What would posses a family of 7, including 2 teenagers, to make the leap from 10 sprawling acres and a 2300 square foot house into a 36 foot bumper pull travel trailer? Some may say we were crazy. Others that they could never but it's awesome that we could! And still others felt inspired. They saw that it could be done! The desire to see America, to soak up our last year of high school with our oldest daughter and to refuse to live a life of looking back with regret for not taking the chance were just a few reasons we decided that fulltime RV living was the right choice for our family. When we began our hunt for the bumper pull travel trailer that we'd make the transition to we had a few non-negotiables.
+ The trailer had to be able to be pulled by a Nissan NV 3500. The tow capacity on the van is 8700 lbs. + It had to have a bunkroom for the kids with a door- no curtain. + It had to have a living room slide. + Bonus points if the bunkroom had double slides. + No outdoor kitchen because that eats into the bunkroom space.
+ It needed to be within our budget- preferably under $25,000 as we were paying with part of the cash from our house sale.
And that was about it. The most challenging part of the hunt was finding a camper with a large enough bunkroom within the tow capacity of the van. We did a ton of research and utilized several fulltime traveling family Facebook groups to ask and search through questions. Believe it or not we weren't so crazy to want to do this lifestyle with 5 kids! After selling the house our next mission was to buy the van. We searched for a 2018 Black or Blue Nissan NV 3500 with leather and within our budget. It also needed to be located somewhere between North Texas and Austin. We primarily searched Cars.com, Nissan NV 3500 Facebook groups and Craigslist. We ended up finding the perfect van in Temple Texas which worked out perfectly because we were staying in the Waco area with one set of our parents.
After finding the van we were on a hunt for our tiny home on wheels. Our search radius was about the same area as the van. Fortunately, the Dallas, east and central Texas areas have a ton of RV dealerships so we had quite a bit of inventory to search through. Our search perimeters are what narrowed the search and made it more difficult to find the perfect rig. A dealership we were looking at ended up having a 2018 Keystone Passport 3290BH on sale and as we walked into it we realized it felt like the perfect rig for us! It met every need except it was slightly over our budget. At that point we had a choice to make. Be willing to spend more than we planned or continue on the hunt for the unicorn trailer. Because we were in a position after the sale of the house to be able to spend a little more that is what we decided to do. It was only slightly over our budget and it would end our search and we could move onto the next step of making the camper work for our family. This model has 4 bunks in the bunkroom but we have 5 kids. I'll go ahead and focus on the bunkroom aspect for this blog and save the rest of the camper details for another.
Another non-negotiable was that each child had their own bed. We didn't want anyone sleeping on a couch because we felt strongly that if this was going to be our home each child needed a bed that wasn't dual purpose. The first problem to overcome was how we were going to sleep 5 children in the bunkroom. Our wheels started turning and on a trip to Ikea we discovered the Ikea Kritter bed.
The bed is a junior sized bed which means it's longer than a toddler bed but shorter than a twin sized bed. What made it perfect was that our 3 youngest kids were short enough to fit comfortably on a junior bed!
The bed also fit perfectly into the slide. (We also cut out the cute little lambs on the headboard because all of our kids were just a bit old to appreciate that, ha!) The next issue we faced was needing to fit 3 Kritter beds into a bunkroom with two slides. The solution was to fit one horizontally on one side.
On the other side would be two side by side coming out from the slide wall on the other slide.
That still allowed some floor space in the bunkroom and each one of our kids got their own bed! The question your inevitably asking is....what did you do with the beds on moving day when the slides had to come in? Great question! On moving day we turned the two beds horizontally, slid one into the slide and staked the other on tops of it. Then when we got to our next destination we'd unstack them and set up. It was also important that each bed the kids slept on was actually comfortable. We bought mattresses from Ikea for the Kritter beds and then we ran across a RV bunk bed mattress hack that worked perfectly! We bought a full sized memory foam mattresses from Amazon and cut them in half to fit the bunks in the room! Using a bread knife we measured and cut right down the middle. Easy Peasy! It was also extremely important to us that whatever mattress we bought had very minimal off gassing since we were going to be in such a small space without a ton of air circulation. After some research we decided both IKEA mattresses and Lucid brand mattresses met our needs. Lucid is Certi-PUR which means it has no odors and minimal off gassing. The next big issue for a large family, and really any family with children, is where to store clothes! This model actually had pretty great storage in the bunkroom but, again, with 5 children we needed more storage space. The solution to this was buying soft sided, zippered under the bed storage containers from Ikea. The SKUBB storage units worked great! We were able to slide 3 under each Kritter bed. Each child could have enough clothes that would fit into that storage container.
But what about the teen girls?! I hear you saying. Let me say this....this was all a process of working through an addition to things. As a culture we have such a huge problem with wanting more more more of everything when in reality we can very often live with less.
But, I digress, that is another topic for another blog post. Essentially it was a forced conversion to minimalism for all of us. We all had to evaluate each item we brought into the camper and decide whether or not it served us well enough to earn a highly prize place on the road with us. I found plastic storage bins that stacked perfectly into the cabinet storage in the bunkroom and we stored winter hats and gloves, health supplements, hiking socks, art and school supplies, and other various things that needed a home, in those plastic bins. Each child also got to bring one bin worth of personal things with us. Personal art supplies, print pictures with friends, note book and other various things are what they chose. The cabinet space also provided storage for the board games we brought, the small amount of legos and other toys that made the cut. Shoes, coats and jackets are also a pretty big issue for a family of 7! It we all simply have 1 winter coat, a rain jacket and a lightweight jacket we're looking at 21 jackets! Where on earth do all of those go!? We hung a coat rack on the wall of the slide. The lightweight and winter jackets were hung on that.
We headed to our local North Face outlet and found kids rain jackets that could be rolled tightly up for compact storing. This is both excellent for storing in the rig and for throwing in back packs for hikes!
Along with making sure everything and everyone fit into the bunkroom it is also super important to me that our home- no matter the size- be aesthetically pleasing. Since we had kids ranging in ages 7-17 at the time the decor in the room needed to be neutral for both boys and girls. We landed on a sort of adventure theme with neutrals colors that also matched with the cabinetry because weren't painting that! I found the comforters on Amazon. They were pretty light weight so we also added fleece blankets for colder nights. We added a rug, some pillows and wall decor was Hobby Lobby and the space felt cozy! I also hung removable shiplap wallpaper on each wall of the camper. That was a solution for updating the space while not having to paint the walls.
Figuring out how to fit a large family into a small space can feel daunting and overwhelming but it doesn't have to be! +Get creative and think outside the box. +Evaluate what is really necessary vs simply wanted. +Make the space work for you. Then enjoy the new memories being made!