Last week before launch

 It is our final week at winter home base.  That means we’ve dragged out the checklists from last year, and every day we try to check off a few items toward the goal of hitting the road in the Airstream.

It takes a long time to get three people (with homeschool and a business) ready to hit the road for six months.  But each year it gets easier.  My checklist for shutting down the house has only about two dozen items on it, all relatively simple.  The jobs fall into four categories:

  1. Shutting  down (like putting the Qwest DSL service on “vacation mode”, turning off the gas, and clearing out the refrigerator);
  2. Securing things for the time we are gone (backing up computers, putting fuel stabilizer in the car, locking up);
  3. Preparing the Airstream and tow car (oil change, equipment checks, packing);
  4. Cleaning up (cleaning the house and Airstream, giving away outgrown clothes, exchanging books at Bookman‘s, thinning out stuff in the Airstream’s storage compartments).

We’ve tried to optimize this process by keeping the house “lean,” meaning relatively free of stuff and obligations, but having good neighbors is an enormous help. The potted plants always find a home where they’ll be watered, and we have several people who will watch the place while we are gone.  I never worry about the house.  If something ever happened, we’d probably get half a dozen phone calls in fifteen minutes.

Theft while we are gone is a relatively small issue as well, by virtue of the simple fact of our minimal possessions.  In other words, there’s nothing worth stealing inside.  Not only do the computers come with us, a thief would find no Picassos on the walls or oxycontin in the medicine cabinet.  We don’t even own a TV.  (Note to would-be burglars: if you are interested in risking a felony conviction for some garden tools, or a kid’s room full of who-knows-what, I can point you to the right place.  Frankly, you’d be doing me a favor. I don’t like gardening all that much.)

Eleanor and I find that it works better to each have our own lists.  We both have our specialties, and we overlap enough that nothing gets overlooked. We both keep a checklist of preparatory “things to do” and “things to pack.”  The “to do” list usually starts about three weeks in advance because of time-consuming projects (house repairs, trailer repairs, trip planning) and the “to pack” list kicks in during the final week, which is now.

Packing is probably easier for us than for most people, because we leave the Airstream mostly packed and ready year-round.  Long ago we bought duplicates of the most commonly-used items, specifically to stay in the trailer.  The trailer even has its own silverware.  Those things that do get removed (such as tools, office equipment, stuffed animals) are stored in containers while in the house, so that we can easily grab the container and put it back in the trailer without extensive re-packing.   That’s a tip I got from a fellow Airstreamer years ago: bins are your friend.

Of course, we do try to advance our tools and our packing process every year.  For example, the Kindle e-book reader has turned out to be a neat addition to our equipment list.  I’ve added “Fill Kindle” to my checklist so that I can head out with at least half a dozen books ready to read, in one slim and lightweight package.  Since working on the Wally Byam Books project I have become aware of the abundance of free public domain books available online, and it seems an excellent opportunity to finally read some classics that I otherwise never would have enjoyed. I can also read newspapers and magazines on the Kindle (by subscription), something that I never did when we were full-timing, since all the paper was cumbersome in the trailer.  But Kindle aside, I still like to have a few paper-based books in my hands, so we’ll also load up with tradeable paperbacks.

(These thoughts are probably on my mind because of the upcoming Summer 2010 issue of Airstream Life magazine.  We have an article on new mobile technology and a separate article about using checklists. I learned some things from both of those articles, and I hope you do too. That issue will be mailed in about 10 days.)

We are generally the type to avoid making reservations, but there are a few points on this voyage when we will need them.  Yesterday my “to do” was to identify those points and book campsites that would otherwise be unavailable on particular dates we expect to be in certain areas.  I hope I’m not giving away too much of the story by saying that those sites included Cheyenne Mountain State Park and Cherry Creek State Park in Colorado, Alumapalooza at the Airstream factory (of course), Long Key State Park in Florida, and Ft Wilderness in Disneyworld.  There are a few others we’ll have to book from the road, when some things solidify.  We’ve also had to book a couple of airfares, and alert some friends that we’ll be looking for courtesy parking on specific dates.  That’s a lot of reservations by our standards, but that’s because this is a much more structured trip than we’ve ever taken before.

The biggest challenge of packing up for a six-month trip is that you’ve got to anticipate a lot of varied needs.  We will encounter all kinds of weather, terrain, and a wide range of activities.  It’s impossible to bring something for every possible circumstance, so some judicious choices have to be made.  We know we will be hiking in northern New Mexico, swatting mosquitoes in New England, and snorkeling in the Florida Keys, but what lies between?  Some challenges will have to be solved ad hoc, with loans of gear by friends and the occasional purchase. In a travel trailer, you really do get by with a little help from your friends.

This trip we are not taking the folding bicycles.  It was a tough call, but when we analyzed our trip we saw that the only times we were really going to use bicycles, we’d be able to borrow them easily.  That saves a bunch of room inside the car for other things. In prior years I wouldn’t have dreamed of going away for six months without at least one bicycle, but every year is different.

Now that I think of it, perhaps packing for six months isn’t really the biggest challenge.  The biggest challenge is to get mentally ready.  I have to admit that life in the house has been exceptionally pleasant lately.  We’ve had low stress, lots of friendly visitors, cheap movies on Tuesday night, and of course all the amenities of modern suburban life  (ice and water on the refrigerator door, a barbecue grill on the back patio, room for projects, daily mail service, pizza delivery, etc.).  In some ways, it is hard to leave.  But if I look forward to the many adventures that await, that homebody feeling goes away and gets replaced by a tickle of excitement.

The other thought that is in our minds is that it is very likely this will be the last year we get to go out and extensively roam the country as we have been privileged to do.  Too many things are cropping up to allow a six-month voyage in 2011.  The best we can hope for will be a month away here and there, before we are called back to home base for one obligation or another.  It’s the end of an era for us, but there’s nothing to be sad about, since it is simultaneously the beginning of a new era.  Change is good, and we will find ways to make the most of what we have.  As has been said many times, it’s not about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you have. I can see how 2011 and the next few years are likely to be radically different from our previous lives, but only in superficial aspects.  The core values will stay the same, and we will still travel.

So here we go.  The countdown is T minus 8 before launch.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine