For most of us, building that dream survival retreat, our “cabin in the woods,” is nothing more than a dream. It’s not that we don’t want to fulfill that dream some day; it’s just that our dreams are bigger than our pocketbook. Paying the monthly bills is hard enough without making payments on another home or piece of property.
But believe it or not, having a survival retreat doesn’t have to be expensive. In a previous article , I discussed buying junk land  to use for a survival retreat. In this article, I want to talk about how you can have a place to live on that land, without spending a fortune.
Some people have managed to build themselves cabins out of 100 percent salvaged materials. That’s great, if you can do it. But I’ll warn you right now: You’ll spend more time scavenging and sorting materials than you will in building anything. If you have the time to invest, then go for it. But if you don’t, then that could keep you from ever finishing it all.
Scavenged Materials? Think Again
The problem with scavenged materials isn’t the scarcity; you can always find someone who is getting rid of a stack of 2x4s or leftover roofing shingles. The problem is that it is rarely virgin material. What you end up getting is material that is odd lengths, sometimes attached together, with bent-over nails in it that you must remove.
My sister is building a tiny home and began with the idea of using scavenged materials. What she ended up with was stacks of material that she really couldn’t use. The structure of her tiny home is much heavier than it should be because of having to scab pieces of material together. She also ended up with some custom windows that someone was getting rid of. Those were great — until someone threw a rock through them and she had to custom order replacements. Ouch!
Don’t get me wrong; if you’re thinking of using scavenged materials for your project, don’t let me dissuade you. Just be ready for the work that it’s going to entail. But before you start, let me share another idea with you — one that might save you a lot of work and money.
Travel trailers are intended to be totally self-contained units, designed for living in for a short period of time. Even so, there are people who live in them full-time. My family and I lived and traveled in a motorhome (essentially the same thing, but with an engine) for nine years, so we know what it’s like.
Good Enough for NASA
Travel trailers are so complete that NASA used an Airstream trailer for years as a quarantine module for the Apollo astronauts when they returned to earth. The concern was that they might have picked up some sort of bug from outer space. Rather than build a quarantine module, with all that entails, they just used a commercially available travel trailer.
Travel trailers are essentially like small apartments, but with everything built in. They have complete kitchen and bathroom facilities, as well as beds, sofas, dinettes to eat at, and even chairs. Some come with generators, although you’ll need additional power production for survival. Being complete and self-contained, they are almost ideal as a survival retreat.
“But,” you’re probably thinking, “they’re expensive.”
Yes … and no. If you’re going to go out and buy a brand-new travel trailer, it’s going to be expensive. Probably much more than you can afford to spend for a survival retreat. But you can buy older used travel trailers for as little as $1,000. I just saw a 33-foot unit going for $760 on eBay. Hardly anyone was bidding on it because it had some water damage on the inside. But if you’re handy with tools, it was a great bargain.
What You’ll Need to Do
Having lived in a recreational vehicle for nine years, I can tell you that they aren’t hard to work on. The biggest problem in most cases is that they typically use special materials. But I found that with a little ingenuity, you often can replace those special “RV” materials with things that are available at your local home improvement center.
The other problem with working on them is finding the structure hiding within the walls. The structure on a travel trailer is nothing like that on a house. So, you’ll need a good stud finder to help you know where your structural elements are. Otherwise, you’ll be screwing into the paneling, which won’t hold.
Fixing up the travel trailer as a survival retreat can become a family project, with everyone pitching in. You will need to do a bit more to turn your trailer into a full survival retreat. Although it will have some electrical capacity, water tanks, wastewater tanks and propane tanks, it won’t have enough capacity for more than a few days of survival. You are going to have to have some additional electric power generation capability (solar panels or a wind turbine), an external water tank, some sort of homemade septic system, and additional propane tanks. But you’d need those things no matter what you do for a survival retreat.
Essentially, the travel trailer gives you a place you can live while in survival mode. It provides you with a rather comfortable shelter, and it can do so at a very reasonable cost. Just don’t think that it will be a full-blown survival retreat without some extra work.
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