Look at lots and lots and lots of trailers.
Hi, Hanlon. I see that you are getting lots of good advice here. I'm a newbie here, too, but have been a "lurker" for a loooonnnng time. I have wanted an Airstream forever. I have looked seriously for about 2 1/2 years. Since it is just me now (I'm 55) I decided to look at 25 feet and below. I looked at hundreds of trailers (not all Airstreams). I love the layout of the 20' since it has counterspace, but decided on a 16' Bambi for now. I looked for a few months on the forums, craigslist and dealer websites from here to New Jersey. A few weeks ago, I finally found one on Craigslist in L.A. It had the Bambi layout I like and the CCD cabinets. It even had upholstery to match my alma mater, UOP. It was almost completely unused so in fabulous shape. I emailed the owner several times to ask questions that came to mind. Within a couple of days, we had arrived at a mutually agreed price. So, for well less than half the price of brand new, I have a beautiful 2004 Bambi. My son-in-law, bless him, drove the 400 mi. to look at it and make sure all was as agreed, hand over the money and drive the 400 miles back. She needed some cleaning and having someone knowledgeable to go through the electric, water and propane systems to make sure all is in good order, but she is ready to go campin'! I have found in my search that:
1) If you want to pull with your current vehicle, make absolutely sure of the towing capacity. Not just gross vehicle weight, but tongue weight as well, to make sure that you do not exceed these weights. In fact, several people on the forums here recommend that you stay well under. Many have recommended that you find your trailer first, then find a tow vehicle (tv) but since I was buying used, I felt that if I want to buy a bigger trailer later, then I could probably sell for pretty close to what I paid for the trailer and get a bigger trailer and appropriate tv later. Anyway, I decided to use my 2003 4Runner, so had to find a trailer that could be towed by it. Look in you manual and ask online. I looked at many a new trailer and all the dealers told me that I could pull up to 25' with my tv, which is NOT true. They will tell you what you want to hear. So make sure you know before you go.
2) Look at all of the possible layouts. There are so many. I spent hours on the AS website looking at and comparing layouts. Some are fabulous and some, to me, are not well very well thought out. I LOVE the European ones but, alas, we cannot buy them here. You will, hopefully, have your AS for a LONG time and you want to be comfortable in it. We are all different, but something will speak to you when you see one you like/love. I was warned off the 16' Bambi as being too small, but many people wrote that they think it is just the right size for them.
3) I would think twice about getting an AS over twenty years or so old because you can nickle and dime yourself trying to get it ready to roll. It also can take some major expertise when you open these things up and see the miles of electrical wiring. propane tubing and pumps, tanks, etc., etc... If you are ready for that sort of challenge, then more power to you, but it's nice to know that you can hit the road within a reasonable amount of time and not have to wait for the zillionth part from a warehouse or ebay. Perhaps you can find one that someone else has put the blood, sweat and tears into already and get a fabulous vintage AS.
I go on my first real trip in a couple of weeks (Casini Ranch, CA) and am thrilled with my new silver home. I am glad that I spent so much time looking for just the right one for me. My best to you in your search! Let us all know how it goes.
2003 Toyota 4Runner, V8
2004 16' Bambi CCD - Prudence
Hurrah! I finally get to put my info. at the bottom of a post, instead of "currently looking". =)