We moved into the Airstream on February 13, so we’re right at the time to do a 90-day performance review of the whole experience. In short: it is awesome. Although we are only a few months into what we expect will be a journey of several years, here are some of our initial reactions to our new life of full-time travel.
Our Favorite Things
At the risk of stating the completely obvious, I have to say that the best part about traveling is the chance to see and do so many new things. The monuments and interpretive sites we’ve visited are giving us a much richer and more nuanced understanding of American history, including plenty of events and historical periods that we previously knew very little about. Not only is this a dream come true for a trivia nerd like me, but as the blog attests, I’m enjoying engaging with the information and actively working to expand my intellectual horizons.
The natural beauty of the places we’ve visited and particularly the places we’ve hiked has also been a revelation. Watching spring unfold in nature and in botanical gardens has been a real treat for travelers coming from a place with no discernible seasons. Even just traveling through the small part of the country we’ve traversed and seeing the landscapes, homes, and towns has been a positive experience. The people we’ve met have pretty much been uniformly lovely. Just about every time we’ve stopped into a regular grocery store, the cashier has “secretly” given us the member discounts when we explain that we don’t have one of the store cards because we’re from out of town. Camp hosts in the campgrounds have been generous with recommendations for local restaurants and activities.
Our plan of using National Park Service units as waypoints for the trip has worked out great. While a few of the sites have been clunkers, the vast majority of the NPS sites are well-run and provide great interpretive information. It makes me proud to see our country represented so well. Also, it’s helping me build a really interesting and diverse set of lapel-pins-turned-magnets!
Least Favorite (Or, Into Each Life a Little Rain Must Fall)
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge of being on the road is exactly that: constantly being on the road. And by this I mean being on unfamiliar roads and constantly relying on GPS to get us to our destinations. At times it has been apparent that our phones are trying to kill us. We’ve learned the hard way that the automatically generated routes are almost always the shortest route, but just because a road is the shortest does not mean it is the best. We’ve been down some pretty narrow, windy roads that looked more like driveways than roads and which threatened to turn into dirt tracks at any moment, thanks to the guidance of our phones, when there were routes on much better and less terrifying roads that may only have been 10% longer. GPS has also tried sending us the wrong way down one-way streets and encouraged us to make left turns at intersections with very prominent “No Left Turn” signs. Fortunately all these miscues have happened without the trailer in tow, making it pretty easy to implement a course correction. We spend a lot of time reviewing our towing routes in advance, including looking at the Google street-level view at multiple points along the route so we know what to expect. It’s the shorter trips around town that sometimes get us tripped up by our homicidal phones. And by the time we have some familiarity with a place — like the giant dip in the road to be avoided at all costs at the entrance to our current campground — it’s time for us to move on.
What about our initial concerns?
So how does this stack up against our initial expectations? The challenges of constantly navigating a new environment are very real, but some of our other concerns haven’t materialized into significant problems. I was concerned about poor selection at grocery stores in less urban areas, but that hasn’t been an issue yet. Mostly that’s because we’ve been seeing a lot of this:
My nearly unbroken run of Whole Foods shopping will end once we leave Omaha and head into the Dakotas, so there’s still plenty of time for food shopping to get challenging. But so far, so good! Check out our Instagram feeds (links in the right margin) for daily photos, sometimes including the meal of the day.
Driving the truck and towing the trailer have all been fine. Our confidence has increased with experience, as we expected it would. We are still encountering new-to-us camping situations with weird parking angles, but so far we’ve been able to engineer our way through everything. We’ve refined our thoughts on what makes for a campsite we will thoroughly enjoy, and our future camping will stick to the basic formula of focusing on public properties (national, state, county, city) that offer plenty of greenery and privacy.
Regular trips to laundromats have been less annoying than expected. Laundromats that we’ve visited have been clean, safe, and surprisingly fun places. That may be because home washers and dryers are very prevalent, so laundromats have to make their money with commercial contracts (laundering hospital scrubs, for example) and offering a “premium” experience to visitors with amenities like free wifi and various games. Of course, it may just be that the laundry gets sorted and folded a lot quicker with both of us helping; I hadn’t done laundry in years before we hit the road and I am sure Ken appreciates the assistance. 🙂
Life in the Airstream is basically great. We have more than enough storage. I am still shopping at Costco despite living in <200 square feet, so that tells you how much storage is available. We already had a strong environmental consciousness, so it’s been easy to adapt to managing our resources, like fresh water, waste water, and electricity. Our portable solar panels have been a real asset in camping situations without electric hookups, like in the Great Smoky Mountains and at Mammoth Cave. We live abundantly, eating normal meals (no freeze dried foods!!), watching TV, charging up our laptops, and basically enjoying all the comforts of home (other than a washer and dryer) while being on the road.
While we’ve seen a lot of agricultural and rural areas in our travels so far, we’ve actually spent quiet a bit of time in areas that feel quite developed and even suburban. As we head into the northern Great Plains, the population density will continue to decrease. Our destinations will be shifting from sites with historical significance to places of outstanding natural beauty, and appreciating the outdoors through hiking and photography will be our main activity. The duration of our visits will start stretching out so we can spend the whole summer enjoying the Dakotas, Montana, and Idaho.
Our overarching theme of following the Lewis & Clark Trail will remain in place, and we’ll be seeing quite a bit of the Missouri River over the next few months. We’ll still be seeing lots of National Park Service units, but fewer of them will be historical and more of them will be parks and park-like monuments. The basic plan for the next few months is: more of the same! We can’t wait to meet the road ahead.