For Aaron Gulley and his wife, Jen Judge, the open road is home. We caught up with them just long enough to ask what it’s like living in and working from their home office on wheels.
As a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Outside Magazine, Aaron Gulley lives the part of a full-time adventurer.
When not dispatched to the far corners of the globe, he and his wife, Jen Judge, an editorial and commercial photographer, live in an Airstream. It’s a life many people aspire to, but what’s blending adventure and occupation really like?
RV Life: Pro Photographer, Writer Shares Tales From the Road
GearJunkie: When did you start living and working full-time in your Airstream? Do you still have a home base?
Gulley: We bought Artemis in April 2016 and spent the better part of that year touring around, though we kept a home base during that period and were also frequently in Santa Fe. We rented our home out in January 2017 and have been fairly continuously on the road ever since.
We still own a house in Santa Fe, and it came open early this summer. So, to help manage a huge load of international work and travel, we set up shop in Santa Fe from May to July. New renters moved into the house in August, and we are back on the road full-time now.
For many people, living full-time on the open road is just a dream, one never made a reality. How difficult was it to cut the tethers of a fixed address and start traveling? What prompted you to make the change?
We sort of drifted into road life. About 10 years ago, I was heavily into endurance mountain bike racing and slightly obsessed with an event called the Arizona Trail Race, which was held every April. Jen and I started spending stints every winter in Tucson so I could ride and train in warm weather.
At first, it was a few weeks, then a month, then a couple of months. After renting a small casita several years in a row, we began considering buying a property down there where we could build a small winter getaway that would double as a rental. At some point, Jen said, “If we bought a trailer instead of land, we could go to new places every year.”
I was initially skeptical: I thought it would be too difficult to manage work from the road. But Jen rented a vintage Airstream for her birthday that year, and, after spending a week boondocking in the Superstition Mountains, I was sold. That was mid-March, and we found Artemis, bought her, and moved in within the month.
Living in an Airstream qualifies as a bold lifestyle choice, and it had to have come with a few sacrifices. Is there anything you miss about a brick-and-mortar domicile?
Mostly, no. We love the simplicity of having just the bare day-to-day necessities, very little space to clean and keep up, and less distraction of internet and TV.
We have a very nice shower in the Airstream, but I do miss the luxury of an occasional long, hot shower, which just isn’t possible because of our limited tank size and the infrequency of refills. But that’s just an extravagance.
If I have one real complaint, it’s laundry: There’s basically nothing redeeming about trips to a laundromat. Managing the postal service is also a challenge. We have our mail forwarded to a post box in Santa Fe, and the owner sorts, bundles, and ships it to us every few weeks, which works okay.
But bills and important notifications get delayed or lost. Once, I received a jury duty notice 2 days before I was supposed to appear, and we had to race back to Santa Fe.
Why did you choose your Airstream? Is there anything you would do differently with your setup if given a chance, and do you have any advice for anyone about to pull the trigger on an RV?
The biggest decision was between a trailer, a van, or a truck camper for the pickup. Since we schemed about living in the setup full-time, a trailer became the obvious choice, both for the abundance of space as well as the ability to leave camp without breaking down your home every time.
We are design people and value quality space, so the aesthetics were what drew us to Airstream. After we looked at lots of trailer options, though, it became clear that Airstreams are simply better built and more durable than pretty much anything out there, and we firmly believe in that old adage “buy it once, buy it right.”
Lots of people are still happily driving around in 50- and 60-year-old models. Airstreams also hold their value quite well — we could probably sell ours today for what we paid for it.
As working professionals, being on the move must present unique challenges. How do you stay connected to your work obligations while balancing travel? Is it difficult to compartmentalize work life from your wanderings?
All we really need to work is cell reception to run a wireless hotspot, so the biggest challenge is simply finding a campsite where we can be connected.
We actually find it easier to compartmentalize on the road: At home, it’s easy to let your workdays bleed on and on, whereas on the road we want to bang out our daily tasks as efficiently as possible so that we can get out and enjoy our constantly new surroundings. Also, we have to manage electricity carefully, which means we simply can’t be on the computers all day every day.
Probably the most difficult thing to juggle is our international work when Jen or I — or most challengingly, both of us — have to go abroad on assignments. It can be tricky to find a place to store an Airstream for weeks at a time on short notice.
The two of you have been at this a while, so I’m curious about your travel habits. Do you have a circuit of favorite haunts you like to revisit, or is every season a chance to explore new parts of the country? How wide is your migratory range? Any favorite spots you care to share?
When we pass through terrain we’ve already seen, we generally stop at the same sites, mostly because we’ve taken the time to scout them once and know they are good and will work for us.
But probably the biggest appeal of road life for us is having access to new trails to ride, rivers to boat, mountains to explore, and vistas to savor, so we try to keep venturing out.
So far, that has been over a swath of the Rocky Mountain West, from Arizona and New Mexico in the south up to Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana in the north. We’ll likely hit Arkansas and Texas for the first time in the trailer this autumn, and we’re talking about either the Pacific Northwest or Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin) next year.
But the other thing we like about the nomadic life is the freedom to go where whim leads, so we also try not to get caught up in any grand route-planning and just enjoy wherever we land.
With a medium-sized travel trailer, you have the flexibility to wiggle into some great spots far off the grid. Do you prefer to dry camp much of the time, or do you hole up in the occasional RV park?
We dry camp on national forest, BLM, and state trust lands (where permitted) about 90 percent of the time. The big appeal is the solitude and the quiet, though the cost — free — doesn’t hurt either.
We’re not above pulling into an RV park for a night, especially when we need to do laundry and fill our tanks. But when we’re in a dense neighborhood setting like that, we always think, “If we’re going to live like this, we might as well be back home in our beautiful house.”
For anyone about to become a full-time traveler, what do you think is the biggest misconception about life on the road? Many people think it’s free living. Others may not appreciate the logistical hurdles. Do you have any eye-openers or advice?
You can live with less than you think you can. It’s easy to stress about packing just the right things or worry that you won’t have all your favorite things. We wear virtually the same clothes every day, have just a few key pieces of gear, and, the truth is, we love that simplicity.
Also, living in a small, mobile space is great, but it comes with complications and frustrations. Be ready to bump into your partner constantly as you negotiate tight spaces and put things away continually to keep them out of the way.
Day-to-day tasks, including cooking meals, washing dishes, and even showering, are more time-consuming and laborious. And things go wrong: you blow a tire, the water tank springs a leak, rats chew your truck’s electrical system, and suddenly all your plans for the day or week can be blown.
Rather than stress about this stuff, realize that’s just part of living on the road and embrace it. All those things that you thought you had to get done probably aren’t as pressing as you imagined, anyway.
And a final question, one any two RV travelers ask when they bump into each other: Where have you been recently, and where are you headed next?
We’ve had a brief hiatus from the trailer to get our house ready for renters and also to accommodate some big international assignments: Bhutan, Nepal, and Iraqi Kurdistan. We’re back on the road again, heading north from Santa Fe, but without too much of a plan.
Elk season is just about to open in Colorado and Idaho, so we’ll be hiding out in the backcountry in one of those two states for the next month chasing our annual meat. After that, we’re going to be looking for the best mountain bike trail conditions in places we haven’t ridden, maybe around Park City or St. George, Utah.
This article is sponsored by Go RVing. Check out RV travel ideas, news, and dealer information at gorving.com.