The Pros and Cons of Airstream Living

Updated on August 5, 2019
Shawn Michael Wright profile image

Shawn is an Airstream enthusiast and outdoor adventurer. He lives full time in the 1973 Airstream that he remodeled.

Airstream travel trailers have been an iconic sight on the highways of America and the world since production began in 1931. A young and avid camper, named Wally Byam, created the Airstream idea. Wally had a passion for the outdoors and the desire to make the camping experience as comfortable as possible so everyone could enjoy the great outdoors. Wally eventually published a DIY booklet that was so popular his campers went into full production.

In this article, I'll break down the pros and cons of living in one of these classic campers.

Our 1973 Airstream Sovereign.
Our 1973 Airstream Sovereign.

Pros: What I Love About Airstream Life

So much quality goes into the Airstream product that it is difficult to complain about that. The long-lasting materials and the attention to detail is what has kept so many Airstreams on the road for so long. It is estimated that 70 percent of all Airstreams produced are still in operation today. Either on the road or as full time homes, shops and food vendors.

So let me first share with you a few of the pros that I have discovered by having lived in my Airstream travel trailer.

  • Simple design: The simple design and construction of the Airstream camper means there is not much that can go wrong. Making repairs, modifications, and additions is relatively straightforward for the average do it yourself-er.
  • Towability: Considering its size, the Airstream is relatively light and easy to tow.
  • Low maintenance: Living in such a small space has the added side effect of forcing one to reorganize and simplify life in general. Creative storage and a smaller space means less time cleaning.
  • Environmentally friendly materials: Aluminum, steel, and wood are the primary materials that go into the making of an Airstream. All are easily recyclable and environmentally safe.
  • Customizable: I practically gutted my Airstream and customized the interior to fit my needs. It's easy to add fabrics, colors, and other items to personalize your Airstream to exactly your own tastes and requirements.
  • Low rent: Typical RV park rent is much more affordable than even a small apartment. Often power and water are included in the costs.

Our front living area before we customized it.
Our front living area before we customized it.
Our front living area after some customization.
Our front living area after some customization.

Cons: With the Good Comes the Bad

I love the simple life the Airstream offers, however, there are some downsides to this way of living. Here are just a few to consider.

  • Cooling: Summers in the south can be brutal. The sun heats the aluminum skin on the campers to an untouchable degree. This unfortunately transfers to the interior. Our 13,500 BTU domestic air conditioner works hard to keep the camper bearable on those hottest days of the year. However, it makes a big difference if you can find a spot with even partial shade from the direct rays of the sun.
  • Refrigerator size: While a small refrigerator would be acceptable for short-term camping, it is a slight inconvenience for full-time living. I removed the original unit and went with a slightly larger apartment-size refrigerator.
  • Small sink and counter space: I love to cook. The shallow sink and limited counter space are definitely a challenge. But the ease of the Airstreams to be customized is of great benefit.
  • Narrow width: Campers today come with the option of multiple slide-outs. This gives them much more of a roomy feel. While there are some Airstream models that were produced with a single slide-out, that option is no longer available.

Here is the 12' countertop I made for a  24' Airstream. We more than doubled the counter space in order to create a nice workspace. We also added a deep, under-mounted stainless sink.
Here is the 12' countertop I made for a 24' Airstream. We more than doubled the counter space in order to create a nice workspace. We also added a deep, under-mounted stainless sink.

Airstreams Surging in Popularity Once Again

The Airstream has seen a dramatic surge in popularity over recent years. Bloggers, adventurers, and others have embarked on the ever-increasing work/travel experience. Many people have discovered the older campers and given them new life.

You can even rent a classic Airstream on several of the popular rental property sites. Customization by talented individuals and even renovation companies have added to the resurgence of this iconic travel trailer.

Having remodeled two Airstreams myself, with the help of some friends and relatives, I have grown to appreciate the timeless character and unbeatable quality. For me, the pros far outweigh the cons. But of course, the Airstream way of life may not be for everyone.

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