Beginner’s Guide To Renting An RV During COVID-19 Crisis: Choosing A Rental

Our family loves to travel.  We’ve frequently bypassed desirable destinations in the United States in favor of using our miles and points to travel abroad.  Italy is one of our favorite places, but we’ve also had incredible trips to Australia, Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam and many more great destinations.  Disney parks around the world are another of our favorite destinations.  Those trips have made it difficult to explore very much of the US.

COVID-19 turned that formula on its head.  Most countries won’t even let Americans in right now.  Many of the countries that will have onerous requirements for entry.  And, there’s still plenty of risk heading to an airport and boarding a flight.  In short, if we were going to travel this summer it was going to be exploring the US.

That lead to a complication.  Our daughter deals with anxiety about many things, including germs and getting sick.  As the COVID-19 crisis intensified, she proclaimed, “I’ve been training my entire life for this moment!”  While we may have found a path she was comfortable with to visit a theme park, staying in a hotel clearly wasn’t in the cards yet.

That’s when we started thinking about RVs.  “Recreational Vehicles” come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  There are motorhomes, travel trailers, camping vans and other assorted vehicle types.  If you’re heading down the road we’ve been researching, you’ll hear all kinds of interesting terms.  Class A, B and C motorhomes.  Gross vehicle weight.  Tongue weight.  Dry weight.

What do all these terms mean?  Which ones are really important?  Is draining the black tank really as bad as everyone says it is?  I’m starting to learn the answers to these questions.  I’ll be writing up a handful of articles covering the following areas:

  • Searching for RV rentals
  • Breaking down a motorhome rental
  • Breaking down a travel trailer/pickup truck rental
  • Booking campsites

RV Rental Searches

This was a completely foreign area for me when I got started.  However, like most things I obsess about, a few weeks of intense searches helped me figure out the lay of the land.  I’m nowhere near an expert yet, but I came up with four primary sources to consider for your first RV rental:

Cruise America

There are over 100 Cruise America locations across the United States where you can pickup and drop off an RV.  Cruise America is in the motorhome business, sort of a one-stop shop for a vehicle to begin your camping trip.  From their website and speaking with customer service reps, they essentially rent four different motorhome sizes.  The smallest is a camper that sits on the back of a Ford F-150 and sleeps three people.  The largest is 30 feet long and sleeps up to 7 people.  For perspective, a Ford Explorer is about 16 feet long.  From our recent experience, 30 feet is a lot of vehicle.  One downside I found was that Cruise America motorhomes don’t have awnings.  In our limited RV experience, awnings are great for hanging out on a sunny day.

Prices vary widely at Cruise America.  For peak summer dates where I could find availability, base prices were as high as $220 per night for the 3-person F-150 camper and almost $300 a night for the largest RV.  Just remember that the base rental fee has plenty of add-ons.  Rentals generally come with 100 miles per day.  That’s not a big deal if you’re planning to park it in one spot for a week.  If you’re moving around those miles will disappear quickly. More miles cost 35 cents a piece.  A “personal kit” of a sleeping bag, some sheets and a pillow are $60 per person.  Kitchen items are another add-on.  If the RV you rent has a generator, there’s a $3.50 per hour charge to run the generator.  Unless you’re boondocking (camping somewhere without electricity) you can generally avoid this charge by paying for a campsite with power.

You’ll also run into fees if the trailer isn’t reasonably clean when you drop it off, and/or if you don’t dump and clean out the gray and black water tanks.  Cruise America does include supplemental insurance coverage with your rental, which is valuable since most standard auto insurance doesn’t cover an RV rental.  You may want to look into more robust coverage, but the levels Cruise America offers were comparable to the entry level coverage I found elsewhere.

RV Share & Outdoorsy

RV Share and Outdoorsy are the airbnbs of the RV world.  These sites feature RVs owned by individuals (a few local companies seem to list on the site as well).  The owners can price their RV at whatever level they want.  Owners can also charge for extras like delivering the RV or cleaning out the tanks after your rental.  Some owners also had mountain bikes. From my time researching both of them, they each had their strengths.  The essential value in both sites is that you can rent a variety of RVs, and sometimes at the fraction of a price of what it should cost.  As with any such sharing service, there’s a buyer (renter) beware element.

I found RV Share’s interface to be easier to search and filter.  The site provides filter options including price, distance from you, RV type and more. The availability calendars for individual members were really accurate (something that is surprisingly not standard on Outdoorsy).  However, messaging owners on RV Share with questions was a slow process that frequently yielded no replies.

RV Share has 3 levels of insurance you can choose from.  As far as I could tell, all rentals came with at least the basic insurance.  A friend of mine and occasional contributor on Pizza in Motion, Paul, shared with me that he rented on RV Share and his wife had an accident in the motorhome they rented. True to the site’s promise, they were only responsible for the deductible and walked away from everything else.

Outdoorsy is similar to RV Share, though I found the filter and search capabilities on RV Share a bit easier to use.  Outdoorsy does have an iPhone app which can make for easy mobile browsing (the RV Share mobile experience leaves a lot to be desired).  However, the biggest stopping point for me with Outdoorsy was the lack of updated calendars.  Virtually every owner I contacted (easily more than a dozen) said their RV was already booked for the dates I was selecting on the calendar.  The silver lining was that most owners on Outdoorsy responded quickly to tell me I was out of luck.

One-Way RV Rentals

A number of folks I know have rented RVs as part of a larger trip.  They fly into Chicago, rent an RV, explore the Midwest, end up in Denver and fly home.  Just like with car rentals, you can sometimes find incredible deals on one-way RV rentals.  Katie Genter wrote a great post for TPG that breaks down some of the best options for finding one-way RV rentals.   You can find deals that literally pay you money, where the rate is $1 a day plus they throw in a free gas card.  Alas, in the middle of a pandemic, RVs are rented out pretty solidly, thus the one-way rental offers aren’t very plentiful at the moment.  Still, checking out sites like imoova are totally worth your while before you rent an RV.

The Final Two Pennies

Depending on where you live, you may find local rental companies in your area.  There are a handful in the DC area near my home.  Most were slow responders or didn’t have significant inventory.  I did find one company, Ace RV Rentals, which is were we rented the Minnie Winnie motorhome for our first RV experience.  They were super helpful, educating me on a number of key items about renting and driving an RV.

None of the links in this post are affiliate links, they just represent the best of what I’ve found so far searching for rentals.  Cruise America represents a reasonable one-stop shop if you just need a motorhome and don’t want a lot of hassle.  RV Share and Outdoorsy can be great if you want variety and are willing to do some extra work researching schedules and owners. One-way rentals are the ultimate deal if they fit with your travel pattern.

Stay tuned for our reviews on our first few RV rentals as well as what we’ve learned about discounts at campsites.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for creating a baseline for the lay of the RV land. We had to cancel our family Hawaii vacation for Memorial Day, thinking when will be the next time we realistically fly or vacation anywhere. That’s when we started thinking about RVs, especially because we live out west in California (lots of great state/national parks to visit). Looking forward to your write up on your experience.

    1. David, I suspect there are a lot of folks like you and me looking for safe ways to travel in this craziness. Hoping to have more posts over the next week or so as we experience more. We pick up our travel trailer rental later this week.

  2. Pizza man, well written, thorough and informative as usual. RVing can be SO fun. We met some wonderful people during out visit to Grand Teton a few summers ago. We also liked that our RV was not turbocharged so we had a slow trip, enjoying all sorts of roadside adventures. Can’t wait to go again!

  3. You have to know the height of your RV. My daughter and some friends rented one with an air conditioner on the roof. After an ill-advised drive into a parking garage, the A/C was no longer on the roof. Expensive lesson.

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