The Eco-travelers Loving the Environment in a Vintage Airstream

mossy green, a forest is beautiful

Photo by Susanne Nilsson


You can’t love nature and drive a car.

Or so a comment sometime last year on our Instagram account claimed. We’ve always assumed that living in an RV is more environmentally friendly than doing the sticks and bricks thing, but that was without the science, without the research. Personal choices from how much you drive to the type of RV you live in can float the answer one direction or the other. We’ve put some time into doing some real research, and published an article last month showing how various modes of recreational vehicle-as-a-home can affect your footprint.

Statistics and data are bland though, so we reached out to Travis and Jenna Totz, a.k.a. the Eco-travelers, to get their take on things.

“Within 4 months we had gotten rid of 80% of our possessions and were ready to simplify life,” they wrote on their website before they actually hit the road in November of 2014. Since then, an incredibly shiny 1967 Airstream Globetrotter has served as their home as they roam about this nation we call the United States.

We caught up with them to ask things like “Why Airstream?” or more accurately, “Are Airstreams somehow more environmentally friendly than other RVs?”

“We were drawn to Airstream because of their iconic look and modern style. We chose a vintage model for the sake of reusing,” says Jenna, currently lounging in sunny Hawaii. They had their Globetrotter remodeled by a professional vintage trailer renovation company by the name of Hofmann Architecture out of Santa Barbara, California. Think bamboo flooring and stainless steel. “..and LED lighting,” she adds.

While a vintage Airstream certainly comes with a cool factor, “vintage cred” as I’ve heard it put, there’s another benefit to going classic.

“After doing some research we also discovered that older Airstreams are roughly 1000 pounds lighter than the new models. So we knew we would save some gas there as well.”

That’s just the beginning for the young couple, a way to get out onto the road and see the nation, but being environmentally friendly is a conscious lifestyle choice. Jenna works for a non-profit out of Minneapolis that focuses on climate change education and they’ve kitted their Airstream with solar panels.

“We always have the environment in mind when we do things,” she goes on to explain ways that people can lessen their impact, traveling or not. “We buy local, organic produce. We recycle everything we can or buy in bulk so we don’t have waste. We do a lot of hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities in our free time. We shop second hand for our clothes.”

Waste is certainly one of the most complicated issues that RVers who wish to do their part in saving the planet face, particularly when it comes to recycling. Most private RV parks have no recycling setup whatsoever, and state parks are typically pretty limited with the bins they offer (though this is improving). The small space of an RV can make it exceptionally more difficult to sort and save recycling until you get to a recycling facility.

Jenna and Travis have made it work though.

“We have a recycling bin next to our trash bin in the Airstream; it’s about triple the size. We need to empty it about once (sometimes twice) per week. The state parks we have been to have pretty good recycling, but we have brought things to Whole Foods or community recycling bins. It might not be as simple as putting the bin out on your curb each week, but we have found it to be easy with just a little research.” They go on to mention that finding places to recycle isn’t quite as difficult as one might think.

“Dallas, Texas had community recycling bins and Catalina State Park in Tucson had very comprehensive recycling. Recycling is definitely possible with the traveling lifestyle, and with just a bit of research (or a Whole Foods on your route) it’s quite easy.”

When you travel perpetually, there’s a lot of planning that happens anyway. From finding grocery stores to campgrounds, even choosing which general direction you’ll head next, it all becomes an integral part of your life, if not a bit “routine”. Adding one more layer to do your part to keep the landfills down is a choice we all need to make individually, but simply hearing of how others do it makes it–like all of this–seem more doable.

Jenna continues her thoughts on how this lifestyle can be easier on Mother Nature.

“Living in an Airstream on the road is much more environmentally friendly than our old lifestyle. We conserve water because our hot water tank only holds 6 gallons. If a shower uses more than that, we get quite chilly. This way we find ourselves being very cognizant of water usage versus just using whatever we wanted while living in our old home.”

Boondockers, that is folks who spend much of their time camping on public lands where there are no hookups, know that in exchange for little to no rent comes the necessity to manage water and electricity as though you could run out at any moment…because you can. There is something beautiful, though admittedly more difficult compared to the lives most Americans are used to, about being so in touch with the amount of resources you use…something that can really only be experienced if you’ve got gauges and fixed amounts of those resources to use before you need to replenish them. Back when people needed to carry a bucket down to the river to procure themselves water, do you think they would be wasteful of said liquid knowing that when it was out another trip would be necessary? It’s a similar experience for many RVers.

Speaking to the size of their Airstream, “Our space is only about 110 square feet, so even if we have to heat or cool it, it’s a fraction of the size of a normal house or apartment.”

“Because we have a very small refrigerator we need to buy groceries once per week. We aren’t wasting food like we used to because nothing gets buried in the back of the fridge. And we are much better at meal planning.”

There’s still that one big aspect to face though: the types of vehicles needed to tow a trailer around (or an RV itself) are not exactly fuel efficient. F-150s and cargo vans are built for power, and that requires a guzzle or two of gasoline more than one might think of when imagining an eco-friendly ride.

On the other hand, Travis brings up a great point: travelers have no necessary daily commute.

“Some people think that we are putting a lot of miles on our truck. And while that is true, Jenna was driving 400 plus miles each week when she was teaching and we were living in a standard home. We drive less than that when we move to our next campsite, in a different state. So we may be getting less efficient gas mileage, but we really aren’t driving more than we were in Minnesota. Our truck is also equipped with an Ecotec engine, allowing it to switch into only using 4-cylinders when it doesn’t need the extra power. This allows us to reduce our impact and save on gas money.”

How their new lifestyle choice affects the environment is not the only positive impact living full-time out of an RV can have though. There is something very deliberate about this lifestyle, where you are not just going through motions every day, but you’re immersing yourself in the world around you. Trips to National Parks and State Forests alike reward travelers with a constant reminder of how precious and fragile our world is, and the stark contrast of the seas of parking lots that sprawl around most towns only helps to reinforce those types of thoughts. You begin to see things more for what they are, because you aren’t just following a set procedure of wake up, do stuff, sleep, repeat.

Travis sums it up beautifully, “Life on the road for us, and many others, is about living a smaller, more simple life. One which consists of reducing our impact on the environment, in ways that we simply could not do while living in our 1700 square foot home. One that is focused on living more sustainably and more conscious about all decisions we make.”

Photo by Susanne Nilsson