Meet Nellie

I am very happy to announce that Spencer and I finally purchased an Airstream. I know it doesn’t seem like very long to all of you, but I’ve been desperately searching Craigslist for almost a year and (admittedly) getting way too emotional when one I wanted was sold or didn’t work out.

My routine was to check Craigslist, Ebay, and Airstream Classifieds, but I would (in desperate moments) deviate from that routine and check other sites. During one of these frantic internet searches, I discovered a vintage Airstream being sold by Happy Trails USA RV Supercenter in Texas, which was odd. You don’t often find 40-year-old trailers being sold by RV centers. The cut off date seems to be late 90’s, if that.

The RV Center was very eager to get rid of the Airstream. I speculate they acquired her in a trade-in and did not know how to handle a vintage trailer. After all, they didn’t even have an asking price; they were just looking for offers. Apparently, she’d  been sitting in a barn for the last ten years, so they wouldn’t guarantee any of the systems or even the tires. You could tell from the photographs that they hadn’t bothered cleaning the trailer either.

But, it was perfect for us. We had no interest in a clean trailer or even one with functioning appliances. We’re going to rip all of that out anyway. We were looking for good bones and this trailer had them.

Of course though, Spencer and I were both nervous about purchasing a trailer we couldn’t see ourselves. We had concerns about leaks, the condition of the floor, etc. But, the RV Center provided extensive, detailed photographs and answered all our questions.  Plus, a very nice man I solicited over Airforms volunteered to inspect the trailer. Armed with this knowledge and a rough shipping quote from Uship.com, we decided to take the plunge.

We purchased her just before Thanksgiving and she arrived this past week. Overall, our experience with the RV Center, Airforms inspectors, and the shipping service was great. After our initial tour around the Airstream, we didn’t find anything to trigger buyer’s remorse.

So, I’d like to introduce you to Nellie.

She’s a 31′ 1976 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht with a side bath and rear bedroom, which is exactly what we wanted, but that’s another post.

She’s named after Nellie Bly, who was a journalist and explorer in the 1800’s. Nellie Bly is one of my absolute  favorite historic heroines–a list which also includes Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War spy. When deciding what to name the trailer, Nellie seemed more than appropriate because Ms. Bly is most famous for her record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe. Her trip emulated the fictional journey of Phileas Fogg from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. She wrote a series of newspaper pieces for New York World chronicling the 72-day trip, which I read in 11th grade.

So, not only did Nellie bet Fogg by eight days, but she also did it as an unaccompanied woman, which was unheard of at the time.

“It is impossible for you to do it,” was the terrible verdict. “In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector, and even if it were possible for you to travel alone you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes. Besides you speak nothing but English, so there is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this.”

“Very well,” I said angrily, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.”

Around the World in 72 Days by Nellie Bly

She also launched investigative journalism with her series of pieces Ten Days in a Mad-House, in which she went undercover and exposed the mistreatment and abuse of asylum patients, leading to one of my favorite quotes of all time.

“Could I pass a week in the insane ward at Blackwell’s Island? I said I could and I would. And I did.”

Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

After I rambled on about all this, Spencer agreed with me. Or at least he pretended to. Either way, we now own an Airstream named Nellie.

She’s a little rough around the edges. A little battered and tired. A little dirty. But she has plenty of potential and I’m really excited to share our experience renovating her with you.

Now I just have to figure out how to spell the words Land Yacht and Sovereign without spell-check.

So, here’s to new adventures and historic heroines!

4 Reasons to Live in an Airstream

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It’s official. I’m moving in with my boyfriend of five years. But, of course, I can never do anything normally. Instead of renting an apartment, we’ve chosen to renovate an Airstream trailer and travel the country.

This journey began last January when I discovered the tiny house movement on my Pinterest while apartment searching. The social movement aims to downsize and minimize our capitalistic lives. I immediately fell in love. In case you haven’t heard about the craze or seen the television shows, tiny houses are homes under 500 square feet. They can be apartments, traditional homes, shipping containers, bus conversions, RVs, travel trailers, cabins on skids, or even stick-built houses on trailers (THOWs). The possibilities are endless! I was particularly fascinated by the latter. If we had a THOW, we could bring our house with us while working in National Parks.

Despite my initial fascination with THOWs, Spencer and I decided that renovating an Airstream would be the best choice for us. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, HERE ARE OUR TOP FOUR REASONS WHY WE’LL BE RENOVATING AN AIRSTREAM INSTEAD OF BUILDING A TINY HOUSE.

 

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#1: MOBILITY

Our biggest reason for going tiny is mobility. Our current intention is to travel the country working at parks as either seasonal rangers or camp hosts. We’ll likely be moving around every six months and so we need to be mobile. When looking at apartments back in January, this was my main concern with renting a space. As a couple traveling together, there is no way we could move the entire contents of our apartment every six months like some seasonal rangers do. A THOW would allow us to take both our possessions and our home with us wherever we wander.

But my dad pointed out the challenges of moving frequently with a THOW. Since most THOWs are stick-built like a traditional house, they are significantly heavier than other travel trailers. Tiny houses on wheels can easily exceed 10,000 lbs, which requires a one ton truck to tow. THOWs also employ traditional roofs, which are less aerodynamic, ultimately leading to lower gas mileage. While THOWs are great for skirting housing regulations, they aren’t as practical for frequent travel as travel trailers.

I initially resisted the idea of a traditional travel trailer though, partly because (while more practical for frequent travel) they aren’t built for long term usage. However, this is primarily an issue with newer trailers; older trailers like the original aluminum type were built to be more durable. Due to these factors, I would prefer to tow an older, light-weight and aerodynamic aluminum trailer any day.

So, our criteria for mobility definitely ruled out apartments, traditional homes, shipping containers, cabins on skids, and other more permanent housing options. Mobility can be an issue with THOWs, but it didn’t completely rule them out as an option.

 

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#2: MONEY

I know. I know. It’s always about money, it’s it? Well, money was a significant factor in our decision to go tiny and the most important factor to Spencer.

After researching local apartments, Spencer and I quickly realized that rent costs could become a significant portion of our income. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m looking to avoid the rat race. I refuse to be enticed into buying things I can’t afford just so I can work off that debt for the rest of my life. I also refuse to throw away money on something I will never own. And a THOW seemed the perfect affordable investment…until I did more research.

I’ll be frank with you. While Spencer and I aren’t starving college students, we are just starting out and we don’t have the financial resources to purchase a tiny house shell, a RV, or even a new travel trailer. Of course, it’s entirely possible to build an inexpensive THOW, but that requires more time and skill than Spencer and I possess. We wanted to buy a professionally built tiny house shell because it would allow us to finish and customize our space rather than worrying about constructing stable walls. Unfortunately, the low estimates we received were $30,000 or more: without electrical, without plumbing, without furnishings. We don’t have that kind of money. Period.

Plus, there’s the issue of resalability. Spencer and I view this purchase as an investment, so resalability is important to us. The current market for pre-owned THOWs and bus conversions is rather small, but from what I’ve seen it’s not looking so good. THOWs and buses are incredibly customizable, which makes it more difficult to find potential buyers. Pre-owned RVs and travel trailers have a larger market base, although they do depreciate over time. Airstreams are special. The name brand and iconic look of Airstreams not only make them incredibly resalable, but a good restoration can fetch a huge chunk of change. Don’t believe me? Check out Airstream Classifieds.

So, the issue of money ruled out three possible tiny house types. Professionally built THOWs and RVs cost way too much for us. But, on the other hand, DIY THOWs or bus conversions are too much of a project. We needed something in the middle.

Travel trailers (and Airstreams specifically) fit the bill. Airstreams serve as great shells, which we can gut and customize to our heart’s desire. Although slightly expensive because of their high resalability, project Airstreams are well within our budget and fit all our criteria.

 

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#3: AESTHETICS

Aesthetics was what ultimately decided the issue for me. Now, I admit that I’m a little vain. After all, the aesthetic of a traditional house was what drew me to THOWs in the first place. There are some really pretty tiny houses out there. Initially, I resisted my father’s suggestion to buy a traditional trailer largely because of aesthetics. I hate the cheap, plastic-looking exterior of most trailers. I could not imagine myself living in one. Not to mention, I desperately wanted to escape the white-trash stereotype associated with living in a trailer.

Then he mentioned Airstreams and I immediately did a 360.

I adore vintage Airstreams! They have a classic profile, beauty, and Americana charm. Admittedly though, I come from a household that owns…oh…eight+ restored, unique vintage cars, so I may be a little biased. It was easy to imagine myself living in an Airstream not only because of their beauty, but also because I come from a vintage-obsessed family. After doing more research, I fell in love with 70s Airstreams in particular. For some unknown reason, I just hadn’t thought of Airstreams as travel trailer before. So, aesthetics was an important factor in my decision to renovate a silver bullet.

 

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#4: CONCERN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Finally, my desire to go tiny is also motivated by a concern for the environment. Not only does living small reduce your physical footprint, it also reduces your carbon footprint. For example, it’s easy to run a tiny house entirely off of solar power. The lifestyle forces awareness of your impact; you have a greater awareness of the amount of trash you produce and the electricity you use.

Since studying historic preservation in college, I’ve learned some interesting things about the environment. Preservationists attest that, “The greenest building is the one that’s already there.” Why? Because the energy to build it has already been expended. The timber has been cut, the mortar mixed, the labor exerted. Demolishing old buildings to build something new, even if it’s LEED Certified, is not energy efficient.

So, the best thing about renovating an Airstream versus building a new THOW is, you guessed it, reusing materials! There are a lot of really cool THOWs out there using reclaimed materials (many of which I have pinned), but the framework of a THOW is always new lumber or metal for structural purposes. This makes complete sense from an engineering standpoint and I’m not bashing this choice. It’s just important to me to reuse as many materials as possible during construction to reduce my carbon footprint. Starting with an old Airstream shell fulfills this intention.

 

SO, THoSE ARE OUR REASONS for PURCHASING AN AIRSTREAM. ARE YOU LIVING TINY AS WELL? TELL US WHY IN THE COMMENTS.

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