It's More Than Just An Airstream

Did you know that we live in an Airstream too? 

We've lived in three Airstreams on and off for the last few years. We began renovating our first Airstream, Louise, in May 2014, and began renovating our second Airstream, June, a year and nine months later. Currently, we call a barely finished 1994 Airstream Classic (The Hawk Project), home. It's a disaster zone - we thought we'd have time to work on it during our evenings and weekends off, but when push comes to shove, there's far too much going on with our client renovation. The long hours we pull for the business means there's very little time outside of work, and when there is, we're parenting, cooking dinner in a makeshift kitchen comprised of a camp stove, a couple boards we nailed together in 15 minutes one night after work with a tiny bathroom sink our client decided she didn't want, and wrapping up computer work for the day. Our water comes from a jug with a spout and drains to a mixing bowl. It works, but not having running water when our jobs are physical labor isn't the greatest. 

The first morning we woke up in our 1957 Airstream, Louise. | May 30, 2015. 

The first morning we woke up in our 1957 Airstream, Louise. | May 30, 2015. 

We're not complaining, and we are making the best of it. We made the decision to sell our last Airstream and buy a bigger space. Why? Our family is growing (no, we're not pregnant - can you imagine?), and our business is growing. Our daughter isn't tiny anymore, and we have two chocolate labs now (not just one!). We needed some space to have an office...which is really just going to be a desk and a laptop, but either way, an off limits space separate from where our daughter plays and leaves cups of water. We needed a way to wash and dry clothing that wasn't reliant on either our clients' providing use of their machines or a laundromat...because we don't have time. 

We don't have time...we don't have time...we don't have time...it's said almost daily in this household. We say it to friends who hoped to spend more time with us while we were here in Austin, we say it to family who wants us to visit, we say it to each other, we say it to our kid. We don't have time to (fill in the blank). 

Us with June, our second Airstream, the day we sold her. Photograph taken by Jamie & Lauren Eichar, who bought June and call her home. 

Us with June, our second Airstream, the day we sold her. Photograph taken by Jamie & Lauren Eichar, who bought June and call her home. 

Seemingly, The Modern Caravan grew out of a behind-the-scenes Instagram account where we chronicled our Airstream renovations (pre Snapchat or IG Stories days!). Initially, our travel thoughts were shared on Birch & Pine, a blog and Instagram account about our journey to downsizing, selling our home, and hitting the road for a year as a family, which Kate has taken over and is now a personal outlet for her writing and photography. The reason for two accounts was simple at the time: we wanted to be able to connect with other renovators to ask questions and receive advice. It was utilitarian, pragmatic. As the years wore on and we started our second Airstream renovation, the community of Airstream/RV/caravan renovators sharing on Instagram had grown considerably, but we kept the account images about the same quality. No pressure, no stress, no fuss. We showed the real side of Airstream renovation, muddy backs from that April when it didn't stop raining for weeks, the rusted chassis in the once-rear bathroom that literally fell off when we exposed it. 

When we decided to start the business, we suddenly felt like that little behind-the-scenes account had to stack up. We're told all the time that consistent quality images, even lighting, and tones matter for growing your account (and thus your business). When looking at something becoming your livelihood (we both quit our jobs last May after being in business for five months), you do everything you can to ensure folks will see your work. Kate started to pay mind to everything: what kind of images did best? What did our audience want to see? Did they enjoy the rusty chassis? No, not so much. Did they love a good flat lay with design elements, or full-length shots of a finished Airstream? Heck yes. Did they want us to talk about our real life? Not as much anymore. The demand was for Airstream images only. 

So much has changed over the last year, and though we were so excited to start this business, what we didn't expect was that the one thing that would become lost in the shuffle...was us. 

It might look glamorous, but that's an air mattress under there and there's no insulation or skins up top. This is our current Airstream home, under construction. December 2017.

It might look glamorous, but that's an air mattress under there and there's no insulation or skins up top. This is our current Airstream home, under construction. December 2017.

The Modern Caravan grew out of not just an account a year ago, but a decision to change our lives one day four years ago. In the six months prior to that day, we'd been having nightly conversations about how we wanted to change our lives...and most importantly, why we wanted to. If you've been following along for awhile, you might know the story: we were both drained from our jobs, the commute, the town we lived in, the never-ending work on our large house and larger yard. It's a pretty typical story for most travelers...we wanted more out of life than what we were experiencing. The checklist left us feeling broken. We were promised more out of life as kids...and then arriving at adulthood, we realized that we got everything we were promised. We had the pretty house (no picket fence, but we did live on Pickett Avenue) and two cars and the jobs...and it wasn't at all what we wanted for ourselves. So one morning, after falling down an internet rabbit hole, Kate stumbled upon film photographs by the very talented Michael Newsted, who was touring with his band. Seeing a child about our daughter's age on the tour bus, she knew we had our answer. 

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

We never really expected any of what would follow. You get this crazy idea (that at the time wasn't popular or trending), and your friends and family think you're nuts. Our parents didn't understand it. Sometimes we didn't, but we knew it was right beyond a shadow of a doubt. From day one, we started planning and purging. We listed our house within a few months, and spent late nights where we had only talked about how to change our lives making the change happen. One April day, we began sharing our journey on Instagram, which we had both only used privately until then. We had fifty followers for a long time, mostly just curious friends. No one was interested...we were just crazy, and that was okay. Through Instagram, we realized that there were other full-time traveling families, and were able to connect with Dan and Marlene and Nathan and Renee, who we now know in person and call friends. In fact, we'll be renovating Nathan and Renee's Airstream later this year. 

It was quite a journey to take the journey: we worked harder than we ever had. Ellen continued to teach art in a town 32 miles away, and Kate took a job as a nanny and continued her work as a freelance photographer. We sold and donated 95% of our belongings, two cars, and our house sold after eleven months on the market, despite multiple showings a week (keeping a house clean while downsizing is insane!). We finished renovating our house and renovated a 1957 Airstream. The journey to the journey was just as much a part of it, but the day we pulled away from the curb with everything we owned following dutifully behind us in Louise, it was absolutely surreal. We'd done it. We'd made it. We shared every step of the journey...the good and the bad and the tough and the beautiful. 

We were on the road for seven months before we had to stop traveling earlier than we'd hoped, and found ourselves in the throes of dealing with custody issues. We moved back to Indiana, very much against our will, and in the year and a half that followed, we worked our asses off again to get back on the road, with no guarantee that we could. We built out June...and worked to develop a trusting relationship with our daughter's birth father. And then one year ago, we started The Modern Caravan. 

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You might be wondering where all of this is going...why we're sharing personal details on a business blog, but that's the very issue. The Modern Caravan, over the last year, has been completely and totally catered to everyone else but us. Perhaps that's what we should do. We've attempted to be competitive and business-savvy when we are so not, and tried to find the balance between sharing and not (because we do work hard to perfect our craft and source for our clients). We've thought about the content others would rather see. It's no longer about how we live, or where this journey began, or travel, or why we started doing any of this at all. We had all these grand plans of how to make The Modern Caravan perfect and flawless from the outside, but what about the behind-the-scenes? What about the people who started the business and work their fingers to the bone to keep it going? This bred disconnect between us and other travelers and renovators: we're expected to have it all together and present the perfection, the inspiration. Yet we don't want to be seen as the "pros", we want to be part of the community, not separate from the community. We were once, and now we've become separated by a thin veil of curation and carefully crafted, numbers-reaching content. That's not who we are! We are you - renovators, travelers, people who wanted more out of life and made it happen.

We have constructed a facade of perfection because that's what we're "supposed" to do. It goes beyond Instagram or a blog. We keep smiling and saying that we're fine: that we love what we do so much that it doesn't matter that we're not traveling, we just go from place to place for work. It doesn't matter that we don't have time to cook healthy meals or spend time together as a family, go on dates, work out, or build out our own home. Somewhere along the way, we got so wrapped up in giving the people what they want that we no longer do anything for ourselves, including sharing about the real aspects of our lives. We haven't shared about the renovation of our own Airstream home the way we once did, because we're now expected to turn around Airstream renovations in record-fast speed to keep up with our competition and keep the people happy and inspired in Insta-land...and our home is at a standstill and has been for the last month, we're embarrassed...but why? We're allowing external pressure to dictate what we share. 

After the last several months, we've come to realize that at some point, we should matter. Our health, our family, our marriage, and our desire to (actually) travel should matter. We should feel that we can share our real life. This business was born out of passion for the work, but more importantly, one another and what we wanted out of life. It is nothing without it. It's more than just an Airstream, or perfectly curated content or impeccable interiors, though those things are certainly part of it and we do love a beautiful interior just as much as the next person. We matter, and the reasons for starting this work came from a place of honesty and reflection. We are not just Airstream renovators, we live in one. We're not just Airstream renovators, we are travelers. We are mothers. Wives. People. 

Moving forward, we are changing the way things are done. Starting this fall, after our next two renovations, we are going to be taking a break from renovating, which we've been doing almost continuously (outside of our time living on the road) for the last four years. We plan to travel for the entirety of 2019, reflect, and refocus. In the meantime, we will still share the client renovations that we work so tirelessly on, but we also want to share about our life: the good, the bad, and the in-between. We're going to stop saying we don't have time...and start really living...and just like the journey to the journey (which is really just life), we're bringing you along for the ride. 

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P.S. We'd love to hear from you all about anything that you wish we did talk about more outside of renovation and design. Please let us know!