Denise

    Love this story – this is exactly what I want to do.  However, finding a decent trailer for $1000 or less is IMPOSSIBLE!!  All the ones that I’ve found are more or less scrap metal, unless I want to shell out some serious cash.  I’m looking for something to use to move to Florida and stay in while I teach, until I can get my feet on the ground.  I’m currently unemployed and teaching won’t pay much once I get started.  I really am just looking for a very small travel trailer that has all the basics already, something around 16′ or less.  You were very lucky to find your trailer.

    • Spoiledpuppie2003

      Hey Denise, If your still looking for a trailer I’ll keep my eye out for you.. I have a 1965 14 ft Scotsman travel trailer that I picked up in Lancaster,CA for $900.00 ready to roll! You can shoot me an e/mail at spoiledpuppie2003@yahoo if your still looking

      Mark

  • Debroberts802

    The funniest part of the story was the part about having it parked in your parents front yard.  I too did the same thing.  My poor dad just kept shaking his head,  thinking that a match would be a quicker fix.  He gamely put on his restoration hat and dove in.  We restored and built and came up with my “sun kissed” 1959 Oasis.  She’s a beaut!!  I lost my dad last June and those days of working together on my vintage trailer are among my fondest memories.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2MG5WQNIPN2WQMNDLDIENDWBYI realgranola

    More pictures of the inside, please !

  • Laurie Ekstrand

    love this thank Misty Good ideas.

  • GJD55

    Texting?

  • San Felipe Thomas

    Not at all true. Mexico can’t be viewed as all the same. Many thousands of Americans and Canadians live safely year round in many parts of the country. Try not to believe all the media hype. It is almost all border city ‘drug’ related crime that is the problem..

  • Samantha Knapik

    I have an 1955 – 1960ish Oasis travel trailer with the wood screen door the green frig stove etc.. For sale make an offer it must go ASAP I was staying in and have moved sknapik69@hotmail.com

  • Samantha Knapik

    I have an Oasis travel trailer vintage in great shape I was living in it but have to let it go to anyone with cash in hand make me an offer I will take less then $1000
    sknapik69@hotmail.com it has to go due to I have moved need to sell asap

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