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Old 01-28-2013, 01:12 AM   #1
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2009 23' International
Boulder , Colorado
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Can't afford the Airstream?

My wife and I bought a 23' 2009 Airstream International. My wife a writer/film maker spends a good amount of of time on assignment in the National Parks and the Airsteam has been a great mobile office. We have had MANY fun adventures with it. But we find it more and more difficult to afford to take it anywhere much farther than an hour or so outside of our home town (Boulder,CO). The price of gas and the measly 12 or so mpg my 2006 F150 gets is seriously holding us back. It may be cheaper to drive a car and get a hotel room. (I know not the same experience) So some questions for everyone:

Am I alone?

Would a new F150 ecoboost get me any farther (new car payment aside)

Does anyone have any insight for tow vehicles in the future that might be more efficient.

I hear the vintage Airsteams were a lot lighter. What is it about the new ones that make them so damn heavy?

Do you think airstream has considered making lighter trailers? (I believe the sport model maybe the lightest?)

If I removed everything from the trailer that I don't need to save weight would it make much of a difference?

Driving over the Colorado mountain passes is killing my mpg. Maybe I should have gotten a diesel?

I've been thinking of selling the airstream and getting something more practical like So-Cal Teardrops - Home or a light weight egg shell trailer.



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Old 01-28-2013, 01:32 AM   #2
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12-mpg isn't bad. And it's the wrong thing to focus on, IMO. How many nights aboard annually, and how many miles towing annually? Fuel is an important out-of-pocket expense, yes, but compared to the overall expenses of the pair of vehicles on a 5-10 year basis (depreciation, insurance, etc) one can gauge the overall expenditure by seeing how often (and how well: your definition) that it is being used.

My folks kept their Silver Streak 27-years. For a few of those years with my two sisters in college at the same time the TT was kept at a beautiful nearby lake. Plenty of trips in the years before and after . . . . this is one approach.

Yes, another TV can be spec'd that is much better on fuel, handling & braking than the one you have . . unless you just have to have a pickup truck. The best TV is the one that best fits solo duties . . . and can tow the TT. One is hardly limited to trucks.

Figure no matter the TV that towing reduces highway mpg by 30-40%. Some TV's just start at a higher point.

And one can always learn to use the vehicle better to underwrite vacation travel per the same fuel budget for solo miles.


1990 35' Silver Streak Sterling; 9k GVWR.
2004 DODGE Cummins 305/555; 6-manual; 9k GVWR.
Hensley Arrow. 12-cpm solo, 19-cpm towing (fuel)
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Old 01-28-2013, 01:41 AM   #3
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Have you checked into a hotel lately? The $30 per night room rate usually includes all the cockroaches and bedbugs you can eat. Local taxes often add 10% or more to the motel's posted rate. Decent rooms start at $50 or $60 especially in tourist season.

I'd worry a bit about a F-150 and a 28 footer in the mountains of Colorado - easily doable on the flatlands of Eastern US, but in the west... ?

There is ONE big factor you apparently aren't considering or aren't taking advantage of - COST OF PREPARED FOOD. If you have to eat out because you're staying in a hotel... there's your gas money. I enjoy eating out, but let's face it you can have a better balanced diet with less salt and fat and controlled portion size if you do it at home. At the average restaurant, the cost of FOOD is 20-28% of the bill you receive. Really simple things can save a bunch of money, but planning really helps too.

I'm solo and full time, but I still make spaghetti sauce to feed 10 people - then Freeze a bunch in sealed boiling bags. With limited storage in the freezer I DO eat the same dinner two or three times a week, but just change up the pasta, cheese and sides for variety.

A diesel won't save you that much - because for no logical reason - diesel fuel (a less refined product) is higher priced than gasoline. AND mine needs synthetic oil - 9 quarts at every tune up.

Reducing weight - certainly won't hurt, but don't kill yourself over a .5 mpg improvement. Putt along at 55 miles per hour, and you'll save a lot more. Of course planning your travel times to avoid heavy traffic with it's stops and starts is key too. SOB's with their poor aerodynamics usually screw your gas mileage worse than the bigger Airstreams, so just be smart, plan ahead, search the internet for campground bargains, and food bargains to offset the cost of the Airstream.

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Old 01-28-2013, 05:27 AM   #4
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I just don't think you're going to see big improvements in towing mpg unless you do something radical. My EcoBoost experience is that it won't improve much on what you're getting with the F-150, and the sales tax alone on that transaction would probably equal the cost of gas for camping for a year or two.

So what's radical? I've seen CanAm RV in Canada tow 23' trailers with a Jetta TDI, but that's going to be tough in the mountains. Or sell it all and get something like a Subaru Forester towing an Aliner/Chalet.

Maybe other money saving ideas (shorter trips, don't eat out) will help.

Now: 2007 Safari SE 23' "Anne" towed by 2011 Dodge Durango "Herman"
Before: Argosy Minuet and T@B, towed by various Honda Odysseys
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:37 AM   #5
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I too can confirm that the EcoBoost is not going to be any better than 12 mpg on fuel economy. It is a good tow vehicle and I am satisfied with mine but unfortunately Ford has been less than honest on the fuel economy that it will achieve.
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:36 AM   #6
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We tow with a 2012 F250 superduty diesel. It is the 4th one we have owned and it is a towing machine. It gets 13-16mpg depending on what we are towing.
As far as motels, there is no comparison. I have my own bed and pillows. I know exactly who has done what in my trailer, but you never know in a motel. I don't have to haul my luggage in and out. I can fall asleep listening to the wind in the trees as opposed to the freeway or the noisy people in the next room.
The tear drops are cute, but I sure don't think they are practical. You better hope for constant good weather 'cause staying inside one of those would be difficult.
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:49 AM   #7
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If you cast around the Forum you'll see 12mpg is about average so, as others have said, unless you do something radical then you're not going to improve that figure a great deal. I wouldn't put the cost of the gas as being the most significant outlay anyway; whatever you're towing you'll use gas and to make significant savings you'll have to make significant changes.

It's not entirely relevant but I just worked out what a US gallon would cost if you bought it at UK prices - $8.63! Maybe those gas costs are not that high after all.
Steve; also known as Mr UK Toad

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Old 01-28-2013, 06:50 AM   #8
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Foiled Again is correct about going 55 mph...and avoiding high traffic moments (what a nightmare).
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Old 01-28-2013, 06:54 AM   #9
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Paul is 100% correct. Until I recently retired I traveled on business to small towns staying several nights per week at a Holiday Inn Express or a Hamption Inn. Average nightly bill with tax and corporate discount ranged from $75 to $85.00 depending on location. Taxes often contributed $10-$12 to the bill. I can assure you cheaper motels almost always have issues with bedbugs, roaches, prostitution, drug trafficking and other crime. I won't stay in them.

Eating out is very expensive if you eat healthy and very bad for your health if you eat cheap (fast food value menu). The Airstream or other RV allows you to prepare fresh food as well as preserve leftovers for the next day thereby stretching your food dollar. A decent dinner eating out for two will be a minimum of $25 and probably $35 to $40. A healthier meal for two can be prepared in the Airstream for less than $10. Fast food for lunch for 2 will cost $10 to $12 and not be healthy. Sandwiches and fruit or salad in the trailer will cost less than $5.00.

With respect to fuel, I pull a 27FB Safari with a new Ford 3/4 ton diesel and average about 13.5 mpg. Diesel fuel is 40 to 60 cents higher than regular gasoline, the higher cost eating up the small increase in mpg. Oil changes and other maintenance are also higher with diesels. I wouldn't justify switching from an F150 to F250 diesel solely on fuel savings. My experience is the same as others. Slow down and mileage improves.

At this point your trailer is a sunk cost, unless you are making payments on it. I assume you would own the truck for transportation if you didn't have a trailer so ignore any payments on it for the financial evaluation. Compare the cost of campgrounds and dining in to safe motels and eating out. Also, factor in the true differential in cost of getting there. 12mpg with trailer vs 17 or 18mpg (my guess) without the trailer. The real incremental fuel cost is about 5-6 mpg or about 30% incremental fuel consumption. On a 180 mile trip without trailer, at 18 mpg you'll consume 10 gallons at say $3.50 per gallon which will cost you $35.00. Pulling the trailer at 12 mpg you'll consume 15 gallons of gas which will cost you $52.50. The incremental fuel cost for towing is $17.50. Even if you are gone only one night, you'll save $17.50 on the difference between the cost of a campground ($25 to $40 depending on location) and a decent moderate priced motel ($75 to $80). Add your food savings by eating in and camping beats the cost of motels unless you are making payments on the Airstream. If you are making payments on the camper you need to look at the annual cost of payments divided by the number of nights out to make a true cost comparison. If you are making payments, and you can sell the Airstream for more than the remaining balance on the note, in the short term selling the camper may make financial sense if you don't spend many nights in it per year. Longer term you'll pay off the note and the cost of the Airstream will be "free" except for maintenance. I suggest you run both short term and long term calculations if you are paying for the trailer on time to fully evaluate the economics.

There is also the value of the camping experience to be considered. Only you can determine intrinsic value. From my perspective this value is high. At this point in my life one of my great regrets is not "affording" the trailer until I got close to retirement. Had I bought it when I was much younger, our life experience would have been much fuller.

Good luck with your decision.
Airstream - 2008 Safari 27FB SE (Sweet Pea)
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:17 AM   #10
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The Eco-Boost is a powerful engine for it's size. If driven solo and 'easy', staying off the turbo the truck's MPG will be very good. Maybe 21 or 22mpg.

Once you hook a trailer up the turbo has to work harder. I would expect 12 or 13 mpg.

For a 23'er you do not need a diesel.

You already have a what many would consider a very good and easy travel set-up. That beinging a 1/2 ton truck with a 23 foot trailer. It really does not get much better than that.
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Old 01-28-2013, 07:19 AM   #11
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Well T, do the math. Play around with some numbers. Look at a trip with the mileage you get now. Again with mileage you would find acceptable for towing the same trip. Then check again for a non-towing trip with the car you currently have. I think that when you add the expenses for hotel, food etc. Compare it to the costs seen when you have your own " home on wheels" to stay in I think you'll see that the savings you see are less than you think. I've checked this for my own circumstances and if a savings of $30-40
makes or breaks whether or not we make the trip maybe we shouldn't be going. I'm sure you'll find that the numbers are not as great as you think.

Good luck. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.
Roger in NJ

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Old 01-28-2013, 08:01 AM   #12
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One thing you might consider is monetizing the Airstream itself when not in use. Some of us have set up our trailers either on pads with hookups in the back yard or in scenic locations and rent them out on AirBnB. Here's the special AirBnB Airstream section:

We are "Airstream Glamping in Arlington." If I do the math right, the rentals will pay for all my vacation gas this year, property tax, insurance, wear/tear/upkeep, and even depreciation. Maybe even a little extra to spare. Yes, there's the work of managing the rental, but it comes to a pretty high per hour pay rate.

Washington, D.C. tourists are the chief draw, but we also get Airstreamers on vacation, and those who want to try out overnighting in an Airstream before buying one.


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Old 01-28-2013, 08:40 AM   #13
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Our trip planning limits the daily drive to 300 or so miles per day. Let's say it's 360 just to make the math easier. At 12 mpg, that's 30 gallon so fuel x $3.00 a gallon = $90.00.
Plus the campground fee $10-$30 = $120 a day.
If you stay more than one night in the same place you can subtract the fuel cost for that day. If you were in a motel, that daily cost of the room and eating out would still be there.
I travelled a lot in my working days. Stayed in hotels and motels for months on end. Packing in and out, plus going out to eat. Have stayed in some pretty fancy places along with some pretty sleazy ones. I much prefer our trailer after those experiences.
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:43 AM   #14
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Tyler , Texas
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Many good ideas and answers to your dilemma as to whether to keep it or sell it. My two cents are to really examine how you are spending your money overall and then how you are operating on the trips with the trailer. If you don't cook, learn how to make simple meals from scratch within the confines of the trailer. If you don't want to cook on the road, then precook at home and freeze or refrigerate and then microwave. Restaurant food is a big expense and really not that great. Convenience foods are convenient but not cheap. Hotels and motels are a huge expense and the Airstream does indeed take the wonder out of "who's been sleeping in my bed." If I can't take my Airstream with me to live in while away from home...I ain't going! In regard to your tow vehicle...with consideration to where you live, I don't think the F150 and mountains go together pulling anything. You live there and I have visited the mountains once with my F150 pulling my 25'er. The first time was the last time and we now have a F250 Diesel. Hope you can find a way to economize and afford your investment longterm. Fuel cost are just a part of the lifestyle and until such time that electric tow vehicles are designed to pull travel trailers, (if ever) that cost is just a fact of life.

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