Reconnect with a weekend Airstream trip

It used to be said that there are two types of Airstreamers: campers, and travelers. (These days there’s a third type: non-campers who own Airstreams as pool houses, guest houses, or showpieces, but that’s another story.)

Campers tend to go shorter distances, focus on the weekend or vacation getaway, have campfires, hold social events at their Airstream, and decorate their site. They load up with the awning lights, elaborate ingredients for cookouts, lots of chairs for friends to use, musical instruments, fire wood, etc. and mostly just plan for a few days out.

That is always fun, but it has rarely fit our lifestyle, so we tend to the traveling mode. That means we use the Airstream as a rolling hotel, and we’re out for long periods of time. We carry tools for on the road repairs, rather than pink flamingos. We pack for weeks or months. When we arrive, we’re not likely to break out the s’mores and lawn chairs, because we’ve got things we need to do at our destination. It’s still fun to go to a great place and explore, so our basic enjoyment of the freedom afforded by the Airstream is the same, it’s just some of the practicalities are different.

So it’s a big deal when we do finally switch gears and use the Airstream as a weekend getaway. I think it happens about twice a year on average. This weekend was one of those times. On the last few days of our trip back west this September, we thought about the prospect of being in the house all winter and (as always) started talking about places we could go instead of staying home. Before we even pulled in to our driveway we had a weekend trip sketched out, and then Eleanor discovered that Alton Brown’s show was coming to Mesa AZ and so we planned a second weekend trip around that, too.

Coming up to the Phoenix area is a ridiculously short trip by our “traveler” standard (just 120 miles) but that’s part of what makes it interesting to me. We packed hardly anything (again, by our standards) and—horror of horrors—we made reservations. It felt strangely inflexible to me, but I knew that for the weekend to be successful I had to embrace the practicalities of “camping.”

I would like to say we went all the way and had a campfire and sat out under the stars here at Lost Dutchman State Park (Apache Jct, AZ), cooked on the outdoor grill and made s’mores, but the plan was to take advantage of the urban distractions of the Phoenix metroplex. So instead we spent our evenings at the Japanese Friendship Garden taking in the fabulous Otsukimi Moonviewing Festival, and in the Mesa Arts Center watching Alton Brown’s hilarious food show.

Superstition Mtns AirstreamWhile it’s boring to have a weekend with nothing to do at home, it’s very nice to have the same in the Airstream in a beautiful scenic desert park. In the mornings around 8 a.m. the sun crests the Superstition Mountains to our east and illuminates the Airstream, reminding anyone who is still in bed that another beautiful day awaits. In the afternoons it’s a little warm and the drone of the fans inspires napping, so I’ve taken full advantage.

I brought a couple of 1960s era paperback science fiction novels and picked up a copy of Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” at the Mesa Swap Meet, so I’ve got plenty to read whether I want escapism or reality. Nice hiking trails surround us, and on other trips we might feel obliged to go hike them all, but on this trip we are content to look around and make notes for some future visit. There should be no obligations when you are weekending.

I’m glad we took this weekend to explore the “other mode” of Airstreaming. We’ll do it again this winter, on our annual visit to Anza-Borrego. On that one I plan to bring the Weber grill and the Dutch Oven, and a chair or two so we can really get into the camping mode. It gets cold at night in the desert in January, but having to don a warm hat and cook in the darkness at 5 p.m. by headlamp enhances the camping sensation. Going to camping mode reminds us of why we got into this lifestyle in the first place, and it keeps us balanced, so that the Airstream is not just an expedient for travel but a way to reconnect with the outdoors, our family, and ourselves.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine