Months ago I stumbled across the Great American Tiny House Show online while searching for more THOW festivals close-by. I was surprised and delighted that there was one in January (but wouldn’t it be too cold?) I convinced myself it doesn’t get cold in Florida (even as I was planning the trip with it being 27 degrees in Alabama). When I discovered there was not just one, but TWO festivals the same weekend – I bought the tickets and reserved a rental RV in Tampa via my old stand-by, Airbnb. I could not find a tiny house to rent nearby but was open to getting ideas from any tiny space.
I drove the 8 ½ hours on Friday and other than discovering Florida drivers are just horrible, it was a great day for the trip. I was glad to get to the RV while it was still daylight (check-in time was 4pm) – and it was so nice! Stepping up into it I was reminded it was definitely an RV because the whole place shook (of course I am a bull in a china shop most days). After I adjusted my steps it didn’t take much time to adapt. There was more than enough space, but it was definitely an RV. This is especially noted in the bathroom area with the type of toilet and shower. It’s perfect for travel but doesn’t compare to a THOW in my book – I do think this owner is pretty smart for parking it and renting it out. The location is great, only 10-15 minutes from most everything in the area, including St. Pete’s across the bay.
The first night I pretty much just wanted to relax. The host of the Legacy Pioneer (the RV) left a bottle of white wine and my favorite Fiji water. I ran to the nearby Publix grocery store and picked up their amazing fried chicken dinner and enjoyed an evening at “home” watching the large TV and relaxing. It was nice to have an internet connection unlike my last tiny adventure, even though the WIFI was spotty (likely due to the heavy winds we were getting that weekend). The shower was barely big enough for just me, but there was enough hot water for a quick one! The bed was comfortable enough to make up for it.
Saturday morning I slept in, did some work, and then got ready for the first festival (which was really an indoor expo inside a large entertainment hall). Turned out to be a genius location because it was FREEZING cold in Tampa (yes, Tampa!). The wind made it crazy, everyone was miserable, so it was nice to be indoors. The problem was – when I arrived not everyone had set-up yet. There were two tiny houses that didn’t appear to have shown and there were a lot of what seemed to be unrelated vendors (i.e. a cooking show?) Who is going to buy a set of pots and pans if they want to live tiny?) After venting about the parking cost and my unmet expectations on social media – I did immerse myself in the tiny homes that were there – all two of them.
I was really impressed by the Tiny FL model, a more modern style tiny house. Although the living room had the dream feature (the TV that appears out of nowhere), it was actually not designed well for storage. The sleek and beautiful cabinets in that room didn’t even open. The built-in lighting everywhere was gorgeous, without a doubt, and I could truly see it as a luxury rental space. I really liked seeing the french doors in the master to the outside on the main level. Yet, even with two lofts it wasn’t a style that felt “homey” or really inviting to guests. I did think that considering the high-end features that the company was reasonably priced and I liked that they are located in Florida.
The only other space that was available to tour was from Tiny Studios. The model on display was an aluminum framed dwelling that qualifies for “tiny” just not THOW. It was stunning and due to it being designed for Florida weather, perfect for a somewhat permanent property to rent out one day (because it can still be easily moved). I was also pleasantly surprised by the pricing at this company as well and their flexibility to also use recycled shipping containers. This hadn’t been a consideration of mine before, but I am not necessarily opposed to it if the situation presents itself to be the right fit. The use of space in this dwelling was genius. The shower was big enough for two and it had some of the nicest appliances and finishes I’ve seen without it looking too stuffy. I had the chance to speak with the designer and she was really nice, this is definitely a company for the short list.
Since I had the weekend pass, I left the expo and drove across the bay to St. Petersburg for the Florida Suncoast Tiny Home Festival. First, I stopped by a local burger joint, and I was SO glad I did. Thee Burger Spot was so busy but efficient you knew immediately it was going to be an amazing burger. I got the BBQ with bacon burger and onion “thangs” – it was so messy and I had to eat it in my car (it wasn’t a sit down type place), but it was the best burger I’ve ever had.
The drive across the bay was reminiscent of my visit to Pensacola where there was ocean on all three sides of you and you quite literally feel like you’re driving across the surface of the water. This day being extremely windy made the drive slightly less than ideal, especially with Giselle (my Nissan Versa). I was blowing all over the place, so was everyone else. Then I just looked at the seagulls mocking us all, surfing the wind gusts with zero effort – rats with wings basically. Not a huge fan. It was absolutely cool though, water all around you and seeing signs shaming you if you were to run out of gas along the 10 mile bridge.
The festival outside was great! Sure it was cold, but whatever, there were dozens of skoolies and tripped out vans. Everyone was so open and willing to share their homes, stories and ideas and it really does give you the sense of community (even when mobile!) No matter what type of THOW I end up with, I definitely hope to take part in these types of events when possible. My favorite non-THOW at the festival was a converted blue bus that was surprisingly high-end. The counter tops were made from rocks with a clear coat on top and custom wood shelves/surround. They even had a comfy built-in bed for their dog! It was nice that it’s possible to travel and also have happy pets – these dogs have a better life than I do!
THOW time! The first one I had to see was the cabin-y looking one, although I wasn’t crazy about the inside layout, the back porch “deck” was very much my style. Two other almost identical tiny houses were also on display from Tiny House Siesta (a permanent THOW community that rents out the units on AirBnb). Although I prefer a permanent/privately THOW owned community vs just rental spaces, I am all about seeing other spaces and getting ideas. I was so disappointed in these. I would never spend money to stay in one of those wooden crates. They had absolutely no personality. Even if you can get past the fluorescent color palette, I would be really depressed if I had to vacation in one of those units. I am including the information so that potential adventure seekers can avoid it all together. I think the most beneficial thing about this festival was meeting the people, petting the dogs, and seeing a lot of skoolie options for a certain young lady I happen to know who wants to travel and write too – she has to finish high school first though.
After the second location I was getting pretty hungry so on the drive back I stopped at a Longhorn Steakhouse closer to the RV neighborhood. I wanted a good bar and ended up having an early diner chatting with the other bar patrons. After another nice evening of relaxation and cramped shower in the RV, I woke up early Sunday and got some writing done. Then I couldn’t stop craving french toast (maybe it was the RV), so I stopped at IHOP before going back to the festivals.
I discovered the previous night that there were other companies expected to be on display at the indoor expo, so I gave it another shot (and paid $8, again, but ok). It was worth it. There were additional THOWs setup and a representative from NOAH as well. They were offering a 5-day online workshop for THOW “dummies” who can avoid costly mistakes when looking into the tiny life. I signed up immediately, as the experts are recognized in the industry and I’ve heard from many of them before.
I re-toured the tiny studios because I just liked them so much, but then I toured the Huge Blue Tiny (link not found) and really liked the tile work and blue theme. It did seem to be “too big” as in just not the most efficient use of space. It was the company Decathlon Tiny Homes’ model that I really enjoyed. Even though it was what I normally consider too big on the outside, the inside would be more than what we would need for long term dwelling. The downstairs master and non-neck breaking lofts were ideal, plus it was just the classic craftsman style I seem to lean towards.
I was most impressed by the Ms. Blue Sky (Bluebird) bus/skoolie – it was so luxurious on the inside it almost felt like a tiny house. I would happily travel in something like that (if I could get used to driving a school bus). After getting my fill on THOWs, I didn’t have much desire to go back to the other festival at that point and wanted to explore some more of Tampa. When I first arrived and was driving through I was less than impressed. I didn’t want to be negative, but there were very few palm trees, and it basically looked like Alabama. I determined Florida is kind of ugly unless you’re by the water or the city. But a quick google beach search led me to Davis Island only about 10 miles away. It was like being transported to luxury. It wasn’t a swim access beach but rather the classic rocks/seagulls along the bright shimmering blue water type beach. There were a lot of trails and palm trees for miles of walking pleasure. It was perfect! I was able to take some photos and watch the wildlife before heading back to Longhorn (the staff was so good to me the first night) for a beer and to watch the playoffs. The RV didn’t have live TV, how weird is that?
I found it ironic I heard about Tom Brady’s retirement from football while in Tampa – of all places – but it is what it is. I enjoyed the last two playoff games, and headed back to the RV. It was the first time I arrived after dark and was pleasantly surprised by the patio lights and motion detector lights, which made it very easy to see. It was also the easiest lock I ever used via AirBnb properties, so there was that. I packed up and made sure everything was back in place, hit the hay and was on my way home by 7:30. It was a great trip – I learned a LOT more about permits and transport and will learn even more with the workshop.
Most importantly – it’s a lot of fun to be working towards your goals and dreams! Things don’t happen overnight so it’s really important to enjoy the process in whatever journey you are taking in your life! Plans are in the works for “the next one” – stay tuned for more adventures!
Links to vendors/events mentioned:
The Legacy Pioneer (RV)
Tiny FL (builder)
Great American Tiny House Show
Florida Suncoast Tiny Home Festival
Thee Burger Spot
Tiny House Siesta – (Flamingo & Siesta)
Decathlon Tiny Homes