I have never felt so connected to two complete strangers in my entire life. From the moment Kate of of @birchandpine and @louisetheairstream wrote me on our blog telling me we were not only on the same journey of downsizing out lives and moving into a camper to travel the states but we had the same deadline June 1st of 2015 I knew we were connected. They emails became frequent as well as the tweets, Instagram post and now a daily thread of text. The wonderful support these two have given Jerimiah and I is really like no other. They get the frustration and understand the tears. We are all so tired but yet so driven to make our dreams come true. As we drove to Iowa the other day Jerimiah was texting them checking in to see how their house closing was going. It was a hard day for them and he did such a wonderful job calming and reassuring the girls that it was all going to be ok, we all had to understand we could only get done what we could do in the days left and we had to be ok with that and as I listened to what was happening via text I started to tear up. Being able to be they for them and them for us has made this whole journey so much easier and fun.
Now to share our new friends story with you, our followers. Interview by Jerimiah
- Your names and where you're from?
Kate, who hails from small-town Indiana, and Ellen, who hails from small town Kentucky. We currently live right outside of Lexington, Kentucky, for just a few more weeks.
- I know you guys have a very young daughter that will be traveling with you guys as well, how old is she and is she excited about the adventure she's about to go on?
Adelaide is five years old and is pretty excited - we think she understands what we are about to do as much as a child her age can, and talks about traveling in the Airstream to anyone who will listen! She loves her space in the Airstream - her slide out bed and personal wardrobe for her clothes and toys are things she likes to show off when friends and family tour the camper.
- What are some of your biggest fears and or challenges you think you'll experience with her while traveling?
Adelaide is pretty resilient - when we traveled for two months a few summers ago, she was a trooper...and she was only three years old then. She loved watching the landscape roll by and preferred that to the myriad of books and toys we’d stocked the backseat with, thinking she’d need them! There was another time when she was even younger that we managed a short weekend of travel - less than forty-eight hours, a family reunion/funeral/new faces, and four airplanes with two quick layovers - and she didn’t cry or fuss once. The kid was born to travel and wants to be a pilot someday - we’re not too worried about her. She doesn’t care for bugs, but we’re combating that fear with some positive language...giving the bugs character and names (Mr. Fly, Aunt Ant, Miss Bee), and that’s finally helping! We think that this time of travel is going to be so good for her...she’s going to grow and deepen in ways that we cannot wait to witness.
- When you decided you wanted to live full time in the camper how did you explain to her that was going to happen?
It’s been a continual explanation process...we’ve been planning on traveling for so long now (fifteen months), that she’s been kept abreast of every step, and we explain each transition as it comes. It’s an evolving and regular conversation with her. We find that our daughter’s vocabulary and comprehension is just above and beyond her years, and this makes speaking to her about changes in our lives very easy for us. Now that we’re about to close on our house, we are speaking with her about the closing process (she will be at closing), and that we will be saying goodbye before our meeting with the new owners. We think that her being able to meet the people that will be buying the house, and seeing us hand them the keys, will help her understand the finality of it (and that the Airstream is truly our new home).
- What do you think she will learn most about the journey you guys as a family are about to embark on?
Our hope for Adelaide in this and always, is that she has a full, vibrant, joyous, love-filled life. We believe that this time together as a family will give her that - our current lives were far too busy to truly devote full attention to our family. We want our daughter to see the love that her parents share, and the love we have for her. Of course, the experience of the landscape, beauty, creativity, and community is vital for her just as it is for us, but we think more than anything, she’s going to learn what family and love truly means - to be present, day in and day out, with one another.
- What made you want to redo a vintage camper trailer, down size your lives and live full time on the road?
We decided to travel in January 2014, but knew it would likely take quite some time to actually get on the road. We have a daughter and a mortgage and Ellen’s career as an art teacher - these giant responsibilities alone meant that we needed to very carefully plan for our transition to full-time travel, and have patience.
We initially set out to renovate an old tour bus or Wanderlodge, but through our research realized that most buses aren’t set up to safely install a carseat. A couple of horror stories later, and we decided to start looking at vintage trailers. We decided on an Airstream for two major reasons: we loved the Airstream community we found on social media and other online sites, and a vintage Airstream is just so iconic of the great American road trip - it seemed really fitting.
We decided to travel for many reasons, and I’m actually going to pull an excerpt from a post Kate wrote for our blog recently, because it sums it up pretty well:
We knew that for us, it could satisfy our need for more in life. Our mutual quest for beauty and nature-filled existences could be best fulfilled by living on the road. Our creative selves were suffering and we hoped to find rest and commune with nature in ways that could spark our innate artists’ hearts in the most beautiful and complete ways. We longed to be together for more than a few rushed hours in the evening, tired from long days at work and commutes, to strengthen our bond as a family and as a couple. We wanted simpler lives, although we knew that didn’t translate to easy existences. We enjoy hard work. We want to test our adaptability and capability of survival, live with what we need, and extract ourselves from a life that never felt like the right life for us, a lifestyle that was never meant for us. To live debt free, within our means, and as off-grid and eco-minded as possible. Our reasons for traveling are vast, they come from a place of understanding ourselves in ways I don’t believe many people are fully able to.
-Are you guys a part of any camper groups or organizations?
We plan to purchase a membership with Harvest Hosts here in the next week, but other than that, nothing as of yet. Unofficially, we do feel that we’ve found a place in the traveling community and have made some great friends via social media (and in person!).
- What websites or books do you find yourself frequenting for good information to prepare you for this trip?
Chris and Cherie of Technomadia have an absolutely excellent book, No Excuses: Go Nomadic, that has been an insightful resource to reference and has helped us clarify some of the issues that often people seem to forget about when swept up in the romanticism of traveling. We needed to know how to make things work logistically, like how to get our mail, have health insurance, et cetera, and this book pointed us in the right direction. I highly recommend it and can’t thank Chris and Cherie enough for being so generous in sharing it with anyone who is looking into the full-time RV lifestyle.
We also turn frequently to our online community - we were able to pick the brains of Travis and Lauren of Small Room Collective last spring, before we had even found our Airstream, and had Dan and Marlene of MaliMish Airstream to our house for pizza and beer last fall - and they answered all the questions we had.
We also have found kindred spirits in the likes of Josh and Jessica of The Native Two, who have been seriously encouraging, or Gale Straub of She Explores, amongst many others. We can get all the logistics figured out, but we also deeply need honest human connection with others who’ve gone before us or are right where we’re at (including you guys!).
- What are some of the things you couldn't live without and you had to bring into the camper trailer?
For Kate, it was her cameras, both film and digital. For her, having a camera in hand is something that feels like a natural extension of herself - she had always been creative, but taking photographs and preserving beauty and moments is often the thing that gets her through the day and satisfies her soul. She cannot wait to record this journey through the captured image.
Together, we decided that we would bring the essentials - for us, that meant clothing, food, our creative tools, and objects that we find useful, beautiful, meaningful, or breathe life and light into our lives (or a combination of any and all). We both believe strongly that to live a beautiful and creative existence, you must surround yourself with a home that enables it, no matter how small. This takes the form of a macrame wall hanging we purchased for a dollar the weekend we got engaged, a found piece of smooth driftwood, plants, et cetera. Our camper home is incredibly simple in design and we brought along only a few of these items to make it a meaningful, beautiful space.
- How do you plan on making money while you are traveling or have you guys been working and saving up for this trip?
Both. We have enough savings to travel for one year comfortably, but we would like to continue to make money on the road as well. We did a test run of opening an online shop a few months ago, by seeing which methods of sale worked best for us and our potential customers. We won’t go into all the details, but it worked out really well and we have a business plan that we’ve been developing for a little over a year.
We plan to curate an online shop with our handmade goods (mostly Ellen’s incredible woodworking and Kate’s wall hangings), as well as found vintage objects (we are both avid thrifters and love giving new life to cast off things) that are representative of the trip and the places we find ourselves. The shop will be strictly online only (no pop ups, we think it would be too stressful for us with our menagerie of a kid, dog, and cat. Kate has wanted to have a shop like this for years and is very excited to get going on it. We know it’s not the most innovative idea out there, but we are passionate about it!
Kate plans to continue working as a freelance commercial/lifestyle photographer, as well as write for our blog and other online publications.
We also want to devote quite a bit of time to our creative endeavors - Kate wants to work on a photography book, and Ellen may spend some time writing a book for art educators, using her past seven years of teaching and her master’s in art education to write on her methodology, as well as continue her woodworking.
-How long do plan to travel for?
One year for certain, but it’s pretty indefinite. We don’t like the idea of slapping an end date on this journey, we have no idea how we will feel at the close of a year on the road, so we are leaving this wide open to possibility.
-Do you have a route planned out?
There are a few places we need to be this summer on certain dates - we have family and friends that we are seriously craving time with, and some are flying to be where we are going to be! That’s pretty exciting - we get to meet up with some people we love in some really beautiful locales. Other than that, we’re very flexible, and while we have a general route, we are leaving a lot of room for spontaneity. We plan to move with the weather, so we’ll be north in the summers and south in the winters. This summer, you’ll find us in the Pacific Northwest quite a bit - a place that Kate has dreamed of visiting (or living) her entire life.
-What's the hardest part of figuring out where you guys wanna go?
We haven’t really had any difficulty in planning - we’ve got a notebook with places we don’t want to miss and we’ve plotted them on the map. We’d say the only difficult thing we’ve had to figure out is people. When family and friends across the nation found out we would be traveling full-time, we started to feel pulled in a ton of different directions. We felt pressured into visiting family members (mostly distant relations) that we rarely see (and thus aren’t even close with), and all these people and visits were adding up - and suddenly it looked like we’d be spending more time in the flyover states, where we currently reside, visiting family members we don’t really know well than actually visiting the places we were traveling for in the first place!
We finally had to start saying no and hoping desperately that everyone would understand that we needed to do this our way - we didn’t work our asses off for nearly a year and a half to spend most of our time just a few hours from home. It might make us sound like assholes, but we promise, we’re not! It just wasn’t going to be the travel we were planning for if we gave in, and we likely wouldn’t grow creatively or get to spend the time together we so desperately crave. If we are still on the road after a year, we’ll start doing some more of those visits.
- You guys plan on leaving June 1st, which is 15 days away - what are the scariest thoughts that go through your head as the days count down?
Mostly right now, it’s just a mad dash to complete everything! Kate has all of these lists and a handwritten calendar that we carry around everywhere we go, and it seems like even when we cross off a task, we have two or three more to take it’s place. Right now, we are wrapping up doctor’s appointments to suffice for the next year, taking our dog and cat to the vet to get their health certificates and updated shots (for border crossings), purging the last of our belongings, finishing the Airstream (plumbing is the big job there), and closing on our house - which as of today, is in just three days!
- What are you looking the most forward to living full time out of your camper trailer?
When my wife and I first started dating, we both confessed we wanted to live in a tiny house someday - that we built ourselves. That was definitely something that connected us strongly. This ended up taking a different form than we might have expected three years ago, but now it’s even better - we love that we can take our house anywhere, anytime - and get out in nature! We are both lovers of the outdoors, and our work as artists needs to be fueled by beautiful landscape.
We are an incredibly close little family - we truly enjoy being together. You will rarely find one of us without the other, and I think that living in the Airstream will cultivate even closer relationships with each other as wives and with our sweet daughter, Adelaide.
- I see that you guys do all your own work on the camper, what's been the hardest lesson learned so far while building it out and what's been the most rewarding part of doing all your own work?
We’ve learned to have patience - with both the work and each other. Generally, we work beautifully together - Kate is the visionary, the designer, and Ellen is the contractor. We find that our strengths and weaknesses compliment one another pretty well - Kate designed the entire interior, for example, but Ellen is the problem solver, the builder, and the math whiz that brought the design to life - she took Kate’s ideas from the sketches on a page and made them a reality, but admits that she couldn’t have ever designed it herself, and we have both built it all. We’ve noticed a lot lately that there is an assumption that Ellen has built it all herself, but she’s quick to correct those assumptions - we’ve both been involved in every single step. It’s been a two-woman job every step of the way. We need each other, and learning that we work so well together was an amazing thing - but that’s not to say we don’t fight or get upset with one another. This renovation is wrapping up now, but it’s been a year long project! We’ve had to figure out how to communicate more effectively and talk through every single detail. Sometimes this means a project will take a few days (or weeks) longer than we’d like, but this means that we get it done right and we strengthen our relationship.
We love knowing that we have done everything ourselves. We know exactly where each electrical line runs behind the walls, because we ran those lines ourselves. We know there isn’t anything lurking underneath flooring, because we installed the new subfloor after repairing a rusted chassis - ourselves. There’s a great sense of pride knowing that we did it all - and did it without going into a lick of debt. It took a year to get to this point (and we’re not quite done), but we have something we know inside and out and it looks just as we’d dreamed it - and we’re not afraid to pat ourselves on the backs and know that we poured every bit of us - into our new home - and our skinny bodies and bulging muscles are the proof! Haha!
- What are people's typical reaction when you tell them you sold your house to live out of a camper trailer?
Most people think it’s amazing, although we’ve had the doubters and skeptics too - but that’s okay. They are few and far between. We find that when we speak with the older people who’ve come to our yard sales this past year - they always, always, always say they wished they’d done something like what we’re doing when they were younger. We are also often told we are brave.
- Have you had any friends or family doubt you or say it's a bad idea?
Yes, absolutely. Our parents were not on board for a long time - but they came around! Most people have supported us from day one - and that is an extremely peace-inducing thing. I love that so many folks have faith in what we are doing.
- How did you determine what you wanted to keep, sell or throw away from your home?
When we initially started purging, we just looked around the house and saw excess in every corner and began to make unemotional decisions about it - throwing things into the back of Ellen’s truck and taking them to local charitable organizations or hosting a weekend yard sale (we ended up having eight total days of yard sales since last spring). We can’t even remember all the items we purged - which goes to show that those things didn’t mean much to us in the first place!
Once our house was under contract to sell, we had to kick it into high gear and make some decisions about the items we still had after all those rounds of purging over the last year and four months (many, many rounds). This time around it was more difficult, because everything that was left, we truly loved. In the end, we kept only the items we needed and absolutely loved and worked in the Airstream.
There was one difficult item that we still have and are having a hard time letting go of - the kitchen table that we built together. It’s not only a beautiful table, but it has seen so many dinners, friends, deep conversations...and it means so much to us. Because we built it for the kitchen here in this house, it was easy to sell to the new owners, who fell in love with it. It seems fitting that it at least stay in the space it was designed and built for.
- Do you feel like you'll be missing anything back home when you leave?
Not really - we are truly ready to start this next chapter in our lives.
- What's the hardest part about leaving home?
It’s not really home to us - so it’s not difficult at all!
-Any words of advice for people that have been thinking about doing what you guys are doing?
We love that so many people want to downsize, live simply, and have a life free of debt - because these are things we strongly believe in - otherwise we wouldn’t have just spent the last year and four months of our lives working toward these very things!
However, we hear often that what we are doing is ‘dreamy’ or ‘easy’...and we both get pretty frustrated when people say that the work we’ve been doing is easy. It’s truly not - we think that there is a serious misconception here.
There’s this huge trend right now to buy a vintage Airstream and fix it up to travel full time, but often those projects end up abandoned because it’s anything but easy. I would urge others out there who are getting ready to do this and think it’s going to be easy or dreamy to really think about their reasons behind buying a vintage Airstream and hitting the road - is it because it’s something you truly want, or is it because everyone else is doing it?
It’ll be one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do, especially if you have a mortgage, kids, or a job that you can’t take on the road (we had all, and it took a lot of patience and hard work to figure out the logistics and wait for uncertainties to fall into place, like the sale of our house). I don’t say this to brag about what we’ve done - we’re proud of it, yes, but there were times that we had some serious breakdowns and setbacks and it’s tough work - the simple life doesn’t translate to the easy life (or dreamy life). We had to push through those hard stretches, even when it was rough on us emotionally, financially, and physically.
So we’d advise that others really do some soul-searching and live their lives for themselves, not a current trend. I just saw this quote on Instagram, posted by @theperfectlyflawedfamily:
If chasing a dream was easy, everyone would do it and the roads would be miserable. The roads are empty, my friend. Drive. - Jon Acuff
If you do decide it’s truly your dream, go for it and give it your all! Connect with others on the road already or find others in the same place you are - (the preparation stages), and lean on each other. It’s so good to have that connection in place. Don’t compete with those people (we’ve found that this happens, for some odd reason) - befriend them and stand by them - these are your people. They get it. You need them, so don’t alienate them by competing to get on the road first or have the most followers on social media - we’re all in this together, and while we have a common goal, our stories are all vastly different and unique and worth being told.
- Anybody you'd like to thank or any last words before you are full time travelers?
We want to thank you guys for sure - for being interested in our story and telling it! Also, Kate and Stef have become friends and send emails back and forth, and Stef is always so raw and real and encouraging, it’s such a breath of fresh air.
Dan and Marlene (@malimish_airstream) have been major supporters of us from day one, and have had such faith in us to finish our Airstream and get on the road - and that means so very much to us. They are always there with an encouraging comment on Instagram, and we can’t thank them enough for that. We can’t wait to hang again and share some beers and stories from the road while our kids run around us!
Our parents and families - for supporting us in our dream. It’s not easy for them to let us go, but they are. They’ve helped us either monetarily or physically at various points in this process, and we are so grateful.
Our Instagram community, travelers and non, who have rallied around us and become our constant sources of inspiration, encouragement, and friendship. We plan to meet so many individuals from this incredible community in person while out traveling, and it’s such a beautiful thing. We love having friends all over the country (and the world!), who are rooting us on.
There are so many more people - we have such an incredible support group, as well as other good and kind souls that have helped us at various points this past year - and we actually have a page on our blog that we have devoted to these people and the stories we share with them - it’s in serious need of an update, but we are truly thankful to these individuals and will continue to add to this list: http://www.birchandpine.co/people/.
We’re ready to go - and we’ll see you on the road!