Things We've Learned | Part I

Alaska, August 2015. THE road to hope.

Alaska, August 2015. THE road to hope.

If you've only been following along with our story for a little while, you may not know that we're not new to the traveling/Airstream renovation scene, though we only started The Modern Caravan last year. Airstream renovation and full-time travel isn't a new thing for us. This post is about what we've learned after doing six Airstream renovations over the course of four years, and though that's not say, the number that bigger companies with big teams do, it's a hell of a lot for two people. We've learned so much because we don't have a team. We are both 100% involved in every single renovation we do. Everything you see (with the exception of some cushions and one countertop) is built and crafted by our two sets of hands. We know the ins and outs of this work, and continue to put ourselves in the way of learning. We don't claim the term 'expert', we claim 'continually learning', with 12,000+ hours of physical renovation labor under our belts alone. That doesn't include the hours upon hours of research we do, or the work of starting the business, or the full-time travel, or any of the other associated learning that comes with living on the road, running a business from the road, etc. 

So let's get to it - here are a few of the many things we've learned over the past several years regarding Airstream renovation. This is largely geared toward those of you who are planning to get on the road, but there's advice in here for any Airstream renovator. 

1. Airstream renovation is a massive undertaking.

It will consume your life. You won't just be putting in the labor hours, you'll be researching and trying to figure out how to do tasks you've never done before. Yes, you might've been a contractor or home builder, but Airstream renovation presents a unique set of challenges. Both of our dads built houses in their early twenties, and when they came to help with our aluminum dwellings, we were teaching them, not the other way around. If you're wanting to get on the road quickly, renovation is not the answer. 

We have folks reach out to us for consultations who are certain they'll have their gut renovation done in three months because they have friends who are carpenters, or they have a strong work ethic, and they can spend every weekend and evening after work doing the renovation...or insert any other reason here for why they will bust out their reno faster than even we can bust one out, and we're doing this full time, not part time, and have actual Airstream renovation experience! Time and again, we've watched those renovations stretch out to eight a two years...there are too many unforeseen circumstances and too many things you don't know how to do that you'll spend more time researching and brainstorming than actually doing. That doesn't even begin to touch on timing, which I'll go into detail on below. 

2. Don't Take the Shortcut

After six Airstream renovations, including a not-so-vintage Airstream from 1994, trust us when we say the shortcuts are never, ever worth it. Anxious to get on the road? We get that. Trust us. We've been there. In many ways, we're still there. Yet you never know what's behind the skins or under your subfloor unless you do the work of looking. We see so many people - who didn't remove their interior skins - complain about leaks and are constantly up on their roof with a caulk gun, but this problem could be solved by being thorough from the beginning. Yes, it's tedious. Yes, it's time-consuming (to check every rivet). Yes, it's scary to drill out rivets and pull down your interior skins. 

Not that long ago, we were in your position, standing right where you are now, afraid to take out the original interior though it was rotted and moldy, afraid to drill out a rivet, afraid we'd ruin something. Scared or not, it's worth it to be thorough. It's worth it to know your chassis isn't rusted and you won't lose the back half of your trailer going down the road. It's worth it to not spend thousands of dollars and many hours of your life building on top of an unsafe, leaky trailer. Please bear in mind we are not saying this to make anyone feel bad, but having seen multiple trailers from various years (including our own, newer '94) in poor condition, we feel it's necessary to say. 

3. Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You'll Need

I'm circling back around to #1 a little bit here, but this is one that even I still struggle with. The issues we see the majority of people struggling with when planning their renovation timeline are as follows: 

  • Too much excitement and starry-eyed dreaming. Believe me, I get this struggle. Ellen still has to remind me to be more realistic. I get overly excited and make giant, hopeful lists to accomplish by day's end, and I'm inevitably disappointed when night comes and we've barely accomplished the thing we started doing that morning. There's always something that halts progress, and more often than not, the really good, crazy productive days don't generally come back-to-back. You might have a couple, but you're gonna have setbacks. You can't avoid them with this work.

  • Assumption that building in an Airstream is like building in a house. It's just NOT. I'm not even talking about scribing curves (though that's frustrating, it's not tough if you have the right methods and tools). I'm talking about how nothing is square. Traditional measurement doesn't always work. You've gotta learn how to adapt, and then do it a million times over throughout your build. There are also many necessary steps that have to happen before your build even begins that require a vast knowledge base, much of which most DIY-renovators learn while they go. Learning new skills takes time.

  • Airstream renovation is not for the faint of heart. I read recently that these old trailers have a way of making you earn their respect, and I agree wholeheartedly. If you're not taking shortcuts and doing this right, you're learning RV electrical (AC, DC, solar), RV plumbing (tanks, proper venting, 12v pumps, pump bypass, city water, fresh water!), propane, tank monitors, installation of AC units, fans, RV appliances with multiple power sources (12v, AC, propane). You're waterproofing and restoring. Repairing chassis frames. Removing all the old shit, which isn't just removing furniture. You're grinding off a hundred rusty bolts and drilling out thousands of rivets and scraping off old caulk with a heat gun, bit by bit. The work is dirty and gross sometimes. It's mentally and physically challenging. It will test your patience and your limits, over and over again.

If you're working full-time and renovating your trailer on the weekends, I would absolutely advise to allow yourself at least one year from demo-to-done. If you want to have a life and not feel chained to your renovation, stretch it out to a year and a half or even two years, which would allow you weekends off occasionally (without guilt!), time to take vacations, go to weddings, and see your grandma. 

4. It's Expensive as F**k

Our first Airstream renovation cost around $22k, when all was said and done, including the cost of the trailer itself ($4k). We didn't have fancy countertops, appliances, a hot water heater, etc. Our compositing toilet was homemade using a kit, a box we built, and a walnut toilet seat purchased on Amazon. It was bare bones simple in there because we spent so much on replica pieces, frame repair, skin repair, new windows, et cetera, not to mention all of the specialty tools we had to purchase, like a buck riveting kit, polishers, and angle grinders. Lucky for us, we had a lot of 'traditional' tools already, or we might not have been able to afford that fancy a$$ back window replacement we desperately needed. We still spent $22k, and that didn't include decor. We didn't purchase anything special to outfit the trailer, we just used things we already had on hand. Even our "upholstery" was made using two wool Army blankets cut up and sewn back together. 

Our second Airstream renovation cost $42k. The cost of the trailer itself was $5k, which means we spent $37k on supplies. We didn't need to purchase tools this go-round, we already had them. Now, this was June, which is one of the most-pinned renos on the ol' Pinterest boards, and we absolutely went "high-end" this time around. In this case, that meant we had a hot water heater, fridge, and oven/cooktop...which felt like pure luxury in comparison to Louise, and then we got a little fancy and added Fireclay Tile, Pergo flooring, and custom made solid walnut countertops and Belgian linen cushion covers wrapped around natural latex core. We had a heftier battery bank too, and we splurged on a Nature's Head Composting Toilet. Overall, we spent twice the amount of what we spent on our first renovation...and made a solid, gorgeous, comfortable home with common conveniences we'd not had before. For reference, the body work was similar to Louise, and the chassis repair was more extensive (the entire back end fell apart when we took up the subfloor, it was so rusted). 

Your budget should be planned accordingly. While I can understand this is difficult to gage (one of the questions we get asked a lot is regarding budget), I recommend asking other renovators who have done full-gut renovations without hiring anyone (big difference here - they're not paying for tools and they are paying for labor). Note the fixtures and finishes they've used, along with amenities and technology they installed on board. If it's comparable to your desired outcome, loosely base your budget around that starting point, and always plan to spend more money than you think you're going to.

5. The Work Doesn't Stop When You're Finished

So you've done the work, you've got your Before & After shots posted to Instagram, and you're ready to get on the road. You've spent all this time and money and you did thorough work, so everything should be smooth as silk from here on out, right? 

Nope, not so much. If you're getting on the road, for starters, your entire life is about to change. Familiarity, comfort, convenience,'re willingly leaving those behind, but no matter how willing or excited, it's still a big adjustment to travel full-time. Constantly changing scenery is fun, but vigorous change can also wear on you, especially if you're simultaneously learning how to live tiny and learn your rig. Building out your trailer and actually using it are very different, and it takes time to re-train your brain to remember to heat the water before you're ready to take a shower, or that you've gotta fill your water tanks and charge your onboard batteries. You no longer have the convenience of free-flowing water into your home, or the ability to flush your poo and no longer think about it. Black tank or composting toilet, you're gonna be dealing with that shit. Literally. 

Here's a couple of tips on getting acclimated: 

  • When scheduling out your renovation, try to pad the end of the renovation with a 'dry run', so to speak. Go to a local campground or park in your folks' backyard for a week or two to really get to know the ins-and-outs of your space. Practice living before you get on the road, which is another major step, in and of itself. Look at it in steps:

    • Renovation/paring down/planning to hit the road

    • Dry run

    • Moving in/getting on the road

  • Give yourself ample time when hitching up the first time (and several times after), and have two checklists: one for inside, one for outside. List everything that you need to check and do before you get on the road. We call this 'battening down the hatches'. Examples of the exterior list items are things like removing chocks, checking the air in the tires, and checking the running/brake lights, and for the interior list, it's things like turning the water pump off, closing fans and windows, securing drawer latches, et cetera. **Pro tip: install your water pump switch right by the front door so you can flip it off right as you're getting ready to lock up.

  • Learn to back up and haul a trailer in a big, empty parking lot. If you have a partner or older kiddo, this is a great time to learn to communicate regarding backing the trailer up, which you'll have to do at many campsites. If you have cell signal available, use FaceTime or Skype...the last thing you want to be is THAT loud, angry couple at the campsite. Using the video capability on your device allows the person standing at the rear of the rig to show the person at the wheel what's really going on, and it can be a lifesaver in compact spots. If you are working with a partner, decide on a set of terms that the driver can easily understand and use them clearly every single time. Yelling 'go the other way' isn't clear to the person at the helm, but 'point the curb side rear two feet to the left' is. In our partnership, we've realized through a lot of trial and error how to communicate when traveling and parking with our rig, but now it's smooth as butter.

  • Things are going to break. Fantastic builder or not, you've got to be ready for issues on the road. If you're hauling a trailer, it's being shaken up like a magnitude 8.0. earthquake back there. On the road to Alaska, we had wires shake loose inside the walls! If you're in that big, EMPTY parking lot on your test haul, take a turn riding in the back just to hear and feel and see everything creaking and shaking. It's a good education - it helps you understand what its like back there. Then multiply that, because highway speeds or crazy washboard roads are gonna be worse than a smooth parking lot at 10mph. (DON'T DO THIS ON A ROAD.) A lot of people think that everything will stay in place because that's what we see in a still image on Instagram, but those trailers aren't in motion! They're at a full stop, leveled, set up and styled for a photo. That's not reality.

To wrap up, you will be dealing with things breaking or not working. All that shaking can loosen what you thought was tight, and you've got to care for your rig and the things inside (i.e., don't leave your water heater on without water inside and burn it out, check your plumbing connections on the regular to ensure you haven't sprung a leak after a particularly rough stretch of road). Living in a vehicle that you haul down the road takes regular, deliberate care and maintenance - yes, you got rid of that big yard and house, but you aren't off the hook for home care and repair. 

6. Living the Dream Means Working to Keep the Dream Alive

When people find out that we live in an Airstream, the response is pretty common: "You're living my/the dream!" This sentence and varied iterations lives in the comments section on Instagram and in our email inbox. We've been hearing and reading it from people for four and a half years who don't live this lifestyle. The issue with the Airstream/nomadic life being 'the dream' is that the work of living this lifestyle is lost in translation. Pretty Airstream interiors (when parked, set up, and styled), don't allude to the tough aspects of living on the road. Sometimes it can feel lonely and isolating. Sometimes your grey tank backs up into your trailer. To put gas in the tank, pay for campgrounds, food, and bills, we've gotta work full-time, same as someone who lives in a brick-and-mortar. Sometimes you're in transit and your window shade knocks into your faucet handle, flipping the water on, and at the same time, your faucet swings to the top of the counter and when you stop, the entire contents of your fresh tank have flooded your floors (true story, this happened to our friends Kate & Adam). Sometimes you're cold and sick and just want a hot shower, but you're out of propane. Sometimes you break down on the side of the Alaskan Highway and you don't have the tool you need to fix the crazy freak issue (one of our stories). 

If you really believe that all your problems are going to be solved by living in a dreamy-looking Airstream and traveling, you're going to have a good, cold slap of reality once you get on the road. If you're expecting this life to be as easy as it looks on Instagram, remember that it's Instagram - and anyone and everyone can pose for a picture and tout their lifestyle to make it look better than it actually is. What those bare-butted women posing for #vanlife aren't telling you is that they're laying in a bed so full of dust and sand that if you slapped the mattress with your hand, it would look like a dust storm on I-10 coming out of those linens and that that cute butt was a few inches above the ground, shitting in a hole they dug themselves that morning after using dry shampoo for the 9th day in a row. Nothing wrong with any of that, I've done all of that myself (minus the bare-butt pictures, but my equivalent is being an interior designer - my job is to make Airstreams pretty), yet this is why I write real captions under the images I post. I'm careful to share the realities of this life, which are beautiful and ugly, good and bad, easy and tough...because behind any dreamy looking nomadic life is a bevy of discomforts and insanely hard and daily work. 

If you really want the nomadic life, you'll put in that work. You'll sacrifice convenience and comfort. When something breaks, you'll fix it (and not expect someone else to do it for you). You'll read and research and listen to locals and seasoned nomads alike. You'll learn from your mistakes, because you will make mistakes. You won't give up when it gets tough. Hell, we've been working toward a nomadic, free life for 4.5 years now and have watched countless amounts of people get on the road in the way we'd like to be while we're still over here, toiling away just trying to get there while also having the freedom of working for ourselves...and we've had setback after setback, shitty circumstance after shitty circumstance...and we still work toward having the life we want. We're not giving up, no matter what life tries to throw our way.

In conclusion, this list isn't meant to scare you off. It's meant to tell you some nuggets of truth that a lot of people aren't talking about. We're all so worried about making our lives look perfect and together all the time (even nomads, who say they wanted to leave all that behind) that we don't talk about the tough stuff. Airstream renovation looks easy online only because we make it look easy, yet I still  believe wholeheartedly that anyone can do it if they put their mind to it. Hell, I never thought I'd be someone who would have done any of this...and everyone in my life was completely taken aback when I did. I'm working to make the life I want happen because I want it more than anything, and I work my ass off for it. 

If you want the "dream life"'ll work to build it. You'll find a way, you'll overcome the difficulty, you'll learn what you don't know, you'll find the money, you'll find the time, you'll ignore the haters and naysayers, and you'll work like hell to not only build your rig, but build your dream life and you'll keep the dream alive, no matter how much work it takes or how uncomfortable it may get. You can have it as long as you're willing to work for it...which, for us, is a good long while. 

Our Version of Minimalism

Minimalism is a hot topic right now, and one we're glad to see trending. We hope it sticks around and that more people begin to think about the impact human beings have on the earth. We're often asked for our advice on living with less, which makes sense. After all, in the past four years, we've downsized twice and have lived (off and on) in 160-200 square feet. Yet when we share our "methods", we notice the crestfallen looks. We don't have a one-size-fits-all methodology or a hard and fast rulebook. 

When we decided to travel, it wasn't an experiment in living with less (meaning minimalism wasn't a driving factor). In our case, our reasons for traveling full-time were from a deeper, emotional place that wasn't tied to the amount of stuff we had filling up our home. It wasn't until we began the work of eliminating the clutter and excess so we could downsize to live in a tiny home that we began to notice how much lighter and freer we felt. Now, that's our story. Your reasons for minimizing may be tied to deep, emotional reasons, and that's one-thousand percent okay. 

The important thing to remember is that you don't have to follow KonMari or live with only 33 things to be a minimalist, though if you are the type of person that needs a structure to get started, we highly recommend finding a guide that best suits you. We've definitely read Marie Kondo's book and flipped through Project 333's guidelines, but we find that our particular way of doing minimalism doesn't look very minimalist. We love thrifting and have a constant in-and-out of beautiful ceramics, wooden implements, art, rugs, and textiles that we pick up and then sell. We travel with a truck load of tools for work. Our Airstream home is rarely clean or organized, and if we each lived with only 33 items of clothing, we'd only wear ripped, stained, and threadbare work clothes because most of our job is physical labor. Yikes - not into that. 

What does work for us is keeping our home tiny, along with other things I'll go into below, and to accept that minimalism is a practice, not a destination. We are constantly learning and reminding ourselves of not only this, but that it's okay to want things sometimes. It's okay to sometimes have an impulse buy. It's okay to have a dress in the closet that I only wear once a year because I love the way it makes me feel when I wear it. It's okay to love thrifting, but to be mindful of the purchases when we go...and that keeping a little vintage shop on the side to sell some of those finds is really fun and serves a purpose for us.

Minimalism should look different to everyone, but we find that the driving factor behind the practice is sustainability. We have friends who practice zero-waste, while my insanely busy life and demands keep me happily recycling as much as I can and taking my own water bottle with me to yoga class. For yet others, minimalism is voting with their dollar: buying only fair-trade, ethically produced clothing and wares for their home as opposed to fast fashion, while some shop purely secondhand for clothing and wares. For the record, we buy secondhand more often, as that's what's in our budget, but I do buy cheaper clothing sometimes for my kid when I can't find a secondhand item she needs. She goes through clothing so fast, it's hard to rationalize spending $100 on a dress for a growing child. We donate the clothing she grows out of to local charities wherever we are. 

When buying an item, I do think about it's use, though it doesn't always have to have a specific function. The use, for me, may be making me smile or bringing warmth into my home, like a framed vintage photograph I found of the mountains and saguaros here in Arizona, taken the year of my birth (1985). I am a collector of pieces like this, found buried in stacks at flea markets or secondhand shops, artwork created by someone once and likely changing through many sets of hands before finding its way into mine. 

Minimalism can be an incredibly therapeutic and mindful practice, yet I'm 4.5 years into my minimalist lifestyle, and I'm still learning what it means to me, and I still slip up even within the rules I've set for myself and the rules we've set for our family.  If I had a big house again, I think that I'd likely be more of a maximalist and fill the space, though I'd maintain my personal goal of not buying mass-produced things and instead wait for the perfect vintage, secondhand item, just as I do now in my tiny space. There are times where I feel overwhelmed with the amount of vintage I've accumulated, and I know it's time to host a flash sale for it all. I go through my two drawers of clothing about four times a year and pull out pieces to donate, and we've digitized all of our bill-paying and the majority of our business, save our business cards and postcards, which are printed on 100% recycled paper. Even our client contracts are digital, and we use DocHub for signatures. Some of our decisions are influenced by our tiny space: our daughter reads like crazy, and can go through a 150 page chapter book in a day. Getting her a Kindle and a subscription for Kindle Unlimited keeps stacks of books from piling up around the Airstream. In my case, however, I can't read on a screen for anything and I buy used copies of the books I want to read, and then pass them along when finished to friends. These are just some of things that we do, which are quite intentional, to hold ourselves accountable to the standard of minimalism that we've set for ourselves and to maintain our own practice, which ebbs and flows just like anything else does. 

Minimalism can - and should - be your own journey and practice, just like ours is. It doesn't have to be perfectly lined up and matching organizers in a big walk in pantry and hangers spread finger width apart with clothes in color-coordinated order, no matter what blog or catalog is telling you it should be. You needn't be a fan of neutrals or black, white, and grey to be a minimalist. You don't have to have a capsule wardrobe or live in a tiny house or apartment. You can do all of these things, of course, but it's not a requirement for minimalism. Minimalism could be letting go of a deceased family member's clothing you've been holding onto that makes you sad, or streamlining your wardrobe to only the things you actually wear and finding your true style that makes you feel amazing. It could be cleaning out the clutter under your bathroom sink and purchasing less product, and finding the ones you do use and sticking to those. It could mean buying things slowly, waiting until you're absolutely certain you can't live another day without the item in question. It could mean downsizing your 3,000 square foot home to something more manageable, like 1,200 square feet (like my parents just did!), with less space to hide things away. 

Whatever your version of minimalism, practice it with intention and mindfulness, and give yourself grace and time. Minimalism isn't achieved in a weekend, it's an ongoing practice that often requires great diligence and emotional sorting in addition to the physical work. Start your journey by figuring out why you want to minimize, and identify small but definite steps to take to get started. 


To Renovate or Not: The "Right" Way to Get on the Road

Lately I've noted quite a few discussions in comment sections on IG, on blogs, and on profiles of Airstreamers/RVers/vanlifers over the past few months, and it's largely centered around how travel/adventure should be the reason for the rig (if you aren't using it as a stationary residence), and that the focus should be on the end goal: getting on the road. 

First Airstream renovation, April 2015. We were broke as a joke, which is a big reason our first build was so simple in execution and amenity.

First Airstream renovation, April 2015. We were broke as a joke, which is a big reason our first build was so simple in execution and amenity.

I agree. 

I could be wrong, but what the discussions are skirting around (without actually coming out and saying it), is that it would seem some people are renovating for those juicy before and afters on Instagram and get their fifteen minutes. I believe that the critique largely circles around people who are using the RV/caravan/Airstream/#vanlife trend to get famous, and as RV life has skyrocketed in popularity the last couple years, there are people out there who are building out caravans for the sake of starting lifestyle blogs and getting big followings and free stuff.

Yet I also believe that there are far fewer of those folks than there are hard-working people who are full of hope and excitement and who willing to put in the crazy tough work and sacrifice to give this travel thing a go, and those people deserve understanding and support from anyone who has gotten on the road ahead of them, no matter how they got there. 

Ellen grinding rust off the chassis, June 2014. Shreds of subfloor RESTING in the belly pan, it was so rotten that it just fell apart.

Ellen grinding rust off the chassis, June 2014. Shreds of subfloor RESTING in the belly pan, it was so rotten that it just fell apart.

The issue I take with people slamming everyone who takes the time to build their rigs out from the get go is pretty simple. 

Everyone's story and circumstances are different.

As I stated above, I fully believe that if your goal is to travel, that adventure should absolutely be the driving factor to live in any type of adventure-mobile. I also believe firmly that reasons to chase the adventure should come from the heart, not vanity or celebrity. In our case, we decided to travel before we knew we wanted an Airstream. The Airstream idea came into play several months into our research and planning stages to get on the road. The question that I posed to Ellen is right here on our website: 

What if we sold everything, bought a bus, and traveled

It was always, always about the travel and the reasons behind it. Hell, that's why we travel to our renovations now, which isn't as dreamy as it sounds. It would be a million times easier to have a studio and shop somewhere, but we want to live on the road, or at least get as close to that as we can, even while renovating. 

Four years ago, our reasons weren't much different than they are today: we wanted more from life, we wanted to find a place we fit (hint: we found it), we wanted to be together more, we wanted to explore, we wanted to create art and shape our own lives, to break the mold we'd been not-so-gracefully trying to fit ourselves into. During the stretches where it felt like nothing was happening toward our goal, even though we were working our asses off, all I could think about was what it was going to be like to finally get on the road and how our lives and hearts would undoubtedly shift and change. I would make lists of places we wanted to see, and hung a map above our bed that we studied at night. Everything I wrote was about the goal. Every song I listened to made me think about travel, and the word rolled off my tongue multiple times a day. Yet there were concrete steps that we had to take to get on the road. 

Was I jealous of other travelers who were able to buy new rigs and already had jobs that allowed them to be mobile? Abso-fuckin-lutely. But that was not our story, and those were not our circumstances. For us to travel, we had to figure out how to make it work in every aspect, not just one or two. We turned our ENTIRE lives upside down. When all was said and done, our new travelin' life was a completely different one than the traditional, "American-dream", convenience-filled life we left behind. We had different jobs, a hefty savings account, and an adventure-home we'd designed and built ourselves. That kind of change doesn't happen overnight: it took us a year and a half to slowly make change happen that would allow us to safely and responsibly get on the road. 

mE, ABOUT 30 POUNDS HEAVIER THAN i was when we finished the renovation. The work was so laborious that I shed weight without even having to go to the gym. Also, I remember thinking at this point there was no way this trailer would ever look good again.

mE, ABOUT 30 POUNDS HEAVIER THAN i was when we finished the renovation. The work was so laborious that I shed weight without even having to go to the gym. Also, I remember thinking at this point there was no way this trailer would ever look good again.

In our case, I had just closed a photography business on a sad and indebted note. I was freelancing when I could and nannying part time for $400 buckaroos a month to make ends meet and build out our Airstream and save for travel. Ellen was teaching, and one of our (many) reasons for deciding to travel was largely propelled by our inability to have a life outside of working, commuting, and living paycheck to paycheck. That didn't go away with the decision to travel. We still had to live paycheck to paycheck...and now we had to figure out a way to bring in extra cash, buy an RV of some kind, and also figure out how to make money on the road! Ellen couldn't exactly bring the teaching job with us, and I couldn't be a nanny from the road either.

We had a real mountain to face, and knew that our expenses weren't going to be drastically cut because we were traveling: we had to figure out how we were going to make travel AND building our rig out happen financially. Living on the road isn't as inexpensive as one might think: sure, you get rid of your mortgage, but you pay for campsites (BLM land isn't everywhere, there are portions of the country where you've gotta suck it up and pay, especially with large rigs that aren't exactly suited to stealth camping in public places). $30.00/night x 30 nights = $900.00 (that is more than our mortgage at the time, which was $680/mo.). You get rid of your bills, but you've gotta have mobile internet and pay for gas. You still have to have insurance and for us, we had student loans and credit card debt as well. 

The only way we could afford to get on the road was to buy a cheap trailer and then cheaply fix it up over time without a single amenity on board: we had no hot water, no heat, no AC, no fridge, no stove. We couldn't afford those things. In order to buy our first Airstream and get started on the work, we held a series of yard sales to sell all our stuff and sold Ellen's 1994 Toyota pickup truck. The sale of the truck was $4k, and that's what we bought our first Airstream for: $4k (we haggled down from $4800). We bought a 1957 Airstream Overlander in terrible condition because that's what we could afford and that's what we could find. 

It's important to see perspectives and stories outside of our own.

There are reasons that you may not know for why someone may have to spend a year or even longer renovating before they even get to get on the road. In our case, we'd work as long as we could on the money we had, stop, save more, work again, stop, save get the idea. 

If we'd had money up front, we could have done things differently, like buy a newer rig that didn't need as much work (though we live in a 1994 now, and it needed to be fully gutted, just FYI). If we'd had money up front, we likely would have been able to finish our renovation a lot faster. There were months that would go by where we couldn't work because we couldn't afford supplies. There were many weeks as we got closer to finishing the Airstream renovation and our house was under contract that we had to eat on $25 a week for a family of three (which meant Ellen and I didn't eat breakfast or lunch for weeks on end so our daughter could) just so we could buy supplies and make our dream happen.

Some people have to sacrifice a lot more than it may look like from an outside perspective to go after their dreams. I think that a good bulk of people who do their renovations up front do so because they have to, and it's not just the renovation that they are transforming over time: it's their entire livelihoods and lifestyle. I think that's worth commending and respecting. 

I took this picture in March 2015, after we'd been working toward our dream for a little over a year. we'd sold almost everything we owned, had an interested potential buyer for our house (they'd later back out), and we'd taken a dilapidated old trailer and turned it into this. I remember just sitting on the floor with grateful tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.

I took this picture in March 2015, after we'd been working toward our dream for a little over a year. we'd sold almost everything we owned, had an interested potential buyer for our house (they'd later back out), and we'd taken a dilapidated old trailer and turned it into this. I remember just sitting on the floor with grateful tears pricking at the corners of my eyes.

I think it’s admirable when one must have patience and puts in the work to get to where they want to be. That doesn't make someone less of an adventurer or full-time traveler. It might - just might - mean they wanted it more, because they had to wait for it and strive for it and deal with the emotional rollercoaster that is transforming an entire life and an old trailer for a long period of time. It's easier to give up when you have to wait a lot longer than others had to and your work and efforts aren't paying off yet. There isn't instant gratification, and that can be trying. Pushing through the tough lot over and over again, like we had to, isn't an easy thing to do. We admire those who have to do this tremendously, because we've been there. Hell, we're still there. We're still not making very much money and we are still working toward the freedom to travel where we want, when we want. 

On the road, July 2015. We'd made it, and we had a beautiful home we loved. We'd accomplished everything we'd had to, and we'd overcome all of the obstacles we'd faced. It felt surreal and we had just incredible gratitude for it all, and pride for our gumption and hard work. It had been worth every single trial to wake up in places like this.

On the road, July 2015. We'd made it, and we had a beautiful home we loved. We'd accomplished everything we'd had to, and we'd overcome all of the obstacles we'd faced. It felt surreal and we had just incredible gratitude for it all, and pride for our gumption and hard work. It had been worth every single trial to wake up in places like this.

If you're someone who got to get out right away or quickly (i.e., a few short weeks or months after deciding to travel), your circumstances were likely different from someone with less mobility in their job/a smaller budget/kids, etc. You're perhaps waiting to renovate later on and make your space reflect your tastes after you've gotten some road life under your belts, while someone else may have to save money and work to find a mobile job and build out their rig over time and on a strict budget. There are pros and cons to each way, and not having to wait doesn't make you better, it doesn't make you a superior traveler, it doesn't mean that you're right and someone else is wrong. It just means your story, your circumstances, your budget, your job, your family life...looks different from someone else's.

As long as someone is getting on the road and doing so for real, heartfelt doesn't matter how they got there, or how long it took them, and it really doesn't matter that it looks different from what you did.

Have a beer around a campfire with the ones who had to wait when they finally get out on the road, victorious and fresh and excited, and let them share their story, and you share yours, and then all agree that half the adventure is getting to the adventure, no matter how long it takes, and the adventure is worth every step it took us to get to it, and then raise a glass in gratitude that we are all just living our versions of our best and most beautiful lives, and working to keep them alive, no matter what.