When we first considered leaving our San Francisco apartment to move our family of four into a 25-foot Airstream trailer, we wondered if we had both gone COVID-cuckoo. The thought of abandoning our safe, cozy home in the middle of a global pandemic and social justice movement seemed like a terrible idea. Our apartment for the last four years, in the Inner Sunset neighborhood, felt like more than just a rental unit to us; it was a part of our family. It was the first home for our two young boys; the place where first steps, first laughs and first words were etched into our memories. Pencil-marked growth charts, purple paint blots and spaghetti sauce splatters on the white walls told the stories of our first years as parents. How could we give this place up at a time when our home was now also our shelter, the only truly safe space from this potentially dangerous virus?

As a couple, we’ve always been nomadic nature lovers. We grew up in Miami, Florida in immigrant families from Colombia (Dana) and South Africa (Jaron). In our twenties we reconnected while coincidentally living in the Middle East and have since lived together in Brooklyn, Miami, and San Francisco. Dana focused on arts and design and became a textile designer, founding her eponymous line of home goods. Jaron started his career as a video journalist and filmmaker before founding Storyhunter. While living in Tel Aviv, we spent as much time as possible camping in the Sinai desert, the Galilee, or near our favorite wadi on the Dead Sea. When we got married, we did so in Colombia. Our honeymoon was in the “Nature Island” of Dominica where we explored hot springs and hiked through most of that stunningly beautiful, Caribbean country. Now, with our two young boys in tow, we seem to always thrive when we are out in nature, whether it’s a day at the beach, park, or on the trail.

Family photo on a beach trail in Humbug Mountain State Park, Oregon Photo: Courtesy of Dana Haim and Jaron Gilinsky

In 2016, we moved to San Francisco while Dana was seven months pregnant with our first child. We fell in love with the city for its mix of special people, vibrant culture, and natural beauty. Part of the charm of living in a city lies in the random interactions you get to have with people, which in San Francisco was always quirky and wonderful. The city handled the virus relatively well, shutting down earlier than most and flattening the curve. Still, like so many people with kids, we found ourselves in a hamster wheel with no apparent exit ramp, moving between never-ending chores, reading bad news, managing home-schooling, home daycare, home-cooking, and working from home. We missed our friends, the farmers markets, and playgrounds that allowed us some reprieve from the grind. Now, smiling strangers were concealed by ominous-looking masks. The city went from being kid-friendly to an obstacle course of places we needed to avoid with curious toddlers. The Golden Gate Park and Lands End trail kept us sane, but as the pandemic persisted, it became clear the city was no longer giving us what we needed. With our kids’ pre-school closed, Jaron’s company distributed around the country, and Dana’s events all moving to virtual formats, we no longer felt the need to be tied to San Francisco, or any place for that matter.

One late afternoon in June while staring out of our dining room windows at the deep blue Pacific, the fog rolled in stealthily, muting the color of the sea and blanketing the Cypress trees. We thought about the state of the world. Everything was moving so quickly, intensely, and on the surface, negatively; COVID-19 had killed nearly hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, the global economy was in a free fall, the United States seemed more like the “Divided States,” and the climate crisis was getting worse with each passing day. As a family, we needed some time to reflect on all this change. We re-considered the opportunity to travel. On a personal level, we missed our family on the East Coast and knew we wanted to ultimately get back there so our kids could see their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins outside of FaceTime. We thought about what it would be like to travel around this big country, with its vast and wild landscapes. We had seen so much of the world, but didn’t really know so much of our own country and its dream places like the Olympic, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. These parks were probably safer spaces than San Francisco, or any crowded city for that matter, from a COVID-19 perspective. As scary as it sounded at first, and as guilty as we felt on some levels, we recognized that this was exactly what we needed to do in order to flip the script for 2020.

In a span of a couple weeks we sold everything we owned, put the rest of it in storage, bought a white Dodge Ram pickup truck, a 25-foot Airstream trailer, and moved into it. It was a crazy and emotional transition. We drove all over Northern California to check out a bunch of vintage trailers and RVs that we found on CraigsList. We really liked a couple of them but they would have needed several months to renovate; we wanted to move fast so we could travel in the summer. We ultimately settled on a new Airstream because we needed something spacious, time-tested, comfortable, and reliable. Since we’d be travelling thousands of miles across the country during a pandemic with a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old, we didn’t want to unexpectedly learn the secret, dark history of an older trailer on a cold night on I-70.

A couple of weeks into the trip, we learned that a close family member tested positive for COVID-19. Everything that we had been fearing since the pandemic started in March suddenly came true. While we were on a walk in Wright’s Beach in Sonoma County, we got the news that our relative’s business partner passed away. We were emotionally distraught and anxious to be across the country from our family, living in a travel trailer on our own, wondering what would happen to our dear relative. We wondered if we made a terrible mistake going on this adventure at this time. Thankfully, our family member fully recovered from COVID-19, and it was as if the clouds lifted. All we could do was feel grateful for every second that we are alive and healthy.

Dana’s take on panzanella salad with seasonal stone fruit and nasturtium flowers in Bolinas, CA Photo: Courtesy of Dana Haim and Jaron Gilinsky

We’ve now been living in our Airstream for nearly three months. We nicknamed our trailer La Tortuga (the turtle in Spanish), a reference to our toddler’s favorite show, Wild Kratts, and also to remind us to go slow. We thought this nomadic lifestyle would be simpler, and perhaps even easier. We would have less stuff, less space, and a lot more time. The reality is that we now have less time and life is, in many ways, harder. All the tasks involving the kids and their schedules remain, but they happen in a much smaller space. We don’t have multiple rooms to split up the kids, so if one wakes up in the middle of the night we have to get extra creative to keep the other one sleeping. We have little personal space for ourselves and rarely get a chance to escape. Then there’s RV maintenance, which we never could have predicted. Most days it all flows nicely, but other days feel like RV hell. A sample day from RV hell might go as follows: You’re shuffling piles of laundry and dishes around a tiny space, but forgot to turn off the stereo and now your battery is dead, heating is not coming on when it should, you can’t remember your last shower, don’t know where you are sleeping that night, it’s raining, and your two precocious toddlers are both having tantrums. These are the moments when you long for a home without wheels.

But then the next day you wake up in your cozy little trailer with a baby foot tucked beneath your head under the canopy of a Redwood grove. You forget all about the dead battery from the night before and you savor the warm cup of coffee in your hands. You go on a morning hike, hitch up the trailer smoothly and drive to a new campground steps away from the Pacific Ocean. You get the last spot. Suddenly, you see orcas splashing around. The kids are giggling by the window, staring at the slick majestic creatures, and you look at each other, understanding that this is why you took this leap in the first place.

Storytime ritual camped on Wright’s Beach in Sonoma, CAPhoto: Courtesy of Dana Haim and Jaron Gilinsky

Nature truly is the best medicine. We have been fortunate enough to spend chunks of time in the Eastern Sierra, Yosemite, the Redwood Highway, the Oregon Dunes, Olympic National Park, the San Juan Islands, Rainier National Park, and now, Glacier National Park in Montana. We’re not seeing everything on our bucket list; since we’re with such small kids and we are still operating our respective businesses, we have a “do what we can” attitude. Sometimes we skip a hike or a park if a kid is napping and we want to get some work done or just chill. We’ve kept ourselves and our kids healthy and pleasantly distracted. We are not glued to the news, Netflix, and the COVID statistics like we were in the city. We spend the majority of our time outdoors. We are staying fit with the mountain of chores and the strenuous hikes we are going on as a family. The kids bond over little games they invent with rocks, sticks, dirt and whatever else they stumble upon. Jaron is chatting up strangers (with a mask on and six feet of distance of course) and jumping into every body of water possible. Dana is getting inspired by the earthy palettes of river rocks and turquoise glacial pools. The small, or as we prefer to say, intimate space inside our Airstream has brought our family closer together, and more in love. Each day, we watch these little kiddos blossom and witness their bond of brotherhood grow stronger.

Bathtime in the hot springs on the Sol Duc river in Olympic National ParkPhoto: Courtesy of Dana Haim and Jaron Gilinsky

We know they may be too young to remember every detail of this journey, but we believe we are teaching our kids invaluable lessons. One of our favorite new family quotes, is “every day is a new adventure.” We’re pretty sure that our curiosity about what’s around the next corner is contagious. Since becoming parents, we’ve felt an enormous responsibility to teach our kids about the natural world and our place in it. We want to instill in them a deep love and sense of stewardship for the Earth. This trip has afforded us a simple way of doing this in real time. We are greeted by new animals and plants daily. We are keeping a running list of every animal we see; deer, owls, frogs, orca whales, geese, slugs, bees, chipmunks, snakes, etc. Nature is their new classroom. We are trying to be decent teachers. We spend nights learning facts about the flora and fauna so we can share tidbits with our boys the next day.

We have learned that we don’t need a lot of things in our life. Minimalism and organization are critical to surviving the day in a tiny space with 4 people. We are all gaining self-reliance. If things break, we have to fix them. If there is no 4G or 5G signal, we can’t get any work done or Facetime with family. If there is no water, we don’t shower. If there is no power, we can’t use our toaster. If there is no propane or power, we have no heat! We are fixing batteries, changing fuses, learning our way around tongue jacks, stabilizer jacks, converters, inverters, dump stations and propane filling stations. We very much want to avoid RV hell if we can.

Our tiny but ever so mighty kitchen.Photo: Courtesy of Dana Haim and Jaron Gilinsky

We’ve learned how to slow down. We’ve learned about our kids’ limits. We’ve learned our limits as parents. We have also learned firsthand that no matter where we roam, we are all still connected to each other, and to Mother Earth.

As we exited the east side of Rainier National Park in early September we noticed we were suddenly in a cloudy haze. We thought it was just weather until we smelled the familiar odor of wildfire smoke. We stopped at the nearest RV campsite in Rimrock Lake to get information and suddenly learned that much of the territory that we had just travelled through for the last couple months was burning. The Oregon towns we just drove through days earlier were getting evacuated. We were devastated to learn that much of our beloved Northern California had become an inferno. There were uncontrolled fires in just about every direction we hoped to travel in Washington State. The highway we were planning to drive on was closed. We waited a couple days to talk to locals and see if there was a safe path for us. Eventually the highway opened and we decided to drive east towards Montana. Sure enough, the smoke and haze followed us. We are now writing this from just outside Glacier National Park, where the air is currently unhealthy and none of the 25 glaciers are visible. So we spend our days in the Tortuga in West Glacier, Montana. We live. We work. We bake homemade pizza. We do laundry. When the smoke clears we will see the park.

Our family odyssey in the Tortuga has given us, above all, a picture of the USA in 2020 that is completely different from the one most people see on FOX or CNN. By day, we immerse ourselves in some of the most expansive, beautiful, and inspiring spaces on planet Earth. We feel so grateful to be living in this version of our country. Every day brings us to a new sky, field, or body of water that feels infinite and hopeful. At night we grab our phones to read the news and it’s as if we got shot back down the rabbit hole, from a utopia to a dystopia in a matter of seconds. It manifests a strange emotional dichotomy. On the one hand, we feel as if we shouldn’t be enjoying life during the time of COVID-19, climate catastrophes, and the killing of innocent people in our cities. On the other hand, we feel determined to squeeze some lemonade from this otherwise grim year. As much fun as we are having, we are not living out some escapist fantasy. We are prioritizing the safety of our children in the short term while trying to extract more joy and meaning from 2020—a privilege, to be sure. We hope this will be the year where people reconnect with themselves and figure out how we can all improve the world we live in, even in a small way. We know in our hearts this is the actual point of this trip for us. As we walk through this country, we are meditating on one thing: how we can help our kids inherit a better future. We are plotting. We are dreaming. We are where we need to be.



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