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A First-Timer's Guide to Renting an RV | Frommer's Outdoorsy.com

A First-Timer's Guide to Renting an RV

Interested in hitting the road in an RV? Here's what you need to know about finding rentals, selecting the right kind of vehicle, and more. 

Thinking of taking a road trip in a recreational vehicle this summer? Unless you own an RV, you’ll need to rent one—and that’s not a dummy-proof process.

Here’s some advice to get you started.

Rental Agencies vs. RV Shares

The differences here can be compared to staying in a chain hotel as opposed to an Airbnb. One option maintains cookie-cutter standards of reliability and professionalism; the other is more customized and in many cases more affordable.  

The chainlike choice for would-be RVers is to go directly to large sales and rental agencies such as Cruise America and El Monte RV.

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The benefits of going that route are many, including standardized cleaning protocols and cancellation policies, around-the-clock roadside assistance, and insurance packages.

On the other hand, you'll probably only have 3–5 types of rental vehicles to choose from, and they won’t have the personalized improvements that a privately owned RV might have.

If variety and special touches matter to you, consider an "RV share" of the sort you can find at online marketplaces Outdoorsy and RVshare.

Both sites have RV listings posted by individual owners as well as professional rental companies.

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You can choose from an array of vehicle types. And some rides will have extras like high-end kitchen appliances and above-average picnic chairs and tables. The decor is liable to feel more personal than what you'd get from one of the big rental agencies, too. 

Most important, shares will often be less expensive than rentals.

And customers who go with Outdoorsy or RVshare aren't completely without services: Both offer roadside assistance and insurance.

Outdoorsy's website has a large collection of free regional travel guides as well. 

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What Type of RV to Rent?

There's a range of vehicles to choose from, especially if you rent from an individual owner.

Motor homes, as the name suggests, are basically houses on wheels equipped with beds and bathrooms. These RVs come in three classes: A, B, and C.

Confusingly, the sizes and quality levels aren't alphabetical. Class A motor homes are huge and considered top-of-the-line, while Class C is the next level down and Class B vehicles are the most modest options.

A Class A motor home can be as long as 45 feet, with various “slide-outs” that are built into the sides of the vehicle and can slide outwards (hence the name) when the RV is parked. Slide-outs can increase the vehicle's width to as much as 14 feet.

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Class A RVs will sometimes come with such luxe amenities as dishwashers, ice machines, large flat-screen TVs, and even “basement space” in the undercarriage of the vehicle. 

On the downside, these monsters gulp a lot of fuel and can be intimidating to drive because of their size.  

Unlike Class A motor homes, a Class C vehicle consists of a separate driving section (usually a cargo van) that is blocked off from the living area—though one part of the living area overhangs where the driver sits. That crawl space often holds a king- or queen-size bed.

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The length of these RVs ranges from 20 to 33 feet. You won’t find Class A perks like washer/dryers, ice machines, or lots of storage space.

On the plus side, Class C vehicles are usually small enough to be allowed in restaurant parking lots and other places that couldn't accommodate a mammoth Class A.

Class B vehicles are the smallest of the bunch, and won’t have the handy sleeping nook that overhangs the driver’s seat in Class C. Instead, you’ll likely have to fold away the dinner table to pull down the bed, as there’s not much elbow room overall.

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But Class B is designed to fit in most garages and pretty much every parking lot. This category is also the most fuel-efficient of the bunch.

Note that the terms camper van, motor home, and RV are often used interchangeably.

The last set of options are towed trailers, like sleek, silver Airstreamspop-up trailers the size of tents, teardrop trailers (named after the shape), and others.

With the smallest of these, you won’t have a bathroom or cooking facilities—just a place to throw a sleeping bag when night falls. Larger options can get quite luxurious, and may even have slide-out sides to increase the interior space or pop-up roofs to make the living space taller when the vehicle is parked.

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As a rule, motor homes and other larger RVs may be more comfortable for travelers, but those rigs aren't welcome in all parking lots. So if you rent a massive RV, you’ll need to either tow your car or have one member of your party driving alongside in a car so that you can visit the non-RV park facilities you’ll inevitably want to see.

We’d suggest you look at this comprehensive post from the General RV Blog for further details on vehicle types as well as photos of each category.

Read Your Rental Policy

Note also that RV rental policies may shape your experience.

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Some rentals don’t allow pets, others cap the number of passengers allowed, and what’s included in the rental can vary from owner to owner.

The best advice, as always: Read the fine print carefully.

Rules of the Road

Several years ago, Frommer's published a still-useful article on RV driving tips, road etiquette, and more. To read that info, simply click here.

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