Since July 2016, Carmen Beaubeaux and her husband, Jim, have traveled full time in their 30-foot, 2001 Airstream Travel Trailer. Their Airstream, Beauty, has taken them 53,000+ miles to 370+ campgrounds, 48 States, and four Canadian Provinces – so far. Carmen is the author of the website Living in Beauty, where she chronicles the couple’s Airstream journey through North America’s most scenic parks, cities, and small towns. "From Beauty's Doorstep" is a six-part series for Airstream in which Carmen details their retirement to full-time Airstreaming. Read earlier installments here.
“Anything in life is possible and you can make it happen.” - Jack LaLanne (1914 – 2011)
Overwhelmed with after-school hunger, I stuck my finger into the contents of the electric mixer and somehow landed on the other side of the kitchen, suffering shock by mashed potatoes. Stunned, I lay on the floor, hoping the surge from the ungrounded mixer would manifest my body with super powers.
Fifty-five years later a similar thing happened when our investment advisor pitched the idea of early retirement in an RV. The jolt of enlightenment didn’t send me flying across the room, but every nerve stood at attention as synapses fired warning shots across my frontal lobe. Emergent powers rushed to the surface.
The meeting wrapped up, and Jim and I went out for an early lunch to chew on salad and our future. We considered our lifelong preference for camping over luxury hotels. Striking camp after our annual Yosemite trip felt like punishment. We grieved the drive down the mountain out of Paradise. Let’s get this straight: Living in the most beautiful places on earth will allow us to retire five years before social security and Medicare benefits kick in? We felt goosebumps.
Our money man had opened up a middle way. Could the house-free, financially independent, border-blind, semi-retired, mobile American life be the retirement-hack we’d been praying for? Open-ended camping with no scheduled return date. What do you even call that?
It’s the superpower retirement plan. Liquidating property and going mobile pairs the leanness of poverty with the most desirable aspect of affluence – the enrichment of endless travel. We’d struck gold.
That afternoon we agreed – while our bodies remained in good enough condition – to make it happen. From that moment forward, at all hours of the day and night, Jim’s computer glowed with decumulation actuarial spreadsheets, aka, The Valley of The Shadow of Retirement Spend-down Scenarios.
As non-pensioners, forever-camping made solid economic sense. We’re better off than Jim’s most idealistic early projections, including the financing for long-term nursing care, should we need it. But the economics of five years on the road doesn’t rival the real bonus: the improvements in our overall health and well-being.
Even Pico de Gallo, our teenaged Chihuahua is killin’ it.
Escaping the world by moving into it, into sunlight and wilderness, and even into city parks and greenscapes where the earth still has some fight left in it – is a prescription for better mental and physical health.
Beauty and The Beast, our Airstream+Ram team, work together seamlessly as our primary health plan, our super-powers, our whisperers. Our matched pair gently takes us down all the roads less travelled to address the many challenges of aging.
It’s all about self-care. I survived the Sixties by latching onto Jack LaLanne’s concept of thinking of your body as a beloved animal who needs daily care – food, water, sleep, play, exercise, and kind words.
“Would you wake your dog up in the morning for a cigarette, a cup of coffee and a doughnut?“ - Jack LaLanne
I decided to think of my body as a horse. I know, it’s strange. “My Body, My Horse” and all that. I never named my horse or gave it a color, I just wanted to visualize a powerful, life-affirming animal that would help me excel in track and field, one of the few girl-friendly sports in the pre-Title IX era. Even now – whenever I am physically or emotionally strained – I go to “the stable” and check on “my horse” to investigate her wounds, apologize for overworking and promise to do better.
While living in Beauty, apologies are seldom necessary. Debilitating back, knee, foot, ankle and hip pain are no longer a serious concern. I deduce that walking our prescriptive three-miles-per-day on concrete pavement had a negative effect on our connective tissue. Exercising on earthen pathways is much more beneficial. Our need for pain medication and ointments is reduced and the old aches resume only when we visit cities.
Our eyesight and hearing have also improved – especially in the last two years as we’ve travelled to more remote areas. When Jim retired, we stopped night-driving, but now our night-sight is sharper than ever. Even on the new moon I can observe owl and bat activity. Walking at night without artificial illumination is relaxing and puts me in the mood for sleep.
My dreams moved outside, too.
For several decades I’ve tracked my dreams in a journal. A few months after I began sleeping in Beauty my standard dream infrastructure – houses, hospitals, offices, schools and theaters – all dropped their facades. Now, walls are merely partitions, rather than solid barricades. Doors, hinges, windows and locks are present but nonfunctional. Partial plant draped walls, open to the elements, loosely contain furnishings, occupants and equipment. Birds fly in through apertures open to the sky. Wild and domestic animals graze and raise their young in these indoor-outdoor buildings and no one seems to notice or care.
How do we sleep?
Like drugged house cats on a flight to Australia. In the past we’ve slept outside under the stars, in tents, and even in a hammock on a ship. There’s nothing like hitting the sack in an Airstream. It’s instant hygge. Just writing about it makes me yawn. Beauty’s cozy bedroom is a sleep-therapy pod. Within a couple of weeks on the road, I put aside my anxiety medication and sleep tonics. Built-in climate controls, blackout blinds and stereo for white noise compliment the restful environment. We sleep better in our cocoon of Beauty than we ever did in the king-sized bed in our cavernous master bedroom. To all of our friends who keep offering us your spare bedrooms, “No, thank you. We’ve got this.”
We’re not eager to return to a sprawling, high maintenance house or condo that is hopelessly stuck to the ground – a 20th century problem which should have been solved decades ago. Mobility satisfies any 7-year, 7-month or 7-day itch for change. Airstream currently makes the most efficient, dynamic, smart, affordable and attractive home in the world. Design matters.
Beauty – our low profile machine for living – is not only an affordable housing solution. The Airstream is much lower maintenance than a conventional house. The best part of that is I don’t have to worry about Jim falling off the roof of our three story house anymore. My DIY guy’s motivation to save a few bucks by cleaning the gutters is all in the past. I once considered printing this CDC alert on all of his t-shirts: Warning: “Falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older Americans” and these unintentional life-changing accidents usually happen in a house.
These days we live with less risk, more comfort, and more activity. The novelty of moving our residence keeps us mentally sharp and physically strong. Untethered travel is like an ongoing deep tissue brain massage. We are in a perpetual state of exploration, always discovering a new, beautiful, and maintenance-free backyard. Without the burden of property, we are free to pursue other interests.
Our hobbies are like buried treasure we find along the road. Jim discovered his amazing talent for cooking and grilling. Before Forever Camping, Jim rarely had the time to cook.
Now, he’s designing recipes and even writing a book about slow-cooking to compliment my writings on slow-travel philosophy. I love Jim’s cooking, and taking “What’s For Dinner” photos.
Until we hit the road, I’d only taken the occasional family snapshot. This new life instilled a desire to tell our story in images.
We manage quite well for ourselves because we work as a team. We share driving, hitching and unhitching, setting up and striking camp, tank maintenance, laundry, and cleaning the rig top to bottom, inside and out.
Teamwork and maintenance mitigates injury and builds strength. Over the last five years, our physical stamina continues to increase.
“It’s not what you do some of the time that counts, it’s what you do all of the time that counts.” - Jack LaLanne
Stronger now than when we began, we can hike for miles … kayak farther than ever before …and thanks to our Dolphin e-Bikes, we’re working toward a 60-mile bike ride.
In the last five years neither of us has spent a single night in the hospital. That’s our best all-time record. Of course nothing is truly forever. We know there will come a day. Until then, we keep our fitness routines, enjoy a healthy diet and make the most of the road life.
Even though social security and Medicare have finally kicked in, we have no desire to change our active, low-stress lifestyle. This is how we roll. This is how we feel safe.
Lions and tigers and bears (oh, my) are all part of the journey. Extreme weather is our primary concern, but these days the potential for unusual events is common in every place. So we watch weather reports at least twice daily and keep a dialogue going with the rangers, camp hosts and locals. We also practice drills or at least talk through emergency procedures. If we sense danger, we drive toward safety. Beauty and The Beast is our ever-present escape hatch.
Throughout our working years, camping excursions provided a quick detox from city and suburbia. Even short overnight trips gave us power surges which enriched our lives, immeasurably. Now, Forever Camping is our ongoing Dose Of Nature…and we’ve never felt better.
WARNINGS: Forever Camping should be taken with plenty of water, sunlight and fresh air. Forever Camping may be addictive. Forever Camping may lead to momentary states of bliss and/or prolonged happiness