6 things you should know before you rent your first RV

Jul 9, 2020

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In 2018, my husband and I packed up our two girls and flew to Las Vegas where we kicked off an adventure of a lifetime. We would spend a week exploring the best Southwest national and state parks on our first RV trip. Spoiler alert: We became addicted and have gone on several RV trips since then. There’s a lot we’ve learned about RVing since that first trip so I’m sharing some tips to prepare you for your first RV adventure now that RV rentals are becoming a very popular activity in the era of socially-distanced family vacations.

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renting an RV
Photo courtesy of Monet Hambrick

Special licenses and different types of RVs

Whenever we tell people we’re going on an RV trip, we’re asked, “Do you need a special license to drive an RV?” Rest assured in all 50 states, RVs weighing under 26,000 pounds (most are under that weight) don’t require a special license. There are two types of RVs: drivable motorhomes and towable ones and subcategories among these as well.

Related: How we’re exploring the country in an RV for a year

Drivable RVs, often referred to as motorhomes

Drivable RVs are often referred to as motorhomes, meaning you drive and sleep in the same area. There are three types: Class A, Class B and Class C. The only ones that could potentially weigh more than 26,000 pounds and require a special license are Class As. Class A motorhomes weigh an average of 13,000–30,000 pounds but with many options under 26,000, it’s easy to avoid the heavier ones. So, what’s the difference between the three?

Class A RVs are the biggest ones and they resemble coach buses. Besides weighing an average of 13,000–30,000 pounds they also range in size from 21–41+ feet. While they generally give the most space in the motorhome category, I don’t recommend renting a Class A for your first RV trip unless you have experience driving bus-sized vehicles. Parking these can be difficult due to their size and you’re limited to spaces they can actually fit in.

Class B RVs, also known as camper vans, are the smallest and take the least getting used to driving as they’re vans. Since they’re smaller, they sleep fewer people and accommodations aren’t as grand: i.e.,  potentially smaller beds, kitchenettes over a true kitchen and, if there is a bathroom, most times only a wet bath and maybe an outdoor shower. Class Bs are great for one or two people but not the best motorhome for a family or group of friends.

Class C RVs are a great choice for first-time RVers. You will have more space than a Class B but it will be easier to maneuver than a Class A. The average weight is 10,000–12,000 pounds so you’ll never have to worry about getting a special license and they range in length from 20–38 feet. Class Cs, typically built on a truck chassis or van frame, are comparable to driving a big truck that requires wide turns.

Related: Tips for your family’s first RV trip

Towable RVs

As the name describes, towable RVs are towed by an SUV or pickup truck so you’re not sleeping in the same place as you’re driving like in motorhomes. Within towable RVs, there are fifth wheels, folding trailers, toy haulers and utility trailers.

Folding or popup trailers are small and lightweight, meaning you can tow it with most trucks, SUVs and even some cars. They have canvas sides that pop out, giving you space for sleeping, cooking or hanging out. Some include showers and toilets but most don’t.

Fifth wheels need to attach to a special hitch that can only attach to a pickup truck bed. They are much heavier than the other types of travel trailers so they can’t be towed by just any truck but need to be towed by one with a high tow capacity. Fifth wheels have a split-level floor plan and offer a home-like atmosphere. Most fifth wheels have huge kitchens that can accommodate islands and full-sized appliances.

Travel trailers are similar to a fifth wheel but the main difference is how it has to be hitched. It doesn’t require a special hitch so it can be towed by minivans, SUVs or trucks. They also tend to be smaller than fifth wheels.

Truck campers are great if you want a “roughing it” experience that isn’t as rough and doesn’t require pitching a tent. The camper part sits on top of the pickup part of the truck so you don’t need a hitch. Most provide the ability to cook, dine and sleep.

Related: Maximizing points and miles on summer road trips

The best sites to rent an RV

Just like when booking traditional accommodations, you have many options when it comes to renting an RV. You can go through traditional rental companies, Avis or Enterprise for RVs or you can rent via peer-to-peer rentals like you would on Airbnb.

Peer-to-peer rental sites

The two main peer-to-peer RV rental sites are Outdoorsy and RV Share. RV Share provides rentals in all states while Outdoorsy does the same with the addition of offering rentals in Canada and Australia. My family has rented from Outdoorsy on our last three RV trips. It’s often referred to as the Airbnb of RVs and we’ve had great experiences. They rent both towable RVs and motorhomes.

While I haven’t used RV Share, their model is the same as Outdoorsy. The main difference is it’s popular for one-way rental options. This is great for non-loop road trips.

Related: Take these credit cards on your road trips

RV rental companies

Here are two options if you prefer to rent from a business versus a private owner.

Cruise America: With 121 locations across the U.S., this is one of the most popular companies. However, it only rents Class C RVs so options are limited.

El Monte RV: This company rents in 27 states, offering both round-trip and one-way rentals. Similar to Cruise America, options are more limited as it only rents Class A and Class C RVs.

If you don’t care where your RV trip takes you, book a relocation rental that can save you tons as they cost as little as $1.

What you need to know about campsites

Having the RV is an important first step, but it’s still just a step. You’ll still need to book campsites instead of hotels when traveling by RV. There are varying levels of campsites, ranging from the bare-bone ones that just offer a place to park, to luxury campsites with lake views, resort-style pools, 18-hole golf courses and more. The average RV camp typically ranges from $35–$50/night but, of course, the more luxurious, the higher the price. Sites can easily get over $100 per night, especially right now while campsites are in very high demand.

Most sites offer weekly and monthly discounts, reducing the price for those staying longer. Also know that campsites can book up well in advance — this is doubly true in popular spots, such as national parks such as Rocky Mountain National Park, the Grand Canyon and similar.

Related: Mistakes to avoid on your first camping trip

Lake Mead RV
My family enjoying breakfast from our RV spot at Lake Mead RV Village at Boulder Beach. (Photo courtesy of Monet Hambrick)

When looking at campsites, consider what is included and what’s important to you. Does the campsite offer drinking water, dump stations, electrical hookups, cable, internet, restrooms, etc.? For electrical hookups, does your RV need a 30 or 50AMP or does it have a convertor where you can connect to both? This is important when reserving your spot as is deciding if you need a pull-through or back-in spot. Oftentimes, pull-through spots come at a premium. However, it’s easier to park as you can pull into the spot and then continue driving forward to exit instead of having to back the RV into the spot.

Related: Plan a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park

What about the poop?

Everyone always asks us, “Is it nasty dealing with the toilet?” It’s a fair question but, believe me, it’s not hard nor does it take a long time. Most RV rentals come with gloves to use when touching the black tank hose. If not, buy some. It takes about five minutes to dump your tank and while the person you rent from should give you a thorough overview (I recommend recording it), most RVers are very nice and will help you if you find yourself lost. You can also check out this YouTube video to see the process.

emptying an RV tank
My dad preparing to empty the black tank on his first RV trip. If he can do it so can you! (Photo courtesy of Monet Hambrick)

Boondocking

If you’re looking to save money on campsites, consider boondocking for a night or so. This is when either the campsite you’re staying at doesn’t offer hookups — meaning you can’t connect to water, electricity, or sewer — or you’re backcountry camping or just staying in a parking lot overnight.

Now, just because a campsite doesn’t offer these things that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t have water or electricity. Before boondocking, you can fill the RV fresh water tank to have access to water and, if the RV has a propane tank, you can use it for electricity. Just know neither of these will last forever, most freshwater tanks hold 20–100 gallons of water and a 30-pound propane tank usually offers 24 hours of generator use.

Related: How to stay near national parks for less

Average costs of renting an RV

How much does renting an RV cost?

Like hotels, RV prices will greatly vary depending on what time of year you’re traveling, the cost of living in the city you’re renting from, how many people the RV accommodates and how updated/luxurious the RV is. You can use these average costs as a guideline, knowing it will vary and with high demand can come even higher prices.

  • Class A: $175 to $275 per night
  • Class B: $100 to $200 per night
  • Class C: $150 to $200 per night
  • Travel trailer: $50 to $125 per night
  • Fifth wheel: $60 to $150 per night
  • Pop-up trailer: $50 to $100 per night

Also know that you may also need to factor in a per-mile charge. You may have a built-in number of included miles and then incur a fee per mile driven over the number, though some rentals do come with unlimited miles.

The kitchen inside one of our Class C RV rentals.
The kitchen inside one of our Class C RV rentals. (Photo courtesy of Monet Hambrick)

RV insurance

RV Share includes standard insurance in its fees but you can opt to add on additional coverage. Its website states that standard coverage includes up to $200,000 in comprehensive and collision coverage based on the value of the RV and free 24/7 roadside assistance and free towing and tire service. You can read more on its policy here.

Outdoorsy partners with Liberty Mutual insurance and offers three levels: Peace of Mind, Essential or Risk Taker. At a minimum, you get up to $1M physical damage protection, 24/7 roadside assistance and customer support. You can read more here.

Related: The best travel insurance policies and providers

Helpful apps while RVing

FreeRoam: Provides information on free RV camp locations and overnight parking. It also shares information on regular RV campgrounds. It shows reviews and gives ratings on how crowded they are, cell reception, safety and ease of access.

Gasbuddy: This app shows the lowest gas prices in your area. You can even search based on brand and type of gas. When planning, its trip cost calculator comes in handy for budgeting.

Related: Best credit cards for gas purchases

RV Checklist: Helps with pre-road trip preparation and packing. It offers checklists that are great for first-time RVers who don’t know where to start.

Free Zone Wi-Fi: This app provides information on 5 million hotspots in the U.S., maps to guide you there and automatic notifications when you’re in range of a signal.

Related: How to secure your data when using public Wi-Fi

Coverage: Depending on where your RV adventures take you, you’ll quickly learn all roads are not created equally when it comes to cell service. This app provides a complete cellular coverage map for popular carriers across the United States.

Related: Best credit cards for paying your cellphone bill

Bottom line

RVing is a fun adventure and something I think everyone should do at least once. Know that right now RV sites and rentals and sites are a hot commodity, but otherwise, this really is the perfect time to explore this method of traveling around the country.

Who knows? You might get hooked on RV life just as we did!

Featured image by author

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