Our upgrade from tent camping is a Little Guy 5 X 10 Silver Shadow travel trailer
All those years we tent camped we would see giant motor homes, 5th wheel travel trailers complete with satellite dishes, air conditioning and all of the other comforts of home with minimal exposure to the natural world once the cabin door was closed. To be honest we were “tent camping snobs” of a sort. We would make comments about their owners like, “Well there goes another family roughing it in the great outdoors! Wonder if they left anything at home?” “I bet they only use that 2-3 weeks of the year.”
As retirement loomed, and crawling out of the tent became a more cumbersome activity we began to rethink the alternatives. We knew we wanted to travel more and were not enamored of making and breaking camp each day of a road trip. We also had had too much experience packing up wet tents. I didn’t want a motor home or camper van because there are advantages to having a base camp to come back to at the end of a day exploring. Additionally the larger rigs are cumbersome or just plain not allowed on some winding, hilly roads in national parks. Then we recalled a friend who used to promote teardrop travel trailers. They were cute! And small! And economical! What was it? Wanderlust on a small scale!
A search was begun! I looked on the internet, determined to keep our options open to small travel trailers of many descriptions. I had heard the stories of difficulties with pop up tent campers—lengthy, difficult set up times, leaky fabric, driven rain saturating the bed, etc. Other “expansion designs” like the A Frame also had their issues. Quickly I settled on the designs that were fairly defect proof and decided I did NOT want to do a “home built” kit which was definitely cost effective but not up my alley. Having done a previous trailer modification I had an awareness of the complexity of design, the weight and streamline issues.
My criteria were few but definitive:
- A small, light weight, streamlined travel trailer I could pull with my 4 cylinder Subaru Forester. We didn’t want to invest in a new heavy duty tow vehicle and it was important that Toni be comfortable driving the trailer—a new experience for her.
- A trailer with few external openings which would allow rain, dust, etcetera to get inside
- Ideally some storage space incorporated into the trailer (cupboards and under bed space)
- An efficiently designed kitchen with a 12 V fridge.
- All essential electrical things needed to run on 12 V DC –the battery could be charged while towing, while hooked up to 120 V AC or by a solar panel when parked and not hooked up
- Wheel brakes were essential (we would be towing in the Rockies) although NOT standard equipment in most of these small models.
- Perhaps we could even share the cabin with our little dog.
- A bonus feature would be a high resale value
After a visit to a local dealer for the Little Guy manufacturer of teardrop campers we were hooked on a Silver Shadow 5 X 10—and we wanted the kitchen. A six month search on the internet and Craig’s list revealed the obvious: there were no used units available in the northeast and the resale value was high, approaching that of a new model.
After locating a 5 year old model (it did NOT have a kitchen, it did have wheel brakes) in South Carolina and negotiating via email for a price, the deal fell through when the seller wanted a too large deposit to hold it for a month when we would be driving that way to visit our daughter and grandson in Atlanta. Back I went to the internet where I happened onto a 2015 (previous year) model at an RV dealer in MD for a price only slightly less than the 5 year old unit. And it had a kitchen! I paid a bit more to have them install wheel brakes which are not standard for small camper trailers. We picked up our Silver Shadow a month later on our return from Georgia. I purchased a separate canopy tent for multi day stops where we would want shade or rain shelter.
On the trip home we were thrilled: it towed like a dream, our mileage dropped from 29 to only 19 mpg, and the little bit of slushy snow we encountered coming over Killington mountain in the home stretch did not prove to be an issue. It looked great parked in our yard, too.
WARNING: This section is for do-it-yourself geeks who are interested in the technical details of retrofitting. For a three month road trip we would need some customizations to add to the comfort and convenience. I enlisted the help of a carpenter (thank you to Tim M.) to cut and edge band some pieces of birch plywood which I would make into an external table that would clip to the side of our camper and fold to store inside for travel. I installed a 13” 12V TV as a wall mount on a swivel in the cabin. My plumber (kudos to the other Tim B.)who is the king of recycling and retrofitting with his finds from the metal dump really got on board. We made some permanently attached “base masts” to the tongue. To these we fixed a removable solar panel and TV antenna—stored in the cabin while traveling and under the bed for longer stints. The solar panel is mounted on a recycled heavy duty tripod which can be tilted and rotated for optimal sun exposure as we move our location and the seasons change. It snaps onto the base mast by using some sections of the metal wand from a vacuum cleaner. The TV antenna is similarly mounted. A section of coaxial cable (protected in a section of plastic water pipe) is permanently affixed to the base mast and runs to the signal booster in the back wall of the cabin. Another section of cable runs to the driver’s side wall where a campground TV cable can be connected.
I knew I wanted a utility tongue box large enough for all the paraphernalia we would use for setting up in a campground PLUS space for a 20# propane tank. Those small Coleman tanks would not last long. Additionally I purchased a 50,000 BTU propane burner for larger cooking tasks like a lobster/clam boil or wok cooking. A “T” fitting on the tank allows the kitchen stove AND auxiliary burner to be used simultaneously.
A couple of trial runs this past summer (including 12 days in Acadia NP) went very smoothly, allowing us to prepare meals for a group of 4-6 people. The only downfall was that our shady campsite prevented enough hours of sun exposure to keep trailer battery and the fridge cold. Jumper cables and 20 min with the car running did the trick.
August nights sleeping in our teardrop did prove to be warm. The door screens were small and we didn’t want to run the ceiling exhaust fan all night for continuous ventilation. Knowing we would see more heat and bugs in the southern states, I have built “full screen” doors which can be moved into the door frame space with the doors popped open. One last amenity is the hand-cranked coffee grinder retrofitted to be powered by my battery operated hand drill—a nut and socket drive replaces the crank.
We now feel we are ready for our 2017 road trip around the perimeter of the US and into the Canadian Rockies. We plan to visit (almost weekly) friends and family along the way to break the travel tedium and do the laundry). Camping at national parks (no hook ups there) are also high on our list.
For a little more history about our previous camping experiences read the contents under the Menu item “BACK STORY”