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 47,000+ miles to 330+ campgrounds, 48 States, and four Canadian Provinces – so far. Carmen is the author of the website Living in Beauty, where she chronicles the couples' Airstream journey through North America’s most scenic parks, cities, and small towns. This is the first of a six part series for Airstream about their retirement to full-time Airstreaming.
You’re Looking for an Airstream
This felt different, thrilling, and just slightly criminal – like being on the other side of the law, but in the right.
Light reflections from the sun-drenched alley streamed into the open four-car garage newly emptied of our lifetime accumulation. The ghosts of our old stuff lingered, reluctant to move on – the ladder, the old dog stroller, the pinecone wreath. Yet, within moments, the house keys would change hands and our get-away plan would be complete. We would walk away from our island bungalow, into the bright April afternoon to begin a new life, in Beauty.
“People do this all the time, right?”
Jim barely heard me. He was focused on his iPad, crossing off details and highlighting others. He appeared cool and calm, but he was in the zone – eyes focused, blood pulsing toward finishing a long and exhausting escrow.
“Yes, people sell houses all the time.” He glanced at his watch, “Three forty-five. Fifteen minutes behind schedule. I’d better call –”
I cut him off, “People live in RVs all the time, right? We’ve covered the bases. We’re not doing anything illegal, right?”
My last-minute chills didn’t derail him in the least. “Of course not. We’ve done this be –”
He stopped mid-sentence when a Mercedes sedan pulled up.
“Yes, we’ve done this before,” I said, “between houses, for a few months. People do that. This is way different, like mad-science, like a heist, except this time ...” Jim slipped the house keys into the envelope containing warranties, owner manuals and remodeling diagrams, and stepped out to greet the real estate agent. My voice trailed behind him, “... there’s no plan.”
But that was five years ago, when I was still talking like an Ancient Egyptian – over-thinking the future, scheming how to take it all down with me, and experiencing the G-forces between the world of Belonging and the universe of Wandering. A thick contrail of intense newbie energy still lingers from that wobbly moment of departure from our old garage – the day we began living in our Airstream, Beauty – our home machine, our travel machine (and, since the pandemic) our breathing machine.
Falling in love with machines goes back to the 1700s, the dawn of the Age of Industry, and machine-love in the future seems poised for even greater blooming... and, yet, (and, I know it sounds ridiculous, impossible, and way too sweet) becoming enchanted with a trailer struck me totally by surprise.
My dad, Allen Perry, is responsible for the infatuation. He knows machines. As a retired flight engineer for the United States Navy, his advice was the first we sought. Our question: Which RV will be the best for going camping forever? Dad understood that as backpackers and experienced tent-campers, we wanted a low-profile unit with all the luxuries – a unit designed for two normal sized humans, not of barn-like dimensions – a mobile domain tailored for our needs and proportioned to slip easily into almost any campsite.
Dad said, “You’re looking for an Airstream.”
At Our Best, Doing What We Need to Do
“Grace is the beauty of form under the influence of freedom”
– Friedrich Schiller
Months of research followed. Then, after selecting an ideal model and size, more months elapsed as we searched nation-wide. And, suddenly, one morning the kismet began. At precisely the same moment, Jim and I shared texts containing the identical advert for a 2001 30′ Excella in Alabama. The next day, Dad drove from his Mississippi home to inspect the unit and reported back to us, “She’s a beauty.”
Every old house has its secrets, and with at least three former owners, Beauty has a history which she reveals in halting chapters over time. After a bumpy breaking-in period, we learned to trust her and she, us. Beauty is more than our living quarters. She is our guide, our magic carpet, our third eye.
She graces us with the gift of superb craftsmanship. A history of thousands of successful voyages by Airstream explorers instills confidence. Her lean and lithe dimensions – superior smallness, we call it – makes us almost as lissome as migratory beasts. At first, we treated her with kid gloves, but over time we’ve learned that she can take it. Beauty’s favorite camping spots are off-road, down washboarded and flood-damaged roads.
Like a good teacher, Beauty tests our personal comfort zones and moves us to take risks. Nothing escapes her shiny skin. She steadies our gaze on the potential of compatibility between humankind and nature, shows us where things went wrong and where things are improving. She also inspires, showing us a bluebonnet super-bloom in Big Bend, wild horses on Assateague, and double rainbows on Puget Sound.
Over the last year, the journey became an odyssey.
With personal losses mounting and little we could do to help, Beauty served as essential equipment, taking us deep into remote and quiet places where exquisite natural landscapes soothed the sting of death and the activities of camping kept our minds and bodies active.
Most of Earth’s creatures have belonging times and wandering times. Each is at their best when doing whatever it is they need to do. This wandering time of ours is a reprieve from the usual, the mundane. Going back to “normal” conventional lives – that’s always an option. But memento mori is ever before us, urging us on to another bucket list destination.
The Retirement Un-Plan
“Beauty! Terrible Beauty!
A deathless Goddess – so she strikes our eyes!”
– Homer, The Iliad
But Beauty is forever young.
Many campers ask us if she’s fresh from the assembly line. Nope, we say, she’s not new but man, is she fresh. Beauty isn’t picky. She makes her bed in Everywhere ... aspen mountains, hardwood forests, saguaro deserts, vineyards, beaches and cherry orchards. She’s not one to develop attachments. When she’s in Nevada, she’s thinking about Bar Harbor. When she’s in Florida, she’s sending love notes to Toronto.
Recently – on a beautiful April morning in North Carolina – we stepped outside to find Beauty cloaked in a thick blanket of pollen which covered every inch of her silvery self, top to bottom. We stepped back to view the damage and agonize over the clean-up. But, then, as the sun came out from behind the clouds, our reproachful expressions softened. Beauty, Illuminated by a diaphanous golden halo, took our breath away. Like a girl in a new prom dress, she seemed delighted with her appearance, so we let her strut it for a few days.
Yes, Beauty, it is a new season and we are alive and healthy. Happy Pollen Day.
Oh, beauty before me
beauty behind me
beauty to the right of me
beauty to the left of me
beauty above me
beauty below me
I am on the pollen path
– Navaho Saying
Leaving the old job, old office, old way of doing things can make one feel old, or it can make you feel new ... new possibilities, new scenery, new people. We needed a retirement un-plan – one that would untether us from property ownership and expand our reach beyond mall-walking and happy hours. Beauty was created to engage us – to challenge norms, to fascinate us, to broaden our perspective and to move our souls.
And, we are riveted.
“One world at a time”
– Thoreau on his deathbed