Airstreaming 101: Things We've Learned as Newbie RV-ers

We knew virtually nothing about RVing when we set out in January as full-time RVers and needless to say, we have learned a lot. This article is partially tips for newbies who happen upon this site by way of search engine, and partially cheeky anecdotes about lessons we've learned from Wally the Airstream and RVing in general for those who maybe don't plan to become full-time RVers, but are interested in this aspect of our project. 

Towing

In retrospect, we would have purchased a more powerful tow vehicle to tote Wally. We bought a Ford Expedition knowing that we plan to keep the car at years’ end, and we didn’t really want a pick-up truck. We had the opportunity to tow the Airstream Pendleton with a Ford F150 Limited Edition a couple of weeks ago and the difference in power is noticeable. We love our Expedition though, and it keeps chugging along… thank god. 

A rear-video-monitor is a must.

Walkie-talkies come in real handy when backing up the Airstream. There is a microphone on the back of the Airstream too that carries sound from the rear into the drivers seat. We like the walkie-talkies though, because we get to use our code names: Sassafras (she) and Whisky (he).

 

 Jon doing what we like to call, "The Dump Dance."

Jon doing what we like to call, "The Dump Dance."

Operations

Disposable latex gloves are your best friend.

While on that topic, we learned from Airstream mechanics all sorts of things about the black water tank... Dump >> fill with cleaner and a few bowls full of water >> use RV TP (+ don't discard foreign objects in toilet = happier dumping. (For those who don't know, black water is human waste, and grey water is liquid from the kitchen and bathroom sink, and shower.)

Propane heats water more quickly than electric does. The furnace eats propane like there's no tomorrow in cold weather and propane can cost quite a lot of money -- plan for that expense if hitting up cold weather locations.

The heat pump doesn't heat below 40 degrees so far as we can tell...

 This side panel is the brains of your hookup operation.

This side panel is the brains of your hookup operation.

If it's freezing outside, leave the water running in the kitchen sink at a trickle to prevent frozen hose/pipes. We learned this the hard way in a winters stay in Shenandoah National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park…so far this year.

Don't park next to RV's running generators to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Waking up at 3 in the morning on our first long drive/rest stop experience to carbon monoxide alarms was, well, alarming. Thankfully, we had CoachNet 24/7 Airstream roadside assistance to walk us through the what-to-do next. The what-to-do was to move locations.  

Airstream forums are great for anything part or function related, and for general advice from Airstream owners.

Closing awnings when it's windy outside prevents them from breaking. Tilting the awning when it’s raining prevents the canvas from caving beneath the weight of collected water. Move out of the way when closing it after a rain so you don't get an unexpected freezing outdoor shower. 

  

Where and How to Stay

Most RV parks offer discounted rates if you ask, are members of camp collectives, and/or look on the website in advance. If you are going to hit the road with an RV, become a member of Good Sam and KOA.

Our favorite RV mobile app is AllStays -- huge find! Not only are RV and tent sites all over the country listed (with details, pictures, and reviews), but also listed are travel centers, gas stations, overnight parking locations, stores like REI and Walmart, and other necessities for those living on the road. This app isn’t just great for RVers, any camper and outdoorsman should load this app. (Note: this is in no way a paid endorsement, just a happen-upon that we love.) 

 Our back-in campsite in Saguaro National Park.

Our back-in campsite in Saguaro National Park.

You can park overnight for free in many state parks, public lands, rest stops, and in the parking lot at some Walmarts and Cracker Barrel restaurants. Again, the AllStays mobile app will tell you where you can camp out free of charge. 

In most RV sites, there are “back-in” camping sites, and “pull-throughs”. Pull-throughs are great for overnight stays and quick morning getaways. Back-ins are great for longer stays because they generally offer more privacy.

  

Staying Connected

 Working on the road is the lifeblood of this project. With Vinli hooked in to our car, we are able to get wifi hotspots as we trudge on down the road. 

Working on the road is the lifeblood of this project. With Vinli hooked in to our car, we are able to get wifi hotspots as we trudge on down the road. 

Generally speaking, wifi sucks at campgrounds. The best remedies we have found have been to ask campground management for use of the business-use hotspot. And when you get fed up with that not always being a possibility, buy a Wifi Ranger!!

The best cell phone boosting device that we have found is weBoost. Don’t bother trying to tether 4G from your phone to your computer. Especially if you have ATT. Just don’t even bother.

To get work done on the road, try Vinli, a 4G mobile hotspot for your car. 

 Wine, veggies, dinner time! This could be any kitchen anywhere in the world but it is inside our 27-foot Airstream International travel trailer in the middle of nowhere. Airstreaming is not really what you might call "roughing it."

Wine, veggies, dinner time! This could be any kitchen anywhere in the world but it is inside our 27-foot Airstream International travel trailer in the middle of nowhere. Airstreaming is not really what you might call "roughing it."

 Lifestyle

You need about 1/3 of the crap you think you will need while full-time RVing. Clothes, kitchen utensils, personal care products—you will just rue the day you thought you needed that extra pair of shoes, martini shaker, and Crest Whitestrips… do as you would smartly do when packing for any epic trip: lay out everything you think you will need and pack only 1/3 of it. Consider that you will acquire things along the way and have to clean and do laundry. We're about to take a monster trip to GoodWill ourselves. In retrospect, we do wish we had brought along the slow-cooker.  

Flamingoes are a big thing in RV parks. Also a big thing in the RV community (AKA, The Peanut Gallery) is opinions on parking, camping, and general existence. Other RVers are your traveling family, though, and are always happy to lend a hand or a word of advice. This can be the best thing in the world, and can be a nuisance, but it has helped us out more than once already this year. Play nice with your neighbors, we are learning this time and time again. 

Airstream restoration is a really big thing. Want to geek out on Airstream culture and design? Check out Airstream Addicts on Facebook. Want to see our Airstream life? See our gallery page.

You can cook and eat anything to your hearts content in an Airstream. We have a full-size kitchen, gas stove, and a microwave. The oven is still a mystery. Have a look around the inside of our Airstream with Virtual Reality—all you need is a computer to navigate a 360 view.


We hope this is interesting and/or useful. Happy trails newbie RVers! 

 Pimped out Airstreams abound in this country. We found this restored 1970s beauty at the Great Smoky Mountains (and some cool Airstream Caravan friends too!)

Pimped out Airstreams abound in this country. We found this restored 1970s beauty at the Great Smoky Mountains (and some cool Airstream Caravan friends too!)