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- Due to COVID-19, many people are considering alternatives to flights and hotels for travel.
- A camper van is an increasingly alluring proposition for an affordable, socially-distanced vacation.
- We break down types of camper vans and the best camper van rentals to consider.
There's no denying the fact the travel landscape continues to evolve as we adapt to the ongoing pandemic. With plenty of perceived risks associated with both boarding a plane or booking a hotel, people are turning to alternatives to vacation closer to home.
An RV rental is one such way forward as your wheels, lodging, and dining are all relegated to one controlled space. However, they tend to be difficult to drive, sometimes too large for campgrounds, and pricey when it comes to fuel.
For an equally convenient way to travel with more flexibility, consider the camper van.
Like larger RVs and motorhomes, a camper van offers travelers increased levels of control over their environments. The best camper van is a self-contained living pod with sleeping, washing, and cooking facilities all onboard. They allow easy access to socially distant spots in nature, are easier to drive, better on fuel, and can slip into most campgrounds without problems.
Finding the right camper van can be a challenge, though, as there exists a wide range of potential renting (and buying) options. Below are four of the best camper van rental services we've found based on reputation, customer satisfaction levels, specialties, all-around value, and fleet offerings.
At the bottom of this guide, we've also included answers to a few FAQs, as well as tips and recommendations for first-timers.
Here are the best camper van rentals of 2021
Pros: A well-established company with a good number of locations and excellent customer service.
Cons: Some relatively older rental stock, but vans are regularly maintained.
Company info and locations: Founded in New Zealand in 2003, the company opened in the US in 2008 and now has 12 locations and 600 vehicles. Locations include Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Calgary and Vancouver. Their vans have funky, painted exteriors and range from Jeeps up to large Newport campers.
COVID-19 policies: Enhanced, 80-point cleaning and detailing policies, facilities meeting CDC guidelines, minimizing customer contact (a contactless option will be offered from June 2020), flexible cancellation policies.
Typical rental costs: The Escape Mavericks package includes a camper van sleeping up to five people, priced at $35 per day for unlimited mileage in a Ford E-150 or Transit, with kitchen (stove, refrigerator). The price quote is for traveling out of Miami.
Pros: One of the cheaper rental options on the market.
Cons: Just two year-round locations. Entry-level vehicles are relatively basic.
Company info and locations: A family-owned business that has operated since 2007. Locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and also Salt Lake City (seasonally). The company bills itself as the budget option, and rents out mainly Dodge Grands and Ford E350 vans.
COVID-19 policies: Enhanced cleaning policies under CDC guidelines, minimizing contact with customers.
Typical rental costs: Wanderer camper van sleeps two people, from $83 per night, rentals include unlimited mileage and roadside assistance. The vehicle includes a full outdoor kitchen including stove and ice chest. The price is for traveling out of Los Angeles.
Vintage Surfari Wagons
Pros: The place to rent from if retro-chic appeals to you, with some truly special vehicles in their fleet. The company is exceptionally knowledgeable and will happily help out with suggested itineraries.
Cons: The age of some of the vehicles means there are some restrictions on parts of the fleet in terms of range (some 100 miles per day limits) and restricted roads (some cannot drive up very steep inclines). There is just one location to rent from.
Company info and locations: This company has been specifically renting out vintage camper vans for over 14 years, and is based in Costa Mesa, California. Their fleet is exclusively restored VW camper vans from the 1970s and 1980s, with some less iconic but more modern vehicles as well, all with revamped interiors.
COVID-19 policies: Enhanced, stringent disinfecting procedures, particularly for 'high touch' points.
Typical rental costs: 1984 VW 'Lime Cello' Vanagaon sleeps four passengers with two sleeping berths (one a pop-top on the roof), from $169 per night, mileage conditions to be outlined at the time of booking. The vehicle includes a propane stove and refrigerator/icebox. The price quote is for traveling out of Costa Mesa.
Campervan North America
Pros: The company rents out practical, no-frills vehicles and has a sizable fleet and good customer satisfaction ratings.
Cons: The vehicles have relatively few amenities and fans of luxury additions may find them on the sparse side.
Company info and locations: The company has been in business since 2009. Since starting out in Bozeman, Montana, they have expanded to four locations in Denver, Las Vegas, and Seattle. The company has been accredited with the Better Business Bureau since 2015 and holds an A+ rating.
COVID-19 policies: The company has instituted a comprehensive disinfecting program for each rental in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Typical rental costs: The Bunkhouse camper van sleeps up to four people (one large bed, two single bunks), from $128 per night, 500 prepaid miles for $180, and a $90 set up/preparation fee. Based on a Dodge Promaster van, it does not come with a stove or refrigeration. The price quote is for traveling out of Denver.
Important info for first-timers
It's vital to check that you can park your camper van at the campground you intend to visit and check what facilities they have there.
Booking ahead is key due to increased demand. Overnight campsite and park fees with 'hookups' (electricity, water, bathrooms, and/or sewage disposal) typically range from $30 to $50 per night or more for the best quality grounds. Some older camper vans may not be suitable for roads with steep inclines, so check your proposed routes with the rental company at the time of booking.
Outside of campgrounds, it is also possible to find places to park (usually for limited amounts of time) without any facilities, either in remote areas or at designated spots. This is called 'dry camping' or 'boondocking' and is usually free of charge. You can find these locations on the website for the United States Forest Service or Campendium. This option is much easier for camper vans than it is for huge motorhomes.
There are other obvious preparation tips, such as having a full complement of water (some camper vans do not include running or potable water onboard), groceries, and other essentials. Many of the rental companies listed below have regularly-updated blogs and online resources that are well worth looking at if this is a first-time trip, and are all experts in their regions, and can help with suggested routes and campgrounds. We also suggest starting here with our favorite camper van accessories to make your trip exta comfy.
What's the difference between a motor home and a camper van?
Motor homes and camper vans both generally fall under the general definition of an RV.
A motor home is usually larger, built on a bus or truck chassis, and has a divider between the driver's cab and the living quarters, which include comfortable sleeping, cooking, and bathroom facilities.
A camper van is generally smaller, typically with no divide, and usually more basic. Many were not originally built to be self-contained living quarters and have been specially adapted and fitted to serve this purpose.
Are all camper vans the same?
Customers can choose from a range of outfitted vehicles, some with very basic facilities and some with rockstar levels of comfort but all offer flexibility, economic benefits, and control over the traveler's own environment. It's tricky to specify exact fuel economies for each type but for average-sized camper vans, around 20 miles per gallon is a good working average.
"Camper vans offer great gas mileage and can access the more restricted roads (that might be unavailable to larger motorhomes)," Kirby Sandberg said. "They also offer great maneuverability and visibility when driving, and you'll save big by having the option to camp instead of booking into hotels."
What kinds of camper vans are there?
Basic outfitted/converted camper vans: These are general-use vans like the Ford Transit that were not built for camping but which have been converted. Additions usually include basic sleeping quarters and storage for camping or biking gear, with more upscale models including a small kitchen or galley area with a refrigerator, sink, and running water. Composting toilets and propane-heated shower attachments for outdoor showering are also possible.
Purpose-made outfitted camper vans: These are usually newer-generation products built intentionally to be sold to travelers. They tend to be more luxurious with upgraded fixtures and fittings, made from comfortable materials, and feature nicely integrated electronics and plumbing facilities. Upper echelon versions have dining rooms and full bathrooms with showers, too. Brands of these include Winnebago, Volkswagen, and Airstream.
High-top outfitted camper vans: These vehicles typically come with a higher roof that's either been factory-fitted on the original vehicle or extended as part of a conversion. Think of this as added "attic'' space that can be used for sleeping quarters, storage space for camping, or adventure gear. Some variations include pop-up or semi-rigid tops, as well as those compatible with rooftop tents.
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