For the first two years of their marriage, Ashton and DJ Whaley lived in a 900-square-foot apartment while Ashton completed her college studies. Worried about student debt, the couple realized they would actually save money if they bought a pad of their own. In addition to finding financial freedom, the Whaleys dreamed of traveling around the country—so they began to think about downsizing and making life on the road a reality.
"We are both from a small town outside of Jacksonville, Florida. Neither of us had ever lived any place other than where we were born and raised, so we always wanted to explore the rest of the U.S.," explains Ashton.
Once they figured out how they would pay the bills and feed their savings account while on a cross-country adventure—DJ as a traveling nurse and Ashton as a virtual interior designer—they began researching travel trailers that required the least maintenance. A large, shiny, built-to-last Airstream was the ideal fit.
At first, Ashton and DJ scoured Airstream forums and Facebook Marketplace for potential sales between Tennessee and the Florida Keys (locations within a day’s drive), but they came up empty-handed. Then, during a serendipitous visit, Ashton’s grandfather mentioned that there was an Airstream sitting idle right across from her parents’ horse pasture. After her grandfather had a chat with the Airstream’s owner and found out he had plans to scrap it, the Whaleys were able to snag it for a great price.
There were "large amounts of gunk and grime that had built up on it over the years," points out Ashton—and the 1972 Airstream was ripe for a complete overhaul. For one year, the couple renovated Honey the Airstream—named after Ashton’s grandfather, who is playfully called PopaHoney—from top to bottom.
Instead of taking out a loan, the budget-savvy couple largely funded the revamp of the 200-square-foot camper by selling furniture and electronics on Facebook Marketplace. They also got rid of their Chevrolet Silverado and Honda Accord and picked up a new vehicle to tow Honey.
That Ashton and DJ knew several skilled and generous handymen was another boon. PopaHoney did all the welding for the frame repair and taught DJ how to do the plumbing, while an electrician pal ran wiring through Honey. "We saved nearly $30,000 by doing everything else ourselves, and we came out with a final renovation cost of roughly $15,000," says Ashton.
Honey’s material palette is simple—it’s largely a mix of wood, stone, and leather because Ashton didn’t want the tiny digs to be overwhelmed by disparate finishes. Throughout the interior, she paired modern, clean elements with antiques, noting how she is especially drawn to "items that are looked upon as junk or trash and just need some TLC—like Honey."
Incorporating personal elements is important to the Whaleys—vintage Persian rugs meld with family photos and souvenirs from the couple’s travels, including pine cones and stamps. Ashton says she and DJ were strategic about what they purchased so that their home wouldn’t feel crowded.
They also came up with clever solutions—like the wraparound counter in the bathroom that holds dirty laundry underneath, and the custom-made dining table that folds down when needed. Their used sofa, too big to fit through Honey's door, was taken apart piece by piece and reassembled inside. The green velvet pillows that adorn it, from World Market, were easily darkened from their original hue with Rit dye.
The Whaleys, along with their three dogs, just embarked on their journey over the summer, first holing up in South Carolina, then Texas. Although their goal is to spend three months in one place so that DJ can work at a hospital, the weekends are devoted to exploring.
"We know that there are some places we’d love to see, such as Utah, Arizona, and most of the western states," says Ashton, "but that’s the fun part about what we’re doing; we don’t really have a plan."
Interior Design: Ashton and DJ Whaley / @honeytheairstream
Electrical: Jay Williams
Welding: Gary Jaques