I had driven about six miles up a dirt road high in the San Bernardino National Forest, near Idyllwild, California, when I realized maybe I had pushed it a little far. It wasn’t the $230k Airstream Interstate 24X van I had on loan that alerted me–in fact, I’d estimate I had barely scraped the vehicle's upper capabilities, with its 4WD engaged mostly for kicks, and the six, all-terrain wheels rolling surely over loose dirt and bowling ball-sized boulders–but rather my partner and dog, who were both growing weary in the passenger seat. Maybe it was the steepening grade, the quickly setting winter sun, or the Santa Ana gusts swaying the van atop the ridgeline, but their mood was growing tense, and I was so seduced by the expensive toy at my disposal that I had failed to notice. This was not the leisurely weekend of luxury camping I'd promised.
This moment, I later realized, is what the influencer couples on Instagram don’t tell you about #vanlife. Behind all those awe-inspiring parking spots and rear door sunrise views is an exercise in extreme cohabitation. You can have the fanciest, most capable rig in the wilderness (which we did) and still manage to miss the joy of the outdoors if you’re doing it wrong.
My adrenaline haze clearing somewhat, I decided to back our van into the next turnout up the road. Spirits immediately lifted as we flung open the back doors for a sprawling view of Garner Valley, the craggy face of Mt. San Jacinto in the distance and the last red wisps of sunset coloring the sky. While our dog sniffed freely around the montane chaparral, we nestled inside the van to prepare a camp dinner of fried rice on the rig's built-in two-burner stove.
Overall, the Airstream Interstate 24X shifts elegantly between “drive mode” and “camp mode.” Cooking is enjoyable in the van, as there’s plenty of counter space and it’s easy enough to ventilate between its ceiling fan and side screen door. The front seat captain’s chairs swivel 180 degrees with the push of a button, facing up to a modular table that can be used for eating, extra counter space, or as an outdoor dining attachment.
There's also capacious storage consisting of a mix of residential-style cabinets along the floor and cargo net cubbies along the ceiling–both of which hold their contents secure (even as we bounced along the road). After dinner, we converted the back benches into a king-size bed and slept warmly in this home on wheels while outside the wind continued to howl.
The next morning, we watched the sunrise from our sleeping bags through the massive rear windows—one I’d rate among my life's top 10 (okay, maybe the influencers are right). By then, it didn’t matter how high up the mountain our vehicle could go, we were restored simply by being outdoors without another soul nearby.
When Airstream first offered to let me test its top-of-the-line Class B van, I had a feverish adventure on the mind, but I never imagined the ever-elusive "stoke" we often go outside in search of would come from being still.
Following our night of boondocking and the dreamy sunrise above Idyllwild, we traded rustic camping in the pines for the desert palms of nearby Anza-Borrego State Park. Borrego Springs is a sleepy, artsy town 30 miles from the Salton Sea that doesn’t get the shine of Joshua Tree but abounds with miles of off-roading through desert washes, and unique, friendly places to hang your hat at the end of the day. (If you visit, enjoy a game of tennis and a post-match hot tub at The Courts, and grab an afternoon cocktail at La Casa Del Zorro.)
If the van was simple enough to use off the grid, it was nearly self-operating once plugged into a campsite hookup. Some Airstreams I’ve tested need a working knowledge of the manual just to operate, or browsing of sites like AirForums.com to uncover the best strategies for managing battery or propane levels–but not the Interstate 24X. It's Airstream’s most intuitive vehicle—whether I was emptying the tanks, checking my propane level, flipping on the battery warmers in sub-freezing temperatures, or turning on the water heater for a quick rinse after hiking, operating the van was consistently straightforward and unproblematic.
In the guts of the Interstate is a 23-gallon freshwater tank, a 24-gallon gray tank, and an 11-gallon black tank that would likely all be enough for three nights off-grid (I had only filled the gray tank to 20 percent capacity by the time I headed to Anza Borrego on day two).
"As a camper, it's pretty much the exact kind of machine I’d want for a quick weekend dash outdoors."
By our third and fourth days of camping, the Interstate 24X faded into the background of the camping experience. As a vehicle, it quickly gained my trust by proving its capability on a busy freeway and in slippery sand. As a camper, it was comfortable and uncomplicated, too. In other words, it's pretty much the exact kind of machine I’d want for a quick weekend dash outdoors.
As the long weekend ended and I piloted my loaner away from the ocotillo just beginning to bloom, my partner and I recalled the tension of the first night, and the van humming up the hill as I pushed hard for a mountaintop adventure, with a laugh. I just had to realize that the point of having a vehicle like the Interstate 24X is that you can have nearly everything at your fingertips without much worry or effort. A far cry from the vintage VWs many vanlifers swear by.
After testing nearly every Airstream model in the past five years, I found the Interstate 24X to be the company’s clearest mashup of luxury and ruggedness; it's smarter, sturdier, and as nimble as anything else the company offers. The price is staggering at $234,620, and you can find just as much adventure for a fraction of the dollars (not to mention a literal house in some places), but the Interstate 24X delivers on its edict with a premium interior, a 3.0L 188hp turbocharged diesel engine with an off-road capable chassis, and easy-to-use, automatic versions of dozens of comfort features–from a smart thermostat and powered awning to a solar-powered battery and a built-in diesel generator.
Sure, it’s three to ten times the cost of a rigged-out Ram ProMaster, an overland-ready Toyota Tacoma, or a homemade camper van conversion—but such vehicles require elbow grease, misadventures, and detours. Airstream's Interstate 24X pre-packages adventure with luxury—all it asks is that you don’t think too hard once you're behind the wheel.