What I Wish I Knew Before My First RV Rental

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I subscribed to Campendium’s Five Star Campgrounds Newsletter and had hundreds of Campendium favorites before I spent my first night in an RV. My wife and I loved camping and I was hooked on the idea of purchasing our own setup. At the same time, we were living in a dense neighborhood in Chicago, and buying a trailer meant storing it over an hour away, ownership didn’t feel practical.

airstream rv rental
Rented Aistream 19CB at sunset at Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore.

Renting an RV was the perfect opportunity to try out this new to us style of travel and put to use all those tips we’d learned from way too many hours of RV YouTube. Years later, we own our own Airstream travel trailer, but look back fondly on those first rental trips and know they were key to finding the right recreational vehicle and travel style.

RV Rental Options

When it comes to RV rentals, you have no shortage of options.

RV Rental Companies

The motorhome rentals with the big graphics. Companies like Cruise America, El Monte, and Road Bear offer a consistent product (including class c motorhomes) in many locations across the country. These rigs are convenient and are the best set-up for folks looking to move around every day or two.

Camper Van Rental

Try out van life. If you’re looking for something more nimble than a motor home but want the convenience of a larger company, Jucy and Escape Campervans offer camper van rentals out of several locations.

Small RV Rental

For a more interesting setup, go with a smaller company. Many smaller companies have more interesting camper rental options available, like campervans from Wandervans or Airstreams from Go Silver. These options often outfit you with a higher level of gear and have great trip inspiration and guidance as they are more regionally focused. While this option is often of higher quality, the downside is you may need to be flexible on location as they don’t have the same geographic coverage as the larger players.

RV Rentals By Owner

For the most options, try renting from a private party. Outdoorsy, RVshare, and RuckifyRV in Canada have the largest selection of RVs out there and offer insurance and roadside assistance to offer a more consistent experience than renting from an individual. It’s a great option for trying out a specific make or model before the leap to ownership. The downside is you may need to travel to a specific location if you’re looking to give a specific model and floorplan a trial run before you make a purchase.

Campgrounds with RV Rentals

For the easiest option, try a stationary setup. While you won’t get the full RV experience of driving, setup, tear down, if you’re simply looking to try out small-space living, options like Autocamp and Caravan Outpost rent you stylishly outfitted Airstreams in locations like Yosemite and Cape Cod. This is a great option that removes the complexity of booking campsites and driving in an unfamiliar rig.

boondocking in an rv rental
Boondocking in a rented Airstream 23FB off Loy Butte Road in Sedona, Arizona.

Before You Pick Up Your RV Rental

RVing will never be harder than a rental experience. Working with new-to-you equipment in a setup you didn’t pack yourself is not the easiest way to get started, but there are a few things that will set your trip up for success:

Outfitting levels will vary. Many companies say they will have everything you will need, but say little about the quality. After a long day of towing on a rental trip we put the rental provided dollar bin corkscrew into a bottle of wine only to have it come apart in our hands. At least it was a good way to meet some neighbors. You may want to bring some items with you even though they’re “included.”

Insurance can be complicated. Insurance coverage varies from place to place. While it may be overwhelming to you, rental places deal with this question all the time and can quickly give you the information you need. Make sure you have the coverage you need at a price you can swallow before planning your whole trip and reservations around a specific outfitter.

Make reservations. While your favorite RVing YouTube channel may make mention of how they never make reservations, a rental trip is a different situation. You’re going to be in unfamiliar equipment and likely on a compressed schedule with a vision of how you want the trip to play out. Plan ahead to avoid disappointment.

What Else You Need To Know

Once you’ve selected the company that fits your interests and travel style, proper preparation is important when hopping into an unfamiliar setup.

Know what to expect when you arrive for pickup. We once showed up with a week’s worth of groceries in 90-degree heat to pick up our rental and found the fridge wasn’t turned on. When you’re picking up a new rig for the first time, you’ll prefer your first 5 minutes of towing don’t involve squeezing into a convenience store parking lot to pick up ice. Most surprises can be avoided with a 15-minute phone call a week before the trip.

Be conservative with how far you’re driving. If you haven’t RVed before, you’re likely thinking you can cover more distance in a day than is reasonable. My wife and I find we average about 50mph when we factor in stops. A 400-mile road trip will take about 8 hours of driving.

On our first rental trip, our pickup ran past our expected departure time and we found ourselves trying to find a boondocking spot down a forest service road in the dark. It was so stressful we skipped dinner for the night and in the morning realized we parked over a firepit. Remember this is a vacation and set easy expectations for yourself.

Boondock sparingly. Campendium is full of amazing boondocking spots like Loy Butte Road in Sedona or Lake Creek Road in Ketchum. You can visit these places in a rental rig, assuming your rental agreement allows for off-road travel, but be conservative with the length of your stay. You don’t know the condition of the batteries and how much power your unfamiliar setup uses.

Pick a floor plan you’re unsure about. On our second rental, we picked the Airstream 19CB. Online, this floorplan never made any sense to me, but we wanted to try something different to have more confidence in our eventual purchase. We loved this unexpected trailer so much we bought one for ourselves 6 months later.

airstream in big sur
The Airstream we now own at Plaskett Creek Campground, Big Sur.

RV Rentals For Your Friends

Even if you already own your own RV, familiarity with rental options can be beneficial. While we were out on a 3-month trip last year, our friends from Chicago flew out to meet us in Las Vegas, rented a Winnebago Minnie Winnie, and Jeep Wrangler from Best Time RV and we caravanned to Zion National Park and Antelope Canyon. It was a blast spending time with our friends on the road, and they enjoyed their rental experience so much they are in the market to buy this year.

Rentals are the perfect way to work through your list of Campendium favorites and try out the RV lifestyle. You’ll learn a lot about what setup will work for you and be a more informed and confident buyer when the time comes to purchase.



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