A Makeover for a Vintage Airstream

As a kid, I spent a lot of time outdoors with my family enjoying the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  We just didn’t sleep there. Our days of exploring usually ended in the comfort of a cabin or a lodge.

But Chris’s childhood excursions were all about camping.  His parents owned many travel trailers over the years, and they took their kids camping almost every weekend in the summer.  In contrast, my first and last camping experience involved an old saggy cot slowly unraveling beneath me while I listened to cows stomping and snorting just outside of the tent all night.  Good times!

So I was a little apprehensive when, several years ago, Chris wanted to buy a travel trailer.  He was interested in a 1966 Airstream Caravel.  Oh boy.

Meet The June Bug

Vintage Airstream 1966 Caravel

The trailer, dubbed the June Bug by her former owner (yes, the trailer is a “she”), lived in Texas.  Chris took a leap of faith and purchased her based only on photos and information from the owner.  The owner graciously offered to tow her to Salt Lake City and leave her in a storage yard for us.

I was worried about what such an old trailer would smell like.  Mold? Mildew?  It was probably pretty gross.

Chris unlocked the trailer for the first time and stepped inside while I hovered safely outside.

My first question was, “How does it smell?”

“Smells pretty good,” he said.  And he was right.  The trailer really didn’t smell like anything.  And it seemed nice and clean.

I was sure that hooking the trailer up would be a huge project.  I settled in for a long wait.

But Chris had the trailer ready to go in 15 minutes.

And we were off on a trip to the Four Corners area.  It was one of the most carefree vacations we ever had.  Having the trailer seemed to give us so much freedom and so many options.

So now I love our little June Bug.  And this year is a big one for her:    She turned 50.  And like most 50-year-olds, she had a few character lines.

Vintage Airstream - damage

So we treated her to a little makeover.  We had the damaged aluminum panels replaced, and we had the exterior professionally polished.

Polished vintage Airstream

Camping in the June Bug had been a fair weather activity as the windows always leaked a little in the rain.  So we also had aluminum rain guards installed over the windows.

polished airstream window cover

Rain guards like these were standard issue on many Airstreams older than the June Bug, but by 1966 the design had changed.  So I love how these rain guards add to the vintage charm by making her look like an even older model.

polished airstream

Why Choose a Small Trailer?

Our Airstream is only 17 feet long, so we are able to camp in campgrounds and sites that prohibit longer trailers.  It’s easy to maneuver and easy to hook up to the truck and tow – no extra sway bars needed.

But having a tiny trailer also means having to be very organized.  I still have a lot to learn, but I will share with you what I have learned so far about tiny vintage trailers.

Her New Look

Recently we took the June Bug on her first excursion since her makeover.  We camped at the beautiful Deception Pass State Park.

There were a few bugs to work out at first.  Remarks like “Look at those tall trees!” quickly turned into “Do you smell propane?” and “Why is that leaking?”  Apparently a few things had rattled loose during the makeover.

Tiny Trailer Tip:  Always bring your toolbox.

But soon we were able to get to the really important task:  Dressing up the the June Bug.

1966 Airstream Caravel

I was worried that the trailer might look too flashy and obvious after being polished.  But in fact the opposite has happened:  The polished aluminum is so reflective that she almost disappears into her surroundings.

Vintage Airstream

Vintage 1966 Airstream Caravel

Vintage Airstream
Polished body with original Airstream emblem

Come Inside

Want to see the inside?  Come on in.

1966 Airstream Caravel

But first please take your shoes off.

Airstream entrance

Tiny Trailer Tip:  Tiny trailers can get dirty fast.  For the campground, bring shoes that are easy to slip on and off, and leave your shoes outside the entrance on a large indoor-outdoor mat.  But also bring a broom for the inevitable sand, dirt, or pine needles.

The Floor Plan

Except for a few minor tweaks, the June Bug’s floor plan is pretty original.  A pullout table went missing somewhere along the way, but there is still a small dinette table.

There is plenty of storage space in this little trailer – more than we actually use.

Floor Plan
Floor Plan – 1966 Airstream Caravel

Tiny Trailer Tip:  Clean the trailer thoroughly before storing it at the end of each camping season.

Still worried about hidden molds, I once scrubbed every inch of the trailer interior.  And I give the interior a thorough cleaning at the end of each season so it’s ready to go for the next season.

The Kitchen

We haven’t made any huge improvements to the interior.   The previous owner revamped the tiny kitchen to resemble a rustic cabin kitchen.  It’s cute but I’m torn.  We need to either take the look further or revert to a classic vintage trailer vibe.

Airstream kitchen

We want to refinish the wood underneath the upper cabinets and on the wall – and elevate the microwave to gain more counter space.  And speaking of counter space . . .

Tiny Trailer Tip:  Do as much food prep as possible at home in advance, and store the food in stackable containers to save fridge space.

I plan ahead and chop, dice, even cook whole meals at home in advance.  The tiny trailer kitchen is really best for storing food and heating it up, not for creating meals from scratch.  Plus once I’m there, I’d rather be hiking than cooking.

The kitchen had a tiny bar sink, making it difficult to wash dishes, so we installed a larger sink.

Trailer sink

But we still want to replace the faucet with a larger one that has a sprayer.

Tiny Trailer Tip:  Bring easy-to-clean cookware. “Roughing it” doesn’t need to include scrubbing baked-on food over a tiny sink.

The “Bedroom”

One of our improvements was this couch, which pulls out to an almost-queen-sized bed.

Vintage Airstream interior

Tiny Trailer Tip:  Skip the high-thread-count sheets, but bring good pillows.

Glamping is all the rage, and I’m always tempted to bring nice sheets for the bed.  But with this bed/couch setup, I would be spending way too much time fussing with sheets.  Here again, I’d rather be hiking. So I bring sleeping bags instead – and really comfy pillows.

The “Dining Room”

We like to eat outside and rarely use the little dinette area. But occasionally it comes in handy.  At some point I will make new curtains  – ones that look more cheerful and let in more light.

Vintage airstream interior

You can see here some of the overhead storage and also the under-bench storage.

The Bathroom

It’s a real bathroom, but it’s pretty tiny. There is nothing glamorous to show you here. It’s nice to have a bathroom in such a tiny trailer, but for showering I often prefer to use the roomier campground showers.

Tiny Trailer Tip:  Keep a small caddy stocked with everything you need for your shower so you can just grab it and head to the campground shower.  Another small caddy can hold toiletries you may want to use outdoors or in the trailer:  Sunscreen, bug spray, moisturizer, etc.

Our Rolling Cabin

With Chris’s background in trailer camping, he knows what to do and is very organized and prepared.  This makes our camping experiences so carefree and pleasant – for me anyway.  Things would not go nearly as well if we were both rookies at this.

To me, the Airstream feels like a tiny vacation cabin – with the best location any cabin can have:  Anywhere we feel like going.


Disclosure:  Affiliate Links are used in this post.

Sources:

Because things can shift while the trailer is moving, shatterproof, easy-care plates and glasses are the way to go.  But to me, food never tastes as good on disposable plates.  So for camping we use Corelle dishes.  I love that they are good quality and made in the U.S.A.  Having the right accessories can really make trailer camping fun.

Camping Goods

Clockwise from top:  Corelle Dinnerware Set, South Beach | Coleman Retro Family Lantern | 14-Foot Chili Pepper String Lights | Govino Wine Glasses, Shatterproof, Recyclable


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23 Replies to “A Makeover for a Vintage Airstream”

  1. That is the cutest “traveling hotel room” I have ever seen! And the reflections of surrounding trees is amazing. Beautiful..
    I did some camping in my younger days but mainly remember tents falling down, wood fires that smoked but not burned, kids needing band-ads and so on. It was always good to come home again. So your way to enjoy the Wild sounds wonderful.
    Thanks for writing about it!
    Wendy

    1. Thanks Wendy. Yes there comes a point for most of us when we want to enjoy nature in a little more comfort. And there is nothing wrong with that! I like your term “traveling hotel room,” that describes the June Bug perfectly. Thanks for visiting my blog, I’m so happy you enjoyed the post.

  2. I’d never seen a tiny Airstream before. It is so cute! I think it’s great that you and your husband are enjoying time together and found an affordable way to do so!

    1. Thanks Cathy. There is a still a lot we could do with it, but the season goes by so fast we just end up enjoying it instead of working on it. Thanks for stopping by today!

  3. AbSooooooLutely adorable. I love everything about it. So many beautiful adventures just waiting to happen and you’re so right, the polished aluminum is perfect, not blingy just perfect.

  4. Your trailer is adorable…love the rustic wood cabinets! We spend time in the U.P. North woods so we are in the market for one ourselves (ok, trying not to drool too much over your girl!). 🙂 Thanks for the great tips and tour of your home on wheels!

    1. Michelle, hope you find your perfect trailer. Airstreams are so cute but I also love the cute little vintage Shastas and Casitas (not as much a our girl of course).

  5. Heidi,
    We’ve both been featured this week on Vintage Charm, and when I saw this post on the Airstream I just had to comment! We are campers too, and have looked at many Airstreams in the past. I have always wanted one. I am impressed by how much room and features yours has as I looked at the little map you provided. We have a huge vintage Safari motorhome, but we’re ready to downsize into something smaller. You’re right, when you have a smaller one, you can fit into so many places. I always envy campers in National Parks because our huge beast would never fit. Fascinating post!!

    1. Thanks Florence! It is a pretty carefree way to camp. We have spent up to two weeks in the little Caravel and it’s been just fine. Not sure how we would do on longer trips with her, but I’m sure one day we will find out. Good luck in your search for the perfect little trailer!

  6. Awww so sweet! I love it :o)

    I have a 1967 Scotsman. If you you want to see mine click on the menu item on my blog called “my vintage trailer”.

    Tania

  7. Hello Heidi! Love your girl!! I have a new 18′ and have been bugging my hubs to go bigger. We are retired, so there is only the two of us. ( and lots of Grandkids!) my point, tho, is that you may have talked me into keeping our little gal!

    1. Sharon, I guess it depends on how much time you spend with your trailer, but I love our little one since it’s so easy to tow along and set up. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. HI Heidi,
    I also bought a “scratch & dent special” 66 Caravel a few years ago. A tree has damaged the top panels. Getting ready to have local Airstream repair center give an estimate for panel replacements – if they can locate the ones they need. Did you guys have trouble getting replacement panels?

    Thanks!
    paula in dallas

    1. Hi, Paula,
      With the trailer repair shop we used, I assumed they fabricated their own panels from aluminum sheets. But maybe they bought replacement panels from another company. At any rate, they never mentioned having to locate panels. Here is where we took the June Bug: http://www.silverbullettrailer.com
      They are in Vancouver, Washington, but might be able to recommend a repair shop near you.
      Good luck – I’d love to see photos of your Caravel! We love ours so much. I have no desire to camp in a brand new trailer 😉
      Heidi

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