Sharon’s Ultimate Road Trip

Sharon Pieniak is living the ultimate road trip. In 2007, she realized that her work had become truly location-independent after having established a successful graphic design business and taken her work on many vacations. So, she purchased a new 20’ Airstream travel trailer and hit the road. She has been living, working and traveling in it since.

Her aim was to spend her free time satisfying her insatiable wanderlust and photographing the beauty of America. Initially an experiment in nomadic living, it has become a way of life for her now that she finds hard to beat. “I feel much more connected with the art of living now,” she says, “It’s nice, because wherever I go, I’m at home, and my neighbors are usually some of the nicest people around.” Her small home on wheels allows Sharon and her dog Harley to explore a continuous trail of new and beautiful places and brings a greater portion of the world into their everyday life.

The 20’ Airstream is just the right size for this solo woman and her dog. “I hardly know I’m pulling it,” she says, “and it’s much better on gas mileage than most other travel trailers. It’s really a breeze to tow and because it’s small, I can often get into some of the more rustic campsites. I love this model for the large galley with tons of counter space, storage and double sinks. I love that the bathroom and kitchen are on one end, and the lounging areas are on the other. I love that I have a real separate shower, not a wet bath…and I especially love the huge windows next to the dinette and the panoramic windows that surround the bed. The distance from the bed to the bathroom door is about five steps. One more step and you are at the kitchen sink.”

In the beginning, she admits it was a little daunting not knowing about plumbing, electrical systems, or anything related to a house on wheels. Now it’s old hat. She couldn’t dream of a better way to live, and feels her choice of small-space-living is a good way to de-clutter life, not just by minimizing the meaningless stuff that has a way of locking people down, but also by experiencing new places and people. She can’t help but live in the moment and enjoy life. She’s been at it for almost four years now (with no intention of stopping soon) and feels like she has only just begun to tap into the beauty our continent has to offer.

From the very beginning, Sharon has been documenting her travels on her personally-designed website www.TheSilverSnail.com. Not your standard blog, it’s a continuing graphic narrative of the places she visits, illustrated with stunning photographs. “I’m not trying to sell a product or advertising,” Sharon states. “If I am trying to sell anything, it is to embrace life and its beauty, enjoy yourself, and keep discovering. Now more than ever, technology is allowing us to explore the art of living creatively and living well.” And having a small house on wheels is just the thing to make it possible.

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Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural - August 2, 2011 Reply

That’s awesome! I really miss the wanderlust I had in my 20s. I saw all 48 states and lived in about a dozen of them. My job allows me to be mobile too, I just wish I felt like being mobile. I am so envious. Love your airstream and look forward to reading your blog.

Victoria - Ozarks Crescent Mural - August 2, 2011 Reply

Just checked out your blog and I like your map and how you’ve covered the east coast. I’m a huge fan of the east, the south and the midwest, so you got me hooked there.

jon v - August 2, 2011 Reply

is traveling in 80k$ worth of truck and trailer really living small?

    Josh - August 2, 2011 Reply

    Looks pretty small to me…

    2kids2cats - August 2, 2011 Reply

    Who cares if it was $180k??? It’s her money to spend, and she’s loving her small life.

    Milton - August 2, 2011 Reply

    I think you’ve confused living small with living cheap. For example you could live small in a Tumbleweed home and pay far far more than you would if you built it yourself but either way you would be living small.

    Bob H - August 3, 2011 Reply

    You do not have to be poor to live small.

      Randy - August 3, 2011 Reply

      Living small is not about how much money a home costs. It’s not about being rich or poor. As Richard Gregg (a student of Ghandi) put it, “Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose. Of course, as different people have different purposes in life, what is relevant to the purpose of one person might not be relevant to the purpose of another….The degree of simplification is a matter for each individual to settle for himself.”

        Benjamin - August 3, 2011 Reply

        Wise words!

        Amy - August 12, 2011 Reply

        Thanks Randy for referring to this writer. I read his pamphlet today. Wonder what he would think of our technology and economic picture today.

        Terri Belford - August 15, 2011 Reply

        Sharon, what a lovely blog and a splendid lifestyle. Thanks for sharing.
        and Thanks, Randy, for quoting this definition of living small. It can mean so many different things to different people.

    Boyd H - August 3, 2011 Reply

    So John….what do you consider “living small”. Living on a boat is considered living small but unless I built my own boat to live aboard there are no boats I can find that cost anywhere near 80K. And even at that the materials would be over. If you bought a Fencl would that be living small? I think so. I applaud the young lady for living her dream. If I could afford 80K right now I would be following her around the country so my dog Maya would have someone to play with. You really need to stop and think and realize that there are many people who are not expert carpenters/electricians/plumbers/mechanics etc. who’s dream it is to live small. We should give kudos to those who achieve this and not criticize others with one liners.

    Everi - September 5, 2011 Reply

    80K spent once in today’s world is small. In a couple years I’m dumping the house, mortage, real estate taxes and going off the grid.

The Empty Nest Mom - August 3, 2011 Reply

Yes to Randy and yes to Sharon. My work also enables me to be on the road. My clients don’t need or want to know where I work from and I’m just getting out in a new 5th wheel – so excited to change my scenery, have a new backyard when I feel like it, meet like-minded people and be free from all the “stuff” that had begun to possess me and my time rather than the other way around. Also, I can visit my children, spread now from coast to coast on my terms, have an extended stay if needed or desired. I look forward to following Sharon’s blog. Looks beautiful and inspiring.

    Randy - August 4, 2011 Reply

    Good luck and happy travels to you, Empty Nest Mom! Keep blazing the trail for the rest of us to follow!

Virgil - August 3, 2011 Reply

As Jon v alludes to above, the issue here is that an underlying principle of the small house movement is environmental impact. All that goes out the window when you’re towing several tons of trailer behind a thirsty pickup for thousands of miles a year.

That Nissan Titan king-cab is EPA rated at 17MPG. Subtract an optimistic 25% for the trailer, and the fact that nobody gets EPA numbers, giving 13MPG. I don’t want to analyze all the maps (and miles are conveniently left out of the blog posts), but let’s say 15,000 miles a year. That’s 1154 gallons of gas, with the EPA figure of 8.7kg CO2 per gallon, yielding 10 tons of CO2.

Sorry, but 10 tons of CO2 from driving does not make this green by any standards. Add in the embodied emissions of the truck, the trailer, propane cooking and other emissions, and you’re not far off the 20 ton average US per capita consumption. Other disadvantages such as not having regular access to recycling, no composting toilet, using coal-fired electricity at RV and campsite hookups, using electric space heaters for heat, and this is not looking green at all.

    2kids2cats - August 3, 2011 Reply

    Perhaps to you living small is to live “green” whatever that may mean. I want to live small so I can travel and live all over, much like the featured post. Please don’t suppose everyone has your agenda.

    Rick B - August 8, 2011 Reply

    Just a question….you claim the EPA says you get 8.7 kg of CO2 when you burn a gallon of gas. I don’t know exactly what a gallon of gas weighs but I do know that 1 gallon of fresh water weighs 8 pounds and a gallon of gas weighs less than the water. 8.7 kilos is over 19 pounds. How do you get over 19 pounds of waste from 8 pounds of gas and not break the rules of physics? I understand I’m probably one of those idiots that doesn’t “get” EPA figures so I need a simple explanation.

Jeff - August 3, 2011 Reply

Sounds like we have a few jealous people commenting on this one. I read through her blog and couldnt find anything about her saying she was doing this to be “green”. I love it, I travel quite a bit, and traveled with my parents across the USA and back several times as a kid in the summers. Its a beautiful country and to not get out and see it just because you are concerned about the impact on the environment is a bit over the top. Sorry, just my thoughts. You still have to live people.

Corby - August 3, 2011 Reply

Goodness, I wish the term ‘green’ had never been coined. It’s such an emotionally charged ideological football used more for marketing purposes and ‘see, I’M doing something green’ mindsets than anything else.

We all make choices, hopefully with some concept of the common good balanced with an appreciation of a life well lived.

I’ve always biked or walked or driven a small car when other options aren’t available. I’ve always lived in a space less than 350 square feet. I recycled before it was even cool to do so. But… I do take long soaks in a hot bathtub on occasion and I will most likely never give up incandescent light bulbs since I can’t see very well under any other lighting. I run the A/C on really hot days. Sometimes I even flush… twice!

I can understand the appreciation for parameters of simple living, but I think the observation needs to be directed inward rather than focused on critiquing the experiences of others.

I like seeing a variety of simple living expressions. What are YOU doing to be a part of the experience?

Tagati - August 3, 2011 Reply

Great that your job allows you the mobility to travel and work. But, do you claim residence in one particular state (I’m thinking of the income taxes) and what about your mail?

    Randy - August 3, 2011 Reply

    Hi Tagati … if you have the opportunity to travel often, may I suggest you claim your “home base” in a state that has no state income tax. I’m in Georgia so the surrounding states for me are FL and TN but certainly there are others. Also, it’s simple to get a post office box but it’s hard to get one without a “street” address. And, it’s hard to reach in a PO Box in Tennessee when you’re in Texas. There are several mail forwarding services available where you send mail to a street or PO box address and when you reach a destination where you’re going to be for a bit, they forward it on to you, but in my mind, it seems the forwarding address would need to be in whatever state I’m claiming as home, you know? Just a few thoughts. Hope it works out well for you. Good luck and have fun in your travels!

    Randy - August 3, 2011 Reply

    Tagati … I have a question for you. When you’re on the road, how do you access the Internet? Do you use WiFi local to where you’re parked? Do you use a cellular air card? Just curious how you stay connected and if you’d have any suggestions for those following your lead? Thanks – Randy

Bob H - August 3, 2011 Reply

Wow, seems like a lot of rules to abide by if you want to live small(er).

    leilani - August 27, 2011 Reply

    Well, a lot of rules only if you let people like the commenter critiquing Sharon’s choice make them for you.

    Unfortunately, as with every other human endeavor, there are always a few anal retentive types out there seeking to impose their puritanical morality on every one else, and the ‘green’ movement seems to have attracted its fair share of rigid & narrow-minded control freaks, too.

    Indeed, the eco movement has lately become a kind of substitute religion for a very noisy minority, and if you don’t obsessively follow their “one true way”, you’re a heretic deserving of their obnoxiously judgmental scorn.

    It’s certainly no secret that they’ve been trying to hijack the small house movement and claim sole ownership of it for a while now, even though there are a thousand reasons people are motivated to simplify their lives, and there are just as many individualistic avenues available to each of us to arrive at that goal.

    So ignore the shrill, self-appointed rule-makers as you would the strident moralizing of any other puritanical busybody, and just do whatever brings you joy & makes your conscience happy.

alice - August 3, 2011 Reply

Nice trailer, nice truck, nice life! Having dependable transportation and a reliable trailer are key to making a mobile life work unless you’re a mechanic with lots of time to spend doing repairs. Having had a lot of crummy vehicles play key roles in my life I can assure people that spending the money up front can sometimes keep the thing from ‘nickel and diming’ you to the same state of finances. Living small is no more and no less than living in a small space. Hopefully in a way that works for that person or group and does a minimum of harm to others. Whether or not that involves any particular aesthetic, political, environmental or other considerations is besides the point, as is whether or not other people approve unless they are in a position to affect your life or have a valid point you need to consider. You can live small and spare, you can live small and complicated, you can have clutter, you can have pared down simplicity,you can have whatever works for you as long as you can manage it – your tiny may be someone else’s huge. Living small is a very inclusive, and one would hope also a tolerant, community. There is no one ‘right’ way to do things.

Alex - August 3, 2011 Reply

I’d love to live like this and plan to do it for a few months at some point within the next 1-3 years. I need enough time to save up for proper vehicle and rig. Or maybe I’ll just rent one?

JoT - August 3, 2011 Reply

Consider that she is living/working in a 20′ trailer pulled by what ever vehicle she requires, she is still a smaller carbon footprint that a house, an office and a vehicle. Get some perspective here. I am a small house, efficient living, recycle/reuse oriented designer –living and working in my 1200SQ ft energy efficient house w/no employees/no office. I plan to do what she is doing to take my other income stream of silversmithy/jewelry making on the road. Have not found the perfect trailer and cannot afford an new one — but it is an alternative way of living and enjoying life as I can. As I see it, anything we can do to better ourselves, our lives and our carbon footprint is a move in the right direction.

MJ - August 3, 2011 Reply

Livin’ the dream! Good on you, Sharon.

It seems any ‘lifestyle’ is going to have some of its adherents trying to put it in a box, but the beauty of ‘living small’, in my opinion, is that the definition doesn’t need confinement. In part, that is what is so great about this blog, seeing the huge variety of ways people are living their dreams out…in the middle of, planning, or actually doing what they are and have been doing for many years. Keep the stories coming, Kent! Thanks.

jon v - August 3, 2011 Reply

Wow that was fun, Sorry for all the fuss but Airstreams are just to Damm expensive , I’ve pulled trailers of every size shape , that rig would be lucky to get 12 mpg on flat ground and no wind and yeah to me small should be cheap!

    Randy - August 4, 2011 Reply

    That was fun! LOL You crack me up! I’d have to agree with you on the Airstream thing. They think a lot of those rigs. I went and looked at a Bambi (19 big ‘ole feet)and they wanted $32,000. I am Mr Frugal and that is way too rich for my blood. And, it’s okay if you think small should be cheap. It’s a personal thing and what works for the individual is definitely what is best for the individual. Say amen! 🙂 Peace

A Few Random Morning Links … | The Pretense of Knowledge - August 9, 2011 Reply

[…] Sharon’s Ultimate Road Trip […]

garagecat - August 11, 2011 Reply

If only everyone could experience this life at some point.

Paul Jenkins - August 11, 2011 Reply

Well done! I must admit, this kind of life has been a dream of mine fr some time and one I hope to make come true in the not too distant future! Simple, uncluttered, mobile are some of the words whcih spring to mind and appeal to me.

steve - August 11, 2011 Reply

Personally, I love the trailer. Wish I could afford to do just that. I’m stuck in a huge mountain home with way too many bills to even enjoy the damn view I have.

Like someone already said, who cares what she paid for it, it’s her money. Sharon, we are all jealous as hell here…lol

Don Beams - August 11, 2011 Reply

Get a grip kids. Cut the nitpicking. This IS a teensy carbon footprint that Sharon is leaving compared to a home-based lifestyle. HVAC for 144 sq.ft. (around 980 cu.ft) instead of a house, no office, no daily commute, which means her cross country travels probably consume no more gas than a “normal” city lifestyle.

The Nissan with camper shell plus a towable is a brilliant choice, allowing extra storage and a ready-to-drive vehicle once you park the trailer. If you stuck a Moped, scooter or bike in the mix, even better. It makes a ton of sense if you like to travel. AND I would wager that it is a good deal less expensive than having a regular home, a mortgage, utilities, an office, plus hotel and restaurant bills when you travel. Kudos to Sharon for taking on the lifestyle.

Timaree - August 11, 2011 Reply

Yay for her. Living small is not about who pays what for how much. It’s not about who has the smallest, the greenest or simplest. It’s about deciding how to get YOUR maximum life out of less than MOST people think they need. One way will not fit everyone. Some people will think $80K is too much. Guess what? My daughter just paid $14K to have her house painted! It’s supposed to last a lifetime and if it does, the cost won’t be such a big deal but right now, that’s a LOT of money to me. Then again, my aunt in San Francisco paid $40K to have her house painted 20 years ago so maybe my daughter got a bargain. Of course, my husband and I will paint our house ourselves and he’ll only buy Walmart Paint so it’ll cost us less than $500. Do you see the craziness of comparing? Frankly, I am proud of her for doing what she wants and having the courage to drive not only that big truck but to haul the trailer behind it! I’ve lived with cheap stuff most of my life and I can tell you there is a huge difference between something cheap and something with quality. Price is another matter but similar. I say if you can afford it, go for quality. Enjoy life. We only get this one time that we truly know of to do it so live as much as you can while you can.

George Lowry - August 11, 2011 Reply

Hi,This lifestyle is not for most,and thank God it is not.I have been a trucker for over 35 years and have lived a road trip all my life.I now have a bad back and can’t truck but am setting myself up to be a permanent camper.I have not a lot of money and could care less about green,but will set up a rig like hers,but used and all for about $10,000,mabee even build my own trailer with a 12′ cargo trailer and a colorado pickup.I have had all the things of life and now believe that this world is not our home,so sure don’t want stuff.I don’t want or have computer or TV.Horray for all who do this,my only want is to find a wife that will do this with me.Have a very good day all !!!! George 360-953-2184

Connie - August 11, 2011 Reply

You’re all missing the point! She isn’t living small…..SHE’S LIVING LARGE….in a small space. Sometimes I wish I lived in an airstream, homemade curtains, lived just like a gypsy. Break a heart, roll out of town. Cause gypsies never get tied down.(Miranda Lambert)

Penny in Australia - August 11, 2011 Reply

George’s phone will be ringig hot! Hope you find someone George.

Penny in Australia - August 11, 2011 Reply

Sharon, I hope you give some thought occasionally to all those of us who would love to be living your dream, I’m sure you do. I will try to catch one of your thoughts in my ‘dream catcher’. Have a wonderful, wonderful life – my thoughts will go out with wishes for your continued happiness, luck and success – give Harley a big hug from me and tell him how lucky you are to have him by your side.

Pamela - August 12, 2011 Reply

Your Airstream is now my desktop….as insire..ation!! Every time I see one whether old or new..well, it takes my breath away.
I started life in a 7 by 20 foot architects trailer in 1970,had nine children and now intend to call in a trailer like this at 63 years young and see this country of ours.My name is Pamela everyone, please image this with me. I believe in the power of group.I love you all and the only wisdom I have truly gleaned is that judgment is a deal breaker.Don’t judge yourself or anyone else.
Be happy.Blessings to you Sharon and all others gathered here.

Jeffrey - August 12, 2011 Reply

My wife and I have lived in a 27’ Airstream, a 2008 whom we named Lily, for the last four wonderful years. A few responses for some of the thoughtful comments above: First of all, we actually drive very little. We have logged on the truck 37,000 miles in slightly more than four years, and many of the urban bound do much more than that. Of course, those who live in rural areas likely drive much more. When we are settled somewhere, we generally bicycle. Another not insignificant offset is that we winter in mild climates, thus obviating heating costs and pollution. (None of this is to say that we feel comfortable burning diesel, but then we don’t feel particularly comfortable with many consumptive patterns of modern life.) The trailer is small, cleverly appointed, and homey. We have solar panels, and a parallel 12 volt system, along with 120 when available. However, we can do perfectly well on the 12 volt system. Water use is much less, cleaning is just an afterthought, and we are about to install a composting toilet made for boats and RVs. Yes, Airstreams are expensive, but when one compares the quality and thus the longevity of the AS over conventional trailers, it’s well worth it. There are MANY full time RVers, and in general they are confident, optimistic, and neighborly, even while respecting each other’s privacy. When peak oil has made this life style obsolete, the AS will no doubt adorn a garden as a studio or even our little old age home.

Barbara Simspon - August 13, 2011 Reply

Can people talk about finding places to stay? With regulation at an all time high, I can see the necessity to seek out paid campgrounds, which can give other people a huge amount of control over your life. At least if you own your land, it’s less likely that someone is going to evict you.

Barbara Simspon - August 13, 2011 Reply

Also, do you use this thing in winter in cold climates? How well does that work out?

Bob Duccaone - August 28, 2011 Reply

Sorry to hear you’ve been having such quality and customer service problems with Airstream. Hope you find an acceptable solution, and that you continue with your mobile life. Don’t get angry or discouraged, but don’t settle for anything less than you’re due. Can’t believe that Airstream is jerking you around like that.

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