Things I Wish I Knew Before Living Full-Time in an Airstream

living full-time in an Airstream Living full-time in an Airstream has been the biggest adventure of my life (so far!). It’s also been the craziest/best/most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done. I don’t regret it. Not a day. But George and I did very little research before we decided, hey, let’s live in an Airstream! Embarrassing little research. If I had to do it all over again, I might be a little more prepared. Although, if I was more prepared I might have wussed out! There’s a lot of realities and obstacles to living in an Airstream.

  1. The buying process may be harder than you think.
    Our buying process wasn’t easy. We easily found the Airstream on Craigslist, but our trailer was acquired in a divorce and there was all kinds of legalese associated with the title. In the end we had to title our trailer in Maine. Why Maine? Well, they have looser titling laws and personal/commercial trailers can be registered in Maine regardless of where you live. Maine also has low-cost registrations!
  2. Things get dirty real quick
    I have a strict no shoes policy in the Airstream, but that doesn’t keep the dirt from sneaking in anyway. It’s such a small space that if we miss even one day of cleaning, the place is a wreck. Which leads me to…
  3. Junk will look junkier in a small space
    You need less “things” than you think. Always. But even the tiniest bit of junk will look junky in a small space. At first I wanted to have lots of open shelves for our things, but things looked too cluttered in such a small space. We did fix the problem with drawers, but I wish I had planned for more hide-away shelving in the beginning.
  4. If you are living in a vintage Airstream, things will break/go awry.
    Things might even go awry in a new Airstream! Just like owning your own home, things will break and go awry. Unlike a home, there are less people with special skills able to fix things. You’ll need to be handy. Or live with someone who is handy (thanks, George!). And you’ll need to be willing to experiment and learn. We’ve learned so much from online forums and YouTube videos.
  5. There’s no privacy
    The bathroom situation gets ugly. ‘Nuff said.
  6. It’s going to get cold and hot.
    The temperature in the Airstream is super fickle. We stay relatively warm with two heaters and the air conditioning works well, but there are times when the weather gets so extreme outside that no space heater or mobile home air conditioning unit will do the trick. We also live in the south so it’s humid most of the time, we control this with a dehumidifier, but it will never be the perfect humidity and temperature in there.
  7. There will never be enough space for certain activities.
    Working out in the Airstream and cooking in the Airstream are both a struggle. There’s never enough room to chop or dice and create even a one-course meal. And jumping around in the Airstream, forget about it. I can do a few push-ups or squats, but forget high intensity training in there. I tried it once. It was not pretty.
  8. I don’t think of myself as “homeless,” but others might.
    I was recently reading an article about homelessness. It described folks living in their campers at the beach. I don’t consider myself homeless at all. George and I chose to live this way for so many reasons.Β And yes, the main reason was financial, but I don’t consider myself homeless. The Airstream is my home. If something ever happened to the Airstream, we could find ourselves an apartment. Airstream livin’ isn’t out of desperation, but it is out of the desire to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck. Some people judge us for our decision, but it’s proved to be one of the best decisions of my life.

Got any questions about living in the Airstream? I’d love to hear them and answer them in the comments!

Update: Β I wrote a book!Β “The Ultimate Guide to Living Full Time in an RV, Airstream or Motorhome” will show you how live a smaller, happier life in an untraditional home. This is an interactive guide designed to help you plan your journey to smaller living with worksheets and useful tips. Get it here!

 

 

49 thoughts on “Things I Wish I Knew Before Living Full-Time in an Airstream

  1. Heather Wilkins

    My parents lived in a 12×28 building with two children and no running water or electricity. They lived there for maybe 3 years. They were not homeless by any means. They had their babies and each other. It was all they could afford but it wasn’t something they were angry about or felt bad about themselves for. They LIKED “living off of the land”. They were also living in the 70’s and it was WAY cooler back then to be self sufficient. It’s just different now because society’s outlook has changed on the idea of material ownership. You and your husband kind of remind me of them and their stories.

    We don’t need material things! If I had more time I’d tell you about all of the stuff I’ve given away! Stuff is just that – stuff. I like not having a lot of it.

    Miss you Melanie!

    1. lovelibrarianmelanie Post author

      Miss you too, Heather! That’s a great story. I really admire people like your parents. Living with less is a relief!

  2. ontheupcyclemom

    I am sure it is an adventure everyday! Good for you on taking action. Living paycheck to paycheck is no fun and so many are doing it these days. Not to mention your accomidations may be small but you are living life in a BIG way. : )

  3. Q

    Will you say more about registering/titling your trailer in Maine? We recently bought our home on wheels in Washington state, live in Oregon, and we’re about to move to North Carolina, registering in Oregon doesn’t really make sense to us, but we have to register it to get it across the country. Any advice in this matter may be super helpful. Thanks.

    1. lovelibrarianmelanie Post author

      I’m no expert in this process, so I wouldn’t be comfortable giving much advice. The lady we bought the trailer from had a lawyer who worked with us to do that. And honestly, I can’t remember all the details of the transaction. We did a process similar to the one described on this site: http://acetrailerreg.com. There are a lot of registration services in Maine that will work with you to get this done. At a price, of course.

  4. Tatum

    Thanks for the insight. I’m in the south too and worry about the heat with my pets. Can you elaborate on the electricity/water/AC situation?

    1. melanie Post author

      We have well water and we are hooked into the grid. We pay a (fairly low) power bill each month. We are in a spot that once housed a conventional trailer.

  5. Coral's Country

    I absolutely love this! I am so excited to get the ball rolling on my tiny house/airstream living journey!! Thanks for the added inspiration!!

  6. Nicole M

    My husband and I are thinking about living in an airstream on my parent’s property. I am having a hard time figuring how it is all laid out! I am just wondering how a bed, a small kitchen, a bathroom, storage, etc. fits in a trailer and what it looks like. Any help/advice would be great! Thank you!

    1. melanie Post author

      Hey Nicole! Each Airstream is different and comes with different issues. I would also encourage you to think about your lifestyle and what is important to you. For example, a big bed was important to us. Having a desk was important. Having a tub was not important. I think the remodel pics I posted might help you: http://asmalllife.com/2014/08/06/1978-airstream-sovereign-land-yacht-remodel/. And maybe the indoor pictures: http://asmalllife.com/2014/08/07/1978-airstream-sovereign-land-yacht-interior/. Good luck!

  7. Sam

    Fantastic blog! I have been wanting to downsize and move into a trailer full time (just waiting to find the right one πŸ™‚ ) One of my biggest concerns is finding a place to park it. Do you have any advice?

    1. melanie Post author

      We parked on family land, so that wasn’t much of a problem for us. I’ve seen people park in friend’s or family’s backyards, in campgrounds and on land they found on Craigslist. Good luck!

  8. Steve Hunter

    I’m a single, 67 year old man retired from home remodeling and on a very modest budget. I am not unfamiliar or uncomfortable with small spaces and not an accumulator of “stuff” as I was not born with the shopping gene. I have been thinking about buying some land in north eastern Washington state (I currently live in Seattle) and setting up an Airstream with full hookups (water/septic/power). I love to garden especially grow vegetables and would like to have a small garden and a few chickens. I have looked casually at several Airstreams that have been on Craigslist and am enamored with their “metal” look and simplicity. I would like to customize the interior to satisfy my needs and space requirements.

    My question is how difficult have you found living in a space that is only 8 feet wide? Small is one thing but narrow is another. I have even thought of placing 4 X 8 sheets of plywood on my living room/dinning room floor which is 23 feet long and trying to confine myself to the 8′ width of the plywood sheet.

    I realize that you live in the south and have heat and humidity to deal with. North eastern Washington can get quite cold in the winter with January lows down to a minus 10 degrees at night and 90 plus degrees in August. On the plus side the air is dry as it is high mountain desert. Do you have any sense on how well a typical Airstream is insulated? I would hate to fry in the summer sun and freeze in the winter.

    Thanks

    1. melanie Post author

      Hi Steve! I haven’t found it difficult to live in a space that is 8 feet wide. I really don’t even notice it anymore, but I am also a small person. I could see how it may be difficult for larger people. My usable space is probably only 3 feet wide, but the only time it’s been inconvenient is when I’m exercising. Even then I’ll just modify what I’m doing or turn length-wise.

      We get down to about zero degrees here and 100 sometimes in the summer. Here’s how we stay warm. http://asmalllife.com/2014/01/23/stay-warm-airstream/ It’s not perfect, but it works. We have a rooftop AC unit that works well in the summer. For us, the worst part about the vintage Airstreams is the air leakage from the windows. I caulked up a storm to seal the windows, but cold/hot air still gets in. We manage. Good luck!

  9. Dawn

    Hi I’m Dawn, I just came across your blog on Pinterest! I love it! I’ve been wanting to get an airstream for awhile now and am just researching right now as you said! How did you go about paying for your airstream? Did you save up for it or get a loan? Do you have to park it somewhere that you can hook up to water? Also, do you move around with it or are you living in one place? I’ll be reading more of your blog! Thanks!

      1. Dawn

        Thank you so much! I was talking about your blog at work today, I was so inspired to get the ball rolling on this next adventure of mine! Thanks for the advice, I’ll keep ya posted on my journey to living small!

  10. Nathan

    Where do you park these airstreams at; what does it cost to “plug” them in? Is there a website that gives info about where you can park at overnight?

  11. Tyler

    How much per month is your electricity usage/bill? It seems like you don’t have much to power up, and that is great!

  12. Tirzah Lewis

    Thanks for sharing your insight. I live with my two kids and husband and we don’t plan on getting a bigger place but our parents visit for 4-6 months at a time so we are thinking about an airstream as a mother-in-law unit. I also sell Tupperware… if you’re not opposed to microwave cooking the Stack Cooker and microwave pressure cooker could help with your meal-prep situation. It’s easy to do the portions to suit just two people or up to about eight depending… It doesn’t heat up the house and the prep tools (choppers, bowls, measuring cups etc.) are very compact since they nest into each other. Tupperware has a lifetime warranty on most products. Find a consultant in your area or you can check it out at my online site TirzahLewis.my.tupperware.com

  13. QT

    Hi Melanie – Thanks for providing a forum for this topic. I’m 40 and envision living and travelling the continent with my wife in an airstream after I retire; hopefully at 55. It’s good to hear thoughts and issues that others share on this site; it allows me to incorporate them into my own planning for hopefully lifestyle to come.

  14. apheleiaaa

    I have SO many questions! I have been researching tiny houses and planned to build one until a friend of mine mentioned living in a travel trailer. Now, I’m on the hunt to see which option costs less, and which suits my needs…. hope you don’t mind all the questions! πŸ™‚

    1. How much renovation did you need to do to make it full time livable? And what does full time living renovations entail?

    2. I plan to stay in the north east, so temps can average around 20 (sometime nights drop to -15!) in the winter and 80 in the summer. Would you recommend an airstream for areas with very cold temps?

    LOVE the blog. Keep on living small πŸ™‚

  15. monkeygirlz9

    Hey, Melanie,
    My husband and I are seriously considering this lifestyle. We have two cats and two dogs. I think if we made a run for the dogs that was attached to the doorway, so they could come in and out as they pleased, it could work well. What are your thoughts? Also, I’m wondering about the bathroom. What happens to the waste? Do you have to empty the tanks somewhere, and if so, where? We will want to put this on a piece of land and leave it there, not drive it around, for the most part. Thanks for your ideas!
    Judy

  16. Erin

    Hi, it looks like you haven’t wrote on this blog for a while, but I hope you see this and are able to answer. I want to RV live so bad. Particularly in an Airstream. My largest concern are my animals. I have a dog and a cat. I live in TX where it tends to get very hot. Do you think they would be safe when I’m at work? I’m scared to death it would get too hot for them.

    1. melanie Post author

      Hi Erin, I wrote on this blog on Friday, you’re just looking at an old post. I have a dog and have to leave her at home sometimes. We live in NC so it does get hot here. We have air-conditioning and leave it on, if we have to leave her alone. I’d just make sure your air conditioning works well and leave them with plenty of water. You can read more of my FAQs here: http://asmalllife.com/f-a-q-s/

  17. Lindsi

    I’m wondering about insulation in regard to SOUND. Provided that all the doors and windows are shut, if you’re standing outside the airstream can you hear a conversation going on inside? In detail or just muffled, or what? In other words, do I need to make sure I’m not gossiping about someone who might walk by? πŸ˜‰

    1. melanie Post author

      Hi Lindsi,
      We live in the country, so sound is less of an issue than being in a big city. That being said, I cannot hear someone who is talking outside. I can occasionally hear dogs or loud trucks, but it’s pretty quiet. I can’t hear anything at all when our AC, fan, or heat is on. Actually, the rain on the roof is probably the only thing that has ever been noisy. It’s relaxing sometimes, but it can be loud if you are trying to sleep. Hope that helps!

  18. Tori

    Hi Melanie!
    I love your “no shoes in the Airstream” policy, but I’m wondering where you keep them. How does that system work exactly?

  19. Pingback: What to Know Before Trading in Your House for an Airstream - Central Association of Airstream Travelers

  20. Michaela Smith

    Hey there! So I am curious as to how the airstream also does in the cold??? I live in Colorado, So there are quite a few concerns with the chilly weather here and the sometimes 2 foot snows that we can get. Have you all experienced the cold in the airstream? Or has it mostly been in the hot weather?

    1. melanie Post author

      Hey Michaela, we do get snow, but not as much as you do, I’m sure. You can read about how we heat and cool the Airstream here and more tips for keeping it warm here. Thanks for reading!

    2. Allie

      Hi ladies! We are in Colorado as well and this is a new idea for us. Do either of you have advice on WHERE you are allowed to park an airstream?

  21. Nanna

    My husband and I are thinking of selling our house (in a less than awesome neighborhood), and buying an empty lot in rural, but nicer, neighborhood — and moving in with the Airstream we already own, and horses (currently at boarding barn), to cut costs and clutter all around. Any advice for where to start with getting power/sewage/water (well) set up to enable this tiny lifestyle?

    1. melanie Post author

      Hey Nanna, thanks for reaching out. If possible, I’d buy a lot that already had power, a septic tank and a well. Our property once housed a single wide traditional trailer so it already had those things. Depending on your county’s zoning laws, it might not be legal to live in an Airstream, therefore they might not run power, sewage and water to a place without a traditional home (or plans for a traditional home) in place. You could also look into solar/greener options. My post about the legality of living in an Airstream might be helpful. (See that here.) Good luck!

  22. Francesca

    Hi! My husband and I are considering the transition into Airstream living within the next couple years. We live in Texas, and I’m not sure where you’re located, so your answer may not apply to our situation. But I’m wondering how other people deal with this issue… Do you park it on a lot that you own? If so, do you ever get hassled by neighbors, code enforcement, HOAs or anyone regarding having it there? And if not, do you rent a spot or live on someone else’s lot with a main residence so you’re seen as an accessory vehicle?

    1. melanie Post author

      Hi Francesca, we live in the country. No real neighbors. Counties and cities will have different codes on whether or not it’s legal. I suggest you check with your city and county for rules.

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