This couple had a baby while living full-time in their Airstream – and visited 33 states

Heather DeSantis-Holmes and Austin Holmes with their daughter Rose.

When Heather and Austin Holmes met in San Diego in Feb. 2018, it didn’t take long before they knew they were in it for the long haul. They decided to make a life plan together and, like many young couples, needed to pick where to live.

After over a year of research, they decided they would find the answer by embarking on a road trip exploring the United States via an Airstream attached to their pickup truck. While they were excited to see the country, they were really looking for the right place to plant roots. Starting in December 2019, they drove across the country, hitting 33 states, including Tennessee, Ohio and Florida, spending a day or two in a new town to see how they liked it. As the pandemic halted most travel, the couple was able to continue going by way of their Airstream, affectionately named Freya. 

“When you’re living in an Airstream, I think you have more space and time to worry about what matters most,” Heather, formally known as Heather DeSantis, said about the experience. 

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In the past three years, the couple experienced milestones living full-time in the 23-foot-long Airstream, from dating to marriage, then pregnancy, and the birth of their daughter, Rose. They also made stops at Zion National Park, Key West and Mount Rushmore, to name a few.

The couple towed their Airstream around the nation via a pickup truck.

Although the couple is now looking at building a home in Morganton, North Carolina, they know the Airstream will continue to play an integral role in their family. 

The couple spoke to USA TODAY about how they fit their life in a van, what it was like to be pregnant in such a small space, and more about the Airstream lifestyle. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did Freya enter the plan?

The couple in front of their Airstream named Freya.

Austin: When I was going on deployment in Nov. 2018, we went through all of our options, like are we going to Airbnb hop? Are we going to build out a van because that was the thing to do at that point? … I had some friends that were getting surf vans and adventure vans. Then we kind of fell in love with Airstream and the culture behind it, and just having a little more space, like having your home and all your comforts with you as you travel. We wanted the travel piece, and we also wanted to figure out where we wanted to live.

Heather: We would go to the different visitor centers to see what there is to do in each city. A lot of it was seeing what it’s like for young people. What’s it like to have a family? If you’re creative? Or, if you’re an entrepreneur, what is it like? We looked at how much sunshine, how much snow, and we literally had a spreadsheet. From that came a formula to end up where we are now: we chose North Carolina in the mountains in between Charlotte and Asheville.

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What was the biggest surprise when it came to living in the Airstream?

Austin: The actual driving does eat up a little bit of time, but I’d spend a third of my time doing that organizational piece of figuring out, alright, where are the places we’re gonna go? What are we gonna see? Booking everything out. It takes a chunk of time to do that. Luckily, I did a bunch of making travel plans in the Navy, so I was already familiar with it.

Just like a regular house, stuff in the Airstream breaks too. You’re gonna have your faucets break, and whatever else, like a hose, is going to crack, or the power is going to do something weird. That’s pretty constant, honestly, especially as you’re moving around, everything’s shaking. Something breaks, like every month. They’re not major most of the time.

Austin built Heather a standing desk to make working remotely easier.

Heather: My perspective would be on working virtually. When I started my company in 2016, we were virtual, so we were able to navigate that, but I had to live on a hotspot and a booster. Austin also built a standing desk in the Airstream, so I had a dedicated working space that fit in perfectly. It lifts it up, which was really great to have.

How would you describe the nomad lifestyle?

The couple's Airstream out by the mountains.

Heather: Every part of life flows together, and that’s what we wanted. The whole work-life balance thing is not what we look at; instead, we’re like, how can we integrate our life so that everything works together? Like, picking places to go, we ask how can we have a business meeting and then be at an offbeat, awesome coffee shop and then go see a show? 

Austin: We don’t need a whole lot of space, like Heather’s apartment in San Diego was like 500 square feet or something, and, you know, I had lived on a ship in the military, so not a lot of space there.

Heather: It was more of a struggle for me, really getting down to the basics, like having a core set of clothes to wear routinely. When you’re living in an Airstream, I think you have more space and time to worry about what matters most, so like taking an extra hour to curl your hair when you could be at a coffee shop or hiking or doing an adventure. You don’t want to waste your time.

What was it like being pregnant on the road?

The couple in their Airstream while Heather was pregnant.

Heather: It’s so interesting. People stress about having a nursery, having a baby shower and having all these things. But at the end of the day, when you don’t have a lot of space, you don’t have many options to create all these extra things for your baby. We have a daughter who needs love, attention, music and dancing, but she doesn’t need a lot. So luckily, and thankfully, we do co-sleeping and it’s been awesome. It hasn’t been hard at all. Like I think the hardest thing was when I tried using a pregnancy pillow, and the bed’s so small. So like, there’s hardly any room in the bed, right? Like how do you sleep on your side with a pregnancy pillow in an Airstream? But the pregnancy pillow was more work.

Austin: I became the pregnancy pillow. Yeah, I honestly think I had more worry about because we started looking at other options like where we’re gonna live. We’re actually under contract on the house now. But I was worried about like, oh, is this going to work with the kid? And it totally does. You have that element where you can go out, like, so much more of your life is spent not sitting on the couch because you don’t have a couch.

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What was your favorite part about living in the Airstream?

Heather: I would say just being able to be in close quarters with your family. It’s not a lot of room, so you’re really able to get to know your family really well.

When we went to the Grand Canyon and Zion, I felt like a lot of people there were older. It’s such a gift being able to work from home and travel, it just gives you more opportunity to not have to wait to have a retired lifestyle. Although, you will have to work hard at making it work. Like for me, I’ll get up at 4 a.m. and work till like 1 p.m. so that I can go in the park in the afternoon. It’s really exciting that people can create that lifestyle now.

Any advice for people who want to try the van life?

Heather: My advice would be to do it. I’ve always been one to follow your intuition. But also do a lot of research. There are so many blogs, Facebook groups and YouTube channels to follow. You can also reach out to full-time Airstream people. If someone’s reading this and they’re like, oh, I want to do it, you should absolutely do it.