Greg Johnson (co-author of Zero Down Your Debt) explores the possibilities of financially renting an RV.
Hit the road this summer in an RV rental! In this piece, you’ll learn how to rent an RV, understand where to look, and get tips on how to do it in style.
Thinking about renting an RV this summer? Learn how to rent an RV, where to look, and
Summer is right around the corner and you’re probably thinking about travel plans. I’m with you!
Naturally, road trips come to mind. There’s something so fun and old school about piling the family in the car and hitting the open road, sightseeing along the way.
Of course, piling the family in the car might get a little…cramped after a couple of hours. And you’ll be staying at hotels everywhere you stop, unless you’re adventurous enough to tent.
An RV would be ideal, since it’s a hotel on wheels. Many are equipped with very reasonable kitchens, eliminating the need to eat out. And the country’s most beautiful national parks have RV-ready campsites just waiting for travelers like you.
The problem is, most people can’t justify an expensive purchase that they’ll only use a few times a year. They don’t realize that it’s super-easy to rent an RV!
Here’s everything you need to know about renting an RV and making your summer road trip dreams a reality:
Where to Rent an RV
First thing first, where are you going to find an RV?
There are RV rental chains you could check out (like Cruise America), or you might find something on the private market. With that said, online peer-to-peer marketplaces offer the best of both worlds. You get a wide selection and a secure process with ample opportunity to score a great deal.
Two of the biggest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplaces are Outdoorsy and RVshare. Think of them like Airbnb for RVs. Owners list their RVs when they aren’t using them, setting their own terms and prices. Renters browse the online listings and connect with owners to arrange a rental.
It’s more secure than a private deal with someone you find on Criagslist because Outdoorsy and RVshare offer secure payment platforms that protect owners and renters. They also offer insurance for qualified RVs and 24/7 roadside assistance. Sure, you could arrange those things on your own if you went private, but getting everything you need from one place is just easier.
Considerations for an RV Rental
Types of RVs
Besides where to look, the biggest thing to consider is what kind of RV you want.
There are two broad categories on the menu: Motorized RVs and towable RVs, also known as motorhomes and trailers. With a motorhome, the part you drive and the living area are attached, so it’s your vehicle. A trailer is a separate structure you tow with a separate vehicle.
When it comes to motorhomes, there are three different classes: A, B, and C.
Class A motorhomes are huge tour bus-like vehicles loaded with amenities. These beasts will have separate bedrooms, a decked out kitchen, and a very reasonable bathroom. At 21 to 45 feet long, they have plenty of space. They’re awesome for large families looking for a refined experience, but driving one definitely takes some getting used to.
You would think the next size down would be Class B, but it’s not. Class C motorhomes are built on a truck chassis with a cab that extends over the driving area. They often include smaller versions of the amenities found in Class A, with an extra bed in the cab area. Class C motorhomes are 20 to 31 feet, so roomy enough for a family, but easier to drive than the larger Class A.
Class B motorhomes are camper vans. They’re compact (17 to 19 feet) and easy to drive, making them ideal for a couple or small family setting out on a classic road trip. The best designed camper vans use space-saving designs to maximize features — think seating that converts to a bed.
Trailers come in a few different styles and sizes.
Fifth-wheel trailers are large RVs with an extension that attaches to the cab of a pickup truck. It’s called a fifth-wheel because of the wheel-like plate at the end of the extension. Not all trucks are equipped to tow a fifth-wheel trailer, so keep that in mind if considering one. Because of their large size, fifth wheels are usually spacious and well-equipped.
Travel trailers can range in size and must be towed by a vehicle with a special hitch. Unlike fifth-wheel trailers, they don’t have an extension that overhangs the tow vehicle. Both fifth-wheel and travel trailers come with the same types of amenities as motorhomes, depending on size.
Pop-up campers are smaller trailers that can usually be towed by a wide range of vehicles, including midsize cars. They include a hard base and roof, but the sides are kind of like a tent, popping up when in use and folding away when not. Because they’re small and compact, they’re light on features but easy to move around.
Your Needs and Plans
The type and size of RV you go with will depend on who’s along for the ride, your plans, and your preferences.
If you’ve got a big family, then you’ll want something with ample space. If you plan to spend most of your time outside and just sleep in the RV, a camper van or pop up trailer might fit the bill.
If you don’t have a vehicle capable of towing a trailer and you’re not interested in renting one, a motorhome is the obvious choice.
You’ll also want to think about how comfortable you are driving a bigger RV or towing a large trailer. If you’ll be driving to your location and parking your RV, you can probably get it done. But if you want to cover a lot of ground, get something you’re at ease driving.
When renting an RV, you need to make sure you have insurance in place. For motorhomes, that means liability and comprehensive and collision. When towing a trailer, you’ll generally want comprehensive and collision on the trailer, and liability will typically extend from your vehicle’s policy.
Both Outdoorsy and RVshare offer insurance as part of their rental packages. There are some RVs that won’t qualify, but you’ll know that up front before renting it. If you do opt for one of those, you’ll need to arrange insurance yourself. You can check with your auto insurance provider or check out a third party that specializes in RV insurance.
Depending on your plans, travel insurance might be a good idea, too. Outdoorsy offers optional travel insurance that protects your trip and your health.
When you rent an RV, it’s important to read the fine print. Actually, it’s not even a fine print. Any mileage restrictions should be clearly laid out in the listing, but ask if you’re not sure. If you exceed the mileage cap, the owner can levy additional fees.
Some owners don’t set mileage restrictions, so if your plans are open or if you know you’re doing serious driving, you might want to stick with those.
Mapping Out Your Trip
It’s a good idea to have at least a rough plan of where you are going before you hit the road. Where are you headed? Where do you plan to stop? What time will you leave?
Some people like the idea of a spontaneous road trip, and I get it. But if you don’t get real about some of the details, you’re bound to make one of these classic mistakes.
Starting Too Late
Starting too late in the day is a big one. If you get on the road at noon and drive for four hours, it’s coming up on evening before you get anywhere. That doesn’t leave you much time to do anything. It’s better to get on the road early in the morning and reach your destination by lunch time.
This is especially annoying if it’s getting dark by the time you reach your destination. Then you have to contend with parking and settling in with reduced visibility. Parking probably isn’t a big deal for small and nimble camper vans, but if you’re driving a huge Class A rig or towing a large trailer, you might be less comfortable in the dark.
Not Booking Ahead
Not booking your campsites in advance can prove a disappointing and inconvenient mistake if the park is full when you arrive. It’s especially risky during peak camping season when national parks and other campsites might book out months in advance. I recommend making reservations and planning your trip around them.
Driving Too Much
Unrealistic planning is another common mistake. Newbie roadtrippers sometimes hope to cover large distances in a single day, which means spending the whole day driving and then sleeping. Sure, driving is fun at first, but after five or six hours on the road, it gets tiresome – especially for the driver.
Trying to cram too many destinations into a short time span is another classic mistake. You spend so much time driving from place to place that you don’t leave yourself enough time to enjoy them. Slow it down, you’ll be glad you did.
Tips for Success When Renting an RV
Rent Only as Much as You Need
It’s easy to get seduced by uber-fancy RVs, but they usually come with a steep price tag. I say focus on the size and amenities your family needs to be comfortable, at a price you can afford. When you find something that ticks all the boxes, you’ve got a winner.
Do a Walk Through
When you pick up your RV rental, do a walk through with the owner and get them to show you all the need-to-knows. You don’t want to arrive at your campsite and realize you don’t know how to hook up the water!
Even when you’re renting a luxurious Class A, space is at a premium in an RV. That’s extra true if you’re in a camper van! Avoid overpacking by making a list and sticking to it.
Just as important as what you pack is how you pack it. Soft duffle bags are ideal because they can conform to irregular shared spaces. Plus, the soft bag won’t damage the inside of your RV rental, saving you from losing your damage deposit. (Don’t ask me how I know this…)
Embrace a less traditional vacation and enjoy your RV rental adventure!
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Co-author Holly Johnson appears on Fox Business News as a money expert. • Holly Johnson is a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report Travel. Holly also landed her very own weekly column in the Indianapolis Star! She will cover a range of money and lifestyle topics aimed at helping middle class families stretch their dollars further. She’ll be answering questions and providing commentary every Sunday in the “Lifestyle” section of the paper. • Greg and Holly Johnson’s work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Forbes, Lifehacker, Yahoo!, and many other online publications. • Club Thrifty is one of the most popular self-help budgeting sites with dozens of classes, tips, seminars, lessons and advice to help readers achieve financial freedom. • With over 20,000 subscribers to their blog, a well-trafficked website, the ClubThrifty brand is accruing thousands of loyal fans and followers in many social media platforms.