Airstream Bathrooms | Roundup

We’ve come a long way since our first Airstream bathroom.

We built out Louise on a shoestring budget, saving every last penny. We quite literally were scrounging in the couch cushions for coins, and every single yard sale we had while downsizing was poured back into the build. Kate worked three jobs, and Ellen continued teaching and commuting. There were weeks where we figured out how to eat as a family of three on $25.00 (thanks to small town grocers and the local farmer’s market), just so we could pinch our pennies and contribute to salvaging our old girl.

In the time since, we’ve learned a thing or two about building bathrooms in moving vehicles, and we’ve gotten to play around with some pretty cool materials. Here’s a fun roundup of all the bathrooms we’ve built thus far, and we want YOU to submit your bathrooms for a chance to be featured right here on the blog!

Louise | 1957 Airstream Overlander | 27’ | 2014

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We built Louise’s bathroom sans sink. The shower was never used, because we couldn’t afford a water heater, and we sold Louise before we put one in. However, it was a beauty. We clad the walls in cedar planks and sealed them, and the floor was made up of a cedar wrapped lip and leftover black hexagon tile from the bathroom renovation we did in our old house.

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The toilet was crafted from a diverter kit (diverter and hose), 5-gallon bucket for solids, Ice Mountain jug for honey (aka pee), and a walnut toilet seat that we bought off Amazon. We crafted a solid surface with plywood that had two sections beneath it - one for the cat’s litter box (complete with a little cat door), and one for the toilet components (aka, jug and bucket). Each compartment lifted from the top, and served as a surface for TP (and a plant, because why not?), along with a place for our toilet seat.

I wouldn’t recommend this commode setup for transit, but it would work fine for a stationary tiny home.


June | 1977 Airstream Overlander | 27’ | 2016

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In order to save valuable space elsewhere (like the kitchen and bedroom), we opted to do a 3’ x 4’ wet bath onboard June. Kate’s dad still calls this one an engineering feat, as we were able to fit a shower w/ bench, composting toilet, sink, counter space, plumbing and the water heater (with access door) all within this space. The only thing the wet bath really doesn’t offer is dry storage space, but all tiny mobile spaces require us to make sacrifices that we don’t have to in traditional brick and mortar homes.

 Nature’s Head Composting Toilet fitting snugly in the bathroom. Water heater access door to the right.

Nature’s Head Composting Toilet fitting snugly in the bathroom. Water heater access door to the right.

 Cozy view from the bedroom into the shower. Always loved this particular spot when we lived in this Airstream.

Cozy view from the bedroom into the shower. Always loved this particular spot when we lived in this Airstream.

 Tile:  All Modern . Sink:  Amazon . Faucet:  Delta.

Tile: All Modern. Sink: Amazon. Faucet: Delta.


Luna | 1976 Airstream Sovereign | 31’ | 2017

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We’ve used a variation of this design three times, both in Luna and Isla (next up) and our current client project that is in progress. This bathroom design is straightforward: there’s a separate shower with bench seat over the wheel well, a sink and vanity with storage underneath, a composting toilet, and a tiny, but manageable amount of space to stand and towel off or stand at the sink to get ready for the day.

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The exception with this bathroom compared to others with similar layouts we’ve designed is this plexiglass window that peers into the rear bedroom. This shower is one of the most replicated that we’ve seen - and with good reason! The window makes the shower/bathroom feel much larger than it’s footprint. The bathroom here is 3’ x 5’.

 The tile was sourced from  All Modern .

The tile was sourced from All Modern.

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The clients had barn wood that was sentimental to them, and they brought it to us in hopes we could create surfaces with it. While much of it wasn’t usable and was too rotten, we were able to salvage a lot of it and create some incredibly beautiful and rustic countertops for the whole space.

 Nature’s Head Composting Toilets are our preferred toilets for our renovations. Composting is not only better for the environment, but enable you to go off grid for longer. Click to  buy .

Nature’s Head Composting Toilets are our preferred toilets for our renovations. Composting is not only better for the environment, but enable you to go off grid for longer. Click to buy.


Isla | 1973 Airstream Excella | 31’ | 2017

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In terms of stunning Airstream bathrooms, Isla’s takes the cake. Hell, it kinda looks like cake: white wedding cake with whipped white frosting and gold ribbons. I think Isla’s bathroom shows how diverse our design work can be - Ellen and I are much more natural and earthy when it comes to our own spaces, but our client’s taste was far more polished, feminine, and even a tiny bit glamorous.

This bathroom design has the same floor plan as Luna’s, though reversed. The shower is on a wall shared with the kitchen, while the toilet/vanity shares a wall with the bathroom.

 Fun view through the mirror, which is a great way to photograph these tiny spaces.

Fun view through the mirror, which is a great way to photograph these tiny spaces.

 All the bathroom fixtures are from Delta, and are available right here on our  resources page .

All the bathroom fixtures are from Delta, and are available right here on our resources page.

We love installing hand held showers on a sliding bar like this one for an Airstream shower. We have one in our Airstream home, and we love it. You can slide the bar down and have a seat on the bench without having to hold the shower head, OR you can use the hand held to rinse the bottom of the shower pan out or bathe your pups in warm water. It’s really versatile and we highly recommend it. We have been using these sliding bars with hand held shower heads since we built out this bathroom: they make so much sense!

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We installed the shower mixer just to the right of the entry point of the shower. This allowed us to install a pocket door in this bathroom, because there wasn’t any plumbing impeding the installation, and the clients loved that they wouldn’t have to get their arm doused with cold water when reaching in to turn on the shower.

 Sneaking a peek into the bathroom, which closes off with a slimline pocket door, from the spacious bedroom. The shower tile is from Lowe’s.

Sneaking a peek into the bathroom, which closes off with a slimline pocket door, from the spacious bedroom. The shower tile is from Lowe’s.

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Bird’s eye view. It’s not much floor space, but it’s enough to step out of the shower and then into the bedroom, where there is a generous amount of floor space in front of the double his-and-hers wardrobe, a place to rest your toes when using the commode, or to stand and get ready while looking out the window at the beautiful landscape.

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The sink dimensions were custom designed by us, and the sink and countertops in the bath and kitchen are Corian Solid Surface and were fabricated by a local Corian dealer. We have since used solid surface in other projects and fabricate them ourselves to save time and money.

This sink’s dimensions are perfect for a tiny onboard bathroom, and looks spatially correct.

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Arizona (aka Carlos) | 1974 Airstream Sovereign | 31’ | 2018

This bathroom was super tough to get photos of, and thus, we don’t have a lot! However, here it is. The bathroom in this project was divided into two sections: a powder room of sorts with a sink, toilet, and vanity, and on the other side of the hallway, a shower. The shower was not done at the time we had to leave and head to our next project, as we decided to hire a subcontractor for the work. He bailed and left us hanging (which is a big reason we don’t work with subcontractors) at the final hour. Hopefully one day we’ll be able to share some photos of the finished product with you all.

 Solid surface countertop by Hanex, fabricated in-house.

Solid surface countertop by Hanex, fabricated in-house.

 Sneaking around the corner and getting a snap of the toilet and our signature custom pocket doors, this time done in popular and stained a rich, warm tone.

Sneaking around the corner and getting a snap of the toilet and our signature custom pocket doors, this time done in popular and stained a rich, warm tone.


Hope you guys enjoyed our first roundup! We have two more projects we’re currently working on: our Airstream home and a client renovation, and we’ll be very excited to share these two very different spaces (and their onboard bathrooms) when they are finished this fall and winter.

Don’t forget to submit your own Airstream bathrooms for a community roundup post! We ask that images be submitted via Dropbox to hello@themoderncaravan.com unedited and high-res for consideration!

The Arizona Project

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I wrote a post to summarize this renovation on the night before we finished it, but quite honestly, needed some space and time away from the project, from the unrelenting heat, from the 100-hour work weeks we were (each) putting in before I wrote anything about it. And, quite honestly, I wanted a chance to talk to my wife about it. We hadn’t spoken outside of measurement and lengthy, seemingly impossible to-do lists for weeks. I needed to hear her heart speak.

In the past month, after wrapping this job, we’ve seen some of our family and friends, driven 5,000 miles to head to our annual vacation spot and back west, and have started the next job. We spent two weeks at a four-generation lake cottage in Ontario, Canada, that Ellen’s grandparents bought in 1948. For Ellen, who has spent every summer of her life at the cottage, the cottage is the place that feels most like home to her. After becoming nomads several years ago, it is now the place that I call home too. While yes, it’s beautiful, it goes deeper than that. In our years of traveling full time, we have seen the light and dark in places, and the good and the bad, and this place is light and good and then something else, too. 

It is the place that we come to heal.

Yet as we’ve come off the last eleven months - where we renovated three Airstreams (one for ourselves while living in it and moving 1200 miles mid-build), and two for clients - while homeschooling, running the business, and taking care of our daughter, two dogs, and cat, we’ve realized that the two weeks we spend at the cottage each summer aren’t quite enough to heal if we are, on a daily basis, not taking care of ourselves. 

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For the last two weeks, Ellen and I have found ourselves on the dock while our daughter and pups play in the shallows, deep in conversation. We’ve spent time alone as well, and have each taken walks or swims or paddles to think. To try to heal. Upon arrival, our bodies ached and our injuries kept us from doing some of the things we normally would right away - my broken finger, her deeply bruised and gashed shin. Yet more than the physical injury and exhaustion, our minds were drained completely. Normally, when we are here, we kayak daily, take hikes, go skiing, swim constantly, see our friends as much as possible. Yet this year, we were slow to start. We didn’t rush anything and allowed ourselves time to heal from the physical, mental, and emotional toll it took to go from laying a floor in this project…to finishing the entire build, including lighting, electrical panels, outlets, plumbing, custom countertops, and the rest of the custom build…in three weeks and three days…(after spending the previous four and a half months doing the intensive and necessary work of getting it safe, watertight, and road-ready, for it was in absolutely wrecked condition - most people wouldn’t have even touched this Airstream).

While raising a child, with no outside support nearby.

Working outside in temperatures that ranged from 110-120 daily.

While living in an Airstream ourselves that didn’t give us a break from the heat.

And while yes, it’s beautiful…we spent maybe twenty minutes with it complete and finished, taking in all we’d accomplished, before we packed our tools, hitched up our own (unfinished) Airstream, and began the 2500-mile journey to our cottage, stopping to see our parents along the way. We hadn’t seen them since Thanksgiving, where we spent a day with each set. It was all we could afford to take off from work. 

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There have been many lessons we have learned over the last year and a half of being in business together, but none more than the (really difficult) lessons we learned on this build and during our time in Arizona. Together, we decided we would be remiss if in this post I only noted the aesthetics and amenities of this space. Those can be seen in the photographs and can be read more about here. What always, always lies beneath the spaces Ellen and I create is the labor of our hands and minds, lessons learned, stories woven. This is what makes us…us. This is what makes The Modern Caravan exist in the way that it does. 

This work, we now know, is not a sprint. 

It’s a marathon. 

Scratch that - it’s a thru-hike. 

If you tried to sprint on a months-long thru-hike, without stopping for rest, water, sustenance, food, or human contact, you’d get disoriented and maybe lost. You’d get sick. You might even die. 

Our work cannot be a sprint anymore. This work, while we are able to do it in what seems, from the complete outside, like a quick minute - can only be done in that timeline if we shirk all other responsibilities in our lives. We don’t eat well, or sleep well, or give our child or pets the attention they need or deserve. We are always choosing work over family, work over time with friends, work over exercise or heathy eating habits, work over our marriage, work over ourselves. This is our fault, and we know this.

We are doing - and being - too much, all the time. 

When the job ends, our clients and followers say: that went so quickly - I can’t believe it’s over! 

For the client or the online follower, this can be a sprint (and has been). The client or the online follower  is passively observing.

For the renovator, this cannot be a sprint, because when this job is done and beautiful and complete, and it’s passed back to the client, we begin another sprint for another client. We have been sprinting on the trail for the last 19 months. For this job to be sustainable, for us to be able to go on and keep renovating for others, we must slow down. We have been learning these lessons, but never more so than now, after all that we’ve allowed of ourselves to do and be. We were afraid to stop, afraid to slow down. After all, we’re women in construction. Women in business. Women with a child to provide for. Women with all their eggs in one basket. We’ve gone hard and fast to prove we can and uphold our promises, while slowly stripping away who we are as human beings. We didn’t realize this lesson in its entirety until arriving at the cottage, anticipating healing, and finding that the two weeks we’ve taken yearly to rest and be still is no longer enough. It cannot be when we’re not taking care of ourselves at all during the fifty weeks that precede them. It was once a simple healing, a reset for the coming year, and now we are attempting to squeeze in a whole marriage, a personal reckoning, and true-family time in the all-too-short days. They’re all the days we’ve got.

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In speaking our truth, we are indeed artists and craftswomen doing specialized, highly varying types of work on 40-60+ year old vintage trailers that need to be done with proper care, and to that end, we are strong, capable, and intelligent women who are creating beautiful and functional and highly desired spaces. It’s time to stop being afraid of what might happen if we slow down and treat ourselves with the respect we deserve. What kind of work might we do if we were able to take our time? If we could work from a place of rested, strong physical health and emotional well-being? If we can produce this caliber of work while broken, what might we be able to create from a place of wholeness? What could we do for others, for all of you, if we had the time and energy? I can’t even imagine it. I, for one, am excited for change. 

It is now time to hike with care and intention, not sprint without stop, with fuzzy brains and weary limbs and emptied packs of sustenance, dromedary bags without water. We are going to take our time, and put in the hard work, just as we always have, but we will be slower in it. We will remember that we are not just artists and craftswomen, and we will instead prioritize being mothers, wives, and human beings. We will remember it is okay to exist outside of work, and that those who respect us will respect and acknowledge that we aren’t just laborers. That this work must be done with care and intention. We can only continue doing the work at our personal standard of high quality for years to come if we step back and change things for the better. This must come in the form of slowing down and taking care of ourselves and our bodies and minds and family along the way. Only if we do this can we continue on in this work that we’re so passionate about, because passion can only take you so far. Burnout is real, and we’re seeing it up close. 

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If you are wondering why we’re sharing this in lieu of a traditional “reveal” post, please know: we started this business from a very real love of creating together. The Modern Caravan wouldn’t exist without us, without our story. Without our marriage and romantic relationship, there is no business, no pretty Airstream, no photos of which to re-post or pin or be inspired by. Without our romantic relationship, we never would have decided to sell everything we owned and travel. We never would have bought an Airstream to renovate all those years ago, or realized how the art we were both longing to create was not a separate entity from each other, but that our talents and shortcomings both worked synergistically when we created that first-and-then-the-second Airstream. There is story and love and life wrapped up in all that this business and these projects, these art pieces, are. We don’t want it any other way, and to do this business from a place of disengagement doesn’t sit well with us. We tried that, and the story began to slip away. We don’t want to lose the wonder of the work we love. The story, our love, the creating of art as a couple - this is what makes The Modern Caravan special. This is what makes it worth anything at all. 

We are so often told that we’re living the dream, and we’re always quick to rebuke the myth. No matter how passionate one is about the art form they’ve chosen to create, or how much they may love their work or their lifestyle, to do what we’ve done in the last four and a half years has taken continual sacrifice and continual hard work. No dream worth having is without these things, and no one arrives at a dream, and to live within one, one MUST continue to sacrifice and work insanely hard to keep their ever-evolving and ever-shifting dream ALIVE and THRIVING.

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We share these truths because they are important, especially in our culture of immediate-gratification, and ever more so in the growing trend of the very Airstream-life we live and breathe. Hitting the road doesn’t erase your problems, no matter how many songs or pieces of fiction or Instagram accounts may lead you to believe, and renovating an Airstream and making it shiny and picture-perfect is not the arrival point. (Quite honestly, if you think it is, and you think that a follower count or throw pillows define you or your journey in some way, we’d advise you step away from the social media beast for awhile and thoughtfully reconsider.)

We share these truths because we have not arrived, and we are still in the throes. We will always be in the throes, but we now know it doesn’t have to be quite as hard as we’ve allowed it to be. 

The build itself, the work, the sacrifice, and then all that comes after - the lessons the road and life will teach you, when you are open to receiving them, are to grow you - to deepen your understanding of life and love and the world around you. These are the things you should be looking for. These are the lessons we look for. These are the reasons to do anything at all, and underneath every beautiful photo you see of our work is the culmination of years of that very sacrifice, the kind of work that makes you feel you cannot breathe or go on another day but then you do, story, the desire to create, and the love of two people who found a way to create together. It is more than an arrival. It is more than aesthetics. It is not a finish line. This is why this post is important - one can love the beauty of the spatial art we create, but what lies underneath the finished product? What is the truth and the story of the space? We lose this in the photographs, the likes, the comments, the oohs-and-ahhs, the follower count, and the finished product - unless it is called to light. 

What about the hands and bodies and minds and hearts of the people who created it? 

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 months...to a year...to 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, support...you'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"...you'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.