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6 things you should know before you rent your first RV

May 08, 2022
13 min read
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A few years ago, my husband and I packed up our two girls and flew to Las Vegas, where we kicked off the adventure of a lifetime. We spent a week exploring the best Southwestern national and state parks on our first recreational vehicle trip. Spoiler alert: We became addicted to RV travel, and have gone on several RV trips since then.

We’ve learned a lot about RVing since that first trip. Below are six tips to best prepare you for your road trip now that RV rentals are becoming more popular in the era of continued socially distanced family vacations.

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Photo by Monet Hambrick

1. 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. There are 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 offer 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 the easiest to get used to driving. Since they’re smaller, they sleep fewer people and accommodations aren’t as grand: there have potentially smaller beds, kitchenettes instead of true kitchens. If there is a bathroom, most times it's 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. They provide more space than Class Bs and are easier to maneuver than Class As. The average weight is 10,000–12,000 pounds, so you’ll never have to worry about getting a special license and the vehicles 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 implies, towable RVs are towed by an SUV or pickup truck, so you’re not sleeping in the same place as you’re driving like you would in a motorhome. 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 them 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 special hitches only found on pickup truck beds. They are much heavier than the other types of travel trailers, so they can’t be towed by just any truck; they need need to be pulled by something with a high tow capacity. Fifth wheels have split-level floor plans and offer a home-like atmosphere. Most fifth wheels have huge kitchens that can accommodate islands and full-size appliances.

Travel trailers are similar to fifth wheels, but the main difference is how they are towed. They don't require special hitches, so they 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 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

2. The best sites to rent an RV

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

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 – they cost as little as $1.

Related: I rented a tricked-out RV; here’s what it was like

Peer-to-peer rental sites

The two main peer-to-peer RV rental sites are Outdoorsy and RV Share. Both sites provide rentals in all states, and Outdoorsy also offers options 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. The company rents 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

3. What you need to know about campsites

Obtaining the RV is an important first step, but it’s still just a step. You’ll also need to book campsites instead of hotels when traveling by RV. There are varying levels of campsites, ranging from the bare-bones options that only 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 surpass $100 per night, especially 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 especially true in popular tourist destinations such as Rocky Mountain National Park, the Grand Canyon and other national parks.

Related: Mistakes to avoid on your first camping trip

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

When booking campsites, consider what's 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 because it’s easier to park as you can pull into the spot and then continue driving forward to exit. Backing into the spot can be much more of a hassle.

What about the poop?

Everyone always asks us the same thing: “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're confused. You can also check out this YouTube video to see the process.

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

Boondocking

If you’re looking to save money on campsites, consider boondocking for a night or so. Boondocking is when you’re backcountry camping, staying in a parking lot overnight or when the campsite you’re staying at doesn’t offer hookups — meaning you can’t connect to water, electricity or sewer. Be sure to check signs and local regulations to make sure you're permitted to park, if you're choosing one of the first two options. You can also find spots at the Boondockers Welcome website, which connects travelers with hosts who have private sites for free.

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

4. 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 from Outdoorsy as a guideline, knowing it will vary, and high demand can create 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 need to factor in a per-mile charge. You might have a built-in number of included miles and will 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. (Photo by Monet Hambrick)

5. RV insurance

RV Share includes standard insurance in its fees, but you can opt to add on additional coverage. Its website states that the standard insurance option includes up to $300,000 in comprehensive and collision coverage based on the value of the RV and $1 million in liability coverage. You'll also receive 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 $1 million in both physical damage protection and liability coverage, 24/7 roadside assistance and customer support. You can read more here.

Related: The best travel insurance policies and providers

6. Helpful apps while RVing

FreeRoam: Provides information on free RV camp locations and overnight parking. It also shares information on regular RV campgrounds by showing reviews and ratings about how crowded campsites are, quality of 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.

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!

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases