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How to rent a camper

Vacations are exciting times, even more so when the whole family is on board for the trip. If you’re taking a road trip, you’ll likely need to rent a vehicle big enough to tote everyone and all of their gear to the final destination. This is where campers and RVs really shine, because they’re comfortable for long drives, have built-in living quarters, and can be rented for an affordable amount compared to a standard vehicle. With that in mind, what else do you need to know before renting? Let’s look into the most important questions to answer about how to rent a camper.

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What kind of vehicle do you need?

The first thing to figure out is if you need to rent a camper or a bigger RV. If you’re looking at how to rent a camper and you don’t have a capable pickup truck parked in your driveway right now, there’s a good chance you’ll need to rent one of those as well, which can add to your cost of entry significantly. To keep things simple here, we will focus only on renting an all-in-one camper, which doesn’t require any additional vehicle or hardware rentals.

How long is your trip?

If you’re planning a short jaunt up the coast or a weekend on the beach, your camper choice will look drastically different than it would if you were planning a weeks-long tour of the American southwest. Similarly, long road trips can make you truly regret getting the smallest and cheapest model available on the lot. Pick a size and type of vehicle that is appropriate for the amount of time you plan on spending behind the wheel.

Where are you going?

If you’re picking up the camper from a local rental lot, there’s not much to plan for, since you can easily drive there from home. If your trip requires a flight before getting the rental, things get a bit more complicated because you can’t solve problems in-person ahead of time. If you are unable to see your rental ahead of time, you’ll have to ask as many questions as possible before signing on the dotted line to make sure you get what you’re bargaining for.

When are you traveling?

Campers and RVs tend to be more expensive during peak times of the year, such as summer and around popular school vacations (spring and winter breaks). If you’re searching for a prime rate, you’ll have better luck shopping during off-peak travel times, if possible. Renting mid-week may also save a few dollars over renting only for a weekend.

Will you need trip protection?

Many rental companies have generous cancellation policies that allow renters to nix their agreement up to seven days ahead of time, but some don’t. If you think there is any risk that you’ll need to cancel, it’s important to understand what you’re getting into ahead of time. Many major credit cards offer trip protection if the rental company does not, so take the time to study your options.

Do you have insurance?

Just like rental cars, campers and RVs need to be insured, but the big difference is that campers and RVs cost significantly more than everyday cars and trucks. Some rental companies offer insurance for an extra charge, but if not, you’ll be on your own to pay for insurance. If your rental company doesn’t offer their own coverage, start by checking with your auto insurance provider. Be sure to have insurance set up before you move the vehicle an inch because any damage that happens on your watch will be your responsibility.

How big is the vehicle?

This one’s pretty obvious, but more people require more space. Don’t try to save money at the expense of your guests’ or family’s comfort. Your camper rental may list “beds” only to have them actually be fold-out sofas or pads on the floor, so be sure you know how many people the vehicle can hold before renting. It’s important to remember that if you’re truly camping in your RV, you’ll be relying on the vehicle’s bathroom and shower to get everyone through the trip.

Once you’ve answered those questions, you can get started choosing a rental company and an actual vehicle. Companies like Cruise America rent only Class-C campers, which means that there are no additional licenses needed to hop in and drive. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be careful, but it does mean that you don’t need to go to commercial driving school to get behind the wheel. Others rent specialty campers that may require an elevated license (Class-A) to operate. These campers are similar to semi-trucks, in that they are very large and much different than a passenger car to drive. If you need to rent one of these, you’re going to be best served by starting off finding out how involved the education and licensing process is before even thinking of renting.

Do you need extras?

Most rental companies offer add-ons to their vehicles, just like normal car rental agencies. You can add cleaning kits, extra insurance, fuel pre-pays, and more. Some extras may be worth it to you, such as a cleaning or personal hygiene kit if you’re flying in to pick up your camper, but you’ll need to figure that extra cost into your rental charges.

In addition to these tips, it’s important to shop around for the best rates and availability. Keep these things in mind, and your next road trip will be a (mostly) stress-free cruise in your rented camper.

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Chris Teague
I cover automobiles and tech to find the stories and information that really matter. My background in technology consulting…
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