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Old 11-04-2014, 01:45 PM   #1
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2010 30' Classic
Vintage Kin Owner
South of the river , Minnesota
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What I wish I knew 5 years ago

Airstream is parked for the winter, concluding 5 seasons of ownership.

I was new to RVs when I got it in 2010. I present herewith in Q&A form with my former self the answers to those questions that were (or should have been) on my mind 5 years ago.

Q. What are the maintenance costs like, really, over time.

A. A newer Airstream, stored indoors, will require little in the way of maintenance and repair once manufacturing problems are shaken out during the warranty period. In 5 years I paid for one air conditioning repair, $388. That's it.

Q. What kind of MPG when towing?

A. With a larger trailer and gasoline engine we typically get 8 MPG although it has varied from 7-11 MPG among trips depending on speed, traffic, and prevailing wind. This is fairly typical, though people with smaller trailers and more efficient tow vehicles will boast better figures.

Q. I mostly plan on boondocking for free on public land. How's that going to work out for me?

A. In Minnesota and most other states outside the mountain west, it isn't, though there are exceptions. We've sometimes stayed at small county parks that have free RV parking. There is some national/state forest land that is open to RVs however a great deal of advance scouting is necessary to make it work, and there's no guarantee that space will be available.

Q. So what are campsites going to cost me, then?

A. Considering all charges, typically $40-$50 a night, at least in Minnesota (there is wide variation nationwide). State parks now charge a reservation fee, plus a vehicle permit fee, plus the campsite fee, plus $5 a bundle for firewood -- which you're stuck paying if you want a fire since they don't allow you to gather your own or bring it in from outside sources.

Q. What am I going to have to buy, besides the trailer?

A. In nearly all cases, some sort of weight-distributing hitch and some sort of brake controller. You will need whatever linens, housewares, clothes, tools, and personal effects you plan to travel with unless you plan to pack them up from your house before every trip (which defeats much of the purpose of having an RV). You will want camp chairs and, probably, some sort of barbeque grill. There are a handful of electrical and plumbing adapters and hoses that are helpful to have, but the important ones probably came with your trailer.

Q. How much propane will I use?

A. Not much, except in really cold weather, or if you leave appliances on while your trailer is parked between trips. A rough average for me is 1 gallon per night away from home for typical trips. Theoretically for winter trips you can go through 8 gallons in 24 hours but I've never traveled in those conditions.

Q. How long will electricity and water hold out if I'm at a site without hookups?

A. It varies widely depending on your camping style. My rule of thumb is 5 gallons of water per person per day with reasonable conservation measures but where most of the meals are prepared in the trailer. It's easy to exceed this with long showers. For electricity we have found that we can go 2 nights with the stock batteries in warm weather and 1 night in cold weather. Some added battery capacity and a vehicle charge line has, for me, extended that to almost double that time as a practical matter.

Q. What are the other costs to watch out for?

A. Tow vehicle depreciation and maintenance are a major cost. Storage can also be a major cost, depending on your situation.

Q. Will I need a reservation to get a campsite?

A. It varies regionally, seasonally, and from one campground to the next. In Minnesota, popular campgrounds book up almost a year in advance for the major holiday weekends and several weeks in advance for most Friday nights during the summer. That said we have always been able to plan a trip if we are flexible about where we stay and call ahead before traveling.

Q. Any other gotchas?

A. Some people don't like RVs. Be prepared for the possibility of neighbors complaining to you or to police when you park at home. Check your local ordinances, lease, condo agreement, covenants, etc., as the case may be, but realize that even if you do your homework the rules can change over time and the trend is not in your favor.

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Old 11-04-2014, 02:51 PM   #2
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Well done. Glad, too, that you returned to AIR a while back

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Old 11-04-2014, 03:30 PM   #3
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Nice retrospective Jammer and sobering for any wannabe like me.

Did you ever get stuck looking for a place to overnight, and have to find a Walmart or the like. That fear puts me off. Did you find it works the same in the Pacific NW?
Does 5 gal/day/person apply if you navy shower once a week and sponge off in-between?
5 seems surprising. The emergency ration usually given is 1 gal/d/p.

I gather solar does not figure in your electric capacity figures...

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Old 11-04-2014, 04:47 PM   #4
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2008 25' Classic
Nixa , Missouri
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If you told me 5 years ago I'd be an owner of an RV I would've disagreed. We had a Dolphin micro-motorhome in 1986 and 5 years later switched to a popup which was a mistake and sold it a year later. I had had it with RVs and vowed never to own one again.

I guess because my in-laws purchased a 5th wheel we decided it would be fun to join them on weekend trips so having no experience towing a trailer we went with a preowned Casita 17 in 2010. In 2013 purchased our preowned Airstream thinking we could semi full time it when I retire in 5 years.

The Airstream has been a love/hate relationship over the last 18 months but whenever I look at SOBs I always return to our Airstream and say its not too bad. I'd probably have to deal with a whole set of other problems with an SOB.

Regarding campsite reservations. Back in 1986 with the Dolphin when we moved to Texas we could at the last minute head on out to a state park during the summer and find available campsites at the more popular state parks east of Dallas like Tyler State Park. Nowadays, with the advent of the internet state parks are booked up every weekend and if you don't plan ahead and reserve you are out of luck. Same issue here in Missouri at state or COE parks near Springfield, MO. RVs are more popular than ever and with the ease of reservations I feel I'm living in over populated California trying to camp at Yosemite.

Campsites prices are not an issue since most state and COE parks are reasonably priced.

One of the reasons I went from a Casita to an Airstream is because of the perceived better fuel mileage with these trailers. I got 12 to 14.5 mpg with my Casita with our 2005 Toyota 4Runner 4.7L V8 but with the Airstream 25fb and Tundra 5.7L I'm reasonably pleased with the 11 to 13mpg. I haven't towed it out west yet.

So far maintenance costs on the Airstream have been kept in check since our Classic was kept in covered storage and lightly used but I did have to replace the converter and the tires since they were 6 year old GYMs. All other minor repairs I've been able to perform myself. I got lucky one time when I forgot to put the hitch pin in the receiver and the AS pulled out. Luckily I was going slow. The only damage was the Barker jack and some dings in the propane tank cover. Unfortunately, the replacement jack from Barker was defective and its gone back for repair/replacement under warranty. The only gripe right now is the damn Micropulse monitor panel.

I am nervous owning an Airstream because the aluminum shell if damaged is not easy to repair unlike SOBs.

Sometimes I think I should sell it and with the money buy a brand new SOB cash. It will be good enough for the next 10 years and even if I decide to put a better roof on it the cost would still be cheaper than owning a preowned Airstream at double the price.

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Old 11-05-2014, 05:13 AM   #5
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1986 34' Limited
1966 24' Tradewind
Conifer , Colorado
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Thanks Jammer. Your Minnesota experiences are similar to ours. We find a plethora of RV parks with available sites when we travel. The internet makes reservations easy. But there are no where near a nice as a good state park. We have not had to boondock at a truck stop or WalMart. We haven't boondocked at all, yet.

We find spring and fall months are better for traveling. And since we are retired, we can avoid weekend crowds.

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Old 11-05-2014, 06:34 AM   #6
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Jammer - great post. I'm sure it will be very helpful for the potential newbies searching the Forums for information.

A few additional comments after reading this thread:

Jammer - I'd add to your costs about $400 per year for insurance on a late model trailer. If community rules prevent storage at home, monthly rental costs for offsite storage run $60-$80 for uncovered, $125-$150 for shed, and $200-$250 for fully enclosed in my area. As for fuel, my diesel 3/4 ton truck averages 13 to 14 mpg when towing.

Bearstream - Last year we took a 56 day trip from NC to Colorado and New Mexico. We only had reservations twice and always found a campground for the night by calling ahead a few hours before arrival. We've stayed at Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, and once a convention center parking lot overnight, always by choice. Many state park, COE, and federal park campgrounds hold some sites back from the reservations system to accommodate same day arrivals. For popular parks, arrive early in the morning during the busy summer months for the best chance of getting a site without reservations. As others have mentioned you can also call ahead anytime during the day when the campground office is open. After three years of Airstreaming, we never worry about being stranded and forced into a Wal-Mart parking lot.

I see you are from Massachusetts. We haven't camped in the Northeast yet, but understand from friends reservations are a must at the good parks during the busy summer season. With respect to solar, unless you have a very sophisticated and expensive custom setup, solar will keep your batteries charged enough for your furnace and lights. The factory Airstream solar won't make or store enough electricity to run hair dryers and small appliances. Many boon dockers carry small, quiet Yamaha or Honda generators for use recharging batteries instead of going the solar route.

KJRitchie - I agree the relationship with an Airstream can be love/hate due to some of the maintenance issues. However, the friends we've made and the experiences we've enjoyed are priceless.

dbj216 - We also enjoy state parks which tend to cost $30 or less per night in the southeast. Spring and fall are definitely our more desirable than summer for travel. We spent most of the summer of 2014 at the Virginia Highland Haven Airstream Park on top of a ridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains south of Roanoke, Virginia. We used it as a base to explore the many attractions in the area. At that elevation the humidity is low, and the temperature is cool. We've also been to Airstream parks in Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. I believe there is one in Minnesota as well. You might want to try out for a week or so in the summer months. The ones we've stayed in (except Florida in the winter) have not been crowded.

With respect to boon docking our longest stay without hookups was four nights at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. We carried four full 5 gallon water jugs in addition to a full water tank and empty gray and black tanks. The water jugs were used to replenish the fresh water tank. We took 2 showers during our stay, capturing the rinse water in a bucket in the floor and pouring it in the toilet into the black tank. We ran a Yamaha 2000 generator about one hour each morning to recharge the batteries from overnight, as well as run the coffee maker and hair dryer. Propane or batteries ran the furnace, lights, and refrigerator. No issues at all and we had water to spare as well as both gray and black holding tank capacity.
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Old 11-05-2014, 07:41 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by BearScream View Post
Does 5 gal/day/person apply if you navy shower once a week and sponge off in-between?
Waterless hand sanitizer is your friend if you need to stretch your fresh water capacity. Though I haven't done it while camping (Airstream Interstates are not really good boondocking vehicles), I spent fourteen weeks after surgery when I had a MRSA infection that required the incisions be kept open until the infection was gone. I wasn't allowed to shower. For fourteen weeks straight, the ONLY bathing I did was with waterless hand sanitizer. All over. Works for everything but hair, and since I'm bald…
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Old 11-05-2014, 07:55 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by BearScream View Post
Nice retrospective Jammer and sobering for any wannabe like me.

Did you ever get stuck looking for a place to overnight, and have to find a Walmart or the like. That fear puts me off. Did you find it works the same in the Pacific NW?
Does 5 gal/day/person apply if you navy shower once a week and sponge off in-between?
5 seems surprising. The emergency ration usually given is 1 gal/d/p.

I gather solar does not figure in your electric capacity figures...

I am a planner and when on a long road trip I like to call ahead to find spots. On the times I don't do this I plan to be looking for a spot no later than 3 PM.

$40 to $50 a night is a bit high by my experience. If you are staying in private campgrounds this would still be a bit high here in the PNW. State and Federal campgrounds can be had for less than half that number but they do fill up so reservations make sense. Most large parks do provide some sort of "overflow" parking if you find the park filled. We just got back from a big trip to Jasper and stayed in their overflow. It wasn't bad at all but the overflow lot at Lake Louise wasn't much.
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Old 11-05-2014, 08:18 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Protagonist View Post
Waterless hand sanitizer is your friend if you need to stretch your fresh water capacity. Though I haven't done it while camping (Airstream Interstates are not really good boondocking vehicles), I spent fourteen weeks after surgery when I had a MRSA infection that required the incisions be kept open until the infection was gone. I wasn't allowed to shower. For fourteen weeks straight, the ONLY bathing I did was with waterless hand sanitizer. All over. Works for everything but hair, and since I'm bald…
Oh man, fourteen weeks without a shower. That's what wakes me up in the morning! My heart goes out to you!
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Old 11-05-2014, 09:00 AM   #10
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In 20+ years of RVing and traveling, we only got stuck in a boondock situation once: a Flying J at 10:30 at night on July 4th heading out east for a vacation, about 18 years ago. We do not stay in Walmarts or other situations like that, not our style. We always find something for our overnights while traveling, and rarely get reservations unless its mid summer/holiday weekends.
I always offset cost of the trailer and traveling against what I would spend in hotels (yuck, someone elses bed), and eating in restaurants, or airfare. We were able to take our kids all over the US when they were young BECAUSE we camped, and now 2 of 3 have RVs. The third is working on college and family, so it'll be awhile for her. They all talk still about our travels and camping. I grew up camping, Chris did not, but likes it anyway. And, no, I didn't make him. My dad did!
We are able to go without electricity for up to 5 days (so far) using 2 AGM 6volt batteries. That includes running the furnace at least half of every day. We don't have solar (yet).
We live where we can have our RV on our property, and the neighbors don't complain. We will fight to keep our community that way. My land, my rules.
Yes, we could definitely have saved money not having an RV, esp our Airstream (chunk of money in that baby), but we enjoy every minute in it, and our lives would be much less enjoyable for us without her.
It's just who we are.

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Old 11-05-2014, 09:11 AM   #11
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Protagonist; MRSA is nasty stuff. I've read about it, but want nothing to do with it. I'm glad you're okay after that battle! Yeah, we can get very clean and sanitary by other means than a hot shower. It's just feel as nice.

AnnArborBob; you're like so many of us in these modern times. A hot shower is a simple luxury in life. But I do think they are overrated some. And a shower in the morning makes no sense to me. Take a shower and then go to work removing the belly pan and insulation from under your Airstream? Nah... A shower cleans us after a hard day's work, not before. And we want to keep our beds clean. I don't know where morning showers got started?

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Old 11-05-2014, 11:16 AM   #12
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Jammer--Nice summary of issues/concerns that few of us realize before buying an AS. Thank you. Two bits of related info re your and other's points: I pulled my 20ft FC with a 2012 Tahoe from Idaho to Pittsburgh to Florida, then back cross-country to Idaho. We averaged 12 mpg. And regarding the discussion of water use/sufficiency, I like to take along a couple of solar showers...those things are cheap, work like a charm (when the sun is out), and hold sufficient water for 2+ showers each. And they weigh nothing when empty and store folded up. It also keeps me from filling up my gray water tank with shower water. w
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Old 11-05-2014, 11:29 AM   #13
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Dbj216, Morning showers? My lawyer son takes his shower in the morning. My electrician son takes his shower after work. Whatever works for you. They are both happy.
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Old 11-05-2014, 12:27 PM   #14
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1977 23' Safari
1986 34' Limited
Idaho Falls , Idaho
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When we are trying to make miles, driving late, we have often overnighted at a Walmart or Flying J/other truck stop; we have found no disadvantage in this and a couple of advantages:
1. Certainly cheaper! RV parks are charging what seems to us an outrageous amount and for a one-night stand we often don't dump tanks or need fresh water, and we aren't there long enough to use much power, so I feel like it's a real rip-off to pay $30-40 for a place to park.

N.B. I also feel guilty pulling in late as we probably wake up everyone else in the park. Camping near the Tetons last summer in an RV park (duly reserved) and pulling in late, we woke up the entire park and attracted lots of "helpers" when the owner directed us to pull onto long, slick wet grass in order to back into our slot, and we promptly lost all traction on the grass and were stuck. (No, 4-WD and diesel torque didn't help.) We had to unhitch the Safari (thank goodness we had the 23' and not the 34' that night!), get the truck onto the road, then back into the hitch at a steep angle to re-hitch and finally get into our slot.

2. At the truck stops, you can usually get a long hot shower and get breakfast in the morning if you don't want to "unpack" your kitchen and then wash up and re-pack before you can hit the road.

We camp mostly in the western states and maybe that is why we have had no bad experiences at Walmarts, truck stops, or even rest stops. Or maybe it's our large, male Doberman who keeps people respectful!


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