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Old 04-24-2015, 06:50 PM   #1
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1976 25' Tradewind
West Palm Beach , Florida
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Rivet Millennial with a Mission

Hi there, I'm new. I don't know if anybody reads these, but here goes:

The idea of living out of a trailer (or a sailboat) was brain crack for me for a while when I was still in college, from as early as age 19. It was fun to dream about and discuss with my best friend, but I wasn't that serious about it. But I started watching more documentaries on tree houses and tiny houses when I turned 22 or so, and the tiny house movement seemed to be picking up around that time.

After I graduated and started renting out different spaces, the dream seemed like something that could become a reality. I started researching prices and wondered if it was possible for me. When I first mentioned it to my parents, I was still living far away from them and my dad thought it was kind of silly. He has a notion that people who lived out of trailers did so because they had no other choice - basically that they were one step up from being homeless. I didn't feel the same way - I felt it was a lifestyle choice, and one much more preferrable and cost-effective to renting until I found a place I liked enough to settle more permanently. Even if it cost the same, I would be putting money into something I owned and belonged to, rather than renting a space that belonged to someone else.

I mentioned it a few more times over the course of a year or so - I can't say where it turned from an idea to a goal, but at some point it did. I proved to my parents I was serious about it and they got more on-board with the plan. My plan became: move home, save up, and purchase an Airstream before I turned 25.

I turn 25 in August, and I am well on my way to meeting that goal. I've saved up more than $3,000 - a reasonable low starting price for a beat-up vintage from the era I'm looking at (68'-75') and the model I like the best (Overlanders and other Land Yachts).

I'm still in the education/research stage - trying to learn as much as I can about the trailers so that I don't waste my money on piece of junk. I just bought a few books to read through, there's still a renovation series I started watching on Youtube that I need to finish, and I'm looking at listings regularly to see what's out there and at what price points.

Living in Florida has the disadvantage of being far away from the majority of the listings. I've upgraded to occasionally sending emails to the owners to ask for more information, but I'm worried that even if I traveled to see one, I still wouldn't know what I'm looking at. So I need to get more education from people who are more experienced than me, and I don't know anyone who has one first-hand. I have a friend familiar with mechanical things (he just bought himself an old VW van that he's restoring himself), but even he will only know so much.

So I'm looking forward to getting involved on these forums (read: doing a lot of quiet reading and listening). But I am slightly worried that prices/demand might go up the closer we get to summer - but I don't even know if that's a real thing that happens, it's just a guess? But I don't want to rush into a bad purchase OR wait too long. I am continuing to save up more as I do my research, and I am confident that I will succeed.

I'm just torn between getting a really cheap shell and putting most of my money into a custom interior, or getting a slightly more expensive original model with all the working parts already there - and then just update it a bit to be a little more my style. In your experiences, which is more cost-effective, and more importantly, which one is more fun? And what is the NUMBER ONE most important thing you look for when shopping for a trailer?

If I ask a stupid question, it's because I'm a newbie.
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Old 04-24-2015, 07:08 PM   #2
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2006 25' Safari
Fort Myers , Florida
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Ok newbie Starstruck08, WELCOME and yes, many will read your post as this is a busy forum. You may not always agree with the opinion but hey, you will definitely learn something! A couple of thoughts on your post, as a co-Floridian I can tell you that we have one of the most active states for RV sales. While we do not have the biggest Airstream dealers, when I was shopping there was a point that Airstreams were for sale all over Florida. Mine was originally owned by a man from West Palm Beach FL. Just be patient and keep saving.

As far as vintage fixing, restoring or updating, that really depends on what kind of mess you are willing to live with and possibly live "in" while doing the work. It also depends on your level of expertise. Personally I would keep saving. Become familiar with models and price points for used ones. Go to some of the rallies in FL. There you can see old and newer styles and also get an idea of the type of people who "stream". While there are all walks of life, I have yet to meet a near homeless type - full-timer yes but by choice. Stuff for trailers isn't cheap so I would say that buying a working trailer to update might be a better option for you. That way you can live in it and fix it up in minor ways over time. Nearly everyone I have read stories on refurb jobs end up with lots of money in their "baby" BUT in most cases learned a lot and enjoyed it. Because of my skill level and work area, a rebuild for me would be out of the question. Do you have a large area to piece out a trailer- a warehouse to load out built-ins, etc and rework? The budget for such can be staggering but also fantastic. It depends. My gut tells me that you need about $11,000 more to start looking at something live in ready perhaps. There is a 31' Sovereign 1972 model for sale right now in FL $14K.

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Old 04-24-2015, 07:45 PM   #3
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1972 25' Tradewind
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Living in a trailer isn't rent-free. You'll still need to rent a pad in an RV park as there aren't many municipalities that let you just park anywhere and live in your trailer. Look into the cost of RV park rental fees and add that to the cost of a trailer, maintenance, repairs, etc. Saving your money and putting a down-payment on a condo and paying a mortgage might start to look like a not so bad idea. Like cars, trailer depreciate while real estate tends to appreciate (discounting your fiasco of 2008, of course).
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Old 04-24-2015, 07:46 PM   #4
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1974 31' Sovereign
Obrien , Florida
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Starstruck, welcome to the forum. Rodster covered a lot of it, but I'll add in my experience, as I was an Airstream noob when I bought mine.

Study, study, study! There are so many variables year to year that you REALLY need to know what you want before you purchase. I bought a '74 for $2000, and have right at $7500 in it right now, very useable. Just got back from a three day stay at Lakeland for Sun 'n Fun. On top of that $7500 though, I have about a billion dollars worth of labor... How handy are you, what experience do you have in welding, metal work, plumbing, electric, etc... It's not rocket science, but a wide range of knowledge comes in very handy.

'74 was the first year of gray tanks. Do you need a gray water tank? Then you need a '74 or later. Are you planning on towing it much? Then you will have to replace the axles if it's over 20 years old or so... There are ways to check. Rear bedroom? Twin bed?

So much depends on what you "need". Read a lot on here. Ask a lot of questions. Learn to filter the crap answers. I live near Gainesville, and if you'd like to look at mine, and what I've done so far, I'd love to show it to you. PM me if you're interested. You can read a lot of what I've done on my thread "Big Bertha, or How I Spent $30,000 on a $2,000 trailer..." Look under '74 Sovereign's if search doesn't bring it up.

Good luck with your search for your Airstream! Keep us posted on your progress and any needs you may have. Post lots of pictures. We're Airstream voyeurs here...

If you haven't purchased by January 2016, come out to Canopener at Topsail Hill State Park. There will be a hundred Airstream there, and you can get a great idea of what's possible, and meet some awesome people... And drink a few margaritas as well.

Hope this helped. Don't hesitate to ask questions.

-Red, not waiting on the margaritas...
Somebody ought to clean these windows. There is a tremendous buildup of gook all over them...
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Old 04-24-2015, 07:52 PM   #5
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Metairie , Louisiana
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Unless you intend to turn your Airstream into a lawn ornament and never move it once you've bought it, you'll also need to look at a vehicle that's capable of towing it. If you already have a vehicle capable of towing a trailer, great! but otherwise, make sure to include that expense in your plans.

By the way, good move deciding on an Airstream instead of a boat. When I was a couple of years away from retirement, I looked at buying a live-aboard boat as my retirement home. The reason I gave up on that idea was that I had foot surgery gone wrong, that left me with an ankle that doesn't bend the way ankles are supposed to bend. The idea of living aboard something that never stops moving, even when you park it, suddenly didn't seem so appealing.

Fortunately, one of the discoveries I made was that literally everything about an RV is half the price— or less— than the same thing for a boat. The RV itself is less than half the price of a boat with the same amount of living space. Campsites are half the price of marina slips. And fuel? You'll use way less than half the fuel to get where you're going in an RV than you would to travel the same distance in a boat. Plus you'll get to your destination in about one-sixth the time. And you don't risk drowning because an RV won't sink out from under you if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere.

Rodsterinfl offers good advice. I would suggest to you that your first Airstream should be one that is already at least nominally livable. At least with galley and bathroom facilities in working order, along with basic electrical, and no major roof leaks or floor rot. The actual furniture might be in need of replacement, or already ripped out, or whatever, but when I moved to New Orleans after I graduated from college, I had a lawn chair, a steamer trunk that did double duty as storage and a table, and a cot. It took me the better part of a year to furnish my place. You can get by indefinitely without furniture in your RV home if you're willing to use your imagination; you can't get by for long without cooking and bathroom facilities.
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Old 04-24-2015, 07:55 PM   #6
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1974 31' Sovereign
Obrien , Florida
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Depending on where you're parked, you can get along for quite a while without a toilet...

-Red, marking his territory...
Somebody ought to clean these windows. There is a tremendous buildup of gook all over them...
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Old 04-24-2015, 09:03 PM   #7
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Where you been, Red? Marking my yard?

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Old 04-24-2015, 10:01 PM   #8
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1965 24' Tradewind
1962 28' Ambassador
Mesa , Arizona
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Yes we read these, yes we share your passion and dreams. Go for it, stay on the forums, read, read, read. We even read the threads we don't fully understand and some of it sticks. It will start to make sense and when its right it will happen.

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Old 04-24-2015, 11:19 PM   #9
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Let's face it, you're under 25, now is the time to do something stupid! If you wait until you are settled and married and have a mortgage, you'll never do it. NOW is the time to live on the edge and try something different, and maybe find a whole different way of doing things that suits you better than the traditional path.

Airstreamers are great! They are some of the nicest, most generous, helpful people I've ever met. Summer is coming up, so it's a great time to go to a rally. I will pretty much guarantee that if you show up at a rally, either WBCCI or Forum rally, and tell folks you are looking to buy and just want to learn, you will find yourself being invited in, and told stories about restorations and travels until you have to tear yourself away (or stay for the pot luck). That's what happens at the kind of rallys I attend anyway! If you really want a Vintage trailer, find out where the WBCCI Vintage Airstream Club rallies are on your end of the country, and attend one! You will learn so much that you don't even know you don't know, and get to see so many wonderful vintage trailers you will be hooked even more than you already are!

My advice, after many years of restoring cars, and my own Airstream, is to save up and buy one in the best condition you can afford. Get one ready to roll that has been in use by the previous owner. It will still need work, there will still be customizing to do, but you will be able to use it while you learn, enjoy the lifestyle, and hopefully make the repairs at convenient times. I don't recommend anyone go straight into a full on restoration I would guess 3 out of 4 people who jump feet first into that kind of project get in over their head and bail out - and not just trailers! Cars, boats, all the same thing. Don't make your first project hard on you. There's plenty to learn if you start with a project you think won't need anything! To do that you might have to save up quite a bit more, and maybe stretch out the 'by the time you're 25' goal, but it will be worth it for the trouble you save.

You might also consider a newer trailer which you can mortgage like a house and make payments on. If you're college educated I assume you'll be making money somehow. A new trailer might cost a bit more, but vintage aren't cheap either once you figure in repairs and time spent working on it. I'd rather spend my time traveling and enjoying myself.

Good luck! If you pull it off, you'll be living the dream!

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Old 04-25-2015, 04:26 AM   #10
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1977 31' Sovereign
1963 26' Overlander
1989 34' Excella
Johnsburg , Illinois
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Buying brand new, guarantees you will have big depreciation immediately when driving it off the dealer lot. Buy as new a trailer as you can and tow vehicle to match. Good old trailers are very difficult to find. They usually represent lots of money for parts and lots of your labor, for which you will not be paid for when you sell. Besides the time you will lose before you get to go out and enjoy the experiences. Most of the trailer people that are in clubs are older. If you just travel, without working, your college education will also depreciate. Find a job that will allow you to enjoy your trailer, while you further your career. If you live in the trailer, changing jobs and location will be easier. Getting married, and lots of kids to follow, will make life more complicated.
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Old 04-25-2015, 09:02 AM   #11
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1981 31' Excella II
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I would save up and buy a trailer that is less than 20 yrs old and do your research. Get a good one so you don't end up spending tons of time and money trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Spend some time on the floor and frame forum and learn what happens to a poorly maintained Airstream and what a pain it is to fix. Try to get one with plywood as opposed to OSB floors which may not be possible in the age range we are talking about. Also consider Avion trailers as an option. Sometimes you can find really good deals on these trailers.

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Old 04-25-2015, 10:10 PM   #12
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1976 25' Tradewind
West Palm Beach , Florida
Join Date: Apr 2015
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Wow thanks for the great intro! Let me try to address concerns and make myself clearer where needed.

Because of all your advice, I'm probably not going to go with an empty shell. My mother is actually a maintenance supervisor on a school campus, and I'm a very artistic/diy person - some of my art classes in college taught me welding, wood-working, etc. I'm all about collecting new skills. We're not afraid of the work involved in a minor fixer-upper, but building a layout from scratch may be a job that is a little too intimidating for my first time.

And yes, I've seen some listings in Florida. I'm still kicking myself for not having any money saved up last fall when someone sold one right around the corner from me for $2k. Right after that is when I got my job and started saving as quickly as I could. But it seems like the listings are either in Florida or they are in MAINE or OREGON or CALIFORNIA. There's very little inbetween, and what I do find inbetween is not intriguing enough to spend the gas to go see it. I'm very excited that you guys have a system of helping each other check out prospects, and I'm hoping that some of you will be willing to help me when I'm closer to buying something.

Personally, I'm more in it for the sentimental value and for the enjoyment of owning something. If I manage to get one in decent condition and keep it nice, I probably won't end up selling it unless I come up on some real bad times. So I'm looking for something that needs minor repairs, has a bit of character, and won't break the bank up front. I'm 24 and this might end up being a huge mistake (I doubt it), but if I find out I really don't like the RV life or it's way more work than I imagined, I'd rather be out $3k, rather than have wasted $10k or more.

I'm in it for the adventure, not for the resell value, and getting an older vintage one is important to me. The newer ones are nice but they are significantly more expensive and at the rate I'm saving, it'll take me 5 years to buy one. I'd rather be on the road a year from now in a rickety rust-bucket that hauls okay than still living at home and counting pennies while my friends are out living their lives. You know what I mean?

I realize that living in a trailer isn't totally free, I expect to make a few investments up front, and regular maintenance costs. But again, I'd rather put my money into something that belongs to me than into various apartments that I can't even paint the walls in. If I use it to travel to conventions to sell merch and art, a night at a campground is much cheaper and more comfortable than a typical hotel (and I can bring my animals). My mom is on board with the project and if we don't have room on our property for it, she's happy to park it in a remote corner of the school campus where we will have plenty of room to work on it while being out of the way.

I have an idea of the layouts that appeal to me - I like the ones with the bathroom in the back since they have a lower hitch weight. I figured a lower hitch weight would be easier on a smaller towing vehicle? I'm still learning about towing things, I know the weight has to be balanced on all axles no matter what you're pulling with. Aesthetically at least, I definitely prefer the bathroom in the back.

The Overlanders are my favorite series when it comes to layout. Tradewinds come close behind. I want lots of counter-space and room for the light to bounce around, so the half-fridges appeal to me since I only have to carry enough for one person and a dog (for now). I will also consider a nice-condition Argosy with a similar layout.

I really want to go to a rally now, I'll have to do some research and see if there are any coming up in my area! Thanks for the great tip.

I also didn't know the factoid about the gray water tank not being a thing until the 70s. I plan on having a composting toilet instead of dealing with black-water - would I be able to convert a black/gray water tank to JUST a gray-water tank if it isn't hooked up to a toilet?

I might be college-educated, but my two interests have always been art and animals. Not exactly money-making career choices. I've got a good job right now that pays pretty well, and I plan on keeping it for the next year if they let me. I may continue to save up and purchase something for more the 5-6k range, since the nicer in-use vintagers seem to be in that range. I'm looking at one in Orlando FL right now that seems like it needs a bit of work, but it's priced at $6.5k and the guy seems to think that it's priced to sell. And I'm not sure if it is or not. I'd love if someone could take a look at the advert and tell me what they think about it (or if someone lives near orlando and could come with me to an inspection to show me more about what to look for... that would be amazingly invaluable, even if it ends up to not be the trailer for me or the guy won't take my offer).

It's really not about making money for me, it's about the fun of it and the adventure. It's an advantage of still being single and I've already experienced a successful year or so in comic art, attending conventions, selling prints, etc. Money is only a means to an end for me, and that end is a more fulfilling and worry-free life doing stuff that makes me happy. Being independent and mobile, being able to visit family more often, being able to meet lots of new people and geek out at more conventions? That's what I'm after. My trailer will be worth the memories I make in it, not the amount of money I choose to put into it.

I am very concerned about getting a good frame, no water damage, etc because I want this thing to last as long as possible. So the inside furniture could be wrecked, but if the systems are all working and the frame/shell is solid, that's fine with me. But I'm definitely looking at more intact stuff than I was originally. I need a base I can customize and update without it taking over my entire life. Mostly cosmetic stuff with a few green-living upgrades.

I'm reading books right now about what I should be looking for, the daily routine of taking care of a trailer, etc. I've got the Newbie's Guide to Airstreaming, Airstreams: Custom Interiors (more for design ideas I think), and Restoring a Dream. Are these books any of you have read before or recommend?

Sorry that's really long, but I'm learning a lot just by reading the info from you guys! Even if some of it isn't relevant to me (not saying it isn't good advice), I definitely appreciate every moment you guys spend trying to help me out. <3
If I ask a stupid question, it's because I'm a newbie.
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Old 04-26-2015, 06:53 AM   #13
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Good Ol' , USA
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I would like to offer up a solution that could get you closer to living your dream a little sooner.
I was perusing CL last night and came across this ad for a vintage Avion that appears to be very liveable. It's an example of items that you can run across when you are looking for silver-skinned beauties! Something to consider.

Oh, and welcome to the forum! Aluminitis has afflicted you at an early age!

1970 avion/fifth wheel hitch/5x8 utility trailer/13 Klamath boat
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Old 04-27-2015, 11:53 PM   #14
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1976 25' Tradewind
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Avion isn't really my target make and model, and East Oregon is quite the drive for a fixer upper that they want almost $5k for.

I appreciate the effort, though! And I love the term Aluminati, that's awesome. XD

If I ask a stupid question, it's because I'm a newbie.
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