Practical Matters: Life in an Airstream

You don’t often hear of people downsizing from an apartment to an Airstream, but about a month ago that’s what I did. My small Airstream Sport is about 16 feet by 8 feet so at 128 square feet, my personal space was shrinking to almost a tenth of my apartment space in Austin. Traveling the States for a year in this tiny contraption meant leaving many of life’s luxuries behind.


I first scoured my apartment for items that I could get rid of by selling on Craigslist or donating to Goodwill. Made some good money selling a couple of old Macs on Craigslist and took all of my unwanted clothes, Abercrombie circa the 2000s, to Goodwill. Since I plan on having full-sized living quarters again when I return, I didn’t want to get rid of my furniture. I hired some hourly movers to haul the non-essentials to a storage unit in San Antonio. I’m not sure if I’m returning to Austin, so I figured I might as well store things near my brother.

Storage is at a premium in my tiny new home, so I left most of my stuff behind

Storage is at a premium in my tiny new home, so I left most of my stuff behind

What Made the Cut

On board the Airstream, space is extremely tight. There’s a small closet and limited storage compartments, but my Land Cruiser does offer additional storage. Here’s what I brought along with me:

  • Clothes: 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, 5 long sleeve shirts, 5 short-sleeve shirts, 1 Patagonia pull over, and 1 heavy jacket (though I’ll be close to Florida by winter so hopefully won’t need to use this). All of these clothes easily fit in the hanging closet
  • Activewear: It’s hard to hike and run in traditional clothing, so I brought a pair of hiking pants, running shorts, and a few breathable shirts
  • Shoes: One pair each of running shoes, hiking boots, boat shoes, and flip-flops
  • Dishes: 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 glasses, 4 forks, 4 knives, 4 spoons. At any given time I can only seat 4 people comfortably for dinner, so I figured this was the most I’d need. Plus, not having more clean dishes available forces you to wash the dirty ones more often.
  • Kitchen items: I frequently make smoothies and protein shakes so a blender was a must. For my coffee addiction, I brought a compact coffee grinder and I’m improvising with my collapsible coffee pour over device that I usually take camping. I brought one kettle, one large pot, one deep pan, one large knife, one paring knife, a thin plastic cutting board, one mixing bowl, and a few kitchen utensils.
  • Linens: Two towels, two washcloths, and one set of bed sheets. I keep a laundry basket in the back of my car and do laundry as infrequently as possible.
  • Recreational things: I plan on doing a lot of backpacking and fishing this year, so I did bring along a bin with all of my backpacking and camping gear, as well as my fly rods. This easily fits in the back of the car.

This experience has already taught me how little we really need to get by. I can see why the Tiny Home trend has gotten so much attention recently. Living without the extra clutter and noise of stuff feels extremely liberating.

Other Logistics

Things you don't need in your Airstream: piles of old, ugly clothes

Things you don’t need in your Airstream: piles of old, ugly clothes

  • Internet: I had an old iPhone with a removable SIM card, so I went to TMobile and purchased their mobile hotspot plan. Now I have internet wherever I can get cell reception. Most RV parks do offer free wifi, but the hotspot comes in handy when wifi isn’t available, and since I need to be connected to do my work, it’s essential.
  • TV: The Airstream came with a space for a small mounted TV near the foot of the bed, but most of the time I just end up watching Netflix or Hulu on my laptop. Now that I’m done binge watching Breaking Bad, I spend more time working and reading than watching TV.
  • Books: I kept my Austin Public Library card, and can check out eBooks through the Kindle app on my phone for free. I honestly don’t know why people still buy books.
  • Laundry: I keep a laundry basket in the back of the Land Cruiser for dirty clothes, so they aren’t cluttering the trailer. I can usually stretch clothes two weeks before needing to spend an afternoon at the laundromat. Having fewer clothes means I waste less time deciding what to wear and doing laundry. I also don’t see people as often so the definition of “clean” has changed a bit.
  • Showering: The bathroom is a little tight so I try to only use the shower when absolutely necessary. Most campgrounds have showers available that make life much easier.
  • Septic: Yep, you do have to dispose of your waste at some point. Since my tank’s not full yet, I haven’t tried this. I’m sure I will have a whole blog on this when it happens.

Selecting an RV: How I Chose Airstream

Life Before Airstream

Before purchasing my Airstream, I lived in a 2-bedroom apartment in a downtown Austin apartment with a roommate. Rent was steep, over $1300 a month just for my portion of the rent plus utilities. I didn’t really want to sink money to a house in Austin, because I knew I wanted an adventure, but also knew I wanted to stop paying exorbitant amounts on rent.

My favorite Austin foodtruck may have been my original inspiration for buying an Airstream. This silver bullet serves up some fatteningly delicious doughnuts.

My favorite Austin foodtruck may have been my original inspiration for buying an Airstream. This silver bullet serves up some fatteningly delicious doughnuts.

After looking into various travel options, I arrived upon touring the country in an Airstream. It was affordable, offered wonderful opportunities to live an outdoorsy lifestyle, and enabled me to still have the comforts of home. Plus Airstreams are having a moment right now thanks to hipster food trucks that have made them popular with millennials. So, I started my quest to find the perfect Airstream.

Shopping for an Airstream

Spacious enough for me, but not sure how this would sleep 4 like the manufacturer suggests

Spacious enough for me, but not sure how this would sleep 4 like the manufacturer suggests

I started researching Airstream models online and discovered that Airstream makes both towables and motorized vehicles. While the motorized fleet is nice, the idea of basically living in a bus for the next 12 months sounded cramped. I also liked the idea of having my own bathroom and kitchen facilities on board. I drive an old Toyota Land Cruiser, which has towing capacity for a small RV, so I started looking into the towable options, which had everything I was looking for. I knew that aside from my brother or an occasional friend meeting up with me, I’d be on the road alone, so I didn’t need a huge trailer.

After doing my initial research online, I found an RV dealer in Fort Worth that specializes in Airstreams and drove up to check out a brand new Airstream Sport 16 they had just gotten in. The Vogt RV Airstream lot was filled with a large variety of Airstream towables, with everything from the Bambi Sport 16 to the massive Airstream Land Yacht. Tempting and pretentious as owning a “yacht” sounded, I stuck to my original plan to shop the more economical Sport 16.

The Layout

When you walk into the Sport 16, there’s a generous-sized dinette to the right that measures about 7.5′ by 3.5′. I needed ample table space since the trailer would also serve as my office space for the next 12 months, and I like to spread out with dual monitors. There’s a small range, microwave, and mini fridge in the pint sized galley, plenty big enough for 1. The bed is surprisingly spacious, measuring 4′ by 6.5′ with an LED TV mounted on the far wall. Rounding out the space is a cramped but workable bathroom with working toilet and even a shower.

After working on the price a bit, the friendly sales guy closed the deal and that day I towed my brand new Airstream back to Austin to start packing.