How we squeeze a family of 5 into our old, tiny trailer!

The day we bought our trailer was bitter sweet.  It was exciting to be getting a camper trailer, but there was that small voice inside saying we’ve sold out… we’ve failed… moving from a tent to a trailer.  Will we still be roughin’ it?  Can we still call ourselves campers?

Funny isn’t it, how we categorize ourselves into all these different levels and values of camping?  Well, either way, if we wanted to get out to the campground with 3 small kids in temperatures that can fall to freezing even in the summer, we needed something a little more substantial than our well-loved, leaky, too small, duct-taped Canadian Tire tent.

a vintage camper with the door open, text overlay reads get a tour inside our camping trailer

Why we bought this trailer…

It was spring after baby number 3 arrived and we were planning out our summer camping plans.  And, it occurred to us that our tent would no longer hold us all.  So, we started hunting for a new tent.  Because it gets so cold here even in the summer we needed something with a full fly, a vestibule, and something smaller than a traveling circus tent!

And we started thinking about actual camping trailers instead of a tent.

We needed someplace to sleep dry and warm.  We wanted to be able to store basic camping supplies instead of needing to pack up the van every trip.  We wanted to have somewhere to prepare food out of the rain and a place to escape from mosquitoes.  And, perhaps most importantly, I wanted to go camping without having to nurse a baby all night long crouching over in a cramped damp tent.

So, we started browsing the used classified ads… and voila… we found it!

Yep it needed a little work, and it could probably use a lot more, but our 1973 Dutch Swinger meets all our current needs!  And we love it!

Nothing fancy inside this rv trailer!

A few of you have asked for a tour… well, take a look around!

A camping trailer being pulled by a black truck
Our 1973 Dutch Swinger hooked up and ready to go

This is our trailer from the outside.  It’s old and it’s small.  It could benefit from a painting.  Every summer we see other vintage trailers with nice new paint jobs and think how sweet that would be for our old Swinger, but really, we don’t have any plans to paint the trailer any time soon.

Our trailer also lacks an awning.  So, when we park there’s always a lengthy (and sometime controversial) process of putting up a tarp over the door area.

A beige vintage trailer with the door wide open to see inside
Door’s open, come on in!

Obviously, you’ll notice we haven’t remodeled.  I haven’t purchased coordinating fabrics or fancy decor.  Sure, I’d love to make it all trendy and cheery.  But, that’s just not going to happen.

I did sew up some new curtains for the trailer… and I’ll say I’m pretty proud of them!

The counter and stove top inside a vintage rv camper triailer
The Kitchen with super awesome Star Wars curtains!

This is the kitchen area.  The stove works and just boiling some water for our morning tea is enough to warm up the camper and take away the morning’s chill.  There is a sink but we don’t use any of the plumbing in the trailer.  So, we just have a piece of counter top to place over the sink.

The trailer also has a fridge that works only when we’re plugged into electricity.  If we don’t have electricity, which is most of the time, we use ice packs to keep it cold.

You can see our curtains in this picture.  After having spent a few nights in the trailer I realized I should have fashioned more insulating curtains.  There are drafts from the windows and a thicker fabric may have helped with that.

We permanently store camping dishes and supplies in the cupboards you can see in the above photo.  There are also small cabinets above the eating table and under the bed/couch.

With 5 of us using the camper more storage would be appreciated, but we’ve come up with some ways to manage.

The most helpful thing we did for storage was remove the toilet and convert the tiny bathroom into a food pantry.  In this photo below you can see where the toilet was and where food tubs and laundry are now stacked.

How the storage closet is organized with tubs for food in an RV
Our ‘bathroom’ is now a food pantry, storage closet

My hubby has made these permanent wooden shelves that go up past the window to securely store all our food and supplies. And, we made them the perfect size to slide these handled bins in and out easily.

Wondering what that black thing in the window is?  That’s our solar panel.  Right now the only thing it provides power to is the main light we’ve hung in the camper.  There is a second outlet on the panel which makes me think I can purchase other items to plug into it, but I haven’t looked into that yet.

How do 5 people sleep in this tiny trailer?

When our kids were all under 10 we managed well.  Now that we’ve got 2 teenagers, we just don’t fit as well and usually someone sleeps outside in a tent.

Generally, the plan is 2 people on each bed area and one on the floor.

In the front of the trailer the table and benches convert into a sleeping area.  We tend to just keep the table converted to a bed for convenience.

The converted table to a sleeping area inside a family camper
The eating area converted to a sleeping platform

Because this area is sometimes transformed into a table, we use sleeping bags here to make the switch easy and quick.

However, the back sleeping area is made up with actual sheets and blankets.  I’d much prefer to sleep with blankets as I find sleeping bags too confining.  This means I usually get to share the back bed with one of the kids.

The sleeping area of a small messy trailer, blankets on the bed, clothes strewn around
Looking towards the back of the messy trailer, the back bed and converted bathroom

Then, you’ll see underneath the back sleeping area is a cozy little cubby that another kids crawls into.

The sleeping area underneath a bed in a vintage camper
A tiny cozy sleeping area underneath the back bed.

How we organize our camper trailer

Here are a few notes on how we organize our stuff within the trailer.

Each person packs their clothes for the trip into a small backpack or small plastic tub.  These are just thrown into the camper for the drive.  But, once we set up and remove the camping chairs from under the table everyone’s stuff goes under there.

The kids are strongly encouraged to keep track of their belongings and put all dirty clothes into the laundry bag.  However, it seems that no amount of nagging prevents the trailer from being covered in used socks and more pajamas than seem reasonable.

We have a small tub with books, pens, and paper for the kids and one small cupboard is dedicated to kid’s games and activities.

The kids are aware of limited space and allowing them only one bag helps keep the extras at a minimum.

Like I mentioned earlier we use the bathroom to store all our food and supplies.  The shelves have been made so our carrying tubs fit nicely on them with space for us to see right into the tubs.  So, we don’t even really unpack food into the trailer, just put the tubs on the shelves.

How the storage closet is organized with tubs for food in an RV
Once a bathroom, now a storage closet with shelving

Our cold foods are stored in the camper fridge.  If we’re camping for a long time without electricity to run the fridge we’ll also keep a cooler in the vehicle with all the frozen foods for later on in the trip.

READ MORE: Curious how we manage to camp without electricity and manage our food, read this post here.

Dishes, cutlery, cooking utensils, first aid stuff, and fire making supplies are stored in the other cupboards over and under the counter.  We tend to keep our large water jug on the counter because it seems that’s the only place to keep it.

We also have a little box on the counter to throw all our tidbits into (like keys, pens, change, head lamps, chap stick, and such).  This keeps the counter and trailer a little tidier and gives us a first place to look when small things go missing.

Our laundry bag’s home in this closet room as well as anything which happens to be over-sized and doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else.

There is a small clothes hanging bar in one of the cupboards where we store our coats, hats, mittens, and such.  Since the weather can go from hot to cold in a few hours, every day we always camp with rain jackets, and warm coats (sometimes even bringing along winter jackets for the littles).  However, even with this closet in the camper, it seems everyone’s coats and hats get folded onto the decorative metal ‘wall’ just inside the camper door.

Another thing we hang just inside the camper door are our bathroom bags.  This way we can all easily grab our soaps, toothbrushes, face clothes and such without having to take our shoes off and go hunting in the camper.

Just outside of the camper door we have 2 large lidded tubs.  They are the perfect size to just slide underneath the camper and stay out of the rain.  One tub is for everyone’s foot wear.  The other tub is for head ware, hats and bike helmets.  This system is a huge sanity saver, given everyone puts their stuff back where it belongs!

a plastic bin with hats and helmets sitting outside a camper
Our hats bin, with a lid, that slides underneath the camper when not in need

READ MORE: Looking for more tips on how we organize our camping trips, check out this article!

A few more notes on our trailer

Generally we prefer to be outside rather than inside.  But, I find we tend to have lazy long mornings when we’re sleeping in the camper.  The kids will read, we’ll listen to stories, and then start thinking about breakfast.  The kids really like converting the sleeping platform back into a table for breakfast if it’s a little chilly outside.

Kids eating breakfast at a table inside a vintage rv trailer
Breakfast at the table

You’ll notice some tubs at their feet under the table.  This is a big area where we store everyone’s clothes and such.  So, when the table is set up I find bags and tubs will get stepped on.  But, it’s mostly clothes under there, so it’s not a big deal.

Did you notice the rugs and cardboard on the floor?  We find that the floors are very cold.  To help this, I’ve put down thick cardboard which I’ve then covered with woolen rugs and blankets.  This really warms up the floor and makes the camper warmer all around.

Another thing I’d like to mention is how we use the trailer to haul our gear.  That area under the table is the perfect size for folded camping chairs.  Under the benches are large storage areas too.  On one side we keep our tarps, ropes, tools, and outdoor toys.  In the other bench we store our sleeping bags, other outdoor toys (like our slack line, badminton net, and mosquito tent).  I even put my bike right into the trailer to bring it to the campground!

While we try to keep our camping packing to a minimum, we find that having a trailer in which we can keep all the gear very helpful.  Instead of having to unpack and repack every trip there are many things which we just keep in the trailer all the time.

When we were looking at purchasing a trailer we also decided we wanted a hard top instead of a tent trailer for this reason.  We felt a tent trailer would give us less storage  and we’d still have to store most of our supplies in the garage in between camping trips.

Well, I think that’s about all I have to share.  I hope you enjoyed the tour inside our rv trailer.  Please feel free to ask any questions about anything you see or questions on how we pack and use the trailer.  Happy Camping!

photo taken inside a message vintage camper, text overlay reads family of five camper, look inside

18 thoughts on “How we squeeze a family of 5 into our old, tiny trailer!”

  1. I’m Karl from Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. I have the same trailer as you except mine has a 1 piece fiberglass roof. I don’t have any space at the back, I have a full size pull out bed.

  2. Tammy Higgins

    I just bought a 1972 Dutch swinger which is currently being painted before I get it home to restore on the inside. I’m trying to find information about the Dutch swinger campers (I.e. where they were made, weight, history). Do you have any helpful resources ?

    1. Hi Tammy, Oh I’d love to see pictures of your restored camper! As you can see in the photos, we have not done anything to update it… and boy, it shows! Unfortunately, I really don’t have any info to share with you other than I believe I read somewhere on our camper that perhaps it was made in Manitoba? Good Luck:)

    2. Hello, Little Dutch Swinger trailers are made in Winkler, Manitoba, Canada. I have a 15 ft. one for 27 years now and on a scale of 1-10, it’s a 7.5! I love it.

  3. Marleen Caswell

    I love your simple style….get outside, don’t worry about all the gadgets and fancy stuff. We do have a 20 foot trailer, but it is super light, an Edge by Heartland. Storing all our camping gear in there during the winter is fabulous and having a trailer to sleep in gets me out much more often and earlier in the year. Especially during the pandemic we have been grateful to be able to get to a campground and get outside in nature. Your decision about your bathroom is interesting…..we have used a PET toilet system to save our black water tank….I don’t want to go outside in the middle of the night ( which I always do have to go). Keep up with your simple tips and encouragement

    1. Thanks Marleen! Yes, I think you sum up my camping style pretty well: just get outside and don’t worry about all that other stuff;) Yeah, the toilet… I would rather not go out in the dark cold, but for now, with 5 packed in there, a toilet just didn’t get priority;) All the best and happy camping!

  4. Michelle E Bojczuk

    We have a 27 ft trailer with a family of 8. It is amazing how much room you can find in a travel trailer when you look. Ours has a couch that folds into a bed. We cut off the front panel (where your legs go) and it was totally empty under there! We put 2 laundry baskets as “drawers” there.
    We also cut the back wall away from under the seat bench of the table and now have two shoe bins. We don’t even use all the cabnits or other storage areas.
    You just have to think outside of the box (like taking out the toilet!)
    Camp on!

    1. Hi Michelle, Wow, camping with a family of 8 in a trailer! Sounds like lots of fun! That’s cool that you were brave enough to cut open the walls looking for more space and great idea with the laundry hamper drawers. Thanks for sharing:)

    1. Hi Felicia,
      When we’re camping with the trailer we always use outhouses or public bathrooms at the campground. And, if we were camping somewhere wild, we’d just dig a hole;)
      Not having to deal with emptying and filling the tanks and cleaning these and the smell, plus the added storage space were our reasons for removing the bathroom.

    1. Hi Misty, Prior to our purchasing our truck, we did pull our trailer with our van. However, we could tell it was hard on the van’s engine. Your vehicle’s paperwork should give a tow weight recommendation. And, your trailer’s paperwork should list its weight. Then, consider the added weight of all your gear and supplies loaded into the trailer. Whichever vehicle you pull your trailer with, for safety reasons, you want to make sure that you are not exceeding your vehicle’s towing abilities. Hope this helps:)

  5. So many great ideas. I almost fell over when I read the one about the outdoor tubs for shoes and bike helmets – genius! Thanks so much:)

  6. Thanks for the simple, easy tip to keep a small container on the counter for keeping keys, pens and loose items together. I also like your idea of keeping a tub outside for hiking boots and shoes within easy reach, but out of the camper.

    1. Hi Janice, I’m so happy you found a few of my tips helpful. With a family of 5 in such a small space the catch-all on the counter has been a real saver for us! Happy camping:)

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