NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There are those who go camping and thoroughly enjoy the rustic simplicity that comes with merely pitching a tent or unrolling a sleeping bag under the open sky, reveling in the opportunity to cook over a fire and stare at the stars.
At the other end of the spectrum is the recreational vehicle set who bring along everything from flat screen televisions to hot tubs and top-of-the-line appliances when spending time in the great outdoors.
Somewhere in between those two experiences, or perhaps existing on a unique plane of its own, is the adventure of exploring the outdoors with an Airstream, an experience that feels somehow more simplistic than an RV, yet incredibly elegant in its own way -- a combination of throwback Americana meets modern day glamping.
With its design clean and spare, yet stunningly stylish in its gleaming silver glory and iconic shape, Airstream has long evoked images of wide-open travel and inspired feelings of wanderlust.
But with price tags for Airstreams ranging anywhere from $35,000 to more than $100,000, such adventures have long been the rarified opportunity of the well heeled, or those who were able to make such an investment in an infrequently used vacation vehicle.
Enter RV industry veteran Dicky Riegel and Airstream 2 Go, a new website that is the only renter of the vehicles in the country. Airstream 2 Go is the exclusive, factory-authorized source in North America for rentals of current model Airstream trailers. What that means to you is that for the first time in history, experiencing this quintessentially American travel opportunity is open to anyone.
"There are a ton of people who appreciate everything that goes along with an Airstream experience," says Riegel, who previously served as president and CEO of Airstream, Inc. and owns two of the vehicles himself.
So what exactly goes along with an Airstream experience?
When renting through Airstream 2 Go, the experience includes such amenities as Egyptian cotton sheets, duvets, Wusthof cutlery, a coffee maker, a microwave, a barbecue grill and even a bathroom with a shower. So yes, it has a touch of that over-the-top RV style of camping.
But cruising the open roads in an Airstream is about more than just the deluxe amenities, Riegel points out.
"They are incredibly visually appealing," he says of the vehicles. "When you think about the exposed aluminum on the inside of the trailer and the way it reflects the light from outside and brings nature inside, it's just beautiful. You have a more symbiotic relationship with your natural environment in an Airstream."
Just in case all of that luxury immersed in nature is not fabulous enough, Riegel has partnered with travel company Off the Beaten Path, which provides Airstream 2 Go customers with concierge services including customized itineraries and activity planning. And there appears to be no limit to what an itinerary can include: past offerings have ranged from custom, gourmet barbecues at a campsite complete with a professional, local chef to the organization of activities such as whitewater rafting or fly-fishing.
The Airstream 2 Go website offers three sample itineraries, but they are merely suggestions or potential options, says Riegel.
Still, the samples presented are alluring. The company's "California Adventure," for instance, involves driving to spectacular Yosemite National Park and exploring with a local naturalist guide, then it's onward to Carmel-by-the-Sea where you go tidepooling with a marine biologist. Your journey also includes visiting Santa Barbara and enjoying private surf lessons.
The proposed "Southwest Sojourn" itinerary, meanwhile, includes a visit to the spectacular Zion National Park for three days of hikes and canyoneering. Next, you migrate to the high desert landscape of Page, Ariz. to explore slot canyons on Navajo Indian lands, then it's on to Lake Powell to venture canyon landscapes only accessible by boat.
Airstream 2 Go began offering its first rentals in June 2013, and there's been no shortage of customers since, Riegel says.
"Our customers come from all over the country and internationally," he says. "They tend to be urban and suburban dwellers and inherently not RV owners."
The two major categories of renters the company attracts include adventurous, well-heeled families with children and couples or groups of friends traveling together.
What the two customer segments have in common, says Riegel, is a thirst for adventure and a desire to see America's great sights.
Riegel says starting the company was a no-brainer after years of people asking him about Airstream rentals.
"Anytime I came in contact with someone who knew that I had anything to do with Airstream, they would say, 'Wow those are so cool, how do I rent one?'" he says. "So I knew there was demand for the Airstream experience that was not being delivered through purchase opportunities. For too many people there are too many constraints they have to deal with - whether they don't have the storage space for an Airstream, or they don't have a tow vehicle, or they don't want to insure it. But the main constraint is time. Many people can't commit the three weeks annually that would justify the purchase of an Airstream."
Peak rental rates begin around $3,400 for a four-day rental and go as high as nearly $16,000 for a 14-day rental in the largest available Airstream model (a 28-foot trailer).
Off peak, however, you can have an Airstream experience for as little as $1,920 for three days of travel in the smaller 23-foot Airstream.
While still not exactly a cheap experience, renting an Airstream is far more accessible then a purchase ever was. And the payoff is the opportunity to do more then just admire one of these storied vehicles from just the outside.
Founded in 1931 by Wally Byam, Airstream continues to thrive as a brand and has emerged in the new millennium with a unique cool factor that has even attracted Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, a man with deep pockets, to make his permanent home in one.
The continued mystique of the Airstream experience and brand is hard to classify or categorize. People often try to compare it to other longstanding, and somewhat evocative, American companies such as Harley Davidson, John Deere or Chris Craft Yachts, or perhaps auto manufacturers like Cadillac, that may have similar status as heritage American brands.
But Riegel doesn't believe any of those brands are truly comparable.
"I guess Harley Davidson would be the closest company in terms of the visceral emotionality of the product and what it represents...the Harley Davidson brand certainly evokes a lot of emotion among its faithful," he says.
"Wally Byam recognized that people want to get out and see and do things, and they want to do it in a quality way" adds Riegel. "The inherent design of the Airstream trailer is the greatest contributor to longevity of the Airstream brand."