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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 …

4 Responses to “Seamonster Essay 1, part 1”

  1. Abe Linclon Says:

    I like this format! Even though I have been reading your blob most every day this is a new point of view that I still enjoy!

  2. Jack Palmer Says:


  3. Thorsten Heuel Says:

    If this is going to be a book and you’d be able to deliver it to Germany, I’d buy it!
    At least I’d recommend it.
    Since I am definitely a “wanne-be”, I am especially interested in how it all started, how the decisions were made and how you organized everything.
    Take Care!

  4. TomW Says:

    I like your writing style and subject matter.

    I could buy the book; But feel free to blog ALL of it. 😉