Whether you’re single, a couple, a family with kids, or a group of friends, renting an RV is a great way to see America (and Canada). And if you’re thinking of buying an RV, renting is the best way to get a feel for the RV life and learn which features matter most to you before you make a major purchase.
Although there’s a lot of advice about renting and vacationing in RVs on the Internet, we discovered that no one place told us everything we needed to know—especially as newbies. So, after countess hours of surfing the net to plan several rental vacations, we literally “wrote the book” on RV rentals! Here are six of our top tips from The Complete Guide to Renting an RV.
Check out local and independent options.
Most of the RV rental industry is dominated by one company: Cruise America. They have the largest fleet with the most locations (130 at the moment), and their motorhomes are custom built for the rental market. The RVs have fewer frills than other companies offer, but they are solidly built and chances are you live near one of their dealers. Not bad choice by any means.
But there are other options.
Before renting, be sure to check out RoadBear and El Monte, the next two largest chains. And don’t forget to do a Google search for local RV rental companies. You might also want to check out RVShare.com, a broker that helps connect you with private owners who want to rent out their RVs when they aren’t using them. (Buyer beware – Private RV owners have usually have only their one RV, so if the RV breaks down on the road, you’re out of luck. Likewise, if it is in the shop when you’ve made your reservation, you’re out of luck there too.)
(If you’re in the greater New York area, check out our friends at www.84rv.com. They’re great to work with and are a great example of how a “little guy” can often outdo the “big guys.”)
By doing a little comparison shopping, you may save money and get a nicer rental RV for your vacation.
2. Choose the smallest RV that will meet your needs.
You may be surprised to discover that it’s not as simple as: the bigger the RV, the more people it can sleep. Layout and design matter. And while a 40-foot RV will certainly have more interior living space than a smaller one, one or two slide-outs in a smaller RV can make a big difference.
Also keep in mind that a smaller motorhome will fit into many more RV campsites than a larger one—and expand your camping possibilities. And the smaller it is, the easier it is to maneuver and park. You might be able to find street parking (picture two spaces two together) near that restaurant you want to try or more parking options in a museum’s parking lot. In all likelihood, you won’t be towing a car on your vacation, so the ability to drive and park a smaller RV can be a game-changer.
Of course, it will cost less to rent a smaller RV than a larger one. Know your own needs, however, and rent what you think you’ll be happy in for the length of your vacation. Just remember that the outdoors will be your backyard, and you probably won’t want to hang out in your RV all day!
3. Make a video of your orientation.
When you pick up your rental RV, you should be given a thorough tour and orientation. Expect this to take up to an hour. They will show you where everything is and how everything works. It’s a lot to remember, and in the early days we sometimes didn’t take advantage of some great features simply because we forgot they were there or how to use them. This never needs to happen to you. When the orientation begins, simply take a video of the entire presentation. Then, when you can’t figure out how to work the awning, for instance, you can just pull up your video and watch it demonstrated again.
After all, you don’t want this to happen!
A bonus to taping the orientation is that you will also be documenting any preexisting damage so that you don’t have to pay for someone else’s mistakes. The rental company should have accurate records of the RV’s condition for you to sign off on. Just make sure that all preexisting damage is noted before you drive off. And remember your video recording if you encounter any problems upon return. Above all, drive safely and carefully!
4. Bring some frozen meals with you.
RV kitchens are small. And while you can cook almost anything you need to in an RV, why spend more time in the kitchen than you have to? You’re on vacation, right? We try to cook and freeze a few meals at home before we travel. Then we can just heat them up the microwave or even on a grill with no fuss and no muss.
RV refrigerators and freezers are also small. They can hold a surprising amount of food if well organized, but a cooler can come in really handy for storing your frozen meals, which can serve as ice packs for other foods or beverages until they’re thawed
5. Use satellite view.
When you go to a campground’s website, you might find some great pictures of the beautiful campsites and surroundings. It looks like you’ll be just a few steps from the beach, or nestled in the middle of nowhere. Imagine your disappointment when you find that those photos have been carefully cropped to avoid showing the highway—or the railroad tracks, or the industrial plant—only a hundred yards away. In fact, some of the website photos might be of nearby attractions instead of the campground itself. This isn’t to imply that all websites are this devious, just that you should choose wisely—and not go by the website itself.
We like to use the satellite-view feature of Google Maps to see an actual, unbiased look from above, not only of the campground but also of the surrounding area. You can see which campsites have the best—or worst—locations, and you can see whether the RVs are packed together like sardines or spread out like fish in a pond. Huh? You get the idea! You can’t always get a spacious, private campsite in the woods, but it’s better to know ahead of time than to be surprised.
(Bonus Tip: Satellite view can also help you check out gas stations to be sure they are RV friendly, find convenient parking areas near attractions you plan to visit, and so on. Take full advantage of the ability to get “views from the air”!)
The first five tips above are only a sampling of the useful information you’ll find in our little book, The Complete Guide to Renting an RV. We wrote this book not to earn a ton of money (which we certainly don’t) but to help you more easily plan your RV rental vacation. The book will help you choose the RV that’s best for you (Class A? Class C?), find campgrounds or parks that best suit your idea of a great vacation, and plan an RV-friendly itinerary. You’ll also find tips on what to pack, how to drive an RV, and how to dump the sewage tanks and still end up smelling like a rose!
The book is available in both Kindle and print versions exclusively on Amazon, and if you’re a Prime member, you can download it for free. And would you do us a special favor? After your vacation, please go back on Amazon and leave a review of the book and how it helped you. Most people decide whether or not to buy a book based on what other reviewers say about it. If you found our book helpful, you can help others plan a better RV vacation by letting them know.
Please leave your comments and questions, as well as your own favorite tips below, and we’ll see you on the road! Happy RVing!