True Story: We live in a 188-square-foot Airstream trailer

Have you ever fantasized about living in an Airstream? Interested in small space living or minimalism? You'll love this interview! Click through for small space living and decor tips, too!Have you ever fantasized about living in an Airstream? Since 2002 I’ve been dreaming of owning one of those beautiful silver marshmallows. Pick up and go anytime you want! Be forced to carefully consider everything you bring into your home!

Is it everything its cracked up to be? Melanie shares her story.

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

Hi! I’m Melanie. I’m from North Carolina and I’m 30 years old. I’m a librarian by profession. In my spare time I like to blog, hike, and spend time with my husband, George and my dog, Bambi.

What made you decide to make the leap into Airstream living?

In May 2013, my husband and I were at a crossroads. At the time he was a school teacher and I was a librarian. We were newly married and I had just landed a new job closer to our families.

We were also broke. We didn’t have an extravagant wedding by any standards, but we did spend the majority of our meager savings on the event. We took a look at our budget, started looking at apartments and we were instantly discouraged. We knew that we couldn’t get ahead financially by renting an apartment.

We also knew that we wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage. We had no credit and almost no savings. We saw an endless cycle of debt in front of us and we wanted out.

We were lying in bed one night talking about our dilemma and I casually mentioned that I had once read an article about a couple that lived in a Winnebago. George took that idea and ran with it. That night we stayed up most of the night surfing the web for travel trailers. The Airstreams we saw on Craigslist were the most appealing— they were stylish and cool and I didn’t feel like we were losing anything.  

Have you ever fantasized about living in an Airstream? Interested in small space living or minimalism? You'll love this interview! Click through for small space living and decor tips, too!

What’s your trailer like?

We live in a 1978 Airstream Sovereign. It’s 28 feet long and about 188 square feet. We have running water, heat and AC, electric and basically everything we need!

George’s family owns a very small farm and George’s uncle lived on the land in a traditional trailer in the ‘70s. Since the land was already set up with a septic system and electric, this made it relatively easy for us to plop the Airstream down and start living in it.

We bought the Airstream from a beautiful free spirit for $5,000 and it cost about $1,500 and three months to fix her up initially. We have had to make additional improvements since our initial remodel, like a new hot water heater and a new AC/heating unit, which has totaled about $1,200. So over the course of three and a half years, we’ve put about $3,000 into the Airstream.

Prior to this, where were you guys living? And what was the ‘adjustment’ period like, going from apartment to Airstream?

Prior to living in the Airstream we lived in a gorgeous loft apartment in an old cotton mill. Our apartment was about 1,200 square feet and I’m pretty sure our Airstream could have fit in our bathroom! We also spent almost our entire paychecks on paying rent.

I thought the adjustment period would be much harder, but it was a fairly easy adjustment. At the time, our lease was up, but we hadn’t finished remodeling the Airstream, so we were living with George’s parents. Living with your in-laws is a great motivating factor!

What are some things you have to consider when living in an Airstream that you never had to think about in a more ‘traditional’ living space?

I hate how environmentally unfriendly this sounds, but prior to living in the Airstream I didn’t think too much about my electricity use. Now, if too many things are plugged in, the breaker in the Airstream will flip. I can’t have too many things running at once and it does sometimes make it difficult to cook. I can’t use both the burner and the convection oven at the same time, for example. Now I’m much more conscious about my electricity use, and my overall environmental impact.

And vice versa!

We haven’t lived in a larger, more traditional space for over three years, but I think when we do, we could think less about the things we bring into our home. I hope that doesn’t happen. If we do have a larger space, I hope we continue to be thoughtful and considerate about our surroundings.

Have you ever fantasized about living in an Airstream? Interested in small space living or minimalism? You'll love this interview! Click through for small space living and decor tips, too! Have you ever fantasized about living in an Airstream? Interested in small space living or minimalism? You'll love this interview! Click through for small space living and decor tips, too!
I think for a lot of us, living in such a small space with a partner could lead to A LOT of bickering. How do you guys stay out of each other’s hair and keep the peace?

Luckily George and I are very compatible. We disagree, but we don’t like to argue. We compromise often. I’d be perfectly happy living in a very minimalist space—very few decorations, very little color and no unnecessary items— but George isn’t like that. He’s an artist and he likes his “stuff.”

We have accepted this about each other. He gets rid of more stuff than he would like to and I live with more stuff than I would like to. We also don’t view our relationship as a competition. No one wins and no one loses. We’re truly on this journey together.

In terms of staying out of each other’s hair, I work outside of the home, so I’m not home for a good chunk of the day. We also don’t do tasks at the same time. We don’t cook together or get ready in the morning at the same time. The other person is basically still in the same room, but just isn’t “in the way.”

We also really love to spend time with each other. Cue the sappy music!

Part of the reason you’re doing this is to achieve financial independence. How’s that journey going for you? Do you have a specific amount of savings you’re trying to achieve? 

In the beginning of our journey, George was an art teacher and I was a librarian. Our salaries were spent simply paying the rent each month. We also had big dreams that our finances didn’t support. We wanted to travel and we wanted George to be able to pursue his art full-time. Living in the Airstream and saving the money we would have spent on rent each month is an easy way to save.

We didn’t have a magic number that we were trying to reach to feel financially secure. We’ve been able to have George work full-time as an artist and we’ve gone on some amazing trips. Recently we totaled up our savings and in 3 years we’ve saved $30,000 on just my income.

Most of the money George has made we put back into his business. I feel really good about this number. I know it might not be much money to some people, but it feels like a real win for us.

We never “had” to live in the Airstream. Some people move into RVs because it is their last resort and I don’t want to diminish the struggle of people in true poverty. I am a privileged person who chose to be houseless, not homeless. At this point, I do think we could buy a traditional house if we wanted to do so. And we might buy a traditional house one day, but I never want to go back to living in a large or even average size home.

What has surprised you about this experience? 

My passion for small living and strengthening my relationship with my husband has been the most surprising aspects of this experience.

Are there any tools/resources/products/websites that have made this significantly easier for you?

At the beginning of this journey I feel like I didn’t know anyone living this lifestyle, but now I know a bunch of people and Instagram has been a great resource for meeting people.

In terms of Airstreams, Airforums is a good resource—although there are a lot of preservationists on there. Youtube is great for visual learners. I have a lot of free information on my website, and I wrote a guide that compiles all the things I wish I had known before living full-time in an Airstream.

What have you learned from this that ANY of us could apply to our daily lives? 

You create your own limits.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Melanie! Do you guys have any questions for her?

P.S. If you, too, live in a small space, you might appreciate 5 Surprising Small Bedroom Storage Ideas + 5 ways to make your tiny galley kitchen feel bigger

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  1. Manisha

    We have almost the exact same airstream but just a bit longer. It sits out in the woods of Wisconsin and we go as much as we can. We hope to move out there sometime in the future probably when the kid is a bit older. One thing I want to mention is that we spend a lot of time outside the airstream, much more than when we are at our tiny house in the city. So it doesn’t feel much smaller than a house. For us, it’s about cultivating outdoor living spaces and outdoor living, washing, and cooking. Even in the winter. The photos in this post gave me lots of ideas!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Fun! I think I could definitely swing Airstream living if we lived somewhere warmer so we could do more ‘outdoor living’!

  2. Ashley

    I absolutely love this! I have always wanted an air stream trailer & am in love with “Tiny” Living! My husband and I lived “Tiny” for a year and a half in a semi, as he drove an 18 wheeler! We didn’t have a home & so that was our home! It’s amazing how little you really need!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Whoa! What an awesome adventure, Ashley!

  3. Samantha Lee

    “You create your own limits.” Love that, and so, so true. I’ve been working so hard not to restrict myself or not do something out of fear. Because while we can’t do EVERYTHING, we surely can do anything we set our minds to. 🙂

  4. Melanie

    Thanks Sarah! This was fun!

  5. Kat

    Wow this interview was really awesome! I really appreciate that Melanie noted that some people are forced to live in RVs and it’s not always a fun/hipster/instagrammable lifestyle (even if for her and George, their lifestyle IS fun and awesome for them, which is great!).

    Another stellar interview Sarah!!!

  6. Jessica

    Cheers to you guys for living on your own terms! My husband and I lived in an 1967 Airstream for 6 years. It allowed us to keep our overhead low enough to make some wacky leaps into the unknown like moving from CA to WA without having jobs lined up. Your remodel looks great, by the way:)

  7. Kate

    It looks like they did just buy a house? I’d love to hear more about what changed between then & now!

  8. Burma travel

    You have a great love, I dream of having a mobile home and with my beloved go wherever we want

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