Tuesday, July 21, 2020

From Alto to Airstream: Our Crazy Adventure for a New Travel Trailer

The Green Goddess, an RTTC Polar Bear
My wife and I own a tiny "standy" travel trailer, a Rustic Trail Teardrop Camper, the Polar Bear model. This is our third season of owning and camping in the trailer, and any issues we have with the trailer have to do with our current lifestyle needs, not with the unit itself.

Our issues in the end boil down to two: work and grandkids. As a consultant, my wife needs to work while we camp, and even our standy-sized tiny trailer is just too cramped. And as for camping with the two grandkids, the tiny trailer isn't big enough.

We looked and looked, not finding a camper that we really liked for a long time. We realize it's a personal taste issue, but we feel many trailers are too boxy looking and don't excite us. We wanted something a bit bigger but still easily towable with our Nissan Pathfinder. Finally, the choice came down to two trailers: the Safari Condo Alto R-1723 and the Airstream Basecamp. Neither of these units were easy to see in person, but we spent a great deal of time checking out photos and floorplans, reading about them, and following social media owner groups.

Alto R-series retractable roof with the roof expanded

Then on one local camping trip, an Alto R-1723 happened to roll into the campground, a couple traveling home after having picked up their unit from Quebec City, Canada, where the trailers are manufactured. Having finally seen the unit in person, we decided the Alto was the way to go. We signed a contract and had a year wait . . . and were halfway through our yearlong wait when COVID-19 hit. The Canada/U.S. border closed, and travel rules changed. We contacted Safari Condo, looking into U.S. delivery because we didn't want to travel through so many populated areas to pick up the trailer. Eventually after back-and-forth emails, my wife and I realized that the health environment meant we had to cancel our order.

Airstream Basecamp, the new-old classic aluminum look

Coming full circle, we decided we'd take a second look at the Airstream Basecamp, which we had originally given up on because it had only the back living space and only slept two, meaning the work area setup was much like our RTTC unit, and our grandkids wouldn't fit into the camping scheme. We'd never actually been inside the Basecamp, though, so I called the Des Moines dealer and asked if they had a Basecamp on the lot. When I had asked three years ago, the answer had been that they didn't sell many Basecamps or keep them on the lot. This time, though, the salesperson said that an ordered Basecamp had just arrived and was being picked up the next day. We could come up and check it out. What we discovered was that there was enough space to put grandkids on the floor for sleeping or for figuring out an added cot "hack." We also realized that the slightly larger trailer size made the work space/shared space okay.

We are currently waiting for our downpayment to be returned from Safari Condo. (This company has poor communications, so there's a silent void as to our return status.) After traveling to Des Moines and checking out the sixteen-foot Basecamp, we've put our money down and will wait six months for delivery.

Here are the positives and negatives of the two units (for our needs):
Alto R-1723
  • + light
  • + retractable roof so more aerodynamic and easy to transport
  • + good space for separation of activity and adaptable for sleeping the grandkids
  • + has kitchen and bath/toilet
  • - less storage because of the retractable roof
  • - shower/toilet has a half-wall and curtain because of retractable roof
  • - lightweight means less insulation, and we do cold-weather camping
  • - company contact and servicing not easy
Airstream Basecamp
  • + the space is adaptable to our needs
  • + more storage because of the full, permanent roof
  • + larger tires, 15-inch instead of 13-inch
  • +full toilet and shower
  • + a larger kitchen area
  • - heavier, taller, and wider for towing
  • - not a front/back work area
  • -sleeping with grandkids a bit more cumbersome
  • - more expensive if we bought the same features as the Alto
The good news is that both these sixteen-foot units have many features in common: kitchen, bath/toilet, can be towed with our SUV, and they meet business and kid needs. We consider both units to be aesthetically pleasing, which was an important consideration for us. Considering the trip to Canada for the Alto and the basic layout of each standard model, the price we would pay for the units is pretty close. We also like the fact that the nearest Airstream dealer and service center is just two and a half hours away, not a four-day, international trip (although some American RV dealerships have some maintenance agreements with Safari Condo).

My Instagram inspiration 

At the end of the day, I'll get used to towing the slightly more bulky, heavier Airstream. My wife and I both think we'll be happier with the shoilet and kitchen configurations in the Airstream. We aren't getting the more expensive options for the Basecamp, feeling that we don't really need the off-road option or the solar option. If we decide we need solar, we'll be able to go to go to Des Moines to have that option added easily since the standard model come "solar-ready." Right now, the unit comes with a battery to power the refrigerator till we get to the campground and electricity. The Des Moines Airstream dealer is also throwing in a weight-distribution, anti-sway trailer hitch for free.

We're happy, but it's been a real wild ride--difficult communication with Safari Condo, the pandemic, and the challenge of being able to step inside the units and spend some time in that living space. We're looking forward, though, to towing our new unit home in January 2021 and having a bit larger space to live in while we work, play, and spend time with family. Many RV owners would call the Basecamp a "tiny trailer," but for us it's a step larger in size. I feel like we've realized that we need a small trailer rather than a tiny trailer. Owning and camping for three seasons in our tiny standy has made us realize how little space and stuff we need to enjoy ourselves. It's been a good three years, and I'll bet there will be times in the future when we think fondly of our tiny trailer and say, "Simple is good . . . those were good times!"

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  1. Great blog. Annette and I are starting work on building a larger camper for some of the same reasons.

    1. It's been quite an adventure. Having a spouse with a very successful consulting business creates a real focus when searching. That, and the grandkids.

    2. Jim, we are in the same boat with our grizzly ....we are finding it too small for the two of us for more than a few days...and a bathroom would be nice. We liked the lance 1475 non slide and not much else so far. I am also taking a hybrid approach with selling the grizzly when we get a larger unit and getting something smaller/lighter like a runaway or a Weroll for my solo kayaking bike trips. The base camp was a little pricey and I did not like that you had to set up the alto. Keep us up to date what you look at..I still have another year till we make a final decision.

  2. Just sent you a message! Congratulations on your choice of the Basecamp. It's really beautiful! I'm sure you'll have many great adventures! Happy Trails!

    1. Thank you! Being just a little bigger, it will especially better fit our business and grandparent needs.

  3. yay! we just got the basecamp too and we love it. congrats!

    1. My wife and I are really looking forward to this new chapter in our camping lives. Thank you :)

  4. That is soooooo cute! I will wait patiently for the arrival but you better show interior pictures after you get it!

  5. We waited ten months for our Alto R-1723 (two months' short of the year schedule) and then cancelled because of pickup issues. Now we have to wait until January to pick up the Basecamp. We're excited! I will have to get up to speed on tanks, sewage, and winterizing, but I'm sure I'll figure it out.

  6. Check out the new Basecamp 20, it might be better suited to you needs.

    1. Thanks, I've looked at it. The set-up is nice, but it is bigger than I want. The set-up is really like the Bambis: bed in back, dinette up front, and kitchen and bath in the middle.

  7. Very much appreciate your information! I was about to order a Safari 2124 (was also considering the Airstream Basecamp 20) but based on your experience it definitely sounds like the Airstream is the way to go because of it's increased flexibility.

    Cheers, Duncan
    Collingwood Ontario

    1. From what I've read, the Basecamp 20 has a lot of good features. If you are considering the Basecamp 20, you also might look at the Airstream Bambi series.