The Inside Scoop: What’s Everyday Life Really Like When You Live in an Airstream?

published Jun 5, 2017
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(Image credit: The Foxes Photography)

Brandon and Gabi’s first foray into the world of trailer living and traveling was in a 16-foot 1971 Shasta travel trailer that broke down in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming their first year. After finishing out that year in a 1973 22-foot travel trailer they bought the next day, they upgraded to their current — and largest — home: A 27-foot long Airstream Overlander they’ve completely stripped down and rebuilt. In their tour, they gave us the run down of how they took a run-down Airstream and turned it into an energy efficient, cozy home on wheels. While that info was inspiring and informative, their whole lifestyle leaves me with questions. I sometimes dream of hitting the road in a compact home myself, but I admit I’m not clear on all the details. How exactly would someone go about getting mail? How do you do laundry? Where do you, you know, go to the bathroom? Thankfully, this pair of professional photographers (and climbing enthusiasts) have graciously answered all my burning questions.

Before Brandon and Gabi first started their life on the road, they lived in an 810-square-foot condo in Cambridge, Massachusetts they bought in 2013. They still own the condo, and have been renting it out. “Owning the place made it pretty easy to downsize, because we could store the majority of our stuff in the basement. We only took a fraction of our wardrobe, camera and climbing gear, laptops, tools for the inevitable repairs we’d have to make, and some kitchenware.”

“It was actually pretty easy adjusting to a more minimal life on the road for us. When you’re able to spend a lot of your day outside, the inside really doesn’t need to be all that big. You just need a bed, a table, a bathroom, a kitchen, and you’re set! The fact that they’re all basically in the same room doesn’t affect things too much.”

(Image credit: Andy Wickstrom)

What’s a typical day in the life of living in an Airstream?

We typically wake up, make a French Press, and spend the morning doing work — editing photos, writing blogs, sending emails…pretty much computer stuff. In the afternoon, we go out climbing for the rest of the day. Then we come back, crack a delicious IPA (a must after a day of climbing), and usually make dinner with friends (if they happen to be camping nearby). The dinette table with wrap-around seating makes for a great communal hang-out area, and is also where we do our work. Finally, we jump into our slightly larger than full size bed and it’s lights out. Depending on the weather and time of year, sometimes we work all day, or climb/hike/explore all day, or we’re off photographing a wedding or doing a couple session somewhere. But for the most part, that’s life in the Airstream.

How do you go to the bathroom?

The first year and a half on the road, it was the great outdoors and whatever the nearest bathroom happened to be. But more recently we built our own composting toilet that is really great. If you want to get specific, we can go there. We aren’t ones to shy away from talking about the less glamorous aspects of road life.

With a composting toilet, you need to separate the liquids and solids so it can properly compost (and keep it from stinking). There is a holding tank for the yellow stuff we empty every few days when we’re boondocking (which is most of the time). The solid stuff goes into a bucket with mulch and gets tossed every few weeks. This setup is much better than your typical RV black tank setup, because we don’t need to take the whole trailer to a dump site every week.

(Image credit: The Foxes Photography)

How do you wash your clothes?

Only at the finest of laundromats 😉

“People generally assume we’re making compromises living small, like it must be hard to pare down all your possessions and live full time in a camper trailer.”

How do you get mail?

Our renters forward our mail to us once a month. But we’re selling our condo this summer so…we actually haven’t thought about that yet! Others we’ve talked to get a P.O. box somewhere, so we’ll probably do that.

(Image credit: The Foxes Photography)

What’s the most surprising thing about this kind of home?

Probably how comfortable it is. People generally assume we’re making compromises living small, like it must be hard to pare down all your possessions and live full time in a camper trailer. Sometimes they’re surprised we have a full kitchen, or when they realize how big our bed actually is. The truth is, it’s super comfy in here. The only thing we truly miss is maybe a big bathtub to fill with steaming hot water when you’re feeling a little under the weather. But even that isn’t totally out of the picture…we still have room for more renovations.

(Image credit: The Foxes Photography)

What have you learned from this experience that anyone could apply to life?

Two things immediately come to mind: First, stay on top of your clutter and don’t be afraid to throw away/donate/sell things that you really don’t need anymore. Every few months it seems like somehow we’ve amassed an excess of things and it’s starting to clutter up the Airstream, forcing us to take stock of what we need and what we don’t. It happens in a variety of ways — gifts, random purchases, things of minor sentimental value, clothes you don’t wear anymore — somehow there is a constant stream of stuff slowly growing, and when you have a house it’s easy to find places to hide it all away. Keeping everything paired down and simple is incredibly liberating, and will make moving much easier if you ever have to relocate.

(Image credit: The Foxes Photography)

Second, don’t be afraid to be spontaneous and do things that aren’t “safe.” We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t decide to take some risks and dive in head first without knowing whether things would go our way or not. We had no idea what quitting our jobs to travel for a year would lead to, and we certainly didn’t know what we were doing when we decided to gut renovate a vintage Airstream. But we’ve found that if you just believe you can do it, you’ll find a way to make it happen. The hardest part of any major project or life change is just starting it.

Once you’re “in it” the path becomes much clearer and you end up working through all the things that you were most worried about. I guess both these tips can be summed up as, “don’t be afraid to [insert whatever you’re afraid of or hesitant about].” Fear is paralyzing. Change is liberating.

(Image credit: The Foxes Photography)

In their house tour, Brandon and Gabi shared some of the websites they referenced when renovating their Airstream. Below, they share some of the apps that are “really handy for road life.”

Gas Guru:
Find the cheapest gas stations around. Or if there are just any gas stations around, period. Helpful when you’re on that long stretch of desert road and you notice your gas gauge is terrifyingly close to E and you start to freak out a little bit.

Trucker Path:
Find all nearby rest stops and truck stations. Helpful for when you’re putting down lots of miles going from one place to the next, and you just need a place to pull over and sleep for the night.

Brandon and Gabi’s Toolbox Suggestions:
These are our must-haves on the road, and have saved our butts more than once.

  • Hydraulic Floor Jack: It’s heavy and bulky and not practical to tote around, but when you have a trailer and a car that frequently need to be lifted up you’ll be real glad you have it.
  • Drill: You gotta drill a lot of rivets when you’re living the Airstream lifestyle, so get comfortable gripping a good drill. And while you’re at it, get yourself an arsenal of 1/8 drill bits.
  • Rivet Gun + thousands of rivets: Mandatory for Airstream dwellers.
  • Impact Driver: Essential for any wood work.
  • Jigsaw: Cuts wood. Is super useful.
  • Zip Ties and Bungee Cords: These come in handy surprisingly a lot.

→ See all of Brandon and Gabi’s home in their house tour. And see what their Airstream looked like before and during their renovation.