Living in a Tiny Trailer: By Terry Ann Bernhardt

Today we have an inspiring story and guest article from friend of the blog, Terry Ann.

I'm excited to introduce Terry Ann and her camper, Starla, to you!

Terry Ann and Starla are getting ready for a big road trip - and you can see how Terry Ann customized her trailer for the occasion.

I'll let her take it from here!

My motto is “follow your heart but take your brain with you”.

My journey began with a dream to travel and explore leisurely, moving at approximately the same speed as an ancient turtle in my golden years. 

I began to collect a list of interesting places to visit from friends, co-workers, books, magazines, movies, and yes, Pinterest and YouTube.

I’m up to 91 places I’d like to visit ranging from Yellowstone Park to a little spot in the Appalachian Mountains where fiddles are still handmade.

I would be accompanied by my dog Emmy Lou, 56 lbs of fur-bearing love, so traveling via recreational vehicle seemed ideal.  Again I began collecting facts, people’s anecdotes, magazines, brochures and visiting RV lots to determine what suited my turtle traveling dreams.

I began collecting facts, people’s anecdotes, magazines, brochures and visiting RV lots to determine what suited my turtle traveling dreams.
— Terry Ann

Choosing the Right RV for Me

There are truly only 3 things to consider in recreational vehicles:

  • driving vs.  towing
  • floor plan
  • size

I decided pretty much right away that I didn’t want to drive my house.

I didn’t want to find a pet friendly hotel if a mechanical issue required extended repair time and while on that subject most tow trucks are insufficient to tow big RVs so waiting for something of sufficient size can pose additional delays.

The idea of “breaking camp” to drive a behemoth into town for groceries did not appeal.

The other option is to tow a “toad” they call them, the little cars behind these behemoths so de-facto you’re towing anyway. 

It was a travel trailer for me.


Finding the Perfect Travel Trailer, The Planning Process

I spent the next 4 years, yes! I’m methodical, looking for my perfect travel trailer.

I had 6 must haves:

  1. Small, read short enough for most national parks (that ranges from 24 to 28 feet generally)
  2. Lightweight so my tow vehicle did not have to be a behemoth
  3. A full bath not a “wet bath”
  4. Two-piece refrigerator which means separate freezer
  5. An oven, a real oven to bake in
  6. Stainless steel kitchen sink.

This last seems odd only to those who have not struggled for years to keep a white kitchen sink looking clean and white. Oh! And my perfect floor plan meant bedroom and bath in back not front.

"Nice to haves" were:

  • Linoleum floors – not carpet(!), easy to remodel to suit my needs and hobbies, sound working appliances
  • hot water heater
  • refrigerator
  • air conditioner
  • no apparent roof leaks
  • a good awning
  • some overall cuteness potential within a very constrained budget.

And I found it all in a 1998 double axled Fleetwood Wilderness 19L that I named Starla.






A Camper Named Starla

Starla has driven all decision-making re: downsizing my life so in one sense it’s been easy.

There is a designated weight she can carry and that combined with the weight I can carry in my Ford F150 and get everything down the road safely and easily is all she wrote.

There’s no negotiation.

I am intimately acquainted with what Starla can store, within the weight parameters, because I’ve been reconfiguring and remodeling her for the last 3 years with my specific needs in mind.


Customizing the tiny trailer

I tore out one of the dining benches and ditched the table to put in a small desk with several drawers and a rattan bookshelf next to that.

I added a small, plastic dresser in the closet and affixed wire shelves inside the door.

I reduced the bed from a full size to a twin size (Emmy will not be pleased) and had a custom 3 shelf bookcase made by a friend to slide into that created space flush with my mattress.

It’s been a mindful trade-off of doing away with heavy, clunky built-in stuff for lighter weight pretty stuff. 

Luckily it’s just me and Emmy Lou because it’s been said that Starla is so feminine now a man would get a rash being inside for too long.


It’s been a mindful trade-off of doing away with heavy, clunky built-in stuff for lighter weight pretty stuff.
— Terry Ann

Storage Unit? No thanks!

I don’t intend to rent a storage place because

1) everything I’ve read or seen indicates this is always a regretted decision in terms of the expense, the responsibility and the stuff – nobody seems to go back and say, "whew! I sure miss all this stuff" and

2) it would force me to come back at some point and deal with it.







What and How To Sell Your Stuff

I need the money and I have the time so I’m using ebay, garage sales and Craigslist to sell what I can. 

The sort of unexpected benefit is that those efforts will tell you pretty quickly what needs to be donated. If it doesn’t sell after a couple tries in a couple ways off to Goodwill it goes!


Technology helped me get tiny!

Technology today is awesome for downsizing in other ways.

I’ve managed to scan almost all the photos of some 60 years of activities, family, pets and friends onto a tiny 32mb memory card.

Next will come the important documents and manuals.

I’ll also make copies to leave with my daughter as a back-up.

My favorite music is in download process as are movies, hobbies, and exercise videos. Books are being loaded onto my Kindle.

Which reminds me - invest in a good solar charger for all your devices!


Hobbies in a small space

My hobbies were the most difficult to whittle down but I decided on 3, partially based on what the accouterments weigh and partly on what I seem to actually do the most as opposed to someday I’ll try.

Sewing, crocheting, painting and I actually added one, birdwatching!

That just takes binoculars, a notebook and a North American Field Guide to Birds. I am taking my little serger and my extremely lightweight (purchased for that very reason) sewing machine, a crochet hook collection nicely tied up in a beautifully sewn bundle, a lightweight, foldable easel and a small plastic bin with brushes and paints, I’ve allotted myself two bins to carry all hobby supplies in the truck. The serger and sewing machine will go in my under bed storage.

I have a short list of allotted clothing, literally 6 t-shirts, 3 jeans, 2 shorts, a hat for winter, a hat for rain and a hat for sun, kind of list.

Make your dream your goal, and take action!

My dream became my goal, my goal formed my objectives, my objectives drove my decisions and actions followed my decisions.

It’s the exercise of going from the general to the specific that will get you to your goal. 

It’s the exercise of going from the general to the specific that will get you to your goal
— Terry Ann

If you’re stressed by your stuff, your goal would be less responsibility and your objective more time.

Less responsibility because each thing in your life carries responsibility, from that piece of mail you need to throw away to the shoes you need to put away.

More time comes from not having that mail or those shoes.

Decisions might include getting off that mail list or donating some shoes.

Actions would be finding out how to get off the mail list and do it. Fill a bag with shoes you don’t like, don’t fit, need repair, put that bag in your car and donate it.


So start your list, not mentally, put it on paper!

What’s your dream?

What’s your goal?

What’s your objective (read: benefit)?

And finally what decisions, followed by actions, will achieve your dream.


Thank you Terry Ann for the inspiring story!