We Began To Renovate a 1970 Airstream Ambassador and Ultimately Our Lives

All Dave could say was, “I’m not doing this alone.” He was perplexed by the idea of buying a 46 year old, smelly Airstream versus a newer RV with slide outs and modern amenities. I felt if we are really doing this thing – downsizing our lives – that I don’t want to go from a 3,200 square foot home to the mansion of RV life. Plus, HELLO! An Airstream is serious vintage eye-candy, says the photographer in me. As a girl that’s been blessed to have just about everything I could ever want, I want to see if I have what it takes to live without all the “stuff” and complete a major project we know nothing about. You see, we want more out of life… and believe that seeking less will actually help us to gain more.

The Backstory of our Road to More

From a brand new vehicle at 17, a new-build condo at 19, the list goes on, I’ve grown accustomed to this Americanized life of spending + filling my life with stuff. And let me tell you, I do find joy in the act of shopping. Who doesn’t?’ In a small way, it feels like accomplishment… a marking point that all the work we do is paying off. Though the need for more is insatiable. We don’t purchase a bunch of junk… usually our spending has to do with new trim for the room we recently painted, a new tool that Dave will use, fun things for the kids or that we can do as a family. As any homeowner knows, there are constant home improvements on the to-do list. We feel like we’re constantly dishing out money for events coming up, home improvements, vehicles and little is left at the end of the month to put in the savings account.

I’ve noticed the toy stockpile grows, yet the kids don’t play with half of them. They prefer to spend time with us and explore the world. The excitement of a new toy lasts only days and then they are back to “Momma, can I help you clean?” “Daddy, can I help you with whatever you’re doing.” This season should be embraced and I’ll confess we’ve created a lifestyle where we’re not enjoying the time with our kids that we should be. I’m constantly looking for the next thing to keep them busy so I can quickly clean up the kitchen, work on laundry, work on my business, or get 5 damn minutes alone in the short hours my husband is home. It’s a constant hustle to get x, y, and z done… and THEN we’ll spend quality time together. Though inside, I know this is wrong. Our family should be first and the to-do list should be secondary… or at least, we should slow down and let the kids help. We’re tired of all the rushing and going in circles.

After months of conversation, all we know is that this 60 hour workweek (Dave) and daily hustle is not what we envisioned for our lives. We want more freedom to be together and enjoy family time (without the nagging to-do list). We want doing more to consist of new experiences, exploring, learning about other cultures, and not feel handcuffed to our lifestyle of spending to get more stuff.

What if we had only a handful of outfits rather than a walk-in closet full?

What if we went from his and her sinks to the shared, tiniest bathroom imaginable?

What if we said goodbye to a home that gives each person as much privacy and time for separation due to work + school to being together full time, around the clock, with little to no privacy?

Are we cut out to live like that?

What of instead of a playroom full of toys, the kids had a few favorites and spent most of their time outside fishing or making things with good old dirt & sticks?

What if instead of filling our weekends with other family & friends plus maintaining our 2 acre yard and cramming time in to update something on the house, almost too tired at the end of the day for each other… we spent our weekends hiking a trail in a new destination and ending the day with wine by the campfire as the kids are tucked in their bunks?

What if we created a life where our kids weren’t in a classroom all day, but instead, the world is their classroom?

What if we said yes to full time travel… and then my business started to tank?

We have so many questions. There are so many risks. There is so much to gain.

And in case you want to check back & follow our progress, pin this image: 

renovate airstream ambassador

 

So We Decided to Restore a 1970 Airstream Ambassador

It was a Saturday when we committed to work towards a life of full-time travel. On Sunday, I found an Airstream located about 4 hours away in Orillia, Ontario. After lunch on Tuesday, we hit the road. After a delay at the Canadian border, having to stop at our bank in Sarnia, hitting Toronto’s rush hour traffic, and the endless potty breaks are needed with an almost 3 and almost 5 year old in tow, we finally were face to face with the Airstream at 8 p.m. Tuesday night. I’m not real sure how the seller got off at listing her as ‘clean,’ because she was in worse shape that we could really see from the photos. There’s a slight dent in the roof from a tree fall. I say… it gives her character.

Since it was so late and we didn’t know if the brake lights on the camper would work once hooked up to the truck, we decided to get a hotel and come back in the morning. This was actually a pleasant surprise, because it was too early for bed and too early to coop an high-energy almost 3 year old up (that has been cooped up in a truck all day) in a hotel room. So, we found a park on Lake Couchiching and it was a gorgeous night to chill with the fam. We saw Osprey nests on telephone poles along the road – they were huge! The kids were able to burn some of that built up energy.

That night, Dave and I both had a hard time sleeping… both admitted second guessing the decision to buy this Airstream the next morning. We have no idea how to work on or restore a camper.

Nonetheless, we did it. And due to being amateurs, we had a hell of a ride home. The seller was late in the morning + the brake lights weren’t working, so we didn’t hit the road til noon. Then, the problems really began. We should not have drove this Airstream home without fully making sure her body was in a drivable condition… I mean, she didn’t have any rust or look raggedy on the outside, so what did we know? But we lost the cap of something (I think it’s an air conditioner) on the roof, one of the side pieces that accesses the fuse box near the toilet, and one of the windows.

On top of that, our F250 diesel gave us hell. The truck was overheating. We shut off the a/c on this 96 degree day. Our kids were miserable. We drove home ridiculously slow with multiple stops to get coolant and let it cool. Then, we noticed another window flapping and had to stop for duct tape. Then, the turbo blew out on the truck. The kids and I monied around Walmart (I was thankful for the break to cool off) while Dave re-connected the pipe. Since our day trip turned into 2 and our phone data was off to avoid roaming charges, we had no idea we were driving into a crazy heavy Thunderstorm with our Airstream that was down 2 windows. Then, we spent time at the border with two crazy kids… one of which was pulling his monster shirt over his head so he became the monster… and when I picked up him to calm him down he proceeded to try to find mommy’s boobies. OMG. At midnight, we were finally home.

The next day as we began breaking down the Airstream, we decided this restoration was going to turn into a complete renovation. As we took more things apart, we found that this thing was a palace to the mice. I’m actually really excited over the complete renovation, because this project will force us to stay home for longer. We have something to work towards while aligning the rest of our lives in preparation to travel full time (mid 2017 is our goal). The best part, this is a project we can work on together. Even though it’s been months since we toyed with the idea of full time travel, we haven’t really started taking the steps to make it a reality. I believe with this Airstream beauty in our driveway, it’ll be a visual reminder of the lifestyle we are working towards… aiding us in making good decisions that move us towards that lifestyle instead of continuing to be suctioned into the lifestyle we’re in.

Now we are a week into the project and this on-the-edge-of-our-seats feeling of “is this a good idea?” if feeling much more comfortable. I had NO idea there is such a community of others out there doing the EXACT same thing we’re doing. I’ve learned this through hashtags on Instagram, such as #airstreamrenovations. There is even a forum and websites galore with people sharing their journey, their advice, and the most insane inspiration that keeps me excited about this project.

Below are some photos from the beginning of our journey.

More progress will be shared on my Instagram here: http://www.instagram.com/fearlessandframed

 

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To sum up our first week, here’s what we’ve been up to: 

Hauled her home (she needs a name still… my instinct was Freedomstream, but I don’t think it’s going to stick)

Cleaning out the previous owner’s leftover junk in the cabinets (there are soooooo many little cubbies – it was pretty cool to see how much space you can have in a small space)

Tearing down the bathroom & big pieces (still need to take out the kitchen sink, furnace, couch/pull-out bed unit, toilet, walls, & sub-floors)

Vacuuming and dumping THOUSANDS of shells from this apparent mouse palace we’ve found under the bathtub and under the built-in cabinet units throughout

 

Here’s what I’ve learned: 

That 40 year old campers may have good bones, but their limbs are fragile (i.e. the windows, some wiring which is now dragging under the camper on the ground, a/c cover, side covers)

Screws with squares on their heads mean you need to use a Robertson screwdriver

Removing rivets is actually quite therapeutic

We are guesstimating we’ll be investing a minimum of $6k to fully renovate this beauty, because we are going to take her down to the frame and build her back up. I’ll track expenses for anyone that is curious 🙂 We’ll reinforce the frame, add brand new insulation, new plumbing, new electric, the works… because we want to do it right for us and for the next owner. I wish we could skip to the fun stuff – making it our tiny home & decorating, but we’re opting to start by making sure she’s fully safe to pull and free from all the critter damage.

 

Here’s what our Airstream looks like 1 week in:

Airstream Renovation Progress Blog

 

Are you a full time traveler or have travel dreams of your own? What pushed you to say yes or has held you back? Ever restored or renovated a camper? I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Author: MarieMasse

I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.


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  • We hope to be in your shoes this time next year. Love he air streams, but they just seem like more work than we want to commit to with the rivets and the curved shape- I’m afraid of the cost associated with an entirely custom built interior to work with that particular camper. So we are going to do our best and hoping to get a newer than 2000 26-30 ft camper with a slide out. We have seen a lot of layouts online that we are in love with for our family. I can’t wait to be where you are! We are already significantly downsized because we are between homes and staying with family with our limited possessions in storage since we are borrowing space. Maybe some day in the future we will cross paths living our tiny lifestyle dreams and documenting it all! Love and good vibes for you and your family on this project!

    • Maybe by the time you start you’ll actually pass us up! I have no doubt this renovation is going to take a long time and will be quite the investment. If all of our dreams align, we hope to only travel via Airstream for about 18 months. Then, rent it out as an Air BNB as we move on traveling the world. Gotta thing big to make big things happen, right?! 🙂

  • Living the dream! This is something that I would love to do, but I have not yet figured out how to earn a living while on the road. I spent one summer traveling the country in a pop up camper with I was a kid and it was the best time ever. I totally want that for my kids. Just need to figure out how. or if it is even possible. I can’t wait to follow along on your travels and repairs!