Toward the end of a long, lonely tour, Michael called me. This was not uncommon. Actually, we had gotten in the habit of talking to each other for hours on the phone each day. This particular conversation went something like this: "I love being on tour because I get to meet new people, visit lots of cool places, and do new and exciting things. It is hard because I want to share these things with you, but I know that you are managing things at home. Would you have any interest in getting an RV and coming with me?" To which I almost immediately responded, "Yes." When Michael finally told his friend about this encounter his friend declared, "You know you married the right woman."
To explain my quick yes, you have to have a bit of background. When we moved to California from the Midwest, we priced how much it would cost to move our things. We quickly looked around at the price, then at our house full of 2nd hand furniture and decided that it was better to downsize than to pay to move all these free/cheap items that we had collected over the years. We moved our family, at that time a family of 4, from 2300 square feet plus a basement into a ranch-style home of just over 900 square feet with no attic or basement. WE LOVED IT. It was freeing. We did not feel tempted to accept things just because they were free or because we might use them later. We adopted the phrase "I'm sorry, we really do not have room." We brought in a few simple things that filled a need.
After we moved back to the Midwest and grew to a family of 7 in an 1800 sq. ft. house, we found ourselves asking for more space. In my heart, I felt that was ridiculous. I thought there was no way that we should be outgrowing this house and I began looking at space-saving furniture. I came across the "tiny house" movement on the internet and watched videos of people who intentionally built 300 sq. ft. homes so that they could live mortgage free with the things that were true needs instead of working their tails off for the "American dream home." I loved this idea... and I had a lot of time to myself since Michael was away on tour. As I researched convertible spaces and furniture, I quickly decided that RV makers wrote the book when it comes to living in small spaces.
Michael had made the proposition. Maybe it was just a wild thought or maybe it was for real. Either way, I began to look at RVs online. I was disappointed. Michael does not love camping. He does have a particular style. It leans toward modern design. All of the RVs and travel trailers that I came across were, well... in a word - UGLY. And by ugly, I mean 1980's floral print hotel room ugly. I mean Tex-Mex upholstery with faux-woodgrain paneling ugly. I mean Grandma's closet ugly. Bad taste on wheels.
The next day in one of our hour-long conversations, I addressed the topic with Michael. He, too, was discouraged. By the next day, he had found the solution: the Airstream. Sleek. Modern. Customizable.
He quickly began scouring the internet for inspiration for design. I began hunting for other families that have had this idea. To our surprise, we found quite a few examples of each. Oh yeah! We could do this. It could be fun. It could be misery. However it turned out, it would be an adventure!
As the next few weeks unfolded, we each spent our down time doing internet research and spent our phone calls discussing this intriguing idea. Some things were easy to decide:
- I wanted a pull-behind trailer. I wanted the kids to be in seat belts for the travel day. Michael would only settle for an Airstream.
- We would need a tow vehicle. We would also need to haul Michael's gear. If we got a 15-passenger van we could seat 8 in the front half and store gear in the back half. The Airstream would hold our household items.
- Full-time was the only way to go. Everything that I loved about this idea was only an advantage if it was our full-time home. Traveling with 7 people is overwhelming if you have to pack for each trip. Our home would only be simplified if we embraced the Airstream as a small home and completely moved out of our city home. We could only embrace travel and focus on family if we were free from the daily routine of brick-and-mortar schools and car pools to after school activities. It would be less risky to buy a trailer and just go with Michael on select trips, but to reap the benefits, we must take the bigger risk.
- This adventure would involve teaching our kids, and not just geography. Homeschooling was our first choice before we learned of the language immersion school that our girls currently attend. In the past few years we have gotten into the ease and routine of having the majority of our kids gone from 8-4 each day. Last year I had a firm tug on my heart that said, "You must remain open to the idea of homeschooling at any given time." I did not feel that it was time to pull them from school just then, but that I should always remain open to the idea and evaluate if it was best for them. For this reason, homeschooling was not a major stumbling block for us as we talked about the RV. It seemed like a good excuse to make the jump to homeschooling.
- A year was a good goal. We do not see this as an end-all-be-all lifestyle for us. Our kids are young and their needs will grow and change. I think it would take at least a year to get a good feel of this lifestyle. This first 6 months would be a huge learning curve. After that, hopefully we will have settled into a comfortable lifestyle. If we decide that we enjoy it, then we could commit to another year, but if we make it one year we will consider that an accomplishment.
- Summer would be a good kick off. First of all, the weather would be nice in most places. Secondly, we could finish out a school year and get the feel of life on the road before having to jump right into traveling and homeschool together. Thirdly, the work in summer often consists of week-long summer camps that would spread out the travel days and amount of booking that would need to be done.
Most of the rest of the decisions were details like the specific design that could not be determined until we knew the exact dimensions of the trailer. Many of the lifestyle changes we could only guess how they would play out. As I went through my daily tasks, I found myself asking, "How would this work in an Airstream?" Nap time? Meal time? Playing outside? All of a sudden, I looked in my basement (which I thought I kept pretty de-cluttered), and I thought that most of it could be sold. We continued to look at remodel and design blogs and casually set living in an Airstream full-time as a goal to work toward.
We aggressively sold things on craigslist to start the "Airstream fund" which would be used to purchase a trailer if we came across one. The initial investment was going to be huge. Michael and I have been debt-free since 2003 and plan to remain that way. This was summer of 2012. We had no time limit to our goal, but the sooner, the better. As the year continued, it seemed that things fell into place.
- Someone gifted us a van. You know, the giant one that seats 8 passengers in front and has room for gear in the rear. One with a big enough engine to pull a 9,000 pound trailer. We were expecting this to cost us over $8,000. The one we were gifted did need repairs, but we were still able to get it in good condition for half that price. We call her "Boss."
- Some good friends were looking for a 3 bedroom rental house in the city. We quickly approached them and asked if they were interested in renting ours. They agreed. This was great and removed the work of selling the house. It also takes away some of the risk of not being able to "go home" if something bad happens. Their current lease was up May 1 - right at the beginning of summer.
- It was the end of camping season and many Airstreams were for sale on ebay and craigslist. Our Airstream fund was big enough that we could actually score one before winter set in.
So there we have it: A dream, a date, a tow vehicle, and an Airstream. We have some areas that we are excited about and some that are a bit nerve-wracking. Mostly, we are to the point that the only way to find out how it is really going to be is to try it!