Humans of RV Life: The Iconic Adventures of Ursulla & Tim
By: Clara Vela
Meet Tim and Ursulla Elkins of @airstreamvagabond. They (along with their loyal pup Mr. Milton Montgomery Elkins) have made the iconic Airstream Classic their cozy home on wheels. For almost five years, they have clocked in more than 170,000 miles—while discovering 45 states, including Alaska—and have even made their way up to Canada.
Here, they tell us what prompted their shift to full-time RV life—and what keeps them on the open road. From morning rituals to RV regrets, the Elkins are seasoned travelers with a whole lot of fascinating stories to share.
On living a family-centric lifestyle:
Tim: What started this transition to RV living was a call I got in 2017 from my dad saying he was diagnosed with cancer. I still get emotional because we just lost him recently. But his diagnosis was the motivation for us to say, If we only have a limited time with family and with my dad specifically, we want to make sure that we're able to spend quality time with the people that matter most. At the time we were 1,800 miles away from him. That wasn't how we wanted to live. It was about living a life of no regrets.
On the perks of life in an Airstream:
Ursulla: We have no desire at the moment to go back to sticks and bricks! I absolutely love what I do as a travel nurse. And our dog can go with us everywhere without the worry and hassle of finding a dog-friendly hotel.
On their biggest regret:
Tim: The storage unit is absolutely my biggest regret. When we first started out, we thought, let's try this for a year, maybe two. We ended up leaving California with a storage unit with things that we could absolutely have gotten rid of. It was alway just one more year, one more adventure. When you start crunching the numbers, the value of everything that's in that storage unit comes nowhere near what we've already paid for storage during the last almost five years.
On deciding on an Airstream:
Ursulla: It’s just iconic. As soon as you walk in you feel the difference in quality. When you open the cabinets and doors, everything feels sturdy. We were transitioning from our home in California to a much smaller version, but the smart layout of the Airstream got us. Plus, we love that all the windows wrap around all four sides and corners so you always feel like you are still outside in nature. A lot of light comes in, unless you use the blackout curtains. It is something that will hold its value for many, many years.
Tim: We decided to save on our RV by buying our third RV right away. In other words, people start out buying something too small and then upgrade to something that’s too big, until they finally find the Goldilocks of RVs. So, we went straight for our Goldilocks version, which was the Airstream Classic.
We've kind of always had an affinity towards Airstream. They're beautiful. We ended up sitting in the exact model that we currently own, and we went holy smokes, we really could do this full time. And that was in 2017.
On what brought them together:
Tim: “Did you know each other in Hawaii?” That's a question we get all the time. We were born on two different islands in Hawaii. And, it just so happens that the Pacific Northwest is kind of where a lot of Pacific Islanders end up. We met while Ursulla was finishing her nursing school, and I was a restaurant executive. One thing led to another. We bonded over snowboarding and hiking and bicycling and things like that. And then when we moved down to California, we ended up picking up camping and you know, relaxing by the ocean and stuff like that. Great memories.
On their travel buddy, Mr. Milton:
Tim: Mr. Milton or Mr. Milton Montgomery is our pup. We were planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest to see Ursulla’s family, but then, unfortunately, Ursulla’s entire family got Covid. Thankfully, they weren’t terribly ill. Since we couldn’t visit anymore, we had a week of free time on our hands. We ended up opening the handy dandy Google machine, and our Mr. Milton popped up as an adoptable puppy. And he's been an absolute joy.
Ursulla: He's such a great dog. He’s such a gentleman. In fact, we can say, What do gentlemen do? And he’ll sit and wait. He’s a rescue, so we only know that his mom was a labradoodle. But, you know how dogs kind of resemble their owners? He looks like Tim. I love it. Mr. Milton’s got an amazing beard; they both do.
On their vacation to Yellowstone:
Tim: Yellowstone National Park had closed during Covid, and it so happened that when we were nearby, the park was reopening, so we decided to see if they had openings. They had a 90 percent cancellation rate. We asked if we could stay there for a week, and they said, Sure, you can stay here for a month, if you want.
We had the place almost completely to ourselves. In our RV park, there were 30 or 40 spots available but only about five other RVers. The park was very empty, and it was probably the first time Yellowstone was at its lowest capacity ever.
Ursulla: It was really truly an amazing trip. Most people recommend spending two to three weeks there because it is so big. And by the fourth week, we felt like we knew the place. We could go see the wolves. Go see the bears. We knew exactly where the bison were. It was a lot of fun.
On working as a travel nurse during Covid:
Tim: Ursulla’s super humble. But she’s a travel nurse in the adult ICU, and when Covid started, it was scary. People were dying left and right, and the vaccines were months away. I told her, You don’t have to work. We have enough money to squeak by for a bit. But she said, No, I have to work. It’s the right thing to do.
Her recruiter told her that Detroit needed help. So, all of us ended up going to Detroit. We were running towards the flames. She was an absolute stud during the whole process. She’d just go wherever she was needed the most. She took more than a handful of contracts throughout the height of the pandemic. She was an absolute champion for a lot of people.
Ursulla: I love what I do. When the whole Covid thing started, no one really knew what it was, and I knew there were risks that came with it. But I just felt this draw. I needed to be there. It's what I went to school for. I felt like that was just my calling, and I love being with my patients. A lot of these patients in the hospital didn’t have any human interaction besides the nurses at their bedside. It was really important to be an advocate and be the person who could hold their hand and make sure they were getting the best care. I definitely had a lot of calls on my days off to come back into work to pull off an extra shift, otherwise they would have been short staffed.
On their evolving morning coffee ritual:
Ursulla: We started off small with our coffee ritual in the morning, which at first was Nescafé. So we legit drank instant coffee for the first two years on the road, and then we discovered that Trader Joe's had amazing instant coffee. Then, we decided that life is too short to put ourselves through this. So, we upgraded to a Chemex Pour-Over Glass Coffeemaker, and we grind the coffee fresh each morning.
Tim: When we travel we go find a local coffee roaster to help support local businesses. I wouldn't call ourselves coffee aficionados but we do enjoy a good cup of coffee. It's a very specific measurement of water to coffee ratio for these pour overs. We figured if we're going to cut back on things like a $6 cup of Starbucks coffee, we could treat ourselves to a $20 bag of locally roasted coffee beans, and then just put in the time to make the coffee in the morning. It’s a fun thing in the morning that we try to do for each other.
On keeping close to friends:
Ursulla: One fun thing we did to keep close to friends last year during the holidays was to start a Coffee Advent Calendar. We had four friends on the road in different areas of the U.S. (And they also live out of Airstreams!) So to stay connected, each of us found four different kinds of locally roasted coffee from our area. And we each divided these bags up into single-cup servings and sent them to the three other Airstreamers.
We got a chance to try coffee from all across the country at the same time. So every day we would have a calendar of what coffee we were going to try as a group. It was pretty fun.
Tim: Yeah, during the holiday, specifically, if you're not with family, it can get lonely on the road when everyone else is celebrating time with their family. So having that morning cup of coffee where you know everyone else is grinding the same coffee beans, you can enjoy the coffee together even if you are states away.
On working remotely from an Airstream!:
Tim: I dabble in the stock market. I find companies that are deeply undervalued and invest enough money to make a difference. But I’m mostly a domestic engineer. That’s my official self-titled role which means my primary job is to clean our home and cook or grill and fix things. But, yeah, I fix things that Ursulla didn’t even know were broken.
On upgrading to a Sedona Elite (RV sized!):
Tim: For four years, we stuck with the stock RV mattress and just added a 4" foam topper. And we just got to the point where the foam topper was dilapidated and the actual stock mattress was as hard as rocks. So, we went from the instant coffee of mattresses to the premier gourmet coffee experience of mattresses.
We went with the Sedona Elite mattress in a Queen Short. It fits perfectly in our Airstream Classic, and we absolutely love it. We went through Phoenix, and I knew Brooklyn Bedding had showrooms all over the Valley. The salesman was incredibly helpful. He was able to say these are the five or six options that will work with your RV. We were able to lie down and pick our favorite mattress.
Ursulla: Yeah, we are 100 percent super happy with the Sedona Elite. We told all of our friends that it was a great upgrade. You sleep eight hours every night, it's got to be comfortable. It’s totally worth the 23 cents a night that we spent on the mattress for the next 10 years.
Thank you so much, Ursulla and Tim! We can’t wait to hear more about where your adventures take you!
Learn more about Ursulla and Tim (and Mr. Milton!) by following them on Instagram @airstreamvagabond.