Archives For Airstream

After all of the mountain living and quaint seashore towns, it was time to move on to the big cities. The big cities presented a major operational obstacle as we tried to figure out how we could get close enough to visit and still sleep in our camper. Just to make it fun, we started with some of the biggest and most complicated cities on the east coast: Boston and NYC.

Boston was the first big city on our list after leaving Maine. As we had discovered through the northeast, we are at the butt end of camping season and many of the RV resorts shut down between Columbus Day and the end of October… but there’s always a few remaining.

To search for campsites, we use the app “All Stays”, the most popular app in the camper world and provides lots of information on places to stay (including Wal-Marts and Cracker Barrels). The majority of Jocelyn’s time while I drive is spent searching through the app for our next stay even though it is quite inaccurate.

We found a place just outside of Boston that’s open all year and just happens to be one of the top-rated RV resorts in the world… at least according to them (Normandy Farms). We’ve always been somewhat against these fancy places with the “campers” who have a satellite dish and a big screen T.V. However, we quickly jumped on the bandwagon after we spent some time in their indoor pool and hot tub! It even included a dog park, baseball fields and a recreational lodge and provided a nice break from roughing it the previous month. I guess we’re glampers now.

The train station was close, so we hopped on and explored Boston for the day. We stuck to the main tourist track, the Freedom Trail, as we explored the city and the uprising of the pesky American colonists (said with a British accent). It was pretty clear to Britain and France from the beginning that North America was going to turn into a huge opportunity, and both of them tried their best to strategically command it. In the end, it just became too powerful too quickly and (we) were able to break away from the competing empires.

Between Boston and NYC we spent a weekend in Rhode Island where we took up another offer to stay with a friend (be careful what you offer to us, we might just take you up on it!). We stayed with one of my former bosses and mentors from Accenture for two days as he toured us around the smallest but significant state of Rhode Island. We loved Newport and touring the mansions of industrial titans who competed for the most impressive estate (Vanderbilt won).

After Rhode Island, we stayed a free night at a casino in Connecticut where we once again lost more in gambling than we saved by staying for “free”. It did give us a chance to explore Connecticut which we wouldn’t have done otherwise and from what we saw, it’s another beautiful state with rolling hills/mountains and picturesque waterside towns.

Next, it was on to New York City. As we headed to our first destination on Long Island, we headed down one of the major highways but didn’t take the “passenger cars only” sign serious enough as we drove Penny Lane through traffic… after all, we were driving a passenger car! However, things got pretty serious when we started seeing the “low clearance” signs on the upcoming bridges and did a quick visual assessment before moving to the middle lane where the bridge was higher. Cleared it. As we drove farther, the situation became more dire as the bridges got shorter (seriously people, when were these built?!). We “decided” to exit after two cars honked and motioned to exit before the next bridge – something about the panic on their faces told me Penny Lane was about to get a haircut… but luckily we got off the highway before we tested it.

We spent two nights on Long Island and headed out to the Hamptons for one of the days. First off, we didn’t know Long Island was so long (name should’ve given it away) and secondly, it was fun to visit the Hamptons and see the newer location of “who can build the biggest mansion”.

Now, it was off to the Big Apple – New York City. Jocelyn found a RV park with “views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty”. To get there, we had to drive from Long Island, through Brooklyn and on to Jersey City. Once again, we ran into the short bridge issue. This meant I got to drive Penny Lane through Brooklyn. Need I say more… okay, sure, I aim to entertain. Imagine driving through New York City streets with crazy cab drivers, pedestrians everywhere and confusing streets. Now think about me trying to do it with a 20ft camper on the back.. and add in some rain!! I reverted to my Dallas driving – very aggressive – as I quickly darted from lane to lane to avoid getting stuck behind a turning car or missing my own turn. I think Jocelyn got to the point of closing her eyes, but she did a good job of guiding me through! It was pretty dang crazy and hopefully the hardest of my driving (until I get to the mountains at least).

This is what driving through Brooklyn with a camper looks like!!

This is what driving through Brooklyn with a camper looks like!!

Oh yea, and the RV resort did actually have views of the Jersey skyline and the Statue of Liberty! It was so cool to walk Lucy over to Liberty State Park with great views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Sure it was twice as expensive of any place we had previously stayed at $90/night, but it was five blocks from the metro station and a quick ride to Manhattan! We spent four nights – even though it broke the bank – just because the location was incredible and obviously there’s so much to see in NYC. The majority of our time was spent sight seeiing the most famous and touristy sites and we were able to catch up with some friends as well.

Although challenging with the logistics, I’m glad we still made it to the big East Coast cities. It gave us a chance to explore without spending big bucks on a “regular vacation” where we’d stay in hotels and eat at restaurants all of the time… instead we slept in Penny Lane and brought sandwiches whenever possible!

Through Martha's Vineyard and Boston

Through Martha’s Vineyard and Boston

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Some of Jocelyn’s great pictures in Central Park – NYC

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More pictures throughout NYC

Only until the recent centuries, humans have been driven by the seasons. This was especially true in nomadic societies where their survival was highly dependent on being at the right place at the right time. Even agrarian societies with permanent homes had to plan their lives around the seasons as the spring, summer and fall months were mostly spent preparing for winter.

Now, we just don’t give a dang. The biggest chores for winter preparation usually entail pulling out the winter sweaters from the spare closet and deciding if turtle necks are in or out (have they ever been in?). We’ve harnessed and nearly controlled mother nature to the point where reaction is only required if a major storm brings the chance of a snow flurry which will shut down a city like Atlanta or Dallas.

This isn’t as true in the north, where winters get much more serious and require preparation. We’ve learned this pretty quickly as our slight delay got us to the northeast a little later than planned and while it’s 85 degrees in Dallas, we’ve already dealt with freezing temperatures multiple times up here!

It started in the Adirondacks where temperatures dipped below freezing a few nights in a row so we decided to push on to the northeast. This propelled us into our next state: Vermont.

Vermont is for lovers or Vermont is for Vegans.. or Vermont is for Bernie Sanders? One of those saying is the correct one, but all three are partially correct. Our expectations were pretty high after leaving the Adirondacks and previously hearing how great Burlington, VT is from my brother/sister in law… and Vermont delivered!

We spent a few days around the Burlington area before heading over to the Ben and Jerry’s factory and exploring the quaint ski town of Stowe. Burlington is a cool city, full of guys who roll up their jeans, have well-crafted facial hair and man-buns. I say that in the most positive of lights. It lies right on the coast of beautiful Lake Champlain with a great city center sandwiched by the lake and the University of Vermont. Church Street offers 5-6 blocks of a pedestrian only street full of cute shops and eateries.

I found crepes in Vermont!

I found crepes in Burlington!

The Tonight Dough - straight from the Ben and Jerry's factory!

The Tonight Dough – straight from the Ben and Jerry’s factory!

After our quick tour through Ben and Jerry’s where we ate ice cream before lunch (Jocelyn had “The Tonight Dough” – which is one of the most incredible things ever), we headed to New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is one of those states I never thought I’d visit… not because I wasn’t interested, more so because I never really knew where it was on the map! Have you ever heard of the White Mountains- aka, the Presidential Range? I never had, and dang, they’re legit mountains!

After doing some research, we learned there was a lot to do here. Jocelyn has tendency to search for the “best” hike (and best restaurant and best meal and best tour and best… you get the point) and found a nice 9-miler up Mt. Washington. It was a pretty intimidating hike considering they claim “the worst weather in the world” at the top, so I wasn’t upset when we chose the third highest instead, Mt. Jefferson.

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As we began the ascent, we were feeling pretty good, although Lucy was moving pretty slowly from the big hike the day before. We headed up the mountain and things started getting steep… like too steep for Lucy to climb up. I gave her a lift up a few tall rocks which is challenging considering she’s 75 lbs.

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And they got steeper from there… to the point where we had to make the decision not to go any farther. It was pretty disappointing as this was the first mountain we’ve had to turn around before the top, but it was better to make that decision than to regret going too far and injuring one of us.

We spent our remaining days exploring around the White Mountains and checking out the “To Do’s”. The Mt. Washington Resort is deservedly one of those. Not only is it a beautiful resort with a great view of Mt. Washington, but it’s also very historical and the site where the Bretton Woods Agreement was signed! I had to look it up to remember what exactly it was – an agreement signed after WWII to create the International Monetary Fund (IMF)! Finance nerds like me love that kind of stuff.

Here's a great family photo from a hike we need around Crawford Notch in the White Mountains, NH

Here’s a “family photo” from a hike we need around Crawford Notch in the White Mountains, NH

We were having a great time exploring the mountains, but the weather was quickly changing. It was already cool, but in the days ahead, snow was forecasted multiple days in a row, so we were forced to move on to the coast.

For the improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of man’s existence – Thoreau

Our existence has always been dependent on respecting mother nature and adapting around her to survive. However, lately we’ve let coffee shops, fully heated homes, smart wool and 4×4’s outwit our essential laws and we think we’ve become more powerful. Our trip has reconnected us to the rhythms of nature and reminded us we live within it and not the other way around.

I realized this some when I was working in St. Louis quite a few years back and my only outside time was between the hotel and the office – six blocks apart. I’d get up in the morning, quickly walk to the hotel because it was cold, and usually return the say way in the evening. I was probably reading Walden Pond at the time which made my lack of natural living seem even worse, but it saddened me greatly to think of how disconnected with nature I’d become.

It was then I remembered a passage from a previous book I read that said you should allow yourself to be in awe of nature every day. So I gave it a try, I purposely found natural elements around me to be in awe of… like the beautifully setting sun, the tree bearing her bright red fall colors or the mighty Mississippi river flowing like it has for Millennia. I would look at it and force myself to be in awe… and soon it became more natural.

It’s much easier to be in awe of nature now as we’re purposefully surrounding ourselves with the most beautiful nature we can find… but it’s probably most important to be in awe of nature when you’re instead surrounded by concrete and metal.

What day is today? That’s quickly becoming the most common question between Jocelyn and me. When we did our first trip around the world, we kept in pretty good touch with time because we were always jumping on flights or checking into hotels. This is different though because Penny Lane is always open and most campsites don’t require reservations this time of the year.

It’s much different than how my time was dictated a little over four months ago before I quit my job. It felt like the next week started before I even got through the end of the day on Friday. My team was stretched across the world so it wasn’t uncommon to have a meeting Sunday evening with Asia, and it was quite common to have lingering stress from the week before or the upcoming week haunt my weekends.

My Monday mornings usually started promptly at 8am with a conference call with my team in Europe or across the states. It really saddened me to make my team in California join calls at the same time, which was 6am their time, or team members from Singapore join at 9pm their time. The day would usually continue with 8-10 hours of conference calls through 6pm as we worked hard to improve our website and keep it running. The next day would come in go with similar routines but more evening calls. I get tense just thinking about it.

But I know your day is probably similar. Even if you don’t have a full time job, the kids can be even more challenging as you prepare them for the day or prepare to be with them all day. Life ain’t easy.

Back to my new reality. It’s not the fantasy many people might think where stress has to be hunted down because it’s so uncommon, but it also won’t push me to an anxiety attack like my job did. Our new problems quickly simplify to the basics of human survival. Where are we going to stay tonight? Where can we find a clean bathroom? Where can we find water for our camper? Where exactly is that smell coming from?

The first full week on the road added the stress of not knowing how our car would perform after it broke down the week before and needed a new transfer case. Yes, it’s very questionable to pull a camper with a car that has 197k miles on it, but it’s almost incomprehensible to buy a new $30k truck when neither of us have jobs… it definitely doesn’t agree with the 20% rule for car affordability. So we packed up the repaired car, hooked up the camper, and went for it.

We left Kentucky on a Monday morning and drove straight to the Airstream Factory in Jackson Center, Ohio. This is where Penny Lane was born! Almost fifty years ago she rolled off the same assembly line that’s currently producing 18 Airstreams per day that are sent out across the US and the world. It was fascinating watching the factory workers build the Airstreams from scratch and mostly assemble them by hand. They were probably creeped out when I smiled at them fondly as I thought about the previous three months of full time work we put into renovating our Airstream.

We opted out of staying at the factory which actually had camping sites for people who stayed for service work, and instead continued up the road through Ohio so we could make it to Niagra Falls the next day. We stayed outside of Mt. Gilead in Ohio, and believe it or not, it was only our second night stay in the Airstream even though we had left Dallas nearly four weeks earlier.

We woke up the next morning, packed up and started the long drive to Niagra Falls. One thing we’ve learned is we can turn a three hour drive into a full day tour when pulling the Airstream. It’s a combination of stopping more because we get 10-12 mpg, and going slower… so we can go from 10 to 12 miles per gallon! We also make some stops along the way, which usually involve an hour stopover at the local Walmart.

Jocelyn is the navigator and researcher on the trip, and I’m the driver. She works hard to find economical campsites but also puts us in the place to see what we need to see. In Niagra Falls, she found a casino where we could stay for free! We pulled in around 6pm and made a quick hike to the falls to catch the sun setting. Afterwards, we stopped at the casino because they were so generous to let us stay there for free, and proceeded to lose about $40 gambling. Dang it, there goes the free night!

Sun setting over Niagra Falls - view from the US side

Sun setting over Niagra Falls – view from the US side

Free stay at the Seneca Casino!

Free stay at the Seneca Casino!

The next day we had a pretty drive along Lake Ontario as we discovered New York is a big state. We stayed outside Rochester for a quick night and met some fellow vintage trailer-ers in a 1962 Avion. They were total hippies – like the real hippies from the 1970’s. We’ve learned that if we’re going to make any friends at campsites, it’ll have to be with 60-70 year-olds as they’re the only ones out RV’ing!

Our final nights in New York were spent in the Adirondacks. Doesn’t that sound fancy? They must have really good marketing people because for me it conjured up images of wealthy New Yorkers fleeing the peasants for the weekend – the weekend they weren’t going to spend in the Hamptons, of course. I have to say though, I was impressed with the Adirondacks! We stayed at the beautiful Fish Pond Creek campground which was more of a lake than a pond, and was draped with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows from the changing leaves. This was why we came to the northeast first instead of our beloved southwest.

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Sunrise view from our campsite in the Adirondacks

We did a nice hike the next day to a stunning vista with 360 degree views over the most impressive leaves I’ve ever seen. Growing up in Oklahoma, the leaves typically went from green to brown as summer ended in drought or the cold came too quickly to let the leaves show off. But these leaves…my gosh, it was like the countryside was on fire. It was then I looked down at my watch and realized it was Friday afternoon… and I didn’t have any meetings on my calendar and wouldn’t have any on Monday either. That’s why we did this trip.

View from the top of Ampersand Mountain in the Adirondacks

View from the top of Ampersand Mountain in the Adirondacks

It costs more than you think… that’s usually the answer I’ll give to anyone who asks how much it costs to renovate a vintage Airstream. Just like any home renovation, there are lots of surprises and challenges you’ll face along the way.

The value of a vintage Airstream is a little counter-intuitive as the older and smaller they are, the more expensive they can be to purchase. I spent a few months searching around on Craigslist, eBay and Airstream Classifieds and found it to be true. The 1950’s and 1960’s trailers in the 18-22ft range are usually right in the sweet spot and that’s why I got excited when I found a 1966 Airstream Globetrotter 20ft trailer for $7,000.

We drove two hours to Palestine, Texas to take a look at it, but we already had the cash in hand as I was pretty confident it was a good deal (and I’m impulsive). The sellers had owned it for over 25 years, and while not at all updated and not too clean, the bones were still in pretty good shape. I had no idea what I was doing besides what I researched to look for when buying an old Airstream, but I didn’t let it stop me from a $6,000 cash offer which they happily accepted. That’s when “Penny Lane” became our trailer.

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Time to renovate

My original estimate on our Airstream renovation was around $6,000, which would double our purchase price and leave us with $12,000 total invested. I was wrong.

I knew we’d have to replace all of the mechanicals, but didn’t realize how much everything would cost. The only thing we really kept were the oven and the original cabinets, but we spent a lot of time painting and redoing the cabinets. You can find the full renovation story here.

Our current Airstream renovation costs are $12,057, which more than double our original purchase price and gets us to $18,057 invested in Penny Lane. The cost overruns came from a combination of big things costing more than I expected ($1,100 to install the AC) and many, many small purchases I didn’t think about. The tile for our bathroom remodel alone was over $900 when including the silicone caulk and grout. There were too many trips to Home Depot and visits from the Amazon ferry to keep up with, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re remodeling a tiny house.

Here’s an overview of our costs by category:

Here's an overview of our total renovation costs

The biggest costs were the new appliances and new plumbing systems (all new tanks), but the surprising large category was “Interior” which became a catch all for many things like new lights, countertops, supplies and many other things. We did all of the work ourselves except install the axle and air conditioner, so it would have been much higher if this was totally outsourced… I’m thinking in the range of $15k-$25k total. Just remember, I worked on it full time for nearly three months and still didn’t have it fully ready.

The last big thing we have left is to polish the exterior. I’ve spent approximately 20hrs so far, but total I’ll probably spent over 200 hrs. From what I’ve researched, estimates for professional polishing can easily top $10,000.

In the end, I’m excited about our end product and very proud of our work. It will be our home as we travel around the country over the next year, and I’m glad we were able to make it as nice as we were. I’m not sure if I’d ever do it again or recommend anyone else to do it unless they’re a little bit crazy, but it was worth it!

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I’m sure you know the whole story by now, but if not, let me catch you up. In May, we bought a 20ft 1966 Airstream Globetrotter to renovate and have been working on it since. I quit my job back in June and my wife quit in early August so we could go full time to have it ready for a trip starting in September. You’ve probably seen some of the updates along the way, but let me do a full run down of where we stand today.

The good news – the interior of the Airstream is pretty much complete! It will be one of those projects that we can work on forever, but at least we have it to a final enough state to use. It’s been a hell of a project, and if you’re thinking about renovating an Airstream yourself, call me first!! It’s very challenging and requires a combination of mechanical, plumbing, electrical, cabinetry, painting, bug removal, window cleaning, polishing, carpentry, begging friends and relatives to help, and having some experts on call! But besides that, it was easy :).

The bad news – the exterior has a lot of work remaining. They estimate 8 hrs per each linear foot to complete the polishing, but I’m probably only 30 hrs in. I’ve completed most of the clean up, but I have a lot of buffing ahead of me. I’ll add a picture of the exterior on the bottom as I’m not as proud of it yet.

A huge thanks to everyone who has helped and supported us along the way… especially to my wife who deals with my crazy whims and supports my decisions; even if they’re sometimes bad! My parents and mother in law were hugely instrumental and helping us. Without their help (expertise, craftsmanship, sewing, organizing, setting up) we wouldn’t have made it. Also, a big thanks to my cousins Mike and Maggie who spent a couple of days with us and Jocelyn’s Uncle and Aunt who have supported us and allowed us to store stuff at their house again!

In an upcoming post, I’ll give some more details on our travel plans. We’re pretty much ready to start, but we’re working through our house decision (sale vs lease). The Dallas market is incredibly hot for leases, so we’ll probably go that direction. After we get that figured out, we’ll head to Kentucky to hang out with our niece/nephew and then move up to see other friends in the upper Midwest and on to the Northeast, hopefully to catch the leaves changing and meet up with more friends!

The pictures are pretty much in chronological order, but hopefully you can tell what’s old and what’s new :). Enjoy!

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