After years of tenting, owning an Airstream trailer means a new identity
In 2020, with the closure of an art studio I had operated from downtown Palmer, I began dreaming of building and operating a mobile art studio. The idea was to take the mobile studio straight to beautiful outdoor locations and paint, meeting people along the way. I settled on an Airstream as my trailer of choice and set to work designing and financing it.
What I understood on paper but didn’t realize in reality was that this vision required me to own and operate a trailer.
Several months after pickup, I had a casual happy hour chat with friends eager to hear all the details. They asked me questions about the make, model, interior design, and I easily answered the questions based on the detailed mockups I had studied. But then they started to be more specific in their line of questioning. When they learned that I had never set foot in an Airstream, they didn’t disguise the alarm in their face fast enough for it to go unnoticed. I continued the conversation, still confident in my idea.
It occurred to me that I should probably learn to drive a trailer before picking up mine in Ohio and driving it back to Alaska. With the help of friends, I succeeded.
Yet, what I wasn’t prepared for is that I’m now a tow truck.
I’m someone who grew up as a tent, starting with the comically giant two-piece tent my dad bought our family in the 90s, which took two hours to set up, and eventually a REI tent three seasons that has now seen better days. I even own a used all-weather tent right now! With a vestibule for cold weather!
I believe I’ve set foot in two motorhomes, tops, let alone camped in one.
So far, that is. Now I own a trailer. I tow it, back it up, straighten it, empty it, fill it, hitch it up, store it, winterize it, etc.
I remember meeting a guy at a dump station in Tonopah, Nevada last year. He had this coiled tube from his trailer secured to a hole in the concrete floor, which I now recognize as the inglorious process of “dumping”. His trailer was so big it blocked out the sun.
“Money pit,” he said, as my husband and I filled our dollar store rinky-dink bought jugs of water from the station’s drinking water tap — back when we were doing a van life demo to see if it was actually something we enjoyed; spoiler, we did it. “It’s endless. Fixing, filling, all maintenance.
Even back then, with the Airstream on the horizon, I vaguely wondered: is this really something I want? Do I also want to lug around a giant house on wheels and dump stations at the source, where I have to hook up a gnarly hose and dump the sewage from my rig into the ground? I never really let myself finish the thought, as I was already sold on my concept, but it was just hovering below the surface.
Here’s the thing: Yes, this trailer is a lot of work. There are things that nobody told me, like if somehow I would need to become a reverse magician to the point of aligning the hitch of the truck with the trailer with great precision. How is that a thing that humans are supposed to do? ! There is also the dumping of black and gray water, which is just as disgusting as I suspected.
But it’s also incredibly comfortable and comforting. I’m basically indoors and outdoors at the same time, two of my favorite places separated by one very thin wall. If I’m tired from the sun or it’s raining, I can walk into the trailer and open the windows for a breeze and a view while enjoying a couch and respite from the elements. I can eat my dinner with a sunset view.
Unlike camping, if I have noisy neighbors at a campsite, I can opt out. The fan inside makes noise. If it’s raining, I’m not as worried about a puddle forming where I sleep.
I always look around, at the inevitable caravan parks I end up in for their readily available hookups, dump station, Wi-Fi and laundry, and marvel that I am now also a caravan and not exclusively a tent camper. It’s a fun identity to try out, probably because I somehow imagined myself sturdier and therefore above everyone else in their fancier, sturdier rigs.
I will always go tent and backpack camping.
But I love this trailer. I love the different experience that comes with being outside with her in tow. I am open and embracing this new part of my identity, which surprised me in pursuit of my dream.