Airstream Life

Bringing Home Bambi

Sometimes I wish I lived in an Airstream
Homemade curtains living just like a gypsy
Break her heart and roll out of town
Cause gypsies never get tied down

Miranda Lambert, Airstream song

When I was little I used to tell everyone that I wanted to live in an Airstream. Actually, I think I first said that I wanted to live in a van down by the river, but an Airstream seemed so much classier! There really is nothing else like the iconic Airstream and for years I’ve dreamed of owning one. Friends have long asked me when I was going to make it happen.

Well, after what feels like a lifetime of wishing, just over a week ago I finally fulfilled my dream and hitched up my very own 19′ Airstream Bambi! I’m pinching myself because it still doesn’t seem real! Thanks to Covid, RVs are in high demand and Airstream inventory is at an all time low. I still can’t believe my luck.

Bringing home Bambi was a huge piece of a puzzle I started putting together years ago. Just as I was finally getting some traction, Covid hit and transformed our lives in many ways. The last few months have been like nothing any of us have ever experienced. It’s a strange time to write a positive story about my own life but I suppose it’s during times like these that we take stock of the things that truly bring us joy.

Life is short and we never really know what’s around the next corner. The best time to make your dreams come true is now. To fully tell this story, I suppose I have to go back to 2009. 

Embracing a new lifestyle.

In 2009 I took a huge leap of faith to start my own freelance business. I figured I’d be lucky to survive 6 months. I made it 8 years. 

During that time I took full advantage of my ability to work remotely and indulged my desire to travel. I spent some time in Bali, drove a car from London to Mongolia with some friends, toured Australia and New Zealand while working out of a camper van, and spent extended time in Europe and South America. 

It was an incredible experience, but eventually, I missed home. There really is nowhere in the world more beautiful than Washington State. 

Settling in the Methow.

I took my first trip to the gorgeous Okanogan in North Central Washington in 2001 and fell instantly in love with the big skies, wide open views, and friendly, down to earth people. With the flexibility to work from anywhere, I headed to the Okanogan in 2012 and settled in Mazama, a small mountain town in the beautiful Methow Valley right at the foothills of the North Cascades.

Rentals and housing in the Methow are notoriously difficult to find, but I got lucky and stumbled into a long term rental over the winter. I rented my Seattle condo and ended up calling Mazama my home base for nearly 3 years. 

Back then I wanted badly to buy a home in the Methow but with a down market, my Seattle condo was worth less than I had paid and I was in the midst of putting a lot of money into a special assessment to fix major structural issues with the building. Selling wasn’t realistic and I couldn’t justify, let alone afford, two homes. 

I resigned myself to the current situation, vowing that one day I’d eventually find a way to make a permanent home in the Methow. 

When opportunity knocks. 

After years of freelancing, taxes, and skyrocketing costs for medical insurance and benefits, I had accumulated more debt than I was comfortable with. In 2016 I said goodbye to the Methow and went back to Seattle for a full-time corporate job in hopes of a steady paycheck, better benefits, and some debt relief.

It took a few years to get right-side up financially, but the job was an amazing find and four years later I’m still there. Last year the million dollar+ construction project on my condo building finally completed. With the market up and this headache of construction finally over, I ripped out my old carpet, installed new flooring and appliances, and in June 2019, sold my home of 13 years.

I was relieved to cash in on the equity and the sale proceeds paid off my debt. After years of struggling to get on top of it all, it felt like an incredible weight had been lifted from my shoulders. At the same time, it was bittersweet, knowing I’d likely never own a home in Seattle again.

Planning the future.

I often jump from one thing to the next so this time I told myself to sit with it a while—take a year to enjoy being debt free and figure out my next move. I rented a friend’s beautiful urban hideaway in south Seattle and started brainstorming a plan.

Spending time with two good friends who have been living full-time in their 25′ Airstream re-ignited my old dream of owning an Airstream. Although I was pretty envious of their lifestyle and enjoy the gypsy life, I also knew that I yearned for a place to call home. There was no question to me that home was the Okanogan.

Late in 2019 I talked with my work manager about moving and he was very supportive. Prior to Covid, many in our office were already remote employees so it wasn’t a leap. My only issue was figuring out how to do it. Housing prices in the Methow had been on a steady increase since the time I had lived there. Do I jump into another big mortgage? Look for a rental? Buy land and build something modest? Buy an Airstream and live on the road while saving a lot more? I had a lot of things to sort out.

I started looking at homes and land for sale across the Okanogan, as far out as Tonasket and Oroville, but I still wanted badly to be in the Methow.

The more I looked, the more I fell in love with the idea of building my own little home—something small, modest, and sustainable on a piece of land where I could maintain some open, native space. I researched everything I could about zoning and permitting. I looked at home builders and cabin kits. I read about septic systems, power systems, and off-grid systems. I tried to figure out a financial plan to pull it all together. I wasn’t trying to build a several thousand foot custom home. I wanted only a simple 800-900 square foot home on a modest, reasonable budget.

And finally, a plan!

By the end of 2019, after a lot of research and soul searching, I had a solid road map. I wanted to find a newer but slightly used Airstream Bambi, one of their lighter, easier to tow, and more affordable models. I could embrace simple cheap living and save a lot more money. The Airstream would also make a perfect temporary home while I eventually built a permanent home. Afterwards I’d have a wonderful travel home that could also serve as a guest space.  

I’d started looking for land in the Methow to see what I could find in my price range. After researching lots of home builders and cabin kits, I settled on a builder I’ve long admired, Smiling Woods Yurts in the Methow. I’ve seen many of their unique round homes in the Valley and I love their beautiful simplicity.  I was also excited to work with a local Methow company who does all their production in-house by hand.

And there was my plan: buy an Airstream, buy some land, and build a yurt! It seemed so simple. And yet so big.

Moving the chess pieces.

I’d already finished my first step, which was selling my condo. My second step was to finally retire my beloved old 1998 Jeep Cherokee for something with a little more towing capacity. And so in December 2019, I sold my Jeep to a good friend and bought a used Toyota Tacoma with a towing package.

I kept my eyes on used Airstream listings as well as land in the Methow.

Hudson and I in December 2019 with our new adventure vehicle, one small piece of a very big plan!

And then Covid…

In late March when Covid closed real estate markets, businesses, and recreation, my plans along with everyone else’s came screeching to a halt. I patiently waited to see what would happen. Real estate agents told me that perhaps it would cool the hot market and give me an opportunity to buy. 

In fact, the opposite happened. When the market reopened rural properties suddenly became a hot item for people who were now able to work remotely and wanted to escape the city. Banks were tightening up lending across the board, requiring more money down and higher credit scores. BECU cancelled the land loan program I had previously been pre-approved for.

I was never so thankful to be debt free with a great credit rating, but I didn’t have the kind of money for a cash land buy. I needed bank help, which meant a lot of volatility. Combined with strong competition from cash buyers, I felt like my prospects for being able to buy were very low.

Digging my heels in.

I was already on the cusp of not being able to afford what I wanted in the Valley and I had dreamed of this for so long that I wasn’t about to give up that easily. I jumped both feet in, afraid I might lose the chance forever.

After travel restrictions were lifted, I spent much of June and July in the Methow looking for property. I was very aware to travel Covid safe and stayed completely self-contained living out of my truck. I worked with a fantastic agent and made 4 offers on properties. Not a single one worked out. It was hard not to feel incredibly frustrated. I had spent so many years waiting for this chance and people were snapping up rural land like hungry hungry hippos. 

Finally a series of luck.

With my lease in Seattle ending in June, I reached out to some friends in the Methow to see if anyone had an inside scoop on rentals. I knew living in the Valley again would make finding a property easier, but I also knew it was a long shot with Covid driving even more rental demand in an already tough market.

Surprisingly, a friend who moved to Mazama last year offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. She was having trouble finding contractors and remembered that I had remodeled the floors in my own condo. She asked if I had any interest in putting in new flooring in her guesthouse in exchange for free rent in July and August. 

Although I said I’d never do flooring again after remodeling my condo, I didn’t even think twice and told my friend yes. It was only a short term plan, but it would get me one step closer and I’ve never been shy about working hard for what I want. This would earn me a temporary home in the Methow and two months of free living! I could save almost my entire income during July and August while I continued to figure out my longer term plan.

At the very end of June in the middle of packing, days away from my move, I took a break one evening to check used Airstream inventory online like I’d done a hundred times before. I had practically given up on the prospect of finding an Airstream, but then there she was: a brand new but slightly used 2020 19’ Bambi, the Airstream of my dreams, freshly listed right in Seattle at Airstream Northwest. I almost couldn’t believe it. 

My unicorn! 

I wrestled all night about whether I should call. The Airstream I had been searching for was right in front of me, but I had also just committed to a free rent agreement. Should I really buy an Airstream right now? All my cash was going towards a land purchase, was it smart to take on debt right now? To buy an RV while I was trying to get approved for land loans? Should I wait a few months?

I sent an inquiry email that evening anyway, fully expecting the Bambi had already been snatched up. Surprisingly, the saleswoman at Airstream Northwest, Jocelyn Wu-Elliott, responded almost immediately. The Bambi had been sold earlier in the day but the buyers had a last minute change of heart and upgraded to a larger model. It was still indeed available.

Jocelyn called it a rare buying opportunity since this 19’ Bambi was bought new in March and traded in. It was basically brand new without the brand new price tag. After looking at Airstream inventory for a long time I knew this was a rare find. With Covid driving high demand it was virtually impossible to buy anything on the lot, get any kind of discount, or especially find a slightly used model like this.

I told her I’d be there first thing in the morning at 8:00am to take a look. 

The second I got to the dealership I knew it was meant to be. I can’t explain it. I took one look at this adorable Bambi, perfect for me and Hudson in every way. I didn’t even think twice or have a moment of hesitation when I said I’d buy it.

Having never bought an Airstream before, I thought I’d have to take it home that day and panicked. I was in the middle of trying to move back to the Methow and wasn’t sure where in the world I’d put her since I had a free rental in Mazama for the next two months.

Before I could tell the saleswoman about my concerns she said “I’m afraid I have to give you some bad news if you buy this today. We’re so far behind you won’t be able to take delivery for 30 days.”

I almost jumped for joy. 30 days?! That was so perfect!!!

“In fact”, I asked, “could you keep her maybe 40?”

The saleswoman laughed, saying I was the first person who had bought an Airstream recently who was happy I couldn’t pick it up immediately. I signed the paperwork and agreed to come back to pick up my Bambi on August 7.

I told my friend in Mazama the news and she was not only thrilled for me, but said there was plenty of space to park the Bambi in the guesthouse driveway for the remainder of August while I was here. It would be a great place to take refuge while I ripped out flooring.

It truly was meant to be.

And now, here I am!

I bought my Bambi on July 1. On July 4, two great friends who I owe the world showed up at my Seattle home, helped me load everything I owned into a U-Haul, and drove all the way to Brewster with me to load my stuff into a storage unit. Why Brewster? Well, it was very affordable and one of the few storage units I could find!

I closed the door on my storage unit without any idea when my stuff would see the light of day again. Would I build in the next year and come back for it? Would I eventually sell it? I really wasn’t sure. But the hard part was done.

A few days later on July 8 I made the move to my friends guesthouse in Mazama with a few boxes of essentials. I relaxed the first few weeks, ecstatic to be back to a place that has always felt like home and Hudson and I took full advantage of our proximity to amazing peakbagging.

We got out a lot, mostly because I knew that I’d soon need to spend the spare time outside my normal job painting the kitchen and installing new floors in the guesthouse. The last few weeks I’ve been hard at work and it’s been really fun to help transform someone else’s space. The change is really fantastic!

In fact, the additional money I’ve already been able to save these past two months has allowed me to put in yet another offer on a piece of land. Unlike the others though, this one was accepted and I’m currently, very excitedly, pending! I don’t want to say much more because it’s been a bumpy ride, but I have high hopes I’ll be closing very soon and will have a lot more to write about.

And finally, bringing home Bambi! 

When I bought my Bambi on July 1, my pickup day of August 7 seemed so far away. But wow how time flies and just over week ago I was driving back to Seattle to pick up my prize.

To be honest, I was both excited and terrified. Would I be able to hook it up solo? Tow it on my own? Operate it on my own? Though I’d towed in the past I was really rusty and there was so much to learn.

Airstream Northwest spent an hour walking me through all the ins and outs of my Bambi. I asked a lot of questions, took a lot of notes, and by the end of my walk thru I felt pretty calm. Before I knew it Bambi was hitched and I was on my way!

My Airstream saleswoman filmed the grand moment I pulled away with my new Bambi! So exciting!!

Yep, the Tacoma did indeed feel like it was towing an elephant, but I quickly got the feel of it. I made a quick stop in North Bend to visit a good friend who was excited to check out my new rig, and it was a good excuse for a break to make sure everything was set for the long drive to Mazama. When I pulled into the driveway in Mazama a few hours later I had a fantastic welcoming reception, my friend in her jammies with a beer, cheering me on. Although it took a few tries, I got the Bambi backed in successfully! She’s surprisingly easy to maneuver and towed beautifully and smoothly all the way home.

I’m actually writing this post from the comfort of the Bambi on my very first boondocking weekend. It’s been a fabulously wonderful experience and I’ll definitely write more about it.

So now I have my Airstream, with a plan to likely live in it this winter—yes, that’s right—while I hopefully start the next big project, which is development of my land and Smiling Woods Yurt. It should be a wonderful, exciting, “what in the world have I gotten myself into this time?!” kind of journey.

If you got this far thank you so much for reading. In many ways I simply had to write this story to help me process the long journey this dream has been and to remember that no matter what obstacles are thrown in your path, do your best to navigate around and through them, even if it takes a little extra time. Fulfilling your dreams is absolutely worth the effort!