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Archive for July, 2007

Friends in the bunkhouse

Friends are starting to arrive for little drop-ins this week. Today our old buddies from Vergennes, Elisa and John, showed up with their daughter. They don’t live in Vermont any more and neither do we, but we are meeting up here anyway, since we all like to be here in the summer.

Charlotte kids running.jpg

Elisa and John have a special honor. They were with us on our very first weekend out in our first Airstream, back in August 2003. They don’t have any sort of camping equipment, so we lent them a tent and of course it poured all night long. We felt a bit guilty in our comfortable 1968 Airstream Caravel, listening to the rain on the aluminum roof, while they were in our old tent.

Amazingly they are still our friends despite that experience. This time they’ll spend the night in the Airstream bunkhouse with us. There’s plenty of room for all six of us. I think they’ll be a lot more comfortable.

Charlotte Japanese beetle.jpg

Emma has been catching all sorts of creatures lately. Japanese Beetles are a favorite for their iridescent gold color, but she’s also caught tiny leopard frogs, and a big fat toad. She has mastered a technique for rubbing their tummies to calm them. I don’t know where she learns these things…

Summer sensations

I keep walking across the lawn to the beach and back to the house, and thinking of the little cues that make the season into summer. It’s a only few hundred feet of open lawn, but it’s easy to fall into the moment and forget everything else as you walk across it. There’s the subtle smell of grass cut the day before, a few bumblebees browsing the flowers, a fresh breeze, sun setting over the Adirondack Mountains, the hum of a motorboat miles out on the broad lake …

… and thoughts of a ride on the boat to a distant sandbar, perhaps group whiffleball or Frisbee game on the lawn, dinner on the beach by the Tiki Bar … ice cream in the humid evening with fireflies blinking outside. These are a few of the sensations of a northern summer. I’m endlessly grateful that we have the Airstream to enable us to spend summers here.

Panton Emma teeter.jpg

Of course, for some of us the sensations of summer is completely different. Emma discovered the teeter-totter here at our new campsite and enjoyed the sensation of being popped up in the air with me halfway down the other end.

Shelburne Cookie Love.jpg

Saturday is the day for Farmer’s Markets all over the state. We’ve got three we go to: Vergennes, Shelburne, and Burlington. There will probably be an article on the subject in the Spring 2008 issue of Airstream Life, so I stopped by this weekend to snap a few photos for it. I want to drop in on Burlington’s on the next nice Saturday. There’s a local cheesemaker there who has fabulous blue cheese and I can’t get it anywhere else.

Storage mess.jpg

The one downside of summer is that our labors at the storage unit continue. Let this be a lesson to those who acquire too much “stuff”. Getting rid of it is much harder than you might think. Fortunately, we sold all the living room furniture this weekend and were able to get people to pick up several boxes of stuff, thanks to Freecycle. After two summers of effort, I think we are finally approaching the end of the project. We should be ready to bring in the movers in a couple of weeks.

I have partially resolved the Internet problem here at the campground. My repeater is bringing the signal into the trailer, but the distance between the source and the repeater is so great that the connection is fragile. If anyone in the area uses their microwave oven, we get knocked offline. A whole bunch of common wireless devices share or contribute interference to the same frequency band as wi-fi, including 2.4 GHz cordless phones, Bluetooth-capable devices, and microwave ovens.

The solution would be a second repeater to cut down the distance and thus strengthen the signal, but I don’t have one handy. I’m still playing with ways to enhance the signal and hope to have a more workable solution soon. In the meantime, the connection I have is adequate for most tasks. If I really need super-fast and reliable Internet, I can head over to my parent’s house on the lake to borrow their connection, and get another taste of summer while I’m at it.

Network geek

Our relocation to a new campsite near Vergennes VT has reminded me that sometimes you need to be a bit of a computer handyman, if you are to get reliable Internet service while traveling. Our axiom is that the more desirable and beautiful a location is, the less likely you are to find Internet access. That means you need to get clever about getting online.

Vergennes is one of those spots in Vermont where Verizon has been unable or unwilling to provide decent service. The Governor of Vermont is on a rampage about this issue and has proposed that Vermont become an “e-state” with border-to-border cellular and Internet coverage. Unicell, a local provider, seems to be making an effort to fill in the many gaps, and so I’m hearing from a lot of people here that they’ve switched to Unicell lately.

Certainly, Unicell customers can make a decent call in downtown Vergennes without having it drop in a minute or so. That’s not the case with Verizon, at least by my recent experience. But switching carriers isn’t an option for national travelers, and besides, I have two Verizon accounts (one for voice and the other for Internet).

So here’s where getting clever comes in. My first thought was to scan the local campground for stray wi-fi signals that I might pick up. No dice. My second idea was to go into downtown Vergennes and look for a spot where I could sit and work within range of free wi-fi. The public library doesn’t have it, but eventually I discovered (by asking around) that I could get an open wi-fi signal when sitting in the front of a particular cafe.

Still, that wasn’t my first choice for all-day work. Eventually the cafe would get busy and I’d probably be asked to move on. It’s not a large place.

Then I talked to the campground owner. Turns out his wife has high-speed DSL in the house, and it’s hooked to wi-fi. A quick roam around the area with my laptop open, and it is determined that by sitting on their front porch I can post this blog. OK, we have a temporary solution, but obviously that’s not going to work long term. Also, her local Internet Service Provider blocks all outgoing email except from their email server, so we’ve got a second problem to solve.

Now I break out my tools. The key is the to extend her signal to my trailer, so I can work comfortably in my office. I’ll set up my wi-fi repeater in a conveniently located barn, about mid-way between the house and my trailer. Hopefully that will bridge the gap.

Solving the email problem is easier. Based on our location, it wasn’t hard to guess which telephone company provides her DSL service, and so I can easily figure out (with some web searches) what email server I should set my email program to use. One simple change in configuration, and voila! I am sending and receiving email just fine.

If the wi-fi router hadn’t been “open” (unencrypted), I would have had a larger problem. In this case, the owners are friendly enough that they would have given me the passcode so I could at least get online from the front porch. My repeater is incapable of repeating an encrypted signal, however, so this would not have allowed me to get the signal in my trailer.

If I were really lucky, they might even have let me come in and fiddle with the router settings, once I’d proven I was trustworthy enough to disable the encryption and put it back when I was done. I don’t push on things like this, because often people feel that letting a stranger play with their router is like giving me the keys to their car and a credit card. But once in a while this works. That’s an advanced gambit and I wouldn’t recommend you try it unless you are very familiar with how routers work and willing to pay the price if you screw it up.

In any case, if I can get Internet in the trailer and at least be able to make phone calls outside (which I seem to be able to do most of the time), we will stay here a couple of weeks. If not, we’ll have to move — which would be a shame since the setting is very pleasant and the camping is very affordable …

Shifting gears

It’s time to shift gears again. Having done three days of essay-writing, the blog will go back to the usual sort of entries, while I digest what I’ve learned from the many comments I’ve received (including lots of private emails). Thank you all for your help.

Another shift will be in our location. We have been parked in my parents’ driveway for several weeks, including the time I was down in Perry GA attending the International Rally. We’re going to move to a small campground near Vergennes VT for a while. The location is more convenient for Emma’s upcoming swimming lessons, but equally importantly, being in the campground will give us some space to host friends who are dropping in next week.

Charlotte cormorants.jpg
A huge flock of cormorants on Lake Champlain

I have avoided talking about the mundane tasks we’ve been doing since I got back from Georgia. Those of you who have read the blog for a while probably recall the drudgery of clearing out our storage units. We spent five weeks last summer working down from two 10×20 units to one, by giving away stuff to charities and via Freecycle, selling things on Craigslist, auctioning furniture, and donating things to friends. (You can read about this process in our August 2006 archive, starting with August 22.)

The job this summer is to get from one very tightly packed 10×20 storage unit down to half a unit. We conducted an evaluation and discovered that the cost of moving many of our possessions 2,500 miles west exceeded the replacement cost of those items. Moreover, after two years with minimal possessions, we’ve become even more religious about the need to pare down. We don’t want to fill up the next house with a bunch of stuff from the old house. Half a storage unit will mean we are down to the essentials: photo albums, a few basic pieces of furniture, my collection of Airstream Life magazines, tools, some extra clothing, kitchen stuff, and a few irreplaceable items.

So far Eleanor and I have had about four mutual sessions at the storage unit and she’s been there independently several other times. This Saturday will be the big push. We’re expecting to see buyers for our remaining living room furniture and a bunch of people from the local Freecycle group who want various household items. If we are lucky, after Saturday we’ll be ready for the movers to come in and quote the cost of getting the rest over to Tucson. I’m hoping to keep the moving budget under $2k.

There are some items in storage which cause me to stop and think. What to do with my old cross-country skis? What about my fabulously warm LL Bean winter parka (so warm I can only wear it when the temperature is below 20 degrees)? Winter boots? Ice skates? Autumn rain coat with zip-out lining? It’s easy to say I should just get rid of these things, but we do come back to New England regularly and I may want them. Most likely I’ll try to find a local friend or relative willing to store them for me up here.

Emma skating.jpg
Emma skates while her mother and grandparents watch from the gallery

Except for the ice skates … Emma has been taking skating lessons since she arrived in Vermont and seems to like them. It’s good for her to practice something that encourages grace and coordination. We’ll probably have find a skating rink in Tucson, and that means I’ll be asked to get on the ice too, so as unlikely as it seems, we will move pairs of ice skates to the desert.

For all the complaints out west about excessive heat and extended drought, it has been exactly the opposite here. It has been unbelievably gray and rainy for July, and we have not seen a day over 80 degrees since I arrived two weeks ago. No wonder my window air conditioner is not selling on Craigslist. Most days I wear a fleece while working at the computer until mid-day when it warms into the 70s. It’s nice that we have needed neither heat nor air conditioning, but this is not the sort of summer we usually get.

Since summer in northern Vermont really starts to decline by mid-August, this is slightly alarming. It won’t be long before the days start becoming noticeably shorter, and the county fair season kicks in, signifying the last hurrah before summer’s end. For northern Vermonters, it’s July or never, to get a few hot days to brag about later in the season. This year looks like a bust.

What we really need is a few hundred Airstreams parked nearby to create a local heat effect. When the International Rally was here in 2003, the temperature spiked at about 100 degrees, and that is a historic event indeed up here. It hasn’t been so hot since.

The heat spike seems to occur wherever the International Rally is held, causing many to speculate that it is caused by all the shiny aluminum. In Salem OR last year we had three days of 103 degrees, and the locals were flocking to the local rivers in their desperation to escape the heat. In Perry GA of course it was hot but who would expect otherwise in Georgia that time of year? I will be interested to see what happens in Bozeman MT next year — but probably from afar.

One last gear shift: Airstream informs me that the very last Safari 30 bunkhouse (like our trailer) has finally been sold from dealer inventory. These trailers are really special because they are the only Airstream trailers ever made with two permanent bedrooms. Only 80 were made in 2005 and 2006, and now they are all in the hands of happy owners. It is a shame that this trailer didn’t become more popular because it is uniquely suited to the needs of full-timers with children or a need for office space. If you want one, you’ll have to find one used now.

Seamonster Essay 1, part 3

This is the third and final part in a multi-part series about how we got started as full-time Airstream travelers. The first part can be found here.

Some people cannot see their way to lowering their expectations of certain creature comforts or perks of our satiated society. They want to retain all the familiar benefits of home (the gardening club, yards of indoor personal space, unlimited hot showers) while traveling. Such people are doomed to spending their vacations in hotels, and paying top dollar for their travel. I pity them.

We often forget that everyone in America is royalty, relative to much of the developing world. As one potential immigrant said, “I want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.” We forget that even “starving” college students enjoy a lifestyle far above much of the world’s population. We have technology to enable nearly constant communications, safety nets galore, and the path is well paved by those who have gone before. We are blessed with enough abundance that most of us have the option to travel, whether we choose to exercise it or not. Rarely can I buy the arguments that “we can’t afford it,” or “it’s too hard” when people are speaking of heading out to travel full-time. It is more a matter of adjusting expectations. Changing yourself is more of a challenge than coming up with money.

For example, we had to adjust to life in 200 square feet. Three people in a trailer full-time requires a higher level of cooperation and togetherness than in a house. The compensation of course is that the world is your living room. Sitting in a trailer in one spot can be deadly boring, but if you travel the scenery always changes and interior space becomes less of an issue. I think people are buying larger houses these days because they spend more time inside sheltering themselves from other people and potentially distracting experiences. For some of us, going larger is an unsustainable strategy. At our house we had 2,900 square feet and I was driven nearly mad with cabin fever each winter. The next winter I was happy to share 200 square feet with my family in the Airstream. I had discovered what really mattered to me, and it wasn’t square footage.

Interior space still matters, but the lack of it can actually be a benefit. I was asked about this by the marketing head at Airstream, who wanted to know how a family of three could survive in such close quarters for months. “It has made us more polite. We say “˜excuse me’ a lot,” was my answer ““ which was true, because when every cubic inch has to serve a purpose, inevitably someone else is occupying the space you need. But a better answer was given by a couple in California: “We bump into each other a lot. We like bumping into each other.”

The rewards for all the minor adjustments are intangible but satisfying. I said that the genesis of our travel was necessity, but there is a deeper motivation that stems from our desire to be free. The winter before we put our house up for sale, we spent three months in rented Florida condo. At that point the magazine was a struggling start-up, and we were living solely off savings. But every day seemed worthwhile and full of beauty, and finally one day I realized that freedom was more important to me than things. I was enjoying life more despite living with less.

Our house was stuffed with objects that didn’t really add value to our lives ““ to the contrary, when we got back from Florida Eleanor and I were dismayed to re-discover all the stuff we owned that served no practical purpose on our lives. While we were gone, we missed none of those things, and in fact had forgotten they existed. These things were psychological anchors, but not only in the sense of giving us a home base. They were also obligations that held us fast, keeping us from exploring by their sheer weight.

We talked about this sensation, and realized that the stability we had built for ourselves had a dark side. We had the security of home and the insecurity of worrying about mortgage payments. We had the memorabilia of generations past, and the obligation to keep it dusted. We had enjoyed the income that comes with success, and felt the unyielding demands of careers. In short, the security we had felt was an illusion. Was there an alternative? Could we give up the trappings of a traditional life to find something else?

Based on this experience, I resolved to trade money and things for freedom and experiences, and that was later the foundation of our decision to sell the house and plunge headlong into the magazine. That led to the second decision to live the traveling life, and ultimately our satisfaction proved the thesis: freedom is more important than things, at least for us. Our net worth on paper is less than it was two years ago, but our satisfaction with life (a more heartfelt measure of net worth for most people) is dramatically higher.

Besides, there have been practical benefits. Full-time traveling turned out to be cheaper than staying home. The tallying of our expenses has become an almost guilty pleasure because money deposited in the checking account tends to stay there, rather than being vacuumed out by household bills. Not only did our decision to travel give us more capital to invest in the business, it seems unfair to everyone else that we get to see America, Canada, and Mexico at our own pace, while spending far less each month than for a week at Disney. Considering how broadening the experience has been (and continues to be), it has been the bargain of the century. This is how full-time travelers get addicted. They recognize that re-settling in a fixed location and having to buy furniture again is the real compromise, and so they put it off, sometimes for years.

That is precisely what happened to us. Four months into our “six-month” voyage, somewhere between the redwood forests of northern California and the sea lions of southern California, we suddenly felt the slippage of time and realized we weren’t ready to stop. In four months we hadn’t seen much relative to the vastness of North America and, having tasted the freedom to explore at our own pace, the idea of settling down to build a house and leaving the rest of the world to explore some other day was horrifying.

This was not a lightly-made decision. The home-building season in Vermont required us to start construction in May in order to be finished by winter. Staying on the road for “a few more months” effectively meant we’d lose the building season until the next year. Thus, our choice to become official “full-timers” meant we’d be living in the Airstream for a total of 18 months at a minimum, and even longer if we lived in it during house construction.

Still it was a clear choice. Our daughter Emma was young enough (age five) that homeschooling was easy. We had no obligations requiring us to be near home base. In a few years, school, family obligations, medical issues, and even the magazine might require us to stop traveling. It seemed best to grab the opportunity while it was still available. We were undeniably no longer just voyeurs to the full-time lifestyle, but committed in a fundamental way. We had tip-toed our way in, from buying the first Airstream, then deciding to commit to a business that would enable travel, through the advancing phases of selling our home, delaying a replacement, and finally admitting the truth: we were happier with only the things we could fit in a 30-foot trailer and endlessly varying scenery. I called Airstream, wrote a check from our house fund, and a few weeks later the trailer was officially ours.

From this point on, Eleanor would explain to the incredulous and skeptical people who often visited us, staring up and down the 26 feet of interior length, “It’s not a house, but it is our home.” Few people understood, but it didn’t matter. We didn’t need validation from others. It was about what we knew worked for us.

Of course our plan didn’t work out nearly as we expected it to. Plans rarely do. We started out devoted to making memories, and in that we were successful. But we found that life in an Airstream included the moments that were lonely and frustrating, just like in stationary life. There were moments of insecurity where we feared having to go back to “the real world” and there were moments when we saw sadness in the other’s eyes and knew that perhaps we were reaching the end. One night in Florida we sat up until 2 a.m. talking while a heavy fog blanketed the trailer and the surf pounded the shore outside our window, whispering to each other about fears and finances, health and home, and the sum of it all. These are elements of life, and they must be embraced along with the high points. We experienced these things and grew with each challenge, because we had to in order to keep the adventure going, and we loved the adventure.

Eventually the trip mutated from an adventure into a lifestyle, and then something beyond lifestyle. It became one of the most remarkable events of our lives, and the formative part of Emma’s childhood. “Trips” come and go and they are often the source of wonderful memories, but adopting an entirely new lifestyle is much different. The change gets into your heart, and affects your values, your perception of the world, your understanding of society. You can’t go back to being who you were before. It is no exaggeration to say that in many ways, we were re-invented by travel.

Reading this, you may be skeptical that an extended trip in an RV can be so influential. My purpose in writing what is to follow is to show you how the change gradually came upon us, drawing on the notes I took and the daily weblog I wrote during more than two years of life in a house with wheels. You can travel with us, to dozens of national park sites in 42 states, from two hundred feet below sea level to 12,000 feet above, and meet hundreds of people of every description. If I can convey the feeling of each experience rather than just the sights and sounds, I may succeed at explaining the changes that occurred inside us.

Perhaps rather than asking “How did you get started?” the question should be, “Why did you stop?” At this writing, we haven’t yet stopped but we have always recognized that the possibility existed at any time. Events in life never stand still, and inevitably, we will need to change our lifestyle again in response to some outside influence. In our case, it will probably be that Emma exceeds our ability as educators and can benefit from a formal education. Anticipating this, near our second anniversary of travel we bought a house. It’s a small low-maintenance shelter designed specifically to give us a stable base if we need it, and designed to avoid bankrupting us if we don’t live in it.

To date, we have not moved into the house and have no immediate plans to do so. We have a choice now, between living in a traditional base with all the amenities of modern American life, or continuing on with the metaphorical traveling circus. Having the security of knowing the house is there, we choose the circus for as long as we can. There is more growing to be done, and the unexplored world still calls.

Seamonster Essay 1, part 2

This is the second part in a multi-part series about how we got started as full-time Airstream travelers. The first part can be found here.

At this point Airstream Life magazine had produced just four issues and my credibility with Airstream was rising, but I am sure they did not feel responsible for my housing problems. Fortunately, Bob Wheeler, the new president of Airstream, and a few other members of senior management thought the Tour of America idea was worth a small investment. It was also fortuitous that they happened to have a trailer that would fit our needs (an Airstream Safari 30 “bunkhouse” that had been used as a demonstrator) and were willing to lend it to me on the conditions that I insure it, and either buy it or sell it to someone else in six months. I was to pick it up in October 2005.

I should pause here to mention that this is highly unusual. Being the icon of American road travel, Airstream receives literally dozens of requests for “loaners” each month, ranging from the impressive to the bizarre. With rare exceptions, these requests are turned down ““ Airstream does not have loaner trailers. In 2005, only a few trailers were made available, to high-profile TV productions (such as “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump, and “The Simple Life” with Paris Hilton) and to major promotional partners ““ and they probably had to pay for them.

Since then, I have been contacted by many wannabees who email me asking for “contact names at Airstream,” and “tips on how to get a free trailer.” Inevitably they justify this because they are going to roam the country doing something (taking photos, selling gizmos, interviewing people, visiting every flea market east of the Mississippi) and along the way they propose to “promote Airstream.” This usually doesn’t work, and in any case there are no free trailers to be had. Hey, I publish a magazine all about Airstream and still I had to promise to pay for the trailer if I couldn’t find a buyer for it. I used to try to gently dissuade people who were looking for aluminum handouts, but now I don’t respond. I hate to smash people’s dreams.

Three months before the scheduled pick-up date, our house sold. Suddenly our proposal to become “full-timers” moved from the academic to the asphalt. We moved into a 1977 Argosy trailer (the magazine’s restoration project) for the summer and stuffed our belongings into two large climate-controlled storage units. We traveled a few weeks that summer, but spent most of it parked near our former hometown, gathering steam for “the trip” we expected to begin in October.

We soon discovered that society is not geared to respect people without fixed addresses, especially people with children. We were called gypsies, nomads, wanderers, drop-outs ““ and those were the things our friends said. Others, thinking I was not overhearing their whispers, or posting comments on the Internet, were not as kind. There was a perception that by carting around our child we were unstable, denying her the right to “socialization,” denying her security, and the benefits of traditional communities: the Brownie troop, trick-or-treating, piano lessons.

I think the most cutting perception was that we had dropped out of society and were on some sort of permanent vacation, living on coconuts and love, working for gas money and sleeping in Wal-Marts to save money. For all the perceived enlightenment about telecommuting, virtual offices, and Internet-based businesses, this country has a lot of growing up to do when it comes to recognizing that most “knowledge workers” need not come into the office anymore.

When people said, “How can I reach you?” I replied with the same list of phone numbers and email addresses that I had used for two years prior. Inevitably this caused a double-take. The technology does not care if we move around, but many people still do. A full-time traveler has to come to terms with the fact that most people will not fully understand what they are up to. If you can get acceptance, that’s good enough.

Around this time I also realized that most people would never do what we were doing, even those who openly fantasized about it. When it comes to the tough choices, most people are unwilling to make the trades necessary to enable a traveling life. We traded the benefits of hearth and home for the freedom of travel, driven by a need to do something about the green hemorrhage of money caused by the business.

But I was also disenchanted by the house; it made me stay put on Saturday to mow the lawn, it needed painting, and the garden needed weeding. We might as well have justified the change on the basis of time instead of money. Money can be generated, but we all have the same amount of time in a day, and at the age of 40 I decided I wasn’t going to continue spending my time sitting on a riding lawnmower. Eleanor would have been happy to stay in the local area, but in the end it was her idea to move into the Argosy for the summer rather than rent an apartment. If we were going to live in an Airstream, she felt we should not be afraid to start right away. Without these multiple motivations, we might have thought twice about it.

It also helped that we engaged in a small self-deception: once the six month tour was over, we would return to home base and build a new house, a small one that we could easily leave behind for a few months each year without feeling undue pain of upkeep. The magazine, we surmised, would be throwing off more money by then, and we’d be comfortable taking out a new mortgage.

Anyone who has launched a small business can probably see how utterly unrealistic this was, and so can I, now. Most new magazines are gone in less than two years, victims of low advertising revenues. But at the time we were utterly inexperienced in the magazine business, perpetually optimistic about its prospects, and besides, what else could we do? The alternative was to get a real job and throw away the dream. It was more to our liking to run away with the circus and worry about the rest later. This is another aspect of the decision to travel full-time, a willingness to deny “reality” as you know it and take a leap of faith.

Without some faith in yourself, or least blindness to the many things that can go wrong, a life-changing experience will only happen by circumstance. Most such experiences have a large negative component: bankruptcy, health problems, death, corporate relocation, job loss. I’d much rather pick my own life changing experience and try to make it a good one. It takes some self-confidence, and it most definitely requires that you moderate in your mind the comments of nay-sayers. There is always a reason to not do something, and there are always plenty of people willing to explain those reasons to you. Being stubbornly unreasonable can be an asset.

… to be continued …

Seamonster Essay 1, part 1

The following is the first in a multi-part essay which may — if it works — be featured in a book about our two-year trip in the Airstream. This is only the first 950 words. The rest will be posted over the next few days.

The question I am most often asked these days is simply, “How did you get started on this?” They’re talking about the fact that for the past two years I have lived and traveled across North America with my family in an Airstream trailer. For many people it is the dream life: no mortgage, no taxes, no permanent neighbors or boss, endless diversions and the ability to follow the sun. It is like having Peter Pan sweep in the door and take you to Neverland, or running away to join the circus ““ a fantasy that has its roots in our childhoods and is thus so pervasive in our psyches that we can’t shake it.

For this reason, many people either desperately aspire to become travelers, or the idea of being “rootless” is so foreign and intimidating that they are morbidly curious. Either way, I get a lot of inquiries.

I try to be honest. Even in Neverland there was Captain Hook, and if you were so lucky as to run off with the circus you might find yourself working as the clown they shoot out of the cannon nightly. But still, it is a remarkable fantasy to be free to travel and explore the world without the constraints of a fixed foundation. Prospective travelers seem to fall into three categories: those who want to get more out of life, those who are trying to fill an internal void, and those who wish to escape from a prison they’ve wrought for themselves.

It is utter nonsense, of course, to think that life “on the road” is somehow intrinsically superior to life somewhere else, if your personal demons travel with you or if you expect to find no villains as you go. I can testify to that. Our lives have been no more carefree than anyone else’s, and a good bit more complex than most. We’ve been fraught with the usual bugs of life, just as we would have been if we had stayed home. But there is something better about it, and after two years I am still not sure what it is. It’s like sitting in warm sunshine. I can feel it, but I can’t explain it unless you try it yourself.

Likewise, it has been impossible to sum up the experience of two years. Where to start? The dozens of indescribable sights? The roadschooling education of my daughter (now seven years old)? The mechanics of trailer travel? None of these things are the full story. Even explaining what we’ve learned from the experience is too much to tell, and when I try I inevitably wind up disappointing the listener.

That’s because the truth is too mundane. It has not been a singular experience since we began living in an Airstream trailer. It hasn’t even been a process. It has been life, under circumstances somewhat different than the usual, with all the joys and faults that materialize in any life. Every time I try to answer the question more cleverly, the answer goes out of my head before I start talking, which is a formula for babbling.

At one time I would toss off a blithe response to people who asked how they could travel like us, before retirement. “It’s simple,” I’d say. “Just start a travel magazine, sell your house, and buy a trailer.” But this too-glib and canned answer would inevitably disappoint as well. It was almost as if I was shrieking jealously, “You can’t! Don’t even try!” which was not my intention at all. I stopped doing this after the third or fourth bad reaction.

In reality, our trip ““ if you can call it that ““ was borne out of necessity. In 2003 I left my career as a wireless industry consultant and in early 2004 I launched Airstream Life magazine. The magazine was designed primarily to give me something to do that I would actually enjoy, with the vague hope that somewhere down the road it would also make money. By late 2004 it was clear that the work was agreeable and the finances were not. I had a choice between folding the magazine or committing to it more fully, and I chose the latter.

What is commitment? Entrepreneur magazines like to toss out this word as if commitment was a known quantity ““ either you are or you aren’t, apparently. In our case Eleanor and I justified the sale of our home by examining its true cost of ownership. It was costing us about $65 per day to live in our home, once we factored in all the costs. Eleanor checked local hotels and found a long-term stay rate at the same price ““ and for that, she pointed out, we would get a pool, maid service, and free continental breakfast. We could certainly live in an Airstream for less than that, and we’d have the bonus of being able to do a little traveling as well. So was it commitment to the magazine that made us sell the house, or a well-justified opportunity?

Regardless, a few months later I found myself in the made-over garage in Jackson Center, Ohio, that serves as marketing headquarters for Airstream Inc., pitching Airstream on the idea of lending me a trailer to take a six month “Tour of America.” I promised that I would cover the trailer in colorful vinyl graphics, blog the entire trip, write about it in the magazine, maintain a digital photo album online, and contribute articles to Airstream’s email newsletter. In short, I was desperately trying to show Airstream some value for what amounted to a housing subsidy for me, and I was scrambling for any justification I could find.

… to be continued …

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