Updated: Apr 3
This article is for those contemplating taking the leap to going tiny, those already committed ready to get to it, and even those already living the lifestyle looking for a change. Affirmatively deciding to downsize your life is the first step on an incredible journey that will change your reality in its entirety. The first major decision you must make is choosing a rig. In a rapidly expanding world, us minimalists are constantly coming up with wild new build concepts. This article is mainly going to focus on the nomadic options for tiny living and dissect the pros and cons of each.
Thanks to the brilliant community, there are countless templates to work from and help you pick a concept that fits you and your lifestyle best. If you are where I was at the start of my conversion to tiny living, you are likely to be experiencing alternating intervals of excitement for the change and angst and FOMO for all the decisions that lie ahead. In hindsight, I have found that pinpointing where you lie on a scale of mobility to comfort is a great starting point as you will find that in order to get more of one, you end up sacrificing a bit of the other.
So while there are a few builds out there that are so far outside of the box that this scale can’t even account for them, this covers your basic, conventional options and organizes them in a way that will hopefully help you find your best fit or at least start to. Now, let’s dig a bit deeper into why each lies where it does.
For your bare minimalist, fuel conscience, backroad enthusiast, this is the ideal option for those rubber tramps on a budget simply wanting to see everything and go everywhere the land will take them. In my travels, I have seen die-hard environmentalists with a longing for the road make due in a stock Prius with nothing more than a cooler, single-burner, sleeping bag, tent, and a backpack. While for many this sounds unbearable, when that travel bug gets its grasp on you and it's all circumstances permit, many will find a way to make it work. On the upper end of this spectrum comes your modded out 4x4 overlanders such as 4Runners, Tacomas, Suburbans, and Jeeps where interior platforms, rooftop tents, and strategic organization can provide you with a rather comfortable living quarters that, speaking from experience, can take your nearly anywhere your heart desires. While the adjustment to no interior standing space, minimal headroom, and no facilities was a process for sure, at my current stage of wanderlust and urge to take the roads less traveled (and occasionally blaze my own, most of the time successfully), I couldn’t be happier. Given the relatively high stealth factor as well, I definitely value being able to go from mountain tops to city streets with most people not skipping a beat as to most of society, nobody would be crazy enough to live in a rig like my FJ. But hey, if you’re not keen on handling the occasional skeptic, maybe tiny living isn’t for you as it quickly becomes a standard encounter.
Ahhh the sprinter, an ingenious solution to the living space and fuel economy compromise. As I am sure you have seen via social media, countless solo travelers, couples, and even families pack into these rigs and live quite comfortably whilst still not torturing their bank accounts with gas expenditures. Sure it isn’t the aforementioned Prius but an exponentially larger living quarters and the ability to pull upwards of 18-20 mpg, one can definitely understand the appeal. As a 4x4 enthusiast myself, in pursuit of campsites I have definitely come across roads and trails where I could go that extra mile my van life friends could not. Sometimes that advantage is minute but on occasion, its allowed me to reach clearings otherwise unpassable. One that comes to mind being a campsite in Montana where a narrow trail brought me to the solitude of nature in a field of elk with jaw dropping, unobstructed mountain views and a starry sky words could not do justice. Sure, you could always hike said trails but the convenience of having your rig right there, to roll out of bed to such a setting, unbeatable.
On the other hand however, the idea of standing room, a true kitchen, and just overall more comfort certainly does sound intriguing on those cooped up rainy days or when you hit your head on the ceiling for the tenth time that day. Plus, vans can act as a very pleasant, small-scale hangout space for a few folks whereas the Car/SUV typically isn’t the ideal setting for. Compared to the Car/SUV however, stealth parking is limited especially if you have any major exterior extremities (AC, ladder, bikes, etc.) making it obvious that it isn’t your typical commercial van. Continuing on, space is still quite limited relative to the skoolies and tiny houses but man is it entertaining to see all the new modular and reconfigurable builds people are coming up with these days to maximize space and comfort.
Short/Mid Size Bus or RV
So this is where my old rig (pictured above) would lie and how my nomad life began. At just shy of 25 feet, my 1998 GMC Bluebird was a great compromise on the mobility and comfort scale. It handled beaches (most of the time) and backroads (with at least 11' clearance) like a trooper, ample living space at roughly 90 square feet, and was capable of having bathroom facilities, a kitchen, a queen bed, and still some ample living space for seating and storage. For reference, it is a six window skoolie and all these benefits go for any rig in the 20-25’ range. A dog nose model housing a guzzler of a diesel engine like most skoolies was an advantage for its torque and power however its measly 8-10 mpg fuel efficiency wasn’t exactly ideal. Conversely, the short buses sporting van chassis often boast very similar living space and upwards of 13-15 mpg if driven conservatively. But nonetheless, many travelers with the big boys in the 30’+ range are definitely a bit envious of the maneuverability rigs like this possess. Also, needless to say, stealth parking in any skoolie or RV in this size range or the next, godspeed. It is a bit of an art form to develop the skill of parking them free of charge but it is by no means impossible with some creativity. With the majority of my experience and encounters being in the custom build community, I can’t speak entirely to the prefabricated RVers but I can comfortably assume that many of the models in this size range come with similar benefits and compromises.
Also to be included in this size range with similar living space and capabilities are your typical truck bed campers. Often somewhat alike in floor plans and amenities, the major advantage to this option is the ability to detach the camper and have your unobstructed pick-up truck to get around in. With many modern models coming with built-in hydraulic lifts, the ease of removal is quite doable allowing you to have both your living quarters but also your daily driver when necessary.
Full Size Bus/RV
So here lies your 30’+ behemoths. Ranging from the 10-15 window skoolies to multi-slideout RVs to million dollar Prevosts, these are as close to a conventional living quarters on wheels as one can get. A lot of what was said about the short/mid-size goes for these models as well, lack of stealth and maneuverability yet exceptional comfort. The room available and possible amenity layouts are seemingly endless as can be seen through social media which showcases families of six or more living in these with space to spare. On many occasions, builds in this size range have acted as gathering spaces for new and old friends and created some of the greatest memories the road has provided me. Whether it be watching the super bowl in the Arizona desert or having a Thanksgiving dinner by the beach in the Keys, a major benefit to this size rig is without a doubt their ability to create scenarios like these others simply could not.
The capabilities of a tiny home of this magnitude are mind-boggling. Many builds run systems that would be luxurious for a residential house in a completely self-sustainable manner. We’re talking several hundred gallons of water, full bathrooms, extravagant entertainment systems, residential kitchen appliances, multiple kW of solar, and battery banks to make your head spin. It is nothing shy of incredible to see a rig of this size and convenience be able to be off-grid for weeks at a time. What this community has been able to and continues to advance to is simply incredible. Again, however, as you cross into the 30-40’+ range while comfort is exponentially improved, don’t expect to be trailblazing or climbing mountains like your smaller counterparts.
Last but not least are your literal tiny houses. A saying commonly circulated amongst nomads is that we are not homeless but rather houseless. While unconventional, we all consider our various rigs homes but it is owners of these structures who can actually still say they have a house. While many of these builds are stationary (container homes, cabins, etc), I am focusing on towable tiny structures such as those pictured below. Of all the listed options, this is unique as it lacks the independent mobility capabilities and therefore is furthest towards comfort on the scale. And when I say comfort, I mean comfort. The upper end builds house 60 inch plasmas, clawfoot jacuzzis, lofts, and even the occasional chandelier. I mean some next level stuff, these builders aren’t messing around.
This is just one approach, however, as for many folks luxury has a completely different interpretation. Some simply prefer this option for higher ceilings, more conventional living quarters, and ironically simplicity. Not to mention, the bumps and curves of the road without a doubt take a toll on builds and while for some of us, constant repairs is half the fun, for others looking to maximise enjoyment by minimizing wear and tear, a structure with less mobility is recommended.
So, in summation, for those looking to live tiny nomadically, these are more or less your options (so far). With that being said, that by no means implies that you shouldn’t let your imagination run wild and chase and build fantasy you can drum up. The options are endless and the possibilities are extraordinary. I hope that this article was at least somewhat insightful and assists you in getting one step further in going tiny! Please share with your friends currently in the R+D phase and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop a comment or reach out to me personally on Instagram via @mileswmyles. See you out there!
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