We’ve lived in Southern California for some time now and camping down here is definitely different than back in Alaska. Back home, we would load up our terrified Husky in our canoe, the Blanch Devereaux, and float down a long, winding river camping along the banks with friends and family. You could be butt naked and risk very little exposure to other people, I have very fond memories of doing just this on our first wedding anniversary.
Down here though, I’m pretty sure you’d get a ticket for letting your kid pee in the woods at a park. You have to book your camping reservations about 6 months in advance which gives you an idea of just how jam packed the campgrounds are. Shortly after buying our home here we said goodbye to our trusted camper van as we knew she wouldn’t ever accommodate a family and have since been demoted to tent camping. Let me just say, as small as that camper van bed was, it was still about 400% better than sleeping on the ground. Now imagine sleeping with two small people who completely ignore the boundaries of sleeping pads and bags. I mean sleeping in our own king bed at home can be horribly uncomfortable when/if shared with these animals children we co-habitat with, so tent camping is legit nightmarish.
So I’d been randomly looking on Craigslist for a pop-up tent trailer and then, I found one. It was a 1995 Jayco Eagle and the ad stated the owner was moving and couldn’t take it with her – which equates to a serious Craigslist bargaining tool. I contacted them in the morning and pulled a Thai open-air market hustle, offering just $1000 on her $1600 trailer. She of course said no and I apologized and said that was our limit, because it was, my husband was completely NOT on board with this plan and he capped me at $1000. Sure enough as night fell, the owner reached out to me saying she would accept my $1000 low-ball offer if I could come get it that night. So we loaded up two hungry children and drove 40 minutes north to take a look at a pop-up camper… in the dark.
A few hours later we were the proud new owners of a janky-ass, 20 year old pop-up camper. In the morning light I was able to really assess the sad state of the trailer and I immediately began having heart palpitations. My husband literally patted me on the shoulder and said, “Well, good luck with this.” and walked back inside. I had strong-armed him into this purchase and I was now responsible for getting this thing up and functioning. I contacted my brother and dad instantly fearful that I had just bitten off more than I could chew. Sure, I’ve scored old furniture off Craigslist that I’ve flipped or found high-end items and clothing at thrift stores that I’ve sold for profit but this tent trailer was freaking me the French out!!! But, I come from a line of Craigslist Kings who have been wheeling and dealing since the days of newspaper classified ads. My brother calmly told me that I was simply experiencing a normal case of “Craigslist Buyers Remorse” and not to panic.
I began to breath again and thoroughly assess the situation; I am a nurse after all. The previous owner had left an interior light on and then closed down the top thus burning several holes through the canvas and the light housing itself was completely fried. The shock cord was shredded on one bunk end as well as the actual canvas which prevented a snug and secure fit around the bunk allowing cool air and bugs to come in freely. There was clearly some water damage to one end of the roof though the source was unknown and the canvas itself had some pretty serious mildew.
Luckily I am not the first person to have the (idiotic) idea to flip a pop-up camper and easily found plenty of Pinterest posts on the topic as well as an entire blog called The Pop Up Princess. She appears to be a pioneer in pop-up remodeling and has dedicated an entire blog to her own trailer journey and also features flips from her readers. I probably swear too much to be a guest blogger but I will shamelessly submit my post anyway to share my story.
I first ripped down all the old curtains, they appeared to have shrunk a good few inches and were a faded 80’s blue that I just couldn’t take on. NOT TODAY CURTAINS! I said, not today. After that I ordered replacement lighting parts from Amazon to swap out the burned housing and began painting the ceiling. It’s crazy what a bit of fresh white paint can do?! I removed all the hardware and doors and primed the hell out of the cheap particle-board cupboards. Several coats later and I was ready to paint. Since I was trying to do this remodel on the cheap I resorted to paint and supplies on hand, luckily I had nearly a full gallon of gray paint left over from our own house remodel in addition to some curtains from Target that were sitting unused in my closet. After a trip to IKEA with the kids I found some additional black-out curtains and set about on a massive sweat-shop operation sewing panel after god-damn panel so we could actually get some sleep in this rickety tent on wheels. I used some crazy sailboat mildew cleaner on the canvas bunks and was shocked to see sunlight again, granted I probably have lung cancer now due to the fumes, but at least there’s no more pesky mold!
Despite the pop-up being probably a measly 70 square feet this project was no quick face-lift like the Pinterest pics suggested. Much like our 60 year old home, our new to us 20-year-old Jayco pop-up needed much more than just fresh paint and curtains. I soon discovered that the reason the ceiling was stained blue was likely due to years of moisture leaking through cracks in the roof and onto the crappy valance that was smooshed against the ceiling while the pop-up was closed. Luckily, my husband agreed to come back out to help me repair the section of rotted wood. After that I cleaned the roof and applied calking to all the seams to prevent further water damage. I topped it all off with a heavy duty ultra white silicone paint which will not only waterproof this bad boy but also deflect UV rays and keep the camper cool in the hot California sun. I don’t love the actual feel of it, it seems tacky at all times but it’s pure joy to see the morning moisture just beading up on the roof top instead of destroying all my hard work inside.
I hit up a discount fabric shop a co-worker told me about and headed straight for the clearance racks where I found a lovely RV quality thick tweed that went well with my gray and yellow scheme. I found an excellent YouTube tutorial video on how to sew quick and easy cushion covers that look actually legit. It required quite bit of hand sewing as I opted to not put a zipper on it so these are on for life. I plan on making the kids eat and drink outdoors until age 16, so they should remain safe and clean.
One box of stick and peel tile from the Home Depot was exactly what I needed to give the floors a nice and durable facelift. While I loved the look of a clean all white pop-up interior like I had seen on Pinterest, I’ve got two kids and lets face it you take pop-ups camping. In dirt. Who do these people think they are with their heavenly all white interiors and hanging plants? Seriously, fake-ass wanna-be campers is what they are. They probably just sit in their driveways drinking Chai Tea. But I digress…
My neighbors probably thought I was crazy spending every nap out there in my drive way hand sewing the outer canvas but it was all I could think to do. I ordered new shock cord and with some carabiners now have a pretty solid fit.
I reinforced each corner with new Sunbrella fabric remnants from the discount fabric store which I applied with both Gorilla glue and hand stitched, hopefully we’ll get a few more years of life. Replacing the canvas was an option too but one that cost as much or more as I paid for this whole piece of shit so it’s not really “in the budget”. The previous owner just slapped duck tape over the horrible burn holes in the vinyl which not only looks shitty but over time the adhesive becomes gooey and disintegrates. So I had to remove all that with Goof Off and ordered some vinyl repair kits off Amazon.
Unfortunately they are just clear patches which looks awkward on the red vinyl, but they were highly rated and now it’s much like having a custom peep hole, or two or three. Its rained since the application and they are holding up which is really all I care about. Nothing worse than sleeping outdoors and getting rained on, just ask my brother and his wife.
We were finally able to take “Becky” out for a spin a few short weeks after purchasing her. We learned a few things during our first and second camping weekends with her – namely, the trailer hitch wires are loose, the heater doesn’t work without a battery, and the outlets appear to be mis-wired. So the work will continue but for now, we’re happy with the remodel and we’ve got all of the SoCal winter to fix her up. I’d like to not only take care of the obvious electrical issues but eventually paint the exterior.
The kids are stoked on every camping trip, but camping with Becky was absolutely thrilling. We all had plenty of room, they had their own bed, and so did we. We could make coffee in the morning without ever even stepping outside and I gotta say, it was so nice to sit at our own table for breakfast and dinner. It still felt like camping because it is pretty bare minimum, it’s not like were rolling a Winnebago, but it was elevated and we slept on a real mattress and even my husband was happy with that.