This month we caught up with Kelly & Dave Burns, Denver-residents and experienced #thatairstreamlife couple who found their way to EarthCruiser after tapping into a desire to explore further and get more lost than their trusty camper could take them. Both have jobs that allow for remote work and they’ve developed a compelling (and enviable!) solution to balancing adventure and work with a hub-and-spoke model, enabled by their new EarthCruiser, “TugBoat”.
What was your path to exploring the outdoors in recreation vehicles?
We both grew-up in the Midwest and married in our early thirties while living in Chicago. Neither of us had any camping experience and only limited exposure to the outdoors generally, yet somehow, we started taking trips to the Pacific Northwest. Enamored with the area, we eventually threw caution to the wind, sold our Chicago condo and moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Our first joint camping trip was a disaster – it was cold and rained all night. This experience led us to begin asking ourselves questions about a camper or a trailer so I [Kelly] could stay warm, dry, and have a door that locked. That led to our first trailer – a small used Winnebago atop a sprinter chassis, complete with heater, toilet and shower. That camper was a little roaming studio apartment that we used for years.
How did you end up living full-time in an Airstream?
A few years after we bought the Winnebago, Dave was recruited to San Francisco and his job had flexibility to work remotely. With housing being so expensive, we decided to upgrade into our dream Airstream and live in it full-time. We started looking and found a dealer with the model we wanted and jumped headfirst into that world.
We quickly settled into a hub-and-spoke model out of San Francisco. We found a dedicated spot to park the Airstream, disappearing every few weeks for a trip. Eventually it became frustrating that we couldn’t venture beyond a day’s drive and when the company Dave worked for was sold, he negotiated a deal with the buyers that his position be 100% remote, I (Kelly) already had the ability to work remotely so when Dave was able to do so, his job flexibility enabled us to hit the road and stay there.
The next five years we were always in perpetual motion, which is typical of full-time living on the road. While working we needed to ensure regular and reliable internet connectivity and access to an airport due to frequent work travel. Eventually we found ourselves in a position where we could both quit working and travel full-time. Without work restrictions, we were no longer concerned with internet connectivity and became really comfortable with boondocking – regularly going months without plugging in thanks to a large solar array and lithium battery bank. We learned how to get lost and, ultimately, wanted to get more lost that was possible in our set-up.
What was the turning point to move to an expedition vehicle from the Airstream?
At some point the Airstream became a liability keeping us from where we want to go, such as desert canyons or forests. On many occasions we found ourselves in national parks or other public lands wanting to go deeper but were limited by our big tow vehicle-trailer combo. That’s what got us really thinking seriously about an overlanding vehicle and the next chapter. At this point we started looking and identifying our wants and needs.
How did you find your way to EarthCruiser?
We volunteered at an Overland Expo a couple years ago which was the first time we saw an EC up close. We went back to work at the end of last year and moved to Denver, Colorado. We have some friends with a furnished rental and full hook-ups in the side yard, so we set-up to regroup and recreate a go-forward hub-and-spoke model with Denver as home base.
We started looking at truck campers, Sprinter van platforms, and other all-in-one vehicles. Once we decided to buy pre-owned we started looking seriously at options. We liked the EarthCruiser floorplan the best and also were drawn to its winter camping capabilities, which was a key consideration we were looking for in a vehicle.
We strongly considered a used EXP for sale locally in Boulder, but ultimately walked away because we liked the fixed roof best. We saw a couple used FX models were available at EC headquarters and since we love Bend, we decided to go see the used rigs, ultimately viewing the trip as no-risk. We ended up buying in late June.
Taken any trips yet?
We’ve taken two pretty long trips and a couple shorter ones. After buying the EC (nickname: TugBoat) we did a locale shakedown trip into the Cascades and have since taken a few local trips to the mountains a few hours outside of Denver. Most recently, we completed a five-week trip to the upper Midwest, visited family in South Dakota and Minnesota before crossing into Wisconsin. We routed back to Denver through Iowa and Nebraska. Most of that trip
found us in state parks and family driveways, but we did mix in a bit of urban stealth camping.
What’s great about this hub-and-spoke approach is that it introduces regular variability. We expect to be traveling in TugBoat 100+ nights annually and like having the ability to alter what we bring trip-to- trip. Unlike full-timing, wherein we always traveled with all our possessions, now we bring only what we want for that trip. This flexibility has been a really good affirmation that this is the way we want live and travel for now.
Do you have any dream trips planned?
Yes, S-L-O-W-L-Y explore the Canadian Yukon and Alaska. We also want to experience the Canadian Maritimes region.
What advice do you have for people considering living an overlanding lifestyle, either full-time or part-time?
Educate yourself on the differences between a mobile and traditional sticks & bricks lifestyle. The reality is that every day will not be ‘epic’. Living in a camper full-time and/or taking trips lasting multiple, consecutive months introduces realities different from trips lasting less than two or three weeks. We always encourage people to talk to as many full-timers as possible, even if doing so involves reaching out to those you do not know. The full-timing community tends to be very welcoming to anyone considering this lifestyle and can be wealth of knowledge.
How do you make working remote work for you? Any tips for people looking to pursue this kind of life-work balance?
The thing to remember is you will not be camping – you will be living and working. It will be important to have a set-up that accommodates the need to live and work effectively with long-term comfort. Likely, voice and data connectivity will be a key enabler of a remote lifestyle, so make sure to have this infrastructure set-up in a predictable and reliable manner, ideally with multiple carriers for redundancy purposes. With respect to balance, be sure to explore the areas you are visiting – getting out into nature, exploring the communities, and partaking in local events are all perks of the ever-changing backdrop a mobile lifestyle affords you.
Any special gadgets or hacks you’ve found over the years?
We have lots of gadgets, view the list here: https://www.campendium.com/camping/dave-kellys-favorite-camping-gear/
Thanks so much, Dave and Kelly, for taking the time to share your story with all of us. We look forward to following along on all your new EarthCruiser adventures. If you’d like to share your story with us, please send a note to: [email protected].