Caravanning in the 21st century

 I like caravanning.  In our full-time travels we occasionally would link up with another Airstreamer and travel with them for a while.  Our buddy Rich C was with us on and off for about four months.  We also had a very memorable impromptu caravan from the International Rally in Salem OR, across Washington and Idaho to Montana with three other Airstreams, and a couple of years ago we organized a group of three Airstreams down to Bahia Honda in Sonora MX.

My style of caravanning is pretty casual.  Point to the destination, agree on a rough routing, and let everyone go at their own pace.  On our northwestern caravan we found that everyone spread out quite a lot, so the only practical way to stay in touch was with cell phones. If someone wanted to meet up for lunch, they’d call and we’d compare notes on possible stopping points.  There was never any obligation to stay with the group, because we wanted everyone to feel free and unencumbered.

Whoever got to the destination first typically assumed responsibility for checking out a good campground and telling the rest of the group where to go.  We agreed that if anyone got sidetracked or delayed, we wouldn’t hold up the group  — they could just catch up later. In other words, not much structure and no rules other than the common conventions of good behavior.  It worked, probably because of the sort of people we invited along: independent and confident Airstreamers with plenty of travel experience.

Having done this a few times, I have been curious to see if the system would work for a larger group that wasn’t just friends who were well-known to us.  We’re going to be heading out of Arizona sometime in mid-May to work our way up to Alumapalooza, and that trip seemed to present a fine opportunity to collect a bunch of hardy Airstreamers for an experimental caravan/adventure.

But after considering everything, I think we are going to have to pass on that idea this time.  The weeks leading up to Alumapalooza are going to be very busy for me, and it is quite possible that at some point on the way up we may have to unexpectedly stop somewhere for a day or two just so I can work.  That wouldn’t be terribly fun for a group of people who were expecting to have regular progress. “Hey everyone, let’s all enjoy this parking lot RV park near the highway, because it’s the only place that my cell phone works.”

Still, we might cross paths with a friend or two along the route.  We don’t usually nail down our exact route in advance, preferring to leave some room for spontaneity, so I think the best way to manage this is to try a real-time Internet solution.  I’m considering various methods to post our current location and immediate next destination in a semi-private location, so that a group of friends who we’ve already organized can be updated on a daily basis and share their plans with us at the same time.

I noticed at the Modernism Week show that virtually everyone was sporting an iPhone.  I am a relative Luddite in that regard, having held onto the philosophy that phones are meant to be phones.  I like them to be small, durable, easy to use, and long-lasting, a test which most more “advanced” devices have failed miserably since the first so-called smartphones were introduced in the 1990s.  But I could no longer deny that the iPhone (and probably a few other similar phones) has finally achieved at least a halfway decent compromise.  Instead of just packing stupid & gratuitous features onto a phone, it represents a decent advance in technology with a feature set that actually adds value to the basic audio-only phone.  It only took about fifteen years from the first tentative steps that I watched as a wireless industry analyst in the mid-1990s.

I actually don’t care about most of the things that an iPhone can do, but I do see where instant and easy communications via an Internet-capable phone and some sort of coordinating service “in the cloud” (meaning on the Internet) could be a really useful way to coordinate a group of roaming travelers.  We could post our route maps, share real-time updates from the road including photos, coordinate meeting points, ask for help, and generally just play the social-network game to while away the miles.  So perhaps I’ll finally break down and get an iPhone next month.  Verizon owes me one more “New every two” upgrade anyway, for whatever that’s worth.

The real problem with better communication technology is reining it in.  Only the social mores and respectfulness of people hold back what often becomes a deluge of useless information.  I am already reachable by email, phone, voicemail, website contact form, fax, Google Buzz, and AOL Instant Messenger.  I have steered clear of Twitter & Facebook in part because I can’t handle any more.  A smart phone means the darned thing knows how to bug me with information I’d often rather not have, in places I’d rather not receive it.  I’m not a believer that having more tech on your hip automatically makes you more productive. So I’m going to program it to be rather selective about what it tells me.  But having said that, there might be a fun road-geek experience coming up.

The other issue with caravanning to Alumapalooza is simply that I have to get there a few days early for setup, and I can’t bring a group of people with me — there’s no place for them to stay!  That’s easily resolved by having the group break off to some attraction in the area.  There are many things to do near Jackson Center, as well in nearby Indiana, Michigan, and Kentucky.   I’ll be envious of them, while we are stuffing goody bags in the humidity, staking out campsites, etc.

Perhaps caravanning will evolve to an entirely different sort of experience in the future.  The social and safety aspects of traveling in a group can stay, using modern communications to allow people to share their experiences and collective knowledge while maintaining their independence.  The new generation of Airstreamers seems to want that.  Already I’ve seen groups traveling like that, not calling themselves “caravans,” but instead inventing a new set of guidelines and tools to enable a vibrant and social experience nonetheless.  Hmmm…I’ll keep thinking about it.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine