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.

From summer breeze to sudden freeze

October is the big weather change-over month for much of the US. In October we can relish the cooler, invigorating Fall weather, and sample a few chilly nights without really having to admit that Winter is coming—but unless you live in Florida it’s hard to avoid the reality that things are about to change for Airstream travelers. By the end of the month the weather forecast is often mentioning the potential for freezing nights, even in the desert southwest.

And that means we need to think about strategies for protecting our Airstreams against the ravages of freezing, snow, and the effect of wind chill while towing.

Unless you’re a brand-new Airstream owner you’ve probably heard about “winterizing” (and you can read about it in my books, on Airstream’s support website, and many other places, so I won’t repeat it here). But what if you’re not ready to put the Airstream away for the winter? What if it just freezes occasionally in your climate, or you want to be able to use the Airstream while you’re on the way to Florida for a winter break?

These questions come up a lot. I have many friends in the northeast states who dash down I-95 every winter to a Florida rally or a palm tree-lined park, and stretch out for a couple of weeks of sunshine, smug in the knowledge that everyone they know back home is shoveling snow. On the way south they have to figure out how they’re going to get through a few freezing days and nights while still being able to use the Airstream.

Even here in Tucson we get freezing nights at unexpected times. Last week it was nearly 100 degrees here, but we had a sudden change and last night the temperature dropped into the upper 30s. For this latitude and altitude in October, that’s bizarre, and it forced me to think about what I’d do if there was going to be a hard freeze. Our Airstream is stored in a lot 25 minutes away from our home, and there’s no way to connect it to power.

Fortunately the problem isn’t quite as bad as you might think. Your Airstream is actually well protected against mild freezes. It has plenty of insulation. If the overnight low is going to hover around 30-32 degrees, it’s unlikely the interior of the Airstream will actually get cold enough to freeze in a single night, without any heat source in the trailer.

When you’re considering what to do, think about where you’ve got it parked. In a carport or garage, you’ve got a buffer around the Airstream that will help keep it warm. Even a windbreak will help. It’s the same effect as covering your plants at night.

On the other hand, if the Airstream is parked out in the open on a windy night, or in a low spot where cold air will settle on a calm night, it might be susceptible to lower temperatures than the forecast predicts, and you should be cautious.

For occasional mild freezing nights, the easiest solution is to plug the Airstream into power and put a small electric space heater inside. This will add just enough heat to keep the interior above freezing. It’s a good idea to open cabinet doors where plumbing is located, for air circulation.

But if you’re like me and you have to store your Airstream away from home or power, things get a little trickier. Running the gas furnace at night, even set to a very low temperature, will kill the batteries quickly. The fan motor in the furnace consumes quite a lot of power. You might get one or two nights before the batteries go flat, and then you’ll be faced with the problem of re-charging the batteries. Also, running the batteries flat will drastically shorten their life.

At this point you have to make a decision: winterize the trailer, or tow it home and plug it in? If I’m facing a prolonged cold spell and have no plans to use the Airstream for a month or more, I’d winterize. But otherwise, I’d tow it home so that I could plug it in for a few nights. The only really bad option here is to to do nothing, which means you’ll likely find a malfunctioning water pump on your next trip.

If you do winterize and you’re in a climate where wet snow is a frequent occurrence, make sure you go visit your Airstream regularly. Slowly-melting snow is a real test of the roof sealants. Any tiny leaks will probably be revealed and you’ll want to tackle them ASAP.

For the mad dash out of freezing temperatures to a warmer place, you’ve got different considerations. I’ll assume you have already winterized and have to get through a day or two of towing in freezing temperatures. For most people the safest strategy is to leave the trailer winterized until the daytime temperatures are reliably above freezing. That means you’ll have to get a motel at first, or “dry camp”—which means using none of the plumbing. I know lots of people who do this. They eat at restaurants and use the campground showers and bathrooms until it’s safe to de-winterize.

The cue is when the daytime temperatures go above freezing. When you’re towing, there’s a remarkable wind chill effect on the Airstream that cools it, so even if there’s sunshine beating down on the Airstream it will likely stay frozen as long as the air temperature is below 32.  You can start with a nice warm Airstream in the morning (thanks to the furnace) and within a couple of hours of cruising down I-95 it will be a walk-in freezer.

This happened to me one February while towing through west Texas. The day started nicely enough but a storm came in and the air temperature dropped to about 27 degrees. The wind chill froze the city water fill and I couldn’t tell until that night when the water pump kept cycling. I had to replace it in a parking lot the next day.

Once the days are safely warm, you can de-winterize at the next campground (an easy process, described in my Airstream Maintenance Guide) and go merrily on your way.

There is another very attractive option, for those who live in climates where it only freezes occasionally: Whenever there’s a threat of freezing, hitch up your Airstream and go camping somewhere. It’s a great excuse for an impromptu getaway or close-to-home “staycation”. There are a few RV parks and campgrounds right here in Tucson that I’d be glad to spend a night in just for fun. Or, perhaps find a friend with a roomy driveway and have the Airstreamer version of a sleepover. As long as there’s a plug around somewhere, you’ll be warm and cozy—and your Airstream will be happy too.

Getting your chill on

It’s going to be 106 degrees in Tucson today, so it was quite refreshing to get this email this morning:

Hi Rich, My wife and I are headed to Rocky Mountain National Park next week and the forecast is for snow on one of our 4 days at the park and the nighttime lows are below freezing 3 out 4 of our nights. Do you think our 16’ Airstream will do ok in this unexpected cold? Any suggestions? Thank you. John

First of all, I’m envious. A little overnight snow in September sounds pretty good to us desert dwellers. And rest assured, you’ll be fine through the overnight freezes. Your Airstream is built for freezing temperatures and can easily handle temperatures in the 20s.

On most Airstreams the furnace has a little duct that spills some heated air down to the holding tanks, so they don’t freeze. On other Airstreams, there’s an electric heating pad for the tanks. The fresh water plumbing is all contained inside the body of the trailer, so it will be fine as long as there’s heat inside. Basically, if you’re comfortable, the plumbing is too.

If you have a water hookup and a typical vinyl hose, you should disconnect it at night and let it drain. Those hoses can fail if they are allowed to freeze. (If you have our Ultimate Water Hose you don’t have to worry because it won’t be harmed by freezing.)

In extreme temperatures, like close to zero, you may find the dump valves frozen in the morning. This is rare but if it happens you should not attempt to force them. Wait until temperatures rise before trying to move the valves, or you’ll damage the seals and they’ll leak.

I usually set the nighttime temperature at 62. This is my personal balance between propane conservation and comfort. With a few blankets on the bed (or a warm partner, or a dog) it’s very comfortable. Still, with nighttime lows just below freezing and daytime highs in the 50s or 60s you should expect to use up a 30-pound propane tank in 4-5 nights. For an extended trip you’ll want to know where propane refills can be found. Also keep in mind that on exceptionally cold or windy night the furnace will run a lot more than usual.

The real challenge is electricity. Having an electric hookup is the best option by far. But if you’re in a national park campground there may not be an option to plug in. This makes things very tough in the winter. The furnace alone chews up between 7 and 10 DC amps when it runs, mostly to power the blower. In a very cold night the furnace can cycle on and off every few minutes, consuming 25-40 DC amp-hours by breakfast. Add to that your normal daily electrical usage and (assuming your Airstream has the factory-spec batteries) you’ll be out of power in 24 hours.

While I’m a fan of solar panels, in the winter the sun-gathering opportunity is much less due to low sun angle and cloudiness. Solar still works but it might not be enough if you aren’t conserving power very carefully. In this case, a catalytic heater may be a good option to consider since it doesn’t consume electricity.

Another option is to add more battery capacity. There are several ways to do this, and the best solution depends on the layout of your Airstream. Usually people find a spot toward the front of the trailer (such as under a couch or in an external storage compartment) to install a bigger battery bank. At the same time it’s an opportunity to upgrade to Absorbed Glass Mat batteries, which last longer and are safer.

Otherwise, a generator is probably going to be needed after a day or two of winter boondocking. It will work, but I’m not a big fan of generators for battery recharging. You can read more about that here.

The other thing I think about when going into a winter situation is whether there might be significant snow accumulation that makes driving difficult. Most of us don’t have winter tires on our tow vehicles and many of us don’t have four-wheel drive, so with the added weight of a trailer, getting stuck is a real risk. Even getting in and out of a slushy campground, like the one pictured above in Fort Collins CO can be tough. (Fortunately that vehicle had All-Wheel Drive.)

Towing down a mountain road with snow on the road is a formula for disaster if you aren’t very careful. You’ll want to be confident that your trailer brakes are dialed in so that they don’t over-brake or under-brake, and in any case keep your speed down. When in doubt, wait it out. A couple of hours of sunshine can make a huge difference on the roads.

Otherwise, most of my preparation for a winter camping trip is to bring gear that makes it fun. I like to do a little cooking with the Dutch Oven after dark, so I bring all that gear plus plenty of warm clothes for myself.

Perhaps since you are planning to go to Rocky Mountain National Park in September, you are hoping to spot some elk. It’s the perfect time to go. Definitely bring some good binoculars (or a long telephoto lens for your camera).

Late-season and winter camping can be awesome, and your Airstream makes it possible. Don’t fear the cold—just prepare, and you’ll have a great time.


How to courtesy park like a pro

Courtesy parking has to be one of the greatest benefits of being an Airstreamer. I’ve always said that an Airstream is like a passport—because just being in an Airstream opens so many doors. Many times I’ve had people ask if I could bring the Airstream to their driveway (“because they’re so cool”) and it has always been a good experience.

What’s not to like about courtesy parking? You get a free place to stay during your travels, a host who usually wants to show you around or point out great places to visit, often an interesting location (perhaps downtown, out in the quiet country, or near a tourist area), and sometimes you even get invited to dinner.

The best part is that by courtesy parking you’ll often meet great people who become friends. It’s a prime social opportunity for people who love to socialize.

But courtesy parking does come with some risks, and a wise Airstreamer will know how to assess an invitation before showing up. Here are my top tips for “pro” courtesy parkers:

Tip #1: Check out the location carefully. People who don’t own RVs will often underestimate the difficulty you might encounter getting to their home, or backing into their driveway. Don’t rely on their promises or guesses, because they may not fully understand the challenges of towing a trailer or driving a tall motorhome. Do your own research, before you commit.

I like to start by checking Google Maps to see which roads I’m going to have to take to get there. In particular I’m looking for difficult turns and possibly congested traffic areas. This helps me decide what time of day I want to arrive. Then I look closely at the satellite imagery to see if any of the neighborhood corners might be complicated by tight turning radii or parked cars on the street.

Finally, I always ask if there’s a Home Owners Association rule or local ordinance that might prohibit RVs parking in driveways or in front of the house. Sometimes people who don’t own RVs forget about such rules until you mention it.

Tip #2: Keep an eye out for overhanging trees. As you approach, remember that your Airstream trailer is nearly 10 feet tall, and your motorhome may be as much as 12 feet tall. The tree branches that don’t bother your hosts can do serious damage to your Airstream. The same goes for carports, gates, and trellises. Approach slowly, and if there’s any doubt, have your co-pilot or host stand by and watch carefully as you creep the rig forward.

This is a problem more often than you might think. Many times I’ve had to stop and ask my hosts to go fetch their tree trimmers and ladder. Nobody has ever refused to allow trimming of a few branches, although often I end up on a ladder sweating, doing it myself. (After a couple of years of active courtesy parking, I began to consider traveling with my own branch cutters.)

Tip #3: Expect obstacles, and tricky turns. People often forget that their car or truck will go places that are simply impossible for a towed vehicle. Even fellow RV’ers have invited me to places that were impossible. Neighborhoods and driveways aren’t the same as campgrounds. There’s no guarantee you can make all the turns.

I remember a case where a friend with a 22-foot travel trailer invited us to back into his driveway, which was located on a wide street in a downtown neighborhood. When I arrived at 5 p.m. on a weekday, the street was narrowed to about 1.5 lanes by parked cars on both sides of the street, and commuters were using the neighborhood as a short-cut so there was constant traffic. To make it worse, I was towing a 30-foot trailer which had a considerably larger turning radius than his trailer.

The result was a debacle: to back into the driveway we had to block the entire street, and there was still not enough turning space to get into the driveway without mowing down some flowers and toppling the mailbox. “But I never have any trouble backing in!” said my friend, who typically came home from camping on quiet Sundays. After 20 minutes of frustration, I bailed out and went to Plan B, which brings us to my next tip …

Tip #4: Have a backup plan. If things don’t go well, don’t force it. That’s how you acquire dents and scrapes on your trailer. Research campgrounds or other alternate parking situations in the area so you don’t feel obligated to get into a space you really shouldn’t.

One time while checking the satellite view I spotted a stone wall on a tight turn, which my potential hosts had neglected to mention. It was hard to get them to understand that a 30-foot trailer and tow vehicle amount to about 54 feet of length that doesn’t readily go around 110-degree bends, and that stone walls tend to destroy soft aluminum. I felt pressured to “try” to get in even though from experience I knew it would be a mistake, and I might even get stuck. Having a Plan B helps a lot, psychologically.

Tip #5: Try to arrive when your host is home. Several times I’ve been invited to show up while the homeowners are away, and it’s always a bit worrying if I haven’t been there before. There’s always something to ask about when you arrive, like:

  • how close to that gate/fence/door can I park?
  • is it OK to move that sculpture, or trim that tree?
  • can I run my hose around to the back yard to connect to water?
  • why doesn’t the power outlet have any juice? (usually, it’s because the GFI has tripped)
  • why is your neighbor staring at me?

Tip #6: Be ready to level up. Sometimes driveways have steep slopes, and the only to make it work is with a lot of leveling blocks. Check out the picture above. The hitch jack was fully extended and we still had to stack up 10″ of wood blocks.

This happens often in suburban situations, and sometimes there’s nothing to do about it except park elsewhere. If you can get enough blocks to get approximately level, be ready for a wobbly night because even with the stabilizers down the Airstream is likely to feel less stable than usual.

Tip #7: Don’t expect anything from your host other than a little free parking. Courtesy parking is a favor granted to you by your host. They might offer power or water, use of the pool, advice on places to go, or even dinner in the house, but they’re not obligated to do anything. Try to be a good guest by expecting nothing, staying out of the house and yard unless specifically invited, not overstaying your welcome, and showing appropriate gratitude. (Bringing a small gift is always a nice touch, or a thank-you card.)

You’d think this piece of advice is obvious, but lots of people “accidentally” overstay their welcome. If you are suffering a mechanical breakdown that requires a few days to get repaired, or your fridge is empty, remember that’s not your host’s problem. They didn’t adopt you, and they have their own lives to live.

I have been the victim of courtesy-parking guests who were supposed to stay a few days but then decided they were comfortable and didn’t want to pay for a campground nearby. Next thing I knew, the offer of dinner and a free parking spot turned into semi-permanent houseguests who expected daily breakfast and dinner in the house. Needless to say, they were encouraged to move on, and haven’t been invited back since. Don’t force your host to tell you it’s time to go–leave while they’ll still miss you.

Tip #8: Hone your boondocking skills. Like I said, you might not get water or electricity in your overnight courtesy parking spot. (It’s a good idea to travel with 50 or 100-feet of extension cord so you can try to reach a power outlet in the garage, and at least keep the batteries charged.) Show up with full water and batteries so you can live independently if you need to, and be prepared to conserve water and power.

Having said that, it’s a rare courtesy parking spot that has absolutely no prospect for at least a water refill (again, bringing 50-feet of hose is a great idea—don’t rely on your host’s garden hose because it’s not suitable for drinking water). Check with your host beforehand and see what options you have. If they have an RV hookup on site, be sure to thank them profusely, and offer to chip in for electricity if you’re running your air conditioning. After all, they’re saving you $30-50 per night, and probably giving you a chance to experience the local area through their eyes, which is invaluable.

What’s boondocking and what do I need to do it?

Every modern Airstream is pretty well set up for living off the grid, for a day or two. But if you want to get away from crowded campgrounds and park somewhere without hookups for more than a weekend—in other words, boondocking—you’ll want to start upgrading your Airstream and your camping practices a bit.

There are three major limitations to your boondocking experience: water, power and propane. (Other considerations are things like food and sewer capacity, but you’ll probably run out of water or power first.)

The best and least-expensive way to extend your boondocking time is to learn how to conserve.  Learn the “navy shower” technique, do less dishwashing or learn to wash very efficiently or use paper plates, replace all lights with LEDs (if they aren’t already), set the furnace temperature lower and sleep with an extra blanket or dog, etc. Conservation takes a little effort and a little practice, but it pays off immediately.

When using the 12 volt batteries you won’t be able to run the air conditioner or microwave, so the remaining big energy consumers are the furnace, water pump, and laptops. Airstream batteries are typically sized with just enough capacity for an overnight or a weekend (if you aren’t running the furnace a lot) because most people don’t use the trailer away from shore power for longer than a night or two.

Once the batteries run out of juice, everything in the trailer goes off: refrigerator (even when running on propane), heat, light, water pressure … even the hitch jack won’t go up or down anymore. So power conservation is important.

To reduce the drain caused by laptops, try using a tablet or your phone instead. An iPad requires about 10-20% of the power of a laptop and can charge quickly from a cigarette lighter plug, instead of requiring an inefficient inverter.  (You can pick up USB cigarette lighter adapters easily if you have an older trailer without USB outlets.) Shorter showers and limited dish washing will also cut power consumption by the water pump.

Carrying a portable solar panel can be very helpful if you like to camp where trees shade the Airstream.  With a solar panel kit and an extension cable you can put the panels in a spot where the sun hits them. Solar isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s silent, free to operate, eco-friendly, and you don’t have to carry gas. With summertime sun, a pair of solar panels can extend your boondocking time by days.

If you find the two batteries supplied with the Airstream aren’t enough, consider going to larger batteries. This will require some custom work, but you’ll get a lot of value out of it.


In hot weather, try to spend the day out of the Airstream.  This cuts down the length of time you’ll need the vent fans.  Each vent fan consumes about 2 DC amps, which means three of them running for six hours = 36 amp-hours.  That’s a lot of juice, which is put to better use after sunset when the temperatures start to drop.

In the winter, furnace use is the problem. The furnace eats a lot of power (7-10 amps when running) and it’s fairly wasteful of propane too. A catalytic heater is helpful, since it doesn’t use electricity at all, and is much more efficient at turning propane into heat.

Propane isn’t much of a limitation in the summertime, since a pair of 30-lb. tanks will run the refrigerator and water heater for weeks. But in late fall and winter you’ll want to travel with both propane cylinders as full as possible. You can easily find yourself spending an unexpected night along the road with only your propane supply to keep you warm. With freezing nights a tank of propane can be used up in just a few days.

If you are going to be off grid for a while, get a portable tank to carry fresh water. Serious boondockers will find a place in town or nearby to refill their jerry can or water bottles, and bring a little fresh water back to camp after every excursion. Mark the tank “FRESH WATER ONLY”.

After a few days of boondocking it’s nice to hit a full hookup campground for a night just to get everything back in ship-shape.  The Airstream will inevitably be full of dirt and gravel tracked in from the campsite, and you might be a bit less fresh than you’d like to be (due to careful conservation of water). Plus there may be various electronic devices that you postponed charging, or the laundry basket might be full, and it will probably be time to get some groceries and dump the tanks if there wasn’t a place to do it before.

We find that having a “recovery” day in a full hookup campground is something we enjoy, with long showers and a chance to get everything ship-shape before heading out for more adventure (or home).