Hot weather travel tips

Maybe it’s because I’m in Arizona right now and the temperatures are already hitting the nineties every day, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about summer travel. For the most part it’s fun to plan where we will go and think about the great things we’ll see, but for us, traveling in the summer is a necessity in order to escape the unrelenting southern Arizona heat.

With an Airstream it’s usually easy to get out of the heat—after all, we have wheels—but there are times when it’s inescapable for a few days, like when we are crossing the Great Plains states on our way to Alumapalooza in late May. Many times we’ve been crossing Kansas or Oklahoma or Missouri and we’ve been nearly steamed to death in what the meteorologists call “oppressive humidity.”

So even if you plan to drive away from the heat, you need strategies ready in case the heat follows you. Here are a few of the things we’ve learned over the years:

First off, if you have delicate pets or humans traveling with you, don’t mess around: get a campground with 30-amp or 50-amp power and plug in. This may necessitate a change in plans and you might end up somewhere you don’t want to be, but the blessing of cool air blowing in from the A/C will make it all worthwhile.

I find that a lot people are surprised to discover the limitations of a single air conditioner on a 30-amp plug. If you’ve got a newer Airstream with dual air conditioners (and a 50-amp plug) you can deal with just about any level of heat. But a single A/C definitely has limits. The A/C will generally cool the incoming air by about 20 degrees, but that doesn’t mean your trailer will be 20 degrees cooler if it’s sitting in the sun. In our 30-footer, for example, a sunny 100-degree day means we’ll experience indoor temperatures in the low 80s, at least until the sun goes down.

So it’s useful to park in shaded campsites, preferably not in asphalt parking lots (green surroundings = cooler air), and be realistic in your expectations. If the trailer is over 100 degrees inside when you arrive, it’s going to take a while before the air conditioner can remove all the latent heat that is stored in every object in the interior.

To cope, try to spend the few couple of hours somewhere else (like a restaurant or visitor center) while the air conditioner does its job. Don’t even dream of using the stove or oven—the burners can output much more heat than the air conditioner can remove. If you have a microwave use it instead, or go out for dinner, or cook outside, or eat a cold dinner.

The keys to surviving a night in the heat are water and electricity:

Water, because you need to stay hydrated and a quick cool shower once or twice a day will go a long way toward keeping your body comfortable. In desert boondocking situations you can even soak towels and place them strategically around the trailer for evaporative cooling. We bring a few gallons of extra drinking water when we’re heading into a boondocking site in the summer.

Electricity, because you’ll use a lot more battery power than usual with the vent fans running constantly. A single Fantastic Vent (the kind installed as original equipment in Airstreams including motorhomes) might draw about an amp of power, which isn’t much for short durations. But with two of those fans running around the clock for a weekend, you’re looking at something in the region of 90 amp-hours, which is going to overwhelm the typical 2-battery setup in an Airstream trailer. You’ll need solar panels or a generator, and/or a much larger set of batteries.

 

The Zip Dee awning that came with your Airstream trailer (or the equivalent awning on a Nest, Basecamp, or Interstate) can make a big difference if it’s on the south or west side when you park. Definitely deploy the awning as much as you can to shade that side of the rig.

A Zip Dee Solar Shade is a huge help too, when the sun is beating down on that side of the trailer, especially when the entry door is facing west.  The Solar Shade broadens the shady patch in the afternoon, when it really matters, and gives you a nice outdoor space that you otherwise wouldn’t enjoy on a hot day.

In an Interstate motorhome, you may find that the Mercedes dashboard air conditioning isn’t quite enough when traveling on the highway on a 100+ degree day, especially for any back-seat passengers. Sometimes you need to fire up the onboard generator so that you can run the roof air conditioner as you go. It might seem weird but it’s OK to do this.

When you’re parked, you will probably discover that you don’t need to turn on the water heater. Often the fresh water hose lying in the sun, combined with warm water in the tank, will be plenty warm for showers. But there’s a downside to this: not all water hoses are rated for “hot water” use. Cheap-o hoses made of PVC or other plastics may leach chemicals when laying in the sun all day filled with hot water. That’s why we switched to drinking water hoses that are rated for hot water use.

Keep an eye on your refrigerator as well. Often, RV refrigerators don’t have great ventilation and so heat can build up in the refrigerator compartment (the space behind the refrigerator). When the air temperature around the refrigerator’s cooling fins approaches 100 degrees—which is very common in the enclosed compartment, even when the outside temp is much lower— the result is warm food in the refrigerator.

To combat this, keep the fridge door closed, and if you need to get something be sure to get it quickly. It’s not like your home refrigerator that has a big compressor and can recover its coolness in a few minutes. Each time you open that door it can take hours to recover fully on a hot day.

Also get a wireless temperature monitor so you can check the interior temp without opening the door. You can get two of them and monitor the freezer as well, but I’ll tell you right now that if the fridge starts to climb above 50 degrees, whatever is on the door of the freezer will probably start to defrost. (Pack your ice cream and seafood in the back.) These wireless monitors are available from many sources and they’re not expensive.

If you camp in hot weather a lot, with or without air conditioning, consider having a set of electric fans installed in the chimney of the refrigerator compartment. These things are amazingly effective at moving the hot air out of the fridge compartment to help the refrigerator cool down. We switch our fans on every day that the outside temperature is above 85 degrees. Some Airstreams come with those fans, but most don’t, and I think they’re a must for serious summer travelers. We’re going to work on a kit for the Airstream Life Store later specifically to solve this problem.

Finally, as you travel on hot days you need to be extra aware of the condition of your tires. They are much more susceptible to problems and wear on hot days. When the air is 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the highway surface can easily be 120+, and the air inside the tires will often exceed 140 degrees at highway speeds. That’s brutal on tires and it shortens their life.

This is just one of several reasons I strongly recommend a good tire pressure/temperature monitoring system. Blowouts and other failures are far more likely on hot days, and you want to know right away if something goes wrong before it does additional damage. If you don’t have a tire pressure monitoring system you should make a habit of visually inspecting all the tires at every stop, and checking air pressure frequently.

Traveling with bicycles

Reader Mary L. posed this question:

“How can we transport electric bikes with our Airstream? We have a Fiamma rack on our 2014 25-foot FC that works perfectly with our “regular” bikes, but two ebikes riding on it would exceed the stated weight limit for Fiamma, and I wouldn’t want to test that limit, given others’ experiences. Is there a known other solution?”

Airstream & Pedego

There are a couple of options for you to consider.

Some time ago Airstream teamed up with Fiamma® to co-develop a unique bike carrier designed to fit 1969-to-current Airstream trailers with aluminum bumpers. The rear-mounted rack has a carrying capacity of 75 pounds.

Depending on the brand, e-bikes generally range between about 38 and 70 pounds—so your Fiamma rack is suited for a single bike weighing in at about 50 pounds and an additional “regular” bike. You’d need to stow your second eb-bike in the truck bed or inside the trailer when you tow.

Fiamma rack

Have you looked into electric kick scooters? They weigh 36 pounds, fold down to a very portable size, cost $700-800, and (importantly) they look cool. The range is pretty good too—10 to 12 miles if you’re stopping and starting; up to 15 miles smooth cruising.

Use It or Lose It

If you live in the north, it’s a sad day when you’ve got to put your Airstream to bed for the winter season. When campgrounds in your area start to close, or you see frost in the morning, or the forecast starts to dip close to freezing, it’s time to get the Airstream ready for colder temperatures and a period of non-use.

A good winterizing procedure will protect your Airstream against damage from freezing, but there are no absolute guarantees that everything will be perfect in the spring. Stuff happens when you aren’t looking, so I always recommend that people take a few minutes to inspect their Airstream during any long period of storage.

Snow Airstream

What can happen during storage? A slowly-melting blanket of snow atop the roof will severely challenge the waterproofness of everything on the roof, even spots that didn’t leak in the last gentle rain. Rodents can move in, and cause extensive damage by chewing wires, tunneling through the insulation, making nests, and leaving smelly urine stains. Batteries that aren’t maintained with a full charge can lose a lot of their useful lifespan. Smoke detector batteries can go flat and you won’t hear the audible “chirp” warning.

Fortunately, all of these problems are easily avoided with just a quick check during the storage season—and it doesn’t have to be a tedious chore. Your Airstream makes a great getaway even when it’s not going anywhere beyond your driveway or storage lot.

Think about it: your Airstream is a great home away from home, but it’s also a great clubhouse, den, man cave, study, music room, or escape from the in-laws. All you need is some power (either an extension cord, solar panels, or a generator) and propane, and you’ve got the perfect place for a little “staycation.”

An Airstream in winter storage is a dark, cold, and uninviting place, but in just a few minutes you can transform it to a welcoming vacation “cabin”. Turn on the heat and lights, set out some cozy blankets, pop on some slippers and make the place come alive while you relish the peace and quiet (or enjoy the company of a friend). Bring a book or a DVD, or something easy to cook on the stove, and something to drink.

Yes, if the Airstream is winterized you can’t use the plumbing, but you’ve still got lights, heat, TV to watch the football game or a movie, stereo to listen to music, microwave (if plugged into 30-amp power) to re-heat the pizza or nachos, refrigerator for cold drinks, freezer for ice cream—and best of all, blessed privacy. It’s the ideal place for a break, to find some quiet for reading, take a nap, or just to clear your head after a long week.

Game in Airstream
Play a board game in the Airstream in winter

One of my favorite things to do in the Airstream is put on a favorite old movie and then browse maps and guidebooks looking for new ideas for the next trip. There’s no more inspirational place to plan new adventures than in the comfort of your Airstream.

With nowhere to go, you’ll have time to think about what you’d like to do next and what you can do to improve the Airstream. You can bring a pad of paper and make notes on items you want to pack for the next trip, and things to bring for your next little getaway during the storage season.

This is also the best and easiest way to maintain your Airstream. Airstreams are happiest when they are being used. You’ll easily spot little things that need attention before they become bigger and more expensive problems. Spending a little time with your Airstream will make you feel better, like a mini-vacation, and may well extend its life too. It’s good for the Airstream and it’s good for you.

– by Rich Luhr

For more tips on easy maintenance you can do yourself, check out Airstream Life’s (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance, available at Amazon.com and the Airstream Life Store. With over 200 pages of tips and techniques, it’s an indispensable guide for every Airstreamer.

Boondocking Basics

Boondocking—dry camping with limited amenities—“does not mean doing without,” says experienced Airstreamer Jay Thompson. “It means adjusting the way we do things to extend and enjoy our stay.”

There are two main ways to dry camp: in a natural area, and “blacktop boondocking” in an urban setting. Thompson offers the following tips for boondocking anywhere.

Boondocking in the ‘boonies.

Scenic and wildnerness sites include National or State Parks or Forests, Bureau of Land Management or Corps of Engineers area, or any area where facilities (power, water, or sewer) aren’t provided. When camping in the “boonies”:

  • Park in previously used parking spots; don’t create a new one.
  • Place your rig away from others to give them and you room to enjoy the space.
  • Respect quiet hours. (The reason most of us boondock is to enjoy the quiet and serenity of our surroundings.)
  • Leave the area cleaner than when you arrived.

Balloon Field overheadBlacktop Boondocking…

..has a specific set of guidelines and rules. You might be parked on the pavement at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta—or more likely, at a Wal-Mart in a city. Always:

  • Ask permission.
  • Purchase something—groceries, a meal, and/or fuel—from your retail host.
  • Stay only one night.
  • Do not put out your awning, barbecue, or tables.
  • Leave the area cleaner than when you arrived.
  • Do not put stabilizers or jacks down. Be prepared to move with little effort, if necessary.
  • Park under the lights in the middle of the lot, with your doors facing the light.
  • Talk with the security personnel to let them know you are onsite.

More safety measures—just in case.

“We have never had any security problems and have spent many nights at Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s locations,” said Thompson. “We have also parked at church parking lots, casinos, shopping malls, restaurants, and one time at a furniture store.”

Thompson recommends general good security practices, including:

  • Don’t have your name or address on the outside of the rig.
  • Don’t advertise that you are a full-timer, because all your possessions will be with you.
  • Keep your cell phone charged and handy.
  • As a general rule, “the further you are from civilization, the safer you are.”

Boondocking is easy, and possible to do in your new Airstream just as it comes from the factory, with only simple additions to your equipment.

Practice

Spend a day or two in your Airstream in your driveway or at a campground, and disconnect from the electric, water, and sewer. “This is a non-threatening way to learn to boondock and get a feel as to how the batteries and water last,” says Thompson.

“A good reference on boondocking with your Airstream may be found at wbccicaravan.wbcci.net,” he suggests. “That has several original and excerpted notes. Or enter “boondocking” on a Google search and many locations and ideas may be found.”

-By Jay Thompson

Mail Forwarding for the Serious RVer

During a recent rally I was approached by an Airstreamer who was unhappy because he wasn’t getting his Airstream Life magazine regularly. It turned out that when he and his wife were traveling, they filled out a temporary mail forwarding order with the US Postal Service, and expected that it would work for up to six months as the USPS website claims.

Unfortunately for this Airstreamer, USPS mail forwarding has significant limitations, among which is that they won’t forward periodicals after 60 days. Since Airstream Life is mailed quarterly, he never got his magazines. The Post Office just tossed them, without even notifying him.

If you’re a frequent traveler, or planning a multi-month trip, you need to find a professional mail forwarding service and use it all the time. This can be a little weird at first, because you’ll need to permanently change your mailing address for everything, to the address of the mail forwarding service. That means you won’t get mail delivered directly to your home anymore (except junk mail).

It can take a few months to get everyone updated on your new address, but the rewards are worth it. Once you’ve got all your bills, correspondence, and other paper mail coming to the new mail forwarding address, life becomes very convenient. Wherever you are, you can simply call, email, or log into the website of your mail service and have them bundle up all your current mail to be sent to you as a single package. In other words, you can deal with the mail on your schedule.

Moreover, a good service will allow you to set up a recurring schedule for delivery. When I’m at home, my mail is automatically shipped to me in a single Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope (about $5) every week. It arrives in two days and it’s trackable. If I want, I can request UPS delivery with overnight, two day, and three day delivery options. Postage is charged to my credit card on file, and the service costs $12/month.

When I’m on the road, the mail service waits for me to get in touch. I look ahead a few days and pick a convenient location to receive the mail, then place an order for shipment on a particular date. It can be shipped to a campground, a Post Office (using General Delivery), a friend or family’s home, or a business address. When I get there, my mail is always waiting.

If you’re ready to make the switch, keep a few tips in mind:

Choose the right mail forwarding service.

When we were looking for a new mail forwarding service, people advised us to “just use any UPS Store.” Bad idea. What if that little shop in the strip mall closes? It has happened to friends and fellow fulltimers, and they’ve had the hassle of moving everything to another address.

Instead, look for an established mail forwarding specialist that has a succession plan in place in case the owners retire or the business has to move. Also, look for a service that will give you excellent personal attention via phone and email.

Keep it professional.

While it can be tempting to ask a friend to collect your mail at home and forward it to you, be wary. I’ve heard too many stories in which the friend ends up “too busy” and crucial mail is delayed.

Check the fine print.

As with USPS Mail Forwarding, some services have limitations on what they will forward. At Airstream Life we get occasional complaints from subscribers who paid for the cheapest mail forwarding service they could get and found out later that their magazines were getting tossed.

Know your options.

Make sure the service you use will forward your magazines and give you the option to have them discard junk mail (mail which is addressed to “Occupant” or similar). Make sure also that if you receive an unexpected 10-lb paperweight in the mail, they’ll notify you before shipping it at your expense. That way you are getting everything you want, and not paying to forward stuff you don’t want.

Get a permanent solution.

Yes, you can file temporary forwarding orders, but once you experience the convenience of professional and permanent mail forwarding, you will probably become addicted. You’ll never fail to get a bill, statement, check, renewal, or other important mail again, whereas it’s all too easy for things to fall through the cracks with on-again, off-again solutions.

Reduce your volume of mail.

Some full-time friends of mine used to get a giant pack of mail once a month from their mail forwarding service. It would typically run about four inches thick. Then they’d spend a full day sitting in their Airstream, sorting through all the paper, paying bills by check, licking envelopes, and shredding sensitive information. I can’t imagine many worse ways to spend a day in my Airstream! So…

Go paperless.

Get every credit card, utility, bank, and other recurring relationship to send you an e-bill, or get rid of that vendor. Have all your small recurring bills (cell phone, etc) billed automatically to your credit or debit card, to reduce the number of bills you get. Save copies of the e-bills on your computer as PDFs so you can refer to them if you need to. Use online banking to simplify your bill paying. It’s generally free and easy to use.

Some people still feel more comfortable receiving paper bills, but you’ll find that if you don’t use online e-billing you might get hit with late charges. That adds up fast, and can affect your credit rating.

In short, try to eliminate as much paper correspondence as you can. Very few things really need to be in paper form these days, so if you are getting a thick stack of mail every week, take a hard look at what you are getting and see about cutting it back.

Just say no.

Cutting the volume of mail includes simple techniques like asking to be removed from mailing lists and closing unnecessary accounts. Ideally you should just get a few crucial pieces of mail each week, so you can spend most of your time enjoying the travel experience.

Consider state of residence.

You don’t have to choose a mail forwarding service in your home state. I am an Arizona resident, but my mailing address is in Florida. It’s perfectly legal to have your mailing address wherever you like.

However, if you are going out full time, this is a chance to review your state of residency. Fulltimers can sometimes choose where to legally domicile, taking into account factors like state income taxes, vehicle registration fees, voting registration, health care costs, and many other factors.

This is a much more complicated decision, so do your research and choose wisely. You may be considered a resident of some states simply by remaining there for a period of time, or because you own real estate, have a child in school, or operate a business, so in some cases the decision is made for you.

Get a physical street address, not a PO Box.

If not, you may have trouble with banks and drivers licenses later, thanks to certain remaining provisions of the Patriot Act. An address like 411 Walnut St #4468 is fine.

In some cases (as with state Driver’s Licenses and banking accounts) you may be required to provide a “real” physical address as well. In Arizona, the Motor Vehicle Registrar has my home address on file but my driver’s license shows my mailing address. This surprises people regularly—they assume it’s “not legal” but of course it is, and it prevents businesses from capturing my home address and adding it to their databases for junk mail.

There’s one last perk as well: certain Florida entertainment venues have given us the “resident” rate for admission based on our mailing address, even though it’s on an Arizona driver’s license! It’s a small world, after all…

-By Rich Luhr