My RV search began after I had already spent eight months living on the road. I initially travelled with everything I owned in my Toyota 4Runner, and would either camp on the mattress in the back or stay at AirBnBs to work. After several entertaining experiences, such as getting up at 4:30am for work and heading into the AirBnB kitchen just to find my host spritzing his sprouts in his pajamas (yes sprouts, which I then agreed to eat later in the day) or having to go out and dig a cat hole in below freezing weather, I decided it was time to get my own home.
Since I was already traveling, I had a good idea of what I needed and wanted. I started my search by attending a large RV show in Austin, TX. I checked out everything from large Class As to tiny teardrops. This gave me a good idea of what was out there, the different options available, and rough price ranges.
I spent about another month traveling to really pay attention to my travel style, how I wanted to live, and what I truly needed. This was a great way to come up with a final RV wish list that I knew would work for me. I took this list to several dealers and looked at a variety small RVs. None of them fit everything that I wanted.
One day while I was sitting in the basement of an AirBnB in Boise, Idaho, waiting for my host to get out of the bathroom so I could shower, the Airstream Basecamp just randomly popped into my head. It was one of the RVs I had seen at the Austin RV show, but at the time thought it was way too bare and bland for living. But suddenly, I realized it may just be what I was looking for.
The next day we drove an hour to the nearest Airstream dealer. With measuring tape and wish list in hand, and Jasper by my side, we jumped into a Basecamp and started checking things off the list. After about a half hour of opening every cabinet, awkwardly sitting in the bathroom for five minutes while the salesman waited, and going over my list multiple times, I had found everything I was looking for. I ended up calling dealers all over the country for the best deal, and put a deposit on a Basecamp the next day.
RV Wish List:
1. GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) of less than 5,000 lbs.
My 4Runner was only a year old, and after taking it on some off-road adventures, I just couldn’t part with it! That left me with two options. Either buy an RV large enough to tow it, or a trailer light enough to tow behind it. I had previously made the decision that a separate RV and tow vehicle would work best with the animals, so that kicked off the search for a tiny RV!
The Basecamp comes in at 2,585 lbs empty, with a GVW of 3,500 lbs. That leaves just under 1,000 lbs of stuff that I could load it with. Although a 1,000 lbs is not much when you are talking about everything you own, this was still a lot more storage capability than many other trailers in this size range.
2. Off-road capable
Spending the weekends camping in the back of the 4Runner was the beginning of our boondocking experiences. I honestly felt weird staying at campgrounds and sleeping in a truck, so we usually went off to find some BLM land. The beauty grows on you, so I knew my RV had to make it to these remote places as well.
The Basecamp offers full size tires and an improved rear departure angle. The tiny tires found on most small RV honestly just scare me. With a tire that small and thin, plus on a single axle, can I really trust towing it thousands of miles and through all sorts of conditions? The regular size tires relieved a lot of this worry.
You will also read and hear the salesmen tell you a lot about the rear departure angle. At the time, I just took this as a good thing to have, so why not. Now that I’ve had the Basecamp for over a year, I am thankful for this design feature, both on and off the pavement. Talking with other RVers, they have to be extra careful leaving steep driveways or gas stations. Although I still take these at an angle to avoid hitting my jack, I’ve never even come close to hitting the back of the RV on the ground. I’ve seen plenty of other RVs scraping their rear bumper all over!
3. A large kitchen
Yes, I wanted a tiny RV and a large kitchen. Telling a RV salesman this is sure to bring you some odd glances, and then they’ll start showing you 30′ RVs and telling you to buy a new truck.
But, the Basecamp has a kitchen bigger than many mid-size RVs out there! The entire front is counter space, with a small sink and a two burner gas stove. The right hand side provides plenty of room to prep food, or to put a kitchen appliances such as a crockpot or instapot. I also use this area for my laptop stand, which creates a standing desk perfect for taking meetings and enjoying the view.
4. Four season-ish
A true four season trailer will limit your choices substantially, especially in the small RV market. Therefore, I never was looking for a true four season trailer. But I did want something that would handle the elements and have some ability to survive the cold.
The Basecamp has 12V tank heaters, as well as a heated underbelly. There is a vent from the Truma heater that goes directly down to the tanks to keep them warm. I’ve boondocked several times into the teens and low 20s and never had a problem with any of the pipes. Even visiting family in Central New York when it was -15 degrees out, the Truma was able to keep the Basecamp nice and warm (I didn’t use the plumbing in these extreme colds, but didn’t winterize the lines either).
5. Something that doesn’t look like an RV
Sounds crazy right? But I had camped in an RV as a kid, and the dark wood, unattractive fabrics and outdated design really was uncomfortable to me. In my search, I was hoping that 20 years later, the RV industry would offer more modern designs out there. Sadly, for the most part, this was not the case. In the end, the NuCamp T@B and Basecamp were the only small RVs that didn’t give me the “RV feel”.
The Basecamp is mostly aluminum on the inside, with some lighter wood accents and black glass cabinets. The bathroom walls are also gray and my model has the red bars on the cargo hammocks. All together, it gives it a very modern feel. I also added peel and stick distressed wood stickers to the one shower wall to add to the cozy feel.
6. A front window
I absolutely love natural light. Even when I’m inside, it energizes me and keeps me in a better mood. The original requirement on my wish list was to have a front window. In a standard RV, small windows are common and many smaller trailers do not have front or rear windows. This was a very limiting factor for a lot of models, and really narrowed my options. Lance trailers were one of the few in the size range I was looking at with a front window.
Then when I re-looked at the Basecamp, the amount of natural light just hit me. It literally has windows or doors on about 75% of the walls. The amount of natural light is incredible. Also, with having a side and rear door, both equipped with a screen, I can leave them open for a great cross breeze. This helps to keep the dog smell down!
7. Enough room for Jasper & Napoleon
Jasper is an 80lb German Shepherd/Husky mix. So he’s a big dog with a huge fluffy tail that has a surprising amount of strength behind it when he’s happy. Napoleon is a cat, which means he thinks he needs as much room as an 80lb dog.
Jasper joined me on all of our RV searches to ensure he could comfortably fit. Once I started looking at Airstreams, we checked out the Bambi as well. When he got in the Bambi, he literally could not turn around. He had to jump on the bed, turn, and then leave the RV. I knew this would not be comfortable, so the Bambi was immediately out of the running.
Although the Basecamp is very small, the kitchen actually has enough room for him to move around. When the bed is completely down, it creates a larger play area, where we play tug of war and wrestle. The bed is also large enough that all three of us can sleep on it comfortably. Both animals are used to sleeping by me, so this was a must-have for us.
8. A place to hide the cat litter
Oh the litter box. Traveling in the 4Runner, the litter was tucked up front by the passenger seat. That means anytime Napoleon would use it, there would be litter everywhere. I couldn’t wait to find someplace to hide this away and not worry about it!
When I originally looked at the Basecamp, the plan was to put the litter in the storage bench. The front area is large enough for a litter box, and I was going to cut a cat door in the side. In the end, this did not happen as I needed that extra storage space. Cutting into a brand new Airstream also scared me. So the litter ended up under the bed (you can find the full setup here)
9. A shower that I could stand up in and have enough room to wash my hair.
A useable bathroom and shower in a small RV is hard to come by. The second runner up in my search was a T@B teardrop trailer. Unfortunately, the bathroom is what ended up convincing me not to buy it. The shower was too short for me, so I couldn’t fully stand up, thereby making it very hard to wash my hair. Many RVers end up using gyms or truck stops for showers, but I knew I wanted to be able to take a shower at home, whenever I wanted.
When I visited the Airstream dealer in Idaho, I knew I had to make sure the bathroom would work. I explained this to the salesman, and then proceeded to go into the wet bath, shut the door and pretend like I was taking a shower. From the outside, this seemed like I just went in and sat there for five minutes. Probably the most awkward part of RV shopping! But I highly recommend it if you are looking at small RVs or wet baths. It was enough to convince me it would work, and with some minor adjustments I can take quite luxurious RV showers in there.
10. Solar power
Back when I was buying an RV, I knew nothing about solar, other than it charged the batteries and would allow me to camp without electrical hookups. So at the time, I didn’t know what specs to look at.
The Basecamp has the option to add 180 watts of Zamp solar on the roof. It comes pre-installed with a solar controller, so it was an easy option for me to pick. In the end, the solar was enough for me to last for about a day or two boondocking and working full-time. I have since upgraded the batteries, but the same solar panels are still enough to re-charge from my light use.
11. Lower depreciation
RV’s are a depreciating asset. Some depreciate faster than others, but in the end, you will end up losing money on it. RV sales also depend on how the overall market is doing, and tends to be one of the discretionary items whose sales slow down if the economy is bad.
So I looked at the full purchase price of the RV as what my potential “loss” would be. I also thought about how long I would potentially travel for. I had already been 8 months on the road and loved it. It wasn’t unreasonable for me to think of being on the road for at least 2-3 years.
This brought me to do some basic math to determine my price range. Before hitting the road, I lived in Austin TX and paid between $1100-$1450 per month on rent. Rent is another way of just paying money and not having any asset in return. So if I multiplied this out by 2-3 years of living, that was a reasonable amount I was willing to “lose” on an RV. That way, in the end, if I couldn’t sell the RV, I wouldn’t be any worse off than renting for 3 years.
With the Basecamp being the cheapest Airstream on the market, it fell right into this price range. In addition, Airstreams tend to hold their value better than most other RVs out there, so it seemed like a smart model to go with.
What did the Basecamp not have?
After going through my whole list, there was only 1 item that the Basecamp kind of had, but didn’t fully meet my requirements. I work full-time on the road so need a comfortable place to work. The Basecamp can either be a table and bench set-up or a bed. This meant that every day I would need to re-organize the RV so I could work. I swore to myself I would do the transition daily, as it takes less than 2 minutes.
That lasted a week.
Thankfully, by joining the Airstream Basecamp Facebook group, I learned about a modification where you can cut the boards and have a bed and one of the tables up at the same time. Since doing this, I have purchased an actual mattress to go in the back portion. Now I have a regular mattress which is just a tad smaller than a double. There’s also a table that I can leave up, or take down to allow for a couple extra feet of space to move around in. So with a slight mod, the Basecamp can have a full-time bed and table!