“Tiny House” is a misnomer. Most of these tiny houses, when you peek underneath, are not really houses. Houses don’t have wheels. And before you accuse me of anti-trailer-park elitism, allow me to point out that I’ve spent time in modular homes of both the single- and double-wide variety, and any respectable resident ditches the wheels first thing. You find your slab; you park your house for good. That’s not the case with tiny houses, which remain movable. But I guess “cool medium-size trailer” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
In any case, a few years back, Harvard classmates Jon Staff and Pete Davis got the idea to plunk down a tiny house out in the woods and rent it by the night via a company they named Getaway. The aesthetic would be something like South End loft meets REI, a dwelling to kindle the camping impulse without the attendant hardship. Getaway’s first house, the Ovida, was towed up to southern New Hampshire and parked near Lake Sunapee. Almost immediately, the place booked solid. Now the company is up to four houses in New Hampshire and seven in New York, with plans for more. Prices start at $99 per night, and the occupancy rate is so high that the company maintains a waitlist just in case there are cancellations. As someone who disdains camping but loves drinking beer in the woods, I decided I had to see what this medium-size-trailer craze was all about by spending a night in one of the New York lodgings.
I was in Manhattan for the auto show, so when I was done traipsing around the Javits Center in a suit, I climbed into a Ram 2500 and burbled my way north for 125 miles or so. The location is a secret, but I can tell you that it’s so secluded that I drove straight past it even with the benefit of GPS and Getaway’s discreet signage that points the way for the final few miles.
While all the Getaway houses are on one property, this isn’t like a campground or an RV park, where every inch of real estate is given over to concrete parking slabs and sewer hookups. A winding gravel road snakes through the property, and each house is visually isolated from its neighbors—you might hear some fellow Getawayers through the trees, but nobody’s up in your face. It seems like the absolute minimum number of trees were cleared to accommodate the road and the houses, no more. In fact, I have to admire the trailer-reversing skills of whoever placed the Salvatore, my lodging for the night: It’s so tight in here that I can’t even turn the truck around. It’s as if the house was already here and the trees grew around it.
I use my unlock code to open the front door and survey my digs. By house standards, yes, it’s tiny. But the Getaway cabins range from 160 to 200 square feet, which isn’t bad for two people. (Some cabins can sleep up to four, and dogs are allowed too. But there are a bunch of different floor plans among the houses, so do your research before diagramming human and/or canine sleeping arrangements.) At the far end is a raised platform with a queen bed, while the middle of the space is devoted to a galley kitchen with a double hot plate and a fridge. The other end—home to the only interior door—contains a bathroom with a shower and an exceptionally bizarre toilet that is lined with foil and does this boa constrictor squeeze to flush. The thing looks like it was jacked from the Space Shuttle and somehow doesn’t smell at all even though there’s no water in it. You get 15 flushes before they have to change the cartridge, whatever that is, which they can definitely do but sounds like it might be a sign of profligacy to which you’d rather not admit. I could spend way more time talking about this fascinating device, but suffice it to say that you need to try it for yourself.
I change out of my city-slicker business attire, momentarily perturbed by the lack of curtains before I realize that there’s nobody to see me. The back of the house is a giant picture window facing out into the forest, the Tranquility Channel in ultra high-def. Social animals that we are, I wish somebody else were here to share this experience, but a trip to the local Hannaford’s cures me of any desire for further human interaction today. I’m fine by myself. That said, there’s no way I’m putting my phone in the lock box that Getaway provides for digital detox. A taste of healthy isolation is nice, but let’s not get crazy. I’m not a hermit. Yet.
For the severely time-pressed (or convenience-addicted, or transportation-challenged), Getaway Pantry will stock your house with provisions before you get there—steak, salmon, you name it. Just to give you an idea of the choices on that front, “cheese and crackers” gets you aged artisanal cheese and La Panzanella flatbreads for $15.75. This isn’t a Ritz-and-Cheez Whiz kind of operation, people. However, you need to place your order 48 hours before check-in, and I didn’t get my act together to do that. Hence Hannaford’s, which is only about 10 minutes away.
I stash my groceries—salad, a rib-eye and a six-pack—in the mini fridge and head outside to get a fire going. Two fires, actually: one in the fire pit next to the trailer and one in the charcoal grill a few feet away. Briquettes and firewood are staples provided at each house, so I pull them from beneath the trailer and get going on the first step toward building a fire: cracking a beer. After some unknowable amount of time (two beers’ worth), I’ve got a cheery fire dancing in the pit and the briquettes are ashing down to coals, which means they’re ready for the rib-eye. There’s music playing through my phone, the only sound besides the wind in the trees and the gurgle of a lethargic brook somewhere out back, unseen but nearby. I don’t care where you’re arriving from: This is less stressful than wherever that was.
After dinner, I douse the fire and head inside to watch TV—just kidding! There’s no TV, of course. And no Wi-Fi. Phones might or might not work, so there’s a big red phone connected to a landline just in case you get on the wrong side of a bobcat or experience severe existential dread. I grab a book and climb into the one-man hammock hung in the middle of the room, settling in for some reading until my steak-and-IPA-induced drowsiness drives me to the bed. Which is as comfortable as it looks, something like the Westin Heavenly bed transposed to the wilderness. Camping this isn’t. Or, not exactly. This is like the best parts of camping, the seclusion and the campfire and the stars, minus the soggy tent and pooping in a hole you just dug.
The morning starts early. Remember how there are no curtains or shades? That’s fine at night (so long as you’re not constructing disturbing mental narratives about what might be out in the woods peering in), but it also means that sunup hits you hard. Note to self, and also to everyone else: Bring a sleep mask. I’m up at 5:45 am, and that’s the springtime sunrise. I imagine by midsummer we’ll be talking an hour earlier. Even if you observe the Getaway quiet-hour stricture and chill out by 10 pm, that’s an early start.
My house’s kitchen is well stocked with the basics, along with a tray of sundries paid for via honor system (and, well, Venmo). But one item conspicuous by its absence is a coffee maker—apparently a Mr. Coffee or Keurig is a little too reminiscent of home, or the Westin. So you get a pour-over drip coffee apparatus, which I’m sure I could’ve figured out, if I’d had some coffee first. Instead, I thanked myself for having the foresight to grab a box of Starbucks Via instant coffees at Hannaford’s last night. And if drinking coffee outside on a crisp morning isn’t quite as good as the beer-and-campfire context the night before, it’s certainly the next best thing.
The Getaway staff doesn’t want tips, but the check-in email mentions that you could do them a solid by cleaning up the place before you leave. So I do all my dishes and organize the kitchen before packing out and setting course for my non-tiny house. I intend to return, possibly with fellow human beings to appreciate the experience, but I’d better plan ahead—every house is pretty well booked for months ahead. Fortunately, Getaway is busily building more houses in Adams, Massachusetts. Where they’ll go is a secret. But I’ll bet you’ll want to find out.