Thursday, March 3, 2016

Get outside! How We Fit 4 People and Dogs in a 13ft Uhaul Camper.

When people see our little fiberglass camper, there's usually some statement about how cool or cute it looks. That's usually followed by questions about how small it is and how do we all fit in it. :) What makes it ideal for towing and storing, is also the one thing that people seem to think is a problem for actually using it. In America, we live in spacious houses where everyone has their own room. The thought that you'd have to sleep or hang out in the same room with the rest of the family for a couple days seems inconceivable to a lot of people. We camp. We don't live out of it 100+ days a year. Yes, we would need a larger camper if we were going to actually make it our home for most of the year. But most of our trips are going to be less than 15 days.

When camping you need to realize that it's not about taking your house with you. It's about making the most of your time and experience. A tent or camper is really just a place to sleep. I explain that to people when they ask about how we all fit. We have an outdoor screen we can sit under, We go hiking, We have hammocks. When I go camping, I want the kids outside most of the time. I don't want them watching tv in a big luxury camper all day. That defeats the purpose of going camping in my opinion. That doesn't mean we don't have electronics. We have tablets with access to books for the wife and I to read. We carry dvd players that go over the back of the front seats in the car for long trips. And we can and do use them on a rainy day to watch a movie. But we don't sit inside the camper all day. So we don't need it to have a lot of room. We just need it to be warm and dry (or cool in the case of summer in the south).

The times in the camper can sometimes feel cramped if you don't plan ahead. Rainy/cold days happen. And with little ones, you have to be prepared to entertain (See my post on Entertaining Kids on a Rainy Camping Day). The other thing about the little camper is that there's not a lot of floor space. So only about 2 people can stand at once in the camper. This is why it's important to keep a neat camper and put things back in their cabinet/place. This is also why you only take what you need. Space is a premium!. One of the things my wife did was to design a way to make everyone feel like they have their own space. Each kid has their own bunk bed and we have the main bed area. See my post on the bunk bed setup to see how we gave each kid their own little room.

When you have a small camper, you have to figure out how to pack what you need without having too much stuff. There's just no room for extra stuff. The back end of our SUV becomes a key storage space during camping trips. I try to keep it organized and we keep any bulky items there plus some of the dry food. The items we keep in the camper are imperative to the camping and cooking and are the items we keep packed in the camper even when we aren't traveling. Items we keep in the camper include plates, bowls, utensils, dish detergent/cleaning products, paper towels, pots/pans, small coffee maker, toaster drying rack, and an expandable tub for washing dishes in. I also keep electrical cords, flash lights and camper maintenance gear in the camper as well. While that seems like a lot, we've trimmed down the gear to the essential. So we only take 4 plates and 4 bowls, a couple of pots and a frying pan. Most of this stuff stays in the cabinets and cubbies in the camper. All cold items are either in our mini-fridge or in a cooler left outside or in the back of the SUV. Clothes are stored in bins under the main bed.

While there is a stove in the camper, We hardly ever use it (except that one time in South Dakota when it was too cold to cook outside). I take a Coleman camp stove and my Weber Q grill and cook outside. We also do clean up outside. The camper does have a sink but it's really small and we mostly use it just to wash hands and brush teeth at. We bought a collapsible dish tub (here's ours) that we use to wash the dishes outdoors. See my other post on Adding Space to Tiny Fiberglass Camper for how we use our screen room.

So I didn't mention the dogs yet. We have 2 currently. When we first got the camper we had 2 Yorkies and a Silky which were perfect size for the little camper. Our current dogs include a Miniature Pincer and a Border Whippet. Zelda, our Border Whippet, is a lot bigger than the other dogs we've had. At ~45 lbs. she is the size of another small child. Fortunately, she is a major couch potato and loves to lay in our bed. We'll take her on walks and hikes but when we're at camp, she's happy laying on our bed and staying in the camper. At night she'll ball up at the foot of the bed usually between our feet. It's amazing how small she can make herself. We do have an outdoor dog crate we'll put smaller dogs in under the screen room. Inside, we'll either let them sleep with us or on the floor. We have put a small crate under the bed before. I usually keep my clothes in the back of the SUV to make the room under the bed for the dog crate. 

I don't think we could add another kid or a larger dog to our equation. As the kids grow, we'll need to find ways to adjust. I can see us maybe adding my small tent to the equation at some point. We also have the hammocks we take with us and I have tarps that can go over them to provide shelter. I personally love sleeping outside in a hammock. But that's part of the fun for me, figuring out how to make it work. Limiting the amount of time you feel "cramped inside" is a major win in making it work. So most importantly: GET OUTSIDE!