Buy This, Not That: Dreaming of renting an RV for your next great road trip? Here’s exactly how to do it right

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RVing was hot in 2020 — popular RV rental company  Outdoorsy saw a 4,500% increase in bookings in 2020, for example. And in 2021, it may just be again: A recent survey by the RV Industry Association found that about three in 10 Americans hope to take an RV trip this year — 10% of whom have never done it before.

The appeal of RVing is obvious. You get the creature comforts of home, including a comfy bed and mini-kitchen, while out in nature. And there are plenty of RV rental options, including Outdoorsy and RVShare. Here’s what to know before you go.

Where do you rent an RV?

There are a handful of companies that offer RV, trailer and campervan rentals, which can range anywhere from $50 a night for an older trailer to upwards of $400 or more for a newer RV. Here are a few of the top-rated companies offering RV rentals:

  • Outdoorsy: Travel site TripSavvy rates Outdoorsy as its No. 1 pick, and Business Insider puts it on the list of the “4 best RV rentals.” Outdoorsy is like an Airbnb for RV rentals (you’re renting from RV owners themselves), and it offers campervan and RV rentals. You can arrange pickup and delivery with the RV owner, and there are plenty of pet-friendly options. Check out RV options from Outdoorsy here.
  • RVShare: This company also landed on Business Insider’s list, and it made TripSavvy’s list as the “best value” RV pick. Like Outdoorsy, its’ a peer-to-peer rental company, so you rent from individual owners, and it has pet-friendly options as well as delivery options. Check out RV options from RVShare here.
  • Cruise America: This is a more traditional RV rental (you rent from the company), and TripSavvy calls it the “best traditional rental.”

Wherever you choose to rent, do you homework, checking rates, reviews (for example, on Outdoorsy and RV Share, you can see how people who also rented the RV liked it), fees and more.

How do you choose the right RV?

There are many different factors to consider, but experts say these are among the most important:

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  • Class and type: There are different classes of RVs and different types of trailers, all of which this helpful guide from RVShare breaks down for you. One thing to think about: Choosing a trailer as opposed to a motorhome will allow you to disconnect your car from the RV and take day trips away from the camp site — or night trips to buy more wine. Armstrong notes, however, that trailers take more time to set up once you reach your destination — and might not be the best option for physically handicapped travelers. When choosing the right RV for your needs, bigger is not always better. The more RV you have behind the rear axle, the more the butt of the vehicle will swing out when you turn. “You don’t want to turn into a Walmart and take out a lamppost,” says Marshall Wendler, the co-founder of Camp Addict, a website that provides information about the RV lifestyle.
  • Amenities: Look at amenities such as counter space in the kitchen, as well as a comfortable bed. Wendler notes that many RV rentals just keep the mattress from the factory, which is often stiff and difficult to sleep on. Counter space is important if you plan on taking the RV to a remote location without any nearby restaurants. “The less counter space you have, the more difficult it is to cook,” notes Wendler. Pro tip: You can save money bringing your own sheets and towels, rather than using those provided by the rental agency, says Margo Armstrong, the host of the podcast RV Lifestyle Expert.
  • Trip plans: If you’re thinking about “boondocking,” which is camping on public land away from a designated campground (campgrounds generally provide amenities like hot showers, dumping grounds, electrical outlets and WiFi) then you might want to consider renting an RV with a generator. But be warned that having a generator on board won’t always mean you can watch television all night in air conditioning. “Most RVs don’t come with an ample battery supply,” notes Wendler.

Where should you travel? 

It depends on your preferences, but here’s where frequent RVers say they’d go: If Camp Addict’s Wendler and his partner, Kelly Beasley, could travel anywhere in their RV this summer, they would go down U.S. Route 395 to the June Lake Campgrounds in California or around the Great Lakes. For her part, Gigi Stetler, the CEO and founder of the RV Advisor, would choose the Pocono Mountains in the summer and the Florida Keys in the winter. And because Armstrong predicts that campgrounds on the east coast will be heavily booked throughout the next six months, she would travel to the coasts off Oregon and Washington, where the scenery is beautiful, the weather is cool and the crowds are thinner.

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What other things should you consider when RVing?

  • Book campsites in advance: Campgrounds are increasingly booked throughout the summer, and even into the fall and winter. Armstrong recommends booking your campsite as far in advance as possible on a site like Campspot.  If all of the campsites where you’re interested in traveling are fully booked, Stetler notes that you can try a site like Harvest Hosts, which lists camping grounds at wineries, breweries, museums and golf courses across North America. Other sites that list unique camp sites include Boondockers Welcome and Hip Camp — the latter site consists of private landowners offering space for RVers on their properties. 
  • Make sure you’re fully insured: “Do not go out on the road in someone else’s vehicle without being fully insured,” recommends Stetler. Your car insurance company may cover you (call and ask) but if not, you will want to get insurance through the company you rented from or another way.
  • RVing can be fabulous, but it’s not for everyone: Wendler notes that one of the most surprising things about driving in a motorhome for the first time is that they are noisy — both because of the engine, and because of the items inside that shift around while you drive. Also be prepared for on-board bathrooms and amenities to be blocked due to pop-out panels being folded away for the journey. Finally, prepare to take longer routes in order to avoid getting stuck in an underpass or bridge that is shorter than the height of your RV. “A lot of American infrastructure is old, and doesn’t accommodate larger vehicles,” notes Wendler. To plan the safest route, use a site like Roadtrippers or RV Trip Wizard.
  • Ask for help if you need it. Wherever you end up going, don’t be afraid to ask for help. “Sometimes fear pops up when backing the RV into an overnight site causing some drivers to give up and ask for assistance from a neighbor,” says Armstrong. “This is common in the RV lifestyle.”

Brienne Walsh is a travel and art writer, whose work has appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, the New York Daily News, The Huffington Post, and more.

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