Guest post by Dan Gentile
Right now, vacations are in short supply. Given the coronavirus pandemic, most major US cities are at least partially shut down, and taking a long flight to an international destination is a bigger risk than the relaxation is worth.
That leaves one option for those who feel the powerful need to unplug and use up a few socially distanced vacation days: an extended road trip. Thankfully, there’s plenty of companies that can help make that a stylish reality through the rental of luxe RVs and camper vans.
First, it’s important to understand the difference. In short, RVs or “recreational vehicles” typically include showers and toilets, while campers are more like larger vans with live-in amenities like a bed and stove. You don’t need a special license for either. An RV offers true autonomy, while a smaller camper van let’s you take one foot off the grid (and as a result, are much easier to drive). Both mean you don’t have to worry about how honest a hotel is being about their sanitation policies.
If you're ready to hit the road or just exploring the option, below are some ideas for RV and camper rentals.
If you want to go the sharing economy route, Outdoorsy is your move. With a user interface that might draw the ire of Airbnb’s lawyers, the site has a super sleek browsing experience that should be familiar to anyone who’s used a vacation rental service. Each vehicle has an owner profile with reviews and clearly labeled policies on everything from generator use to cleaning fees. It also operates all over the world, so should you find yourself in a new country, a cool ride could be there waiting for you.
California and the neighboring states make up one of the most beautiful regions in the country, with a wealth of natural parks and road trip destinations scattered throughout the state. So it’s no surprise that one of the most popular camper van rental companies started in Los Angeles. Now with outposts in twelve different cities, your trip could technically be a one-way drive, dropping off your van in a new destination and braving a plane home. And for those with a desire to get up and go, but lack the time to plan, their site has a large selection of suggested itineraries for trips of all lengths.
Vintage Surfari Wagons
If you live in Southern California and have an “Endless Summer” mentality, Vintage Surfari Wagons is probably the van rental company for you. Their fleet of vintage Volkswagen buses from the ‘80s through 2000s look straight from the set of a classic surfing movie, but with the addition of modern upgrades like much-needed air conditioning. Many models include pop-up roofs to create an even breezier open-air vibe, and if you want to go full RV, some have generators and water hook-ups. For those who’re looking for the glamping-est of camper experiences, they also offer tours led by experts.
Want to go the share economy route but aren’t finding the perfect van on Outdoorsy? Campanda follows a similar model, where vehicle owners can post their four wheel homes away from home for rent. Campanda’s design and branding may be a little closer to VRBO, aimed less at a millennial sect looking for a joyride. The inventory is heavier on utilitarian RVs and trailers than chic camper vans. An excellent option for those traveling with a few friends, or willing to forego a flashy paint job to save a few bucks.
Elliot Hawkley; cover image by Francis Fraioli for Pacific Overlander
Generations of hippies have taken cute VWs into the wilderness, but it’s not advised to take a chic rental off-roading. That’s where Pacific Overlander comes in. With outposts in Las Vegas and San Francisco, the company offers performance vehicles built for hitting the backroads. Vans feature rooftop tents, as well as all the cooking and camping equipment you’d need to spend a week in the wilderness. And if you’re ready to call the trip after reaching your chosen summit, they also offer one-way options.
Although many of the companies on this list offer vans that will likely rack up a ton of Instagram love, Voyager might be the most like-worthy. Their two models of custom builds include impressive space-saving designs like a pull out kitchen, pour over coffee maker (which you won’t need if you’ve brought your Pakt Coffee Kit) and solar-powered cooler. Power outlets and a built-in water source simplify travel logistics, and they also include a full chef’s arsenal of cooking supplies. They aren’t nation-wide, but outputs in Austin, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Nashville, and Portland mean almost wherever you are across the western half of the country, there’s a Voyager available on your route.
Boho Camper Vans
Those looking to make a serious commitment to #vanlife should check out Boho. In addition to renting vans from their Tempe, AZ headquarters, they also sell their creations, which feature stunning wooden fixtures and layouts more reminiscent of a designer tiny house than a mobile home. If you’re serious about buying, you can customize almost every option of their RAM Promaster models, from the tiling to wood staining and curtains.
If you want to live the vanlife but stay, well, stationary, then Glamping Hub may be your best option. Like Airbnb but for more quirky and off the beaten path properties, the site offers a wide range of parked airstreams and camper vans turned into outdoor villas, as well as unique lodgings like yurts and igloos. You will find a few vehicles for rent here that you can take out on the road, but the majority have been transformed into perfect weekend getaways located in cities all across the world.
Regardless of your road trip style, these options will get you on the road in comfort to your destination, and are a destination in themselves.
Dan Gentile is a writer and coffee enthusiast based in San Francisco, California.