The Couple that Traded Rent for Gas in their Tiny House on Wheels

October 5, 2016

Editor’s Note: Look Trailers is proud to spotlight its unique customers and the many ways they’ve made use of their trailers. With that being said, Look Trailers and parent company LGS Industries, does not recommend converting its trailers into tiny homes and acknowledges that anyone who does, does so at their own risk, both to their persons and warranty agreement. 

Additionally, this blog references a separate website that is meant to document and illustrate the travels of the interviewees. As such, readers who travel to the website or any other pages besides this one may find content that they do not agree with. Look Trailers does not endorse the content featured on the Pay Gas, Not Rent website. 

However, without further ado, please enjoy! 

Kelly, Curtiss and a Look enclosed trailer take to the road to prove a point 

One young couple, two rescue pups and a Look cargo trailer. What boils down to a simple premise is but a glimpse of the year-long experiment known as Pay Gas, Not Rent. In June of 2015, Kelly Tousley and Curtiss Stedman set out to prove a point — that it was possible to spend the same amount of money traveling across the country as it would to pay rent living in a single location. What would follow became a story about constructing a custom tiny house trailer with no prior knowledge, consolidating life’s necessities to fit in a 7’ x 14’ utility trailer and learning just what it takes to pursue your dreams at the cost of stability. 

Without knowing what kind of “uh oh” costs would come up, Kelly and Curtiss really had to plan out every move as best they could. Part of what Pay Gas, Not Rent wanted to achieve was transparency about their expenses and to share the message of possibility rather than the reality of the daily grind. They’d heard similar stories of couples taking to the road and doing utility trailer conversions of their own, so to recreate that success and fuel Curtiss’ musical ambitions at the same time made it all worth the while… albeit with a few hiccups along the way. 

Kelly and Curtiss’ story began when Curtiss needed help transitioning to Alaska so he could begin teaching and playing local shows. His buddy cancelled at the last minute, so he asked Kelly to take up the empty passenger seat. She accepted the offer and five years later they remain co-pilots. Juneau would be home for four years as Curtiss taught and traveled across the country performing as Cousin Curtiss. Kelly spent her time working in many areas helping children with disabilities and the families that support them. The two of them had successful careers and most of all, a stable home. However, not content to watch life pass them by, they played with the idea of converting a utility trailer in order to take Cousin Curtiss on the road full-time. With no kids and minimized bills, Curtiss was happy to report that “Life was good.” This made deciding to say, “See ya later!” to stability, friends and a home base tough, but they realized that this kind of opportunity may not come around again. 

They set a hard deadline regarding the objects they’d take with them on the trip, and with 98 sq. ft. to work with, that meant pretty much everything had to go. Curtiss recalled a heart-melting moment when he parted with his leather motorcycle jacket that a lady found to be a perfect size for her son, but didn’t have the fifty dollars he was asking for it. So, he gave it to her for free. At the end of the day for Kelly and Curtiss, “It was just stuff.” However, even though they’d purged themselves of many small items, they were also new owners of one of the largest items they could call their own — an enclosed Look utility trailer. 

When they realized the trailer they’d had the opportunity to purchase was a Look trailer, as opposed to the competition, they were excited. They checked into it and found that Look had, “A really nice website. It had good reviews and everything was very straight forward.” They realized it was exactly what they wanted. Not flashy, supportive and best of all, they could cut into it without ruining the supports or having to re-weld. As Curtiss pointed out, the two of them were definitely not carpenters, so they relied on YouTube and Google for their construction tips and how-to guides. As for the trailer itself, Curtiss says, “It was all too perfect … brand new and exactly what we needed.” It was an enclosed Look trailer, with wooden walls, a spare tire and best of all, twin-axles. Or, as Curtiss described it, “The double-axle was huge! Especially one with brakes. It was really nice in the mountains and on bumpy roads. Most trailers don’t have twin-axles on that size, so you typically end up spending more for a 16’ or 18’ trailer that probably has a single-axle anyway.” 

When it came to the trailer conversion, the two went in with priorities. First and foremost, “It had to feel open.” With a 7’ x 14’ trailer size to work with, this would be a tall task. They needed headroom and for the trailer to be as lightweight as possible, since saving gas was the name of the game. They liked that the trailer allowed them to control the materials used in it, and because of the utility trailer’s shell, the construction was better for a lightweight conversion. They ended up installing insulation, a shower area, an office nook, a pull-out bed/couch and even an RV window for brightening up the place. 

Asked whether or not they’d needed to contact Look’s customer service for any reason, Curtiss said they’d had no need. It’s no surprise, as these trailers are equipped with some pretty sturdy features. “For all the driving and awful road conditions, the tires never seemed worse for wear … we never had to put air in them. The truck tires, yes, but never once for the trailer.” In addition to the tires, they’d soon find unique ways to add more space. “The drop-down door is huge … we figured out we could leave it at an angle and put the spare tire underneath the door and use it as a porch! At a campground or wherever, we’d just drop it down and immediately increase our square footage.” 

With the trailer conversion complete, the problem then turned to money. When it came to earning income on the road, traveling full-time as Cousin Curtiss meant that Curtiss’ focus was spent perfecting his music to ensure a great show. And, as it’s not in Kelly’s nature to sit idly by, she went right to work as Cousin Curtiss’ advertising, merchandise, inventory and scheduling manager. Without one or the other, the trip would’ve been a dream most likely unrealized. 

While this is the story of Kelly and Curtiss, it’s also about their two rescue pups, Doug and Sawyer. Most people assume the addition of two large dogs would elevate the Pay Gas, Not Rent experiment from tough to impossible, but Curtiss states that it was actually great. “They thought we were crazy, but [Kelly and I] would’ve driven each other crazy or stretched pretty thin without them. Since the dogs needed to stop and exercise, in turn, it helped us. Between shows there wouldn’t be many stops, but [with the dogs] we’d drive for two hours and stop to explore, instead of just driving through.” Curtiss recalled that the dogs turned out to be a spectacle on the road, often making people’s days with their happy faces along the way. 

After the year-long experiment they decided to plant their roots in Denver, Colorado, Kelly is back to work at a full-time job teaching, while Curtiss continues to tour from venue to venue. While Kelly mentions that their story is now about “Paying Rent and Not Gas,” you can still follow their past and future travels on their tiny house blog, Pay Gas, Not Rent, track their utility trailer conversion process on YouTube, as well as follow them on Instagram at #PGNR. 

At the end of the road, they proved it could be done. They didn’t save money, but they were able to travel across the country and pursue their dreams on a tight budget with the help of their tiny, yet reliable enclosed Look trailer. While most of us continue to live in one location and try to get out on the weekends, Kelly, Curtiss and the pups were able to see many areas they may have missed otherwise. All thanks to a dependable product, a lot of dedication, and most of all, the desire to dream of something different. 

Pay Gas, Not Rent
Curtiss Stedman & Kelly Tousley
Pay Gas, Not Rent
Cousin Curtiss