It sat alone and shiny in a random, deserted parking lot.

A 22-foot-long Airstream trailer from 1961. Its silver coat glistened in the afternoon sun. Its shape curved and retro like a spaceship from the past. When I saw the For Sale sign posted on the back window, I literally jumped up with excitement. This beautiful adventure on wheels could actually be mine? I started to envision the road trips: Mountain bikes strapped to the back, long treks around Utah and Colorado, picturesque campsites along rivers and lakes. It was love at first sight.

And then, the price tag: $23,950.

My heart sank. Who could afford to spend that much on a historic artifact that was basically a souped-up tent? Not me, that was for sure. The enchanting road trips I had planned in my head evaporated as quickly as they arrived.

That moment marked the beginning of my Airstream obsession. I knew it was something I couldn’t have, and that made it all the more tantalizing. I bookmarked a website dedicated to refurbishing vintage Airstreams. I’d do double takes on the highway when I’d pass a 16-foot Bambi from the 1950s. I would stare enviously at the driver on my way by.

In the middle of a road bike race, I passed a house with three vintage tin-can trailers parked out front. I almost veered my bicycle off the road due to my Airstream rubbernecking.

While driving across Utah, I convinced my driving partner that it was worth it to head over 200 miles out of our way to spend the night at a hotel whose accommodations were eight custom-designed Airstreams. But when I called with baited breath to make a reservation, the owner told me the place was closed for the season.

“Check back in April,” he said. It was December. My head hung low. We stayed at some crappy motel off the highway instead.

On a spring ski trip to Mammoth, I called an Airstream delivery company in southern California (yes, those exist) to see how much it would cost to have them drop an Airstream for us at the campground in Mammoth Lakes. It’d be over $500 a night. “Forget it,” I said, while hanging up the phone.

Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe I’d never get a chance to sleep in a silver-sided trailer. I appeased myself by figuring that I could afford a vintage Airstream when I retire, in a mere 30 or 40 years from now.

Eventually, the thought dawned on me: The appeal wasn’t so much the trailer itself—although I loved those clean lines, iconic style and shimmering aesthetic—but the escapes I knew the trailer would bring. Once I realized that, I figured out that I didn’t actually need the trailer. I had a car, a tent and friends who love to explore. I had everything I needed to pursue the dream on my own, sans trailer.

Now, when I drive past an Airstream on the highway, I picture the driver looking longingly at me, mountain bikes racked up on the roof, hatchback crammed with camping gear and a cooler. No gas-guzzling trailer weighing me down. I picture them looking over at me and thinking, ‘Wow, it looks like she’s having a good time.’

How to Get Big Air(stream)

Rent a Trailer
Can’t afford to buy a $30,000 vintage Airstream? That’s OK. You can rent one for the night. Here’s where to do it:

Shooting Star Drive-In, Escalante, Utah
Hike into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument right from the deck of one of eight Airstreams at this drive-in resort. At night, watch an outdoor movie from the bench seat of a 1964 Cadillac convertible. From $149; shootingstardrive-in.com

Sou’wester Lodge, Seaview, Washington
At the historic Sou’wester, you can opt to stay in their 1880s lodge, a campsite or their fleet of 1950s travel trailers. It’s located beachside on the southern tip of Washington, and bands from nearby Portland, Oregon, play the yard on weekends. From $68; souwesterlodge.com

Starlight Classic Campground, Canon City, Colorado
The vintage trailers at this campground near Colorado’s Royal Gorge come with cutesy décor and nicknames like “Shaggy” and “Tiki Bago.” Hike, fish or raft in the surrounding area. From $79; starliteclassiccampground.com

Shady Dell, Bisbee, Arizona
Ten vintage trailers from the ’40s and ’50s make up this retro cool RV resort in southern Arizona’s high desert. Décor includes martini glasses, record players and vintage magazines. From $87; theshadydell.com

Living Airstream, Denver, Colorado
You can rent both modern and vintage Airstreams from this Denver-based company. Tow the trailer to your campsite of choice or have them deliver it for you. Delivery is free within a 25-mile radius of Denver. From $175; airstreamparty.com

Megan Michelson is a freelance writer and the editor of ESPN Freeskiing. She lives in Tahoe City, Calif., but her heart’s a mobile home.

Photo by Blake Gordon/blakegordon.com