8 cool upgrades we don't leave home without

Who among us doesn't love the process of buying cool stuff for our Airstreams?

Rich and I are always on the lookout for things that will make travel easier or enhance our Airstream experience–as long as they aren't too large or bulky, and don't require us to fill the truck bed.

Full disclosure: we are minimalist travelers, so you won't find a beverage cooler, fire pit, grill, or kitchen gadgets like an Air Fryer in our rig. Basically, if it doesn't get installed or it doesn't fit into an exterior compartment, drawer, or cabinet, we don't travel with it. The only exception we've made is for our Zip Dee chairs.

With that in mind here's a list of some of our favorite upgrades. All of them have made a big difference in our camping experience. 

1. Memory foam mattress topper

We are sticklers for a great night's sleep, whether at home or on the road. Although our 23 foot Globetrotter came with the "better" tufted mattress, my back ached every time I slept on it. Adding a foam mattress topper solved the problem and now I can't imagine traveling without it—nor can Rich.

Our advice is to keep it simple and skip the high-priced, custom-shape mattress toppers for Airstream beds. We bought a standard twin mattress topper for less than $60 and cut it to the shape of our mattress. The cut edge of the foam looks a bit ragged, but it's always covered by a gathered sheet, so we never notice it.

Here's how to make your own mattress topper from a standard twin or queen "off the shelf" brand:

  • Unroll the new topper and let it sit for 24 hours to unfurl
  • Place the new topper on a clean surface (we put a sheet down on the driveway for this)
  • Lay your Airstream mattress on top of the new topper
  • Using a marker, trace the shape of the Airstream mattress on the topper, being careful not to get marker on the mattress
  • Cut the foam along the line you just drew – easiest way is with an electric meat carver (really!), but sharp scissors work too
  • Throw out the excess foam and voila! You've just made your own custom mattress topper for a very low price

We recommend a 2" topper. I first bought a 3" topper, thinking it would be more comfortable. But it was too high for the mattress platform, and kept sliding off every time I sat or laid on it. Plus, since we have twin beds, it was a different height than the other bed which looked a bit odd.

2. Magnetic knife strip

This has been one of the best and lowest cost (about $20) upgrades we've installed in our Airstream kitchen. Having knives and kitchen shears easily available on a magnetic strip right in front of me while I'm prepping and cooking makes things really efficient.

Although it may not be everyone's choice, we drilled holes and used rivets to install the strip. Some brands come with an adhesive strip, but I wanted ours to be really secure.

For towing, I remove the knives and shears from the magnet and store them in plastic sheaths in a drawer. Several Airstreamers have told me they leave theirs on the strip and have never had them come off during travel.

3. Better quality compartment locks

The look of these sturdy chrome compartment locks is more elegant than the black OEM latches that came with our Airstream. More than that, the lock is one in a series of 50 variants, making it more secure than the standard latches, which can be opened with a CH751, 001, or RS141 key that thousands of other Airstreamers and RVers have too. 

We replaced all five of our exterior compartment locks so the look is consistent all around the Airstream.

4. Teak shower mat

The classy look of our 23FB Globetrotter's rear bath is what drove our final decision to purchase that model. But the fiberglass shower floor wasn't up to the elegance of the rest of the bath—until we added a teak shower mat

We were the original developer of teak shower mats for Airstreams, so we knew a teak mat would be one of our first upgrades. But it truly has lived up to its reputation for adding warmth and comfort on our feet, reducing slip risk, and keeping our feet out of the water when we aren't completely level. 

Airstream Life teak shower mat

To keep it looking great, I make sure to rinse off 100% of the soap bubbles underneath the mat and on the shower pan floor daily, as well as let it dry completely at the end of each trip. We've also cleaned and re-oiled it once. After two years of significant use, our mat still looks like new.

5. Micro-Air Easy-Touch RV digital thermostat

This little gadget is easier to use and much less confusing than the Dometic thermostat that comes with your Airstream. Earlier this year we summarized our tips and tricks for wrangling that confounding thing, but after a few Airstreamers told us about the Micro-Air Easy-Touch Thermostat, we installed one and have not looked back.

In addition to being simpler to use and program than Dometic's product, this thermostat has neat features like being able to remotely monitor and change the temperature when you are away.

6. Zip Dee chairs and a small side table

Having the right patio gear is essential for enjoying mornings and evenings outdoors. We wanted quality chairs that wouldn't end up in the dumpster after a few years of use, and that's why we invested in Zip Dee.

There's a reason Zip Dee has been selling the same fold-away design for nearly 70 years. They are not inexpensive, but you get what you pay for: steel frame construction, real wood arms, and Sunbrella fabric that matches your Airstream's awning. Plus, because every part on these chairs can be replaced, you can refurbish them so they last for decades.

And if you are looking at this photo and wondering whether they are comfortable without all the cushy fabric and foam that many camping chairs have, we can tell you with enthusiasm, yes. Zip Dee chairs are remarkably comfortable and have beat several other cheaper brands we've owned on that point.

Zip Dee Chairs

Zip Dee's fold-away chairs are available in every Airstream awning pattern. We also purchased the optional Add a Lounge you see in the above photo, because we like to put our feet up. The Add a Lounge installs in a delightfully old-school way, by placing two steel hooks over the front frame of the chair. For storage you simply unhook it and the Add a Lounge folds flat for storage.

Also, that small, aluminum camping table you see in the photo is another item we never travel without. It's the perfect height for our Zip Dee chairs, weighs next to nothing, and rolls up into a small vinyl carry bag that fits in the exterior compartment of our 23 foot trailer.

7. A great patio mat that stores small

Not the heavy, jute ones that you have to roll up. Or the cheap plastic tarps. Or the roll-up fake turf that fills the entire truck.

We use and recommend the CGEAR Sand Free RV Mat, which comes in four colorful styles, is amazingly lightweight for the size, and fits in a carry bag. Best of all, sand and dirt fall through the weave so you don't track it into the Airstream.

CGEAR Sand-Free RV Mat

You will love using your patio if you invest in a high quality patio mat. Having the ground cover makes a difference in comfort and defines the space under the awning.

We recently borrowed a friend's Airstream and went camping in the Netherlands. Our entire campsite was on beach-like sand and boy did we miss our CGEAR RV-Mat. We tracked so much sand in that we had to sweep out the Airstream twice during our 4-day trip.  

8. High quality solar shade

As Arizonans, we definitely cannot live without this one, but anyone who travels during the summer (and who among us doesn't?) will find it extremely useful.

We designed our AIR GEAR Sun Shade with high quality, heavy duty fabric that cuts 85% of UV rays while still allowing air to flow through. It also adds privacy to the patio which is extremely useful in campgrounds where you don't have hedges or trees between campsites. To keep the shade from flapping in a light breeze, we designed the Sun Shade to include heavy duty fabric bags that can be filled with rocks, sand, or heavy objects and connected to the shade with bungee cords.

We've found this system to perform much better than stakes, which pull out during light winds, and which you can't use in campgrounds that have concrete campsites.

AIR GEAR Sun Shade

The Sun Shade requires a one-time installation of snaps onto the awning bar.  All you need is a rivet tool to complete the project. Once the snaps are installed, you simply snap the solar shade on when you need it, and snap it off, fold, and store it when you don't. Our installation video makes it easy. 

What are your favorite upgrades? If you're willing to share, email us here.



Mark Stillwell

Mark Stillwell

High Quality Solar Shade – Would you recommend this product for the awning on the Interstate? I wonder if it would interfere with the device that automatically retracts the awning in windy conditions. Thanks.

Cheryl Toth

Cheryl Toth

Mark – No, the Zip Dee Solar Shade cannot be used with the Interstate, for exactly the reason you mention. The solar shades are intended for trailers.

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