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One Year on Wheels

I am often asked if I miss having a house.

My gut response is rather defensive. I have a house. It just happens to be silver, sits on wheels, and can be transported to any desired location via my car. So, the simple answer is no, I do not miss having a house. I have one.

If only life were as easy as the simple answers.

The more complicated (and therefore, more realistic) answer is yes, I miss having a house. And I still don’t mean the thing with four walls and windows and a door. Don’t let me fool you—I am most definitely plotting my dream homes over here (yes, plural). One is a black A-frame in the middle of the woods, and the other is a high-rise condo in the middle of a downtown metropolis, but my body’s reaction to this question goes much deeper than concrete and wood and exposed brick. It is more of an acquired heaviness. Because as a nomad, I’m struggling to feel connected to anything.

Today marks my one-year anniversary of living life as a full-time trailer traveler (trust me, I’m just as surprised as you are), and while Breckenridge is now the proud owner of my longest stint in the Airstream – five months – I still don’t inherently belong to this community.

For starters, I don’t actually live in town. I am a 2.5-minute drive to the free shuttle lot that takes me to the base of the gondola (which involves a “California stop” at the red light to turn right on to Airport Road) and a $13 Uber ride to Main Street (no tip). If given a preference, I’m going to spend the night curled up with Nugget under the covers inside the tin can than spend $26 for transportation so I can then spend $21 on three Tito’s and sodas (double, tall, lime, thanks).

And to get a trailer into Breckenridge, or into any town for that matter, is an altogether impossible task. Most RV parks sit just outside city limits, entirely dependent on zoning laws, and to own a property inside those limits with a driveway that will allow for Airstream access would cost me Nugget and my first child and what I owe the government for all those degrees I’m currently not putting to use. If you’ve been following my Instagram stories for quite some time now, you will recall the drama I’ve experienced in trying to find hookups all the way from Half Dome to Houston.

Living in an Airstream will be fun, they said.

Alright, alright, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Because of course, Airstream-living is pretty damn fun. I’ve simply realized that the freedom associated with this lifestyle is much more of a perception than it is a reality.

At this point in the story, I need to point out a couple things (for now) that the Airstream has taught me about the inner-workings of my devious mind.

One, location is everything to me. Ironically, a ten-hour road trip will slap a silly smile on my face, but a ten-minute commute to Pure Barre puts a damper on my day. In my regular life (whatever that means), I am one-hundred percent team no car. And I recognize that my enchantment with mountain towns stems from this ability to live almost anywhere within the desired zip code and still have access to nearly everything via foot—from the yoga studio to the grocery story to the local dive bar.

Two, because location is everything to me and because I am now fully aware of my ability to live in a mere 100 square feet, I could quite literally survive in a cardboard box if it were near all of my daily hot spots. Seriously, the old me cared way too much about square footage and upscale amenities (hashtag American Dream). Again, don’t let me fool you, Airstreams are by no means cheap. I will pay good money for quality things, and I do, in fact, like quality things. But I would rather have 100 square feet of amazing than 1,000 square feet of good. Most importantly, I now have the confidence to turn 100 square feet of mediocrity into something magnificent with the help of YouTube and my own two hands.

So, back to the regularly scheduled program, yes, I do miss a house. And when I say that I miss a “house,” I need you to hear me that I’m really missing the connection associated with being part of a community. Because when I moved into my Airstream last year, I wasn’t trying to make some statement about minimalism or tiny-home living. I didn’t put an end date to—what most would deem—this episode. For once in my life, I just didn’t have a plan. The only thing that I could define inside myself was that I was scared to commit to a place.

I was scared because I didn’t know the community I wanted to claim as mine.

Navajo Lake (Brian Head, Utah)

Navajo Lake (Brian Head, Utah)

So, with my freelance marketing business in my back pocket, I bought a home on wheels and dared to live out the dream—the opposite of the aforementioned American one—which I have now learned happens to haunt so many of us in our sleep. And there were times when I sat. And there were times when I sped. And regardless of that setting, I’ve learned that I needed every single day.

I’ve also learned what it means to stare loneliness deep in the eye. Working alone as a freelancer and living alone as a single person can often create 24-hour vacuums of solidarity (like, actual full days of zero physical communication with another human except for through the buttons and speakers on my phone).

Ask me if I love freelancing, and I will tell you I do. Ask me if I love living in an Airstream, and I will reassure you that it’s one of the best decisions of my life. But I will typically follow those positive squeals with a slight twinge of my lips that reads, “But somedays, it’s just too much choice.”

When there is nothing to ground me into time or space or place, the door is SO open, and I unashamedly admit that it can be intoxicatingly overwhelming. I often find myself searching for reasons for a door to close, even just a little; my personal quest to discover the satisfaction in the stationary.

Because I’m tired of choosing. Because whoever said that “freedom isn’t free” was right. Because some days, the weight of both my personal and professional lives can feel so nauseatingly heavy. And yes, there is something liberating about the freedom. I do have the world at my fingertips. But hear me: I have the world at my fingertips. The whole damn world. I don’t have someone to turn to and say, “let’s go” or “please, help.” I don’t have a colleague sitting across from me on her computer, telling me about her shitty second date with the guy up in finance or asking me about my opinion on how to handle her drunk grandma on Thanksgiving. I don’t have another set of hands to fix broken inverters or another set of eyes to gaze upon Sedona sunsets. I don’t have the pleasure of falling asleep next to a soul who magically fits next to mine (even if he grinds his teeth).

I have to make every decision for my clients who hire me because of my marketing expertise, and then I have to make every decision for myself when I’m trying to survive out on the open road. I say this with humility when I write that very few people are acting with such autonomy in both areas of their lives.

I know what you’re thinking. I don’t have a boss to micromanage me. I don’t have a passenger (or fellow driver) to hold up my road trip by begging me to go to the bathroom. You’re right. I don’t. And there are days when I thank my lucky stars that I don’t. But I also never get to choose autopilot. I don’t get to mindlessly scroll through my email and still get a paycheck. There is no one for me to divvy out responsibilities to so that I can carry a little less of the load.

And what I have learned is that I can say that I want this life or that I love that autonomy and it can still be hard. I can still be struggling inside the appreciation for my current state of being. I do not have to choose a feeling as if those feelings only exist as ultimatums.

I had a conversation with a good friend in Texas the other day who informed me that he was thinking of taking a job in another city, pretty far from his current country roots. I divulged that I had spent the entire day looking at condos in downtown Denver. There was an unstated, yet deeply understood, feeling of fear seeping through our iMessage chat log, which I broke with, “If we’re not scared, then we’re not doing the right things.” The second I saw those blinking bubbles, I knew that he was going to agree (he did).

Newsflash. Airstreams don’t fit in underground parking structures.

So, I spent most of last weekend crying (a strong dose of PMS may have also had something to do with it). Because this thing that used to scare me—living in a trailer without the stability of a permanent structure to call home—has now become my deepest sense of security. Meanwhile, the loneliness that comes as a natural byproduct of this life has magnified my two deepest needs.

One: I want to do life with someone, and it should come as no surprise that dating on the road is a rather trivial thing.

Two: I need professional stimulation from other creatives and entrepreneurs who are going to inspire me, which is difficult to find when sitting alone in my underwear in my Airstream that’s parked just outside of town.

So, I repeat, I spent the weekend looking at condos in downtown Denver. Because if I’m going to do the city, then I’m going to do the city. Please, plop me into a penthouse in the middle of Mile High (you’re not surprised). Because the mountains feed my soul, but those skyscraper buildings spark a deep level of excitement inside my brain. The honking horns and the shuffle of feet ignite a fire in my fingertips.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. And no, I wouldn’t get rid of the Airstream. Yet. I honestly question if I ever could. My emotional attachment to it at this point is at an all-time high. I’m also very aware that, unfortunately, money doesn’t grow on trees (guess our parents were right about that one after all).

The hard truth is that I don’t want to be done on the road. I’ve simply realized that the road is comfortable. And maybe that means I should stay roaming. But maybe it means I should try something different. Maybe it means that I need to find my balance. I repeat: I’m not in this experience to make a statement. I’m here to find my truth. And I know that part of that truth is that I don’t want to live on wheels forever. Travel on them, yes. Build my foundation on them as a permanent place of residency, no.

In my downtown search for the perfect pad, I was confronted with handfuls of people questioning my current living situation—an immediate assessment of whether or not I would fit in at a particular complex or if I could afford to live there.

Me: “Well, right now, yeah, I actually live in an Airstream.”

I have to admit, it’s hard to look at people’s faces when I make this statement (if they even know what an Airstream is). And y’all already know how many men try to make it back to the cozy confines of my twin bed in the tin can (insert massive eyeroll here). You see, I can directly pinpoint the moment of jealousy, how the light quickly floods over the person’s pupils, a split-second of drunkenness inside a state of complete sobriety. And I get it. I owned those eyes once (and I’ll forever own them as long as people keep talking about snowboarding in Japan or camping in Banff or eloping at the highest peak in the Sawtooth Mountains).

Jealousy is beautiful to a certain extent. When channeled appropriately. It reminds us that our dreams are real. It inspires us to act.

The problem is not the jealousy. The problem is that I’m allowing their story to become my story. I’m getting wrapped up in the easy answer because it’s easy for jealousy to fuel my continuation. I’m also putting myself back into an ultimatum, as if there are only two choices here. Stay. Move.

And another one of my learnings from life on the road is that there are never just two choices. Two choices may present themselves on the surface, but if you’re willing to do the work to go deeper, you will find a myriad of ways to determine your desired solution.

Corona Del Mar Beach (Newport Beach, CA)

Corona Del Mar Beach (Newport Beach, CA)

It’s a rather bittersweet feeling to be confronted head on by the excitement of new opportunities and the sadness of leaving something that is deeply loved. If I’m being honest with myself, there hasn’t been a time of transition in my life where the excitement and the sadness weren’t violently crashing into one another like a boy celebrating his twelfth birthday jacked up on Pixie Stix and head-hunting his friends in the driver’s seat of a bumper car. I can distinctly recall that wave of bittersweet washing over me when I’ve left other places like Basalt, Portland, Louisville, and Sun Valley to pursue different—not necessarily better—dreams.

I was recently explicating my fears of trading in full-time freedom to one of my best friends from Denver. Halfway through our three-hour conversation—one of those where you both keep telling each other that you’re going to get off the phone, but never do—he simply states, “I get it. You’d be giving up the life that everyone seemingly wants for the life that everyone already has.”


And that’s the thing about best friends. They often times know us better than we know ourselves. If they’re really good, they open us up to our own shit. And the great ones make us answer to the voice inside our heads that we’re incessantly trying to silence.

Me: “Yeah, Dub. Can we not?”

But, we can. I can. I will.

Because to be living in an Airstream is an amazing experience. It has been amazing. And if it’s meant to continue after she goes into the auto body shop for the next few weeks to fix the monstrous dent in her backside (thanks again, Houston), it will still be amazing.

But, change…change can also be amazing.

 I’ve come to this stark realization that choice feels so heavy because we are usually choosing between two (or more) right things. The issue is not with the choice. The issue is with what we do after the choice is made. Because we are too often plagued by paralysis for fear of choosing what is wrong (when a wrong does not exist) or by regret for fear that the other option would have turned out better (when it is impossible to ever know).

The true power of choice lies in our confidence to pursue one of them with reckless abandon.

 It would have been easy to regret this transition one year ago. My learning curve was steep by anyone’s standards. I could have succumbed to a thousand thoughts that this life just wasn’t meant for someone like me. But I never gave myself that option. Not because I wanted to ascribe to some naïve YOLO philosophy that justifies behaviors in the name of “no regrets”; trust me, I’ve regretted plenty of my life choices—but because I consciously understood that the minute I gave myself the ability to second guess my decision (like really second guess it) then I was not going to be able to be fully present in this moment (however long this moment may be).

One year ago, the Airstream was the right choice; however, staying in Sun Valley or moving back to Colorado would have also been the right choices. But I chose the Airstream. With reckless abandon. And in doing so, the Airstream chose me back. That doesn’t mean I didn’t cry. A lot. And it most certainly doesn’t mean that I didn’t ask myself regularly if what I was doing was in fact, right. It just means that I stood up to the part of myself that wanted to bait my insecurities into believing that I was wrong.

Now, I find myself facing that same fork (or spaghetti junction) in the road. And maybe the Airstream and I will end up in some campground of the dark night observatory in Stanley, Idaho. Or maybe I’ll choose some penthouse in downtown Denver. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll voyage to some waterfront RV park across the street from Whole Foods in Palm Beach, Florida.

The only thing I know today is that I’m dropping off my house at the Airstream dealership to get work done for the next few weeks. That wave of bittersweet excitement and sadness has washed over me in the last month more times than I can even count. Because I needed Breckenridge. Choosing to leave Texas for this Colorado tourist town, a return to my roots, was nowhere near easy. The pain tried to tell me that what I was doing was wrong. The pain was misinformed.

Because Breckenridge, you were every little bit of right.

 When I left Houston, I wrote, “If I am meant to be here, or anywhere, I need to feel the weight of missing this place. I need to re-ground myself in the geography that is a manifestation of my spirit. I need clarity. I cannot consciously live inside of habits that are out of integrity with the life that I am preaching for others to seek. I cannot settle.”

The leaving hurts. It always hurts. No matter the level of connection to the community. Because leaving still severs my daily patterns. It still forces me to wake up with a different view. It radically transforms my exterior. It requires that I readjust the small amount of autopilot gifted to me through my routine.

Yes, I miss a house insomuch that I miss the bond to a specific place or a physical group of people, but Breckenridge was never about the community. It was about me. It was about the mountains. It was about revealing another layer of myself to myself. And, in the digging, I just happened to find a guy—without an app—who reminded me that two humans doing the work can live inside of something magical (if even just for a moment).

At a point in my life where I wanted to throw in the proverbial dating towel, I realized that a relationship with two ready and willing adults can actually manifest into something worthy of sacrifice. Because somewhere amidst the shitty conversations that are required for a relationship to grow, I was inspired by my own voice. I was moved by my own ability to finally articulate what I want and need from a partner. I learned to trust myself—something so foreign to the version of me that existed just one year ago—and I braved into a territory that challenged me to be grounded in my own authenticity (no matter how deep). I also realized that “men suck” was a story that I was telling myself to protect my ego and my heart. The truth is that we all suck, but we’re all trying (some better than others). And my faith in finding a best friend with whom to hold hands and slap butts and fight over who gets the first shower (when we inevitably settle on taking one together) was restored to a level that I’m not even sure had ever existed.

So, I’m hitched up and headed out. I will simultaneously smile at the Airstream monopolizing my field of vision in my rearview mirror and cry for the pain of another goodbye. I will embrace the bittersweet.

In these moments, I’m always reminded of the David Bowie quote: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” It most certainly won’t. And I am committed to finding myself, finding my person, and finding my balance on this road we call life.

Stephanie is a road warrior, adventure seeker, and brand builder. She grew up in the mountains of Colorado and after spending nearly a decade between the PNW and the east coast, she’s proud to once again be calling Colorado home. Well, home for now. Stephanie recently bought an Airstream with the intention of living a more minimalistic and nomadic lifestyle. After logging over 20k miles in her car last year, chasing rock faces in the summer and powder days in the winter, she realized that life could be a hell of a lot simpler if she could carry her house with her on these adventures. In 2017, she started her own marketing agency, Sleigh Creative, to take control of her freedom. As a freelance creative director and brand strategist, she spends a lot of days playing and even more nights working. In all things, be it work or play, she seeks to inspire people to the life of never settling. You can follow along with her journey on Instagram, @by.stephanieleigh, and through her self-titled personal blog.