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What to bring

Our hunt for a winter home has officially begun. Everything west of Austin TX to Borrego Springs CA is in our search area. So we spent the day touring and considering the merits of small towns in the Texas hill country, that area west of Austin and San Antonio where rolling hills and cedars and cattle make up the landscape. Amazingly I forgot my camera and so I have no photos for you today — sorry about that.

This evening, our friend and blog reader Jim Whitworth showed up at the trailer to take us out to dinner, which was a really nice surprise. Jim has offered a lot of useful advice about real estate in this area, and we’ll probably go to his house in a few days to learn more.

Rita, a blog reader from Portugal, recently wrote to us to ask some basic questions about the things we bring along for our full-time travel. Since we get asked this a lot, I thought I’d share Rita’s questions and our answers:

Rita: how do you know how many clothes to bring and how many pairs of shoes?…

We packed only what we need, which means not “something for every occasion.” We have clothes for dry and wet weather, cold weather as low as 30 degrees (with layering), and warm weather. We have enough clothes to last for at least two weeks in average weather, without doing laundry. We left about 3/4 of our clothing behind in storage and periodically return there to pick up new things and drop off clothes we are bored with.

Eleanor says you should pack your absolutely favorite clothes. That way you’ll enjoy what you’re wearing every day. She made the mistake of bringing “camping clothes” the first few months. When she realized the difference between camping and full-timing, she swapped all the clothes out for things she likes to wear and was much happier with her choices.

Each of us has three pairs of shoes, which is plenty for a wide variety of situations if you are thoughtful about what you bring. I have a pair of hiking boots, a pair of casual everyday shoes, and sandals. Since we don’t go to formal events, I was able to leave the wingtips at home. 😉 Emma has sandals, sneakers, and puddle boots. Eleanor has two pairs of sandals (one for hiking, one for dress), sneakers, and casual shoes. We all have a pair of slippers as well.

Rita: how about books and magazines?…do you buy them? after you read them do you keep them?…

Well, as a magazine publisher and avid reader, yes, I buy books and magazines all the time. But I don’t keep them. Books either get left at campground “book swaps”, mailed to friends, or shipped home for storage. All magazines get recycled with friends or thrown out — except of course AIRSTREAM LIFE! It’s a crime to throw out Airstream Life.

Rita: do you buy souvenirs?

Yes, but only very small ones. We each have things we collect. I collect stamps in our National Parks Passport. I also take digital photos — 12,000 at last count, of which I’ve retained about 5,000. These take no space and they are free, but very memorable. Emma collects small rocks (no larger than 1″ diameter) in a fishing tackle box. When the box gets full, some rocks get shipped back home. Eleanor collects National Park pins.

We do buy other things to decorate the trailer, but anything large gets shipped back to storage. That’s rare. We try to only buy things that are truly memorable and interesting — which doesn’t include t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other typical tourist stuff. For example, we bought a hand-made sotol walking stick in Big Bend National Park. This was very meaningful to us because it was made by a fellow we met from the Mexican town of Boquillas, who I interviewed and later featured in the magazine. We kept it in the trailer for a few months and then dropped it off in Vermont at our storage unit. Later it will be a treasured artifact in our next house.

Rita: how do you manage to keep the things on your airstream streamlined so that you are not overflowing in “stuff”, since we all know how “stuff” is so easy to accumulate? did the three of you make a rule on how to keep it light?

Yes, and the rule is simple: bring only what you need and for everything optional that comes in later, something else has to go. Even with this rule, we have managed to accumulate more stuff than we should have. So it’s important to periodically go through the entire trailer and look at everything with a critical eye: Do I need this? Have I used it in the past three months? Will I definitely use it in the next three months? If the answer is “no”, it goes away.

It’s amazing how much stuff we brought that we thought we “might need someday” and which has never been used. In fact, we are currently making another pass through our possessions, because the trailer is starting to get too close to our maximum weight for my comfort. So far we’ve filled two 14x14x14″ boxes with stuff to send home.

The bottom line is that you can’t bring it all with you. Nor should you. If you find you need something that you don’t have, you can usually get it readily enough. And a great lesson from this form of travel is learning what you really need — and that’s a lot less than you might think.