Renting an RV: Tips for the First-Time RV Renter

May 26, 2020 | Rigs

Renting an RV: Tips for the First-Time RV Renter

If you’re interested in taking an RV trip, but not ready to buy or own an RV just yet, renting is a great first step. We have a list of everything to keep in mind when renting your first RV.

By Stephanie Puglisi

Photo: Stacey Powers

Are you thinking that an RV rental might be the perfect way to enjoy a vacation this year? You’re not alone. Peer-to-peer rental service RVShare recently reported a 650 percent increase in bookings since early April. We’ve always known that RVs are an amazing way to see our beautiful country. But the benefits of having a home on wheels are becoming even more apparent as we navigate traveling in a time of COVID-19 safety concerns and social distancing policies.

Dark sandy beach cove with tall pines and forests across the water in the distance
Photo: Stacey Powers

Reasons to Rent an RV

The primary reason why rentals have spiked this season is because RVs offer the opportunity to travel in a self-contained environment. Renters can properly disinfect a rig, then load it up with their own linens, toiletries, and food. They can enjoy a change of scenery while still avoiding airports, hotels, restaurants, and rest stop bathrooms. RVs are also perfect for safely bringing travelers to the most highly coveted summer destination—the great outdoors.

Here are some other reasons why this might be the perfect time to rent an RV:

  1. Try It Out: Have you been thinking about purchasing an RV, but aren’t quite sure it’s the right decision? Renting an RV will let you try out the whole experience without a long term commitment or huge investment.
  2. Find Your Fit: Have you already been shopping for an RV, but are overwhelmed by all the different rig choices? An RV rental is the perfect opportunity to try out different models and floor plans to find the right fit. 
  3. No More FOMO: Are you jealous of your friends that already own an RV and are heading out to the campground right now? Rent an RV and join them for some socially distanced fun.
  4. Usage: Do you love RVing but know you won’t be able to use it enough to justify the investment? Plenty of people rent an RV for a few weeks every year instead of purchasing their own unit. 
Two class c RVs and one silver truck towing a pop-up parked in a gravel lot surrounded by pine trees
Photo: Stacey Powers

The Truth About RVing and Budgeting

Renting an RV is not necessarily cheaper than your average hotel or vacation home rental, especially when you factor in campsite fees. This catches a lot of folks by surprise. Choosing an RV rental over another accommodation is more about the experience and convenience than it is about saving money. However, if you are looking to reign in costs while RVing, it’s possible to save money in other ways. For instance, covering less distance will reduce gas expenses and public campgrounds will be more affordable than private ones. You can find some other tips for budgeting here

Back of an Airstream trailer on a paved highway parked near Crystal Cove Resort campground sign
Photo: Stacey Powers

Choosing an RV Rental

There are a wide range of RV models available for rent, especially if you are looking at peer-to-peer rental platforms like Outdoorsy or RVshare. It may be tempting to choose based on price, but dig a little deeper to make sure your rental will be a good fit for your family. Make sure there’s a designated bed for every traveler—changing the dinette or couch into a bed every night will get old fast, trust us. You’ll also want to find a kitchen that is stocked with essentials and well-equipped for any meal preparation that you might be planning. Many campground bathhouses are still not open due to COVID-19 concerns, so a full bathroom in the RV rental should be a priority this summer. If you’re looking to travel with any four-legged family members, search for a rental that is pet-friendly. Lastly, you’ll want to think about the gear you’re bringing on your RV adventure. Make sure your rental can accommodate any bikes, kayaks, or canoes.

Many rental companies will deliver an RV to the campground of your choice. This might be an attractive option if you are looking for a change of scenery without the hassle of driving, towing, or parking an RV. There are a lot of good reasons to camp close to home this year, and some rental companies will even recommend their favorite campgrounds and help navigate the reservation process. 

Man in black shit loads plastic green package into side compartment of fifth wheel trailer
Photo: Andy Murphy

Here are some more quick tips for picking out the perfect RV rental:

  1. Reviews: Read reviews carefully. There is a wide range of quality and service, just like in the hotel industry. Do your homework and avoid unpleasant surprises.
  2. Insurance: Look for detailed information about roadside assistance and insurance coverage. You’ll want to be fully covered in the case of an emergency.
  3. Additions: Pay careful attention to what is included with your RV rental. Some companies give you everything from linens to camp chairs, while others provide nothing but the RV itself.

RV Rental Options

There are a range of rental options available, and you’ll want to choose one that offers the level of comfort and support you are looking for. Here are some of the most reputable RV rental companies out there right now.

Cruise America

You’ve probably seen Cruise America’s Class C rentals in national parks around the country. They’ve been in business since the 1970s and know how to offer a ton of support for the first-time renter. Their RVs are actually built to be virtually unbreakable, and many units are pet-friendly. You will pay a premium price with Cruise America, but you’re likely to have a seamless user experience.

Road Bear RV

Road Bear RV is another rental company that has been around for decades and has its customer service fine tuned. There are only seven locations in the country, but they are all located around major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Denver, and New York City. Again, you’ll find higher prices than the peer-to-peer marketplace, but Road Bear RV will offer a ton of planning support and RV education.

Outdoorsy

This peer-to-peer rental platform connects RV owners with RV renters in the United States and Canada. There are a wide variety of rigs and price points, and you’ll find everything from a $50-per-night pop-up camper to a $350-per-night motorhome. Outdoorsy offers liability insurance policies up to $1 million, providing peace of mind to both parties. 

RVshare

RVshare is another peer-to-peer rental platform with thousands of privately-owned RVs available to rent around the United States. They offer renters insurance and roadside assistance, plus a website full of resources for first-time RVers.

Three class c RVs and one white truck towing an Airstream parked on a paved road surrounded by trees
Photo: Stacey Powers

Tips for First-Time Renters

An RV is basically a house on wheels, so the learning curve can be steep for newbies. Set yourself up for success by following these recommendations.

  1. Size Matters: Don’t go too big. Staying at 30 feet or below is probably a good bet for first-timers.
  2. Go Motorized: Rent a motorized rig instead of a towable. Smaller motorized RVs are similar to trucks or U-Hauls and not that difficult to drive. Hitching, unhitching, and backing up a trailer can be much more challenging.
  3. Videos Can Help: Watch YouTube videos in advance. You can find a wide variety of free resources to binge on prior to your trip.
  4. Know What’s Included: Get a detailed checklist on what is included from the rental company or RV owner.
  5. Take Your Time: Don’t plan on covering too much ground on a single traveling day. It definitely requires more attention to drive if you are not a seasoned RVer. Take your time and allow for plenty of breaks.
  6. Have Fun: Have a sense of humor and enjoy the adventure. This may not be like any vacation you have ever taken. It may also be way more memorable. Go with the flow and have fun. 
Woman and man sit next to each other looking out the back doors of camper van at misty lake with Mount Hood rising in the background
Photo: The Beans and Rice

This article was adapted with permission from See You at the Campground: A Guide to Discovering Community, Connection, and a Happier Family in the Great Outdoors by Stephanie and Jeremy Puglisi. Sourcebooks, 2020.

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Stephanie Puglisi

Stephanie Puglisi is the head of content for Roadtrippers and Togo RV. She is the author of two books—See You at the Campground: A Guide to Discovering Community, Connection, and a Happier Family in the Great Outdoors; and Idiot’s Guide to RV Vacations.