What You Need to Know Before Renting an RV

Learn the basics of how to rent an RV including how to plan your excursion and what to bring along with you on your RV road trip.

September 24, 2020
Basics of Renting an RV

Photo by: Shutterstock/Greg and Jan Ritchie

Shutterstock/Greg and Jan Ritchie

By: Paul Cox

We had to get away, even if it was just for a few days. Canceled trips and hunkering down at home as a family to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic had predictably made us a little stir crazy.

Given the opportunity to suggest a vacation, my 11-year-old daughter nearly always suggests renting an RV or travel trailer. Her fascination with the tiny homes on wheels — with their clever floor plans (slide-out living rooms!), cozy sleeping nooks and array of electronic gadgets — is certainly understandable.

So, we decided to toss the canoe on the roof of our SUV, rent a travel trailer and make a quick break for a nearby historic park and campground. According to peer-to-peer renting web site RVshare.com, we were not alone in hitting the road this summer in a rental RV.

A travel trailer was just the right size for a recent weekend camping trip with my daughter. It was easy to maneuver in tight spots and had just the right amount of space for two. Plus, since I was towing it with my SUV, I could bring the canoe along, too.

Photo by: Paul Cox

Paul Cox

A travel trailer was just the right size for a recent weekend camping trip with my daughter. It was easy to maneuver in tight spots and had just the right amount of space for two. Plus, since I was towing it with my SUV, I could bring the canoe along, too.

RVshare says it saw a surge in RV rentals beginning in the spring. The company reports bookings have increased 123 percent year-over-year and expects the popularity of RV travel to extend through the fall. The company says travelers see RVs — with their sleeping spaces and kitchens — as a safe way to get out during the pandemic. "Travelers are finding out that RV travel allows for a level of flexibility that other forms of travel do not offer," says Jon Gray, RVshare CEO. "If one campground is too busy you can pull off at the next one, make dinner in the RV kitchen and avoid using rest stops."

Chad Thom, rental manager for PleasureLand RV Center, which has several locations in Minnesota and South Dakota, says that since May, more than 50 percent of renters industry-wide are new to the RV experience and he expects an increased number of RVs to be pulling into campgrounds this fall even though school is back in session. "We're seeing families taking trips now because kids can do their schoolwork online and mom and dad can work from a distance as well," says Thom. "If the kids and parents are able to do their schoolwork and work at their kitchen table in their own home, they are able to do it in their RV rental, at the kitchen table in the RV in a campground."

GoRVing lists local dealers and rental companies in the US. Outdoorsy is another option for peer-to-peer rentals. But before booking an RV or travel trailer, first-time renters should consider the following advice from experts to narrow down the right RV for their excursion and avoid unexpected travel headaches.

How to Rent the Right RV

Go big ... or not?

According to The National RV Dealers Association, RVs range in size from van-like Class B motorhomes that usually sleep about 4 people to specially built Class A motorhomes furnished with all the comforts of home including the kitchen sink. They range in sizes up to 40 feet long and sleep up to 7 people. Towable RVs include everything from pop-up trailers and teardrop-shaped trailers about 8 feet long and large enough for only a few people, to 35-foot trailers with slide-out living spaces. Smaller models can be towed by mid-sized vehicles, but the larger trailers may require pickup trucks equipped with a special hitch. Your rental agent can help you determine what trailer your vehicle can safely tow.

Renters should figure out which size and RV type will be the most comfortable to live in before renting. Consider how many travelers will be in your group and their privacy needs. Larger units might provide more privacy but could be more costly to operate.

Thom recommends renters thoroughly tour a variety of RVs and suggests taking a test drive before making a booking decision.

Drivable RV or travel trailer?

Consider the distance you'll travel when deciding between a trailer or a drivable RV. Thom says that, though more expensive to rent, a drivable RV might be the better option for longer excursions as you'll save your vehicle from the wear-and-tear of extensive driving miles.

On my recent trip, I decided a small, A-frame pop up trailer was perfect as I'd just be traveling with my daughter. The trailer would be easy to maneuver in traffic as well as back out of the driveway and, because I could tow it with my SUV, I could bring along a canoe.

Spots to Visit

America's Best RV Parks

Intrepid travelers exploring the country in an RV will want to put on the brakes and stay for a while at these RV parks and campgrounds around the United States.

Research the Destination

Understand the amenities and RV accommodations available at your destination. Confirm with the destination campground which RV sizes it welcomes and whether the RV sites offer picnic tables and grills, for example. And book a reservation at your destination location before or right after renting the RV. For campgrounds that don't take reservations, ask what the occupancy is expected to be on your planned arrival date.

RVshare spokesperson Maddi Bourgerie says campers might consider boondocking (camping without water or electric hook-ups) or staying on private land. Locations can be found through sites such as Hipcamp and The Dyrt. Bourgerie suggests first-timers consider doing their first trip close to home. Visit a local KOA campground or state park to get a feel for the RV life before heading out on a long road trip.

Understand the Real Cost of the Trip

The total cost of the trip will be more than just the RV rental. You'll want to factor in insurance costs as well as fees for campgrounds and gas. Thom advises renters get all fees in writing before deciding on which RV to rent. A quoted base price might not include such added charges as mileage fees, cleaning fees and hourly generator fees. And be sure to understand the rental agreement completely.

Get to Know Your Rental Ride

Get familiar with the features and amenities of your RV or travel trailer when you pick it up. RV dealers should give you a detailed orientation. If renting from a peer-to-peer site, be sure to ask the RV owner to explain how everything works. Asking all your questions before you leave the RV lot could save you from making a needless — and fun-spoiling — off-hours call to the RV owner asking how to hook up the kitchen sink, for example.

Supplies to Bring When Renting an RV

Ask about extras supplied with the rental. You'll need to know whether you need to provide bed linen, toilet paper, cookware and dishes, for example. This information should be included in the orientation given by the RV dealer before you pick up your RV. If renting from a peer-to-peer site, be sure to ask the owner of vehicle.

Pack plenty of cleaning and sanitation supplies so you can clean up as messes happen. This will make returning a clean RV easier. Bringing storage containers and bins is always helpful as it makes packing up supplies that you may have brought with you easy. And Bourgerie offers this tip: Using paper plates, plastic cutlery and paper towels means you won't have to wash up dirty dishes.

Your packing list will vary depending on your destination, a campground vs. private property for example, but a packing list commonly includes folding camp chairs, grilling tools, lanterns for your picnic table, flashlights or headlamps and campfire supplies.

On my recent trip, I wasted space in my SUV by needlessly bringing a small grill. The campground's RV pull-ups featured charcoal grills.

Otherwise, all went well on our short jaunt. I now have three RV trips under my belt, so for the next trip I may just make my daughter's RV-dreams come true and rent a big rig with a slide-out living room.

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