I turned my Airstream into an AirBnb last November—and here’s what happened
First off, nothing awful happened. People came, they did their tourism or temporary work or visited relatives, and then they left. Nobody damaged the Airstream, nothing was stolen. People appreciated the opportunity to try life in an Airstream for a few days, and we got great reviews.
It was also mostly hassle-free, for me, because I had an arrangement with the property owner, Adam. He and his mother (who lived on property) took care of the daily chores like booking, cleaning, and site maintenance. I took care of Airstream-specific repairs and filling the propane tanks.
From November 2019 through April 2020, the only repairs I had do were to replace one LED light bulb and one cabinet latch. Things ran so smoothly that I didn’t even both to go look at the trailer more than about once a month.
Adam kept the cleaning fees and half of the net revenue. We split the utility costs (water, sewer, and electricity), and his bookkeeper tracked everything in a spreadsheet.
For the most part, the Airstream was booked. We had 80-90% occupancy each month, but that was actually a slight disappointment. Tucson has a very strong winter visitor season, particularly in February during the famous Gem Show, and I expected 100% occupancy with a waiting list.
At first we chalked it up to being relatively new to the AirBnb market. But the problem turned out to be more widespread. In the past year Tucson has been over-saturated with AirBnb offerings, and prices have collapsed. It became possible (and still is) to get entire condos for $40 per night, so a 200-square foot Airstream became a tougher sell at the same price. My dream of hiking up the price to $80-100 per night during peak season never became reality.
We knew that the season would end by April 1 so I was prepared to forgo revenue over the summer. Even given that, I figured it was still a better deal for me to leave the Airstream on site (free storage) than to pull it out, so that was the plan.
But in mid-March the pandemic struck, and all our bookings evaporated instantly. I began to think more about my long-term Airstream plans and the value of keeping the Airstream on simply to rent it. My net income was averaging just over $300 per month, plus a savings of about $150 per month from not having to store it. Was it worth it?
I had visions of roof leaks cropping up over the summer monsoon season, or things gradually decaying/ rusting/ seizing from lack of use and attention. I’ve always said that neglect kills Airstreams, while regular use keeps them in good shape. One un-noticed leak, or a good (accidental) dent to the aluminum, or wear & tear to the interior could wipe out all the income for months. I was planning to be gone for two months this summer and it didn’t feel good to leave the Airstream behind without someone experienced to keep an eye on it.
Beyond the financial considerations, there was simply the fact that I don’t need or want a 30-foot Airstream anymore. I’ve been looking forward to downsizing to a 25-footer for several years, just for easier handling (parking, maneuvering) and lighter weight. I won’t be out in the Airstream for months each summer as I have been in the past, and without a kid in the trailer there’s no need for a 2-bedroom floorplan.
I took few weeks to evaluate my options, but finally put the Airstream on the market on April 26. I had two interested buyers within 24 hours, and closed the deal in a few days. On May 6, a commercial driver came by and towed it away to new first-time owners in Virginia.
Over the five months of rental, the gross revenues were $5,761 or an average of about $38 per day. Expenses, such as cleaning, supplies, furnishings (blankets, sheets, towels, etc), propane, and utilities consumed a lot of that revenue, leaving just $3,416 to split with Adam. So my net earnings on the AirBnb were about $1,700, plus about $1,000 saved from not having to store it from October through April.
I didn’t make a ton of money on renting the Airstream but overall, I’m pleased with the experience and think it was worth the effort I had to put into it. Most of what I did to get it ready for AirBnb was the same work I would have eventually had to do to get it ready for sale anyway. For my situation (the last few months of ownership) it made sense.
I don’t plan to do it again with the next Airstream. After a 9-month hiatus from Airstream travel I’m gearing up for a fresh start this fall, with my partner Tothie (who you’ll see in the Airstream Life TV episodes) and Mickey the terrier. Our new Airstream will be in and out often enough that it won’t be practical to offer it as a rental between trips.
The real value in the Airstream was never the revenue potential anyway. Over 15 years of ownership it gave me a base for over 2,000 nights, in all the lower 48 states, Canada, and Mexico—and then I sold it for 61% of the original retail price. That amazing 2005 Airstream Safari was the best travel bargain I’ll ever have, and a little AirBnb revenue at the end was just icing on the cake.