Rich and I just returned from our Greater Los Angeles Airstream Club (GLAAC) rally at Sun Outdoors in San Diego Bay. I’m still a newbie and this was my very first local club rally. I left feeling energized, connected to new friends, and grateful for all the volunteer hours that the rally hosts put into the event to make it a success.
On the drive back to Tucson, Rich and I reflected on all the reasons we enjoyed the rally, which included: meeting new people (as well as people we'd only ever met on Zoom), biking around San Diego Bay, the opportunity to try a glamping resort, and the fun of taking the trolley to downtown San Diego.
It got us thinking about all the reasons why joining a club is such a great thing—especially if you are new to Airstreaming—and why we recommend it to others.
Introverts, please don't tune us out!
Socializing is only one aspect of being a club member. You also join a community of experienced Airstreamers who are willing to help you learn about your trailer. You'll learn new things that can help you travel safer. And at any given rally you may hear recommendations about everything from service centers, Alaskan caravans, and hitches, to training a shy dog how to play nice with others.
So, if you're a newbie and haven't yet joined a local club—or if you’ve been Airstreaming for a while but haven’t joined one yet—here's why you should consider it.
First–what's an "Airstream club?"
Although Facebook groups like Airstream Addicts and regular users of AirForums could certainly be considered "communities," a local Airstream club (or unit, as it's historically been called) is part of an organization called the Airstream Club International (ACI). You may have heard it referred to as the Wally Byam Caravan Club International (WBCCI), as it has gone by both names over the years. It's all the same club and here is the website to learn more.
ACI has an executive director and its office is in Jackson Center, Ohio, just down the road from Airstream. But the lifeblood of the organization is the hundreds of volunteers across the country who keep its local, regional, and national events and communications rolling. At the national level this includes the Blue Beret monthly newsletter and the annual International Rally, which is being held in Fryeburg, Maine in 2022.
ACI has annual dues, as does each local club. But most local clubs charge only a few dollars per year. An absolute bargain compared to what you gain in knowledge, friendships, and travel experiences. Typically local clubs also offer a member newsletter, website, and perhaps private Facebook group to share photos and event information.
Here are some of the advantages of joining the ACI and a local club.
1. Meet people in the Airstream community
Join and bam! You've got new friends. You are connected to others who love the Airstream life and camping in general. This is probably the number one reason most Airstreamers join a local unit.
Yet, it surprises me how many newbies aren't club members. We meet full-timers as well as weekend warriors who know very few other Airstreamers, or who’ve never heard of the ACI or its International Rally. These indies or couples are out there trying to figure things out on their own.
If you're one of them, and you’re looking for an easier way to connect, a local club is the way to go. Not only will you have an instant bunch of new friends, you'll also gain a support network of people who can help you out and answer questions about maintenance or repair, reputable service centers, stuff they bought and found useful (or not useful) for their Airstreams, and more.
Basically you get a cadre of Airstream life "coaches" who are more than willing to help you.
Certainly, Rich and I head off for our own adventures, just the two of us. But connecting with other Airstream owners in fun and interesting places is a great way to mix things up. I'm looking forward to following up with multiple people we met at the club rally, and we might even take a few of them up on their offer to visit.
2. Get maintenance, repair, and upgrade tips
Reading books and blogs, and visiting online forums is helpful. But if you are a visual learner, or you learn faster by seeing or doing, the club offers a huge advantage.
Many clubs offer seminars and workshops as part of their rallies. Some even offer specific sessions for new owners and often these are taught by experienced club members. Learning from and connecting with other Airstreamers will supplement what you read and watch on YouTube, and can put things into context. By attending seminars and group dinners, or dropping by someone’s trailer at a rally, you’ll hear everything from tips and service center recommendations to gear ideas and insight about upgrades you might be considering.
The couple in the campsite next to us at our recent rally had bought their Airstream in July and taken only one trip. They literally joined our club and signed up for the rally a few days before it started. Based on their questions and newness, Rich and several others took a look at a few things on their trailer, and offered answers and recommendations they hadn’t even thought about. In addition, these newbies were given insight about whether it was better to raise their trailer or install a ramp at the end of their driveway to deal with a curb clearance issue.
Gaining new knowledge like this is a great benefit of club membership.
3. Check out places you haven’t visited (or maybe never even heard of)
The annual ACI International Rally is terrific, with an exhibit hall, loads of talks and workshops to attend, group meals and on-site activities, and lots of people to meet. It’s held in a different location every year, in locations large enough to accommodate 800+ Airstreams.
The local unit fosters an even tighter connection with other Airstreamers by providing an opportunity for you to see members who live in your local or regional area throughout the year. Group outings, breakfasts together, and happy hours are all part of the bonding experience at the local unit level. This is where people form forever friendships.
Local clubs schedule rallies all year long. Our club holds them monthly, in all kinds of interesting places. From beach options to boondocking, glamping resorts to forest campgrounds, there’s something for everyone. And, you can choose to show up and stay a few nights before or after the official rally dates if you want to extend the trip.
We hadn't heard of Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay until it came up on the rally list. It was a great pick—the place has paved sites, a resort-style pool with cabanas, gas fire pits in most sites, a really nice restaurant and bar (great for watching sports), easy access to a wildlife and biological preserve, easy access to the Bay Shore Bikeway—and so much more.
Other local clubs may have an affiliation with your unit that allows you to attend their rallies. And, others open their rallies to any ACI member, if there are spots available after the unit's members have signed up. Check out the ACI event map HERE and you'll see how many rallies are going on across the country.
4. Get insider tips about good places to take your Airstream
As Rich told me when we first met, “Airstreamers are a very friendly and helpful bunch.”
Ask an Airstreamer about their favorite National Parks, state parks, places to hike/bike/go birding and he or she will have an opinion! And there are few better places to ask for an opinion than over a shared meal or while walking your dogs at a club rally.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by travel research on Google, consult your club members for their firsthand knowledge and experience. For instance, in Chula Vista, people asked us about our experiences in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora Mexico and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. And we listened to people share their tips about Alaskan caravans.
5. A great way to serve the Airstream community
Airstream clubs run on volunteer spirit. You can be involved as much or as little as you wish, but the more involved you are the more you get out of the club.
There are opportunities to be a board member, newsletter editor, rally host (that means you organize a unit rally, usually with several others), or Facebook group administrator. Or you can make food or serve at a rally.
When you get involved in your unit, you meet more people and make deeper friendships. So if you decide to sign for membership in a local unit, ask what positions are open and available.
Ready to become a member of ACI and join a local club yet? I hope we've piqued your interest enough that we see you at the International Rally in Fryeburg this summer. To find a club near you, visit the ACI web site and under the Explore navigation button at the top, choose Find a Club.