Interview with Longtime RVers Tim and Amanda Watson
Tim and Amanda Watson are a bit of a legend in the full-time RV world. Seven years ago, having realized that all of their favorite memories were of places they’d visited while traveling on vacation, they left their home in Vermont to live in an Airstream.
“Our current setup is a 1998 25’ Airstream Safari towed by a Toyota Tundra. This is the exact same setup we started with,” Amanda tells us from Vermont, where their family and many of their friends still live. “While we have undergone several rounds of renovations,” the couple has polished their Airstream twice on their own, “it’s a never-ending thing with us — you could say that we’re long-time DIY addicts, every time we consider making the switch to a different type of RV, we just can’t do it.”
They chose an Airstream for the aesthetics and durability.
“I like to have a bit of style on a budget,” her husband, Tim, chimes in. “Buying an older, used Airstream allowed us to have both. The Airstream not only looks good, but it has a bit of durability and lot more longevity than most trailers. Towing a trailer means we only have one engine to maintain which, we think, makes it easier, although we do get jealous of our friends with motorhomes and all their extra space.”
Seven years down the road, they’ve seen much of the United States and Canada.
“These days,” Amanda speaks to how they choose where they’ll go next, “most of our decisions regarding where to travel revolve around things we plan to do.” The couple seeks out music festivals and likes to kayak. “Or people we want to see, as opposed to specific areas we want to visit.”
“We usually have a far off event or vague plan,” Tim adds. “Then, we fill the time in-between with areas and stops that we think we’d enjoy the most.”
Most of their time is spent out west, though you’ll find them often enough–come winter–in Florida and they tend to migrate back toward the Green Mountain State somewhat regularly as well.
So where do they camp when exploring the continent?
“We love the freedom that boondocking provides,” Amanda says of camping, typically for free, in wild places, “and when we’re in an area where public land is plentiful, it will always be our first choice. However, there is a good portion of the country where public land is nearly nonexistent and therefore boondocking is not an option. ”
“Our choice of campground almost always comes down to location,” she explains. “If we want to explore a city or stay in one area for an extended amount of time, we’ll look for a private RV park. While not usually high on scenic appeal, we do love the convenience they provide. This past spring we visited St. Louis for the first time and stayed at the St. Louis RV park which is located right in the city only about 1.5 miles from the Arch. While the park was nothing more than a gravel lot with hook-ups, we loved the fact that we could walk or take public transportation anywhere we wanted to go. Over the years we’ve made more of an effort to stay close to the places we want to visit rather than picking a nice state or county park farther out that requires more driving back and forth.
“On the other side, we love state parks for their location as well. We’re huge fans of hiking, biking and kayaking, and staying at a state park almost always means we have access to trails or a lake right outside our door. The downside of state parks is that they are very popular and require lots of advance planning to get into. We’re always on the lookout for state parks with first-come, first-serve sites for this reason. We’ve had great luck in snagging these sites by showing up on a Sunday when all the weekenders are clearing out.”
They’re fans of public lands in general, whether it’s free boondocking, state offerings or the gems of this country, the national parks.
“ We figured out pretty early on in our travels that the nationally designated areas,” she’s speaking of national parks, monuments, seashores and the like, “are all worth a visit. We happily shell out our $80 every year for an annual park pass and try our best to experience as many of these places as possible. I really love the bigger parks in the west where you can hike for miles without seeing another person, but I also love the more historical parks in the east. We like to joke that we’ve learned more history by visiting national parks than we ever did in school.”
Amanda is a native Vermonter, and Tim lived in the state for 15 years before they hit the road. 45 states later, they’re still wondering which is “the best.”
“As someone who is from Vermont, which is clearly the best state in the east,” she smiles, “I struggle with this question. Because while I love my home state, it will never compare to the rocky mountains in Colorado, the red rocks of Utah, the mind-blowing Sonoran desert, the breathtaking coast of Oregon and Washington, or any of the other truly incredible places that we’ve visited in the west.
“In short, I am completely smitten with the western side of the country. It’s not only the natural beauty that gets me but the wide-open spaces and ability to drive for miles between towns. I feel more at home in the west than I ever did in the east, and while we will always visit the east because all our family and some good friends live there, I secretly wish they would all move west! ”
“The entire country is pretty amazing,” Tim adds, “and we find something good at just about every spot we stop. However, the east requires much more planning and lacks public lands.”
Tim is a software engineer, and more or less works a typical 40 hour work week, even if he does so from his Airstream, parked in a new location every week or so. “I don’t work full-time,” Amanda tells, “and that allows me to take on all the extra tasks while Tim is pounding away at the computer. We make a strong effort to get in as much ‘play’ time as possible outside of working hours. For us, that usually means getting out right after work is finished for a hike or bike ride and filling our weekends with as much as adventure as possible. Because we are limited by work, sometimes we end up finishing a hike late in the evening by flashlight or enduring the weekend crowds at a museum or brewery. We try not to let this limit our fun and instead focus on making the most of the opportunities offered to us by choosing this lifestyle. ”
With Tim having a remote job and the ability to draw a paycheck from nearly anywhere they can connect to the Internet, provides them the income, sure. But, Amanda reveals, “On a deeper level, we keep things going by living within our means, not taking on unnecessary debt, and making wise choices regarding how we spend and how we save.”
Amanda also brings in additional revenue for the couple as a travel writer and runs an embroidery business, Wandering Threads Embroidery.
“I was searching for a hobby that didn’t take up too much space in the Airstream,” she recalls. “Tried knitting and found it boring and then stumbled upon embroidery. I watched some Youtube videos to learn the basics and a new passion was born. I originally wanted to sell completed embroidery pieces. Had a bit of success with that before realizing I didn’t want to spend all day stitching a custom piece of art for a tiny amount money. So, I started Wandering Threads Embroidery and began designing and selling digital versions of my embroidery patterns. I have kept the focus on my two passions, travel and nature, by designing patterns that incorporate both of these things into easy-to-stitch patterns. My best sellers are the National Park patterns and my U.S. and Canada travel maps.”
Aside from his regular job as a software engineer, Tim creates digital tools for his fellow travelers as well. Campground Full? is an incredibly useful service he created which allows travelers to get updates on when openings become available at busy campgrounds that tend to book up quickly the moment new reservations open up.
“The reservation notification tool has been amazingly well received,” he admits. “I had no idea it would become so well used especially since its existence is only spread by word of mouth.” With the recent boom in the popularity of camping, entire swaths of the country can be nearly impossible to visit if you haven’t planned a year or so in advance. “There certainly are not any new public campgrounds being created,” he says, “so the existing ones are getting heavy, heavy use. You have to use any advantage you can to reserve a spot at these places.”
The website simply monitors publicly available data and sends an email when those three consecutive nights you wanted to book in Yosemite become available.
“I just have to add that Tim likes data,” Amanda laughs, referring to the infographic on their website and her husbands interest in using data in an interesting way, “and if he can find a cool and interesting way to display and keep track of that data, even better. If you think the infographic is cool, you should have seen the light up ping pong ball art piece that displayed his emails back when we lived stationary…”
They lead a life of travel, seeking out new adventures, geeking out on embroidery and data point plotting, and looking for whatever type of campground will give them that most fabled of El Dorados, a good strong cell connection.
“Our most limiting factor when choosing a location is getting a good cell connection for internet service,” Amanda admits. “and that is the same whether boondocking or not. In fact, there are times when we’ve gotten a better signal boondocking in the middle of nowhere than we have at a crowded state park where everyone is trying to stream Youtube off the same cell tower.”
Tim & Amanda’s Favorite Campgrounds
So what has seven years on the road taught the couple?
“I guess for me, it’s less about living on my own terms, and more about living deliberately. It can be tempting to think that living in an Airstream and traveling around the country means that life is going to be magical and perfect all the time. But the reality is that it’s only as good as you make it. I try to remind myself every day that despite whatever else is going on around me, it’s the choices I make that will ultimately shape my reality. I think probably the most important thing I’ve learned is to be true to myself, to do things that make me happy, and to seek out others who I enjoy spending time with. ”
“I had no real idea what might come of it,” Tim thinks back to when this journey all began. “I still don’t. I was concerned at first about what we were giving up,” their home, their things, “and that if the traveling lifestyle didn’t work out it would be hard to get back to where we were. Those concerns faded away pretty quickly.”
“I’ve always been a homebody type of person,” Amanda reveals, “so I imagined that it would only be a few years before I got tired of moving around and wanted to settle down. What I didn’t realize is that having my house with me all the time means that everywhere is home. At this point, neither of us has a burning desire to stop traveling full-time.”
Tim’s advice for anyone who’d like to try living out of an RV?
“Be open to going with the flow. You can’t and shouldn’t need to have control over everything. Weather, breakdowns, crowds, generator noise. If you can handle all that with an amused smile it makes enjoying the flip side all that much sweeter — perfect weather, scenic roads, isolation, silence.”
“What he said!” Amanda chimes in emphatically. “Flexibility, and an openness to experiencing new things while letting go of preconceived notions is going to make full-time travel so much more enjoyable.”
As winter begins stretching its icy fingers into New England, Tim and Amanda are no doubt plotting their migration south. You can follow along with their adventures via Amanda’s Instagram account and see their favorite places to camp right here on Campendium (they were one of the first five people to use the site!)