Sunday, November 30, 2014


In Part 1 of this post, I described the solution I came up with for storing dinner plates an dessert plates in the small space of an Airstream Interstate motorhome.
Corelle freshly washed, inserted into the check file, and ready to be slid back into the gap between the side of the microwave oven and its cabinet.  
After numerous trials and tribulations with various DIY approaches and products, here is my favorite solution for storage of everything else, namely bowls, cups, and cutlery.
This woven storage basket was never designed to be used this way, but it works perfectly for the available space.  Right now I have two tall drinking glasses stored beside the Corelle bowls inside this thing, but I plan to replace those tall glasses with four unbreakable polycarbonate glasses that will stack in two sets of two, side by side.   
This woven basket was on sale for $4.50 in Michaels, the craft store chain.  It was available in three colors (this silvery blue, brown, and ivory).  Many types of small webbed baskets should be able to work in this type of application.  
Here's how my cutlery had started out its life in our Interstate.  It was neither a pretty sight nor easy to manage this way.
The Interstate is not large enough for a dedicated cutlery tray with separate slots for knives, forks, and spoons, so I had simply tied an elastic band around the bunch.  This was as inefficient as it gets.  
I had two non-negotiable requirements for any organizational device to be used for these purposes:
  1. The cutlery had to be stored as separate individual pieces - no rattling during travel.
  2. I had to be capable of reaching with one hand into the storage device and pulling out one spoon, one fork, one knife, one bowl, or one drinking glass, with no digging around or moving anything else to get at the stuff.  Furthermore, I had to be able to accomplish that task by feel, largely in the dark.

This fits the bill.  I can reach into the cabinet and grab one thing at a time with no interference from other objects.  
I do have one strong recommendation should you decide to use a storage basket in this way:

Make sure the tines of the forks are pointing away from where your hands will be reaching in, and make sure you point the tips of the knives downward.  I eventually arranged all my forks to point toward the cabinet wall so I would not accidentally stab myself as I was reaching in.  
This was my mindset at the outset of my Interstate dinner-making experience, because it is so difficult to do anything in a disorganized space, especially if that space is tiny.  But it certainly is a whole lot easier now that I have more organizational solutions for the dishes, cutlery, and other kitchen items.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014


How do you store dishes in a Class B RV that has almost no storage space?
Not like this!!  I had originally been using an overhead bin to store my Corelle set (Corelle is recommended by RV owners in general because it is light weight, break-resistant, and compact - no, I was not prepared to use plastic or styrofoam) but this was an enormous pain in the rear end.  Every time I needed a dinner plate, I'd basically have to unpack the entire bin because the shelf liner scraps (photo below) intended to keep the dishes from clattering while in transit prevented anything from being pulled out easily.
I knew that the best way to store plates securely would be in a vertical fashion (preferably) with some kind of built-in dividers to prevent rattling on the road, but nothing I could find in the consumer market was small enough for our Airstream Interstate.
Common plate storage products on the market, some recommended for RVs by various forum participants.  All of them are much too large, designed to fit plates that are much thicker than the Corelle, and these are also not in-sync with the Interstate's design aesthetic.    
Here is one solution Pinterested from an Airstream trailer.  Nice built-in, but life is hell when you have to pack shelf liner between all the dishes to stop them from rattling or breaking.  I learned this very early on in our Airstream Interstate ownership.  
Furthermore, I knew that I really wanted to make use of the gaps next to our vehicle's microwave.  In an Interstate, every cubic inch of space counts - I can't sacrifice space to inefficient devices such as those shown above (which are designed to hold too many dishes for a micro-RV anyway).  

And then the solution hit me.
I run a small business, so I am intimately familiar with check files and similar organizational products.  I got this one at Staples office supply store.  Ignore the Command hooks - they were for another project.  
Corelle plates are so thin that they fit neatly between the dividers - the all-important dividers that must be present in order to keep the plates from rattling against each other.  Annoyingly, this file has only 7 slots and I have 8 plates, but I can double up dessert plates in one slot.    

Furthermore, the aesthetic is bang-on - it could not have been better if it had been intentionally designed for this space.  The polyethylene construction of the file looks much like the translucent Airstream sliding doors in the cabinet above.

It does push all the way back - here I have pulled it out a bit just to show the plates inside.  
There are actually two separate check file products that will work in this application.  Here is the other.
This is the shorter version.  This one has 13 pockets, so plenty of space for 8 plates.  I also got this at Staples, in Interstate gray to boot.  With black trim.

These plates are part of a plain Corelle Livingware set, which I got at Walmart    
I cinched its elastic cord around the bottom of it so that it would provide a bit of cushioning for the plates.  

This is what it looks like in place.  In a Class B RV, there is no need to carry more than service for four where dishes are concerned.  If by chance we are joining in some future larger group where more dishes are required, at that point I will supplement with disposables.     
Coincidentally, there is a microwave bracket screw right at the place where the check file fits.   
We took a J-shaped mirror hanging bracket, straightened it out into a right angle, and spray painted it black.  
We then inserted this between the microwave bracket and the existing screw to make a "stopper" that prevents the plate file from sliding out.  Thus far, it has done fine in road-testing.  
I ended up using the larger check file to hold the following:
(1) Collapsible trash can
(2) Dish drying towel
(3) Dish washing cloths
(4) Cutting board
(5) Trivet
(6) Trash bags
It slid into the gap on the opposite side of the microwave.  
If you decide to try something like this and find that you do have the space in your Interstate model, make sure that you don't have any microwave side vents that would be blocked by your check file(s).  I do not, and furthermore, the microwave cavity is still open at both the top and a portion of each side for air circulation.  

Here are all the scraps of anti-rattle shelf liner that I no longer have to put between the plates.  Whoopie!!!  I am finally free of this mess!!!
I wasn't quite to this level of frustration with the pre-check-file plate storage situation, but I was well on my way!  Using these check files has made this storage task much more efficient and less bothersome.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I've come to realize that a single linkpost will not be sufficient to hold all the suggestions for maximizing the efficiency of the very small space inside an Interstate.  That was my original intention when I set about summarizing the best ideas from the Air Forums thread on this topic.  For this reason, I've created a post category called SMALL SPACE LIVING TIPS under which I will continue to compile ideas.

Here are some expounds from our first overnight shake-down.
Farm animals?!  Beasts of burden!!  Four asses in four-mation!!  We did not want to stray too far afield before we had thoroughly tested all of our Interstate's systems, so our first trip could be described as "ranch sitting" or "ranch squatting" depending on your perspective.  That's perhaps a uniquely-Texan tradition whereby you temporarily occupy a portion of someone's ranch (with permission, of course).  
Throw the dog a bone - a "dogbone" adapter such as this one:  If you plan to use your Interstate off the beaten path, carrying both a 50-to-30 amp adapter as well as a 15 amp adapter is a good idea.  We had only the latter with us for this trip, and the unoccupied ranch had only 15 amp and 50 amp outlets (the owners usually park their own large Class A RV there, as the ranch currently contains no fixed habitation).  We hooked up to the 15 amp supply but that allowed us only limited use of our Interstate's resources, so it was a quasi-boondocking situation.  
Most of the suggestions I have in this post concern the management of food, meals, and associated waste.
You can take the camper out of the backcountry, but you can't take the backcountry out of the camper:  Thus far, I have been unwilling to drink water from the Interstate's fresh water tank without boiling it first.  And on this trip I was very glad for having done so, because we discovered that our tank was so thoroughly caked in slime and bacteria that the pump filter had completely clogged shut.  This despite the fact that we had flushed the tank twice prior to use.  We will, of course, fix this, but for this trip, I had to deal with some slimy water.

I recommend a stainless steel kettle - any brand but I like this one for its size and low center of gravity (CG).  It is unbreakable and almost un-tippable.  
The Tea Trilogy:  Years in the backcountry taught me that boiled substandard-quality water is most palatable when made into tea.  White, green, and oolong teas have far less caffeine than coffee, and the aromatic notes of the tea mask yucky water overtones.

That blue mug in the foreground is a GSI Outdoor product that I would not travel without.  It it one single item that can serve all of these purposes and more:
(1) Measuring cup for cooking.
(2) Drinking cup.
(3) Individual serving bowl for meals too runny to place on a plate (soups, stews, etc.).
(4) Leftover dish for either wet or dry food, refrigerated or not.
(5) Dog-proof storage container for snacks (chips, trail mix, nuts, etc.)
(6) General storage container for non-food small items (e.g., first aid supplies).
(7) Teapot, as you will see below.  
The Teavana Voyager is also a product I never travel without (in fact, I have two - one for work travel, and one for personal travel).  It includes two cylinders for tea storage (I store green and oolong) and an infuser.    
Years of experience have taught me that, with loose tea, a well-constructed submersible infuser is far better than any strainer or screen (those are just too messy).

In this GSI Outdoor cup, I can make a liter of tea at a time, retain some in the cup for immediate consumption, and store the balance in the thermal carafe  in the background for later consumption.  Very efficient.  
Here is the little silicone collapsible colander I mentioned in the first small space linkpost.  Four bucks at HEB (Texas grocer), or five bucks in Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  No link on the internet as of November 25, 2014, but it's on the shelf in both brick-and-mortars.  
You pop it up...
...and it has a bottom cap so that it does not drip.  Excellent product.  
The day we returned from this trip, I went shopping for the "right" pot to use in the Interstate, taking stove configuration and functionality into account (I had been using one of my old MSR backcountry pots).  The Anolon Advanced Umber 2-quart is what I found to meet the following criteria (remember to use your 20% off coupons if shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond):
(1) Aspect ratio (tall relative to width means large cooking volume for small footprint).
(2) Pour spout (two, in fact).
(3) Built-in strainer.
(4) Non-stick.
(5) High quality.
(6) Sold as open stock - you don't have to buy an entire set of pots, which is the case with most products.
This lid is genius.  
Anolon pot and older Calphalon frying pan fit perfectly on the small Interstate stove together.  A pot even one inch larger would have been too large for this space.  
I also picked up a silicone pot holder which also serves as a trivet for the wide-bottomed kettle, but I was not happy with the variety of silicone products I found at BBB.  Time to start surfing the internet for more.  
Also in the kitchen area, I did pick up some of these magnetic containers.  They will hang like bats from beneath the heat shield if nothing else.  It requires patience to get those sticky price tags off.  There are several brands on the market; these were about three bucks apiece at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  
We kept the Interstate's original fluorescent light fixture above the sink, but we replaced the bulbs with an LED configuration.  However, this fixture is not a true under-cabinet light.  The light shone through the side straight into my face, which had a blinding effect (I am severely myopic and things like this really bother me).  My husband lined the inside of the plastic fixture cover with a strip of aluminum foil so that I would not be blinded.  The rest of the fixture is not lined, so it illuminates the sink.  
And speaking of chow time, this little fold-able aluminum table proved to be worth its weight in gold.  We have the four-foot table that came with this model of Interstate which does not have a lounge but rather has dual jack-knife couches.  However, it is a pain in the ass to be hauling that table out from under the bed every time someone needs to use a small table space (some users on Air Forums report "eating on their laps" rather than dealing with their full-sized tables).  This one folds up in two seconds and stores behind the driver's seat, PLUS, it can be used outdoors as well.

We got ours at PPL Houston's store and paid close to $50 (no URL can I find, but it's in their paper catalog).  This similar product called Ozark Trail Folding Table is for sale at Walmart for about half of what we paid.  You can tell from the product pictures that the legs are a bit different but otherwise the design appears quite similar.

We don't yet have a screen fitted to the rear doors of our Interstate, so that's a generic screen draped across the back.  The dog is listening intently to something on the outside.  
This simple little custom dog bed was one of the best ideas I've had so far.  The dog now uses it religiously and I can move the bed to the front or the back of the vehicle to signal to the dog where I need her to remain so that I can have enough space to work without stepping on her.  She really liked that I would move it to the floor in front of the open back doors, allowing her to rest in comfort while keeping an eye on what was going on out there (she is well-trained and will not run away when presented with an open door).  
Million dollar view:  If you are thinking of buying a used Interstate, consider looking for one without the rear lounge configuration, which cuts off back door pedestrian access.  Weather permitting, we actually go in and out of the vehicle primarily through the back doors, not the side slider.  We have floor-to-ceiling unobstructed views out the back, which makes the vehicle much, much less claustrophobic.

Right now what you see here is a relatively standard view across a Texas ranch, but imagine what this is going to look like when it is instead the Grand Canyon.  I would not trade this vehicle configuration for the world.  
I'm straying from my original post topic.  Back to the kitchen for a moment.
Our dog may be well-trained with respect to doors, but she is hell on trash cans.  For this reason, we split our trash into food-based and non-food based.  The food-based material goes into a zip-lock bag mounted in this small pop-up trash receptacle.  I used the elastic loop to affix it to the new smoke detector I installed on the overhead cabinet bulkhead.  I am quite sure that the smoke detector manufacturer would not recommend this kind of a use, but it sure was convenient in keeping this receptacle directly above the sink and well above what the dog could reach.  I made sure that the zip-lock would not block the inlet screen on the smoke detector.  
The larger non-food trash receptacle can go anywhere as the dog will not pull it apart.  Here, for travel, I attached a velcro loop to the elastic loop and hooked it to the spice rack bar, just to keep it from rolling around.  Because there is no food residue in here, I can use it to hang the dish cloth and dish towel there for drying.  
As I mentioned previously, I cut a piece of standard shelf liner to cover the countertop when the sink and stove are not in use.  This is to prevent scratches in the glass covers if anyone places objects on top of here.  Additionally, one Interstate owner reported to me that an object dropped onto his sink cover, shattering the glass.  It cost him $175 to replace it.  This liner will give a measure of padding to help prevent that kind of thing.  
Also on the subject of lights, there is no way I would travel without my Mighty Bright Xtra Flex 2 LED book light.  It clips on everything, including the hose of the hand-held shower in the Interstate's wet bath (if you get up during the middle of the night, you might not want to turn on blazing bright overhead lights).    
I am also going to be installing these things deep inside the Interstate's cupboards.  That will prevent me from having to shove the Mighty Bright in there every time I am trying to locate an object after dark.  About three or four bucks apiece, battery operated, no wiring required.  
Sunset scene:  A lot was learned on this trip, and we will have many more tips to come because there's much more I intend to do to maximize the efficiency of our Airstream Interstate.  Thus far, we have only scratched the surface.  

Friday, November 21, 2014


There's a thread on Sprinter and B-Van Forum that pools reader ideas for maximizing the efficiency of the very small space in an Airstream Interstate.  Unfortunately, forum threads can grow to become mighty cumbersome over time, and products originally featured can be discontinued.  As of this writing, the thread had 376 replies, many of which were engaging in debate and conversation.  That's natural for the simple reason that it's a thread, but it can make for some inefficient reading.

This post will attempt to summarize those ideas that were still "live" as of the date of publication.  No attempt was made by this blogger to vet these ideas, nor is it our intention to endorse specific manufacturers.  This post summarizes products, and a forthcoming Part 2 will summarize suggested procedures.

  • Miniature clocks that stick on walls with velcro (link expired but Formotion reportedly makes some).
  • Ring binder for recipe storage (no room for cookbooks; personally I carry a laptop while traveling and have all my recipes uploaded in PDF format; other users report using iPad for this purpose).
  • FOOD:  a 12-volt picnic cooler (brand not specified) for expanding refrigerator capacity, although there is a separate thread that makes a good argument for going low-tech and using a Yeti cooler instead, perhaps on a hitch platform with dry ice.  The refrigerator in general garners a lot of complaints for its small size.  If you don't use some sort of auxiliary cooler such as those mentioned above, you might want to consider packing food in zipper bags, especially for freezing, as this saves space (zipper bags can be thawed in a pot of warm water, eliminating the need to use the microwave).  Some readers use the Foodsaver vacuum sealing system.  Squeeze tubes were also mentioned, but I'd hate to have to clean the danged things.  Single-serve condiment packs are also good.  The vendor Minimus sells products in individual sizes.  Spices can be stored in old Tic-Tac containers (I would worry about leakage and moisture penetration and I'd use the tiny air-tight Nalgene bottles instead; see URL for liquid laundry detergent below). This Umbra Cylindra spice rack is tiny and was also recommended.  
  • Stick-on product pockets similar to this one pictured below (I can't find a live link).  Also Mobos small bins are stylistically consistent with the Interstate.  Camco cup holders were also recommended but require the drilling of holes.  

Wherefore art thou, product?  I will back-link if I find it later.  

  • Collapsible silicone products such as this colander.  That one is large and fairly expensive - I recently bought a small one at HEB grocery store in Texas for about four dollars.  It has a clip-on bottom so that you can place it on the table without having water leak out (e.g., for serving washed fruit).  Also utility tubs that are collapsible were recommended (I will link to a good one if I find it).  
  • Some Interstate lay-outs have room to accept a safe such as this one.  Check the position of your coach battery before ordering.
  • Hanging closest organizers such as this one.

  • Cedar lining for closets.
  • Anything that pops up, including mesh laundry hampers and small trash cans, particularly those that come with the built-in elastic loop that serves to both hang the can and keep it flat when not popped up.  We have two of those in different sizes.  The smaller one can receive trash with food residues and placed up high so that the dog won't get hold of it.  
  • Paper atlases can be valuable, especially while traveling in areas with no cell coverage (thus no live maps).  We have one that covers all roads of west Texas.  
  • The Duluth Cab Commander for small-item organization and to hold ladies' purses and cameras (large center pocket).  Here is what mine looks like, unfilled.  I may need to use a Velcro strap on the bottom to keep it from swinging around while full.

  • Mercedes Benz Sprinter coat hanger, which fits onto the back of the headrest (may compete with the Duluth).
  • Inverters for use in the dash, especially for older Interstates which lack USB ports.  I am still shopping for a good one and will edit this post when I find what I want.
  • Always have a roll of Velcro on hand.  It's the duct tape analog for small-space living.
  • Depending on your vehicle config, hanging bags can be very efficient for clothing storage.

  • Depending on Interstate config, there may be a narrow but highly valuable space behind the drivers seat (this is especially true of mid-bath T1N models).  We use that for storage of our outdoor table, sun visor, and the owners manuals kit supplied by Airstream.  Another owner had a custom magazine rack built for this area.
  • Magnetic products that attach to the protective steel plate over the stove.  Paper towel rack, for instance (watch for fire hazard).
  • Bleach tablets, safer and lighter than hauling around a liquid product.
  • LUSH personal care products.
  • Wall-mounted liquid soap dispensers, one with Dawn dish soap.
  • Aluminum folding table, very light and compact.  We bought ours from PPL, and LL Bean reportedly also has one, although it is giving me a "not available" message as of this post. My suggestion is that you get a PPL catalog and guard it with your life, because not every product is listed on the internet.  I can't find a PPL table link right now, but I will try to back-post a pic of our table.

Get 'em while you can, because they are very popular.  Screengrabbed from the PPL site in November 2014.  
  • Battery powered LED lanterns.  I haven't found a good one yet (the common ones for sale are way too dim for many applications).  The Nebo Larry 8 LED Work Light was recommended by one reader.  At least it is tiny!
  • Collapsible clothes drying rack (I find the IKEA Pressa to be ideal).  I use these in my home-without-wheels as well.
  • Minwax wood finish stain marker for fixing the inevitable dings in the narrow space (probably most suitable for T1N models; newer Interstates appear to have epoxy-coated wood).
  • A reader reported obtaining a suitable rear cargo door screen from  There is also a custom-made screen for the Sprinter that is scandalously expensive (I'm not even going to link to it).
  • Beds in the Interstate seem to garner a lot of complaints both in terms of comfort and convenience (sheets and blankets are hard to tuck in and impossible to keep in place).  Some readers suggest using mattress pads, but I wonder about how those could be efficiently stored.  One reader folds up her mattress pad, inserts it into a washable pillow cover, and uses it as a dog bed during the day.
  • Strybuc clothes hooks, which have the small-space advantage of being retractable.  Other readers cite the Scotch Command removable hooks because they won't mark the walls of the vehicle.  Suction cup hooks were also mentioned but I myself have never found them to be reliable.  
  • The Duluthpack hanging wine bottle holder.  What a cool product!  Readers recommended their products in general for the quality they represent.  
  • A reader mentioned that her mother used a 5-gallon lidded bucket for clothes washing while on the road.  Add water and detergent and motion of the vehicle will do the agitation.
  • 12-volt mini-vacs seem to be popular, but I use a collapsible broom.
  • Some readers recommend laundry detergent pods. I typically use liquid detergent stored in a Nalgene HDPE bottle (the original lab-ware, not the trendy drinking bottles) because they don't leak.  Pods are good for set sized loads.  With the Nalgene you can measure out as much as you need.  
  • Outdoor cooking:  The Camp Chef one-burner stove and the Cobb kitchen in a box were both mentioned.  I myself am a fan of the Jetboil and never travel anywhere without it, even if I have other cooking options (I'm an old backcountry camper).  
  • Dishes:  The Coleman All-N-1 Dining Set was recommended.  Corelle ware has been generally recommended on a number of RV threads because it is durable and light-weight.  I got a plain set at Walmart for about $30; many fancier sets are twice that cost (and stylistically do not fit the modern appearance of an Interstate).  Note that the cups are ceramic, not Corelle.  Cups can be stored for travel in clean athletic socks, and I used scraps of shelf liners between plates and bowls so they won't rattle on rough roads.  I also use non-slip shelf liner on my table to prevent dishes from skidding around, and also on my counter to prevent the tempered glass covers for my sink and stove from getting scratched while working on top of them.    
  • Silicone pot holders - easier to keep clean and odor-free.  Also double as trivets.  Any brand (IKEA had some excellent ones but always seem to be sold out).  Or the "Ove Glove" as long as you don't let them get wet, at which point they cease to work (I'll go with pot holders).  
  • Folding ottomans might be useful as both footstools and for storage; we have jack-knife longitudinal couches and so footstools are not an issue for us.  
  • One reader IKEA-hacked a Billy bookcase into a computer desk in a four-front-seater Interstate.  Check the thread for details.
    Absolutely brilliant!!
  • Duraflame ceramic desktop heater to supplement the Interstate furnace in cold weather.  Small, light, and with a tip-over shut-off.  
  • Sprinter custom sun shade.  To heck with the included privacy curtain.  It hangs down in the middle of the front seats.  
A few of the products mentioned in this post.  The custom dog bed, sized to fit the Interstate, is described here.  
  • The Steele Canvas Basket Company's "wide" tote bag, which wasn't pulling up on their website as of this blog post.  It is one of the last (if not THE last) remaining jumbo totes on the American market - most were discontinued because of the fear of spinal injury lawsuits.  It is great for moving your pillows, towels, blankets, and other light, bulky items between your house and your Interstate.  Once inside, it can be folded flat and stowed, or used as a laundry holder or for general storage.  
Hiking boot for scale.  I store this in my master closet with most of my Interstate linens in it so that I can just grab it and go.

You'll also notice that I have a Steele laundry truck in the background - their products are superb.  

In addition to those specific suggestions, I will reserve this space for third-party space-saving summaries: