Carrying Home with You in a Cargo Trailer

If you want a camper to live in, but:

  1. The price is out of your budget; or
  2. You want to customize your living space; or
  3. You want the space that a camper offers, but you need to be stealthy; or
  4. You need something lighter weight than a camper so you can pull it with an SUV or small truck,

then you might want to consider buying a cargo trailer and turning it into a camper. New cargo trailers aren’t cheap, but they are cheaper than a new camper; likewise a used cargo trailer is going to be cheaper than all but the most derelict used campers.

Inside, you have a blank space that you can customize to your heart’s content using whatever recycled, scrap, or discounted materials you want to use. Outside, it can look like any other trailer used for hauling hobby equipment (like motorcycles) or equipment for a business. (If you really want to be stealthy, design a graphic for your side hustle or social media presence and get it wrapped so it really does look like a business trailer.) People in neighborhoods will be less suspicious of a truck and cargo trailer parked in a driveway or along the street than they will be of a camper, so this could be a way to park for brief stints at a friend or relative’s house without their HOA pitching an unholy fit. The vast majority of people would not suspect that someone lives inside a cargo trailer.

One thing to keep in mind when building out a cargo trailer is that it must obey the weight distribution laws that all trailers packed full of stuff must obey: 60% or more of the weight has to be in front of the wheels. Personally, I would put my bathroom and kitchen in front of the wheels because the combination of appliances, cabinets, water tanks, and waste water tanks are going to be the heaviest things in your camper, whereas the bed and dining areas are the lightest portions. These trailers are not going to be as heavy as if they were packed full of cargo, so any ill-effect will be greatly lessened, but still do your research on how to distribute weight safely. You do not want to spend a year of your free time building out an awesome camper only to have it fishtailing and dragging your vehicle all over the road because you have too much build in the back.

Possibly the cheapest build on the list isn’t actually a cargo trailer but a horse trailer. Despite once owning a 2-horse trailer like this one, I would have never thought about turning it into a living space. The owner is a traveling musician who plans on using it probably as a cross between a camper and an actual nomad house.

This is a quick tour of the completed inside, but there are two other videos featuring images of the build-out, so you can get a better idea of what all he did to make it livable.

This is a simple build with a dry bath and A/C unit built using mostly IKEA furnishings. In addition to liking the IKEA kitchen station, I like the builder’s idea to cut thin grooves into plain plywood to make it look like shiplap; it dresses it up while saving money (and weight).

This cargo trailer is made to be pulled with a mid-size SUV. It has an exterior kitchen, which I would not want if I was living in the trailer full-time. I understand not wanting your living space to smell like the kitchen all the time, but if it rains or it’s cold and/or windy, you’re not cooking at all. In that case, you would much prefer your living space to smell like food than to sound like a rumbling stomach. But it’s still a nice kitchen layout and can just be turned around to face the other way. If the weather is decent, then by all means open the doors and let it vent.

One thing he did in his kitchen that I haven’t seen before is that he used a submersible fountain pump for his kitchen sink. That might be a good option if, for whatever reason you can’t use or are intimidated by an RV water pump.

Inside, he’s set it up for 3 people to sleep, but there’s no living space. You could take his bunkbed concept, though, and sleep on top and have a couch beneath it so you have something approximating a living room. If you put the kitchen on the opposite wall, you would regain the two feet or so that was lost from the kitchen in the back, giving you more space between the bed and the side door. Lastly, I would design my bathroom like the previous video so you have a shower as well as a toilet.

This cargo trailer has a similar layout to the previous one, although I think it’s a big bigger. This video, however, has some clips from the making of it, so you can get an overview of the steps involved. With the way this trailer is laid out, it’s possible to have a little door where they have a storage area and create an entrance into your kitchen. You will need to make the kitchen a bit deeper so that you can get into it without opening the back door—which means sacrificing space towards the front of the trailer—but if it’s important to you to have a kitchen that’s separate, but you also need to be able to cook indoors, that will be your best bet.

This cargo trailer has an interior kitchen, full dry bath, and can still sleep 2 people on a full-size bed. It does show how it was made.

This small cargo trailer has been home for a retired couple for over a year. It is similar in size to a small camper and has the same sorts of amenities: heat and air, a shower and chemical potty, a small kitchen area, and a queen-size bed. In these folks’ case, they kept the back ramp in lieu of double cargo doors and use it as a porch.

This large cargo trailer has a couch and separate full-size murphy bed, kitchen with apartment-sized appliances, shower, and space for a toilet and even a portable washing machine.

This large cargo trailer is pretty high-end, but it has a unique bed design (would you call this a loft murphy bed?) that allows the trailer to continue to be used as a toy hauler. So if you need to combine living space with room for a motorcycle, large equipment, or tools, this design might meet your needs.

This is the most posh trailer (cargo or otherwise) I’ve ever seen; plenty of people would be happy if their house or apartment looked this nice. It features a king-size bed and has a large “garage” under the bed which would be perfect if you have a lot of equipment or work tools.

This is a large cargo trailer and probably the most expensive on the list ($23,000), but it has many innovative features I haven’t seen elsewhere and will properly sleep 3. (I say “properly” because there is actually bedspace for 3 people, not a “bed” that’s actually a dinette that turns into half of a twin bed, or some pillows in the floor where two people five feet tall can sleep head-to-feet.) This could be doable for a family of 3 and would cost no more than a regular camper, but you’d be able to customize it to fit your family’s needs.

Is a cargo trailer a bit more of a project than you can handle? Check out other camper options here: Highway Homes: Exploring Options for Camper Living

Looking for something other than a camper? Check out these other nomad options: On the Road Again – Exploring Nomadic Housing Options

Highway Homes: Exploring Options for Camper Living

Embark on a journey exploring diverse camper options for long-term living. From cargo trailers to motorhomes, discover the wheels that redefine home on the road.

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