Renting an RV – The Complete Guide for Beginners

RV rental is available to Americans and tourists alike and while it’s less of a commitment than actually buying your own rig, there are things you have to know and pitfalls to avoid. Renting can actually get you into trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Which is why I put together this guide. These are the most important things you need to know if you’re considering renting an RV in the United States. I’m going to cover topics such as where to rent, how much it’s going to cost you and what kind of insurance you need – as well as the kind of road trips you can take with your rental RV. 

Don’t rent an RV before you read this guide.

Why rent an RV in the US?

For many of us, the fantasy is all laid out. You and your spouse, maybe kids too, in a gorgeous recreational vehicle. Your spouse making your coffee in the kitchen and your kids playing board games as you’re driving along these magical forested mountain roads, adorned with clear streams and waterfalls, sending a gentle mist that covers your fantasy RV, refreshing your soul. Oh, and following a night around the bonfire, as you’re camping in the most beautiful national parks in the US, you wake up to the face a sweet baby deer looking at you from the other side of your RV window pane.

You know. That fantasy.

Pretty much everything I described above was not very realistic. So if that’s what you think RV life is like, renting can be a good way to try it out before making a commitment to buying your own RV.

Having said that, vacationing in an RV can be magical and wondrous, so I’m not putting down the idea. It’s a great option for people to get out there and have fun with their loved ones in a unique setting. I’m all for it. Just saying, it’s a good idea to get real with your expectations. Having talked to so many people who went on an RV vacation in the US, I can almost guarantee that you are going to love it.

Just don’t be renting for the wrong reasons.

Why you shouldn’t rent an RV for your next vacation

The wrong reason is to save money.

I have heard this over and over again. People who are not Americans and want to take their family on a trip to the US. Renting a car is expensive and hotels can be expensive. So they figure – why not save and just rent an RV instead? I can save money on hotels by sleeping in the vehicle, right?

Wrong.

The cost of renting an RV in season is more or less equal to the cost of going with the minivan + motels option. Trust me, I checked that several times.

RV’s can be very expensive to rent during July and August – which is the high season. A small RV can easily cost you over $200 a day. But that’s not all. You’ll pay more for gas and you’ll still have to pay for campgrounds which – wait for it – also get expensive in season. A minivan will cost you around $70 (including insurance for overseas drivers) and motels are around $150 a night for a family room, so overall, renting an RV won’t save you money. If anything, it might be more expensive.

Rent an RV only because you want to experience RV life – not to save money.

Where to rent an RV?

These days, you have two options where it comes to renting an RV. You can either rent from a reputable company that specializes in RV rentals, or you can rent directly from owners of RV’s via peer-to-peer services. Let’s take a quick look at what’s available.

RV Rental Companies

There are many companies in the US that rent out RV’s. Some are local but many are national – with branches across the country. Some of the largest are –

Cruise America

El Monte RV

US RV Rentals

Apollo RV

A rental company is going to provide you the complete package. You’re going to get to one of their locations to pick up an RV. They will usually have you sit through an orientation movie and then show you the actual RV. A rep will walk you through everything and you’ll get a chance to ask them anything you like. If you’ve never driven an RV before, they’ll let you practice for a bit in their parking lot too.

Pros

  1. You’ll know exactly what you’re getting and you can read detailed reviews about the company and the specific location you’re renting from.
  2. These companies have locations across the country. If anything goes wrong, you can get into one of their other locations and they’ll help you out.
  3. The structured process of giving you the RV means you’re more likely to get all the information you need.
  4. You can rent additional packages of linen, towels and utensils.

Cons

  1. A limited selection of RV’s to choose from – you can only choose the ones they have in their fleet and if you don’t make your reservation early enough, they may not have the model you want or need.
  2. Can be expensive. You get more but then you pay for it as well – especially for extras.

Renting from owners (via peer-to-peer services)

You probably know Airbnb, right? Where homeowners rent out flats, houses or just specific rooms for a short-term stay (i.e. to tourists). So, there are similar services for RV’s as well.

The two main players are –

RVShare.com

Campanda

These companies do not have an RV fleet of their own. What they do is put you in touch with RV owners who are willing to rent out their RV. Not only do they run a database that matches you up with the right RV but they also provide the legal structure that connects you, including taking care of the contract and insurance.

Pros

  1. A huge selection of RV’s of all types, sizes and price ranges
  2. Good online support for using their websites and getting information
  3. Lower prices – or at least you can find low prices if you look hard enough

Cons

  1. You’re renting from someone who isn’t an RV rental pro. The way they will hand over the RV to you is likely to be less structures (could be better or not).
  2. No branches elsewhere. You must return the RV to the same location. If anything happens on the way – you’re on your own.

What kind of RV to choose for a rental?

If you’re renting from one of the large RV rental companies, you can usually only rent a motorhome.

A motorhome is a single unit which comprises the vehicle (engine) and the home. There are three classes of motorhomes but the most common one offered by RV rental companies is a Class C motorhome. It looks like this –

Class C motorhome

If you’re traveling as a couple, then you can also opt for a Class B motorhome, also known as a camper van. Class A motorhomes are also available for rent by some companies – but not all.

As for peer-to-peer rentals – you can find anything there. From huge luxury class A’s to tiny teardrop travel trailers or even pop-up campers.

Can you rent a towable RV?

Here’s the thing.

If you own a pickup truck or a large-size SUV (i.e. you live in the US) then you can rent one of the towable trailer or 5th wheel or even a pickup camper as they are offered in the peer-to-peer sites. The owner will usually be able to rent you the hitch along with trailer or 5th wheel they’re renting out.

If you don’t own a proper towing vehicle – then renting a towable is going to be much more difficult.

But not impossible.

You’ll have to rent out a towing vehicle too which basically means renting a pickup truck.

Car rental agencies do have a large selection of SUV’s including full-size ones like Chevy Suburbans and Ford Expeditions (which are fully capable of towing a small travel trailer). Alas, these vehicles do not come with towing packages and what’s more, your contract specifically forbids you from towing anything with them.

Which leaves you with the option of renting a pickup truck. Which used to be nearly impossible until recently. Now both U-haul and Enterprise offer pickup truck rentals which include towing. I’ve noticed other companies are starting to offer pickups as well – but not necessarily with towing packages.

So, doable – but complicated.

You’ll need to rent the pickup, then go to your peer-to-peer towable rental. Make sure the hitch, truck and RV all fit and that your rental truck can indeed tow the RV you’re renting. And when your rental period is over, you have to return the rented RV in one place and the truck in another.

Cumbersome, to say the least.

So, I would say renting a 5th wheel or a travel trailer is mostly an option for residents of the US who own a good towing vehicle. For everyone else – a motorhome is the way to go.

How much does renting an RV cost?

The price will depend on the season. In the summer, expect to pay anything between $150 and $300 a day for a rented motorhome.

For a trailer – you can get a small teardrop trailer for as low as $75 a day over at RVShare. You may be able to find an old Class B or Class C motorhome for under $100 a day but generally speaking, expect to pay the same price of $150-$300 a day for a decent motorhome. Or more, if you opt for a luxury unit. These can get as high as $700-$800 a day!

What kind of insurance do you need?

It’s illegal to drive without insurance in the United States so you must make sure that the RV is indeed insured. RV rental agencies as well as peer-to-peer networks offer you only insured vehicles. So, the price you’re seeing includes the basic coverage required by law.

You may want to buy additional insurance to cover the deductible which you will be required to pay in case of damage to the RV. That’s something the agencies and sites are only too happy to sell you. This additional insurance can get expensive but many people choose to take it. That’s entirely up to you.

Things to look for in the contract before renting the RV

Oh, there’s nothing like RV rentals for caveats and limitations. Do yourself a huge favor and carefully read the details before moving forward with the rental.

Typical things you’ll find in such a contract –

Daily mileage limits

RV rental companies may tempt you with a great daily price but read the fine print. They often limit your daily mileage for that price. Want to drive further away? No problem – but you’ll pay more. And you should buy these additional mileage packages in advance or they’ll cost you even more on your return.

What the rental does and does not include

Rental prices usually do not include basic things like linen, towels and food utensils. They may or may not include GPS and toll transponder (like EZ pass).

The good news is that you can rent all of these from the rental company. The bad news is that it’s going to cost you extra.

Limitations on where you can take the RV

Just like with a rental car, you won’t be able to drive the RV into Mexico. Canada should be ok. The emphasis is on “should”. Smaller companies may place more limitations on how far you can drive – to make sure you don’t get too far away from them.

What you’re not allowed to do

There’s a lot you won’t be able to do with a rented RV. If you do – it will at the very least void your insurance, so don’t do it. These things may include –

  • Towing behind your RV
  • Illegal stuff like texting while driving or driving under the influence
  • Going off-road – which usually means driving on any unpaved roads unless it’s a short drive you must take to get to your campground site.

One-direction RV Rental

So, can you rent an RV in Miami and take the road trip of a lifetime to LA?

Or just rent in one place and return in another.

So, that is doable with some rentals – but not others. And not between just any two random cities of your choice. There must be branches of the company in your destination.

As with any vehicle rental – if you do return in a different location, there may be a hefty drop-off fee involved, so make sure you find out how much it’s going to cost you before you embark on your coast-to-coast road trip in a rental.

What would you need to buy for your rental RV?

That would depend on what kind of packages you’re renting. Many people prefer to forego the generous offer to rent you linen and utensils for $40 a day for a family. Instead, they make their first stop in the trip a local Walmart where they buy everything they need for the entire trip.

If you go that route, you’re going to need to buy –

  1. Pillows and blankets
  2. Sheets, pillow cases etc.
  3. Pots, pans and anything else you’ll need to cook with.
  4. A few food storage boxes/bins.
  5. Plates and cutlery – many people go for eco-friendly disposables because they don’t require washing (water is a precious commodity in an RV).
  6. Toilet paper, paper towels etc.

And just about anything that you’ll be using for the duration of your trip. I know people who just overnight at a nearby Walmart for the first day. Then they can take the time to organize their new home on wheels and just hop in the store and grab whatever they need from the shelves as the need arises.

Once your trip is over, you can donate everything to a local charity thrift shop like Goodwill. We’ve done that before when we were at the end of long road trips and they were happy to get out stuff.

Should you buy instead of renting?

Obviously, buying an RV is a huge deal for most people. After all, you’re buying a vehicle AND a home at the same time.

Now, I know that the high price, the limitations, stipulations and hassle of RV rental does make people wonder if maybe buying one isn’t an easier option.

I would say that depends mostly on how much time you need the RV for.

If you’re just looking for an RV vacation for 2-8 weeks, then rent. Buying and registering an RV is time-consuming especially if you’re not an American. Even if you are, you’ll be spending valuable days on searching, evaluating options, financing, registering etc. If all you want is a one-time vacation – it’s probably not worth it.

However, if you think you’ll be using an RV regularly – at least several times a year – then yes, buying makes more sense. It will probably be cheaper to own your own RV – as long as you actually use it. RV’s are like cars, in the sense that they depreciate in value but if you’re using yours, it could be worth it. And owning your own rig has its own benefits – like being able to keep your stuff in there.

So, there you have it.

What’s next? I’d say start browsing the websites mentioned above to get a better feel for what kind of RV’s are available for your dates. See what the prices are – keeping the caveats in mind – and see if renting an RV is still the best way for you to spend your vacation.

And always, I love getting comments. If you ever rented an RV – I’d love to hear more about your experience, so drop me a line in the comment form – thanks!

Leave a Reply

Close Menu