Holidays in the Airstream

Halloween is coming up and like a lot of holidays it reminds me of great times we’ve had on the road. For three years we spent every holiday on the road in our Airstream, and many other holidays since then.  The Airstream is just a fun place to be.

Airstream Christmas 2005

Being in the Airstream makes each holiday so much more memorable.  We’re simultaneously away from our familiar surroundings and routines, and yet completely at home.  Christmas in the Airstream is a particular favorite of mine, perhaps because many of the trappings of that holiday are stripped away, leaving us to focus on the things that really matter: each other and the moment we’re in.

If you ever have lamented the fuss, traffic, commercialism, over-abundance, and family stress of Christmas, I strongly advise you to pack up the Airstream. Pick the right spot far away from the hubbub, shape a little potted rosemary bush into a tree, warm something nice-smelling on the stove, and suddenly Christmas becomes peaceful and magical again.

I remember very well each of the Christmases we spent in the Airstream because they were unique. The first was near San Diego, and we went to the San Diego Zoo on Christmas day.  The next year it was St George Island, and we walked the endless open beach by the state park.  The next year we bought a house and spent one night camped on the living room floor because the house had no furniture (then we moved back into the Airstream for another 10 months).

I like Halloween in the Airstream too, because we always see a different version of it.  In Oregon we joined a parade and saw some wonderfully incredible and creative costumes.

Medford OR halloween parade 2007

Rotten pumpkin AirstreamIn Disney’s Fort Wilderness we trick-or-treated in costume with dozens of other people through the campground. (Warning: the warm temperatures in Florida at that time of year mean that carved pumpkins rot quickly.)

We’ve spent many a New Year’s Eve camped at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California, but in the past few years the park has gotten a little too popular at that time of year so lately we’ve been seeking alternatives locally. Still, I love a New Year’s Eve where the primary sound at midnight is a pack of coyotes howling.  Other people like parties, and if that’s your style you can always find a New Year’s Eve rally.

Eleanor has even successfully prepared a complete Thanksgiving dinner in the Airstream.  She had to shop for a very small turkey that would fit in the oven, and the limited counter space was a problem that required lots of pre-planning, but it worked out.  One tip if you ever do this: definitely find a full-hookup campsite.  Otherwise it’s hard to have enough water capacity for all the dishes afterward!

Chatfield SP Airstream snowPerhaps the best thing about major holidays is that many of them occur in the winter season. If you live up north each holiday gives you an excuse to load up the Airstream for some off-season camping, which can be a lot of fun.

You’ll burn more propane and use a lot of electricity but with a campground hookup it’s really no problem to take the Airstream out. Waking up to a fresh snow or a bit of frost on the ground somehow feels very cozy when viewed from your warm Airstream—and you know you don’t have to go anywhere.

I know we’re all supposed to enjoy holidays because each holiday is a chance to get together with the family. But if that’s not your reality, the Airstream has another huge advantage: you can be far away, and even unreachable if you want to be. There are lots of places in North America where cellular service still doesn’t penetrate (but you can still watch the football game on TV). Just look for state park campgrounds located in valleys, national forests, or open desert area.

And if you are staying home, keep in mind that your Airstream can be a great guest house for a visitor, with just a full tank of water and an electric plug. You might be enjoying the holiday at home, but perhaps someone you know wants to have a memorable holiday stay?  Considering that people are lining up to pay to stay in Airstream hotels all around the world, there’s a good chance you know someone who would get a kick out of a night in your very own “Air BnB”.

How To Airstream

Bambi blue awningI’m working on a new blog, as sort of an adjunct to this one, called “How To Airstream.”

The reason is that the Airstream Life Store has become a big project of mine, and I’m spending a lot of time researching great solutions to Airstream problems these days.  That’s so I can find things worthy of recommending to the customers.

As a result, my brain is full of details about things like “Why you really need to own a torque wrench” and all the reasons why most RV drinking water hoses suck.

I’ve been digging into mysteries, like “Why is there a plug on your Airstream that says Use only ZAMP portable solar?” and why people get locked out of their Airstreams so often.

A lot of this information is in my books, but I keep learning new things and it will be a few years before I update the books again.  In the meantime, I want to share what I’ve learned.

The “How To Airstream” blog is separate from this one because it’s more commercial.  If I find a good solution that we are going to sell in the store, I’ll put it there rather than here.  That way Man In The Maze can be more about the travel and lifestyle topics and I can avoid crossing the line into shameless promotion of the store.

Right now the How-To blog has a few dozen entries in it, many of which were adapted from prior issues of our newsletter Outside Interests.  I’ll be writing new tips and product reviews on an irregular basis. Things are still a little rough over there, since I am still working on the the design template, but please take a look.

I’m very interested in whatever questions or ideas for topics that you may have.  Just use the “Ask A Question” link at the top of the page, or put in a comment below the blog. The more questions I can answer—even if it takes me a while to find the facts—the more of a resource the How To Airstream blog can be for everyone.

One community, indivisible …

I was writing my Editor’s column for the upcoming issue of Airstream Life the other day, and part of it touched on the recent spread of Airstream’s product line.  I’d like to expand on that here, because the space I allot for myself to bloviate in the printed magazine is very limited.

Once upon a time, and for several decades, Airstream meant aluminum travel trailers almost exclusively.  There were a few experiments here and there with fiberglass (such as the “Wally Bee“) and with canned ham styling (the “Wally Byam Holiday” trailer), but otherwise Airstream stuck to what they knew. Even the painted Argosy trailer line in the 1970s was still mostly the same construction beneath.

Brett Greiveldinger's motorhomeThe Airstream motorhomes of the 1970s were essentially trailer bodies laid atop commercial truck chassis.  Even though the idea of an Airstream motorhome was initially unsettling to travel trailer purists, at least the final product resembled the beloved shape of the iconic Airstream trailer.

Sadly, things went downhill from there for a while.  Airstream made a few stabs at expanding the product line in the 1980s and beyond, introducing creatively-challenged products such as the Legacy fifth-wheel series and white-box Land Yacht motorhomes, both of which were virtually indistinguishable from any other manufacturer’s if you removed the AIRSTREAM labeling. Those products might have been good for the bottom line at the time, but nobody remembers them fondly.

 

VTS1Around 2004-2005, when it became clear that the Class A motorhome business was dying, Airstream stopped producing white box motorhomes and began to try to think a little more out of the box—or perhaps “away from the box”.  The first experiment was the Airstream Westfalia, a Mercedes Sprinter-based mini motorhome based on the popular James Cook sold in Europe.  Airstream imported it and upfitted it to meet US standards starting in 2004.

I thought the Airstream Westfalia was a really cleverly-designed motorhome with a ton of potential, and so did Airstream leadership for a while. But dealers in the US didn’t seem to know how to sell it and Airstream buyers didn’t “get” it. At $85k or so (more than PleasureWay and RoadTrek competitors at the time) you’d want to really be convinced this was the right choice before buying. Only about 192 were imported before Airstream killed the product.

AS_BaseCamp_Lifestyle_bThen they tried the Basecamp, as a sort of rolling sporting goods hauler designed for Millennials and Gen-X’ers who hopefully would not care that it lacked a real kitchen, any sort of bathroom, and cost about $25k.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the target market did care about those things. The optional Kelty tent for the rear didn’t save the original Basecamp from being compared to an expensive horse trailer.

Around the same time Airstream brought out the first Interstate motorhomes, based on the Mercedes Sprinter 2500 chassis.  These Class B motorhomes were moderately successful as far as I know, but the real leap forward came a few years later when it was completely re-designed on the Sprinter 3500 chassis (dually rear wheels) and upgraded in just about every way possible.

Suddenly, Airstream couldn’t make enough of them, and even with the price rising from the $90k neighborhood to $150k+ over the past eight years, the Interstate has become the most popular diesel Class B motorhome on the market. For comparison, Airstream is selling this tight little 25-foot Class B for more than they had been selling their much-larger “white box” style Class A motorhomes in 2005!

In 2011 Airstream tried to dumb down the Interstate to attract a lower-budget audience by building it on a Chevy gas van platform. The short-lived Airstream Avenue was the result. It was a “me too” product: looked like everyone else’s B-van and didn’t have the elite Mercedes diesel drivetrain. There’s a good reason you’ve probably never seen one on the road. It bombed.

I think at this point the light went on for Airstream management. If making the Interstate better was the secret to success, maybe the earlier failures were not because they were too expensive relative to the competition—but not expensive enough! People didn’t want cheap Airstreams, they wanted better ones.

In that context it’s not surprising that the Basecamp eventually came back with a full kitchen, full (wet) bathroom, and lots of clever innovations that transformed it from a essentially empty shell to a functional travel trailer, without compromising the sporty aspect. It’s more expensive than the original design. And now they sell.

2018 Nest Prototype _ Exterior _ Curb Side WEBWell, since Airstream has cracked the code and the economy has been humming well for the past couple of years, Airstream’s new problem is keeping up with demand. Their response has been to come up with more cool ways to go traveling. For example they bought the design of the fiberglass Nest trailer invented by Robert Johans and will be producing that later this year.

The upcoming Winter 2017 issue of Airstream Life will have an in-depth interview with Airstream senior managers that reveals why they bought Nest, what they’re thinking, and how it will fit into the Airstream family.

The other news this month has been that Airstream is launching yet another new product, a Class C motorhome called “Atlas”. It’s also based on the Mercedes Sprinter 3500, but it’s much larger than the Interstate and priced at over $200k.  (We’ll take a close look at Atlas in the Spring 2018 issue of Airstream Life.) This means Airstream will soon be selling five separate lines: Atlas, Nest, Base Camp, Interstate, and the classic aluminum travel trailers.

Airstream Atlas motorhome

People often ask me if Airstream is just cannibalizing its own products. Well, of course they are smarter than that. If the Base Camp was eating into sales of the Airstream Sport 16 and 22-foot travel trailers (which are priced slightly higher), they would have noticed and done something about it.  But so far every new product they’ve launched in recent years has found a new audience, expanding Airstream’s customer base.  Atlas and Nest are expected to do the same.

This all sounds great for Airstream, and great for all those people who are now going to get an Airstream (Nest, Atlas, Basecamp) who would otherwise have not bought an aluminum travel trailer. But did Airstream think about my needs?  Noooooooo.

See, I’ve always had a big challenge in publishing Airstream Life magazine: unifying the community. When I started the magazine in 2004, the hard part was trying to come up with articles that appealed to the vintage trailer owners (of which there are many) and the new trailer owners, plus a small contingent of motorhome owners. Hardly a month went by that I didn’t get a letter from someone griping that “The magazine has too many articles about [insert subject other people care about] and not enough articles about [insert name of letter-writer’s own trailer].”

I still get those letters from time to time. In fact last week someone wrote a lengthy note with their non-renewal, listing all the article categories that they didn’t like as well as a helpful list of the exact articles they’d like to see in the future. The letter concluded by saying that only if I complied would they consider mailing me $24 for a year’s subscription in the future.

(Sadly, it is my policy not to negotiate with hostage-takers. The $24 will have to be sacrificed.)

I try to explain to people that Airstream Life is not about the trailers.  It was never about the trailers, or the motorhomes.  It’s about the other things that Airstreamers are interested in:  community, history, art & design, technology, destinations, etc. Sure, we talk about trailers and motorhomes, but if you look at any issue you’ll see that most articles are agnostic, talking about great adventures or ideas. Whether those things happened in a trailer or motorhome, vintage or new, it doesn’t matter. At least, that’s what I hope.

So in this respect I try to be a Great Unifier. Or to be more accurate, I try to help keep the Airstream community from fracturing. I’ll keep touting the message that no matter which Airstream you own, you’re a part of Airstream Life.  Special interest groups within the Airstream community are cool, but in the end we’re all people united by a common love of travel, adventure, learning, socializing and —well, to be honest—eating.