Family of three travels in DIY truck camper

Living full-time in an RV or a campervan isn’t right for all families. Some choose to live part-time in a vehicular tiny home while also…

Family of three smiling in the back of their DIY truck camper

Living full-time in an RV or a campervan isn’t right for all families. Some choose to live part-time in a vehicular tiny home while also maintaining their sticks-and-bricks residence.

This lets a family have the freedom and adventure of camping and travel, but the community and security of a home base.

Patrick, Lindsey and their 3-year-old daughter Em is one family who’s ditching traditional living for a hybrid model.

As lovers of the outdoors, experienced budget travelers and lovers of DIY projects, the couple recently transformed a vintage Toyota pickup into a DIY truck camper

Patrick and Lindsey hope to create travel adventures with their daughter and spend more time in the great outdoors.

Sometimes, they use the truck shell camper for weekend trips. Other times they use it as an overland travel vehicle for off-the-beaten-path and boondocking destinations. 

I found Patrick and Lindsey’s lifestyle in their DIY truck camper so inspiring that I asked them a few questions to share with you.

This family of three truly lives tiny – you can’t get much smaller than a truck shell camper.

Make sure you give their blog a follow to keep up with their adventures: Take the Truck.

Interested in more DIY camper options? Check out these utility trailer campers!

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Tell us about the DIY truck camper – why this type of rig? 

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We knew we wanted something smaller and we didn’t want an extra vehicle.

We had already experienced owning “real” campers (an old Toyota Sundrader and a Bigfoot 5th Wheel), and were more than ready to get away from owning an additional vehicle/trailer. It just spends tons of time just sitting there in our driveway anyway!

Plus, with those larger RVs, we found there were lots of places we couldn’t easily get to. We also realized how much extra stuff those types of campers prompted us to bring along on our travels. Since we aren’t full-time travelers, we really don’t need that extra space and stuff along with us.

When Patrick first brought up the idea of a DIY truck camper, I laughed.

I really didn’t think he was serious.

As time passed, I quickly realized he was, and once he showed me a few ideas it wasn’t too hard for me to wrap my head around truck shell camping as a family.

Using Patrick’s daily driver keeps the amount of stuff we own and are responsible for down. It’s a vehicle he already knows very well mechanically, and the truck allows us to explore more areas that wouldn’t be possible in other vehicles (that we can currently afford anyway!).

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Why did you pick a truck shell rather than a pop-up or hard-sided truck camper?

When we went down the truck camping path, we started with a DIY truck bed camper shell because it was the cheapest way for us to get set up and get out there! We also thought it would be plenty of space because when we’re camping and traveling most all of our time is spent outdoors.

Well, now we’ve realized that it is true, most time camping (like for the weekend) is spent outdoors. But when traveling for a month or more at a time, you’re bound to wind up in crummy weather or just have times you want to relax inside.

So we do have plans to replace our current DIY truck shell camper with a Go Fast Camper.

This will give us a separate sleeping area while all being in the truck bed still (temperature control), the option of cooking inside when needed, plus space to spread out inside when needing or wanting to.

We’re really looking forward to getting our Go Fast Camper and doing a redesign of our inside space!

What are the positives and negatives of travel in a DIY truck camper?

DIY truck bed camper with an outdoor kitchen and storage

Oh man. There are certainly some of both!

Some of the best parts of traveling in a DIY truck camper that you can’t bring a bunch of extra stuff along (or collect stuff when you’re out!).

It’s really freeing to be reminded of how little we need, and really how little we want. We’re also super mobile – there aren’t many places we can’t get to both on and off-road!

It’s freeing to be reminded of how little we truly need and want.

The negatives!

Well, the DIY truck camper is tiny and there are three of us! One of the biggest challenges we’ve run into when traveling for weeks at a time is dealing with multiple days of poor weather conditions.

The space is just too small when we’re all needing to be out of bad weather for more than a couple hours.

And we can’t easily cook because we have an outdoor kitchen, but frequently going out to eat kills the pretty tight budget we travel on. So poor weather conditions can be pretty tough.

How much time do you spend in the DIY truck camper vs. at home?

Since we’re no longer tied to our sticks-and-bricks house because of a 9-5 job, we’ve found ourselves landing on a certain pattern. We like to spend about six weeks at home and then about four in our DIY truck bed camper.

With our current DIY truck bed camper setup, about 4 or 5 weeks traveling has been our sweet spot. But we’ve got some changes planned to help make longer stints more accessible to the 3 of us.

We also use the truck to take weekend camping trips around our home state of Arkansas and love the ease of having something so compact that can go off-road.

If we had to haul a big camper around, we know from experience, that we wouldn’t go through all that effort for just a night or two out.

How do you fund your travel in the truck bed camper?

Truck shell camper setup in a beautiful, remote location with a campfire and family nearby

I taught elementary school until staying home with our daughter once she was born. Patrick has worked in logistics and in spring 2019 changed companies so that he can now work remotely.

We wanted more family time and flexibility in our day-to-day lives, including more opportunities to travel.

Becoming debt free allowed us to lower our expenses and travel more in our DIY truck camper!

To get to the point of bailing on traditional careers, we’ve had to drastically lower our monthly costs and be okay with less income. Getting our mortgage paid off – becoming truly debt free – was the ticket for us!

It has taken and continues to take dedication to adhere to a tight budget, but for us, the gain in time and flexibility encourages us to continue to make it work!

Why don’t you want to travel full time in your truck camper?

DIY truck camper traveling on a dirt road surrounded by red rocks in the western US

We aren’t full-time travelers, and for now, that isn’t part of our dream.

As much as we love to be on the road, we also love the balance that being with community and at home brings.

We love having our own little haven, our own porch, our own grass to mow and trees to watch grow.

We love the balance of community and being at home brings to our lives.

Consistent time with our closest community has become more important to us as we’ve gotten a little older and started a family.

Celebrating nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays, being around to see our friends’ kids’ grow and change, having face-to-face and meaningful time with parents, siblings and friends.

We have learned that all of these things are also part of our dream life.

Another reason we like being home between bouts of travel is just to recoup, relax, and not be in planning mode! (You know…where are we going that day, which hike or activity sounds like the best fit for our family, where can we get groceries at a reasonable price next, where will we sleep that night, will Patrick have cell service  for work, etc.)

Basically, juggling life on the road, mobile income that is time-sensitive and dependent on good cell service, and a younger kiddo can get to be a lot!

Definitely doable, but for us, time to slow down and do less while at home is great for the mental health of our family!

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Why is it important for you to travel with your daughter?

Daughter sitting on the hood of their truck with a snowman in the mountains

We love traveling as a family! It is so rewarding to see her learning about other places, people, customs, food, creatures, landscapes and climates, even road signs.

We can see a love for adventure and getting outside to explore developing more and more in her every day we’re traveling.

Also, we’ve been surprised and impressed by how much more outgoing and confident she has become through meeting new people and visiting new places outside of her little world at home!

We hope these early experiences encourage her to place value on experiences over possessions, bring about a more encompassing world view, help her understand that she is a part of something much bigger, and create a deep love and appreciation for our beautiful world.

What advice would you give others who want to try this lifestyle?

Family of 3 and their tiny truck shell camper

First of all, we’d say not to assume you’re dreaming too big, but to make a solid plan that will allow you to get there.

Break it into steps, and go for it one step at a time!

Before jumping in head first, do your research!

A life of travel is not for everyone, no matter how awesome some of these campers and destinations may be!

It takes a certain kind of energy to be on the go in new places, it is a lot of hours in the vehicle, and it is certainly not all glamorous.

It is really easy to look at #vanlife photos and think the grass is greener without actually assessing what is important for you and your family.

So another piece of advice we’d give is to spend time assessing what your goals are and what is most important for you if trying to transition away from the typical 9-5 location-dependent desk job.

For us, that’s having more time as a family and flexibility in our daily lives. And travel is something that comes from that flexibility, it’s something we enjoy and so we do it!

Also, don’t be discouraged if you have to go through multiple types of campers before you find what’s right for you – that’s pretty normal, especially for families who travel full or part-time!

Other stories about RVing with kids you’ll love:

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  1. Hey Kristin! Their DIY camper truck looks neat! It’s truly freeing to be reminded that we don’t need material things to be happy.

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  4. Nancy Yeeting says:

    We have an Adventurer truck camper for about 2 years now.It is self contain with a wet bath, kitchen,dining area, queen size bed ,closet for hanging clothes and tons of other storage .Truck campers are not as common as campervans,but we are happy to of chose the truck camper ,mainly because at 24 feet,it has all the amenities of a bigger RV but is smaller and easier to drive and park,yet big enough to have a bathroom,which is important to me to have a shower and a toilet. It runs on propane,electric and solar power and we can even add a generator if we want,but haven’t needed to so far.We like to camp in the fall and winter and with 4 wheel drive we can truly go anywhere ,anytime and in the snow.We usually travel once a month but are planning to live and travel in it full time when we retire,that will be a few more years .( can’t wait)

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