1,000 Families Project:
Kate and Iain

Could you downsize your life to a 180-square-foot Airstream trailer in exchange for being able to quit your jobs and travel full time? This couple hasn’t looked back since embracing a nomadic lifestyle.

Iain and I have always shared a nomadic spirit. From our native roots in England and Scotland, we spent some of our first years together living in Dublin, Ireland. We got married in Penang, Malaysia, and have spent the majority of our working years in California, USA. These days we have taken the constantly moving way of life to a whole new level.

It was one of those ideas that just kept gathering steam. We were living in San Diego, California where we both had busy executive careers. Our work lives were characterized by long hours, lots of travel away from home and an almost umbilical attachment to our smartphones to cope with whatever perceived
crisis was currently top of our work priority list. No, neither of us were fire fighters or cardiac surgeons—just employees in a corporate world addicted to short term goals and quick fixes. We were growing tired of it and spent many hours wondering how we could get out of the situation we found ourselves in.

We dreamed of spending time exploring different places. Our short vacations gave us an enormous appetite for travel and that wasn’t going away any time soon. We were not those employees who didn’t take our vacation days; we got away whenever we could. We also loved to camp and had a small motor home that we would take to the beach for the weekend to relax and kick back. After a few cold ones around the campfire, the conversation always turned to how we could travel more and work less.

That’s when we had a eureka moment. We wanted to travel for longer periods but we had jobs that stopped us. We needed the jobs to pay for our California sized mortgage, but if we traveled more maybe we didn’t need a house at all. We did the math and realized if we reduced our living expenses by selling our home and everything that comes with home ownership, we could quit our full-time jobs. So two years ago that’s exactly what we did.

We no longer have a “sticks and bricks” home but we do own an Airstream trailer, 180 square feet of shiny awesomeness. We split our time between living in that and renting apartments in various countries around the world. We are currently part way through a six-month stay in South East Asia. We
live off our savings but also rely on freelance work. I still consult in my old industry, but only part time—and I can do it from anywhere. Our living expenses are a fraction of what they were in Southern California so we don’t miss the income at all.

When we sold our stuff we went cold-turkey; no storage unit, no asking friends to keep stuff for us. One little box of tax records and some family memorabilia are stored in my sister-in-law’s basement. Apart from that we have everything we own in our truck and trailer. It’s so liberating not having so much
stuff to be responsible for. It is also fulfilling to live more mindfully. We don’t buy things frivolously because we have limited storage space. We think about how much energy or water something will use because we have limited resources. To many people that may sound awful, but we don’t mind it at all. We appreciate things so much more.

The big advantage of a home on wheels is that our backyard constantly changes. Over the last few years we have camped in deserts, by mountains, lakes and oceans. Spending time in nature is a constant thrill. North America has truly amazing scenery and we have only scratched the surface.

We mix in travel overseas because we also crave some cultural diversity. We don’t move as often when we get outside the US. We usually rent a home for a month or more and try to live like the locals. This approach gives us the chance to experience a place without having to be tourists and is much more
cost-effective. We learn a lot about what is important to us as a family when we spend time in different places. So far we have learned that we prefer staying in cities and towns to isolated, rural places. We like scenery and opportunities to get outdoors nearby, but prefer the vibrancy of a city on our doorstep. We figure if we do settle in one spot in the future we will have dated a lot of possible suitors before getting married to one place.

As a family, Iain and I have always been the core. We are a good partnership. We spent 14 years of our life with a wonderful dog who was like family to us. When she passed away we decided to live without a furry friend, for now at least. Our extended family visit us often and the community of friends we have
who also travel full-time is incredible. But most of the time it is just us two.

We’ve been together for almost 25 years, and married for 21. Now that we no longer work full-time, we spend a lot of time in each other’s company. That’s a test of any relationship. We make it work mostly by accepting that you can’t be happy and cheery all the time. It’s human to get grumpy; sometimes it’s
for a reason, sometimes it’s not. While most people share their bad mood with colleagues, the barista or the cat, we only have each other to take it out on. That can be tough, so we try and own our grouchy states when we have them, don’t over-analyze and give ourselves space to get over it. Mostly we just get along. We sing together and go to great lengths to make each other laugh. Iain has been telling the same jokes for over 20 years and they still make me chuckle. We have an underdeveloped sense of embarrassment so dancing in the aisles of grocery stores is one of our favorite things to do.

Our life isn’t all cocktails or amazing mountain vistas straight out of a North Face commercial. We have to do all the same things non-nomadic people do like laundry, cleaning or going to the dentist. We also do some things only nomads do, like dumping our waste tanks, or fighting with a taxi driver over a fare in a language we don’t understand. (Incidentally, it usually turns out we were fighting over 50 cents.) But on balance we are happy to live life on our terms. We are no longer at the beck and call of our jobs and now live without debt or very much else for which we have to be responsible. We can chart our own path and be fully in control of our own happiness.

This is #1000families post number 206. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.
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Kate Gilbert

About

Kate is a passionate advocate for relentlessly pursing happiness. Her mission is to challenge the pressure society puts on us to lead conventional lives. She tells her story in her first book The Happy Camper: How I Quit My Corporate Job and Sold Everything to Travel Full Time. She splits her time between apartment rentals around the world and traveling around the US in an Airstream Trailer. You can read about Kate and Iain’s travel experiences at The Scenic Route blog.


'1,000 Families Project:
Kate and Iain' have 1 comment

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