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Renting an RV

Renting an RV is a great way to bring back camping memories from those Boy/Girl Scout days–without the bugs and with air-conditioning, though. It can also be an economical way to vacation with your family, perhaps trying out the RV lifestyle before buying a unit. Here’s a step-by-step RV rental guide.

Finding an RV Rental Agent

RV rental companies have grown in number and sophistication over the years. Across the United States, there are some 2,000 agents with some 20,000 units. Their well-trained staffs can help you select the right RV rental for your budget, travel style, and driving skill.

The Recreational Vehicle Rental Association (RVRA), which fosters the development and training of its members, is a great resource for finding a reputable area dealer. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), a coalition that promotes RVing in general, is also a good resource.

TIP: Before deciding on an agent, check with the local Better Business Bureau. Also, book well in advance—the RVRA estimates that an RV vacation costs upwards of 50% less than other types of vacations, so RV rentals have become popular.

Budgeting for an RV Rental Trip

Rates vary based upon size of unit, trip duration, and mileage. Ballpark weekly rates range from $400 (camping trailer) to $1,000 (small motorized unit). In addition, plan on spending 30 to 40 cents a mile. There are also taxes, fees (e.g., for returning the vehicle late or for cleaning), and deposits (for damage, say). Also, think about insurance as your personal auto policy might not provide coverage for an RV.

Try to compare prices of RV packages that are “all in” (all the costs, fees, taxes, and “extras” included). When you’ve settled on a unit, ask the agent to provide you with the rental contract in advance so you can read it and ask questions before signing. Also discuss what to do in the event of an accident or breakdown.

Other things budget considerations include fuel, road tolls, RV park/campground fees, dump-station fees, food and sundries, admissions to sights, and any nights you plan to spend in other accommodations.

TIP: Avoid mileage charges by opting for a trailer-type RV and towing it with your own car or truck. (Your dealer will work with you on whether or not your vehicle is rated to tow a given type/size of trailer and on hitching things up).

Selecting an RV: Your Travel Style

There are many different types of RVs, from 42-foot Class A motor coaches (a.k.a. motor homes) to small, lightweight pop-up-tent campers you can readily tow behind a car. Cost is only one factor in an RV rental. You also have to consider group size and trip distance and duration (for most people, trips are 7 to 10 days). You should also think about your travel style.

For instance, a smaller tent camper has fewer onboard amenities, but it offers access to more rural campsites (including some in the national parks) and more of an in-touch-with-nature experience. It and other trailers also give you more mobility, as you can unhitch them and travel to area sights in your tow vehicle (car or truck).

Smaller motor homes also offer greater sightseeing mobility, and like larger trailers, often have more onboard amenities than tent campers. If you plan to settle in just one place—an RV resort with tons of on-site facilities and in close proximity to a town or beach, say–then a large motor home, with plenty of space and onboard amenities, might be better.

Speaking of amenities, note that newer units come with things like flat-screen TVs and DVD/CD players; older units might not. Regardless of the rental’s age, be sure its kitchen has the appliances and space you need. Although many RV parks have bath (and many other) facilities, if a private shower is important, ensure that your rental model has a full bathroom suite.

TIP: Think about how much time you’ll spend in the RV as well as the size of your group. If there are only two to four of you and/or you plan to stay in a motel or B&B occasionally, a smaller unit should be fine. If your group is larger and you plan to be together in that RV every night, look at bigger units with a variety of sleeping quarters and larger kitchens and baths.

Selecting an RV: Driving Skills

No, you don’t need a special license to drive an RV, and, yes, RV rental agents will help you get road-ready. But for the sake of safety and sanity, consider your driving abilities when picking a unit.

Larger motor coaches require skill in terms of backing up, parking, turning, and handling on hills. Unless you’ve driven a commercial truck–not an 18-wheeler, but something larger than a pick-up—or are willing to take some driving lessons, think twice before renting a large Class A. Likewise, driving a car or truck while towing a large RV trailer takes some skill. Just hitching the two vehicles together properly requires some know-how.

Don’t despair, though. Even if your road-trip experience is limited to driving a small hybrid loaded only with a roof rack, there are still plenty of options (smaller trailers and Class B or C motor homes, for instance) that will enable you and your family to RV safely, sanely, and comfortably.

TIP: Don’t be worried about forgetting what’s covered in the walk-though demonstration and test drive. Some dealers provide DVDs about using unit systems, and there are RV driving DVDs available through RV 101 TV and the Good Sam RV Club.

Planning an RV Rental Trip

Map out your route in advance. Allow time for picking up your rental, familiarizing yourself with it, and packing and weighing it. Your unit might come with an RV-specific navigational device, or you might have to rent one separately. For a larger motor coach or trailer, RV-specific navigation is essential, given that such rigs can’t travel on certain roads, access certain campsites, clear certain bridges, or be driven into certain cities (owing to onboard flammable-liquid and other regulations).

Even for smaller rigs–including those that can go where cars can go–an RV navigation device is a blessing as it has information on RV parks and campgrounds, RV service and sanitation-system dump stations, and interesting sights.

Be realistic about how many miles you’ll cover each day. Allow time to take in the sights and scenery and to relax. This is a vacation, after all. That said, you’ll want to reach a campsite by the end of each day. Also, allow plenty of time for the trip home—and ensuring you return rental on the date specified in the contract.

TIP: In peak season, campsites fill up, so make reservations before leaving home. If you’ve rented a larger rig and are nervous about backing it into a “tight” campsite, reserve one of the “pull-through” sites, which are easier to enter and exit. They can cost extra, but, given their popularity, folks don’t seem to mind paying more for peace of mind.

Packing for an RV Rental Trip

Weight matters, and different RVs have different limits into which you must factor not only your clothes, gear, sundries, and food, but also the weight of the fuel and other fluids and that of the passengers. The upshot? Pack light. Your RV rental agent will work with you on weight limitations and on weighing your fully loaded rig before heading out to be sure it’s on target.

TIP: Inquire about linens, utensils, and other everyday items; they might or might not be included with your rental unit.