Knowledge guide

Why We Decided to Convert a Cargo Trailer into a Camper / Tiny Home

Why you should build a cargo camper

So you like to camp or you are looking for a simple solution to start your tiny home lifestyle.

If, like us, you are broke, don’t own a huge truck with dual axels, and in general, are unsatisfied with options when it comes to picking out a camper, maybe you should consider building one yourself.

There are a ton of reasons why it’s a great idea to DIY a camper / tiny home. It’s cheaper than buying an overpriced RV, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a huge learning experience.

Let’s look at some of the reasons that Cait and I decided to build our camper rather than buying one outright.

Buying a camper is a waste of money

Fact: Campers are overpriced.

Holy smokes campers are a rip-off! Cait and I have been looking at campers for sale for years - both new and used - and man! I can’t think of a worse investment.

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Like a new car, a travel trailer loses virtually all its value as soon as you drive it off the lot. Want proof? Start paying attention as you drive down the highway. In the South, it’s a little ridiculous just how many campers are for sale on the side of the road. They're everywhere!

A brand new camper costs thousands of dollars and I can assure you that you will not sell it for that amount of money.

A good exercise is to look up used campers in your area then compare last year's model prices with the cost of this year's models. It is absolutely outrageous just how much value an RV loses as soon as you buy it.

Cait and I have been looking at campers in the lightweight category and we had trouble finding anything less than $20,000 that was in decent shape and that we would consider using.

Cost of Building a Cargo Trailer

We did a ton of research before we decided to build our own camper. Long story short you can definitely build a very high-end-looking travel trailer for less than $15,000. If you wanted to go to the cheaper route and just get something that you could use you could probably do this for less than $7,000. I've seen plenty of articles and videos on YouTube of people who claim to have done it for incredibly cheap.


Low-cost does not necessarily mean low value either. The designs in custom cargo trailer campers and tiny homes are really impressive. And there is no shortage of incredible inspiration online. The van life folks are particularly chock full of incredible design talent.

Cait and I are really just getting started with our build. But before we even wrote the first check, I tried to estimate every single expense we could possibly need. It’s impossible to truly predict every step but by my analysis, I think we will have a very high-end look for under $15K. If you want to see our current estimates and build costs, check out our build estimate section of the site which is coming soon.

Campers are ugly and made of cheap materials

There. I said it. I think most campers look like junk.

We've been super unimpressed with the design and layouts of the sub-$30,000 price range of travel trailers on the market.

“Go to any RV lot and tour some travel trailers. The heavy odor of plastic and chemicals hits you as soon as you open the door. ”

The color schemes are tacky.

The materials are cheap.

The fabric doesn’t feel like it will last.

Brand new Starcraft camper. Who would put this color scheme or fabric pattern in a home?!
Brand new Starcraft camper. Who would put this color scheme or fabric pattern in a home?!

The fact of the matter is that camper manufacturer only care about the same thing that any business cares about - the bottom line. That bottom line is reflected by just how many corners manufacturers cut in building travel trailers.

Go to any RV lot and tour some travel trailers. The heavy odor of plastic and chemicals hits you as soon as you open the door.

Build a camper and pick your own materials

When you build your own camper or tiny home, you have complete control over every single build decision.

Forget plastic paneling! Our ceiling is baltic birch!

Don’t worry about damaging cheap linoleum flooring. Use residential-grade luxury vinyl plank.


Thin plastic plumbing? Forget-about-it! Your pipes are the same PEX used in your home.

Seriously, the greatest advantage to a DIY camper or tiny home is the freedom to choose where you spend your money and what corners you can cut.

Whether you go low cost or high end, I can guarantee that the materials you choose are night and day better quality than the garbage coming off the line at RV manufacturing facilities.

Campers are heavy

I still don’t fully have my head wrapped around why travel trailers weigh so much.

Look on the side of any camper and you should find the sticker that lists the gross vehicular weight (GVW). The GVW is the general answer to the question “How much does the Camper Weigh?”

The GVW is basically the weight of your trailer when your tanks are full and your cargo load inside the trailer is completely full. This number has to be less than your vehicle's tow capacity and you gotta leave some room to grow because how much stuff is in your camper will sorta depend on what kind of trip you are going on.

We found the weight problem to be a pretty big hurdle for us.

I drive a 2011 Toyota 4Runner SR5 which has a 5000 lb tow capacity. So we were looking at campers around 4000-4500 lbs GVW max.

Travel trailers that meet that criteria are generally either 1) super small or 2) really expensive.

There is a decent market for the sort of feather-lite category but with that expertise comes cost and ultimately we decided that we could not afford something nice that I could still pull with my 4Runner.

“Just buy a new truck!” You say. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why it’s a terrible idea to sell my paid-off SUV just so I can spend a bunch of money on a huge camper. You already know why that’s a ridiculous argument.

Cargo trailers are surprisingly light

As I said, I still can’t get my head around this. I don’t understand how a steel-framed heavy-duty trailer weighs less than comparable-sized campers but it’s true.

Our trailer started at under 2000 pounds. We are taking steps to choose build materials that keep us as light as possible but even then, I’ve estimated that we should be under 4000 pounds after it’s all said and done.

Maybe it’s the materials. Maybe it’s the shape. If you have any ideas, let me know.

Build a DIY camper or tiny home and control every design decision

This right here is why you do it! Forget those tacky colors and cheap materials! Go for a sexy boho vibe and make that partner in your life happy!

Make it look nice and you will be more likely to look forward to using it.

By building your own camper, you have total control over every design decision.

Pick the colors, pick the paints, pick the width of the aisle! Making these decisions is the most fun part of building your own trailer. Take the time to make good plans and it will pay off in the end.

Follow our build and get updates as we go

If like us, you are considering doing your own DIY camper, I hope you will consider checking out the YouTube channel or joining our mailing list.

During this journey, we are excited to share what we learn and hopefully provide resources that you can use to do your own camper or tiny home.

Thanks for reading and happy building friends!

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