So, a friend recommended that I might really enjoy reading Trailer Travel Here and Abroad: The New Way to Adventurous Living by Wally Byam (of Airstream fame). While it mostly documents the beginnings and evolution of the international Airstream Caravans in the 1950’s, it also discusses some of Wally Byam’s philosophies about how travelling should be undertaken, and what the 1960’s and 1970’s future of trailer travel could look like.
While the discussions of the travails of the caravans and how they overcame (or didn’t) the problems they encountered. While the discussions of the qualities of 1950’s American cars as hauling vehicles is cool, it isn’t as useful today as it probably was in the 1960’s, the aspects of how best to load a travel trailer for rough roads and for the management of tongue weight on the car are just as relevant now as they were then (perhaps more for skoolie travelers who have the clearance to take rough roads).
But the descriptions of the caravans are really cool. The places that they went on the Mexican (and as far south in Latin America as they could go), Canadian, European, and African caravans, by train, oxen teams, and even the trailerites themselves hauling on ropes over dirt roads, through jungles, over rivers by fording, winching, barges and ferries, and doing field repairs along the way, set up real adventures of Oregon Trail proportions.
The African caravan that he was in the middle of while finishing the book really sounds like a pioneering wagon train sort of adventure, as they are essentially building their own roads to get the 20+ foot long travel trailers through, and having their tow vehicles limping along (or dying) through the harsh terrain.
One of the things that I can really see about this is how the shared triumphal and awe-inspiring successes and hardships that the whole groups of travelers experienced built a sense of community that could be extrapolated onto other people who had been on different caravan trips. These people experienced different things, but felt a common bond by knowing they were amongst kindred spirits.
It must have really been awesome in the 1950’s to see the long line of Airstream trailers being pulled one after another along the roads. There is certainly something that would be stirring in thinking about a caravan of 50 or so skoolies travelling together for a couple of months though the wilds of … well, anywhere.
But Wally Byam’s book is well worth the read. There’s information about preparations, organization, conduct, and education in there, and not just for the caravan traveler, but for the solo traveler as well. While some of the practices are no longer valid (like using gopher holes as places to plug your waste tanks into), there are likely some that almost any reader will appreciate.