Airstreaming: Our 28' 2006 Airstream 75th Anniversary SE and The Shift
Updated: Dec 10, 2018
We did not even have a tow vehicle when we bought her. We borrowed Melinda's brother's Tahoe to haul her back from Louisville Kentucky to Columbus Ohio. He was also kind enough to let us park her at his place of work for a couple weeks while we got our act together.
First, the Airstream. Our "pavement princess" was 28 feet overall and 8' 5.5" wide (that IS wide). She sleeps 6, 2 adults in the rear walk around queen, two adults on the L sofa that has a slide out shelf and with the cushions rearranged became a generous full size bed. The last two, smaller than teenagers, sleep in the double dinette converted into a bed.
She has a separate, albeit, smallish shower (and I'm not a big guy) and separate 1/2 bath that I also felt a bit cramped in. A folding partition could be pulled out of the wall to add a modicum of privacy to the bedroom. In the hall she also has a closet with a mirror on the door. At that end of the hall there was another folding partition to separate the kitchen from the hall.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is the floorpan:
What this does not show is all of the cabinetry installed above all the furniture, here is an example:
If you can image it, for the two of us this is quite a bit of space and a LOT of seating and storage area.
Max (our 8 yr old Border Terrier) would keep on eye out for us by sitting in the window behind the sofa. One of our favorite features of the Airstream was the dinette. It was big enough for all three of us to sit there together.
When we bought her she came with an Equalizer weight distributing, no sway hitch system. The previous owners (and the previous/original owners) kept her in enclosed storage until that facility closed. She was outside full time for a few months before we bought her. She was in excellent shape. Still had some of that blue tape to hold parts of the fridge interior from moving during shipment. They said they had some air conditioning wiring redone but we saw no signs of it and the a/c worked fine for us. Oh, and the original owner had after market hydraulic disk brakes installed.
The only flaws we encountered included replacing the batteries, which were not matched. They would not charge/hold a charge. Our local Airstream dealer replaced the electrical board that included the charging system. We put in 2 new AGM batteries and our electrical woes were no longer. Oh, and I replaced all of the lightbulbs with LEDs.
We did brake and replace the window over the base of the L shaped couch. Airstreams have a unique window configuration made up of the curved smoked safety glass, a hinge along the top and two arms that have to be moved in parallel that hook into a series of three groves along each side of the frame. On this rather hot day "one of us" moved the arms not exactly parallel and twisted the window enough to shatter it. Easily replaced. We also replaced the protector on the screen door. And that's about it. Thankfully there were no leaks or water damage anywhere.
So that was our airstream in a nutshell. She was longish and rather wide, I could not see both of the rear corner markers from the drivers seat in our tow vehicle even with the large extendable tow mirrors at full stretch. I had to crane my neck, she was that much wider than the truck. This made for less than ideal driving awareness.
She towed quite civilly however. I hardly knew she was back there until we hit the longer hills and then we heard the engine working. Or when trying to fill up at the gas station, or navigating park roads ... overall not a bad RV to tow but still too wide for my comfort and size (width) of tow vehicle.
And now the tow vehicle. The only option for a tow vehicle in my mind was a pickup truck so I started searching. I started out by test driving Ford F150s (having in mind an iconic American truck towing an iconic American RV) and I even tried an F250. Once I branched out from there I began to be overwhelmed by the options. I have to admit certain proclivity for a modicum of assurance and so am a long time subscriber to Consumer Reports. In brief, the only pickup truck capable of handling our RV, and carries the coveted "recommended" stamp of approval, is the Toyota Tundra. Having been a Toyota owner twice in the past I could attest to the brand's reliability first hand and of course by long reputation. I picked up a certified pre owned 2013 Toyota Tundra extended cab with a 4.3 rear axle ratio.
Over the year or so that we owned the princess we covered several thousand miles between Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. We stayed at one private RV park in TN otherwise we tended to favor state parks. Our first "boondocking" (parked but no hookups) experience was at a Cracker Barrel in Elizabethtown, KY.
And then "The Shift". Amidst the RVing with our pavement princess, we had a shift in perspective regarding our work/RV/lifestyle. Our original thought was to downsize completely from of our sticks and bricks and hit the road as working nomads and have the RV serve as our little home on wheels, to live and work in. That's what got us started but was also rather intimidating.
In researching the costs of full timing we discovered that we could actually, right now ( a bit over a year ago), afford to live full time in an RV and not have to work per se. We could tap our combined retirement savings under tax code 72t (aka SEPP, more on that later) without penalty resulting in about $3000/month indefinitely. Clearly that's not a lot, but we found that many full timers live comfortably on less than that and it would certainly cover our expenses though not many luxuries.
This financial insight redirected our thought process from living and working in an RV to possibly just taking some time off, traveling and taking in this big beautiful country of ours without concern for funding those travels while still able to do so. The RV would then serve as less of a space to live and work in, to more of "room of requirements" to live out of. Our RV experiment now turned to the inquiry, can we do this on what the SEPP would allow?
We decided to set aside funds to prove to ourselves that we could afford this approach without actually committing to the SEPP which, once set up runs for a minimum of 5 years. So, we saved enough to cover 6 months of expenses including our condo.
With those thoughts in mind, and our driving experiences with the Airstream, we decided we'd rather find a more right sized RV for this approach, one that eliminated the shortcomings we were now aware of in our first choice of RV.
It is proving true that one's first choice of RV won't be one's last...