Guest Post: Why We Left Airstream Living (and want to return)

Each week, I feature travelers who live on the road and value the freedom that comes with traveling. But what happens when the road trip comes to an end? We might imagine these road warriors setting up camp in someone's backyard as a next step, but it might not be that easy.
When I reached out to Kate Oliver of Birch & Pine to write about Airstream living, she told me she sold their '57 Airstream. After talking to her, I couldn't help but relate to her thoughts on trying to find a balance between tiny living and a home in the city.
Comfort and happiness are not synonymous.

My wife (Ellen), daughter (Adelaide) and I wrapped up six months of traveling at the start of December. In the time since, we have rented a cute (small, by local standards, at 930 square feet) house in Indiana, where my daughter was born. We decided to stop traveling full time and six months before our planned finish, but we didn’t have a choice in our new location. My daughter is from my previous marriage, and the situation there is messy, complicated and very painful, but isn’t what I want to write about. Here, I have other things to say.

As I am writing this, Indiana is seeing its coldest temperatures to date this winter season, and I am curled up inside, comfortably watching the snow swirl around outside my window, thankful for the warm air pouring from the heating vents.

I am hyper-aware of this gratitude; it’s a near continual strand of thanks for this controlled environment.

I’m grateful for new windows, thick plaster walls and a furnace—luxuries that we did not have in our self-renovated 1957 Airstream.

We left our Airstream the first week of November 2015 with a friend we’d met on the road, who is going to use it as a beautiful Airbnb on her land in Washington. From there we hopped around from friends’ homes to hotels to Airbnbs for several weeks—our truck full of our (only) belongings—before we ended up back in the Midwest in our current rental home. Since we’ve moved in, we’ve furnished the house almost entirely with rugs, chairs, tables, plants, dishes and candles. 

My gratitude for this home and the things that make it cozy and inviting is present and palpable. When I am tucked in here at home with every convenience, I think of the discomfort of our Airstream—its lack of a heat source, the windows that didn’t shut all the way, cold water and the composting toilet. I think of the decisions we made in our renovation. We chose simplicity and affordability so we could travel more and do more on the road with the dollars and time saved. That discomfort was the main force to calling it quits early—as much as that seems shameful to admit, it has to be said. Yet despite all of those discomforts, I was so incredibly happy while traveling and living small. I’ve never felt that kind of joy in my entire life. I was uncomfortable and dirty and smelly, my hair and clothes ratty, yet I felt certain joy and knew that I was surrounding myself with beauty, doing something that was an absolute gift. But I let the discomfort influence me too deeply. I began craving that greener grass, the ease.

I had to come back here to realize so much about what happened out there.

Being where we are now, with the ability to compare and contrast these two opposing lifestyles—mobile and stationary—has been incredibly eye opening. I thought I wanted to be stationary, to feel a sturdy foundation underfoot, to decorate various rooms and to have a place to host friends and family. But what I’m finding is that I am longing for the shake of the trailer when walking across the floor, for the simplicity and for the closeness. Before we traveled, there was nothing to compare stationary life to; it was only what I could imagine, which is often romanticized for most, and definitely myself. I feel I’ve been given such an incredible gift: the opportunity to have experienced all sides now.

There is a before, a during and an after, and with that, understanding for what we desire (and inherently need) is becoming more and more clear.

For my wife and I, traveling and living small is part of who we are now. And with that knowledge, we have set some goals—both short and long term—to continue marking places on our map, at least part of each year, and purchasing another Airstream to serve as our home on wheels. Eventually, our goal is to build a tiny house somewhere beautiful to return to when we need a door of our own to close behind us.

We long for the feeling of soundness, a place to spread out and a place to restore us in whatever ways we may need.

Of course, I miss our Airstream, but mostly, I miss the evidence of the year’s worth of backbreaking, heartbreaking work that made it our home, our constant, while we traveled.

I wish I could say something sweet and romantic about how home is wherever I am, or where I am with my family, but I cannot.

I am simply accepting that it’s okay to want both worlds, to have one to escape the other.

Follow Kate, Ellen & Adelaide and their adventures

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to Birch & Pine
and The Stork & The Beanstalk Photography.