Traveling With Your Airstream

Submitted by Bob Bennett

First – the way we travel (Unless we are planning/running/participating in a caravan).

  • We do not go and stay in one location much – rather, we travel and enjoy the trip as it evolves.  We usually have a start and end location in mind and a general idea of the route we would like to follow.
  • We take the back roads as much as possible and avoid the interstates unless we just must make miles.  The US highways are not only much more scenic and interesting, they often are better roads since they do not get the heavy truck traffic.
  • We travel between 200 to 300 miles per day – less if we find things along the way.
  • We stop and see what is along the way that looks interesting.  We like factory tours so we carry a copy of the book “Watch it made in the USA” with us and use it often.
  • We make NO (or at least minimal) reservations because that locks us into a schedule and keeps us from stopping when we see something interesting.  The only time we make reservations is if we must be in or near a major city or in National Parks at peak times.
  • We usually get started by 8:30 AM and get off the road before 4:00pm. (often much before then).  We VERY rarely have trouble finding a camping place because we arrive earlier than most other folks.  That also gives us time for shopping, laundry, or just relaxing before dinner.
  • We drive at the speed limit or 60mph, whichever is less.

Thoughts on Camping

  • We rarely stay in KOA’s or campgrounds listed as “Resorts”.  We do not use the facilities they offer and object to paying the steep price.
  • We do like to use public facilities.  Federal (Corps of Engineers, Forest Service, National Parks and Monuments, etc.), State, and often City parks are great.  The Federal and State parks are usually well maintained and are located in some very choice spots.  They are little used during the week but can be crowded on weekends.  (If you do not have one – and you qualify – get and use a Golden Age pass.  It is good for life and applies to everyone in your vehicle.  Gets you into all Federal facilities free and gets you ½ price on camping – many State facilities honor it too, just ask.)
  • In the mid-west, small towns often have city parks with camping facilities – also not well used.  They are not advertised in most campground guides but can be recognized by the “camping” signs along the road.  Staying in these offers the chance to see how the locals live.  We often ask where there is a good place to eat – and usually find some great home cooking and nice people.   We often get a parade of locals driving by just to see the Airstream.
  • Fraternal organizations often offer camping at their facilities (Elks, American Legion, etc.)   The Elks even has a camping directory you can purchase.
  • Fairgrounds often offer camping.  They have hookups for the vendors during the fairs and love to make money during the off-season,  just stop at the office and ask.
  • We also use a Campground Guide – we use the Trailer Life guide.  We do not plan ahead with it – just look for what is near where we decide to stop.
  • In a pinch you can also use Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Flying J, (or other truck stops).  If you do use these be sure to stop at the customer service desk and ask if it is OK.
  • Because many of these places might be dry camping, it brings us to the next topic

Your rig and how to make optimal use of it.

Your Airstream is an excellent self contained travel vehicle.  Once you understand (and use) its capabilities, you can expand your traveling experience considerably.  We travel with our fresh water tank full and wash water tank empty – the black water tank varies.  We rarely hook up to anything other than electric even if it is available because:

  1. Using the fresh water tank insures that the water stays fresh and that the pump is really working when we need it.
  2. It also insures that we have an ample supply of water wherever we may stop.
  3. Although it is of less consideration, this also insures we always have good water pressure (never too much or too little).
  4. Letting the waste tanks fill a bit before dumping helps keep them clean and flowing.  We dump the wash water before each move and the black water every 3-4 days.
  5. Although it is probably just my imagination, I find that handling the hoses (water and drain) only one time is less work.  Our normal procedure is to fill with fresh and dump the holding tanks just before hitting the road in the AM.
  6. Using this process we never have to worry about what facilities our next campsite has – we are prepared for anything from dry camping at Wal-Mart to full facilities at a resort.

The way we use it, the capacities of the trailer seem to be:

  • The fresh water tank is good for 3 – 4 days average use.  You can stretch that by being very careful of how much water you use.  Use dish water sparingly, Use a dish pan rather than running water to rinse, Take “Navy” showers (turn water off after wetting down and rinsing), If you don’t need it don’t let the water run.
  • The wash water tank can last for 3 – 4 days without being emptied.  You can stretch that by dumping your dish water into the black water tank and using the water saving measures listed above.
  • The black water tank can last for 4 – 7 days without being emptied.  Traveling with it partially full liquefies the contents and helps keep things clog free.
  • 2 batteries can last for 2 – 3 days without being charged.  The key is IF YOU NEED IT, USE IT – IF NOT, TURN IT OFF.  Overnight use is rarely a problem because your batteries will charge the next day you move.  We have enhanced our battery capacity by adding solar panels and adding a propane catalytic heater (the furnace is a BIG 12V draw) – as a result we rarely worry about 12V power.  We have converted just about everything to 12V use – we have a Fantastic Fan for cooling, a Fantastic Breeze floor fan for additional cooling if needed, and installed 12V fluorescent lights in heavy use areas.  The only things that will not work are the Air Conditioner, Microwave, and TV.

Equipping your Airstream

Adding self-containment equipment to your Airstream (as I noted we have done) can be expensive if attempted in one large addition.  Fortunately, since your Airstream is very capable just as it is delivered, equipment can be added over time.

We added equipment in the following sequence:

  • As soon as we began to travel with other people we found the need to communicate while on the road, so we added a CB to our tow vehicle.  Later we found that communication with others while we were at a campsite but separated from people we were traveling with was desirable we added a CB in the trailer.  Note: Many are becoming ham radio operators and use 2m radios.
  • We began to dry camp and found that some method of cooling was desirable since we could not run our air conditioning unit.  We added a Fantastic Fan.
  • Dry camping and using 12V facilities was workable for 1 to 2 days between moves (when the batteries would be re-charged).  As we found we wanted to stay in a dry camp location for longer periods, we added solar panels.  This allowed us to use the furnace, lights, fans, and pumps for longer periods of time.
  • As we spent more time in the trailer in colder areas we found that the furnace was a big user of propane – and when we were dry camping 12V power.  Our first move was to add a 115V ceramic heat cube.  This only worked when we had electrical connections so we later added a propane catalytic heater.  In most cases we do not run      the furnace (or heater) all night, we just turn the furnace on long enough to warm us up in the morning.   However, we found once again that we were traveling to colder climates and pushing earlier in the spring and later in the fall – so we began using the aux. heaters for all night comfort.

It has now been a few years since we have seen a need to add more equipment and those years have been full of rewarding travel.  We think we have about added all the extra equipment we need.

Some personal thoughts on equipment:

CB’s:  Getting a very expensive CB with a lot of controls is overkill since most casual users do not understand or use the extended capabilities.  A good, well-tuned, external antenna is all that is needed to make almost any CB work well.   We began with using a portable CB (with an external antenna adapter) and it worked fine for both tow vehicle and trailer use.  However, it became a pain to keep moving it and the connectors broke easily.  We have been through a few CB’s and used them up – we now have a Radio Shack CB (model TRG-521) with weather alert and NOAA channels in both the tow vehicle and trailer.  CB’s can be found at Radio Shack and at most Truck Stops.

Fantastic Fans:  Although 2 fantastic fans (front and rear) can keep a trailer quite comfortable in warm weather, we find that one in the rear and an open vent in the front works almost as well.  We have a cover over the front vent and always leave that vent open (even when in storage) – this allows air ventilation in the trailer at all times.  We do have a Fantastic Breeze (floor mount) that can be used when we want more circulation.

Catalytic Heaters:  We use a mid size Olympic heater mounted on legs and hooked up with a 6 ft. hose.  This allows us to position it wherever it can do the most good.  We rarely have to run it beyond the LOW setting, but it is nice to have more heat capacity when needed.

Auxiliary Power:  We opted for Solar Cells rather than a generator because it is always there without requiring extra storage space and fuel or generating annoying noise.  It provides all of the power we need except for running the TV, Air Conditioner, and Microwave.  We have not needed any of those when dry camping in any case.  If we wished to, we could add inverter capability to operate these appliances.

Solar Cells:  If you are a handy do-it-yourself person, RV Solar Electric (RvSolarElectric.com) has complete solar kits available.  They also have a catalog that will guide you in appropriate capacity selection.  If you prefer to have someone else install your solar equipment, AJS Solar travels to many large Airstream rallies and does an excellent job

Inverters:  Although we do not need a large inverter and large battery capacity, we do sometimes need 115V when dry camping.  We need it to charge the battery on our portable computer, run the printer, and charge the batteries for our digital camera.  Inexpensive 300 or 450W inverters are available at Staples, Office Depot, Sam’s etc. and do that job just fine.

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