Living in an Airstream Van

We’ve had a fair amount of curiosity about how things are going with van living. Like really going. Not the fluffy report on how awesome our van is, but what its really been like to go from a spacious Airstream trailer to a tight quartered Airstream van.  Since we’ve been at it for a while, I thought I’d put out a report.

But first, the required backstory for our unacquainted readers: Doug, Redd and I went full time fall of 2015. We planned for over a year and carefully chose a 2010 Airstream International 27fb trailer as our house towed by a high roof Nissan NV. A year later, we changed to a van. Why? Read this: http://www.epicdetour.com/why-we-sold-our-airstream/

I think the van life community would argue we aren’t true van dwellers. We live in a newer luxury van converted by Airstream for pete’s sake. So this post isn’t about what its like to live in a DIY late model VW van conversion (don’t misread me- there are amazing livable DIY vans out there).  Its about the change from a fully functional trailer to a like-equipped van, what’s better and what’s worse.

Do we feel cramped? Only when we are both moving around at the same time. We can’t pass each other in the galley without some serious bodily contact, which is sometimes fun and sometimes really annoying. We’ve become good at staying out of each other’s way. One of us takes the dog for a walk while the other gets the bed ready at night, or when cooking or cleaning, or making coffee, or whatever. Otherwise, it feels almost spacious at times.

Where do we hang out? Our front seats swivel around to function as lounge chairs, and they are really plush and comfy.  We can also lay or sit on one of the twin beds. Or, more often, we are outside or bumming around whatever town we are in. 🙂

Does the wet bath suck? Kind of. Its small and a bit of a challenge to shower in. But, the handheld shower nozzle is great, and once you get the hang of showering sitting down with your head forward, its pretty breezy. And, hot water….you are clean afterwards…. what more do you need? Beats some of the nasty campground showers we have seen.

How is cooking/meal prep in a tiny van? One of the main reasons we chose this van is the kitchen layout. We have a surprising amount of counter space and drawer storage which makes cooking easy. We have 6cuft of refrigerator/freezer. We do miss having an oven and don’t use our microwave much. We grill more than we used to.

Are we really more mobile than we were with the trailer? We are! This is our favorite aspect of van life. We don’t have to plan nearly as much, we can usually park on the street somewhere in a pinch and nobody bothers us, and we don’t worry about our routes. We don’t have to satellite image parking lots, we don’t worry much about wrong turns. We unhook our toad when we need to be even more mobile. It rocks!

Do we miss our Airstream trailer? Of course, we loved that thing. We think we will have another Airstream trailer in the future. But for now, our van is allowing us to live the travel life that we covet, and it works well for us.

Do we really need to tow a big SUV?  We do, only because we still travel with 5 bicycles, a paddle board, and all our fly fishing gear, as well as tools and bulky gear. We have a back up 26 gallon water tank inside, and plan to add a roof-top water containment system for outside showers. Plus we love having a daily driver that has 4 wheel drive. Its simple and takes about 3 minutes to hook up and unhook.

What’s our favorite feature of the van? Aside from  the above, we love the screen doors. We leave the sliding and rear doors open all the time without getting eaten alive by mosquitos. The interior stays cool for the most part. And for some reason Redd respects the barriers and hasn’t busted through one yet.

What do we dislike about our van? Probably our number 1 beef has been power consumption by the refrigerator. Due to ventilation issues, most vans use only AC/DC powered units which means you drag 3-6 amps of power per hour from your batteries around the clock. We just upgraded and moved our batteries which has greatly extended our time off grid, and we have 300 watts of solar to recharge. We just went 10 days without plugging in but had cloud-free days the entire time. We also have a generator for back up power but my god its loud. We miss having a propane refrigerator.

Going Full-Time? Why You Shouldn’t Obsess Over Planning

 

Doug casually inquired about our travel plans yesterday. Something like, Hey E, what’s the plan?,  referring to our upcoming re-launch for full-time travel in our new van. Which is coming soon. Like in one week.

I shrugged and my mind went elsewhere. Which is an enormous departure from when we hit the road full time last September.

I began planning every tiny detail for our launch a full year before we launched. It was necessary- selling your home and all your belongings, quitting your job, getting your rig set up and livable takes some serious thought and preparation. I had it all worked out, down to our route for the year and the very campgrounds we would stay in, where we would boondock, all associated nearby towns, mountain bike trails, restaurants, etc. I literally had information in a tabbed file folder, divided by state (ummm, nerd).

What really happened was this: we hit the road and experienced FREEDOM. I use all caps because its so monumental you’re knocked senseless. Going straight from the daily grind to an endless open road is difficult to describe. You will only know what I’m speaking of if you do it (and btw, you should).

All my geeked-out planning was for naught. We derailed almost immediately. We met other full time travelers and ended up hanging together for weeks as we moved around. Planning had become causal afterthoughts over evening beers and dinners.  We checked weather apps and went where the sun was shining, or to the town we just read about with the new brewery.

We didn’t really care where we went or what we did. Just being free to choose was enough.

So yes, we hit the road again in a week or so. Its taken a lot of work to sell our Airstream and NV and get the van the way we want it and our Toyota towable.

But as to the actual plan? There isn’t one.

 

 

Why We Sold Our Airstream

Why we would sell our beloved and spacious Airstream and awesome gear hauler for this tiny van has left some of our friends and followers scratching their heads. Frankly, we’re still scratching ours too but there is method to our madness.

So to explain, I’ll go back to the beginning.

Our vision when we decided to go full time was spending dreamy days out in the boondocks, off-grid, powered by the sun, composting our waste, riding our mountain bikes ’til we dropped, drinking locally brewed coffees and beers while chatting over gourmet meals with newfound friends.

After some time on the road, we learned reality is a little different. Sure we can go off grid and sit in the middle of nowhere, but nowhere isn’t anywhere close to hip restaurants, beers, coffees, friends, and top notch mountain bike trails. If we want it ALL, (and to clarify, we do), we just can’t be 54′ long.

We spent an amazing year loving life on the road, loving our airstream and all the places we went. We did meet great people who have become true friends, and we did drink lots of freshly brewed coffee and beers. We rode our bikes as much as possible. And while none of it came without challenges, immense planning, roadblocks, pitfalls, and tribulations, positives outweighed negatives.

But we realized we wanted to be more mobile. We grew tired of the planning it took to travel from point A-B, using several apps to check traffic, satellite images to check parking lots, websites to check where to camp for the night. We felt limited by how big we were. We moved a lot, and didn’t see that aspect of our travel habits changing.

We knew to be more mobile meant going smaller and simplifying our gear set up. We have conceded to carrying 5 bicycles, not 7 (don’t roll your eyes!) We are leaving the motorcycle behind. We aren’t hauling the stand up paddle boards. We are dumping more clothing and shoes. We will be towing our SUV which will carry most of our gear. We can unhook and drive separately through the mountain passes, or if roads are slick with snow. Or if we want to access tight city streets or unique restaurants or breweries. We can park in standard parking lots.

We are making some sacrifices, that’s for sure. You can’t beat how comfortable it is to live in an off grid airstream travel trailer. But as we’ve learned, its not what you live inside, its having access to what’s outside.

La Quinta, CA

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I forgot to add La Quinta! We stopped here between Sedona and Laguna in February. It was hot! 85 during the day, 60 at night. We enjoyed beers at the Taproom in La Quinta and the road cycling is fantastic in the area. We also drove up to Idyllwild and roamed the small tourist town for a bit.

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Random statue at the top of a hill

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March Update

IMG_6796I’ve been neglecting the blog, and I apologize. I will try to be better. 🙂

So where are we and where have we been??

After spending about 6 weeks in Arizona, we shot over to southern California and stayed briefly in Laguna. Its difficult to get camping spots pretty much anywhere in SoCal, so we couldn’t stay long. But long enough to eat delicious fresh fish, drink lots of beer, meet an old friend for drinks (he ditched St Louis 6 years ago and hasn’t looked back), hang out on the beach, and do some mountain biking. IMG_6670

From there we went over to Valencia (northeast LA county) and hit Six Flags Magic Mountain. Nothing exciting and the park kinda sucked. No competition with Cedar Point, our fav.

Then over to Malibu Creek, which was beautiful!! But not dog friendly which sucked. I ran into Kourtney Kardashian while she was filming for her reality show in a grocery store. Honestly I didn’t know who she was (she was really short and looked fairly ordinary). We did more hiking, mountain biking, and generally ignored the no dog thing and Redd had a blast. IMG_6755

From there, up north to Solvang, which is in Santa Barbara County wine country. Holy wineries. 100 boutique wineries in a handful of square miles. Such beautiful landscapes, and a great place to ride your bike and drink wine. We had LOTS of fun there! The hiking was outstanding. IMG_6866

Now we are in San Luis Obispo. We spent about 5 days in a regional park and have moved over to a friend’s property for some mooch-docking. Bob and Peg and friends of a friend from St. Louis, and frankly two of the coolest kids on the block. They are 60, newly retired, hip, and have the most beautiful home. Ridiculously picturesque….

For now I continue to post daily on Instagram and Doug posts daily on Facebook.

Tucson, AZ

IMG_6116 IMG_6179 Tucson will always have a special place in our hearts because its the *first* true stop on the Epic Detour. Plus, its where we met Aluminarium, RVthereyet, and Andrew/Jen Hogan- all full-time Airstreamers whom we’ve bonded with. Sadly, Aluminarium had to head east for 2016, but we have continued to travel with Kiera, Kobi, and Jordan as well as Andrew and Jen. Such awesome people!IMG_6078 IMG_6199IMG_6102 IMG_6062 IMG_6057 IMG_6048