Back to Nature—Sort of—in a $150,000+ Airstream Trailer

Camping and the art of hitting the road.

Jon Alain Guzikwriter, photographer The Manufacturerphotographer

Ah, the open road and the ability to live the motto, "Happy Wife, Happy Life." The missus has for the last few years hinted at buying an RV, ever since we spent a few days at the Rancho Oso Resort right outside of Santa Barbara, California, a year or so ago.

Earlier this year, I was given two choices: Take the long but mostly painless drive up to Paso Robles to spend a weekend in the brand-new 33-foot long Airstream Classic (from $153,400) equipped with the new Smart Control Technology, or take a trip to the backlot at Universal Studios at 5 a.m. to check out the awesomeness of Lüftgekhult 6.

While I would have loved to gaze upon the murder of air-cooled Porsche madness on the Uni backlot, I knew that would be a zero-sum game, as an hour of car-viewing pleasure would return a hundredfold return in spousal resentment. Mrs. Guz always talks about how much she loves the idea of RVing, but I was unsure if this was a one-off moment or the real deal.

I decided to stress-test her.

I packed a brand new, fully loaded Hermosa Blue Nissan Armada Platinum Reserve (from $63,330) that, like the Airstream Classic, comes equipped with every option standard. The Armada, while being a little long in the tooth chassis-wise, is one of the most comfortable cars you can choose for a four-plus-hour trip. We hit the road for Paso Robles and the big, open spaces of the Cava Robles RV resort, which features a combination of ranch-style cottages and RV spaces—it's a far cry from the dingy, cramped RV parking lots you find in most "getaway destinations." Instead, you get modern amenities, small-town rural charm, and, after a relatively short trip, whisked away from reality on an actual getaway in an area known for its wineries and breweries. What could go wrong?

The Airstream Classic we were loaned in Cava Robles was, of course, the top-of-the-line model. It sits at more than eight feet wide and just a smidge less than 10 feet tall, so there was plenty of room for my family of three. The Classic's interior is plenty capacious and well-appointed to boot. The steep entry fee means this Airstream costs more than most modern Porsches, but it's still a pretty penny less than most of the classics you'll find at Lüft.

While I like the Classic, I thought to myself, is it too big? Good thing Airstream, in a bid to appeal to a wider market, has a whole slew of products and services across the spectrum. Do you like the classic aluminum trailer? There's now the newly introduced Caravel (from $60,900) and Bambi (from $48,900) models, and each come in an array of lengths, including 16, 19, 20, and 22 feet.

Need something lighter? Airstream has a range of 16-foot fiberglass models, with the Nest (from $42,900) introduced in 2018 and the Basecamp (from $37,400) intended to bring in new buyers with smaller, lighter, and less expensive RV options.

Airstream has also branched out into servicing its customers—both in digital and in real life—as the company will plan trips for its customers to help anchor them to the brand. Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler said that, in the past, customers would buy an Airstream and that would be the end of the relationship; most customers, young and old, would never have much contact with the brand outside of service. But today, that's changing.

"With the Nest and Basecamp, while they are not inexpensive travel trailers, they are less intimidating and are lighter weight, and it gives our customers a lot more options to deal with," he said. "While they may be first time Airstreamers, they are coming back and they get a larger model, like a 25-footer. The biggest driver for people moving up the line is that they need more space, and that 16-foot Nest is like a toe in the Airstream water. Once people come into the brand, you usually never see them buy a different travel trailer. It's that Airstream experience that feeds their connection to the Airstream community."

But, I pointed out to Wheeler, it seems like it's a lot more than that, too. He added with a slight tone of amusement, "Sometimes it's their ego, too; it's that attention you get in an Airstream, it's hard to leave that feeling and the sense of community [you get] from owning one of our trailers."

And while RVing has never been a solitary endeavor, the biggest revolution for the brand is the new, aforementioned Smart Control Technology feature. Smart Control is exactly what it sounds like: You can use your phone to check on everything about your RV, from water levels to how much propane is left in the tank. You can control every light and the HVAC system, and even open and close the awnings.

"People wanted to get functional, customer-centric features while they were on the go," Wheeler said. "There are some real pain points with RVing—managing resources, security—and with the smart-home trend addressing those pain points, we knew we could do it with an Airstream.

"It was pretty technically challenging but in 18 months, working with our team and our suppliers, we created the product. We've had really good feedback from our users as we focused on creating a good basic functionality to extend and help to enjoy their camping stay."

Indeed, every morning of our trip, I woke up and lit up the Airstream without having to leave the plush front couch that served as my bed for the duration of my stay at the resort. (My toddler and Mrs. Guz shared the master bedroom in the rear.) At night, when a cold wind blew through the Cava Robles and I wanted to warm up the living quarters before we made our way back inside from a s'mores session, a few clicks on the app took care of it. When I wanted to turn on the air conditioning while I sat in the tasting room at Field Recordings at the Tin City development, poof, the app was there to help.

While Airstream set up our 33-foot snooze tube with everything we might have needed in one of Cava Robles' RV spaces, I could see myself towing one and easily setting it up myself. Buyers have the option of four different interior layouts to choose from, and everything from the fabrics for the bed spread to the seating to the pillows is customizable. The same goes for the type of wood used in the cabinets, which varies depending on if you want mocha cherry with macadamia leather or cognac cabinets with chestnut leather. Our trailer came with the dark wood and dark leather, and it felt like sleeping in the den of really nice house.

RVing might seem like a relic of the past or even dead to some, especially in something from Airstream—a company that hasn't updated its core design language in more than 80 years. But RV sales figures suggest just the opposite is true, as there were year-over-year increases from 2009 to 2017. In fact, the RV Industry Association said 2017 was the best-ever year for RV sales, with companies like Airstream and others combining for more than 500,000 units sold. Last year was similarly spectacular, with 483,000 RVs sold.

While Airstreams have been around for the better part of a century, this Classic model doesn't show any signs of that age. It's fully connected, fully functional, and easy to live with it. It could serve as a home for half a year, if you were daring enough, and Wheeler believes its features will keep buyers engaged in both the brand and RVing as time goes on.

What more does the future hold? "We want [to continue to evolve] a relationship where we can really engage with those in the Airstream lifestyle," Wheeler said. "From roadside assistance to booking attractions and camp sites, it's all about connecting with the community. That's a whole new part of our business. It's about our product and our service but at the end, Airstream is about creating experiences [for] our owners."

As for my wife and her RVing desires? After a long—and what at times felt like an interminable—weekend in the Airstream, we landed on the fact we definitely need to do more RVing. But am I on the hook to buy a trailer? I don't think so. On the way home, with our toddler snoozing in the Armada's back seat, I had a chance to outline the realities of actually owning one of these nice new Airstream models: the costs of maintenance and storage, plus campground fees, to start with. "So, what do you think?" I asked her.

"Sounds like a lot of work and costs more than a trip to Hawaii," she replied.

The road narrowed as we crossed through the Santa Ynez Mountains entering into Gaviota with nothing but the hum of the road filling the air. A few more miles passed and I could tell she was composing something in her head. Finally she said, "Well, do think we can borrow one again?"

A smile lit across my face, thinking that a penny saved really is a penny earned. "I sure hope so..."

Related Articles