For years I thought I was this one thing (a frugal relaxed camper), but turns out I’m this other thing (a snobby hotel vacationer). I was confused because I hoard cute things. Long ago, before I should be thinking about such adult matters, I decided I wanted an old travel trailer BAD. Specifically a late 50’s/early 60’s Shasta. They have wings so obviously I needed one. One random day my husband found a 1958 Shasta Airflyte trailer in Beaumont, CA and went to pick it up a few hours later. That’s why he’s the best. We were young, newly married, not parents, and living in a small apartment in LA. We happily worked on it every weekend for a year just to get it road-ready. It was so much work. My husband and my father-in-law rebuilt almost the entire wood interior, which was rotted. I like to call it our first home; the first in a long line of fixer-uppers for us. (No, we didn’t actually live in it…except for a few reckless days in NC when we showed up without a place to live).
There’s no question that it’s one of the cutest things in the universe. But so many buts: For the next 10+ years we were bound to camping. Bound. And bound to the care of this gigantic object. But the biggest problem by far was an unanticipated one: a lack of spontaneity. My dream vacation is a road trip. I’m like a dog that loves car rides. I could sit in a moving car for days and stare out the window at our great nation. A trailer, especially an adorable one, seems like it would make that life easier and cheaper and more fun. Totally miscalculated that one. Towing a trailer around the country is actually miserable. Here’s the break down:
Pros of Owning a Vintage Trailer:
- You will own the cutest thing ever, which may be enough to outweigh all the cons in the world.
- You can drag your cutest thing ever all over the country and take weird pictures of it in front of weird roadside attractions.
- You have a tiny 2nd house to decorate, if you that sort of thing excites you.
- You will have illusions of being a stylish vagabond, ready to hop on the road at a moment’s notice, making you feel all free and unburdened.
- Sleeping in the wooden wonderland interior of one of these things is spellbinding…when the weather is right and before you have kids.
- You will think you have a fun guest house (all lies, see below)
- Maybe you are like me, and there is no way to ever get the vintage trailer urges out of your head besides actually owning one. Pro.
Cons of Owning the Trailer:
- You have to carry this thing everywhere you vacation. Think about that.
- Your road tripping will be slowed down, thus traveling shorter distances and seeing less.
- You need a big car to tow a heavy trailer.
- You will get terrible gas mileage in your big car daily and even worse gas mileage while towing.
- Camping in rain, wind or heat will be as stressful/uncomfortable.
- It’s hard to adventure with 2000 lbs behind you…you will second guess and maybe cancel every side trip because of the beast of burden behind you. Zzyzx will always be shut down and then one day you’ll be 34 and have never been to Zzyzx.
- Going in and out of a gas station is an almost certain bottom out.
- You will put tremendous wear on your car and may even have to replace your transmission. Bummer.
- You will be worrying so much about the couple grand being towed behind you that it will effect your enjoyment of your trip. What catastrophe awaits your beloved? Rear endings? Hail storms? Rocks?
- The threat of rain, leaks and wood rot will haunt your dreams. This is the first part of trailer ownership.
- Your tire will blow out in the middle of Utah, guaranteed.
- In order to actually “just throw some clothes together and go”, you will need to stock your thing with a houseful: silverware, dishware, linens, towels, sponges, trash bags, etc. Not very vagabond-y at all.
- There is no way you are comfortably sleeping a family in anything less than 20′; dinettes that turn into practical beds are a lie.
- The trailer as guest house is a myth. Consider: do you have a level place to park it? Will the weather be just right? Are your guests comfortable creeping into the house in the middle of the night to use the facilities?
- You will have to concern yourself with period correct restorations (which are sometimes at odds with practicality), if that sort of thing convicts you.
- You will feel guilty/wasteful/excessive/foolish stopping in hotels with a trailer in tow.
- Just another material possession to manage/keep clean/maintain/think about. More money, more problems.
- You have to store this thing for the other 49 weeks a year. Don’t underestimate this one!
To summarize: If you don’t have kids, enjoy fixing up old stuff, have endless time and money, and enjoy hunkering down for days at close-by campgrounds, then vintage trailer ownership may be for you! Turns out, I don’t like actually camping that much. It’s the road that calls, not cooking meals in the wilderness. And hotels, even the high-class ones high-class me prefers, are a steal when you consider the true costs of trailer ownership.
So you can see where this is going. My husband had wanted to sell it for many years but I, the girl who hates feeling weighed down by unnecessary possessions and rarely feels sentimental about things, couldn’t let it go. I had assumed we would always have it. That our future teenage kids would one day sleep in a tent outside of it with their friends and then it would be our retirement RV and all sorts of pathetic things. But we outgrew it far sooner expected to the point that it was impractical to hold on to. The last straw was the ocean cliff death road to Big Sur where the trailer literally fell off the tow hitch. The realization that we could sell it for a bit of $ and then burden ourselves with an early 60’s Thunderbird instead sealed the deal.
We sold the Shasta last summer. And I was really sad, like I’ve never been sad over a thing before. The Thunderbird really softened the blow, but I still miss it. And in no way regret owning it. Some great things happened in that aluminum and plywood shack: In it I saw 30 states, 10 national parks, and several Walmart parking lots (you haven’t lived until you’ve slept with one eye open in a Walmart parking lot). Two babies and 1 dog eventually joined us. I was sitting in it in the middle of Kansas the first time I ever saw a firefly. We found out we were expecting our first baby while towing it around the Florida Keys (pregnancy test NOT done in a Walmart bathroom, as funny husband begged). The first time we camped with said baby was magical, in the Outer Banks. The second baby almost got us kicked out of Shenandoah and every other place with his night screaming. And on and on the memories go.
So, how did this story end? With a nice retired couple hitching our trailer to their truck and me pathetically begging them in our driveway to contact us first if they ever think of selling. #dibsLong may you run little Shasta.
16 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Owning a Vintage Trailer”
I just got the exact same year and model in yellow, and I pick it up this weekend. I’m ecstatic. Your post made me tear up – I can’t wait to make memories in my Shasta! (And you nailed all my illusions of grandeur, i.e. “I’m holding onto this until I’m 90!” Lol.)
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Congrats!!! It will be a great adventure for sure! I still miss ours all the time and it is the only possession that can make me cry (to this day, haha!). Feel free to contact me if you ever have any questions! Shastas are something special…may the road be long and easy :)
When I first saw this post I thought, “Of course you’d have a vintage trailer!” It’s beautiful. Your pro and con list is fantastic. You hit on many, many things I had been wondering. I’ve been wanting to build a tiny home on a trailer bed. Not to live in really, but to have an office in. I am considering a trailer to make into an office. Restore it if needed, but to use it as an office. You did a wonderful job with restoring your trailer and I can see how you can be sentimental with it. Many memories…though the thought of trailering this and having it come unhooked would make me want to sell it asap! Great post and super helpful…Thank you!
In the middle of a 1961 Shasta remodel…have owned it for two years and have yet to camp in it
:-( I love cute things though!! Not sure where this story will end….
Haha, sounds like our first years too! Have fun and good luck with the remodel!!! One day you’ll get to the actual camping part :)
Love this!! I just bought one today and pick it up this weekend. She is already fully restored and ready to hit the road and we are super excited. We live in Riverside close to where you got your beauty but we are picking ours up in Northern California so it may be an interesting trip home. Love the blog!
How exciting, big congrats!!! And wonderful you get to skip the restoration part and get right to the traveling. Hope your drive home was uneventful, haha! Happy camping :)
What buzz kill. You sound depressed. Your pros were cons. Love our vintage camper.
Glad you love your trailer! Our road trips have been more enjoyable to us since selling ours, so it was the right move for us…but everyone has different travel priorities. And I am depressed thanks!!
Hi, Enjoyed your article of pros and cons. We have a 1963 Shasta Airflyte and we go to vintage trailer rallies. We enjoy it and it is an ongoing project as you listed in the cons.
I do have a question though. How are the front curtains held on? I have curtain rods (black, metal from Target ( If I remember correctly) anyway, I’ve been trying to get away from the curtain rods and wondering how you did it in the front “window”
Many thanks in advance.
Oh how fun! The front and back curtains have double rods, one on top and one on bottom, and then I made the curtains with tabs/pockets on top and bottom so they stay put :)
I just read this outloud to my husband and we laughed and I teared up a bit. I could have written this about our 1960 Shasta Airflyte. I wanted one sooo bad and have looked a long time until we finally got one, We went on a few camping trips with me fully intending on visiting all the National State Parks. Well so far we’ve only been to State Parks in two states. I am so worried every time we pull her that something will happen I think about it the whole way there. We’ve been in two full on rain storms and not so bad, kind of fun until you have to get out to run to the girls room in the campground. Well now we have a new leak, some new warped interior wood, a bit of mold starting, my husband not excited about repairing and taking her apart with me anxious for her to be perfect. He wants me to see the light and sell it but instead I think I will just keep making new curtains, taking cute pictures and calculating that 9 mile to the gallon gas expense while plotting paths I think are safe enough to drive. You can see her on insta at happychillinn. Maybe and that is a big maybe I will get up enough courage to sell her. You got me with the watching her drive away, I just don’t think my heart could watch my baby drive away. Fun to read your story and really know exactly what you meant.
I just wanted to say how much I loved reading your article. You are a brilliant writer! I could relate to everything you said to the point of feeling that it was I that wrote it. I am personally at the stage where I want to own a MCM trailer and make it super cute, and then all my days would be peaceful and exciting at the same time. Thank you for pointing out the truth. It’s nice to know that someone else shares the same dreams and realities. I want to own a camper, but honestly, I hate camping! Cooking my own meals while on vacation is not my thing either. I am a (3 star minimum) hotel girl, that’s for sure! Thank you for your blog!
I have two small kids and am thinking about getting a vintage Shasta trailer that’s already been gutted. We love to camp but tent camping is sooo hard with babies. The empty shell would make it easy to install just what we need. Your Pros and Cons list really helped me think about the difficulties of owning something like this!
I enjoyed so much your story, thank you fir it. It was believe it or not a nice start to our own vintage camper ownership as we just bought our first one a 1959 Avion R23 and even though is in great shape we are changing some things here and there to making it more cute and beautiful than it is already. God bless you!!