Life in an Airstream
A lot of people talk about packing up all their possessions and heading out on the road - but few do. It's an engrained American idea but in reality very hard to actually do which is why so actually can carry through with it. I was excited to catch up with a couple who actual did it...and have made it work. Meet Seth & Drea Hughes, they've been on the road for about 660 days and still going strong. Though they'll be the first one to tell you the process to get there wasn't the easiest.
But FIRST. Make sure to check out Seth's portfolio and blog over on his website. As you'll see below, he's an extremely talented photographer. So much so that we've teamed up to bring you a few of his iconic Airstream photographs from the road for sale on our site.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself. How'd you and your wife come to the decision to leave terra firma for a life on the road?
Deep down, we’re both nomads at heart. I grew up in the Rocky Mountains and have always felt most alive when traveling and exploring new places. My wife has similar tendencies, and we would hit the road or the airport to discover new places whenever our jobs would let us.
After many years of living in the city, going to school, getting a good job, buying a townhome, and grinding out a daily routine – I eventually hit the wall. I was working as an in-house photographer for a big-box national retailer. It was a great job where I learned a lot about lighting, directing, and shooting commercial campaigns under pressure. Eventually I outgrew the position and couldn’t shake the feeling that I was squandering away my most precious resource – time. I was pining for wide open spaces and the chance to explore the great national parks like Yosemite, Denali and Glacier.
RVing was a foreign concept to us at the time. We had always just car camped and dirtbagged our way around the West. I knew of a few full-time RVers who were blogging about their lifestyle of living on the road. They were able to sustain themselves by working remotely and staying connected with cellular data plans. They didn’t even need to rely on urban centers for coffee shop wifi which meant they could go virtually anywhere! That blew my mind and I drew a lot of inspiration from their photos and stories. So in 2013 my wife and I did some soul searching and we decided to go for it. We sold our stuff, got a diesel truck, an Airstream, rented out our townhome and hit the road. Altogether, it was the hardest transition I’ve ever made. Fortunately it was worth it.
My wife is a talented writer and PR strategist, so her job was well suited for life on the road. For me, it was terrifying to walk away from a safe, predictable paycheck. However, I knew in my heart that I needed to challenge myself as a person and as a photographer.
The Hughes family.
Car camping friends gather around a campfire on a Baja beach below a night sky full of stars.
Bedtime under the stars in Jasper National Park, Canada.
Classic campsite in Joshua Tree National Park.
Camping on a dry river bed, Joshua Tree National Park.
View from the Airstream office, Joshua Tree National Park.
The Hughes' Airstream trailer being towed down a highway in the distance while surrounded by desert wilderness in Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Driving through Monument Valley, Arizona.
Q: How did you get into photography?
My grandmother is a talented photographer. She was constantly shooting family photos and encouraging me to take pictures as a young boy. It really clicked for me when I was old enough to appreciate the profound beauty in nature. I grew up near the Tetons and when I was in my early twenties, I started taking an SLR into the mountains to document my adventures. After that I was hooked. I studied art in college and ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in commercial photography at The Art Institute of Colorado. Upon graduating I started freelancing for a variety of magazines in Boulder and that eventually led to commercial work.
View from the Airstream, Knick River Bank near Palmer, Alaska.
Driving across the historic Red Cliff Bridge in Colorado.
Camping in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Q: What are some upcoming projects that are getting your creative juices flowing?
I’m a firm believer in personal projects, so I have a few of those that are slow cooking. One ongoing project involves a series of self portraits and POV images. It’s meant to be an autobiographical narrative depicting random moments from my nomadic life. Including beautiful, exalted travel experiences along with ordinary, gritty, everyday struggles.
Icefields Parkway, Alaska
Hiking high in the Talkeetna Mountains of Alaska.
Sitting fireside at the foot of the Grand Teton.
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Q: After living in an Airstream for such an extended amount of time, what's the thing you miss the most about your old home in Denver? What's surprised you that you don't miss (if anything)?
Constantly being on a “roadtrip" takes a toll after a while. All that stimulation and activity has a cumulative effect that wears you down. After going full-steam for nearly two years – driving north to Alaska, south to Baja, and everywhere in between, we're starting to appreciate the value in slowing down. It’s important to stop, reflect and recharge somewhere that feels like home. I think the definition of “home" is a complicated one, but I do miss the concept of a singular place with a community and family & friends nearby. A place where I can fully decompress and not worry about where the next campground or laundromat is.
I am surprised at how much I don’t miss my stuff. You know, that stuff that fills the house, the closets, the backyard, the garage. Stuff is like a gas that expands to fill whatever space is available. It really piles up and ties you down. Things don’t make a person happy. Experiences do.
Seth photographing high above the Colorado River, Arizona.
An RV camp trailer drives down US Highway 163 leading south to the iconic sandstone buttes of Monument Valley, Arizona.
Q: Any crazy stories about encounters with unusual folks out on the road?
Thankfully no! Nothing crazy. The people we meet are often the best part about traveling. One time we were driving far up north in the Yukon when we spotted these two hitchhikers stranded at a rather seedy stretch of highway. They had a lot of stuff with them so I hesitated to pick them up, but how could you not give these two a ride? While loading up their things I asked them why they had so much stuff. They informed me that they were moving! Ha!
Q: A little bit about the gear you're using. I imagine living on the road has got to force you down to the essentials. What do you typically take with you on a shoot? What do you not leave the Airstream without?
I travel with two monolights (plus modifiers and stands), a battery pack, a couple tripods and my camera kit. This gear is always stowed in my truck at the ready. I believe less is more when traveling and I’m constantly trying to trim the fat. In fact, I just down sized from a full-frame to APS-C camera. My new Fuji mirrorless camera is much lighter than a DSLR and really fun to shoot with. So I use that probably 75% of the time. When I have a commercial job and I need to bring in the big guns, I just rent them online or at the nearest studio.
Driving through the Grand Tetons.
Camping off-the-grid along the Knik River near Palmer, Alaska.
Entering Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska.
Thanks again to Seth and Drea for sharing a bit of their world with us!
Find more of Seth's photographs and his adventures.
Also get daily updates from where he is on the road on his Instagram account.
Thank you Saw and Mitre for sharing our story and thanks to Donna for your heartwarming comment. If my words and photos can inspire others to dream big and experience the wild places around them, that is the greatest compliment.
Thanks for the great story.
I really like the photos.
Meeting the Hughes Family ties into the spirit of Thanksgiving for me and my family. We’ve just picked our youngest son up from his first semester away at college, and we are glowing with the excitement of his future. And these pictures, of exploration and experiences and wonder, are the kind of passion we wish for him. I keep looking at the pictures, trying to walk into these scenes – tranquil and adventurous at the same time- grateful that we live on this beautiful planet. And the philosophy of this sincere and thoughtful couple just makes me smile – knowing they are out there makes the world a better place. A truly beautiful photo essay.