April 29, 2010 9:41 AM   Subscribe

If you know anything about RV's or camper trailers, or Subarus or pickup trucks, I would love to ask you a question. What can I live in for three months at a time that I can buy for the price of a Subaru? What do I haul it with?

What I have:

- a 2000 Subaru Forester with a damaged and ugly but perfectly functional driver's side door, that has recently passed inspection and is in good shape, 112 thousand miles on it.

- probably $2000 on top of what I can get for the Subaru.

- an itchy, travelin' foot.

What I want:

- a travel trailer or camper that I can feasibly live in for three months at a time. I am not picky -- it can be used, it can be old, it can be ugly. All I want is enough space that I won't go totally crazy (probably not a pickup-top camper, I'm thinking), a functioning stove, someplace to shower, sleep, sit and read a book. I have thought of going the converted-school-bus route, but I think I'd prefer something a little more preconstructed. It needs to be lockable and reasonably safe, as I am a small-sized, single woman, and I'll have to manage the thing on my own.

- a truck that's big/powerful enough to haul said camper/trailer.

I'd like to sell the Subaru, and use the money from the Subaru and the extra $2000 to buy the trailer/truck.

Things that make this tricky:

- I am in Brooklyn, New York. Not a lot of used campers around. Where do I look?

- If I could haul the camper with the Subaru, that would be super-awesome, but I'm thinking that's a little unlikely.
posted by jennyjenny to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have plenty of friends who have lived as rock climbing bums and the like. I think you're going to have trouble getting a camper and a truck to pull it for the kind of money that you're talking about that will be reliable enough to handle a few months of steady use. I'd look at more minimalist options. You could pick up a Vanagon. One of the most popular options I've seen is picking up a Toyota pickup or something similar with a topper, then building a bed frame even with the top of the pickup box, storing rubbermaid tubs underneath, and sleeping on top of it on a mattress. Obviously, this doesn't give you an indoor toilet, nor all that much room, but you can drive it anywhere and park it anywhere. It'll be reliable and cheap, and you can spend the extra cash on hotels when you want to.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:52 AM on April 29, 2010

Book value on your vehicle is about $4300. So you've got maybe $6300 to play with.

I think you might be better off with an RV conversion van or a pickup with a bed-mounted camper (not just a plain shell, but a self-contained unit). Hauling around a trailer is a PITA, and in some areas I think they won't let you park one on the street overnight. $6300 doesn't give you a lot to play with for any of these options.

Being in NYC, you'll probably need to do business with someone out of town. Here's a viable option in Tulsa, here's one in Yucaipa.

Good luck. Sounds like an adventure.
posted by adamrice at 10:02 AM on April 29, 2010

Nthing the conversion van or pickup ideas. So much easier than
hauling a trailer. You can always find a campsite to grab a shower and set up a camp stove.
posted by gnutron at 10:09 AM on April 29, 2010

I have no experience with Subaru, but I know a little about campers and road trips.

If you get a very small Pop-Up Camper you might be able to do what you want. You will definitely have to go used, and a lot of the smaller ones don't have showers.

Are you planning on being in one spot for those three months or do you plan to move around? A little more information on the kind of travel you plan on doing would help. Do you plan to hit all the amazing Western National Parks? Are you going to be mainly staying in the East or Southern U.S.?

Staying in an incorportated campground would give you more flexibility as far as the toilet and shower go. There are a lot of really nice campgrounds that have excellent facilities, and that might be safer for a single person on their own. If that's your plan, something like one of these might be good.

If it were me going out and travelling for three months alone I would want the most reliable car that I could afford. It would really suck to get stuck somewhere, broke down and out of cell service. Towing a trailer can be tough on an engine. I would rather sleep in a tent and shower at truck stops than have a unreliable car. I totally agree that some kind of travel van would be ideal. Even if you just bought a Minivan, took the back seats out and put down a mattress. Then pack a camp stove and a small table.

Also, in my opinion you should think about adopting a big dog. They make great road trip partners, and can be very comforting when you are alone and scared. I don't know if having a dog will actually make you safer, but it makes me feel safer. Plus you get the bonus of a bed warmer on cold nights.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:14 AM on April 29, 2010

I had a chevy g20 conversion van and stripped out the seats and built a bed frame which I mounted on the wheel wells. I was able to put a futon mattress on it and store stuff underneath as well as had plenty of room on the sides. The back bench folded down into a "bed" but it wasn't very comfortable and kind of sucked.

Suggestions for living out of a van:

rubbermaid boxes and milk crates- great for storing stuff.
A 5 gallon propane tank and a coleman stove with one side as a grill.
A cargo net mounted to the top of wherever you are going to sleep- really helps to keep things close that you might need.
A canopy to go over the doors so you can set up a little "living" area outside of your camper- poker table, a foldable chair, cooler full of beer and Hornitos sauza tequila (man it makes me dream of being back in the desert climbing).

Dodge also makes a conversion van on the ram frame which a buddy of mine set up beautifully.
posted by TheBones at 10:15 AM on April 29, 2010

If you do go the trailer route, you can get an ultra-light that most cars with a towing package can tow. Our 21 footer, a pretty nice 2001 AeroLite that we bought for $9000 (from a dealer) only requires a 3500 pound tow rating - we were able to pull it with our Chevy Uplander minivan easily. Our pickup doesn't even know it's there.
posted by rfs at 10:18 AM on April 29, 2010

Response by poster: I see that I should clarify what I intend to use this for. I occasionally take three-month-long contract jobs as a physical therapist, usually in small towns. So I won't be driving the thing all over the place once I get to my intended location -- I'll probably want something I can disconnect from the car and park so that I can use the car for my commute to work. And I'd be working, so I'll need reliable shower/bed, though I can probably use the showers and toilets at a campground if I need to. I'm not willing to do without some kind of kitchen setup, though -- I'm a fanatical cook, so a fridge/stovetop is the minimum I'd be willing to rough it with, kitchenwise. Thanks for all your help so far, y'all!
posted by jennyjenny at 10:32 AM on April 29, 2010

The RV market has collapsed completely with the recession. Couple that with a lot of people desperate to sell their once-prized RV to stay liquid, and you've got a recipe for bargains! I know several people who have sold RVs at a steep discount, and several others who have picked up RVs for a song. And of course you can tow your car behind an RV.

If I were in your shoes, I'd dedicate a weekend to driving out to some distant RV dealerships. Walk around the lot, peer inside, and be ready to deal.

I know it's a lot outside the price range you want, but given your requirements I think you may have to push that envelope. And if you're buying it for work, I think you could make a good case for claiming it as a business expense on your taxes next year.
posted by ErikaB at 10:39 AM on April 29, 2010

Find a used popup for the cash you have, and use the subaru to pull it....
posted by HuronBob at 10:41 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nobody's mentioned the VW Westfalia route? It's a little small for what you're talking about, but it's a lot more fun driving around once you get where you're going, and you don't need 2 things. They're easy to work on, not as terrible with fuel as a bigger small RV, have kitchen equipment (sometimes, not true of the "Weekender" models) and can be had in the price range you're considering. You can find them on Craigslist, (a bit pricey there), and elsewhere.

We had one a few years back that took us on some great adventures, and I still kick myself for selling it.
posted by richyoung at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are several RV lots new and used off 87 near Albany if you are hankering for a ride and to get to know the market.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:48 AM on April 29, 2010

OK. You might want to look into a used fiberglass clamshell trailer, like a Casita or Scamp. You could probably tow these with your current car if you got one of the smaller ones; at any rate, they are light enough to tow with a relatively small tow vehicle, so you wouldn't need an F250 or something.
posted by adamrice at 10:53 AM on April 29, 2010

The RV market has actually picked up dramatically in recent months. My mother works in the RV and Boat lending department of a major bank and every email I get from her recently she mentions how they are busier than they have been in years.

What kind of engine do you have in the Suburu? If it's a V6 you might have 3000 lbs or so of towing capacity, and you should be able to pull a smaller pop up camper with that. My parents towed a pop up with a 4 cylinder Ford Tempo. I certainly would not recommend towing anything with a 4 cyl engine, but a 6 cyl might be ok.
posted by COD at 11:07 AM on April 29, 2010

A 2000 Subaru probably has a 200 lb tow capacity.

If it were me I'd keep the Subaru and buy a pop-up trailer, probably via Craigslist.
posted by anastasiav at 11:13 AM on April 29, 2010

A quick search of craigslist found lots of pop up campers for between 1800-3300 where I am (New England). Probably plenty in the NY area too. I think that is your best bet, they have full beds, usually 2, and kitchenettes. Or you could get a bigger trailer with a bathroom too but then you would probably need a bigger vehicle.
posted by WickedPissah at 11:14 AM on April 29, 2010

A 2000 Subaru probably has a 200 lb tow capacity.

I wanted to clarify, but you surely meant 2000 lbs? The listings I can find are for newer models, but list a Forest at 2400 lbs. We had 97 Outback and towed various things with it with no problem. I say keep the Sooby and buy a small trailer for it.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:18 AM on April 29, 2010

Okay, forget what I said about the dog. It probably would be more trouble than help.

I think a pop up is going to be your best bet. I'd look for one with a kitchen that you like and then plan on parking at a place with showers. Even the best pop-up shower is only going to be about the same as a good campground shower. Pop up's are pretty easy to put up and take down, once you get it level it's easily just 15 minutes.
posted by TooFewShoes at 1:21 PM on April 29, 2010

VW Vanagon (ie Westfalia) for the win.
posted by fieldtrip at 7:54 PM on April 29, 2010

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