On the Road, Preparing

From Newbie to 6 Months as a Full-Time Airstreamer

We recently passed our 6-month mark of living full-time on the road in an Airstream. While I still feel the excitement we had when we made the leap to embrace an alternate life on the road, I also vividly remember having so many questions about how it would all work. As we were coming up on this milestone, I posted on Facebook and Instagram opening a forum for questions from newbies and tips from other full-time travelers. We had a tremendous response that took me a while to put together, resulting in a lengthy, but hopefully informative post. I’ve broken everything up by topic so you can find the points most relevant to you.  Almost all of our responses came from Instagram so all of the user names can be found there. I encourage you to connect with these accounts if you are looking for a great travel community.

DECISION TO LAUNCH

@wiebkecrew asked about our process from decision to launch.

A whole blog post could be written just about the emotional process of choosing to live an unconventional life of full-time travel. I will not get into those details here but will offer some great advice from @tincanadventure. She says, “If you are even thinking about doing this, do it!” If you think about it too much, you will be overwhelmed and may scare yourself out of it. She goes on to say, “Don’t dig deep into planning or having everything figured out. It works out best to learn and figure it out as you go!”

It definitely takes work, especially if you have a house and a lot of stuff. We didn’t sell our home and everything in it. Once we started sharing our plans with friends, we were thrilled when a couple we knew asked to move into our house. We left it mostly furnished and moved a few things into storage.

We had a period from August to November, where we lived in a rental property that we decided to sell. We used that time to prep it for sale and we purposely never really “moved” in and kept everything to just the essentials. This was a valuable exercise in minimalism. Everyone’s situation is different, but we made a list using Trello of everything we needed to do. We set a date to move and worked that list with that date in mind trying to cross something off every day.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

@shadowsandmountains and @campergroove asked about photography tips

This one is interesting to me. I’ve loved photography since high school with film and darkrooms. I’ve dabbled a little for years but only recently started to take it more seriously.

Sharing my photos used to seem pretty intimidating, especially when you see some of the insanely good imagery out there these days. I honestly love just wandering with my camera for hours and whatever comes out of that is what I share. I’ve stopped trying to take pictures for others but rather for myself, and that keeps it fun.

If you have a camera that shoots full manual, take a comprehensive photo class. I did this as a refresher when I started taking digital photos. I took a one day class with a local photography studio. After that, I subscribed to the Digital Photography School feed on Facebook. They share articles regularly that are quick reads on a variety of photography subjects. For more in-depth info, you could watch YouTube videos all day on just about anything related to photography, just be aware that the creator may be slanted by a product endorsement. I also recently picked up a great book on Astro Photography called Night Sky by Jennifer Wu and James Martin.

Beyond that, just get out and shoot! I’ve learned far more from doing than anything else.

KIDS AND FRIENDS

@longdrives_withkids asked how we ensure our daughter has contact with other kids and makes genuine connections and friendships along the way or if we really focus on zeroing in as a family

If you have had the pleasure of meeting our daughter Lilya, you will first notice that she has no problems striking up a conversation with people. This includes kids and adults.

When we arrive in a campground, we all have jobs. Lenny and I back and set up camp and Lilya grabs a walkie talkie and takes the dog for a walk. Generally, within 20 minutes, she has chatted with several neighbors and has made friends with any kids her age in the park. We also keep rules around these engagements that must be followed.

If we are in a place for more than a few days, she has usually made a good connection, and then we exchange contact info. For friends back home, we do lots of calls and video chats and then make sure we plan time together during our stints back home. All of this takes work, and some friendships are short but still no less memorable. When we are in more remote places, we really zero in on family time.

SCHOOLING

@mattyadventure asked how we school our daughter

I know my limitations. Patience is not my strength, and neither is math! Heading out on the road and working full-time, we knew trying to homeschool wouldn’t be a good situation so we enrolled Lilya in an online academy and paid for the highest level of support we could get. She was attending a private school when we were home, so we were already budgeting tuition.

Lilya logs into her computer every morning, and her assignments are ready for her to start. She has a full-time teacher available to her whenever she needs help, and she also has a separate Spanish teacher. She has video calls with her class every week as well and has built a great bond with her teacher through calls and emails.

Even though we weren’t on the road yet, we started her school year in this program, so there was minimal adjustment once we went full-time. This also allowed us to work ahead a bit so that we had the flexibility to take time away from school when we wanted or if wifi was limited. She finished the year a couple of weeks early and with straight A’s!

Outside of her traditional schooling, she has learned a tremendous amount visiting parks and monuments. The experience on the road has also opened her eyes to many unique professions. She met a biologist studying California Condors near the Grand Canyon, a girl who is a visual effects artist working for Lucas Films, and a drummer playing in the middle of the desert for a photoshoot. She has watched Coast Guard service people rappel out of helicopters and chatted with tons of Park Rangers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs. I consider this to also be an excellent education only an experience like our journey could provide.

REMOTE WORKING TIPS

Also from @mattyadventure

We were already working remotely before we went on the road, so this was a pretty smooth transition. The things that changed had more to do with limited office space, internet connection, and managing different time zones.

Obviously, the biggest concern with working remotely has to do with having a good internet connection. We have two carrier plans so that we can generally get a good signal with at least one. We also use a booster to help intensify the signal. When we boondock, I’m watching my phone the whole time we are looking for a spot, so we don’t get all setup and find out that there is no reception. Surprisingly, some of the best signal we have had has been in some of the most remote places. I assume this is because fewer people are sucking up bandwidth. When we went to Big Bend Texas, we took vacation time because we knew cell coverage would be mostly non-existent. We did the same for Yosemite. I think for big parks like these it’s better to be disconnected anyway.

Libraries and coffee shops are fantastic for working. We haven’t needed them as much for the free wifi but more as just a place to get out of your tiny space. It’s excellent if your weather is beautiful and you can take a lunch break hike or work outside for a bit, but sometimes you are going to find yourself in lousy weather for a while and three people trying to work, and school in a tiny place will get real stir crazy pretty fast.  It may go without saying, but headphones are a must, especially for Lilya. We have found if she turns on some chill music, she can stay incredibly focused. Libraries are quiet, but a coffee shop can be distracting for an 11-year-old.  Additionally, the libraries we have been to have allowed us to get a free card, which is great for getting books and movies on the road. Many times, they also have fun activities for kids in the afternoon.

Another tip that is unique to digital nomads is working your home base time zone. I think we have a reasonably ideal set up since we are in central time zone, so we don’t have significant changes. We have spent all of the time so far one to two hours behind our home base. So if the workday starts at 8:30 in Kansas City, we are working by 6:30 in California. This is easy to do since all we need is a bite, a cup of coffee, and a quick shower – and with limited water, they are quick! We aren’t getting dressed up, we have no commute, and the kitchen is just a couple of steps from the bedroom! Also, because we start earlier, we finish our workday earlier, leaving us time to explore or move to the next destination. When you are moving around a lot and particularly areas of Arizona, the time zone changes can be hard to keep up with so I wear a watch with KC time.

Lastly, we have downsized our workspace and office supplies. We store most of our essential docs in the cloud but have a small plastic file box for papers. We don’t use a paper shredder anymore, we burn it in the fire, we have a small printer that folds up into the size of half a shoebox, and a stacking plastic bin with any other supplies we need.

INCOME ON THE ROAD

@family_adventures_overlanding asked what we do for income

I would love to say that we are simply independently wealthy, but that is not the case. I own an IT recruiting and consulting firm and have worked remotely for almost 10 years. I’ve always had lots of face to face meetings around town, but with a solid client base, we were able to shift to a full virtual model. Lots of video calls but outside of that, most of it was already in place.

Lenny works for a fantastic non-profit that was a remote job to start. He still has several face-to-face meetings, but he tries to schedule them effectively, and we have both traveled back to our home base a couple of times. Fall is a busy time for Lenny with several meetings around the midwest, so we plan to tow the trailer back for those and just move as work necessitates.

There are so many options out there for remote work, but you have to look. Google remote work positions in your field or search on LinkedIn. If you have a job that could be done remotely, sometimes it just takes asking. If you are a valuable employee and make a good case, your employer may surprise you. Remote work is a privilege, so if you land something, give extra every day and go the extra mile to stay connected with your employer.

FINDING PLACES TO STAY IN A PINCH

@hollywood_dave_presents asked about how to plan or adjust when a park is sold out

Resources, and lots of them. We have been on the coast a lot, and I can tell you, the premium campsites are reserved MONTHS in advance. I spend more time than I would like searching for places to stay, but in general, I’m always trying to get us as close to something as amazing as possible.

Our membership with Harvest Hosts has really helped to fill in the gaps.  If you aren’t familiar with this program, it is a network of wineries, breweries, farms, and more that allow you to visit and stay for free.  There is a small annual fee to access the network, but our Harvest Host link offers a 15% discount.

@theycomefromavandownunder also suggest Boondockers Welcome which we haven’t tried yet but plan to. Outside of that, you sometimes just have to show up and hope for the best and at the worst be willing to move around a bit.  We have found that there are almost always last-minute cancelations at state and national parks that can be had if you show up mid-week and early. I would not recommend trying this on the weekend.

Some campgrounds also have first come first serve sites.  We didn’t have reservations anywhere for Independence Day but went to a great park right on the coast in Oregon that still had some open spots.  Another note – the sign from the highway said full, but we drove in to check anyway since there is no way for them to really know when someone might decide to leave.

If you can’t get in or have to move, don’t be afraid to ask the people working the campground where they suggest. We decided to stay longer in Yosemite but couldn’t find extra nights available in the Yosemite campground.  We lucked out with a place right outside the park that was free. We were not able to find that spot on any app, it was only by asking the park ranger at the reservation office. If you are friendly, more often than not, they will be helpful.

So far, the few times we have stayed in a parking lot somewhere have been purposely en route to a destination where we just needed a place to pull over and sleep.

BOONDOCKING

@wandering.america asked for any, and all tips on finding boondocking spots (especially on the East Coast) and @the_elks asked about resource management for 5+ days of boondocking. We are talking 💩, 💦, and ⚡️

For the places we have visited, the Campendium website and app is our go-to for boondocking.  There are usually pictures, and what I really love is that people report how many bars they get for each cellular carrier. We also find that some of the lesser reviewed areas can be amazing, but before we commit to something too unknown, we will drop the trailer and scope it out first to make sure we don’t get ourselves in a pickle.

Another site I’ve used on occasion is freecampsites.net and I also just purchased the AllStays app which seems to also have a lot of useful info. If you are in a pinch and need an overnight on the way to another destination, there is always WalMart, Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro, and others. The rest is just word of mouth.

Some states just don’t have as many boondocking spots as others but our friends who have spent more time out on the East Coast have suggested Harvest Hosts.  A quick search on the Harvest Host network shows hundreds of locations up and down the East Coast including Canada!

Regarding the 💩, 💦, and ⚡️. We have 180w of solar mounted on the roof and assuming the sun is out for a decent part of the day, we have managed to charge all of our devices, and keep all things running. We don’t have TV’s on (we are outside people!), and we can’t run the microwave/convection oven off our inverter, but we grill a lot if we don’t have shore power. I also just bought an Instant Pot Lux Mini that only uses 700watts. I have tried it just off the battery, and so far it has worked great and cooks fast.

Sometimes we need more power, or the sun just isn’t out. We do have a generator that covers those instances, but we try to use it as little as possible. One note with generators – please be respectful of those around you. Spend the money on a quiet one, point it away from your neighbors, run it as little as possible and during reasonable hours.  Also, we lock ours to our trailer as we have heard lots of stories of them growing legs.

Water and waste are personal to not just you, but also your rig. Whatever your setup, go test it out somewhere before you go off-grid. Fill your tanks, then shower and wash at the level you are comfortable and see how long you can go. For me personally, I need a shower daily just to wake up. My hairdresser says I shouldn’t wash my hair every day anyway, so that helps. We installed a better shower head that only uses 1.8 gallons per minute and has a pause switch. This gives us great water pressure and also saves us during lathering while keeping the water warm. For dishes, we try to let them build a little, so we aren’t filling the sink multiple times each day.  We also use bottled water that we refill for drinking.  With really good water conservation habits, the three of us had made it 5 days before we needed to hit the dump.  We have met some people that employ other tactics that extend that time significantly, but for three of us, 5 days works great.

STAYING CONNECTED AND SAFE

@skoobasteph asked for internet connectivity tips and safety on the road

As I mentioned, we use a cell signal booster that is mounted to the top of our trailer. That, along with two different carriers and great data plans, has kept us well connected. Also, checking Campendium before you go for carrier reviews has kept us out of dead spots in some insanely remote places.

With being remote, also comes the question about safety and security. I’ve traveled around a bit, and I think the biggest key is to know your surroundings, keep yourself out of bad situations, away from questionable people, don’t be flashy, and always lock everything up tight. If an area concerns you, ask the locals. When we boondocked near Ajo, AZ, signs were warning of illegal immigration and trafficking. We asked one of the park rangers if we should be concerned and they told us that those people are working hard to not be noticed and thus staying well away from where people are camping. We are a family, but I think the same rules apply for solo travelers. As a woman, if I were traveling solo, I might tend to try and boondock with friends or in better-populated areas.

FINDING SPACE IN A TINY PLACE

@momijhung had a question about pantry space for longer trips

Everyone should play hours of Tetris in preparation for living full time in an RV. We have found you really need to break it down to the basics. In a previous house, we had a pantry probably close to the size of our entire Airstream. When we moved from that house, I couldn’t believe how many items we had that were never or rarely used. Airstream pantry space is limited for sure, but we have all of our dry goods in just a few cabinets above the stove and in the small pantry space to the left.

What we found worked well (and this applies to everything in a tiny area) is to buy stackable storage. No, you will not open our pantry and find everything perfectly aligned and labeled for a Pinterest post, but you will find a lot of stackable cubes arranged in a way that fits. We have mostly cans and spices over the stove, the next space is vitamins and shake stuff, after that a coffee and tea cabinet, and then everything else finds a spot in the small shelved cabinet. We also have several magnetized spice containers on the side of the range hood. If it isn’t something we use at least once a month or tiny, we don’t have it.

Beyond just the kitchen, this is the most essential organizing tip we can share. Our Airstream came with several large plastic bins for things. We used those to store the bedding and pillows that came from the factory and left them in Missouri! It’s excellent that Airstream provides them, but big bins will not serve you as well as smaller bins that each serve a purpose. Go to your store of choice, Target, Walmart, Container Store, whatever… buy as many fabric storage cubes, small organizers for the bathroom and kitchen, stackable bins, shoe boxes, command hooks, and strips, etc. in AS MANY SIZES as you can find. Spend at least a weekend, lining all your drawers with some type of non-skid shelf liner and packing all of your household items. In the bathroom, we even have bins within bins to keep things neat. Each of us has a small container for our personal essentials (hairbrush, deodorant, toothbrush, etc. that sits inside of a larger bin to keep them from flying around in the bathroom cabinet when we are towing. Keep the extra containers because once you are out on the road, you will find a need for something you hadn’t thought of while parked in the driveway. Then, return whatever you don’t use after a couple of weeks. Tetris my friends, Tetris!

INTIMACY

Lastly, an anonymous question about how we maintain intimacy in our marriage traveling in a tiny space with our daughter. This one came from someone with several kids to whom I might ask, how do you maintain intimacy now with so many kids!

First, cue the song, “Up All Night to Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.

I envision that Lilya may read this post one day, so I’ll keep the details to a minimum. When we were selecting trailers, a key factor was some distance between rooms. Our model has a rear bunk with a front master, so we all have our own rooms and privacy. Additionally, Lilya is a hard sleeper and has always gone to bed with some type of ambient music. Right now, she loves this album we found with whale music.

As far as everyday affection, we have never hidden that. We believe it is healthy for kids to grow up and see their parents playfully sharing their love, hugging, and kissing. Yes, we hear a few “ewww”s here and there, but I remind her how lucky she is two have parents with a strong love for each other. So much better than seeing her parents fight with one another!

So, get yourself a little space, early bedtime, whale moaning music…haha! Or just like you did before kids, get creative. 😍

TIPS FROM OTHER FULL-TIME TRAVELERS

If you aren’t already, give these folks a follow! We have been fortunate to meet a few of these fine people and hope to meet the rest someday on the road.

@wandering_america – Super cool couple we met at a park just minutes from our home base of all places.

They suggest using Google Maps to zoom in on campgrounds before making reservations. Such a great tip! You can get a feel for the vibe of a place and the general neighborhood using this one little trick. I have avoided several RV Parks “by the sea” that turned out to be just glorified parking lots by a noisy road, only by using this one tip.

@wandering_america also likes to keep their yelling to a quiet roar using walkie talkies while backing into spots. If you think you will just use your phone, you might find you have poor reception in some places. Walkies are also a great way to let your kids roam the park a little while being able to keep dibs on them. Beware though…. We have picked up a few exciting conversations so keep in mind, what you say could be picked up by others.

I also like the phrase, “Sorry for what I said while we were backing.” This is interchangeable with “before coffee” and “when I was hangry” as well.

@shadowsandmountains – We boondocked with these great folks in Sedona! Check out the interior of her beautiful Airstream. She has created a fantastic area for cooking!

She suggests “always having a stocked pantry and or freezer with things to make a meal. You never know when you might get stuck or be so remote that grocery stores are out of the question.”

This is so true. Travel requires some planning so if you know you will be going a long distance, or going off the grid, take the time to get all your provisions in order first. This includes food, propane, fresh water, clean tanks, toiletries, wood, etc. Nothing is worse than setting up camp and realizing you don’t have something you need and it is an hour to the nearest store that probably isn’t even open.

@pourmoreandexplore – The other half of @shadowsandmountains and the one with all the great drinks!

One of the most intimidating aspects of pulling a trailer with all of your belongings is backing it. @pourmoreandexplore suggests the ‘scoop method’ described by @longlonghoneymoon’s short YouTube video. He goes on to suggest for “campgrounds that have narrow roads or cars along the side of their rig, making it difficult to do the ‘scoop’ to try this instead” if you have a back-up camera.
1) When possible, back into the site on the driver side for better visibility,
2) drive along the side closest to your site as you pass it,
3) once your back-up camera has passed, start to drive further away but toward the opposite side (to the right) of the site to get a better angle of attack, and the right approach for your camera once you back up,
4) lastly, and most important, turn your camera back to the left which will turn the travel trailer more toward the site, giving your approach more of a 45-degree angle vs. 90-degree,
5) begin your easy approach into the site.

@thelonglongtrailer – Another full-time family with two kids who look like a lot of fun!

They say that “RV life = huge learning curve.” I like their style because their biggest tip is not to over-plan things. They say, “Yes, it is a good idea to have a general idea of where you’re going, but if it’s too rigid you might miss out on opportunities to see things that weren’t on your radar or to hang out longer with new friends.” Great advice!!

On a similar note, @the_nomadams, a young couple in their 20’s tell us to “be flexible!”

“There are tons of things that can make plans change on a daily basis in this lifestyle. If you’re unable to adjust, you’ll probably end up as a ball of stress laying in the fetal position.” #truth

@retireewannabes – fulltime couple with two dogs who spend part of their time stationary and then travel during the winter.

They say “all of the cliche tips that you hear all over the RV community are true. 1) it’s about the journey, not the destination! 2) slow down! How ever long you think you’ll want to stay in a place, go ahead and double that.”

@theycomefromavandownunder – can you guess where they are from?

They recommend a national gym membership for “solo workout time and extra showers that are long and hot!” They also suggest Boondockers Welcome “as a way to keep camping costs down and meet lovely locals.” Lastly, they tell us their “best investment is a two-person inflatable kayak that they just tuck away underneath.”

@Mrsamy.pease – We met her and her awesome family at Doheny State Beach.  They aren’t full-timers, but they should be!

She has one of the best tips for meeting other RV’ers. “Always forget your wine bottle opener when camping. Forgetting it gives you a reason to meet incredible people.” This is how we met @mrsamy.pease and her family on the beach in Doheny, and they were kind enough to share some of their wine! GO CHIEFS!! (They are Raiders fans but yet somehow wine brings people together.)

@tincanadventure is a solo female Airstreamer.  This is my go-to this account for all my ‘you got this’ inspiration.

She has one of the best tips, as mentioned above. “If you are even thinking about doing this, do it!”

ONE FINAL NOTE

Follow and connect with other RV’er, both full-time and not.  They really are the absolute, kindest people you will ever meet!! Invite them over for a fire, ask what works for them and what they have learned. Hands down, the best way to learn to live this life is to jump in completely! Get off the grid, listen to the old-timers, take a fresh perspective from the younger generation, and just find what works for you. If this is the life for you, just like everything you have done thus far, you WILL figure it out, and it isn’t as scary as you think it is. Complacency makes us scared. Get out there, and you will find that the thrill of this lifestyle will help you overcome any and all obstacles in your way.