We’ve likely all read about the benefits of minimalist living and buying experiences rather than material things. But one family of six from Knoxville, Tennessee understands these benefits firsthand. In fact, they’re living them each and every day — from the comfort of their airstream.
It was back in 2015 that Ashley and Jonathan Longnecker first uprooted their lives in a quiet suburban town and began traveling across the United States with their four children. They adopted and embraced a whole new way of living, and by all accounts, have never looked back.
The Longneckers’ adventure began when Ashley, a 36-year-old stay-at-home, home-schooling mom, started learning about other parents who had decided to sell their homes and take their kids on the road full-time. At the time, Ashley’s homeschool curriculum focused on facts about the United States, and an idea was planted that instead of simply teaching her kids about the world through books, she could give her children experiential lessons.
“Instead of just learning what the state bird is, [I thought] let’s go to each state and see them for ourselves!” Longnecker tells Babble. “Let’s draw them, let’s watch them and see what they eat and how they fly, let’s see if we can find a feather on the ground or get up close to examine them. What an interesting education they’ll get to have while learning new things on the road … it just lit a fire in our hearts.”
The mom of four, whose children are now 12, 11, 8, and 7, began immersing herself in research. It didn’t take long to convince her husband Jonathan, a 38-year-old business owner of the web design company FortySeven Media. Their kids were young at the time, but excited by the idea. Plus, the Longneckers had just made the final touches on making their 2,700 square foot home ready to sell, so it all felt like perfect timing.
In May of 2015, they finally made it happen and purchased a Grand Design 5th wheel, which at 350 square feet felt pretty small initially. But after living in the RV for over a year, the Longneckers — believe it or not — desired something smaller.
They had become passionate about camping off the grid (an activity known as “boondocking”) and decided to purchase a more modest rig that would make it easier to do this. So they sold the 5th wheel and purchased a 1972 Airstream Sovereign, which they spent six months renovating, with the help of Ashley’s dad in Indiana. Their renovations included adding functional features like solar panels, extra holding tanks, and a composting toilet.
The family’s been living in the refurbished Airstream since March, 2017.
Day-to-day life for the Longneckers typically involves getting work and schoolwork done in the mornings, so they have the afternoon to see the sights. They often hike throughout the week and enjoy visiting national parks and monuments whenever they can.
One of their favorite destinations to date has been Dry Tortugas/Fort Jefferson in Florida.
“We took a ferry two hours off the coast of Key West and tent camped for two nights under the stars right by the fort,” shares Ashley. “Incredible doesn’t even scratch the surface of our experience there. We snorkeled with barracudas, watched an octopus, swam at night with the bioluminescence organisms in the water … “
Another location they’ll never forget is the Trona Pinnacles in Trona, California.
“Talk about another world!” says Ashley. “There aren’t that many people out there and you can explore as far as you can see. We were there during the full moon and the whole landscape was visible and the stars looked like they could be picked from the sky.”
Ashley says that there have of course been challenges along the way, but not as many as you’d think, especially with four kids.
“They’re all so laid back, which makes for a quiet home!” she says.
She adds that her whole family tends to struggle with moving outside their comfort zones to approach new people.
“That’s where social media has come in handy,” she says.
She and Jonathan chronicle their journey on their website and blog, Tiny Shiny Homes, which Ashley manages. They also share incredible travel photos on their Instagram account, which will give you a serious case of wanderlust.
“We have formed so many great friendships with other people living this lifestyle though Instagram,” says Ashley, “and it’s made it really easy for us to meet up with new friends on the road. We love the little community we’ve become a part of. There are actually a surprising number of families traveling full-time, so it’s been really good to meet up at different places along our journey.”
As for what the future holds for the Longnecker family, Ashley says the possibilities are endless. They’ve considered traveling overseas eventually, but a more short-term goal is finding a place where their oldest child can fulfill her long-term dream of having a farm.
“Right now we’re just listening to the kids, making sure everyone still loves what we’re doing,” she says. “When they’re ready to stop traveling, we’ll be on to our next adventure.”
Ashley says that many people ask her and Jonathan how they find such beautiful spots to photograph. So they’ve put together a short guide explaining how they do it. She adds that they are almost always boondocking and rarely ever in a campground. They’ve fallen in love with the freedom that comes with being able to make discoveries right outside their door.
For anyone interested in RV or airstream living but are hesitant to take the leap, Ashley encourages them to give it a shot.
“The worst that can happen is you don’t like it and you need to buy another house. No big deal!”
She also hopes to inspire all families to get out and try new things.
“Explore your own backyard,” she says. “Go to every park in your county, hike all the trails in your hometown, etc. Just get out there and do life together! … All these new adventures can help you create a stronger bond and make memories that your kids (and you) will carry with you the rest of your lives!”