It’s not uncommon to hear a weary business traveler—particularly one advanced in years—lament the present state of air travel. The cramped seats, the lackluster meals, the faded lounges. Nothing, they will tell you, like the bygone era of jetliners they once knew. But it’s easy to forget that auto travel once had a golden age as well: a time when a young and suddenly mobile nation reveled in its brand new motor hotels, spotless campgrounds, and gleaming roadside restaurants. The entire country was essentially free game, as the prosperity of the post-war years and innovations in motoring turned a formerly sedentary people vacation-prone and ready for the road.
Today, relatively little of that gasoline-powered grandeur remains. After all, few relish the idea of staying in a neglected motel or a rundown campground. But for the nostalgic, and the adventurous, there is still the Airstream. With a pedigree dating back to the 1930s, the design actually took much of its inspiration from Lindbergh’s aircraft, The Spirit of St. Louis—Hawley Bowlus, the Airstream’s creator, had overseen the construction of the famous plane, and wanted to bring that same sleek, aerodynamic shape to the open road. The innovations were aesthetically pleasing, but practical as well, cutting down on air resistance and improving fuel efficiency by leaps and bounds. The company boomed in the 1950s with the creation of the Interstate Highway System, and the distinctive trailers and motor coaches continue to be made to this day—although vintage Airstreams are increasingly sought after, as symbols of a simpler time, when our roads felt as fresh and unspoiled as the nation that was building them.
For those seeking to own a vintage Airstream, you might want to try here. But if you’re content with a brief glimpse of all that the American road trip once was, you can always stop at a place like the Green Acres retreat, in Elgin, Texas. Beautifully restored vintage Airstreams are indeed available on a nightly basis, for the weary traveler and the curious nostalgist alike. Not a bad way, most would agree, to see this great big country of ours.