Life in an Airstream: Peter Collins ’02

On Thanksgiving Morning, Peter Collins ’02 and his wife, Samantha Mercer—along with Wick, their greater Swiss mountain dog—drove their Airstream trailer from Cottonwood, Ariz., to Carlsbad, Calif. Smack in the middle of the almost 500-mile journey, surrounded only by boarded-up shops and a barren landscape, they heard a thud. Down the road, they spotted their tire tread, ravaged like day-old roadkill.

For most people, a highway blowout is a momentary inconvenience, and a story to remember the vacation by. But Pete and Samantha aren’t most people. The 28-foot 2013 Airstream Flying Cloud 28W, which they affectionately call “Boat,” has been their full-time home since March 2018. They are part of the “digital nomad” movement; remote work allows them to envision a different, more mobile, way of life.

Peter Collins ’02 (right), his wife Samantha Mercer, and Wick, their greater Swiss mountain dog
Peter Collins ’02 (right), his wife Samantha Mercer, and Wick, their greater Swiss mountain dog.

Pete and Samantha were in their 30s, newly married and living in Seattle when they started contemplating their next steps. “We were thinking about what we wanted to do, and we thought, ‘Do we want to travel more?’ We weren’t in any hurry—our jobs were good, our place was nice, and our family and friends were close,” says Pete.

Then the couple’s dream condo came on the market. Only a few blocks from their current place, it had everything they were looking for—but suddenly it felt like a trap. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t want that,’” Pete says.

Instead, they drove to an Airstream dealership in Covington, Wash., with plans to see as many cities in America as they could. It was exciting when they found Boat, and more than a little scary—“primarily the idea of having to change up our lifestyle so drastically,” Pete says.

Peter, outside the Airstream trailer he affectionally calls "Boat"
Peter, outside the Airstream Flying Cloud 28W he affectionally refers to as "Boat."

A typical weekday inside Boat isn’t actually that different from a normal 9-to-5—just in a smaller space. After waking, Pete and Samantha usually kick Wick off the bed and let her out, then put the water on for the French press in their small kitchen. Two steps backward, and Pete and Samantha are at their desk—the built-in eating nook—ready to start work before the kettle has even come to a boil. “The commute is really zero,” Pete says.

When they need a break, they’ll take Wick to a dog park, and in the evenings, they like to cook, try a new restaurant, or go climbing at a local spot and watch the sun go down. “The weekends are when we play, because we work full time,” Pete says.

In the last year, they have immersed themselves in beautiful national parks such as Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion. They’ve also tried trailer living in big cities, including Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. “Top to bottom, we’ve loved every place,” Pete says.

Luckily, the Thanksgiving blowout is the worst experience they’ve had since they began their lives as full-time Airstreamers, and Pete and Samantha are in love with this flexible lifestyle. “It’s helped us realize that we are capable of living in really small spaces happily together, and that we don’t need all the stuff that we accumulated,” Pete says. “Just being able to see these places and do it together—that’s the best piece.”


By Alexa Peters
Photos courtesy of Peter Collins ’02
Published April 30, 2019