Why a couple working in tech ditched their San Francisco condo for an Airstream trailer

Airstream coupleCourtesy of Michael FortsonNancy Broden and Michael Fortson.

Michael Fortson and Nancy Broden were ready for a break from San Francisco.

Both had found successful careers in tech — Fortson as a developer for apps like Tophatter, Sounder, and Qik, and Broden as a veteran designer at Twitter.

They owned a two-bedroom condo near AT&T Park, which they had bought in 2007, at the peak of the housing crisis.

“We had a mortgage payment that was just unbelievable,” Broden said. “We knew that we were ready to sell, but we also knew that we weren’t ready to buy.”

In July of 2014, they sold their condo and moved into a rented in-law apartment in Tiburon, California. The move required that they downsize their belongings.

“It’s really a cathartic thing to get rid of most of your stuff,” Fortson said.

Broden added: “We discovered we don’t need a lot of the kitchen stuff.”

After a few months in Tiburon, they decided to buy an Airstream trailer, where they moved full-time in October.

Economically, it was a huge improvement. Mortgage payments cost the couple only $US495 a month, about $US1,500 a month if you include parking and insurance fees.

“As you might imagine, that’s a small fraction — well under a quarter — of what it cost us to live in our condo in downtown San Francisco,” Broden said.

Airstream coupleCourtesy of Michael Fortson and Nancy BrodenThe couple parks their Airstream in Olema, California.

Moving into the Airstream gave the couple the chance to cut the anchor for a while, to explore the West without having to commit to one particular place.

“We like the coast, and we like the mountains” Broden said. “The Airstream was a good way to try it all out.”

“The backyard is wherever you want to stop,” Fortson said.

It was also an opportunity to get out of the tech-saturated culture of San Francisco for a spell. Broden and Fortson first moved to the city in the early 2000s, just before the dot-com bubble burst.

“It can wear on you a little bit. At every coffeeshop you hear the same conversation,” Broden said. “We actually spend more time together now. We interact more with the people around us, in the campgrounds we stop in … I like to see a bit more diversity.”

Airstream coupleCourtesy of Michael Fortson and Nancy BrodenThe trailer parked at Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming.
Airstream coupleCourtesy of Michael Fortson and Nancy BrodenParked at Half Moon Bay, California.

But they couldn’t cut themselves off from the tech world completely. The couple had the trailer’s interior remodeled so that they could both work remotely without disturbing each other.

“The main thing was so that we could get work done at opposite ends of the trailer,” Fortson said. “It’s remarkably well laid-out, all on one main passageway.”

The trailer now has two desks, one at each end of the trailer. A standing desk can be assembled in the bedroom, effectively turning it into an office.

“It doesn’t feel as cramped as you might think. The kitchen might be bigger than the one we had in the condo,” Broden laughed.

They installed exterior antennas that pick up 4G and LTE signals, and they have decently speedy WiFi. Last time Fortson ran a speed test, it was at 30 mbps.

Plus, by using lithium batteries and solar panels installed on the trailer’s roof, the couple can be energy independent.

“It’s amazing what you can do to be productive from anywhere these days,” Fortson said.

Fortson and Broden are big San Francisco Giants fans, so they’re heading to Scottsdale, Arizona for spring training.

“Baseball is a major passion of ours,” Broden said. “We go where they go. The Airstream was a way of doing that.”

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