Have you ever thought about taking off in a campervan? Wondered if it was as easy as it sounds? You just hop into your campervan and hit the road. No major prep required. Right? Actually it is that easy! We just finished our first vacation in a rented campervan and it was one of the easiest camping trips ever. We learned a lot along the way and want to share these best tips for renting a campervan that will ensure you also have a great road trip.
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Just a little background before we jump into those campervan rental tip: We rented our campervan for our Arizona National Park Road Trip from Travellers Autobarn in Las Vegas. That was 10 days and 1500 miles of making the big loop in Arizona starting at Las Vegas, headed South to Saguaro National Park, back North to Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon and returning to Vegas. We had the best time!
Top Tips for Renting a Campervan
Things to ask before you rent your campervan
#1 What is the Right Size Campervan
Have no doubt, living in a campervan will be the ultimate “tiny house” living experience. I’m sure you realize to not expect much moving around space. However you do need to consider a few things about space before you rent.
First how comfortable will everyone be when you are traveling down the road? For our trip, it was just Brad and I so we only needed 2 seats for travel which is standard in any campervan. But make sure you ask questions before you rent if you have more than 2 in your party.
- if you have more passengers, is there enough seating for them? And is that seating comfortable. No one wants to sit in a jump seat for 8 hours, while 30 minutes might be OK.
- if you have children, are there seats without airbags that are appropriate for child seats?
- if your dog is joining, is there enough room for her to spread out?
Where will everyone sleep and do they fit? Most rental campervans will have a main bed that is close to queen size that is perfect for a couple. After that they start getting creative on where you will tuck everyone else. Some have pop up tents on the roof. Most have an upper loft area within the van. A few larger vans will have bunks. Don’t assume your whole family will fit just because the listing says the van sleeps 4, take a really good look at the photos to ensure everyone will fit comfortably in the style van you select.
All that said, we slept really well in our van.
#2 Before you Rent a Campervan, make sure you Accurately Budget
There is more expense to your campervan rental than the rental itself. Here are a few things to make sure you consider in your budget:
Mileage is included with some rental companies, but for most company and private rentals you’ll pay a per mile surcharge. If you are planning a long road trip like ours then those miles really add up. On the other hand if you are headed to one location to stay put for a week, mileage might change your total price much. For us, the mileage surcharge was one of the deciding factors in choosing Travellers Autobarn who give unlimited free miles since we knew we’d drive over 1500 miles. So take just a few minutes and do the math.
Gas will be more expensive than your traditional car. Ask before you rent what the average MPG is for the van, they will be more than happy to share it with you. We ran about 13 mpg in our campervan. (Although not a budget impact, remember the gas tank is also bigger than a standard car. I have one receipt for $94 that was a bit of a shock in the moment.)
Propane is needed for cooking. Estimate about $30 for 2 weeks of propane. If you can do a prepaid tank when you rent it is so worth it. Trying to find a place to fill up your propane tank before you return your van is not worth the time.
There are also a lot of extras you can rent which we will talk about below.
#3 Check your Insurance
I’d suggest the first call you make is to your personal auto insurance company. Ask them if you are covered for a campervan rental, and what is covered. My insurance company was very helpful. I already have extra coverage for when I rent cars. So they explained that the same coverage would cover the campervan rental except the out of service expense. What’s that you say? Well sure enough there was a clause in the rental agreement that said we were liable for lost revenue for each day the van was out of service for repairs due to an accident we had. Ouch… that could really add up.
Don’t guess. And on the other side, don’t pay for stuff you don’t need. Be aware that your insurance is different than mine. And you pay that insurance company lots of money each year. They will be more than happy to answer your questions and help you make a good decision about if you need to purchase additional insurance when you rent.
Also make sure you take a copy of your insurance card with you when you pick up your campervan. You’ll need it to finalize your rental and you will need it on the road if you get stopped or have an accident.
#4 Do You Need to Rent the Extras?
We found that campervan rental companies offer a wide menu of extras like bedding, cookware, camp chairs, etc. Some are included, some are for a fee. As we mentioned in budgeting, these fees can add up so you should plan for them. In our case renting from Travellers Autobarn, as the lowest base price they also charged for most extra supplies. We actually preferred this arrangement as we have a lot of camping gear perfect for traveling since we fly and tent camp often. So offering the extras ala carte saved us money. However if you don’t have gear, you might save more if your rental company includes the extras. And that’s why we keep a cost comparison spreadsheet before renting that includes everything. Here’s some extras to think about:
Bedding – We choose to bring our own because I’m squeamish about sleeping in a sleeping bag someone else has slept in. I know from experience that it’s a lot of work to clean a sleeping bag so I just don’t trust someone to do it right. My issue… doesn’t have to be yours 😁. However we also have compact sleeping bags that fly with us for tent camping and a set of sheets don’t take much space so it wasn’t a big deal. You don’t need sleeping bags during most weather where a comforter is more than enough.
Cooking Gear – It’s super easy to use their cooking gear pack. We just happen to already have cooking gear that we take when we fly so I tossed it in my bag and skipped that rental fee. But if it had been included I would have used their cooking pack. IMPORTANT: make sure you have what you need for your morning coffee!
Camp Chairs – For our rental these were supposed to be an extra charge, however our host threw them in at no charge. Nice. But we were prepared anyway as we had our ultralight camping chairs in our gear bag. Those chairs have flown all over the country with us and are super comfy.
Power Cords – Somewhere I saw a company charging extra for the electric hook up power cords and I don’t remember who. That seemed a little odd to me, but here’s a reminder to make sure if your rented camper van has electric hook capacity that the cords are there before you head out on your trip. While you are checking, make sure you have water hoses too.
#5 Does the Campervan have Solar Power?
This was our first experience with solar power and it went off without a hitch. But you need to ask questions about what the solar will and won’t run. The obvious one for us was that the solar wouldn’t run the microwave. That only worked when we were connected to electric (which was only 2 nights). It also won’t run other high power items like a blow drier.
Solar power easily ran the fridge. And it did run interior lights and the water pump. It also let us charge our phones. But what we didn’t realize was that if we had too many things pulling power, then the fridge might not be able run. So one morning we woke up to a not so cold fridge because we had charged phones all night. Ooops… yeah it was in the manual. But who reads manuals.
We loved the solar power and know that will always be part of any future camper van we rent or purchase.
Things to Do Before you Take Off in your Rented Camper Van
#6 Plan your campsites
You have visions of parking your campervan in glorious places, with sunsets that inspire and sunrises that start your day with a coffee among nature. But unless you plan, you might just find yourself in a Walmart parking lot.
The demand for campsites increases each year. More and more campgrounds are reservation only. So get in there and book your spots sooner than later. And with your campervan it’s a lot easier to take advantage of free camping in the National Forests. So it’s worth a little research to learn about those choices too.
#7 Order Groceries for Pick Up Right after your Campervan Pick Up
There’s one big win that came out of the pandemic and that has been the systemization of grocery pick up. Although it existed in some places prior, you can now pick up almost anywhere in a really easy process. So order your groceries the day before you leave from a grocer on your way out of town. Look for one that easy on and off the highway. If we are leaving from a big city, we wait to do our pick up until we are out of heavy traffic. Pull up in your sweet rented campervan, load them up and you are ready to go.
You’ll probably want to bring things that you only use in small quantities like sugar and spices. Otherwise make it easy on yourself and get everything online. We used to waste a couple hours after we landed in a city getting our camping groceries. Now I order while sitting in the airport and we are in and out of the grocery store in 10 minutes.
#8 Pack in Easy to Store Luggage
This was the biggest mistake we made. Because we were flying we used our regular rolling suitcases for our clothes. Ugh… they took up so much space in the campervan. And were so heavy to lift down from the overhead storage to change clothes. If I had to do it again (and I will) I would pack in bags that can be stored flat. Then unpacked my clothes into simple collapsible storage boxes that would have fit in the overhead storage and been lightweight to take down when needed. If you are flying, use the most compact suitcases you can. On the flip side, we used a duffle to bring our gear and that just folded up under the seat not to be seen again until we packed to go home. Much smarter.
#9 Bring a Cooler
You’ll find the refrigerator limited in space. Ours held enough meat, dairy and veggies for the week. But adding beverages would have been pushing it. Since we flew in, we added a collapsible cooler to our gear. It fit nicely under the table.
You are going to be tucking your gear into a lot of places so making it easy to find will help you keep your sanity. It really sucks to loose the toothpaste under a mountain of clothes. We used fabric bags that let us sort items into groups and found those easy to grab. I’ve seen others use hanging organizers.
#10 Bring Organization Containers
You’ll find most of the storage is deep which means little things can get lost in the recesses of your campervan. So plan to organize your toiletries in a larger container so they are easy to grab. Something like these toiletry organizers would work well for keeping everything within easy reach and stack on the storage shelf. Also our van had no drawers. Luckily I always keep my utensils, condiments and other small kitchen items in a shoe box sized storage box. That box fit perfectly in the cabinet and everything was easy to find.
#11 Take Photos of Everything Before you Pull Out
This is just a personal rule from many decades of renting cars. Leave no questions when you return your rental. So I always take photos of any body damage, the mileage and gas gauges. I take pictures of the gauges again when I return the rental. Then there’s no risk of questions later. The guy that checked us out at Travellers Autobarn actually did all that for me and then emailed them to me. Without asking. I was pretty impressed.
#12 Make Sure you are Clear About Roadside Assistance Before you Pull Out
No one wants to think about a flat tire or an overheated engine while on vacation. And most campervan rentals include roadside assistance. Just make sure you know who to call before you leave the grounds. Because as you know those things never happen during normal office hours.
This is going to be a living list of ideas, so as we hear from other campervan road trippers and get out more ourselves we will keep updating. You’ll find more tips for renting a campervan here.