We often say that buying our pop up camper was the best investment we ever made. We didn’t spend much on it, and we aren’t tied to a big payment. It feels like our home away from home, and we’ve been able to see so many cool places because we didn’t have to use our entire vacation budget on hotels. I hear from so many families who feel the same way.
Let me introduce you to Jennifer from Bellingham, WA. She and her husband, Michael, have five kids ages 8-13 years old and love to spend time together as a family. When it came to family vacations, Michael and Jen grew up in very different circumstances. Michael’s family didn’t take any vacations together–at all. He was in the Boy Scouts, which gave him opportunity to camp and enjoy the great outdoors, but he never took a family vacation growing up. Jen’s family, on the other hand, loved vacations. They went skiing in the winter and camping in the summer. She fondly recalls long summer camping trips exploring and traveling with her family.
About five years ago, Jen and Michael took the family on their first road trip. They drove down the Oregon Coast to the Redwoods National Forest and tent camped the whole way. It was so much fun that Michael was hooked. They began to take trips every summer, tent camping throughout the National Parks in their area. It wasn’t long before Jen began dreaming of a pop up camper that could serve as a home away from home on their trips.
She picked up a 1999 Starcraft Starlounge on Craigslist for $2700. It was in pretty good shape, but desperately needed a facelift. It had a fridge, sink, heater, inside/outside gas stove top, and slept up to eight people. This was the perfect layout for their family. The two dinettes in the middle made for lots of seating and could be two extra beds, if needed.
Jen bought the camper in March, knowing she needed it to be trip-worthy by June. Her first job was to find the theme of her makeover. With her best friend’s help, Jen went to Joann Fabrics and found some southwest themed fabric. This became her starting point. Jen’s mom helped her reupholster all the cushions, as she is an experienced seamstress. She really went the extra mile to get a good fit, too. Thank goodness for moms, right? 😉 Jen and her mom reused the zippers and vinyl backing from the original cushion covers to save money.
Then she painted the cabinets with an oil-based paint from Lowes. She removed all the doors and hardware before applying a coat of Kilz primer. Jen followed up with two coats of her white paint. To update the hardware, she used a couple coats of Rustoleum spray paint in Oil Rubbed Bronze. (For more information on painting your cabinets, be sure to check out our post here.)
The countertops were in good shape, and the color worked well with Jen’s fabrics. She decided to leave them as they were, but she ordered new white T-trim off Amazon for the edges. She added chalkboard ConTact paper to the front of the fridge for a fun accent. The flooring was a adhesive plank vinyl that Jen found at Lowes. One box–coming in at $49–was more than enough for the entire floor. Michael was a huge help and spent two Saturdays laying the floor. What a guy! 😉
To update the curtains, Jen sewed new fabric over the original blackout curtains. She found the adorable cactus and gold dot fabrics at Hobby Lobby and knew they’d make cute coordinating curtains. She used those fabrics on the side panels. For privacy curtains along the bed ends, she used simple black fabric and hex mesh netting that she also purchased at Hobby Lobby.
Jen found new bedding and dishes at HomeGoods on sale. She also purchased an assortment of kitchen items from the dollar store. She picked up some plastic drawer units and a hanging organizer at Target for clothing and small item storage, and they were ready to hit the road! 😀
Jen, Michael, and their five kids embarked on a huge five week, cross-country road trip this past summer. They took their PUP over 8,000 miles and traveled through over 20 states, sleeping in the camper a total of 26 nights in over 14 campgrounds. Their two girls slept on the full sized bed. The three boys slept outside in a tent (mostly), and Jen and Michael slept on the king bed.
They encountered a lot of rain storms on this trip and kept warm and dry in their Starcraft pop up. A few times, all seven family members slept in the trailer, which worked great in a pinch. Jen says the two seating areas were really nice for lounging and eating indoors, especially when they needed to escape the bugs. 🙂
Jen and Michael tried to stay at state parks, which usually have electric hook ups, nice showers and larger campsites. Jen found that a pop up camper gives you a lot of bang for your buck when traveling with kids–and I can totally attest to that. We’ve been able to take relatively inexpensive summer trips because we stay in budget-friendly campgrounds. State parks are perfect for keeping your budget in check, while still enjoying a few amentities.
Jen’s average nightly campground fees were around $25/night. That sure beats hotel prices, especially with a large family. They say they could never have afforded to take their kids on such a huge trip across the country otherwise. Their PUP was a nice step up from tent camping, but didn’t break the bank. And think of the wonderful memories their children will have!
The makeover came in at about $500 total for the interior elements. They did have to have the brakes on their trailer worked on before they took it on the road (safety first!), and that cost them about $1200. They also found a roof leak that they will need to repair before next season. Buying a used trailer always comes with some level of risk, so you should plan on putting aside some of your budget money for structural repairs. For more info on what to look for when buying a used pop up camper, make sure you check out our post here.
But Jen says it was worth every penny they spent. Each spring, she’ll look forward to opening up her newly remodeled PUP to make more sweet memories with her family. Soak that up, Jen and Michael! They’ll be grown before you know it! Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us.
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