We get a lot of questions about living and traveling full-time in an Airstream. It’s different enough from mainstream living that curious people want to know how it all works – everything from staying organized to staying sane on the road. We asked you to share your questions and now we’ll do our best to answer them!
Keep in mind, we’ve only been on the road two months – so we won’t pretend to be experts on the topic, but we will share our honest experiences and thoughts!
General day-to-day lifestyle questions
Q. What’s a normal day like?
A. So far I’d say we have THREE kinds of “normal” days – travel days, exploring days and catch-up days. Travel days (2-3 days a week) are when we are towing our trailer from one spot to another – on those days we travel 1-4 hours in the truck. We usually eat a big breakfast and then snack in the car (sometimes packing lunch). We listen to books on tape, the kids play LEGOs and we don’t plan a lot for travel days. Exploring days (2-3 days a week) we generally do schoolwork in the morning (I will work while Jeremy homeschools the kids) and then we head out by noon to spend the day exploring a city. Catch-up days (2 days a week) are days where we do 3-5 hours of school work, get laundry done, clean the trailer and basically take it easy. We need all three types of days to keep everyone happy and healthy.
Q. How many miles a day do you try to travel?
A. We are travel wimps. Or should I say, we prefer to not have crazy travel days – we stick to 150 to 200 miles on travel days. That limits our time in the car to 3 to 4 hours (remember we travel slower than a typical car). That seems to be just enough to keep us all happy – especially the kids.
Q. Do you get tired of moving and sightseeing all the time and just want to sit and stare out your window?
A. Yes. . .me more than anyone else in the family. That’s why we have a good mix of travel, explore and catch-up days. When we have too many exploring or traveling days in a row we all get cranky and need a catch-up day. 🙂
Q. How do you choose campgrounds/where you’ll set up?
A. We start with our preferred destination and then we use Campendium and Google to check reviews. While our water tank was broken we stayed at a lot of KOA campgrounds because they are predictable, well maintained and almost always have a swimming pool for the kids. We also take into consideration wifi (usually works at KOAs) because of my need to work.
Q. How are your kids getting along with each other and with you as a parent? Especially as compared to before the start of this adventure.
A. I’d be lying if I said the transition from the house to the Airstream was completely smooth. The kids said goodbye to the only house they can remember living in and moved into a house on wheels. The first couple weeks we struggled with behavior as the kids worked through the transition. As parents we worked hard to show plenty of grace and patience – as we knew it was part of the change. Within a month we were into a routine, the kids were having fun and we’ve had very little problems with kids getting along or misbehaving. They generally play great together, which we’re grateful for.
Q. How are your kids adjusting to not seeing their friends? Do they miss them?
A. This is one of the areas I was worried about on the road – would our kids get lonely? Would there be other kids for them to play with? Our experience over the summer has been our kids get MORE interaction with other kids than they ever did at home. I’ll never forget our first week on the road and we had a knock on our trailer door, “Can your kids come out and play?” My jaw dropped and I couldn’t help but smile because we had NEVER had a kid knock on our door when we lived in our “real” house. All our neighbors were elderly – there were no young kids in our last neighborhood. In campgrounds and RV parks – especially this summer there have been kids everywhere and my kids have made friends in every state we’ve visited! We also had no young family in our old hometown – our kids didn’t have cousins to play with or any young family to interact with. But on the road we’ve seen (and played with) cousins, second cousins and other distant family . . . and what fun the kids have had! And finally we’ve had the great fortune of connecting with other Airstream families full-timing on the road (even spending a week with one family in Minneapolis) and we’ve developed some great road friendships this way, too. Our kids do miss (and occasionally mention) their favorite friends from school, but otherwise, I’d say that our kids social lives are flourishing on the road – much more than they ever did at home.
Q. How do you keep face-to-face connections? For example, what do you do when you need a moms night out with friends, or a date night, or a play date? Do you have a plan to visit grandparents/family?
A. I feel like we’ve been MORE social on the road than we ever were in our house. We’ve been so blessed to see family in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Minnesota. We spent 10 days with my grandma, aunt/uncle, cousin and her kids in Coeur d’Alene, visited cousins and brother/sister-in-law in Montana, and just spent 4 family-packed days in Minnesota. I’ve seen family I haven’t seen in 25 years and they’ve had a chance to meet my kids for the first time. We had a date night in Idaho (thanks to my aunt watching the kids) and we’ve also made friends with other full-time Airstream families – staying up late visiting after the kids were in bed. I also talk to my sister (in Alaska) on the phone daily, same as I did while we were in the house, and we Skype with grandparents when we have free, good wifi. We have plans to visit lots more friends and family along the way – I think this social piece has been the BEST part of our travel so far!
Q. In such a small space for such a long time. . . how do married people um . . .”remain close?”
A. Ahhh, the question everyone probably wonders but few are brave enough to ask. It’s really no different than when we lived in our house. The kids have their own beds in the back of our trailer – with a thick curtain as a “door”. We have a queen size bed with a folding door on the other end of the trailer. There is plenty of space and privacy in between these sleeping areas (opposite sides of the trailer) so things aren’t weird. Kids go to bed quite a bit earlier than we do and they sleep soundly through the night. I think most couples who move from a king-size bed to a queen-size bed and who reduce the stress and workload in their lives would find this topic seems to take care of itself, ahem. 🙂
Q. What to do when someone needs a bit of alone time?
A. This is one of the most often asked questions! So far we’ve been handling the smaller space just fine. There are three distinct areas where people can sit and/or have space in the trailer – our bedroom with a queen-size bed (and door), the dinette area, and the back bedroom (with curtain). Physically there is plenty of space for everyone to have their own bubble. The hardest thing for me personally has been a lack of quiet space – for example if the kids are playing in the back room you can hear everything – and the continuous noise can wear on me, especially when I’m trying to focus or work. I’ve found that headphones and good music can put me in my happy place pretty quickly. In terms of actually being alone – Jeremy and I will take turns taking the kids. Jeremy loves taking the kids to the pool (thank goodness) and I don’t mind taking the kids shopping or to run errands. We can also take turns going for walks or sitting outside if we need some peace and quiet. I seem to need this more than Jeremy – and the kids – well they never get alone time, they’re still too young for that.
Q. How’s homeschooling going? More specifically, if/how are you’re incorporating all your different destinations into their learning?
A. We’ve done reading and writing since we left Washington in mid-June but only officially started homeschool around August 7. We are using an official curriculum called BookShark and so far it’s been great. It’s a 4-day a week program that has a heavy focus on nonfiction and history (lots of books!). We are also doing Singapore Math and Handwriting without Tears (both from Bookshark). In addition to the official curriculum, we listen to audiobooks in the truck when we travel, the kids are doing Junior Ranger programs at the state parks (love these!), and we are learning tons at museums and zoos, in addition to getting basic history lessons for every state we visit. We also find that we have a lot more time to read on the road – especially in the evenings. There are so many opportunities to learn on the road – not only are our kids learning a lot, but we are too!
Q. Do you purchase books for everyone or is there a travelers library or do you all Kindle?
A. Because we are doing Book Shark, a book-based homeschooling program we have about 50 pounds of books in the back of the truck (doh!!!) and then we have a dozen books in the trailer for anytime reading. We like to pick up books at thrift shops and then donate them as we read them. And we do have two Kindle Fires that we keep stocked with ebooks – I check the Daily Kindle deals every morning (usually $1.99) and we have an Audible membership that allows us to listen to audiobook series in the truck. And then. . . we also pick up all the FREE travel guides and national park literature, which is great for supplemental reading where ever we are at. No shortage of things to read, for sure!
Cooking, meals and groceries
Q. I’d be interested in how/what you are cooking? It seems like you eat out a little but you must be cooking a lot too. How do you fit it in when you want to explore a new area? Are you making lots of sandwiches/cereal/fruit/toast and easy to do items? Plus, without a lot of storage how often do you shop for groceries?
A. We eat the majority of our meals in the trailer – it would be outrageously expensive if we didn’t. We make a lot of simple meals – much simpler than when we were in the house. Breakfast is usually eggs (fried or scrambled with veggies), cereal or yogurt/granola. We have a lot of turkey and ham sandwiches for lunch and for dinner we do a lot of grilled items – lately it’s been lots grilled corn, zucchini, onions, chicken, sausages, hot dogs, burgers or ribs. I have an Instant Pot to replace my slow cooker and rice cooker – but I need to use this more, I think it’s going to help elevate our meals on days we don’t leave the trailer (I don’t feel comfortable leaving it going while we’re out for the day). On days that we are exploring in a city we’ll usually eat at least one meal out – it’s always a treat to do this! In terms of storage, I’ve found we have plenty of room for dry food storage (1-2 weeks of food) but because we have a smaller fridge we have to buy fresh (or refrigerated) food about every 5-6 days.
Q. Do you have to make multiple grocery trips per week? Have you been able to gather local coupons and score any good grocery deals wherever you travel? Are you able to run your generator to keep your fridge and freezer goods at the correct temps while boondocking?
We grocery shop about once (sometimes twice a week). Usually at one store – the closest one that makes the most sense. I have used a few local coupons, when available – but it’s been difficult because I don’t get the Sunday paper and no printer (gasp!). I always look for dairy and meat markdowns in the stores, but haven’t had much luck finding them (I found them all the time in Olympia!). I’ll use Target Cartwheel app at Target and that has helped us save on groceries without physical coupon clipping. Our fridge/freezer can switch between propane or electricity – so we just switch it to gas when we’re not hooked up to electricity – works like a charm!
Q. Are there any appliances you wish you had brought? Did you bring anything you wish you had left behind?
A. I brought two appliances with me – the Instant Pot and the Vitamix – I’m glad I brought both of them. I miss my toaster – but not enough to go out and buy another one. There were lots of items that we packed that we didn’t end up needing – we’ve donated those to thrift shops along the way! I have a few items that the kids haven’t used that they want to save that we’ll ship to my mother-in-law for safe keeping.
Q. What cell service do you have? Is it giving you the coverage you need? Do you have a wifi spot with it? How much data do you have with your service?
A. We had AT&T for years while we lived in our house but switched to Verizon a month before we went full-time. We chose Verizon because they seem to have better coverage nationwide. I have a Verizon JetPack that allows us to have wifi anywhere that we have cell service – which has been really reliable for the most part! We use FREE wifi whenever we get the chance and are currently on a 20 GB plan that we can change using the Verizon app as we need (can decrease or increase depending on what we need).
Q. What do you do for wifi?
A. We have a Verizon JetPack that we use where ever we have a strong cellular connection. We are mindful of our data usage when using the JetPack because you pay per GB – so this means no streaming Netflix or Amazon video. We take advantage of free wifi spots when available.
Q. Are you able to watch TV?
A. Our trailer came with three TVs – it’s a bit ridiculous since we really only use one and not very frequently (we only had two TVs in our old house). Our Airstream has a built in satellite antenna that picks up local channels when available. This means we usually have 5-12 channels at any given time – usually enough to catch the weather and to let the kids watch PBS in the morning. We still need to figure out how we’re going to watch all the Seahawks games. . . We have the NFL mobile app from Verizon but unless we’re hooked up to wifi, we’re paying for streaming TV, which can be spendy.
Health insurance and health care
Q. What are you doing for health insurance? What will you do about dentist appointments?
A. We have health insurance through Jeremy’s job through the end of September and then I think we’ll have to do COBRA through his plan to get us through December. Then we’ll find a private plan to sign up for that will be national. Luckily we haven’t had to use this yet (knock on wood). We all had check-ups before we left – including dentist appointments – so we’re good for now!
Q. How does medicine and prescriptions work? I do have a couple prescriptions and I just paid for a year’s supply before we left home. Insurance only covered the first few months, so I did have to pay quite a bit out of pocket, but it was worth it to not have to worry about it on the road.
So there you go! I think I’ve answered most of your questions! If you have other questions, leave and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Q. Do you make reservations before you get to a place?
A. We started our journey having the whole first month reserved – just so we wouldn’t have to worry about planning on the road. But lately we’ve been making reservations as we go – it’s less pressure that way. State park reservations usually carry a hefty online registration fee ($8-$10 per reservation), so we’ve relaxed a bit and will check availability online but won’t book until we arrive at the park. So far this method has worked for us – and I think as school starts across the country and people get out of the “camping” season, it will be even easier!
Q. How long are you staying in one spot?
A. We have stayed in a spot as long as 10 days and as little as a couple hours (running from a hail storm in South Dakota). We prefer to stay places at least two nights – with stays of 4-5 days to slow things down. We decide how long we should stay somewhere by the amount of things to explore or do nearby, whether or not we have wifi, cost and atmosphere.
Q. Do you guys ever get scared out in the middle of nowhere? Or do you always stay in RV areas?
A. I think I would freak out a little if we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, but so far we’ve always been around other campers! Whether it’s in a state park, private campgrounds or even in Cabelas parking lots – I’ve always felt like we’re close enough to others that if we needed help – there would be others around!
Q. How are the showering and laundering situations?
A. The first month we did a lot of showering in the public showers . . . but this past month I shifted toward showering almost exclusively in the trailer and I like it MUCH better. Our shower isn’t big but it’s clean and it’s mine – and that makes a big difference for me. It’s also easier to shower the kids because we can put a stopper in the shower and they can sit in 3-4 inches of water while I use the detachable shower hose to wash their hair (like a bath/shower in one). Our showers when we are NOT hooked up to water and sewer are super fast – get your body and hair wet, shut off water while you lather up, then turn water back on to rinse off and you’re done. We all shower 3-4 times a week – less than when we were in the house – but plenty for what we need. We could shower daily if we felt like we needed to, but we haven’t felt the need. Laundry has been easy – we do it about once a week when we are near a laundromat (we don’t have a washer/dryer in the trailer). We often wear articles of clothing multiple days in a row (especially things like the kid’s pajamas) and we wash our bedding every couple of weeks, or when we find extra cheap laundry!
Q. How do you get mail?
A. When we sold our house in Washington we had our address changed to a UPS store personal mail box. When we know we will be in a location for more than a couple days, we’ll email our UPS store and have them forward our mail to the closest UPS store! We pay the flat rate envelope cost for shipping our mail and then usually a $5 fee when we pick up mail from another store. We have tried to eliminate most of our mail by doing paperless billing – so our mail is minimum these days!
Q. How are the mattresses in the Airstream? Are they comfortable enough for full time living or did you put in more substantial mattresses?
A. The original mattress was NOT good enough for full-time living. My parents came to visit before we hit the road and they slept in the Airstream – she said, “Honey, no offense, but you’re gonna need a different mattress before you live in that thing full-time.” We agreed after just a couple nights sleeping in the driveway and picked up a Queen-sized memory foam mattress from Costco for about $125 and trimmed it to the size of our RV queen (shorter than a regular queen). It’s so comfortable now – I love it.
Q. Do you have an air conditioning system in your Airstream? Otherwise, doesn’t it get awfully hot inside a trailer that is all metal on the outside?
A. YES! Thankfully we have two air conditioning systems on our Airstream – so we have been very comfortable this summer in what was RECORD heat everywhere we went! We did NOT have air conditioning in our house – so this has been a new luxury to us and we are grateful for it.
Q. Do you feel settled into this new lifestyle or do you still feel like you’re on vacation?
A. We have recently gotten into more of a routine – which has helped this feel less like a vacation and more like real life. The fact that we have lots of quiet catch-up days helps us have some stability and normalcy that keeps us grounded and enjoying life – instead of running from place to place.
Q. What are some of the struggles you’ve been faces with so far?
A. I’d say our biggest struggle so far has been the broken fresh water tank. It broke the third week in July and we had an appointment to get it fixed August 5 in Minneapolis. They didn’t fix it – we found it was still broken two days later. So we had to wait for another appointment August 20 in Grand Rapids, Michigan – where it was FINALLY fixed and fixed right. This has been our biggest struggle and it hasn’t even been that big of a deal – it’s just a minor inconvenience requiring us to stay at campgrounds with full hook-ups. I’m sure we will have other struggles down the road, but for now we’re grateful that our struggles have been minimal.
Finances and budget
Q. How can you afford to travel full-time?
A. We answer this question in detail here, “How we afford full-time travel“
Q. How much does it cost you monthly to travel full-time?
A. We’ve been very transparent sharing our budget and expenses these first couple months so that others can get a realistic idea of how much full-time travel costs. I’m trying to balance my frugal nature with the fact that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we want to make the most of it along the way. I think we’ll get better at saving money as we spend more time on the road and things should certainly get less expensive as we head into the winter months.
Q. Have any expenses surprised you being higher or lower than expected?
A. I’ve mentioned this in my past budget posts – I think my biggest struggle with expenses is I know how CHEAPLY we could be living if we stayed in one spot or if we boondocked more often. Campgrounds are higher in the summer and I’d say my biggest surprise has been campground costs. Part of this is due to our broken water tank – so it’s just par for the course. The other thing that surprised me was GROCERY costs. I’ve always been awesome at finding the best grocery deals and it just hasn’t been possible when we are changing grocery chains every week AND when I don’t really have the time to run from store to store getting the best deals. So I’d say groceries and campground fees are more than I expected – but I’m working on improving those!
Family Dynamics and Relationships