However, the number one question I got during the week I had a Sport 22-foot travel trailer was, "Airstream? They still make those?" Turns out the president of Airstream still gets that question, too.
Yet it does make them, has done continuously since 1931. And after suffering like everyone else during The Great Recession, business is good: deliveries have doubled compared to the peaks years before the recession. At the end of 2014, buyers had to wait three months to receive their order. The motorized units based on the Mercedes Sprinter platform have been the best-selling diesel-powered Class-B motorhomes for three years.
The popularity means they're not inexpensive: a 16-foot Sport, the runt of the multi-model-line travel trailer litter, starts at $42,334. The 28-foot Land Yacht, at the other end, starts at $146,309, and you'll still need something to pull it. The motorized Touring Coaches start at $134,906 and top out at $151,736 if you stick to the set menu, or you can build your own and spend as much as you'd like.
I thought the 22-foot "Bambi" – that's the nickname for any single-axle travel trailer, no matter the length – a perfect place to start my Airstream acquaintance. Having hitched the 3,634-pound silver bullet to a 2015 Chevy Silverado, I pulled out of Venice Beach at 4:42 AM on a Saturday morning. At exactly 9:01 AM I was in a nearly deserted Anza Borrego State Park RV campsite having the day's first cup of coffee, while watching the sun climb over the California fan palms and Santa Rosa mountains.
The economy end of the Airstream line needs a bit of elbow grease to get set up – you don't get luxury items like the electric stand, so whenever you need to hitch or unhitch you're down in front twirling a hand crank. After that, we hand-cranked the four corner jacks that stabilize the trailer, eliminating the boat-on-the-sea sensation. For reasons we'll get into later, we chose Anza Borrego because it has hookups, so we plugged into the park's 30-amp power and city water supply, then secured the 'black water' pipe, and that was that – we were living the RV dream.
Airstream says "the Sport maximizes space and minimizes waste," and it's true. Twenty-two feet is the exterior dimension, and even though that's not far off the interior span you have to get over some tricks of the eye when you look inside. Standing in the doorway, the interior appears less spacious than the exterior volume leads you to believe. Yet there's plenty of space for one person when actually living in it – or for two people who really, truly love one another.
The illusion could be caused by two of the nicest features in the trailer, which are the large bed at one end and the roomy (relatively) bathroom at the other. Although the bed is curved, it felt like having a proper double-sized mattress all to my five-foot, eleven-inch self, and it's seriously comfortable. From there it is five steps to the bathroom, where you'll find a toilet on a plinth (that took some getting used to), a vanity with a sink, and a shower large enough to stand and twirl around in. The shower is additionally fitted with a bench, in case you do your best bathing when seated. These being the two most intimate places you'll pass the time, it was fantastic to be able to enjoy them. I've stayed in RVs half-again as long as the Sport 22 with showers small enough to make a phone booth look like Fenway.
Between them are the living quarters, a kitchen with a two-burner stove and cabinets on one side and a bench-and-table that can double as a second bed on the other. Those cabinets provide plenty of storage, and there's more cubby space above the bed. Outside, to throw shade on that bench area, is an awning. On this trailer it requires a lot of manual fiddling to deploy and stow, though. Otherwise, the detailing is all there.
In spite of the early-off-season heat, the non-petroleum-based, non-fiberglass EcoBatt insulation between the inner and outer Alcoa aluminum walls kept the cabin cozy day and night, using only the windows and roof vents for ventilation. I did, however, wish I could open a larger portion of the window area. If I had needed HVAC help, there's a furnace below the kitchen sink, and a much larger heating and cooling unit located in the roof.
The only "That's too bad..." realization I had is mainly a factor of a trailer this small, and what got me to Anza Borrego: it's not big enough to go "dry camping," meaning without hookups, for long stretches. The fresh water tank holds 20 gallons, but even the most meager Navy shower requires three gallons. The Sport 22 has a single 12-volt battery with about 75 amps, and you can't hook up another one. There's no running the ceiling HVAC unit unless you're plugged into a 30-amp power source, and if you really need heat, that furnace uses about 8 amps an hour. The trailer came with a solar panel you can use to charge the battery, which is great if, like me, you're in the desert. Park under a canopy of trees, though...
Without alternative measures like a portable solar shower or some Special Forces camping techniques, the Sport 22 will be good for about three days of dry camping. Sure, that's good enough for the average weekend getaway, but I wanted to live in the Sport 22 forever. Having arrived in Anza Borrego the weekend after high season, I shared the entire RV park with just two older couples, dug into a landscape that's not a bad surrogate for Venus save for the wildlife. The kitchen area is large enough to cook multi-course meals and not want for space, which I'd enjoy at the dinner table while watching a DVD – the Sport 22 comes with a DVD-equipped LCD television – or outside under the awning. If I needed WiFi for a few minutes, I just turned on the Silverado.
I spent days taking the Silverado out to explore the maze of desert trails from the Borrego Badlands, to the canyons, to the washes, to Elephant Knees. Happy to return to my tiny-yet-perfectly-sized estate and addictive take-out from Jilberto's or a home-cooked meal, then read or write the night away caressed by a silence as mythic as the full-moon beauty. I only planned on being out there for two days, I stayed for three even though I shouldn't have, and if I hadn't had to go to Germany when I did, I'd still be out there.
That pleasure doesn't come as a bargain compared to other travel trailers. The NADA Guide lists MSRP for the 26-foot Crossroads RV Sunset Trail Super-Lite with a slide-out – another offering in the stable of Thor Industries, Airstream's parent company – at $30,371, with average transaction prices of $27,100. The Sport 22 starts at $49,627. But as in the automotive world, so in the RV world and everywhere else: there's a premium for being a luxurious one-of-a-kind. Actual buyers can decide for themselves if it's worth it, but after three days of deluxe Airstream hermitude, I declare there's nothing like it.