My Midlife Crisis: I Bought a Teeny Weeny Trailer to Travel the U.S.

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Some people buy sports cars to deal with their midlife crises. And some people buy… this. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

As soon as I saw the Craigslist posting, I fell in love.

Friends tried to warn me. Possibly rotten to the core. Probably a scammer.  An awfully long trip for what might turn out to be only a very temporary crush. 

But, middle-age crisis or not (I’m 46), I knew. This was it for me. I had to drive the 310 miles across the state to bring home my new true love:  a 1968 Scotty Sportsman camper.

Related: Let's Go Camping — in a Teeny-Weeny Trailer

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Lisa with her purchase: a brand-new old camper (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

If you know me, you know that I’m always up for the next thing. That’s part and parcel of being a travel writer — you go wherever the current, or the airplane, or the locomotive takes you, and you find something charming and lovely to admire in every new place. Buying a tiny house on wheels that was born the same year I was? Now I was going to be able to take charming and lovely with me on the back roads of America.

First, though, I had to drive the turnpike home. For six hours. Pulling a camper for the very first time in my life. And park it in my driveway. (Now, if anyone were to tell you that it rolled into the next-door neighbor’s yard, that would be a lie. Or, at least, there would be no photographic evidence. Of that, I certainly would have made sure.)

I also had to fend off the “Oh, here she goes again” poo-pooing my husband says he never engaged in. Yeah, right. You know he did, especially when I said I had fallen deeply in love.

So were the hunting and the driving and the retrieving from the neighbor’s green grass (not) and the mocking worth it? 

You bet your vintage camper.

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It comes complete with a spacious breakfast nook with lots of natural light. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

There are women across the country who call themselves “glampers.” To some critics, it’s a pejorative term, a way of turning the very masculine endeavor of camping into something frivolous or dainty or fine. But those critics haven’t bothered to dig very deeply. Because when you meet these glamping women, when you chat with them on Facebook and start planning to caravan down the road, you realize that they’re made of tougher steel than their campers are. They fly-fish. They horseback ride. They hike. Sure, they also have cowgirl proms in ’60s taffeta and cowboy boots, but they do it with a sense of irony, of having a good time with no men around.  That’s because they’re tough, and smart, and self-sufficient. 

All the things that the middle-aged soccer mom in me had been trying to find inside.

Related: Go Camping and Boating at the Same Time With This Amphibious Trailer

And, let’s face it. When you decide to hand over all the contents of your personal bank account to a stranger in Pittsburgh, of all places, and you do it for about 100 square feet of plywood and particleboard, aluminum, and paint, and you know that you’re being thrown in the fire — in the deep end — right now, when you start to drive it home behind your mom-mobile – THAT’S tough. That’s adventurous. That’s new and fresh and wild.

Related: The RV Road Trip From Hell

All the things that every middle-aged woman, way deep down, wants to be.

I think that pulling along a 1968 “tin rust bucket” (My husband swears he didn’t say that, either.) might have been the lightest I’ve ever felt. There’s something incredibly… freeing about having a little set of wheels that you can hitch up on a moment’s notice and take anywhere on land (even the neighbor’s yard). There’s something really empowering about knowing that setting out with your camper is something you can do all by yourself — no husband or boyfriend or significant other needed. 

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Lots of room for entertaining (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

And there’s something quite exhilarating about spending a pretty big chunk of change (not like I needed a mortgage, but I did have to pony up about the cost of a single payment) without accounting to anyone or even telling anyone — except the folks at the Paypal fraud department who called to ask whether that was really nothing-over-a-$20.53-purchase me shelling out thousands to a florist in Pittsburgh, and not for a wedding, either.

“I hope it wasn’t a funeral?” the rep asked.

“Nope,” I told her. “More like a birth or something.” 

She laughed. “That’s good news,” she said.

It was.

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A new purchase leads to new adventures. (Photo: Lisa McElroy)

Today in my driveway, I put on latex gloves. I filled a bucket with Lysol and warm water. I took out some old rags and a scrubby sponge, and I got down into every crevice, every cranny, even crack of my tiny Scotty Sportsman.

Cleaning? This 40-something mom never, never knew it could feel like this.

I found true love on Craigslist. I’ll let you know how it goes.  

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