We’re Airstreamers, but don’t call us trailer trash!

Published April 6, 2016   Posted in How to Think

Well, we’ve done it – we are Airstreamers. As of last Friday, we have officially moved out of our large 1600 sqft house and into our Airstream trailer, just a shade larger than a tenth of the size of our previous home.

And so far, we’re loving it.

Picking up the Airstream

It’s just my wife and me along with our two dogs who rest comfortably at night between the bed and the curved walls of the Airstream. Like most dogs, they like to feel nestled in and secure.

It was a long day on Friday, which included my first attempt at towing the Airstream down a 75 MPH highway with our new-to-us 2008 Dodge RAM 2500 diesel. Nerve racking at the beginning, but nothing that I couldn’t handle.

Stay in the right lane. Make wide turns. Don’t rush – there is no hurry, especially when you’re pulling your house behind you.

The day we picked it up

My dad, who traveled the country in various RVs for 13 years, came with us for the trip to pick up “Charlie” – the name we chose for our Airstream. The pickup required a drive up to Mesa, AZ from our now-previous Tucson home. We chatted about RV-living and good times to come for most of the trip.

This was last Thursday.

We cruised into the dealership on Thursday morning and quickly met our salesman who also leads the Airstream department at this particular dealership. He ushered us behind the building where our home sat, waiting to be reintegrated into a whole new world of travel.

In the next couple of hours, we got to see every feature of the Airstream work. Every faucet. Every switch. We flipped on the shower. Turned the A/C on. Peeked our heads into every compartment and closet. We learned how to pull out and retract the awnings. At this point, we weren’t thinking about where our stuff might go or how we’d organize the spice rack in the kitchen (and yes, we have a spice rack!).

We were just enjoying the experience, knowing that shortly, this will be our home.

After the tour of the Airstream, we installed our new Hensley hitch (expensive, but also the best out there) and set sail back to Tucson. Though I had never pulled something as big as a 30 foot Airstream before, the drive back was uneventful.

I kept telling myself: Remember, Steve – wide turns. Keep lots of distance between you and the car in front of you. Take it slow, there is no rush. We cruised at around 68 MPH on the highway. Light breezes filled the air, but the Hensley hitch kept the Airstream right in line with the truck without any swaying.

The initial move into Charlie

The logo for our 2005 Airstream Classic Limited

We parked Charlie right outside of our Tucson home to make loading much easier. By the time we got back to Tucson, it was already late afternoon and we were all pretty exhausted, so we called it a night and picked up some dinner. The three of us ate in the Airstream while our dogs sniffed around the place and explored the new digs.

We began moving into Charlie Friday morning. We started with our clothes. I was the mover and my wife the organizer (as it should be!).  I grabbed handfuls of clothes and other things that we knew we wanted from the house and trucked them outside and into the Airstream where my wife would find a place for them.

Her ability to fold clothes into the smallest little units of material is downright amazing. Even in small cubbies, jeans, shorts, and other items fit comfortably. I had to show my dad.

To my wife’s credit, she would ask me where I think stuff should go so I felt more involved in this process. As per my personality, I responded to almost every question with “I don’t really care”. So long as I know where everything is, I didn’t have a lot of preference regarding item placement.

I am still learning where everything is. I think I now have the silverware down, as well as our Tervis Tumbler cups and plastic plates. We re-used much of our silverware but decided to downsize our knife rack with a couple of individual knives procured at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Even in our little 200 sqft Airstream, everything has a place and nothing sits out. All of our kitchenware rests comfortably in our drawers.  Teapot on the stove. Trash under the sink, pots and pans in a cabinet over the stove. For now, my office rests atop the main dining room table.

Speaking of pots and pans, cast iron rocks. We asked for (and received) a couple of heavy duty cast iron skillets for Christmas and they are GREAT (these ones, from Amazon). They heat up easily, cook evenly and clean smoothly. Though not cheap, these skillets will last us for many, many years.

The magic of living small? It took us just a couple of hours to completely move into our new home.

Moving Charlie to our in-town camp site

Charlie (Airstream) and Clifford (Truck) w/motorcycle at our camp site

Charlie (Airstream) and Clifford (Truck) w/motorcycle at our camp site

After the load was complete, we drove over to our new campsite at a local campground here in Tucson, AZ where we will probably stay for the remainder of the year. In Arizona, April is the beginning of the “low season” due to the looming heat, so we got our pick of sites. I drove in, registered at the front desk, and then proceeded along my way to our site.

First order of business was to back into our site. Driving in reverse with a huge trailer behind your truck takes practice. My wife stood in mirror shot and directed me backwards, pointing in one direction or the other as I slowly crept back. The trick is to avoid clipping objects around the front of the truck while maintaining focus on what’s going on behind.

No, I didn’t hit anything.

But it did take me a few tries to get the trailer completely straight in our spot. My first attempt was a little off angle, so I pulled forward a bit and tried to straighten the trailer out, cranking the wheel in the opposite direction of where you want the back end of the trailer to go. It’s a mental chess game!

After a few tries, we got it. I slammed the E-brake on the truck and hopped out of the truck to inspect my handy work. After my moment of self-aggrandizement had passed, we released the hitch and I parked the truck next to the Airstream.

Now, the setup begins.

We don’t yet have our setup and teardown checklists developed, but we will shortly.

First step is to level and stabilize the trailer. A leveler gauge on the front of the Airstream helps us to determine how level Charlie is from front to back as well as side to side. The tongue jack at the front adjusts the trailer’s front-to-back level and uses a little motor to raise and lower the tongue shoe (also called a “foot”). If the trailer is higher in front, lower the jack. If higher in the back, raise the jack.

The Airstream's tongue shoe

The Airstream’s tongue shoe

From side to side, our trailer was already level. But had it not been, leveling a trailer from side to side requires placing “leveling blocks” under the wheels, as appropriate. If the left side is a little lower than the right, for example, place a couple leveling blocks behind the left tire, then back the trailer up so the left tire sits atop these blocks.

Repeat this process with additional blocks until the trailer is completely level.

In the wild, we will go through this process because the ground probably won’t be exactly level, but in established campgrounds like the one that we are staying in, each site is already pretty level.

The last step includes lowering four stabilizing jacks to the ground on all four corners of the trailer. These jacks give the trailer more stability and prevent wobbling as people walk within the trailer. Many trailers require the owner to manually rotate these jacks downward to make contact with the ground, but ours happen to be motorized on our Airstream.  A simple switch lowers the jacks.

The Airstream's stabilizing jacks and the switches to raise and lower them

The Airstream’s stabilizing jacks and the switches to raise and lower them

Note: As most RVers will tell you, these stabilizing jacks are NOT designed to level the trailer. Use leveling blocks for that. These jacks are designed to provide stabilization and should not take the entire weight of the trailer.

Once the trailer is completely level, connecting Charlie up to shore power was next, which provides full electricity to the trailer like any traditional home. Then, we screwed on the fresh water hose to give Charlie water for sinks and the shower. The sewer hose was last because we needed to locate and purchase an adaptor to make the hose we bought fit onto the gray/black water drain pipe on the trailer.

Our sewer hose running from the trailer down to the campsite's hookup

Our sewer hose running from the trailer down to the campsite’s hookup

And finally, the awnings for shade. This Airstream has two awnings along the “street side” (pictured below), a single awning in back and then a larger porch awning on the curb side. The large awning takes some finessing when working with it, but with a little practice this will become second nature.

Awnings on the street side of the Airstream

Awnings on the street side of the Airstream

After about 20 minutes of setup (minus the time it took to locate our sewer hose adaptor), we’re all set to go. We’re camping with Charlie for the rest of the year in our site!

Stay tuned next week when I write about our first night in Charlie and how we are getting this place set up just the way we like it. We are still learning this new lifestyle and it will take some trial and error, but so far we are thoroughly enjoying this new lifestyle.

Living small confirmed our suspicions that we don’t need a lot of space to feel happy and satisfied, even with two dogs.

Also: Read my wife’s take on our move into our Airstream over on her blog, A Streamin’ Life!

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53 responses to “We’re Airstreamers, but don’t call us trailer trash!”

  1. How awesome is this! What a great adventure. I’m also super envious of your wife’s folding talents. My mind immediately went to Marie Kondo. After folding all my clothes in that style, I never wanted to disturb them – it took too long to do! Ha. Sounds like your wife has a skill set I most certainly don’t. Glad your adventure has gone so smoothly so far. Have fun with Charlie!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Penny! Yeah, she can organize things better than I could ever dream of, so she’s a good person to keep around. This place would be a cluttered mess if it were only me living in this thing!

      Appreciate the well wishes! 🙂

  2. Looking good guys. If we weren’t having babies right now, we would totally be doing exactly what you guys are…..well….in a Scamp 5th wheel probably, but you know. Enjoying following your journey. Look us up when you get to Florida.


    • Steve says:

      We will! One of these days we plan to make the Maine-to-Florida trip down the East coast, though that won’t be for a long time we don’t think because of the resources we’ll need to actually make that happen. But one day we’ll do it!

  3. Sounds wonderful! Maybe I’ll be up for a different lifestyle like this once we get a few kids launched out the door and into life! 2 adults (and maybe 1 kid or 2 dogs) in a confined space sounds doable. 5 people sounds like torture (at least to this American accustomed to wide open expanses of interior living space!).

    Congrats on making it happen. I just read the Frugalwoods’ story about their new homestead in Vermont and they are moving that way in the next month or two as well. Everyone is on the move! 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Justin. Yup, I read the Frugal Woods’ story this morning as well. We are both making our goals come true, though in very different ways. They have a big house and lots of land, and we have a 200 sqft Airstream with the whole country to explore! 🙂

  4. Congrats! That’s a nice little camper site you have there. I used to work at an RV campground and people would come in with their brand new travel trailers with now idea how to back them in and would ask 18 year old me to do it. I became a pro 😉

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Fervent! Yeah, I bet you became an expert at backing trailers up into spots if people asked you to do it for them (which means they will never learn). It just takes some practice, that’s all. I had never really done it before either, but after a few tries, it was perfect.

  5. […] Steve and his dad started working on getting everything on the outside setup. You can checkout Steve’s post all about it on thinksaveretire.com. Meanwhile I went inside and got windows open so I could bring […]

  6. Congrats on moving into your new home! I look forward to continuing to hear all that you learn along the way. Good luck figuring out the best offer on your house… I hope you make lots and lots of money to fuel your adventures. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Thanks, and we’ll definitely post about our trials and tribulations along the way. The house sale is going well – I think we’re gonna take the second offer, though it’s contingent. I think the $11k over asking is worth the risk!

  7. Mrs SSC says:

    Awesome! I dream of living small. My husband and I joke that is what we would do if we get divorced, but honestly he has such big hobbies (guitar, banjo, dulcimer, kayaking, woodworking…) we couldn’t do it. Instead we like the idea of having more of a micro-cottage with a detached 3 car garage/workshop/music room for him. And just in case he reads this, I will admit that I recently picked up the cello – so I’ve got a big hobby too now…

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Nice. Yeah, it sounds like your hobbies would preclude you from full-time RVing – at least moving around while living in an RV. You could, in theory, park an RV somewhere and have some additional resources around you without moving around to make your hobbies work.

      That micro-cottage sounds like the perfect solution. 🙂

  8. Mr. SSC says:

    Congrats, it sounds like some fun reading about adjusting to the RV life, even if you’ll mostly be in the same spot for the rest of the year. The backing in will get easier. I had a summer job in high school working at a boat dealership and every morning I’d have to pull the boats out, set them up on display and put them back at the end of the day, so I got really good at maneuvering trailers. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      That actually sounds like a super fun job to have while in high school. I worked at a grocery store and then a camera shop. Camera shop was fun, but not nearly as exciting as what you got to do, at least for the summers. 🙂

      • Mr. SSC says:

        It also involved mowing the lot, which meant moving every single boat they had in inventory at least once a week, washing and detailing boats, and whatever the heck else they decided they wanted me to do that day. 🙂 It was fun though because I didn’t mind the work and I was outside a lot and met some really interesting people.

        • Steve says:

          Ah, gotcha. I bet you did get to meet some very interesting people in that line of work. Not even sure I’d want to know some of your weirder stories. 😉

  9. Great stuff! Of course the Airstream has to have a name. Looking forward to more updates on “Charlie” good luck! For a first outing seems like to did well.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks much, Brian. Yeah, I think we did. We aren’t exactly roughing it at the moment because we want our first experience with the Airstream to be a good one. That, and we’re still working and pulling down two decent salaries, so… 😉

  10. We love camping, so living in a campground sounds like so much fun! It’s crazy how hard it feels to spend time outside when we’re at home, and how easy it is when we’re camping. I’m excited to check out your wife’s blog, too!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Kalie. It is fun. I enjoy swimming in pools that I don’t actually gotta maintain, so that’s been nice. And everything being included in the cost of the campsite, for the exception of electricity, is an added benefit and makes things super simple. So far, it’s great.

  11. Gotta love Charlie! Very inspiring article, congrats on the move. I look forward to seeing the setup in next weeks post. Good luck on closing the deal on your house now.

    The Green Swan

  12. Steve,

    Motorized stabilizing jacks – talk about the lap of luxury! That is one thing I wished we had on our 24 foot Jay Flight Trailer (Jill). I am so exited for you guys moving in and selling your home. You have a great adventure ahead of you!

    Did Clifford have much trouble pulling Charlie? Are there any passes between Phoenix and Tuscon?

    The wife and I are heading to Lake Pleasant on Sunday and plan on staying through Friday. I would like to come down to your neck of the woods at some point and visit the Tuscon area. We will drop you a note when we have a better idea of timing.

    Take care,

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Lap of luxury indeed! I didn’t even know that the jacks were motorized when I bought this thing, so it was just a nice little added benefit when we found out. Clifford didn’t have any trouble pulling Charlie. There is about an 800-foot incline between Mesa and Tucson, but it’s a very gradual gradient. Absolutely no hills of any kind on the way home. I have no doubt, though, that Clifford will pull Charlie just fine.

      We’d love to have you guys take a trip down to Tucson. We should be around for the rest of the year so hopefully we’ll be able to make something work (for the exception of two vacations – one in July and the other the first week of September).

      Fun times ahead, my friend!

    • http://www./ says:

      Fantastic! For the longest time the markets around me did not have the canned D de L and I had to use the crock pot method. I never liked that much planning ahead stuff. This sounds like such a winner! Trevor Sis Boom.P.S. Thank you for such a lovely comment on my blog today. It really made my day! I will be back here for sure but I've already spent an hour here and my boss is going to get mad!

    • This is an article that makes you think “never thought of that!”

  13. James says:

    And so the adventure begins … . Congratulations and enjoy!

  14. Miss GF says:

    Maybe you already know this trick…but it changed my life. Place your hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and turn it the direction you want the trailer to go. That eliminates the mental chess game.

    • Steve says:

      Hi Miss GF! Actually, no, I hadn’t heard of that trick, but it definitely makes sense. Will see if I can put that technique into action the next time I gotta back this sucker up! Appreciate the lead on that one.

  15. Hello,
    Just wanted to say congratulations on your move; love the Airstream! I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your journey, as my family and I are hoping to do this sometime in the next 5-ish years, as well. Hope all is going well thus far…have an awesome day!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks, Brandon! We will definitely post about all of our adventures and how we’re making this truly work for us as we proceed along our journey. So far, all is great.

      Thanks again for reading! 🙂

  16. We are super excited for you! If Courtney can share details about her organizational and packing prowess, I could use some tips to prepare for the next move. I don’t have a spice rack today, but this is a must for RV living!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Claudia, appreciate the well wishes! Courtney will definitely be writing about how she’s organizing this place, no doubt. And yes, agreed about the spice rack. Definitely a must. 🙂

  17. Jason says:

    Congrats on the move. When are you guys selling the house again? Or maybe even keep it and rent it. I mean you all are mobile ;).

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Jason. Actually, we may have already sold the house. We have accepted a contingent offer, so provided everything goes through okay, we’ll have one less mortgage to deal with going forward. Neither my wife nor I particularly want to be landlords. 🙂

  18. FI Fighter says:


    That looks so awesome! Congrats again and it’s now onto the next exciting chapter in life.

  19. Congratulations, Steve! I love the size of trailer you picked out — plenty of room but not the biggest thing on the road, either. We spent most of the last week at an established RV and tent campground in Death Valley, and I think I started to “get” the trailer life more watching people park their homes for a week and then go off exploring the park in their trucks and jeeps. Pretty sweet setup!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Matt! Yup, the 30′ fits in that perfect balance, we think, of the size we need to live full-time as well as the ability to maneuver the trailer in some places around the country. Just like with anything, there is such a thing as TOO BIG. We originally looked at a 34′ Airstream, but decided that was too large for us.

  20. Wow! Love it! Good work and good luck with your new adventures 🙂

  21. […] When we first saw Charlie he was a little rough around the edges (he is over 10 years old) but as you can see he cleaned up real nice! Everything is original or added by his previous owners (who apparently really liked mirrors). We have a lot of  updates we’re planning to make and some we already have. You can find more detailed accounts of our weekend picking up and moving into Charlie in our articles: Courtney’s & Steve’s. […]

  22. […] We’re Airstreamers, but don’t call us trailer trash! Again, a little late for this week, but I love this success stories! I can envision both of these options for my family and in 5 or 6 years it might be a REALITY! Congratulations for showing the world the power of FIRE!!! […]

  23. […] own and live in a traditional “sticks and bricks” house. We will live in our Airstream, which we’ve named Charlie. Our planned budget for our years of full-time travel is between $25,000 and $30,000 per […]

  24. […] We also don’t buy crap that we don’t need. We eat out maybe once or twice a month unless we can con someone else into paying for it like the hobos that we are. No cable or satellite television. No magazine subscriptions. We don’t drive brand new cars. We recently downsized from a 1600 sqft house to a 200 sqft house. […]

  25. […] real reason why we are choosing a mobile life in our Airstream is to avoid this “appreciation depreciation“. We want to take notice of our […]

  26. […] cheap, and it’s about to get even cheaper. This year, we sold both of our homes and bought an Airstream RV in cash. We live in Charlie full-time at a campground in Tucson until the end of the year, at […]

  27. Goblet Blog says:

    Tervis Nurses Call The Shots 24oz

    […] e to give Charlie water for sinks and the shower. The sewer hose was last becaus […]

  28. Miss Mazuma says:

    You made it all look so simple!! I finally got off the RSF forum to do some work today and now I am stuck in your Airstream wormhole! Writing today isn’t meant to be… 🙂

  29. […] wife and I are getting something done to Charlie that will enable us to camp pretty much anywhere we want once we hit the road next year. […]

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