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Renting an RV for the first time can be a little overwhelming. As a first-time RV renter, you may not know the first thing about the rental process, driving, and RV camping. I admit, the first time I rented an RV I had no idea what I was doing. Sure, I had rented plenty of cars and slept in a tent, but RVing is a different story.
Now after buying an RV and renting it out mine to others, I have created this list of tips for first-time RV renters.
Deciding to rent an RV for a family vacation is an exciting moment. Our first time renting a motorhome was by chance. A rental van and hotel were so expensive. I found a great deal on an RV and decided to rent it. Since then, we bought our own travel trailer and I rent it out to other people for their Colorado camping trips.
I now follow a group of over 15k RV owners. So yeah, I know a few things that could go wrong and how to avoid any problems. For a smooth and memorable vacation follow these expert tips for first-time RV renters.
What Type of RV Should You Rent?
Motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels, R-pods, campervans …. Oh my! Beyond the basic class C motorhome, you can rent so many different types of RVs. The first thing to know is if you want to rent a drivable RV, like a motorhome or campervan. The other way is to rent a towable RV, like a travel trailer that you can tow with your own vehicle. Beyond that the basic types of RVs to rent are:
- Class C – the classic cabover motorhome that you see on the road. This is a drivable unit and varies in length from 20 feet to 35 feet
- Class A – The bus motorhome with a flat front and luxury accommodations. Generally these seats and sleep from 4-6 people
- Campervan or Class B – The popular campervan is built on a van chassis and is short and easy to drive. You can generally take 1 to 4 passengers.
- Travel trailer- a towable RV that hitches to the back of your truck or SUV. You will ride inside your vehicle and sleep 4-10 people in the trailer
- Fifth-wheel trailer – a towable RV that attaches to a hitch inside the bed of your truck. These tend to be bigger and more luxurious than the trailers but require special equipment. Many people choose to have a fifth wheel delivered.
- Popup or hybrid travel trailer – a travel trailer that expands when you set it up. The beds and sides generally expand with canvas enclosures.
Further Reading: With so many different types to rent you should read more about RVs. Follow our comprehensive guide to choosing which type of RV to rent here and the What’s the Difference Between an RV, Camper, Motorhome, and a Trailer?
How Much Will it Cost to Rent an RV?
Renting an RV will cost anywhere from $60 to $350 a night. The cost is based on many factors such as the RV size, age, location, and time of year.
For example, renting an RV for one week in the peak summertime, you can plan to spend $900 to $3,600. The average cost per night for each type of RV is:
- Class C – $120-$250 per night
- Class A – $230-$350 a night
- Campervan or Class B – $90 – $200 a night
- Travel trailer- $80 – $250 a night
- Fifth-wheel trailer – $15-$300 a night
- Popup or hybrid travel trailer – $50-$200 a night
If you are interested to know how much it will cost you if you rent an RV for a month, check this out. I detailed the prices as well as some examples that you can try.
Where to Rent an RV for the Best Deal
Beyond Cruise America the other large companies, there are small local companies to rent from. Plus did you know that you can rent from RV owners (similar to Airbnb)? Outdoorsy is a place to find a huge variety of campers all over the country. Mine is in western Colorado where it is difficult to find an RV rental.
Further Reading: We compare the two most popular peer-to-peer rental companies in our showdown here –Who should you rent from – RVShare vs Outdoorsy?
Further Reading: here is our guide to finding a cheap RV to rent.
In 2020, the king of RV rentals in Canada, RVezy started its operation in the US. I had the chance to connect with them I was amazed at how hands-on their customer service is.
I love their treatment so much that I decided that they deserve a whole post dedicated just for them. Read it here: Is RVezy Legit and Safe?
Beware, Watch out for RV Rental Scams
Beware of RV rental fraud by only using a reputable RV rental company. The most common types of scams are the owner requesting upfront full payment but not having an RV available, false damage claims, and theft of personal information.
You must be careful when you are looking for a good deal on an RV. You’ve probably heard stories where someone asked prospective renters to make advance payments without involving the website they first interacted through. This happens when both parties start communicating privately. Make sure to stay on a secure website where everything gets recorded and is supervised. Stick to platforms like Outdoorsy and do read the reviews section that they provide.
Pro tip: Do not use the instant booking feature, rather, contact the RV owner on RVShare or Outdoorsy, or RVEzy. Get to know each other a little and ask lots of important questions. This will go a long way to saving so many headaches during your rental.
Make sure to use our comprehensive list of questions when reserving your RV. Ask All the Important Rental Questions
Read Clearly What Comes With Your RV Rental Package
Not all RV packages include everything you could have imagined as a first-timer. Renting an RV can be just that, just the unit itself. Some of them may provide you with the vehicle excluding kitchen utensils, toiletries, beddings, and other related things. Especially larger companies have add-on packages for linens and kitchen kits per person.
However, smaller companies and private owners like us frequently include everything you need to go camping. You just need your warm clothes and food.
Make Sure You are Insured to Drive the RV
Some companies will add additional fees for insurance coverage and others may ask you to get a binder on your own insurance policy. It is your responsibility to know what the insurance will cover.
Outdoorsy rentals include a $1Millon dollar insurance policy from Liberty Mutual. This comes with 3 levels of coverage and deductibles, creatively named, Peace of Mind, Essential, or Risk Taker. Read more about the Outdoorsy insurance policy here.
Ask about Roadside Assistance
Unfortunately, dead batteries and flat tires happen on an RV trip just like in your own car. Reputable online platforms that connect renters to their clients often go the extra mile to provide roadside assistance along their designated routes. Make sure to ask about the details for roadside assistance.
Consider Having the RV Delivered
If you plan to camp in one place and don’t want to deal with driving an RV, have it delivered. Many owners will deliver and set up the RV for you. You will not need to hook anything up or deal with the blackwater (poop) tank. You will pay between $50 and $150 dollars to have one delivered within 50 to 100 miles. Some people will even deliver further for $1-$3 per mile.
Outdoorsy has a special filter option to look for RVs that are available for delivery.
Further Reading: Learn about how to have an RV delivered, the cost, and important questions to ask., We wrote a Comprehensive Guide to Have an RV Delivered here.
To filter the results on RVezy and see which RVs can be delivered to your desired campsite, click on the deliver button on top.
Book Early to Save Extra Money
Always look for early bird and other discounts to save the most money. This tip is especially important as it is gearing up to be a big RV year. The demand for rental RVs has increased 4 times! Moreover, you have will have more options to choose from by following this tip. So you can also avoid the inconvenience of not finding something suitable on your desired dates.
Further Reading: This is one of our most popular posts for good reason: 9 Foolproof ways to Rent an RV for Cheap
Take Only as many Passengers in the RV as Seatbelts
You need to match the number of passengers that will be riding in the RV to the number of seatbelts. As obvious as it seems, when you rent a motorhome, you have to check the number of seatbelts. Many RVs will be advertised by the number of people the unit sleeps. However, beds and similar spaces are a safety hazard to ride on. If you have toddlers in tow you must also make sure that the car seats will work in the RV.
Further Reading: 17 Tips for RVing with Toddlers
Rent a Pet-Friendly RV
Would you like to take your dog or cat along on your vacation? Cruise America, El Monte, RVShare, RVezy, and Outdoorsy all have pet-friendly RVs available. Make sure to understand the pet policies and what is allowed on your vacation.
Outdoorsy has a filter for pet-friendly RVs. After searching by location choose the dropdown for “more filters”. You will see “Pet friendly” on the far right. Choose that and hit apply on the Outdoorsy website.
RVezy also has a pet-friendly filter that you can access on top of the results. Click more results:
After this, make sure to check “pet-friendly” to filter to see the RV’s that are available.
Be Prepared to Cover Additional Costs when RVing
When renting an RV, you will incur some additional costs. Your rental agreement may only include limited miles and you can be charged for additional miles. Also, frequently you will be supplied with a generator but will be charged a flat or daily fee to run it.
Then of course you have the basic costs of RVing like buying gas, tolls, paying for your campsite, and other activities.
Bring a Roadmap or App Specifically for RVs
With so many things to keep track of while renting an RV, it would be easy to get lost or drive too far. RVing is so freeing you can wander too far and incur additional mileage costs. Or worse be out of the allowed boundaries. (Take note – many rental RVs have GPS units to track the vehicle because no one wants a stolen RV)
Also, some routes are not RV friendlies such as low bridges, construction, or dead ends. There are plenty of pictures online of a driver taking the top off an RV under a low bridge.
Know the Rules of the Road for RVs
Driving an RV, especially larger motorhomes and trailers is like driving a truck. Although you do not need a commercial driver’s license you will need to know the rules and laws of the road. You must know the length and weight of your camper because some small roads may have length limits. Independence Pass in Aspen Colorado only allows vehicles less than 20 feet. Retrieving vehicles from there is costly.
In the city, you may be limited to specific lanes for driving. We got pulled over in Salt Lake City for driving in the far-left lane with a 35-foot travel trailer. I am not sure which is worse, pulling the rig over to the far right through traffic or getting the ticket.
Ask First if Boondocking is Part of Your Plan
Boondocking is the RVers term for camping off-grid away from developed campgrounds. You may want to save money, get away from people, or just want to be more spontaneous with your plans. But you may damage the rig when you are driving on rough and underdeveloped roads. Some owners do not allow boondocking or you can have an extra agreement.
The most external damage has happened to my RV from renters boondocking. I still allow this but give the renter plenty of tips and warn them of possible damage.
Additional Reading: What is Boondocking and How to Find Free Spots to Camp
Learn to Drive the RV before Leaving
As a first-timer, it is quite normal for you to feel a little awkward while driving an RV. An RV is a large vehicle that accelerates and stops more slowly, has a large turning radius, and has reduced visibility. Plus, a travel trailer adds to the difficulty of the articulation point for turning and backing. In fact, this is one of our top reasons NOT to buy an RV.
Don’t worry, many owners will help teach you to drive their RV before you rent it. They might even set up cones and allow you to practice driving, turning, braking, and backing up. Some companies, like Outdoorsy, even require a quick driving tutorial before signing over the rig.
Drive Slow and Safe
Once you are on the road, remember that an RV will respond slower than your car. Make sure to be cautious and leave more room for the person in front of you. Many RV accidents occur as a result of speed and over-reaction on the driver’s part.
Take turns slowly because the rear tires will not align quickly with the front ones in the same direction. Also, watch out because the back part of the rig can start swinging while making turns at high speeds or sharp turns.
How to Dump the RV tanks
One of the great benefits of having an RV on your road trip is having your own bathroom on the road. I love pulling over and using my own bathroom!
However, one day you will have to manually empty your grey (the one attached with kitchen sinks, washbasins, and shower) and black tanks (toilet waste). Dumping the tanks generally involves, connecting a hose and opening a gate valve by pulling a lever under the belly of the RV. Part of your walk-through will be training you on how to deal with the tanks, so make sure to pay attention.
Also, don’t forget to pack extra pairs of gloves, rags, t-shirts, and shopping bags to avoid getting your clothes dirty.
Where to Empty RV Waste Tank
The waste tanks contain sewage from the RV and need to be disposed of at a dump station. Many private and public places offer disposal services. You can generally find dump stations at RV campgrounds, municipal wastewater treatment plants, gas stations, RV stores and dealerships, rest areas, gas stations, and marinas. Also, if allowed by the city, dump into your own sewer or septic by connecting to the cleanout.
When renting an RV you may have the option of having the owner dump and flush the tanks for a small fee. If you will be boondocking or taking a long road trip where you use the bathroom on the way home, this is an excellent idea.
Pro Tip: Download Sani Dump App the help you find the nearest RV dump location. Contact information along with price and hours is included.
Additional Reading: Where to Empty RV Black Water Tank? (+instructions and cost)
Use these RV Apps to help plan your Trip
You can use RV Apps to plan your route, find campgrounds and learn more tips and techniques to better your RV experience.
Think of downloading an app that helps you compare fuel prices. There are others that help you navigate RV-designated entertainment areas, camping locations, restrooms, and the like. You may also find some apps working as checklists to ensure safety. Here are some of the best apps to help you plan your trip
- All Stays Camp and RV – A comprehensive guide with over 32,000 U.S. and Canadian campgrounds. You can filter and sort by 30 different amenities.
- RV Parks and Campgrounds app – Free app with user-generated content and reviews of over 40,000 campgrounds in the United States, Canada, and Mexico
- Campendium – an app and website with both paid and free campsites. This is a perfect place for boondocking locations.
- Good Sam Club – a camping app to help you find campgrounds that are associated with the Good Sam Club
- RV Trip Wizard – a paid app that helps you plan your entire trip with campgrounds, roadside stops, and gas stations and integrates to Google Maps.
- Sani-Dump – to find a dump station near you
Know Where you Will Camp
When you are RVing, you have so many options of where to camp. You can choose everything from luxury campgrounds to parking lots to off-grid or boondocking. I suggest that you reserve your campsites as soon as you know your route and the size of the RV that you are renting. Many National Parks and other popular places fill 6 months in advance in the high season.
Boondocking involves planning but not reservations. You will still need to know your route, the rules of the property you will be on, and what resources (like water) that you will need.
Further Reading: How to Choose the Perfect Campsite Every Time
Add Extra Time for an RV Road Trip
An RV road trip is exciting and freeing. You can stop along the way to see the sights. Some stops are more fun than you expected, and you end up staying longer than scheduled. This happens to us all the time.
On the not-so-fun side, driving an RV can take longer and may involve different routes than you planned. Make sure to leave extra time and flexibility in your road trip plan.
Many people go by the 3/3/3 rules of RVing. First, stick to no more than 300 miles in one day. Second, arrive before 3 p.m. Finally, stay in one place for at least 3 days.
Pro Tip: For my family, I add about 20% extra time than I plan will take us. So, for example, if we are driving 4 hours and stopping for lunch for an hour for a total of 5 hours, I add 1 more hour.
Pack What You Need for RVing (and Leave the Rest)
Depending on what will be supplied with your RV, you will need to pack some or all of your camping gear. Since you will have a kitchen to cook on you will not need a camp stove but you may want to bring along your favorite coffee maker. If linens and bedding are supplied, you can leave the sleeping bags and towels at home.
Further Reading: If you would like to know everything you should pack you can follow our guide for packing for an RV trip plus a checklist
Camping with your kids adds a whole extra level of gear that you will want to bring along. With 6 kids, you bet that we have taken babies and toddlers on RV trips. We have a guide and checklist just for taking young kids camping for the first time.
Keep in Mind Cleanliness
Disinfection is something you might have not considered thinking about before this pandemic situation surfaced. However, since such vehicles are available on rent to a number of people, one after the other, you will want a sanitary vehicle to rent. Don’t forget to ask your provider to get it disinfected before it is handed over to you.
Frequently used items should be washed or wiped along with cleaning the whole. Many RV rental places have sanitation procedures in place. You will find that individual owners on Outdoorsy will add information in the description about their cleaning procedures.
Plan to Clean the RV Before Returning it
The first time we rented an RV I was surprised how clean it needed to be when we returned it. You will be expected to return the vehicle in the clean condition that you picked it up in including cleaning the inside, dumping the tanks, and possibly washing the outside if it is particularly muddy.
If you really want to thank the owner, add go beyond to clean everything for them. As an owner, I love when renters return the rig spotless.
Final Thoughts About Renting an RV for the First Time
Planning an RV trip for the first time is exciting and well… just plain new. There are so many things to remember and do. All of these tips should help you have a smooth and fun RV trip.
Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever. We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug! I take the kids by myself because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.
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