Touring the west in a tiny trailer; life with a teardrop or other small campers

This 58 Serro Scotty Junior teardrop is our current small trailer, lovingly built three years ago by a West Virginia shop teacher.

This Aliner pop-up camper yields a hard-sided, rugged camper, sleeping up to six, and folds for compact and aero-dynamic towing with small vehicles!
This classic 1970s Compact II, made in CA, is light-weight, sleeps four and the inside offers a pop-up allowing standing room for six-footers!
A variety of small modern vans are converted to small campers like this one.
The classic VW Westfalia camper remains popular for small families seeking comfort and good gas mileage!



When we bought our first teardrop travel trailer, about six years ago, the seller (who towed it with a Mini-Cooper) pronounced it a “GEM; garage-able, efficient and maneuverable”.  She noted the little trailer was easy to stow in a garage, easy on the gas mileage, and maneuverable in campgrounds and other tight spots

My wife and I have been retired for over a year, and had long-planned an active, traveling retirement.  Now on our second teardrop, a reproduction 1958 Serro Scotty Junior, these little trailers have lived up to the “gem” description.

When we were younger, we would pile our two girls into our van, load a canoe on top, pitch a tent and tour much of the Pacific Northwest out of Spokane, our then-hometown.

As we have matured, the idea of tenting has lost its luster, and traveling in more comfort has risen.  But, the thought of purchasing a big, expensive travel trailer, or fifth-wheel, getting terrible gas mileage towing it and storing the behemoth struck us both as somewhat un-American.
We were bitten by the teardrop trailer bug about seven years ago.  These cute little trailers attract a crowd and we met owners who loved them.  Teardrop owners stage teardrop rallies throughout the west and vintage trailer rallies also occur regularly, making places to meet new traveling friends.

Additionally, these tiny trailers, weighing only about 800 pounds loaded, can be towed by small cars and they fit easily into a garage (no hassle storing them somewhere).  And you sleep off the ground, in a hard-shell camper, so the wife no longer worries about bear attacks!

Last summer, just before a planned bicycling tour of the Gettysburg battlefield, we found our second teardrop, a replica Scotty Junior made in 2011 by a skilled West Virginia shop teacher.  We picked it up on the way to Gettysburg, and have since towed it all across the country, up the coast of Oregon, Washington and across British Columbia, and to the Grand Canyon and Southwest.

As I write, we are into a three week trip with our teardrop to Crater Lake National Park, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, over to Spokane, through Idaho into Montana’s Glacier National Park, then up to Alberta, Canada to take in Lake Louise, Jasper National Park and other incredible places.
With our circuitous route, we’ll log about 3,500 miles – and spend $500 on gasoline and, maybe, $350 on lodging.  Not bad for a three week tour into wondrous country!

You might wonder “how do we do that”?  Well, towing we get about 28 MPG (compare that to folks pulling giant fifth-wheels behind huge diesel pickups getting 7-8 MPG).

We don’t duck the chance to spend a few nights with friends along the way; a real bed and shower is nice on occasion.  For other nights we search out federal campgrounds (national parks, national forests, BLM) and with our America the Beautiful pass, we get half off all campgrounds.  So, a $24 site drops to $12 (the discount does not hold in Canada, however).

And, the trailer fits into many camping sites too small for the giant rigs and takes only minutes to set up.  It offers wonderfully comfy sleeping quarters, and we can cook with the best of the giant motorhome owners.   The sun shines as brightly on our campsite as does the larger rigs, and our campfire and picnic table is just as rustic.

My wife has a ready response to the constant question “can you sleep in that little trailer”?  Her reply “the sleeping compartment is 4’ wide by 6’3” long; once we each stake out our two feet, we are very cozy and sleep like two bugs in a rug!”.  Add cabinets above our feet and head, and the teardrop has lots of storage capacity.

Most teardrops have a rear galley that pops open; some have built-in sinks and propane stoves.  Ours is not quite so finished, but allows us storage for a camp stove, lantern, pop-up awning used in inclement weather, fishing gear and the like.

Long before retirement, we made a pact to do a lot of traveling in the US and Canada the next several years.   A spring trip this year had us visiting Death Valley, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree National Parks, taking in spring training games in Phoenix and visiting pals in Yuma.  We have now visited eight of the nine national parks in California (only lacking Channel Islands NP; we’ll get there someday!).

For meals, we prepare many of our own in camp; the pictures above show the “kitchen detail” built into many of these small, teardrop trailers.  When you are camping in nice California weather, we and the fifth-wheel crowd all cook outside, so we do gourmet camp cooking with the best of them.

Pictured are several teardrop rigs, including ones that are 5’ wide and up to 10’ long, offering more sleeping space and more elaborate galleys. You’ll also see an example of owners who creatively expand their living area with awnings and shade structures.

We currently own two small trailers, the 58 Serro Scotty teardrop reproduction model, and an original 64 Scotty Sportsman, a bit larger though needing a fairly intensive rebuild.  We can tow the teardrop with our Focus, and we get lots of comments in the campgrounds, parked among the “big boys toys” –Guess who gets four-times better gas mileage?

So, consider the benefits of “small trailering”.  You can find slightly used teardrop trailers and their kin on eBay or Craig’s List, and new units sold locally at places like Pan Pacific RV in Lathrop.  In addition to teardrop trailers, modern pop-up campers and small van conversions offer all sorts of options that can sleep a family of 4-6  in most of the creature comforts offered by those giant fifth wheels!

With tiny trailers you can see much of the US and Canada, save money and be cozy and comfy as your bigger campground neighbors!

Our next feature will offer insights and photos of a recent trip to Crater Lake National Park, with a side trip to Lassen National Park and Mt. Shasta along the way.  Stay tuned!

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog:; or contact me, 

Happy travels in the west!

This entry was posted in Central California, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers, United States beyond! and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

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