This week I’m at Alumaflamingo in Florida, which is one of the events we occasionally run around the USA. Everything’s going well here and all the attendees seem to be having a good time, but I’m in hell … White Box Hell.
That’s because I’m in a rented trailer, provided by the campground. I had to fly to Florida because I didn’t have time to make the 4,000 mile roundtrip this winter, and there was literally no other place for me to stay during this week. It’s the annual “Speedweeks” at Daytona and all the accommodations are taken.
On one hand this is a good opportunity to see what travel trailer life is like when you don’t have an Airstream. I suppose I could say that this broadens my perspective and perhaps instills new appreciation for the difference in quality when you step up to an Airstream. But it’s also a shock. This ain’t no Airstream 2 Go, it’s a relatively low-end white box even for an industry that’s not generally known for quality.
The maker of this trailer, Pilgrim, died in 2008 as an early victim of the recession, so there aren’t any units less than nine years old. Nine years is nothing for an Airstream, but it is a long time for the average white box trailer.
This one is typical: the exterior corners have begun to split and separate, the thin plastic vents have cracked, the ceiling has large water stains from roof leaks, and the furniture is starting to pull apart at the staples.
That’s even more disturbing because this particular unit never travels. It’s an on-site rental only. It never will travel thanks to moisture rising from the damp Florida soil. The exposed lightweight steel frame beneath has rusted away.
I sometimes hear Airstreamers complaining about the mattress in their new trailer, but they wouldn’t if they tried the one I’ve been on for the past week. It’s a lumpy and thin thing that barely insulates from the hard plywood below. At night it’s always cold because there’s a huge uninsulated storage compartment directly beneath. I’d rather sleep on my Therm-A-Rest camping mattress.
The only thing I like about the trailer is the ducted air conditioning, which Airstream added across their line a couple of years ago. Airstream’s ducted air is whisper-quiet. The Pilgrim’s air is somewhat noisy but still far better than the old style of air conditioner that sounds like a jet blast.
I’ve done what I can to make this trailer “home” for the week and—to count my blessings—it is a reasonably comfortable place to eat, sleep, and shower. I shouldn’t complain too much about it. My point is only that had I started RVing with a trailer like this, I would be astonished and envious looking at the new Airstreams available today.
And yes, I’d be thinking that the $20k or so I spent on my white box is a lot less than the $40-70k for an equivalent length Airstream … and then I’d think: how can I swing that payment? Because the Airstream is a better product in almost every way, and it will last a lifetime with good care. The white box I’m in today is destined for a landfill in a few years. When you look at it that way, you see how an Airstream is a really good value over the long run.