A big hello to neighbors from the North.. Greg, Jennifer, and their two boys hail from Canada and sent me an email sharing their Airstream adventures, tales of renovation, and tips for those thinking of embarking on the same journey.. thanks Greg for taking time out to answer my questions and share photos.. ♥ that cotton candy pink!
1. Do you travel full or part time (or just for weekend trips)?
Jennifer is from Northwestern Ontario; she is used to being at a cabin in the summertime, and my family cottage is in Inverhuron. We decided to purchase a “traveling cottage” so that we could explore all the beautiful provincial parks in southwestern Ontario and give our boys the experience of Ontario’s beautiful natural lakes. Our traveling is limited to weekends and summer holidays with our sons, aged 8 and 1 ½.
2. How did you decide on an Airstream as your RV of choice?
We have always loved the timeless lines of the Airstream trailer ~ their clean lines look both modern and retro. The attention to detail and history were a real draw. With Airstream, we knew we’d own a trailer that was beautiful, functional and that held its value.
3. What year is your Airstream and did you do the restoration yourself?
We wanted an Airstream that was pre-1970 because we were very interested in the natural teak interior. Our 31” Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht was built in 1969 in California. We did the restoration ourselves over a period of five months. Fortunately the exterior work had been completed by the previous owner who restores antique aircraft. He decided to paint the exterior silver instead of polishing the aluminum. He basically said: “I want to spend my limited weekends and holidays camping and enjoying the outdoors, not buffing my trailer.” We are happy with the painted finish, it stays shiny without all the manual labour of buffing and looks great.
The interior was useable but was showing its age. Thick carpet covered the trailer from bow to stern (even the entire bathroom floor…..hello mold factory!). At the time of purchase, the owner mentioned that there were “spongy spots” near the toilet, but that he hadn’t wanted to poke around too much. We ripped all the carpet out and discovered rotten holes around the toilet and along the rear wall. In fact, the only thing holding up the rear of the trailer was the black tank as the floor had completely rotted away from the supporting channel. Complete rear end separation!
In the front half of the trailer, water had seeped down through an improperly replaced window, causing rot in the floor along the wall and underneath the “gaucho.” To track the water damage, all the front interior wall skins were removed, wiring was inspected and repaired, new insulation (Roxal) was installed before removing sections of subfloor and replacing with ¾” pressure-treated plywood. All of the rivets were drilled out of the leaking window, a replacement Lexan pane was installed and tinted to match the other windows, and finally re-riveted.
The bathroom was totally gutted, right down to the frame rails and the ribs. The wall skins were removed, wiring was re-wrapped and replaced, new installation installed, and an inverter was added. A new sub-floor was added (much to the relief of the black tank), and covered with a new vinyl one-piece before reassembly. A new toilet, new fixtures, and copper/ABS plastic plumbing, as well as an “improvised” copper shower curtain to keep our little tub splashers from getting too wild. Last, but not least, we discovered the old water heater had frozen and the tank was split; we ended up installing a new 10-gallon Atwood electric/ propane water heater which was absolute heaven and definitely lifted our “camping” experience to the “Airstream” experience.
On our brand new subfloors we installed a cork floor from the bathroom forward. Lightweight, durable, and a perfect compliment to the vintage teak interior (not to mention, reasonably priced), the cork floor was perfect for little bare feet to patter along.
Cosmetically, our trailer needed an update. The original pea-green and old-gold colours had to go. We stripped the old mactac off of the overhead bins and replaced with a brighter, turquoise/brown polka dot pattern. Speaker covers, switchplate covers, the oven trim plate were all spray painted a soft gold. After online Airstream forum research we decided to paint all interior walls in a light turquoise using Zinsser Perma-White Mould & Mildew-Proof Interior paint (yes, it’s tintable!) ~ the bathroom we painted in a vintage Cotton Candy Pink.
We replaced all of the old screens with black aluminum screening. The spline size is not the typical standard size as we found out after a few failed attempts. The screens were damn difficult to replace, but we got the hang of it. We found the right size at Lowes for a fraction of the Airstream dealers price. We also removed the old blinds and replaced with bamboo roll-up blinds. The kitchen curtains, throw pillows, and the dividing curtain were reupholstered with a complimentary fabric in vertical stripes and trimmed with white shell trim to echo the polka dots. We also replaced the bathroom blind with a new white vinyl roll up blind. We reupholstered all of the couch cushions with a durable brown velvet fabric that would be kid-friendly and not clash with all of the other colours.
All of the 110V electric receptacles and switches were updated. Interior lights were all converted to use LED/incandescent with a two-position switch. The LED saves battery power but doesn’t have the ambience of the incandescent light. We could go on for a few more pages, but you get a general idea of the work done inside.
4. What tips do you have for those thinking of restoring one themselves?
Ask yourself: how much do I love my marriage? Ha Ha! (love this! we say the same thing!!)
Do not attempt a complete restoration in five months.
Absolutely investigate any “squishy spots” and do not install carpet. Ever.
A propane/electric water heater is a beautiful thing.
A propane/electric fridge… also good. We were able to stop wherever we wanted, cook up a lunch for the kids, and get back on the road.
5. 31 ft is not the biggest, but is a long Airstream, do you find that challenging or is it totally worth the extra space?
We were amazed by the space. Definitely worth it if you have a vehicle that has enough power to pull it. Longer camping sites need to be reserved farther in advance we’ve found, so “spur of the moment” camping sprees are somewhat limited.
6. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first got started?
“Squishy spots” are expensive. Buy a rock guard for the front window, it’s well worth the $500 as 1969 is the only year with the “squared off” corner on the side windows which cost $500 to replace.
7. Have you traveled in the U.S. as well as Canada? What are the major differences if so (in relation to camping)?
We haven’t taken the trailer to the U.S. yet, but we have friends who highly recommend Michigan’s National Parks.
8. We can’t wait to explore Canada, any need to know info for traveling throughout?
We have yet to leave our province of Ontario, but would like to travel to the eastern provinces in the next couple years.
Provincial parks have great websites for viewing your actual site which can be reserved in advance. Here is a link to the Ontario one we frequently use : http://www.ontarioparks.com/english/index.html
9. Favorite camping spots?
Algonquin Provincial Park
The Pinery Provincial Park
Inverhuron Provincial Park
Sauble Falls Provincial Park
10. What’s your number one advice for anyone thinking of rv’ing?
Educate yourself on how all of the systems on your trailer work and what condition they are in. There is a pile of information available on Internet forums, do some research before you jump right in.
*please & thank you* link back to us if you re-post something you see here.
Another great home-on-wheels tour… with a vintage airstream and a couple doing it all with 2 kids and the dogs, a true family adventure. Nicki gives a run down of what life on the road with kiddos is like, the challenges, the busy schedules and home-schooling to boot. They have tons of good advice and many of her points resonated with us as well. Things like… it is not a full-time vacation (read all about that here), don’t schedule too many things in advance because you will end up missing things, you cannot see everything in every place unless you stay awhile, laundry takes planning (although I can’t imagine planning for four) and people really don’t care about your rig that much.. we too thought lots would be interested, not so much. Some Airstream enthusiasts were, but we almost never saw another Airstream. Instead people saw us as.. the really young couple on the road. (;
1. What made you decide to go full-time in an RV?
It was a natural progression. We have moved every two years since 2005, when summer 2011 rolled around we knew we were moving and didn’t know exactly where we wanted to go. We’d already made the decision to try out homeschooling our kids, we were renting a house, Shawn works from home, and we already had an Airstream. We didn’t really have any major obstacles to hitting the road. Somehow along the way moving to a sticks and bricks house changed into moving into our Airstream. I’m not sure we ever had a “Hey, let’s hit the road and full time” moment. It was more, the opportunity was there so let’s take an extended trip and see how long it lasts.
2. What were the greatest challenges of packing and preparing your whole family (kiddos & dogs) for a life on wheels?
I know most people would say getting rid of stuff and deciding what to take. Since we moved so often we didn’t have as much extra “stuff” as most people. I do remember it took Shawn several days to get the bed of the truck situated. He had to figure out how to fit two dog crates, two blue boys, four bikes and a storage bin in the back of the truck. (We now have a bike rack for the kids bikes)
The kids had a hard time imagining how life would work on the road, they weren’t crazy about leaving the familiarity of life in our neighborhood. I think it might have been easier had we been moving to another sticks and bricks house. I think they feared the unknown of RV life.
The loss of bedroom space was another issue for them. We’d always allowed them a large amount of freedom with decorating their rooms. Suddenly all of that was going away. We found little ways to combat this, they got to bring their bedding from home instead of me picking something that matched the trailers decor and small cork boards on the walls throughout the trailer allow them to decorate and create a little bit of “their space”. They, naturally, had a bit of a problem picking out which toys to take.
3. What have you found hardest to have left behind?
The superficial answer, for me, would be putting my Treadle sewing machines in storage and not being able to use them. Shawn misses having a place to work on the trailer, there is no longer any way to make cosmetic changes without inconveniencing the entire family. On a deeper level, I think the entire family would say leaving Memaw.
At this point, adult friends that we have from previous residences are already accustomed to email and phone contact. I do sometimes miss what I call the incidental daily contact. The people you’d always talk to in line waiting to pick up your kids, the bank, the grocery store, etc. or the occasional invite for coffee. What I found about life on the road is that you are always being asked to tell your story to someone new, you rarely run into anyone who already knows it.
4. How long have you been on the road? and do you have a schedule?
We officially left on May 29, 2011. As of now, 18 weeks in, we are still “newbies”. We started out with a hard schedule, due to mother nature it changed often. A flooding Missouri River and triple digits temps changed all that. Now we have a tentative and flexible schedule. We have a date we need to be somewhere but adjust our stops as needed or desired.
5. What made you choose a vintage Airstream?
When we originally bought Minerva we had no intention of hitting the road indefinitely. We were to be weekend and vacation warriors. Although I was longing for an Airstream, Shawn wasn’t as sure. So, we checked out all of the options in the travel trailer market except Airstream. Keeping in mind, although we had an Airstream Certified Service Center, there were no Airstream dealers in Oklahoma.
We had very specific needs and wants. Shawn did not want any slides. We wanted room to take our dogs with us. It needed to be affordable, we didn’t want a note on a trailer when it something we had never done. I wanted one that wouldn’t give me a headache from the “new RV” smell. Basically, we wanted to test the waters first. We started looking on Craigslist, and to my delight, Airstreams were the only ones that appealed to us in the used market. There was a nostalgic feeling looking at those 70′s interiors. It reminds me of that period in childhood when life had no apparent problems. Shawn just fell in love. He also likes that, except for a few things, he can do most of the repairs himself. Resale value and lack of depreciation were a plus as well.
Shawn says “Because they are cool”. There is also a community already in place to welcome & help you.
6. What do you know now that you wish you had known before you got started?
Flexible Schedules. Don’t promise to make birthday parties, holidays, etc as it can cause you to rush around and miss many great things.
Heat – Vintage (un-renovated) Airstreams, even with a new A/C, aren’t exactly good in full sun on days that reach 113.
Local Conditions – Check the local news for stops on your destination. We had an entire week spent in North Platte, NB for Nebraska Days where everything we had planned on doing was canceled due to flooding. We couldn’t get to our campground in Nebraska City due to the flooding in Missouri as well.
Bike Rack – We should have just spent the money in the beginning instead of waiting till we got to Montana. It would have saved us a lot of aggravation.
Laundry – Most people take for granted the ability to throw a load in the washer. Although you can usually do all of your laundry at one time on the road, it does take some planning. With the limited amount of storage I have for dirty clothes and the number of people we having creating dirty clothes, I do laundry roughly every 2.5-3.5 days. I have to consider if I want to do it before we travel, after we arrive at a new destination, will I be able to do it at the campsite or will I have to go to a laundromat, and do I have enough cash to exchange for quarters. What I’m trying to say is that laundry is no longer a chore of opportunity since I will be gone from the trailer for 2.5-3.5 hours depending on the dryer’s efficiency and the items to be laundered. It also depends on Shawn’s work schedule and any planned activities. For most full-timers laundry is a once a week activity but not for us.
7. How are the kids adapting to full time travel?
They miss their grandparents and occasionally will mention something they’d like to have when we have a “real” house again. As for now they are enjoying it and still look forward to doing it. We do ask them regularly how they feel about it.
As for the homeschooling, it has good and bad days. They like that school is often over after lunch. They like the freedom it allows them. I like that I can easily spot when they are having a problem with something and either Shawn or I can give them the one on one time to figure it out.
We have seen their imaginations flourish. They can’t wait to get outside and play. It is a joy to see them in the dirt playing with their toys and using their imaginations to entertain themselves. Things they took for granted in a stick house have become privileges on the road. The wii is for rainy or 95 plus degree days, we can’t even remember the last time we got the wii out. Television has become limited to rainy days or true family time with the kids. We have, at their request, family game night about once a week. We do allow them a movie in the truck on travel days.
8. What is a “typical” day like for everyone?
(Mornings must go a certain way or everything is off about the day.)
The blasted phone alarm goes off. Shawn is up first. Unless work intrudes, he takes the dogs out for the first walk of the day, makes the coffee (he is proprietary about the coffee machine…the kitchen really). While he’s out with the dogs, we get ready and unmake beds. Finally when everyone is back in the trailer, the dogs get moved into the bedroom hallway.
Now that everything is settled into daytime mode-
We have breakfast then schools starts. Work for Shawn may or may not have already started depending on his schedule.
Dog walk/School break (usually mid morning)
Lunch – at lunch we figure out what’s left to do for school
After school is done I pack away school stuff/figure out what I need for tomorrows school. Kids play until Shawn gets off work, and after work can be relaxation, errands, or an activity
Getting ready for bed/ house cleaning.
While the kids are getting ready for bed I remake their beds for them and dogs get moved to the front of the trailer and fed dinner
After an hour, the dogs get another walk.
Friday is packing day and not a school day. Shawn’s schedule remains the same but for the kids and I this is a free day… unless something from school was unfinished. For me this is a last chance to do laundry before moving and packing away things after we have finished with them for the day. By the end of the day we try to have the television stowed away, the stabilizers raised, the water hose unhooked, bikes back on the roof rack and anything else needed to ensure we get off to an early start the next day. We aim to start hitching up on Saturday as soon as quiet hours end.
Saturday is travel day. Sunday is free day. We use this day to visit the major local attractions.
9. Best advice you would give other families considering following in your footsteps?
Research. Even if you love the first RV you step into, look at them all. Really think about how you will use the space. This will be your home.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This can apply to so many things in full time life. Maybe I this should monogram it on a pillow or hang it on the wall. (joking)
Make small trips in your RV first, then a few bigger trips.
You won’t need half of what you think you do.
Fully weigh what you will be experiencing against what you will be leaving behind. If you can’t go a month without visiting your family, 3 months will be depressing and 6 months will excruciating.
Things that look okay on paper might not translate well to life, like traveling 350-400 miles a weekend. It is doable but exhausting when you have to get up the next day to work or teach.
This will be your “normal” life. If you are working and teaching on the road, you are NOT on vacation most of the time. We are working/teaching full-timers. There just isn’t a way to see everything at one place at one time without staying there for weeks or months. There will be many places where you just skim the surface. We look upon this as a reason to return.
We would recommend getting an honest to goodness mail service. Check out the other benefits to joining mail services companies. The one we use has heavily discounted parks.
Once on the road you need to be careful of what you buy. There is a common RV’ers rule for this “For everything that comes in, something of equal size must go out.” Our souvenirs are postcards stored in a photo album.
You will be in somewhat of a social bubble. Most of the older full-timers will tell you what a wonderful thing you are doing and how they wished they had done it. However those of our generation look at us in disbelief.
Have patience. Everyone will feel the need to express an opinion on your life. Take the good to heart and let the rest go.
It is easy to get out of touch with the rest of the world. We are not as aware of global events as we once were.
10. What has life on the road taught you?
More about my kids personality than I would ever have known before.
There is no escape from problems… deal with them head on. Annoyance in a house is not such a big deal, something that bothers you in a 27×8 foot trailer is a different matter.
Sometimes you just have to stop moving and rest.
Certain time zones stink.
When we left we thought it would be the Vintage Airstream that got the attention. Most people don’t really care about your rig… except other Airstreamers. Mostly we have become known as -
The people with the big dog.
The people with the big dog in the small trailer (I’d say 90% of full-timers are in 5th wheels or motorhomes).
Occasionally we are known as the people with the big dog in the small trailer with the kids.
Listen to your elders. Some of these retired full-timers have been out there for 20 plus years. Many of them have great suggestions for places to visit. Most are willing to help with problems.
How much we enjoy going to National Parks/Monuments and taking a Ranger led tour, a family favorite.
Trying to maintain 3 blogs while teaching two kids just isn’t feasible. (Nicki)
Speak up when you need personal time. I can’t stress this enough. Shawn, the kids, and I rarely require time apart but due to the space allowed us, when we do need it, we have to speak up for it.
When repairs are started it is critical to get it done as it effects the entire trailer. A water leak, for instance, shuts down the water for the whole family. Consider the problem thoroughly before starting… is it critical or just inconvenient?
The regular things you take for granted like hair cuts, doctors visits, exchanging items from storage, the availability of RV toilet paper can effect your travel schedule.
Adjusting to the lack of “I have to be here at this time to pick up the kids. I have to take the kids to soccer, swim, baseball….etc”
Adjusting to the refrigerator size when trying to grocery shop for a family of four.
Thanks for sharing photos of your 1971 Airstream International and special thanks to Nicki for taking time out of your (very!) busy schedule to do the Q&A! Want to see more home-on-wheels tours? go here.
*please & thank you* link back to us if you re-post something you see here.