Doing the great American road trip in a rented Airstream
Author James Sturz Illustration Brett Affrunti
In 1964, LBJ’s daughter Lynda Bird toured the U.S. in a caravan of Airstreams to promote the country’s natural beauty. Fifty years later, I did the same trip, heading out from Las Vegas with my wife, two teenage nephews and niece to see the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and the North Kaibab National Forest.
Don’t be intimidated by steering this beast: Most of the roads in this part of the Southwest are straight and wide open. When we got supplies at a Vegas supermarket, the dashboard-mounted rearview camera in the Denali and the extended side-view mirrors made negotiating the parking lot easy.
When we unhitched at the Grand Canyon, it was nice to discover that sleeping indoors didn’t mean missing out on sleeping under the stars. The Airstream’s interior boasts a skylight and a translucent ceiling fan, as well as panoramic windows and recessed LED lights that mimic the stars outside.
Airstream 2 Go trailers start with 39 gallons of fresh, filtered water. We “dry camped” under the North Kaibab Forest’s cover of aspens and pines, where the only resources were our own. Fortunately, we were able to refill at a “full hookup” RV camp outside of Zion, where we attached to the area’s water supply.
A 28-foot Airstream International Signature Series starts at $88,440, while a brawny AWD 403-hp GMC Yukon Denali to tow it runs another $62,310. But Airstream 2 Go rents these in pairs from its Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Bozeman, Mont., depots starting at $4,550 per week. They’ll also plan an itinerary for you.
The Airstream’s outer skin of stretched aircraft-grade aluminum induced plenty of chatter among the rangers each time we entered a national park. Aerodynamic curves and a low center of gravity resulted in reasonable gas mileage and decent handling when zipping through Zion’s twisty turns.
Legend has it that Wally Byam created the Airstream in 1931 because his wife refused to go camping without a kitchen. Today, there’s a propane- and electricity-powered refrigerator and freezer, microwave and convection oven and gas-powered outdoor grill. Forget hot dogs—we were fully equipped for osso buco.
Sure, it’s nice to have shelter, but the point is to take advantage of what’s outside your trailer’s screen door. Airstream 2 Go packed the rear trunk with collapsible camping chairs, a folding table and a camping lantern. There’s also a power awning. We barely even had to plan—except to find cheap gas stations.