15 Essential Rental Tips For First Time RV Renters
When we were first time RV renters I wish we knew these 15 essential tips for our rental. But luckily, we started planning for our 10 day RV vacation a year in advance. Our plan changed quite a bit as we learned what we were doing and the trip we ended up taking was nothing like the one we initially planned for. It was better!
So, we came up with a comprehensive list of tips for you to use to plan for your RV rental so you can have an awesome time on your vacation as a first time RV renter. It seems like there are a million things to plan for and we have tried to touch on the most important ones here.
1. What Features Should I Look For When Renting An RV For The First Time?
Size Of The RV
There are quite a few features to consider when looking for an RV rental. First of all, if this is your first time renting and driving an RV I would recommend renting the smallest, drivable, Class C RV you can. An RV that you drive is much easier to handle than a camper trailer that you tow behind you. I recommend a small drivable RV rental between 19′ and 24′ if it is your first time driving an RV.
The number of people sleeping in your RV may ultimately decide the size of the RV you rent. If there are only two to three of you then you could go with compact 19′ RV. Two would sleep over top of the cab on one where the dinette converts to a bed. If there are four to six people you may need to go up to a 22′ or 24′ RV where two can sleep over the cab, two can sleep in a short queen size bed in the back of the RV and one or two can sleep at the dinette if it converts into a bed.
RVs come with two types of bathrooms. The first type is called a full bath and the shower is separate from the rest of the bathroom. A shower door or curtain keeps the water in the shower. The second type of shower is called a wet bath. This type of bathroom combines the shower and toilet in one room. So whenever you take a shower the toilet and bathroom floor will be wet. This is common in compact RV’s but it is something you should be aware of. If you rent an RV 22′ or longer you will most likely get a full bath. But be sure to check the floor plan especially if you are renting sight unseen.
Most RVs, even the compact models, come with a propane stove top, refrigerator, oven, and even a microwave. Some RV refrigerators come with a separate freezer and some have the freezer built into the fridge itself. We recommend trying to get a separate freezer if you can.
The amount of storage space can vary quite a bit but the more the better is our motto. You will want to store all types of items in there like a small grill, charcoal, lighter fluid, skewers, citronella candle, chairs, and on and on and on…
2. How Much Does It Cost To Rent An RV?
There are quite a few factors to consider when calculating the cost to rent an RV. The biggest cost is the daily or weekly price. The next consideration is how many miles are included in that rate. For example, you may rent an RV for $700 a week and that price includes 500 miles. For every mile you drive over the included 500 miles you pay 35 cents a mile. So if you need to drive 1000 miles on your vacation the total cost is really going to be $700 plus $175 for mileage for a total of $875.
Believe it or not, the other factor to consider when figuring out your cost is the location of the RV. For example, when renting from large national companies like Cruise America the same RV will cost a different amount in different locations. When we rented our RV to cruise California it was actually cheaper to rent it in Henderson, Nevada than it was to rent it anywhere in California. FYI – Airfare was less expensive to fly to Las Vegas than anywhere in California too.
3. How Many Miles Are Included With My Rental
Each RV Private Owner or RV Rental Company set their own base mileage they include with the rental. But most RV owners allow 100 miles a day. Once you surpass the base mileage included with your RV you will be charged by the mile and it is pretty customary to be charged 35 cents per mile. This is one area we successfully negotiated when we rented our RV and we got them down to 25 cents per mile.
4. What Is Included When I Rent An RV?
The private owner or rental company will determine what is included when you rent an RV. Our article on the 4 Best Small Drivable RV Options covers in great detail the four options for renting your RV. Once you have landed on one of the 4 main rental providers, which are, Private Owner, Local RV Dealership, Web Based RV Rental, or a Large RV Rental Company you will have a much better idea of what is included.
With all four options, a base amount of mileage and generator time is included in the Daily or Weekly rental price and then you pay for any mileage or time beyond that. Also, the air conditioner and furnace are included.
When you rent from private owners directly or through a web-based rental service some private owners include towels and linens, kitchen utensils and small appliances, and some camp gear. Outdoorsy also provides up to $1 Million of insurance on approved bookings and 24-hour customer support.
The large national rental companies will clean the RV, give you an RV orientation, provide 24-hour customer service, roadside assistance, and expense reimbursement insurance. They also have options for kitchen items and bedding that you can purchase.
4. Which Add On’s Are Worth The Price?
When you rent through a service like Outdoorsy there are add-ons for insurance such as roadside assistance or trip insurance. Each owner who rents through Outdoorsy may offer additional add ons too. But each rental is very individual and you need to see what they offer.
The Large RV rental companies typically offer a kitchen package for around $100 and a bedding package for around $75. If you are renting near your home and driving to pick up your RV locally just bring your own stuff and save the money. Or, if you are flying across the country and renting your RV then both of these packages are a must.
6. How Much Should I Budget For Gas?
You should plan on getting about 10 miles per gallon in your RV. So if you are traveling 1000 miles you will use about 100 gallons of gas and at $2.50 per gallon, you should budget $250. Obviously, gas prices vary by state and you will be paying higher than average prices since you will most likely be visiting touristy areas.
There are two ways that you can increase your gas mileage. They are to drive 55 miles per hour and to make sure your tires are inflated properly. Please consult your owners manual for proper tire inflation instructions.
The other gas you need to plan for is Propane Gas. Propane powers the water heater, refrigerator, stove and oven. Keep an eye on your propane level and fill it as needed. It is typically $20 to fill a propane tank.
7. Plan Your Route
Once you know where you want to go the next thing to do is to plan your route. This is especially important if you are planning to camp at many different locations on your trip. When we planned our ten-day vacation to California we stayed in different campgrounds almost every night so it was imperative to plan our route.
Things To Consider When Planning Your Route
- Traffic around any major cities
- Do you want to take the shortest route or see the sights along the way
- The height of bridges and overpasses – especially in the Northeast. Waze will not work in your RV because it doesn’t know the height of your RV. I recommend that you know the height of your RV and use an app for RVs to avoid wasting time or getting stuck at a bridge or overpass with no way to turn around.
- The weight of your RV
- Allow extra time for places that you may want to see along the way
- Photo opportunities – we love to just pull over when we see something we like and take a bunch of photos
- Mountains – they just take forever to get over them especially if there are a lot of switchbacks
- Distance and time between campground locations
Let’s use an example of our California trip to show how you might plan your route. We flew from Maryland to Las Vegas and rented our RV at Cruise America. From there we planned to visit Death Valley, Sequoia National Forrest, San Francisco, Morro Bay, Big Sur, Santa Monica, Malibu, Huntington Beach and then back to Las Vegas to fly home. It was a 2000 mile trip over a ten-day period. But once we knew the main areas we wanted to visit we could then plan the best route. The next step was to create an itinerary of all of the places we wanted to stop and see along the way. Then we mapped out all the campgrounds along our route, as well.
8. Plan Your Itinerary
Planning your itinerary is a lot of fun. This is where you get to research and plan out all of the cool places you would like to visit on your trip. This is the best-kept secret to making your trips memorable and packed with fun and adventure. We find that if we don’t plan an itinerary we miss out on many things we could have seen and the trip is just less fun.
Our California Trip Itinerary as an Example
Using the example above from our route through California – once we knew we were going from Las Vegas to Death Valley we simply Googled “Best Sights To See In Death Valley”. We researched them a bit and made a list of everything we wanted to see in and around Death Valley. Here is the list we made of all of the places we wanted to visit:
- Golden Valley
- Salt Flats at Badwater Basin
- Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette
- Dante’s View
- Zabriskie Point
- Sand Dunes Near Stovepipe Wells
- Father Crowley Point – on the way to Sequoia National Park which was our next stop
We don’t recommend making a schedule where everything has to happen at an exact time. Just know all of your options and see as much as you can see without the stress of following a strict schedule. We didn’t get to see every sight in Death Valley but since we knew all of our options and we saw what mattered most within our time frame.
9. Plan For A Rainy Day Or Two
Recently we went RVing in Shenandoah National Park for a weekend and the couple next to us had been there all week. And guess what, it rained a couple of days that week. They were kind of bummed because some of their hiking plans were washed out. When I asked what they did instead they said they just sort of hung around the campground. Don’t let some rain ruin your day. Plan for a rainy day or two. In addition to googling outdoor activities also google indoor activities as a part of your itinerary.
While we were recently RVing through New England it rained one day and we were prepared. We went to the movies and then came back to the RV and played Rummy and Uno until 1:30 in the morning. And actually, we had a blast because we were prepared. We already knew of a movie we wanted to see before we even left for our trip. And, we packed plenty of games, movies, and books in case we had some rainy weather.
10. Research The Campgrounds
Once you have planned your route and itinerary it’s time to research the campgrounds to decide the best places to stay. There are quite a few things to consider in each campground. There is price, type of campsite that is available, cost of the campsite, and the location of your campsite. Amenities like a camp store or laundry should also be considered. You should research the campground policies regarding pets and children.
We have seen campground prices range anywhere from $15 to over $100 per night, which can get expensive quick. We have joined several memberships that lower the cost of camping quite a bit. For example, we pay $30 per year for our Boondocker’s Welcome membership but we can stay overnight for free at any of their locations. The membership pays itself off each year if we just use it once. Makes sense to us… We like 5 memberships in particular and have an article that discusses them in detail. Click here to check it out and see if one might benefit you.
But the most important thing to know about campsites is that since RVing is so popular they fill up fast. Sometimes months in advance. So start planning as early as you can. If you are heading to a really popular area like Zion National Park in Utah you should start planning a year in advance if you want the best campground choices.
Another factor in choosing your campground is the type of campsites that are available.
Type of Campsites To Consider
- Full Hookup sites provide electric, water and sewer. These are the most convenient sites but the most expensive too. They are also typically the very first sites to be reserved in a campground.
- Partial Hookup sites provide you with water and electric and are still convenient but they don’t have a sewer at your site. Try to be sure that the campground has a dump station, which is a common sewer location you can use within the campground. Some campgrounds charge you if you want to use the dump station and some don’t have a dump station at all.
- No Hookup sites provide no water, electric or sewer. Many State and National Park campgrounds only offer no hookup campsites. Some have a common dump station and some don’t.
So, when planning which campgrounds to stay in you need to know what utilities are available. For example, if you decide to stay in a National Park without hookups you may need to plan to stop at a dump station when you leave the campground or make sure your next campground has a dump station.
11. What Should I Bring?
You should bring everything you would normally bring on a camping trip plus some items that we always bring when we go RVing. These items include the following:
- Fire Logs That You Can Cook On – it will be hard to find firewood at your campsite and sometimes the wood you buy is damp or wet. So it may be difficult to get your fire started. A fire log will start a good fire for you and some nights it will be all the fire you need. We always keep a dozen logs on board the RV and we always use the kind you can cook on in case we roast hot dogs or s’mores. We find that the smaller fire starters just don’t do the trick.
- Welcome Mat – Bring a welcome mat and place it at the door to the RV. Even if you have an outdoor carpet place the welcome mat at the entry door. If you wipe your feet before you enter the RV it will stay much cleaner. Ours is on the right. It cost like $5 and it works great. just shake it out before you put it back in your RV as they hold a ton of dirt!
If you want some more suggestions about what to bring on your RV camping trip check out our article 21 Must Have RV Accessories for a New Camper or Travel Trailer. You will need almost all of the items in this article whether you rent or buy an RV!
12. Make A Checklist
Checklists help us to remember everything. We keep our checklist as an ongoing checklist and add to it each time we find we are missing something during our trip. Then we save the checklist for the next trip and add to it if we find we are missing something again. This way we aren’t creating a new checklist for every RV trip. Check out RV Camping Checklist.com for a very thorough checklist to get you started. I think they thought of everything but the fire logs and the welcome mat listed above.
13. How Will I Know How Everything Works In My RV?
The first time we rented an RV I had no idea how anything worked and I was scared to death of having to deal with the septic hose! So, I simply went on YouTube and watched videos of how everything works on an RV. After watching videos on everything about the RV I was ready! We had a great trip and I was prepared.
You will also get a tour of your rental vehicle when you pick it up from the rental provider and books, manuals and hopefully a 1-800 number should any questions arise. We were fortunate to rent from Cruise America because they have 24-hour customer service and I did need to call late one night to ask a question.
There are tons of videos on YouTube like the one below for you to learn from.
14. How Hard Is It To Drive An RV The First Time?
It’s not really hard to drive an RV. It’s just very different from driving a car or truck. I will say the smaller the RV the easier it is to drive. If you can get a compact RV for your first time it will be much easier for you to drive. Again, I watched YouTube videos on how to drive an RV so I was as prepared as possible. Some people recommend practicing before you rent an RV but how do you do that? So, I watched the videos and here are some of the important things I learned:
- Know Your Height – don’t get stuck at a bridge, overpass or tunnel you can’t get under.
- Break Sooner Than You Think You Need To – your RV weighs more than your car and it doesn’t stop as fast. Break sooner so don’t have to jam the breaks and have things go flying forward in your RV.
- Parking – It’s always easier to park where you don’t have to back out because you can’t really see behind you. If you have to back up anywhere have your partner get out of the RV and guide you. Also, look up! Watch out for overhead tree branches especially when parking at a wooded campsite.
- Tow/Haul – Learn to use the Tow/Haul feature in your RV for steep inclines and declines.
- Tail Swing – tail swing is when the back end of your RV swings out toward the opposite direction of the direction you are turning. The longer the distance from the back wheels to the back bumper of your RV the greater the tail swing. For more info on tail swing and turning radius check out our article Travel Trailer Turning Radius Tips. It’s full of helpful tips that will help you drive better.
15. Plan To Create Some Magic Memories
There are lots of ways to create magical memories on your trip. We take tons of photos and videos with our i-phones, camera, and GoPro. Then we put them into photo albums and slideshows that we watch them with friends and family. For a great article about camping with family check out our article called 12 Life Changing Benefits of Camping with Family. We also try to go the extra mile and come up with something fun to do on each trip we take. Here are some ideas you can try:
- Take pictures of the sunset every day of your trip
- Grab a bottle of wine and a blanket and watch the sunset together
- Don’t get upset if you miss the road you were supposed to turn onto. Your attitude can ruin the day or make the day. Think of it as the Universe sending you on an adventure or helping you to avoid an accident. Look for the reason you missed the turn and how you are supposed to benefit. We discovered Area 51 this way and it was awesome!
- Use colored flames on the campfire – we love them!
- Journal your Journey
- Be spontaneous and stop if you see something really cool!
If you are still trying to decide where to rent your RV check out our article 4 Best Rental Options for a Small Drivable RV. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of renting from Private Individuals, RV Dealerships, Website Rental Facilitators and Large RV Rental Companies. We also cover insurance, roadside assistance, and more!
Do you have a tip you would like to share or a cool way to make a great memory? Please leave your comments or any questions below.
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