How to bake cookies in the convection microwave

Many new Airstreamers opt for the convection microwave instead of a traditional oven when they buy their Airstream. But although most people use the microwave a lot during travel, few use the convection oven. In fact, we’re often asked, how does the convection microwave work, and what can we cook in it?

The convection microwave that came in our 2020 Globetrotter.

I asked these same questions when we bought our new Airstream last summer. I’ve had home ovens with a convection setting and never figured out how to use them. So truth be told, I only used our Airstream’s convection microwave as a microwave.

That is, until a few months ago – when I tracked down the instruction manual and decided to figure it out for myself.  I then tested the instructions by baking an American classic in our Airstream kitchen: Nestle toll house chocolate chip cookies.

What I learned is that using the convection oven is WAY easier than I thought. The instruction guide made it more complicated than it needed to be. Honestly, you have to do a tiny bit of math to modify the cooking time, then push a few buttons.

I’ve explained all this in the blog post and video below. I hope it inspires you to try your convection oven – and bake chocolate chip cookies on your next trip.

Microwave vs. convection cooking: what’s the difference?

A microwave oven produces microwaves that are reflected within the metal interior of the oven and absorbed by the food you put inside. When the microwaves are absorbed, they cause water molecules inside the food to vibrate and produce heat, which cooks the food.

A convection oven uses a heating element to raise the temperature of the air inside the oven. A fan in the oven circulates the heated air up, over, and around the food, cooking it from all sides. That’s one reason why a convection oven browns the outside of food and a microwave oven doesn’t.

Convection technology has another characteristic: it cooks food approximately 25% faster than a conventional oven. That means you’ll need to adjust all recipes to a shorter cooking time than they call for. 

The convection microwave that came with your Airstream contains both of these technologies – so you have the best of both worlds.

Here’s how to to use the convection oven to bake chocolate chip cookies.

  1. Make the cookie dough before your trip. Lugging a mixer and ingredients with you in the Airstream takes up space. It’s easier to make the dough ahead of time and have it ready in the frig when you’re ready to bake. I used the Nestle toll house cookie recipe for this example, shaping the dough into logs for easy storage and transport in your Airstream refrigerator or freezer. The dough log is a trick I learned from my mom and I do it at home all the time. Simply make a batch of dough, separate it into about four dough logs, wrap them in plastic wrap, and store them in the freezer. When you crave fresh baked cookies slice 6-8 off the log and bake them.

    Make the dough ahead of the trip, and wrap dough logs in plastic for easy transport in your Airstream refrigerator or freezer.
  2. Take the round, metal tray that comes with the convection microwave, on your trip. This tray has a rubber backing, which keeps it securely on the turntable as it turns. It’s also the right shape and size for the oven, and won’t impede the turntable’s movement. The turntable must be able to turn freely during cooking, or your cookies and other foods, won’t bake correctly.

    This round metal tray came with our convection microwave.
  3. When you’re ready to bake on the road, take a dough log out of your Airstream frig or freezer and let it warm a bit. For best baking results, you want the dough to be slightly cool – not warm – but not too cold.
  4. PRE-HEAT the convection oven, just as you would pre-heat your oven at home. Here’s how:
    • Push the CONVECTION button to turn on the convection oven feature
    • Push the button that corresponds with the oven temperature in your recipe. In the case of chocolate chip cookies, that’s 375. You’ll see the oven temperatures in smaller font, underneath the number keys. (“8” is the 375 degrees button.)
    • Push the Start/+30 seconds button. The display will show the baking temperature (in my case, 375), along with a progress bar underneath. The progress bar grows to the right, indicating pre-heating. When pre-heating is complete, the oven will beep and the temperature will flash. This indicates you can open the door and put your cookies in, then set the timer for baking them. TIP: Let the oven pre-heat completely. If you don’t, you won’t be able to set the baking timer.

      When pre-heating is complete, the oven beeps, and the temperature number flashes.
  5. While the oven is preheating:
    • Slice or pull off chunks of the dough log, and put them onto the round, metal tray. I use about a heaping teaspoon size. The tray is non-stick so you don’t need shortening/baking spray. One less thing to take with you.
    • Convert the baking time from your recipe into a convection cooking time. Remember, you need to cook food for about 25% less time in the convection oven. My cookie recipe called for 9 minutes of baking time. So I set the timer for 7 minutes.
  6. After pre-heating is complete, the oven beeps, and the temperature number flashes.
    • Open the door and put the cookies inside. 
    • Push the numbers that correspond to convection baking time. For my 7 minutes, I entered 7,0,0.
    • Push the Start/+30 seconds button.
  7. When the oven beeps, it’s cookie time! Our cookies turn out slightly brown on the edges and a bit gooey inside – just like we like them. We baked a second batch about 45 seconds longer for an even browner finish. Both tasted delicious.
This batch was lightly browned on the edges and soft on top. Yummy.


Troubleshooting Tips

If the cookies are underbaked – This happened to me only once. I closed the door, repeated the pre-heat steps, and left them in for about another minute. They were perfect.

If the cookies are overbaked – This never happened to me (so far).  My guess is there was too much time set on the timer. Redo your math, ensuring you baked them at 25% less cooking time than the conventional oven recipe. If they are still overbaked, reduce the number of minutes and try again.

 

Now that I realize how easy it is to bake in the Airstream, I plan to do more of it. Next up: roasted root vegetables with garlic and rosemary (I call that dish Root-a-bake-a). Rich and I are also eager to try the Air Fry setting. Onion rings on the road, anyone…?

What I learned on my first boondocking trip

Does the thought of boondocking make you nervous? I’m a newbie, and it made me nervous too. 

Since buying a new Airstream last summer, we’ve been staying only in places with full hookups. But last weekend, I boondocked for the first time, and – spoiler alert! – I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

First, let me say that I’ve never considered myself a “camper.” After a few tenting trips to northern Arizona and Yosemite, I realized it just wasn’t for me. With an olfactory system like a bloodhound, I’m not so big on unwashed body (or other) smells, which admittedly, I equate with “roughing it.” A hot shower and shampoo with blow-dry are my daily requirements. 

So, my vacation preference has historically been to travel by airplane and stay in boutique hotels with lots of amenities. I always thought Airstreams were cool, but I had never dreamed of owning one. 

Then I met Rich Luhr, publisher of Airstream Life magazine. And as soon as I became an Airstreamer by injection, I eagerly awaited the chance to travel in one. 

When we bought a 2020 Globetrotter 23 FB this summer, I fell in love with everything about it – the cozy shape, the interior design style, and sleek cabinetry, the fact that everything is so adorably little. I affectionately refer to it as The Fort and I’m really getting the hang of traveling in it.

But up until mid-January, all of our trips in The Fort had included full hookups. From Prescott and Patagonia, Arizona to Silver City, New Mexico, and Borrego Springs, CA, each adventure involved staying in a national park or private campground with water, sewer, and power. Meanwhile, Rich kept telling me how much fun boondocking would be, as it afforded the opportunity to stay in certain places that we couldn’t otherwise enjoy.

So in early January, I decided to throw caution to the wind – along with my high heels, a going-out dress, and my blow dryer – and head out for a sans hookup weekend in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, just north of the Arizona border. 

Unhooked campsite in Organ Pipe Cactus National MonumentOur unhooked campsite at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

I can honestly say that this no hookups campground ended up being my favorite of all those we’ve stayed in. The lush vegetation in and around the campground, spectacular vistas, and starry skies allowed us to unplug and relax for two days and two nights with our little dog Mickey. 

Our dog Mickey enjoying the sunrise out of our Airstream bedroom windowsMickey loved the Airstream bedroom sunrises.

Here are 9 things I learned on this first boondocking trip.  

1. The prep is a little different than if you are heading toward hookups.

Do these things before you leave:

    • Top off everything. Although we never leave with completely empty tanks or batteries, in the case of boondocking you want to be sure everything is full. Fill the water tanks to overflow, make sure you’ve plugged in overnight so your batteries are fully charged, and fill both propane tanks.
    • Plan ahead for coffee. Important to anyone like me who is adamant about having an excellent morning brew. More on that in a moment.
    • Take note of what you won’t (or shouldn’t) use while boondocking. When you are only using batteries, things that have a heating element or need a surge of power to operate, either won’t work or shouldn’t be used. Common items include: blow dryer, microwave, air conditioner, drip coffee maker, laptop charger. Plan accordingly.
    • Buy a bunch of fresh drinking water in gallon jugs. We took 6 gallons and used about 3 for drinking and cooking. Tip: Make sure at least one of the jugs has a screw-on top so you can lay it down in the refrigerator without risking the top popping off during towing.
    • Take a power source with you. This allows you to keep the batteries charged so you can run the lights, sound system, TV, and furnace without worry. We have a portable solar system. Rooftop solar or a generator are other options.
    • Pack easy to make foods and snacks. When you have a limited amount of water and can’t use the microwave, you’ll appreciate this. We took things like instant oatmeal, mixed nuts, dried fruit, cereals, cut up veggies, hummus, cold cuts, bread, etc.
    • Take a few rolls of paper towels. A tidy boondocker’s best friend, I found these to be useful for many things. 

2. Set up is so easy!

Normally, it’s my job to hook up water, electric, and sewer hose at arrival. It had been two months since our last trip so I was reviewing how to do these things in my head while we were driving, and mentioned to Rich that I might need a refresher from him about the sewer hose connection. He gently reminded me that there would be no place to hook it up. I had not quite clued into the fact that no hookups = no sewer hose. And no electricity plug or need for the EMS power protector or water spigot either. Just pull in, unhitch, and flip on the water pump and you’re good to go. 

3. You need a good coffee solution because you can’t use a coffee maker. 

Coffee lovers, pay attention! When you’re drawing from the battery, you can’t use anything that has a heating element that draws a lot of power quickly. That means, no drip coffee maker. Mon Dieu.

I have taken my Bialetti stovetop coffee maker on previous Airstream trips, and I do love the coffee it makes. But to plan for this trip, I had been testing a stainless steel pour over that doesn’t require a filter. I wanted a bit of a “slow coffee” experience. On this trip, I heated the drinking water we carried with us in a collapsible kettle and poured it over ground coffee. 

A pour over for my coffee and collapsable teapotThe aroma is amazing when you use a pour-over funnel to make your morning coffee. 

I love the simplicity of this pour-over method and the aroma is spectacular. Plus, you make it one cup at a time so it’s always hot and fresh and doesn’t have that burned taste you get when it sits on the electric warming burner too long. 

4. You have to check the fresh and grey water tank levels throughout your stay.

All you experienced Airstreamers are thinking “well, duh,” but I had truly not thought about this kind of diligent monitoring until Rich mentioned it during the trip.

The level data is available on the Tank Monitor panel. In our 2020 Globetrotter, it’s in the bathroom. In your model, it might be in the kitchen.

  • Push the FRESH button to see the percent of freshwater you have left. Most Airstream trailers carry 30 gallons in a full tank. If you are experienced you can run it down to 25% or even 10%. This helps you know how long you can stay put without going to dump and refill. If you plan to stay longer, you’ll need to plan for using the campground dump station and refilling the tanks.
  • Push the GREY button to see the percentage of space that’s been used in the grey water tank. In other words, at the beginning of a trip it will start at 0% and gradually go up as you use water. After a day, ours was reading 20% full, and Rich gave me props for that since I’m the primary cook and dishwasher.
  • Push the BLACK button to see the percentage of space that’s been used in the black water tank. There was no need for me to monitor this tank level because there are only two of us and our trip was only two days long. 

Note that the level on the panel is approximate. There are a whole bunch of reasons why the data cannot be completely accurate (for example, the black tank includes toilet paper, which impacts the level reading), but I won’t go into that kind of detail here. Mostly, because I still don’t understand it well enough to explain it.

Bottom line: The more you boondock and monitor your levels while doing it, the more you’ll understand your usage.


Check the levels of your fresh and grey tank regularly when boondocking. If you’re
planning to stay unplugged for more than about five days, check the black tank level too.


5. Solar power makes a huge difference.

We used the Airstream Life Portable Solar Kit throughout our trip and it performed beautifully. I plugged it into the solar charge port on the A-Frame and connected the two cables, then unfolded the three solar panels in the morning sun. Super easy. Because it’s portable, we moved the panels with the sun throughout the day to optimize our solar “catch.” 

The result was that we never worried about our batteries draining. The sun kept them charged all day long. So we used electricity as if we were plugged in, save for one thing:

You can’t use the microwave or A/C when you are using the batteries. And it did get into the 80s during the day, with west-facing exposure. This is where you have to roll with it when boondocking. Sure, it wasn’t an icy 65 degrees in the trailer. But we put the awning out and the fans on and it was fine. If we’d had our Zip-Dee solar shade with us, we would have hung it on our awning – but we haven’t yet installed it in our trailer.

If you are wondering, you can plug in your laptop charger, but boondocker beware. Without getting technical, doing so requires that you turn on the inverter, which switches the power supplied directly from the battery, to the type of power that is required to run things like a laptop power cord, television, DVD player, and other electronics. 

But just because you can do this doesn’t necessarily mean you should. At least, not too frequently. That’s because overuse of an inverter ultimately can lead to it failing, and that’s an expensive thing to replace. So if you must bring your laptop, don’t keep it plugged in the entire trip.

If you’re looking for more technical details about solar, Rich has written multiple blogs on the topic. Here’s one about when you do (and don’t) need solar panels 

We used a portable solar system to charge our batteries during the day.
The panels weigh only 18 lbs which made it easy for me to move them as the sun moved.


6. Yes, hot (albeit short) showers are possible!  

Full disclosure, I showered both days but didn’t wash my hair on the first morning of the trip. It’s medium length and thick and I didn’t want to use too much water. I’d say this was the only real drawback of boondocking for me. (I realize this may cue eye-rolling for some of you.)  

Here’s what I learned is the best way to take a boondocking shower:

    • Turn on the propane switch in the bathroom to heat the water. It takes about 20 minutes, so plan ahead. 
    • Turn the shower full on to HOT. That will get the shower-ready water faster and you’ll use the least amount of water. 
    • Turn the water on to rinse, and off to suds up. This will be familiar to some as a ‘military shower.’
    • Use the water saver button on the showerhead. I had not noticed this little gem but Rich showed it to me on day two. There is a black button on the side of the showerhead that shuts on and off the water. So, get the temperature right, then use the button to turn the water on and off – saves more water than turning it on/off at the faucet each time.
    • Shower during the warmest part of the day. This will make your shower infinitely more comfortable. Especially if you boondock during colder weather.

7. Paper towels are a great all-purpose solution for cleaning and water savings. 

Great for wiping out the pour-over coffee filter (read: no water was used to clean it each day), wiping out the sink, and wiping off countertops. I used, dried, and reused paper towels throughout the trip. I also brought a plate scraper, but we didn’t eat anything that required me to use it. I found the paper towel to be much easier and more versatile. 

Yes, there is the sustainability issue of more waste, but for convenience and the fact many of the paper towels could be used multiple times after drying them, I think paper towels are the way to go. And, you can purchase a brand made from recycled material. We used about a third of a roll during the entire trip. 


8.
 You can rinse dishes and wash your face with surprisingly little water.

To wash dishes: Dampen a sponge and put dish soap in it, then suds up each dish or utensil with the water off and put it in the sink. When everything has suds, turn on the sink to a small drizzle, and using your hands and moving the plate, rinse quickly.

To wash your face/brush your teeth: Similar to showering, turn the water on only when rinsing, and keep the flow low. Turn it off when brushing or washing. 


9. Propane is really efficient and seems to last forever.

Kudos to Airstream for including so many gas-run appliances in the trailer. They are incredibly energy efficient. We didn’t skimp on running the stove, refrigerator, or furnace, and there was still plenty of propane left when we got home. 


My overall take on boondocking? It requires a little practice and mindset modification, but I didn’t feel we sacrificed anything. Sure the showers were short, but we ran the furnace, cooked, listened to music, and even watched Gone With the Wind one night. I just had to be mindful of and monitor my water usage. And frankly, that’s a conservation mindset I should adopt at home anyway. The boondocking experience kept me mindful about how we were using our resources.

If you have long, thick hair you may have to go without washing it for a day. And no, you can’t use the microwave or leave the faucet running while you wash dishes. But in the end, these aren’t the reasons you bought an Airstream anyway. So, don’t be nervous about boondocking. Embrace it as an opportunity for simpler travel, and an excuse to leave your blow dryer at home.

 

Can’t travel? Have an Airstream Christmas anyway

 

If you’re lucky enough to be in a climate that allows Airstreaming over the holidays, you might have a fun Christmas or New Year’s trip planned. Living in the southwest, I’ve done that many times—but I also remember very well those frigid years in the northeast when my Airstream sat immobile and frozen in the driveway.

I wish I knew back then that it can always be an Airstream Christmas. Even if it’s winterized, your Airstream stands ready to add to the fun in all sorts of ways. All you need is to warm it up a bit, and that’s easy if you have access to electrical power (either a power outlet or generator). Plug in, turn on the furnace, and choose from these ideas:

1. Christmas in the Airstream

Why not? Even in the driveway, the Airstream is a fun place to be. You don’t need to de-winterize fully, since you don’t have to use the plumbing. Bring in some holiday lights or decorations, and maybe even a little shrub or a rosemary plant trimmed to look like a tree. Put some holiday music on, bring in some snacks from the house, and be sure to wear pajamas under your coat so you can get comfy again once you’re set up in the Airstream.

2. Watch a Christmas movie in the Airstream

If you prefer to have your tea & cookies in front of a roaring fire, you can still adjourn to the Airstream for a movie later. If it’s a gray blustery day and outdoor activities look bleak, this will give you an interesting change of scene while you watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street” (or one of the many Rankin/Bass animations from the 1960s).

It’s a bit too late for this Christmas, but for future movie nights I recommend some Aluma-POP! popcorn. It’s something fun we just came up with, and you can find it here. Keep a few bags in the Airstream for your next trip.

3. Plan a trip over Christmas breakfast in the Airstream

Sure, you may not be able to wash the dishes but you can still cook! We’ve often noticed that meals are more fun when you’re camping. I think that’s also true even when you’re just “driveway camping”.

So before or after opening presents, have a hearty breakfast in the nice warm Airstream and talk about your future travels. Bring an atlas or guidebook to pore over. The next camping season will really be something to look forward to, and it’s a great thing to fantasize about over breakfast and coffee.

4. Share the joy with friends and family

There are lots of ways to do this, even in this weird pandemic year. Set up a video call from the Airstream using Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, etc. If you’re using a laptop and the wifi from your house doesn’t reach the Airstream, you can use your mobile phone as a wifi hotspot.

Or, take a photo of yourselves with the Airstream. Wear a goofy Christmas sweater, reindeer hat, whatever you’ve got. It’ll make a great holiday card next year.

5. Decorate the Airstream

Deep snow preventing you from towing off to warmer climes? No problem when you’ve got a few magical reindeer to help!

Airstreams really look great when you deck them out. Boughs of holly, twinkling lights, and don’t forget a little mistletoe over the doorway. Get creative. You’ll make your driveway look more festive and give a few winter-weary passerby something to smile about. Fa-la-la-la-la!

6. Buy your Airstream a Christmas present

Don’t forget your beloved Airstream! Get it a gift for the next camping season, like a gorgeous patio mat, or a set of Airstream-themed drink coasters. You can find an bunch of ideas (things you’ve probably never seen before) at Globetrotter Gallery.


And if you are lucky enough to be able to hitch up and go this holiday season, I suggest an impromptu short trip. There are lots of places to go where reservations aren’t required. Check out some of the off-the-beaten path state parks, Corps of Engineer campgrounds, Bureau of Land Management sites, city and county campgrounds, and places that are off-season—they’re less likely to be full or require reservations. You’ll have much better options if you can travel on weekdays, too.

Whatever you do, or whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I think you’ll find that adding a little bit of Airstream to the mix makes everything more fun. Airstreaming can be a year-round activity if you want it to be.

 

Airstream travel with bicycles

Got a bike or two to carry on your Airstream travels? Then you’ve encountered one of the most common conundrums for Airstream trailer owners: where to put the bikes. Just this week, Wendy T asked:

“We purchased our first Airstream in June this year.  We are avid cyclists and are wondering if you sell a bike rack you can attached to the Airstream?  And if not, how do most people transport their bikes?”

If you’ve got a motorhome the answer is pretty easy: get a rear hitch-mounted bike rack. It will block access to the rear door on an Interstate or Atlas, but some racks are designed to swing away so that’s less of an issue.

If you’ve got an Airstream trailer, the problem is a little trickier. You’ve got several possible ways to consider, and all of them come with compromises. Let’s run through the options:

1. Rooftop bike carrier on the truck

Roof racks are numerous and easy to find for just about any vehicle, but the height of most tow vehicles means you’ll need a step stool to be able to get them on and off. This is a hassle for anyone who’s vertically-challenged.

2.  Front receiver hitch on the truck.

Some trucks can be fitted with receiver hitches on the front, which means you can mount a bike rack up front, too. The main downside of this strategy are that your bikes may block the lights or even impede visibility, which can be dangerous. Also, your precious bikes will be very exposed to road debris, etc., during towing and that will probably “age” the bikes prematurely.

3.  In the truck bed

It’s pretty easy to dump your bikes in the truck bed and just call it good, if you have plenty of space and don’t mind the bikes shifting around. But most people have other things to carry on a trip, and serious cyclists don’t want to risk scuffing and other damage to the bikes. A truck bed-mounted rack is a good option to consider if you’ve got space to spare.

4. Above the truck bed

If you’ve got a hard tonneau cover on the truck bed, you can add a bike rack above it. Usually these racks attach to the rails (sides) of the truck bed. This is a popular option. As with the rooftop carrier, you may need a stepstool to easily get the bikes on and off.

5. Inside the trailer

In some Airstreams (like the Basecamp and the now-discontinued Eddie Bauer edition trailers and PanAmerica) you’ll find D-rings for securing gear. In those trailers it’s easy to carry bikes indoors. But in many cases you’ll have to remove the bikes upon arrival in order to have any interior space to move around. That means you still need a secure storage spot at your campsite.

I wouldn’t recommend just tossing the bikes inside for travel. They’ll undoubtedly shift around and it’s quite likely that they’ll get grease on something, or the upholstery could get torn by the gears. In a pinch, you can get an old blanket to completely wrap the bikes and put them on the bed—they’re a little less likely to move around when they’re lying on their side on the bed.

6. Rear of the trailer (Fiamma “Carry Bike” mount)

Some years ago Airstream teamed up with Fiamma to co-develop a unique bike carrier designed to fit 1969-to-current Airstream trailers with aluminum bumpers. This is a “permanent” installation because it requires some drilling, but it’s also a very convenient way to carry bikes on a trailer.

The other downsides of the Fiamma rack are that it’s fairly expensive at $545 plus installation, it will definitely block access to the bumper storage, and it may block access to a rear compartment (if your trailer has one) or the rear emergency exit window.

Mary L. also added some complexity with this question:

“How can we transport electric bikes with our Airstream? We have a Fiamma rack on our 2014 25-foot Flying Cloud 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?”

Mary is right: the rear-mounted Fiamma rack has a carrying capacity of 75 pounds. Depending on the brand, e-bikes generally range between about 38 and 70 pounds—so a 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 e-bike in the truck bed or inside the trailer when you tow.

So carrying bikes isn’t always simple, but there are good options. The “best” option is the one that suits your particular style, bikes, and Airstream.

Top mistakes of new Airstreamers

2020 brought more new Airstreamers than any other time in the company’s 80-year history. That means a lot of people with a lot of questions. Mostly new Airstreamers want to know how to avoid trouble, so here’s a list of the biggest mistakes I see people making in their first year or two of ownership:

1.  Driving too much

Everyone wants to start out with a bang — rushing away from home base to get to the first great destination. But your first couple of trips should be close to home, so you can have some time to get to know your Airstream.

There are lots of good reasons for this:

  • The first trip will inevitably uncover things you forgot to pack, or things you need to practice before you’re fully comfortable (like hitching up, checklists, backing up, etc). Give yourself time to get the feel of living in an Airstream, and with your travel partner, before you take on the challenge of a longer trip.
  • I hate to say it, but it’s also quite likely you’ll find something that’s not quite right on your Airstream and need to get home for a fix before you launch again. Better to have this happen while you’re close to home. Camping at home in the driveway or at a local campground is a good option just to test all the systems.
  • Towing a trailer or driving a motorhome for the first few times is stressful. This can really exhaust you and start a trip on the wrong foot. Build up your endurance over a few trips.
  • Airstreaming is about the places you stop, not the driving. Over the first few months, some enthusiastic new Airstreamers cover thousands of miles to “get to places” and then gradually they calm down and begin to stop at all the great little things that they’ve been passing by. That’s when they get into the rhythm of road traveling, and inevitably start to enjoy their travels more.

Here’s a fun exercise: look at a good atlas and notice all the interesting places that are within 100 miles of your home. Check out Airstream Club rallies in your area. Look for outdoor events where RV camping is possible (balloon fiestas, concerts, fairs, etc).

When you arrive, try to stay longer, talk more, meet more people, explore the small stuff — and save money by traveling less. If you have time, you might even enjoy weekly rates at campgrounds while you make day trips to the surrounding sights.

On long multi-stop trips, set a limit of no more than 100 or 150 miles on driving days, and no more than two or three travel days each week.

Also, don’t arrive at your campsite after dark. You’re much more likely to clip something (like an overhanging tree branch) in the dark or make an ugly mistake (a good example is coming, below). In the short days of winter this means you usually need to be off the road by 4:00 pm in order to have time to check in at the campground, get parked, and set up.

2.  Not understanding the rig

These days, about 40% of new Airstreamers have never owned an RV before. If you’re one of them, you are facing a steep learning curve on your first few trips. Here are two common misunderstandings I see from first-time owners:

  • [trailers only] Having an incorrectly adjusted hitch. Just because the dealer set up your hitch doesn’t mean it’s right. The difference between a correctly and incorrectly set up hitch can literally be the difference between life and death. So take some time to understand how the weight-distributing system works. Read the owners manual for the hitch you own, and check that it’s correct at a truck scale. The weighing procedure is explained in my book, “The Newbies Guide To Airstreaming”, which you got for free with your new Airstream.
  • Confusing the black tank flush and the city water fill. We see this every year at Alumapalooza. These two outlets are right next to each other. Inevitably someone shows up on their first or second Airstream trip, after dark, and tries to hook up the water—but connects the hose to the black tank flush instead. BIG MISTAKE. The black tank will fill up with water, then it will either flood the bathroom through the toilet or come spouting out the rooftop plumbing vent in a “chocolate fountain.”

I think from these two examples you can see why it pays to learn everything you can about your Airstream!

3.  Not using checklists or tools

I wrote about why checklists are important—especially for new Airstreamers—in “The Newbies Guide To Airstreaming” and provided a few sample checklists to get you started. Without a checklist you’re eventually going to forget something important, and it’s usually an expensive lesson.

You also need a basic toolkit. Things happen on the road and you can’t always get roadside assistance or a mobile RV tech to show up and fix them. I wrote a blog about some of the tools you should always have with you. You don’t have to be MacGyver, but you should learn at least a little about how your Airstream works so you can fix little things that otherwise might ruin your trip. It seems like there’s never a mobile RV tech around when you really need one.

4.  Being afraid to camp without hookups

You can only see the country if you’re willing to get off the beaten path once in a while. Boondocking terrifies some people, but it’s actually fun, easy, and economical.  It’s in those rustic national park, state park, Bureau of Land Management, National Forest, and Corps of Engineers campgrounds that you’ll find some of the most memorable outdoor experiences in the USA.

Tip: Get to know the capacities of your holding tanks, and how long they will last.  This takes practice.  The best way to learn to boondock is to just do it.

5.  Not carrying water

Sometimes people will advise you to carry less water in order to improve your fuel economy.  It’s a myth.  If you are not climbing a mountain, 200 lbs of water (25 gallons) isn’t going to impact your fuel economy much.  With travel trailers and motorhomes on relatively flat land, aerodynamics play a much larger role than weight.

Not having water means you must go where the water hookups are, and you can’t stop spontaneously at a delightful spot along the way.  It also means that if you have a problem and can’t reach your intended destination, you’re out of luck for showers, cooking, and toilet.  Yet I sometimes hear from other travelers that they recommend leaving the water tank empty and filling up only when they arrive.  That’s like leaving your gas tank on 1/4 all the time and hoping there’s a gas station every 50 miles.

Tip:  If you’re concerned about weight, just carry 10-15 gallons.  That’s enough to get you through a night with careful conservation.

6. Relying too heavily on the GPS

GPS is a great tool and we love it, but it is no substitute for a good map, or common sense.  The GPS database won’t tell you about all the things you’d like to see, either.  But it will send you down a one-lane (or non-existent) back road to save 10 feet on the route.

Tip:  Use the GPS as just one of several tools.  Keep and use a good road atlas.  Research things to do on the Internet and through local brochures before you plan your route. When approaching state or national parks, always follow the official brown signs rather than the shortcut your GPS is advising.

When traveling in the west always have a supply of drinking water in the truck, and be sure to ask locally for information before going on any dirt road. The Rangers and volunteers in state or national parks are a great source of information.

7. Being afraid to back up

Hey, I get it—backing up can be scary whether you’re driving a 12-foot tall motorhome or a 25-foot trailer. It does take practice to get good at it, even with a backup camera. But if you don’t learn this essential skill, you’ll be limited to “pull through” campsites only, which really limits your choices.

Also, sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a position where you must back up. That’s the worst time to have to learn. Work with a partner in a safe place and you’ll get the trick quickly enough. There’s more about this in “The Newbies Guide” too.


My #1 Tip: Keep Learning

There are certainly many more mistakes you can make in your first years of Airstreaming. Don’t be too fearful of that; The key is to keep learning as you go. When you make a mistake, it’s an opportunity to become a better Airstreamer. (I know that’s scant comfort if you’re looking at a dent, but most of the time things won’t be that dramatic.)

It’s usually helpful to talk to other Airstream owners at rallies or online. You’ll get all kinds of tips and great destination ideas. Just keep in mind that not all tips are good tips, so double-check them against other sources, like my books and this How To blog. (Shamelessly, I recommend getting a copy of “The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance” even if you aren’t planning to do much maintenance yourself. You’ll learn a lot about how your Airstream works.)

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out some of the videos we’ve posted. We keep adding new content regularly, so be sure to subscribe, too.

In any case, I think the best way to become an expert Airstream traveler is to get out there as often as possible. Keep traveling, and you’ll get wiser every day.