A timeline of projects for our 7 x16 cargo trailer conversion. This was an 18 month long journey and labor of love to turn a cargo trailer into a comfortable and beautiful RV.
After more than a year and a half we are finally ready to say that Minnie, our cargo trailer conversion, is done and ready for the road.
It's been a lot of work but we are so thrilled with the way it's turned out.
We knew what we wanted it to look like but seeing our vision go from paper to reality is beyond exciting.
There's a video with a complete tour of the inside and outside of Minnie that you can check out on our YouTube channel (link at the end of the post).
The beginning of our custom RV journey
We have been camping our whole lives, first with our families when we were growing up and eventually with our girls as they were growing up.
Actually, Roger and I met while camping with our families when we were teenagers so camping is sort of in our blood.
When we moved to Florida several years ago we had to sell our RV because we didn't have room to store it. It only took a year or two and we started to feel the pull of the great outdoors.
We ended up buying a pop-up and camping in that for a few years. When we moved to Illinois camping once again took a back seat.
Then we moved to North Carolina, where we are today, and decided that we needed to camp again.
This time though, we were going to create exactly what we wanted.
We've always wanted to build our own camper but we both had two very different ideas on how to do it.
I wanted to buy a cute little vintage trailer, completely gut it and rebuild it.
Roger wanted to buy a cargo trailer or utility trailer and build that up from nothing.
It took a couple of years to convince me but I finally leaned his way. The tipping points were water damage and a bathroom.
We looked at several old RV's before we settled on the cargo trailer idea. Every trailer that we looked at had water damage, a common problem in older RVs.
We could definitely fix it but didn't want to deal with those kinds of issues.
I wanted vintage and we looked at those too, but many smaller RVs don't have bathrooms, or room for a bathroom.
Not having a bathroom was a deal breaker for me so, regrettably, we moved away from vintage trailers.
We also looked at new RVs. Actually, we looked at a lot of new RVs.
They just don't make them very well anymore, and they're pretty expensive.
We knew that we could do better so I conceded to the hubs and we went and ordered a cargo trailer.
Can you make a cargo trailer into a camper?
Absolutely! It just takes work...a lot of work actually.
Our utility trailer was custom made to our specifications. We had 3 RV windows installed, an RV door with a window and gray colored metal on the outside.
Ours would have barn doors and 7 foot ceilings to make it feel more spacious.
We don't have a lot of room to store an RV at our house so we went smaller with a 16' long trailer.
Even with the addition of a few upgrades, we came in way cheaper than a typical RV.
All we had to do was to build it up to fit our needs.
We waited 6 weeks for our trailer to be built and brought it home to begin it's transformation.
Little did we know that it would take almost two years to finish our project.
We didn't start any construction for 6 months but we were busy behind the scenes. Planning and discussing all of the projects that we would have to do in order to get it ready for camping.
This was an early layout of our 112 square foot space. It ended up looking very similar to this, except for the placement of the shower and toilet.
I had to concede my trailer choice for a utility trailer but Roger also had to make concessions.
He was fine slapping a mattress and a/c in there and calling it a day.
Ummm....not gonna happen on my watch.
I agreed to a cargo trailer but it had to look good, like a real RV, and it had to have a bathroom.
I wasn't willing to give up on either issue.
Finally, after all of the planning and a bit of bickering, we were ready to start building.
White tongue and groove ceiling
The first project that we tackled was the ceiling. We insulated it and installed tongue and groove planks.
We also wired the ceiling for 12 volt lighting.
DIY platform bed with storage
Next, we built a platform bed with storage drawers underneath. A shiplap wall was also built to separate the back barn doors and offer more stability for the bed.
We were anxious to go camping so our next project was the a/c. We decided to go with a dual hose portable unit so that we didn't have to cut a hole in the ceiling (hello, water!) or the side.
Before we installed it we did a little experiment with a single hose vs. dual hose a/c. You can check out the video, here.
With the a/c up and running, we threw a mattress on the platform and took our first camping trip.
We didn't have running water, and we made a DIY canopy from a $10 piece of plastic, but we had a relaxing weekend.
By this time we had been at it almost 4 months and needed a break.
We learned a lot from that first little weekend away. It helped us to figure out what we needed and what we didn't.
It also gave us the motivation to keep going.
Vinyl plank flooring installation
The next project was the LifeProof vinyl plank floor installation. We discussed painting the wood floors but in the end, we went with planks.
I'm glad that we chose them.
They look great and have held up well with the dogs (plus, I didn't have to paint them).
While we were doing the floors, I got busy painting the walls. Oy...I lost count of the coats that I had to put up. I think it was 4 or 5.
In other words...a lot of paint.
It did wonders for the inside though. So light and bright!
With the walls and floors complete, we moved on to framing out the rest of the king size platform storage bed.
We built the drawers for storage and moved on to the kitchen.
On to the RV kitchen...
In order to separate the kitchen from the bathroom, we had to build a wall. Then we framed out our cabinets and prepared them for the countertop.
We had gotten our hands on a 12' slab of walnut for the countertop and I had to refinish it before we could install it.
It took me two weeks, and working on it every day, to get it ready and waterproofed.
Finally, we installed the walnut butcher block countertop, the sink and faucet and Roger moved on to the electric.
Electric in the camper!
Besides the 6, 12 volt disc lights on the ceiling, we installed 2 sconces over the bed and a flush light over the kitchen sink.
The lights are just normal fixtures that you would see in a house (I found them here).
I just added a 12 volt bulb to each one so that we could run it off of battery if needed.
He also ran electric for the a/c, refrigerator, several outlets, including light switches next to the bed and by the door, and an exhaust fan for the shower.
Running the electric took a few weekends to complete but it went smoothly.
Next, he ran all the plumbing, from the kitchen sink to the toilet and the shower.
We didn't add any tanks to the RV so we are not self-contained, but we can still camp at campgrounds with hookups.
Maybe someday we'll add the equipment needed to go boondocking, but we're just looking to get away for weekend trips.
The RV bathroom takes shape...
With the kitchen in working order (minus the cabinet doors), we moved on to the front of the RV and the shower.
This part of the process was tough. A lot of discussion and planning went into it so that we had a working shower that was watertight.
Not an easy task when you have to build everything custom. We placed the shower in the v-nose (front of the trailer) and carefully built it from scratch.
Once the walls went up and the floor was in, we waterproofed everything with 7 coats of Red Guard.
Next, we installed the corrugated metal, marble threshold and the shower head.
Finishing touches for our cargo trailer camper
It was ready to use but we had some finishing touches to do before we could call it done.
With the shower shaping up I installed our 3 new window coverings, room darkening woven bamboo shades.
They are definitely a far cry from the towels that I hung from temporary rods for our first two trips out.
I think I may have even hung Roger's t-shirts up to block the sun.
In between all of that, I also worked on our DIY storage ottoman.
We needed something that was multi-functional so I came up with a simple design and built exactly what we needed.
Now we have 2 stools for our drop-down table, extra storage space for dirty laundry and extra blankets, and a step stool so that we can get into our bed.
While I was busy with my projects, Roger was busy installing the new RV toilet and plumbing.
The bathroom that I had wished for was really taking shape.
Granted, I don't have a vanity and sink but the kitchen sink is sufficient for our needs.
After we finished the plumbing we worked on the finishing touches which included cabinet doors and trim.
Remember, every piece is custom and that includes the cabinet doors and ceiling trim.
What a difference they made in the space. The new doors and drawer faces brought everything together.
Next, I worked on the kitchen backsplash. I tried peel and stick tile, twice, but eventually ended up using self-adhesive removable wallpaper.
So easy to put up and I love how it turned out.
I also added 2 storage shelves from the leftover walnut butcher block that we used for the kitchen countertop.
Because we only have 100 square feet of living space we decided to not install a stove.
We have an induction cooktop that we bring with us, as well as a grill, so cooking a proper meal hasn't been an issue.
The last project was the trim around the ceiling and on the wall that we built to separate the kitchen and bathroom.
We had every intention of installing a door for the bathroom but decided that we didn't want to close in our already tiny space.
Maybe down the road we'll decide to do something different but it works for us right now.
Sometimes you have to make adjustments like that when you're building a small space.
The final step was to decorate with a few well-chosen accessories.
I wanted to make our traveling converted cargo trailer feel more welcoming and comfortable so I added a few pillows, a macrame wall hanging and a couple of faux plants.
Installing an RV awning
The outside of the trailer hasn't seen much action but we did install a custom awning. It helps protect us from sun and rain, and I really love the stripes.
Even with the awning installed, we still have a few projects on the outside to finish up, like caulking the windows and door, but Minnie is more than ready for action.
We'd like to go boondocking at some point so we'll eventually have to add a generator and black or gray water tanks.
Those projects are way down on our "someday" list and not something that we're worried about doing right now.
How much does it cost to convert a cargo trailer into a camper?
I don't have an exact to the penny total but we did try to keep track along the way.
We spent around $13K for everything for the cargo trailer. That amount includes the price of the trailer and all of our building materials.
The bulk of that amount was spent on the trailer, the wood, the a/c and the awning.
Of course we did all the work ourselves so there was no expense there.
It was all totally worth it in the end.
A new trailer would have cost so much more and it would not have been as custom, or built as well.
So that's a wrap!
We're thrilled with the way our RV turned out and so excited to go on lots of adventures.
But we're a bit sad that the whole process is over but we're hoping to build a bigger version...soon!
Don't forget to head over to our YouTube channel, here, to check out the video tour. I even talked Roger into sharing a tour of his "garage". We also have a second video, here, where we answer questions that have been asked about the conversion.
Thanks so much for following along with us on this journey.
Cargo Trailer Conversion Sources
- Wall sconces and flush light over kitchen - Amazon (similar)
- Macrame wall hanging - Etsy
- Walnut butcher block (used for countertop, shelves and table) - Floor & Decor
- Kitchen backsplash - Loomwell
- Dometic RV toilet
- Woven window shades
- Kitchen faucet, shower head, robe hooks and toilet paper holder
- Cabinet pulls
- Awning - Carefree of Colorado
- Portable A/C