How to Homestead in a Travel Trailer

Can't obtain a mortgage? Don't want to pay rent? Like the rural life? You can set up your own homestead, start building equity in a property, and lead a fulfilling yet inexpensive life as a travel trailer homesteader. To get started in travel trailer homesteading, and assuming you already have transportation, preferably a pickup truck, follow the steps below.

Note: For the purposes of this article, 'homestead', 'homesteading', 'homesteader', etc. is used based on the following definition...
Main Entry: home·stead
Pronunciation: 'hOm-"sted, -stid
Function: noun
1 a : the home and adjoining land with any buildings that is occupied usually by a family as its principal residence. (snip)
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.


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    Purchase a piece of "junk land," from 1/4 to 1 acre or more if you can afford it. Almost every state has land that is longer than a one-hour drive from an urban area and without utilities. These are priced much cheaper than other properties. Prices of from $1,000 to $5,000 per lot are still possible to find in such areas.
    • Check Craigslist, eBay, the local newspapers, and the local free advertising tabloids. Avoid realtors if possible, since they will take a cut from any sales. If you don't have the cash to buy a lot outright, look for phrases such as, "owner will hold," meaning that the owner will agree to finance the property. If you go this route, though, don't expect the absolute lowest price.
    • Ensure that the land is not in a floodplain and that the title is clear. Examine the mineral and logging rights and any easements for access. Check to assure there are no outstanding native/indiginous tribal land claims.
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    Check the same advertising sources as above to find a used travel trailer. You should be able to find a serviceable travel trailer for under $5,000, especially if you search during the off-season.
    • Consider dealers. They will mark up the price of a used trailer but will sometimes add value by making repairs and issuing a warranty. Sometimes you can negotiate with the owner or dealer to tow the trailer to your site as part of the deal. If not, rent a truck or hire a service to do it if you can't yourself. Add the trailer to your auto insurance policy temporarily so you are covered during the move.
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    Clear enough land, if necessary, to site the travel trailer. Do not site on a hilltop or saddle, if possible, to avoid cold temperatures due to swirling winds, danger from fires which can engulf all sides of a hill at once, and often poor soil. Similarly, do not site in a valley with poor drainage and stagnant air. Siting on a gentle slope or on flat land is usually optimal. Site the trailer with the majority of windows and the door facing south for passive heating in winter and cooling in summer.
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    Skirt the bottom of the trailer well with impervious material, all-around, to block wind and cold. Alternatively, consider digging a trench and backing the trailer down into it so that the wheels are below ground level and the door is at ground level. (This may present an issue, however, when it rains or snows. Check the drainage.)
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    Winterize your trailer by improving the insulation of the floor, walls, windows, door(s), and ceiling. Insulate tubular vessels and pipes. Consider painting the exterior with one of the new ceramic insulating paints based on technology developed by NASA for the Space Shuttle, which can increase the "R" value of your wall insulation by 9 units or more. Eventually, you might want to erect a "carport" overhead (see How to Construct an Inexpensive Shelter) to prevent damage and noise from rain and also snow buildup on the trailer roof. (It will reflect the hot summer sun, too!)
    • Advanced winterizing includes attaching an inexpensive home-built wood/PVC and plastic greenhouse to the south side of the trailer to capture heat from the winter sun and direct it into the trailer. Storing the heat of the sun with black-painted 55 gallon (208.2 L) drums filled with water will heat your trailer at night as the stored heat is released through a window or vent. A greenhouse floor of heat-storing gravel, rocks, or concrete slab will behave similarly. Finally, the water in the drums will also function as an emergency water supply as well as aid in extinguishing fires.
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    'Summarize' your trailer by erecting a "shade house" -- an open, wooden or wire, trellis structure attached to the north side of the trailer. Grow climbing and/or creeping vines, such as grape vines on the "roof" and the "walls" for shade, food, and beauty. Cool air will enter the shade house and flow through the north windows into the trailer. You can surround the trailer with such vines on -- or a few inches away from -- the surface (to prevent possible longterm damage to the exterior). Studies show that such "living walls" can repel up to 70% of the heat from the sun during the summer and prevent up to 30% of heat loss from inside during the winter.
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    Grow as much of your own food as possible. If your soil is poor, grow in containers or improve the soil with compost and mulch or sheet mulch it well with any available free or low-cost natural materials.
    • Potatoes can grow almost anywhere, such as in a contractor's bag full of hay, straw, or finished compost. Tomatoes can grow from hanging baskets. Your greenhouse will supply you with fresh produce throughout the winter. Alternatively, some seed companies feature cold-hardy seeds that also tolerate reduced sunlight as another way to lengthen the growing season.
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    Water. There are several ways to supply water in rural areas. Rainwater catchment strategies abound. Or for well drilling, consider the inexpensive do-it-yourself driven-point well technique. Additionally, in remote and arid regions there are often inexpensive water delivery services. You'll need to set up a plastic cistern or a more expensive metal or concrete tank and conserve water to benefit.
    • Washing clothes. Save them up and do them at the laundromat in town when you do your shopping. Or, do it the old red-knuckles way on a washboard and tub. An improvement is the inexpensive 'Yukon plunger' -- basically a metal cone with a furrowed interior and wooden handle which looks like a common drain plunger on steroids. With an up-and-down motion it churns the clothes under pressure driving the soapy water or rinse water into and out of the fabric.


  • When purchasing land, ensure that there is access to public-utility water and electricity if necessary or desired.
  • Check building and zoning restrictions. Ensure that a title search is done.
  • Safely set up a propane heater and block off unused sections of the trailer for extra warmth during winter as well as economy.
  • Consider harvesting rainwater, setting up a solar electrical system, and using a homemade compost toilet.


  • For security, light up your access road, keep a cell phone with you, let others know where you are, and consider purchasing a weapon.
  • Ensure that your local government doesn't have development plans for your land or adjacent lands.
  • Make sure the soil is safe. Test the soil for chemicals before you buy the property. If you dig a well, make sure it is also tested.

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