My mom lives in Arkansas and late in her life she began traveling and camping in an RV with her second husband, who recently died. For years, I have heard her tell stories of the people she and Ralph met at campgrounds around the country. Many of them she has kept in contact with and are truly some of her favorite people and good friends. I know they had the time of their lives, and my mom truly misses the experience she shared with Ralph and the people they met.
When I told her John and I were thinking of buying a travel trailer, she was the most excited. I told her that we would probably just keep it a year and sell it when we were finished with our trip. She assured me that we would want to keep it for years, once we got on the road. I couldn’t really imagine that would be the case since we are really eager to go abroad when this coronavirus has passed.
Still, we were excited to give it a try. We knew we wanted to get the full experience and knowing that Airstream campers were made from Alcoa aluminum, it seemed to be the brand we were most attracted to. After all, they are pretty iconic and traveling in one seemed nostalgic. We began shopping and found a used, 2014 Airstream Signature International. It was located in Tampa, Florida, so we made arrangements to pick it up.
The camper is in pristine condition and has a total of about 200 square feet. It has dark brown cabinetry and beige leather seating. It has a light vinyl floor. The interior walls and ceiling is also aluminum like the exterior. It has a very modern feel.
The literature says it can sleep five, but we can’t imagine more than a couple of grandkids. It has a small bathroom and a separate shower. One end has a bedroom with a queen bed, and the other has a seating area and table. The kitchen is in the middle. The refrigerator is not full sized but larger than a dorm size. It runs on gas or electric. The stove is gas, and the microwave has a convection oven as well. It has an air conditioner and heater and a great sound system. Oh, and there are two televisions and a blue ray player.
Since we really knew nothing about camping, we had a lot to learn. Not only was my mom a lot of help in explaining things to me, but we also watched YouTube videos where people explained different concepts. We learned that we need a lot of stuff to make this trip happen, so we went to work gathering it. Between Amazon, Walmart, and Home Depot, we were able to outfit ourselves with all the necessary equipment.
I am an organizational nut, so my skills have truly been put to the test. Downsizing to a condo a couple of years ago has prepared me to do it again, on a much smaller scale. I converted a closet to a pantry and purchased organizational bins to hold most things. I tried to think through every aspect of our six month trip and organize ourselves to live in a tiny space. John and I are already minimalist travelers, so when it comes to clothes, we have packing down to a science. You’ll see, in our pictures and videos, we will be wearing the same ole things all summer long. Just ignore that part! Overall, we tried to have a place for everything and not over pack.
Neither John nor I had ever slept in an RV and had very little experience camping in general. We had planned to do a trial run before we set out for our six month adventure, but it didn’t work out. Our first day on the road was our first night in the trailer. We were pretty nervous about how we would manage to stop and set everything up. We are horrible at backing up our boat, so we had zero confidence in our ability to back up the trailer. It’s something we figure we will get better at with practice. Six months of practice should be enough to be proficient! Plus we installed a backup camera to the top rear of the trailer.
We’ve been on the road for three weeks, and things have gone very well. We are very happy with some of the choices we made with the items we brought. For the kitchen, I packed a small crockpot, an electric steamer, and an induction plate for cooking. Outside, we brought two small generators that can hook together to create more power, and while we only needed them once, we know we will use them out west. We also brought a screen tent for when the bugs are bad. Rather than bikes, we decided to bring our paddle boards which double as a kayak. Of course we have our golf clubs and plan to play as we go.
We had one mishap on the trip. On our way to North Carolina, we had a blowout on Interstate 95. We heard a loud boom, and we knew the trailer tire had blown out. John was able to pull off the road and actually get us onto a grassy area that was flat. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to loosen the lug nuts because our tool wasn’t sufficient, so we had to call for roadside assistance. Five hours later, we pulled out from a small town tire store (opened up on Sunday for us) with four new tires and a new spare. We are thankful we bought a trailer with a double axel. We had no damage to our wheel or trailer.
One of the things we learned on YouTube is there are two networks of camping alternatives that appealed to us. One is called Boondockers Welcome and the other is called Harvest Host. Boondockers Welcome is a network of people who have room in their driveway or farm where you are welcome to stay for 1-5 nights for free. Many of them offer water and electric hookups, but as boondockers, most people can stay off grid if necessary. The network has a yearly fee of $50.
Harvest Host is another network, but is made up of businesses like wineries, breweries, golf courses, museums, and a few churches. They have a couple of different tiers, but with golf courses added, it runs about $120 annually. These are only one night stays which are free, and the hope is that you will purchase something the business has to offer or play a round of golf, which we are happy to do.
Our first stop was a Harvest Host church north of Orlando in Longwood. We had a shaded place to park. Their only request was that we contribute to their benevolent fund or leave some groceries in their food bank box in front of the church. We were more than happy to help and thought this was a great opportunity for community outreach on both sides.
We also stayed in a Boondockers Welcome site in Shelby, North Carolina. This was one of our favorite stops so far because the couple that hosted us was so wonderful. They had full hookup. The gentleman had owned an RV store and sold RV’s his entire career. He was so helpful and informative, teaching us several things we didn’t know. While we were there, it rained the entire time, except for a couple of hours the first morning. We walked out to his garden where he was planting okra, and I told him of my love of purple hull peas. When I saw him the next time, he told me he went back and planted a row of peas for me. Hopefully, he will freeze some, and we can return one day.
Another great option, but a rare one, is an Airstream only park. Before we left, we had a difficult time finding a place to stay over the Memorial Day weekend. In our internet search, we happened upon an Airstream only park in Georgia. They advised us when we made the reservation, we should join the Wally Byam Club for Airstreamer’s. We did and before we left home, we got our membership packet complete with a set of the big red numbers (our membership number) to place on the front of our trailer. With the membership, you can stay at any of these parks around the country. There are only a dozen or so. If they are all like the place we stayed in Georgia, Top of Georgia Airstream Park, we will love this option. For $15 a night, we were able to camp with full hook up. One night our neighbor made margaritas for everyone in the campground, and another night, the campers gathered around the campfire for some social distancing. It was truly a special place and the members there have quite a bond.
We’ve nearly got our entire trip planned and most every reservation made. The only place we don’t have reservations is in Yellowstone. The camping area we need is a first come option, so we have arranged our arrival to be early in the morning in hopes we can nab it for a week. We will see, if not, we’ll scramble to find something else, probably far from the park.
Overall, our trip has been very successful. I think about my mom every day and her telling me we will want to keep the Airstream after our trip is over. John and I have at least one or two conversations everyday about the prospect. We just love it. It’s been a blast to have John on this journey with me. He’s embraced it with his usual contagious enthusiasm and humor, so my life is always a funny comedy. Annie and Ginger are fairing pretty well. They can’t figure out why we aren’t home riding to the dog park in our golf cart.
Our only frustration has been lack of WiFi at places, but we’re making it work. If anyone has any suggestions for how we might boost our hotspots in our Airstream, we’re all ears.
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Traveling with gratitude,