Super-cool vintage travel trailer — check. Kids, dog, supplies, lesson plans — check. Open road and beautiful country calling — check. Off we go with the Pickett family.
When his son was a month old, Kina Pickett and his wife instituted a mandatory weekend-camping rule in their house. They’d always been tent campers and really wanted to get a travel trailer. So they bought a 1970 Avion, restored it, and loved it.
Then they saw a vintage Airstream come up for sale.
“We bought our Airstream in Bozeman,” Pickett says. “I had been looking for an off-grid solution, but I could not find one anywhere. And then, boom, right in my town — a 27-foot 1971 International. I jumped all over it. It made so much sense for our life and what we wanted. It just felt right.”
That was the beginning of a momentous journey for the Pickett family, one that finds them crossing the country, experiencing unforgettable places, and collecting matchless memories.
We caught up with them several months into their big adventure last October, and again in February for an update, to find out all about Airstreaming America.
Cowboys & Indians: Introduce us to the family.
Kina Pickett: My wife’s name is Nellie, and we have two kids: my son, Ashur — he’s 6 — and my daughter, Story, is 4. Oh, yeah, and our English bulldog, Scout — she’s 2.
C&I: What had you been doing before hitting the road indefinitely?
Pickett: We had been living in Bozeman, Montana, and I ran — and still run — a technology startup called ZPPR.
C&I: What was involved in shutting down your former life to hit the road?
Pickett: I wouldn’t say it was a life-shutting-down situation, but a “Why am I working from my house when I can work from anywhere” situation. We are a pretty adventurous family and love to travel, and we love the outdoors, so it was a pretty natural progression into this kind of lifestyle.
C&I: When and where did the journey begin?
Pickett: We kind of had a false start in March of 2020. We bought the Airstream in February and decided to head straight to the desert of southern Utah, and then COVID-19 hit. There was so much unknown, and it was pretty scary. We decided to return to Montana and see how bad things were going to get. Once we understood the pandemic better and how to navigate it safely, we hit the road officially on August 1.
C&I: How did you develop your itinerary and why did you choose that route?
Pickett: We live in Montana, and we love it. So the West is where our hearts are. We are working with Matador Network, Airstream, and some tourism boards. Some of the Eastern states, like Virginia and Florida, expressed interest in our adventure; we probably would not have otherwise headed east, but we did and it was really great. We are now headed back out West.
C&I: Where have you been so far?
Pickett: We have been all through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Idaho, Oregon, and the California desert. We have a crazy draw to the desert. New Mexico was always at the top of our list. We love the culture, the art, the jewelry, and the landscape. Then this spring we’re heading to the coast of Maine.
C&I: How did you help the children adjust?
Pickett: The kids are by far the hardest part. It’s really hard to manage their expectations. They are such great kids, and they adjusted well, but sometimes they miss home, which is always hard. They love water, so the ocean and lakes are a big hit.
C&I: If there’s such a thing as a normal day, what’s that like?
Pickett: We usually wake up at around 7 a.m. My wife runs or does yoga, and I do a quick workout. We make breakfast as a family, and I usually work for a bit. We then all try to do something together like mountain biking, going to a lake or river, fly-fishing, etc. Then it’s a light lunch and chill time usually by the water. If it’s a weekday, my wife teaches the kids while I work. We make dinner as a family, and then I work again. Then me and my wife make tea and read. It’s pretty nice.
We have a crazy draw to the desert. New Mexico was always at the top of our list. We love the culture, the art, the jewelry, and the landscape.
C&I: How are you handling schooling for the kids?
Pickett: My mom was a 40-year educator, so she created a lesson plan for my wife. My wife teaches the kids, and we also do what we call “unschooling,” which is learning off the land, by location, history, animals, plants, etc. Depending on where we are, it’s such a great way for the kids to learn.
C&I: What are you doing for food?
Pickett: We cook all of our own food. Meal planning has been interesting depending on where we are. We have been camping for a long time now, so we have this pretty dialed and understand the basics and what we can make with simple ingredients. We love to make this rice bowl with black beans, mango, white onions, sweet potato, and cilantro, with a dressing of soy, lime, and maple syrup. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s so good!
C&I: How are you handling laundry?
Pickett: We have a horse-feed bucket with an old washboard. Literally! My wife bought it from an antiques store.
C&I: What are some practical things you’ve discovered about living and traveling long term in an Airstream?
Pickett: Don’t get gas in cities; get it before. Make sure you have wipes, especially with kids. Be patient with each other. Make sure you dump your gray water. Bring some Dr. Bronner’s — it always comes in handy.
C&I: How is your travel trailer equipped?
Pickett: Our Airstream is completely off-grid. It has four solar panels that are all 100-watt, with an inverter, and a composting toilet. The beauty of all this is that we do not have to dump our waste and we never have to plug in. It gives us a lot of freedom as far as where we can go. The bathroom is in the back and then bunk beds for the kids, kitchen and dinette up from that transforms into a queen-size bed. It’s very vintage and cool. In October, Airstream loaned us an updated Airstream Classic Travel Trailer, with the same off-grid capabilities and features.
C&I: Have you had to adapt it much?
Pickett: We did some painting as well as the bunk-bed build. I also refinished the countertops, and we had the cushions up front recovered.
C&I: What are the most enjoyable aspects of being in close quarters in the trailer over an extended period?
Pickett: It really brings you together as a family. I mean there is no hiding. You have to face things head-on. Like if me and my wife are in a spat, we have to work it out because there are no other options. It’s not like you can hide anywhere. It’s really brought us closer as a family. We understand our breaking points better, and what sets us off. I remember getting to a point where we were getting short with each other and we all sat down as a family and said, “OK. We need to be nicer to each other and have more patience.” That was really cool.
C&I: Close quarters can sure be a challenge. What else is kind of tough?
Pickett: It’s tough cooking or cleaning when you have two kids and a dog in such a tight area. For example, when it’s raining or the weather is bad, it gets loud in that thing. Work can also be hard if the weather is bad. You need to really block out the time and get it done. I usually do my work in the early morning and after the kids are sleeping.
C&I: You’re traveling during the pandemic. How have you stayed safe?
Pickett: As I said, our camper is completely off-grid, so we have a self-contained unit. We don’t have to use bathrooms, dump, plug in. And it keeps us away from crowded spaces because we can choose the more remote places with no hookups. We have felt incredibly safe in our Airstream.
C&I: Why Airstream as opposed to another brand?
Pickett: First, the quality. I mean our Airstream has been on the road for 90 years. That’s incredible. The other thing is the way the Airstream starts to feel like home. I don’t think there is another travel trailer company that has the quality or has that remarkable feeling of home.
C&I: What are some particular aspects of the rig that you couldn’t live without?
Pickett: We love the light and the windows that our Airstream has. It’s so airy and nice. Also the storage is great, which helps a ton; we could always use more.
C&I: Anything you’d like to see designed into vehicles and trailers?
Pickett: I always think there could be more storage. When you are on the road for an extended period of time, it’s a big deal. I think there could be some really cool alarm technology about battery life. Airstream has worked on this.
C&I: Now that you’ve lived in it for quite some time, what’s on your don’t-leave-home-without list?
Pickett: Bacon, bourbon, wipes, music, chargers, wool blankets, coffee, good bread.
I don’t think there is another travel trailer company that has the quality or has that remarkable feeling of home.
C&I: What have been some of the memorable experiences you’ve had in the West?
Pickett: We absolutely love Montana. I mean we live there for a reason, and it is still at the top of our list. But we also have an affinity for the desert, and we love southern Utah. We did a stint in Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, and it was so incredible. The kids fell in love with everything about it. We stayed at this really cool place called the Needles Outpost, right outside the entrance of the park. The red rock was so beautiful, and we climbed it for days. I love how dry the desert is and how it cools at night, and the days are hot. I love the colors — everything seems alive.
C&I: Tell us about some of the unforgettable things you’ve seen on your travels.
Pickett: We have seen so many things and experienced so much in a short period of time. It’s hard to pick one. Some of the clear, starry nights have been incredible. We stayed with our friends for a week in Paradise Valley, Montana; they have a little ranch. Some of the sunsets out there were out of a book, with clear nights littered with stars. Love that place! We camped on a white sand beach in Florida, with crazy blue water — that was incredible. We absolutely loved the Black Hills of South Dakota; the lakes are so idyllic and peaceful, almost like you have gone back in time.
C&I: What have you learned about yourself, your partner, your family?
Pickett: I get snappy when I’m tired. My wife doesn’t like messy places. My daughter pretty much says hi to everyone. And my son, Ash, has even more energy than we thought.
C&I: What do you hope your children will take into their future lives having had this amazing experience?
Pickett: The experiences, the stories — it’s all we have, right? We want them to experiment, to take chances, to be willing to say yes! We want them to always be up for an adventure and to not fear the unknown.
C&I: How about you?
Pickett: To say I did it? That I had it in me to put my family into a super-tight space and travel during the pandemic? I actually love to see new things, so this has been incredible. I want to take away the memories of it all.
C&I: Any parting words of travel-trailer wisdom?
Pickett: Don’t be scared to just try it. Trust us: You will come out the other side a better person, with a much closer family.
Photography: (All images) courtesy the Pickett family
From our May/June 2021 issue