I’m a marketer by trade, and one of my rules of marketing is that people buy from the heart and then justify it using the head. My wife and I are not immune to this tendency, so I admit that our decision to buy an Airstream was driven as much be the heart as it was by the head. It’s an iconic brand, and they’re just so damn beautiful.
So while I’ll admit that some of our decision was driven by emotion, we did follow a process and there are some logical, rational reasons to buy an Airstream that would please even the most rational among you.
I tend to get enthusiastic about future purchases, particularly of big toys. I’m ready to go out and buy whatever it is right away. My wise wife instituted a rule in our house, for my own self-protection, that we have to rent before we buy. This has saved us a couple of times from making a mistake.
When I first began the search for an RV, I thought we wanted a class B+ motorhome. In case you’re not familiar with these motor homes, they’re larger than a class B built on a van chassis, and smaller than a Class C with a cab over the driver’s comparment, and they are usually based on either a diesel Mercedes Sprinter chassis or a gasoline Ford Transit chassis. We rented a Leisure Travel Serenity, a model from one of the leaders in the category.
While I loved the Leisure Travel in many ways, and probably would have chosen them if we stayed with a class B+ motorhome, there were several disadvantages:
- We like to camp and then run into town – either to sight see, grab groceries, or sometimes eat out. With a class B+ rig, you have to break camp every time you run into town, you’re driving a relatively big rig into town, and you have to find a parking spot big enough for a 25 ft van. None of that was much fun.
- The Serenity was a little bit small. The driver and passenger seats swivel towards a table to form your dinette. The bathroom is small and difficult to turn around in. Some other models, like the Unity from Leisure Travel, are a little larger or better laid out, but we still wanted a little more space.
- The Serenity is not as open as the Airstream. The back is completely closed off, and the front is the windshield of the van.
- There is limited availability of Leisure Travel vans, both new and used. Leisure Travel seemingly can’t keep up with demand, which tends to keep the prices up. List prices for a new unit are $130,000 to $150,000 and the dealers have little to no motivation to discount them.
One thing we realized from our experience renting the Serenity is that we couldn’t make do with a corner bed. My wife is mildly claustrophobic, so I had to be on the inside. It wasn’t fun for her or me when I climbed over her in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. This experience caused us to look for either an island queen bed , with room on either side of the bed to get out, or twin beds.
Two summers later we rented a 28 foot Airstream International with an island Queen bed and a Ford F-250 as a tow vehicle. This experience cemented our love for Airstream, but the 28 foot was too much for us. Too long, too heavy and in a sense, too accommodating. My wife hated the monster rig, as she would describe it. She just didn’t feel comfortable driving it.
We stopped to get a Starbucks coffee one day. Of course, you couldn’t begin to pull into a Starbucks store or go through one of their drive through windows. The rig was much too large. Instead, we stopped at a Target in Oregon that had a Starbucks embedded within the store. I tried to park in two long parking places, lengthwise. The rig stuck out into the next lane by a good six feet. I ended up parking in a corner of the lot across 5 or so spaces. Getting gas, I had to pull into the far outside lane or go to a truck stop.
Lastly, because the 28 foot was so large and so accommodating, I felt like we spent less time outside. Let’s not forget why we’re out in nature. Yes, I know we’re “glamping” as some people describe it, but we want to be outdoors: cook outdoors, sit outdoors, go hiking, etc. We intentionally want something small enough that it encourages us to get outside unless it’s raining or too cold.
In the end, we purchased a 23 foot Front-bed twin in the Globetrotter trim from Can-Am RV in London, Ontario. We can pull it comfortably with our SUV (an Audi Q7). It’s big enough for the two of us, but so much easier to tow than the 28 foot model. Not only is it 5 feet shorter, but it’s also almost 6 inches narrower, which reduces the drag and the weight. So far, we love it.
Now that I’ve told you a little bit about our process and our eventual choice, here are our reasons for selecting an Airstream beyond just falling in love with them.
Those big panoramic windows on an Airstream are a huge draw for both of us. Why don’t more trailer manufacturers put panoramic windows on the front and the back? We love looking out these big windows.
Yes, there are complaints on the forums about quality issues with Airstream, but compared to most of the competition, Airstream trailers are put together to last. Airstream brags that about 70% of Airstreams ever built are still on the road today, and it’s not unusual to see Airstreams built 40, even 50 years ago, at rallies and on caravans. Yes, they require maintenance. Yes, the older Airstreams have been rebuilt on the inside and sometimes on the outside. But overall, Airstream trailers are among the highest quality in the RV industry.
Most of the industry builds trailers or motor homes where the interior design would be perfectly at home on the set of a 1950’s TV show. Sorry, but I want something with more of a modern design aesthetic. The International Serenity, the Globetrotter, the Bambi, the Caravel, the Nest – all have a pleasing design aesthetic that you just don’t find in “box” trailers.
I hear this all the time: I love the Airstream, but it’s so expensive! And yes, the initial purchase price is quite a bit higher than the purchase price of a box trailer of similar size. However, if you can pay for or finance that initial price or you buy a lightly used one, Airstreams are very cost effective.
The way I figure it, you’re very unlikely to buy a travel trailer and own it for life; you’re much more likely to buy it and sell it a few years later. Either you find the RV lifestyle is not for you, or you want a trailer that is 2 feet larger or 2 feet smaller. In this common scenario, where you own an RV for 3-10 years, the Airstream is very cost effective because of its superior resale value.
You can buy a box trailer about the same length as my Airstream for about $35,000 to $37,000. The quality won’t be as high, but you’ll probably have more room and the trailer would be lighter weight than the Airstream. 5 years later, if you went to sell the box trailer, it’s lost about 50-60% of it’s value, so you might resell it for $16,000. It cost you (not counting repairs, maintenance, etc) roughly $4000 per year in depreciation.
If you bought a modest sized Airstream, you would pay over twice as much, say $75,000 to $80,000. But five years later, it’s only lost about 30% of its value, and in some cases, if the model is in high demand, it may experience less depreciation. You resell it for $53,000 let’s say, or about $4400 per year in depreciation.
And the depreciation on an Airstream slows down after 5 years if they are well taken care of. Your average box trailer is worth almost nothing after 10 years, whereas after 10 years, your Airstream, would be worth somewhere around $38,000 to $42,000, between 50 and 55% of what you paid for it.
This was a huge plus for me. There is no larger group of RV enthusiasts than Airstream owners. Don’t believe me, take a look at https://www.airforums.com/ The AirForums provide more advice, tips, tricks, modifications, suggestions and stories than on any other comparable RV forum. It’s not even close. Where the forums of some of the other manufacturers I looked at had 4-5 entries a day on their forum, Airforums had tens of new threads and a hundred or more comments.
There is also the International Airstream Club, also known as the Wally Byam Airstream club, that has chapters almost everywhere and runs numerous rallies and caravans every year. Want to attend the Albuequerque Baloon festival? Airstreamers rally there every year. The Sun Valley Jazz Festival? Ditto. The National Storytelling festival. Got that covered.
Want to travel with 10-15 other Airstreams in a caravan down to Mexico? Up to Alaska? Around the Great Lakes? The club organizes caravans to all of these places and much more.
There is also the unofficial Airstreamers fraternity. When we rented an Airstream, in almost every campground we ran into 2-3 other Airstreams, sometimes more, and inevitably we spoke to them or they spoke to us. Airstreamers are friendly and generous people.
And in the end, isn’t that why we get out there in our RVs? To see beautiful places, spend time with friends and family and meet new people.