Hot Wheels

Vacationing in your trailer might not have impressed anyone before, but this is a chic Airstream -- it's shiny, it's fancy and it's full of style.

Focus On Trailers

April 29, 2001|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,Sun Staff

With Alan Greenspan mouthing off about a recession and dozens of dot-coms doing a death spiral, the economic forecast for the near future appears grim.

Sure, whatever.

Now, let's get to the important stuff -- planning your summer vacation. In light of the current financial fiasco, some might think it gauche to still take that six-week jaunt to the Italian Riviera this year. (If you can still afford it, that is.) However, fear not, this year's hip vacationing alternative is simple, fairly inexpensive and allows you to effect the earthy air of roughing it -- even if you aren't.

All you have to do is hitch an Airstream trailer to your Mercedes SUV and hit the road. It's called trailer chic, and the highway seems set to be the backdrop for the hottest holidays of the summer.

"There is such a sense of mystery and romance to these trailers," said Bryan Burkhart, co-author of "Airstream: The History of the Land Yacht," which tells the colorful history of these chic, silver trailers. "With their streamlined design, they evoke a period that is very stylish. ... It's a very strong icon of American design but it's not just meant to be looked at and appreciated. I like the fact that it's meant to be used and you can pile in a bunch of kids and take your family out on the road."

Traveling by recreational vehicle has become increasingly popular among Americans in recent years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. But among all RVs, Airstreams have been most romanticized.

The gleaming, retro-looking Airstreams have been produced since the 1920s and were wildly popular just after the Great Depression, when families wanted to take breaks from their lives but wanted to save on hotel rooms, Burkhart said. Through their unique bullet-shaped design and powerful advertising images that spun soft-focused visions of vacationing in Airstreams, the brand has been especially popular with celebrities, including Tom Hanks and David Duchovny. In fact, director Tim Burton so adored Airstreams he included them in an intergalactic space battle in his 1996 movie "Mars Attacks!"

And Airstreams have been more prominent on the hip radar in recent months -- Lucy Liu's character in "Charlie's Angels" called one home, and fashion designer Cynthia Rowley began using one as a backyard guest home at her summer place in Montauk, N.Y. And Ralph Lauren sealed the trailer's trendiness this spring when Polo.com announced the sale of 14-foot Airstreams, custom-designed in four preppy, luxurious themes -- Adirondack, Nautical, Western and Utility / Surplus. The tres-glam Polo Airstreams cost a hefty $150,000 -- oodles more than the un-Ralphed 14-footers that go for less than $20,000 -- but profits will go to the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Prevention and Cure in Harlem.

Sure, rising gas prices may put a damper on Airstream traveling this summer, but this mode of vacationing has its advantages.

"There's a certain limitlessness to traveling by RV -- people like being on the open road and going wherever they want to go," said Michael Pina, spokesman for the Travel Industry Association of America. "People spend a lot of time in offices now, and when you're in an office looking at a computer 50 weeks out of the year, maybe the other two weeks you'd like to be outside camping or experiencing nature."

And besides, for those short on cash and time, traveling by Airstream has one big advantage -- there's no need to spend timebooking plane tickets and hotel rooms. Accommodations, except campground fees, are free.

"When you own an RV, at any moment in time, whether it's Thursday morning or Friday morning, you can just say, 'Darn it, I'm getting away this weekend,' " said Alan Piercy, spokes- man for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. "And you just put in a couple of calls to find a campground, pack up your family and go."

GET HITCHED

For information on how to plan an RV vacation, check out www.gorving.com or call 888-GO-RVING for a free video.

ROAD GEAR

Interested in roughing it this summer without doing any real suffering? Well, just to make sure your vacation isn't too bumpy, here are some cushy must-haves for hitting the road.

* Christian Dior Trailer Bag ($1,300) -- This whimsical bag (above) features jeweled reflectors and gives a nod to the year the fashion house was launched with its 1947 license plate. A crucial tote for fashionable highway-trotters this summer.

* Essential reading -- "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac. "2001 Trailer Life Directory: Campgrounds, RV Parks and Services." "Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel" by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, which gives tips on surviving everything from Tsunamis to runaway camels.

* Reading to get in the vagabond spirit -- "See The USA: The Art of the American Travel Brochure" by John Margolies and Eric Baker. "The Bad Girl's Guide to the Open Road" by Cameron Tuttle. "Airstream: The History of the Land Yacht" by Bryan Burkhart and David Hunt.

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