Welcome back to the Ultimate American Road Trip, a new column here on the Engine Block that explores the great US of A and all the beautiful, interesting, and downright weird things it has to offer. Recently, we laid out a cross-country excursion via the historic Lincoln Highway, which you can find in two parts, here and here. Now, we’re back and switching gears, exploring a different, and yet wholly American way of seeing the contiguous United States: RVing! More specifically, RV and trailer rentals.
The Most American Mode of Travel
That’s right, friends. Pack the family and your loyal pup, cue up some tunes, and grab that road map because we’re seeing this country how it was MEANT to be seen—from the greasy window of a stale-smelling Winnebago! Just kidding, have you seen some of the models on the road today? Let’s just say that our RV-forefathers would be either very impressed or thoroughly disgusted with the standards this country has set for “camping.”
She’s a big girl, America, with a geography that includes snow peaked mountains and green rolling hills, arid deserts and sandy beaches. Early settlers must have been terribly adventurous—or out of their damn minds—to hop in a covered wagon and begin roaming. (Think about that the next time you’re lumbering along safely-marked and paved roads, listening to a podcast on Mars terraforming, while you sip La Croix in the multi-climate zoned cabin of a $150,000 home on wheels.) Joking aside, traveling the country by RV or trailer really does give motorists a unique and quintessentially American sightseeing experience. And while owning your own motorhome can be an incredibly rewarding investment, RV and trailer rentals can be just as fun—and cost-effective.
First, A Few Numbers
The RV industry was born over a century ago, and popularity for it continues to grow. According to last year’s Annual Report of the RV Industry Association, 2017 was a milestone. The market soared, boasting a 17.2% growth in wholesale shipments over 2016, with RV sales climbing past the 500,000 unit mark. And Forbes reports that this recent boom in popularity is owed largely to ageing Baby Boomers looking for a way to enjoy retirement. Not to mention plucky Millennials seeking hashtag-worthy experiences.
Clearly, the market is hot right now for the RV lifestyle. And if, like many people, you’re interested in seeing what it’s got to offer but aren’t quite ready to take the plunge, RV and trailer rentals are an excellent compromise. There’s something for just about every budget and style of adventurer, from $80/night folding trailers to $750/night Class A Motor Coaches.
Pick Your Poison
The mode of rental is as varied as the models themselves. There are several options for those who are interested in getting their feet wet in the world of RV and trailer rentals:
The Big Boys
Big companies like Cruise America and El Monte RV provide RV and trailer rentals with the corporate touch. With locations across the country, they offer comprehensive services like online floor plans and images, customer service representatives, vacation planning tips, and sample itineraries. They also have rewards and deals such as mileage discounts, one-way rental specials, and BOGO pricing.
Cruise America even has its own app with a trip planner and campground locator. This might be something to consider if you’re a newbie to the lifestyle.
If that all sounds a little too pre-packaged for you, check out some smaller companies in your area and see if you can keep your business local. Aside from helping your local economy, there’s a good chance that you’ll know a guy, who knows a guy, who’s pals with the owner. That kind of camaraderie can be reassuring when it’s Day 1 of vacation and you’re getting a crash course on big RV driving in the Denny’s parking lot.
For example, a business like Specialty RV Rentals in Lancaster, Ohio provides a wide variety of RV and trailer rentals ranging in size, price, and style. Much like the national companies, Specialty RV offers new and clean units, walk-through videos, easy-to-reach representatives, and competitive pricing. But more than that, the family-owned business offers a personal touch. Specialty RV gets to know its customers, providing them with a one-stop-shop for all their RVing needs. They also have an exclusive Try Before You Buy program that returns your base rental price towards the price of a new RV if after vacation you decide you’ve gotta have that thing!
If you’re entertaining the thought of purchasing, but are testing out RV and trailer rentals, a local business such as Specialty RV might be the right avenue for you. Aside from building a rapport with fellow locals, you’ll be guaranteed a unit that’s been well-maintained by industry professionals.
The Small Fish
If you’re thinking “That’s great, but I really want something with less strings,” don’t worry because there’s something for YOU too! Meet Outdoorsy, the Airbnb of the RV world. Owners can list their own units as RV and trailer rentals, which are covered by a $1 million liability insurance policy supplied by Outdoorsy.
The company offers 24/7 customer service, secure direct payments, and background checks on both renters and owners. The rest is pretty much up to you. Peruse the site, pick a unit, and then request a booking. Much like a house swap, other than some communicating with the owner, you’re pretty much left to your own devices.
Is It Worth It?
Ultimately, RV and trailer rentals aren’t for everyone. The thought of sharing a living space with the people who traveled before you or the anxiety of being responsible for someone else’s property might be turnoffs. However, if you don’t see these as deal breakers, we urge you to consider RV travel. And if, like many Americans, the ability to unplug and get away is a very seldom occurrence, RV and trailer rentals are a great option. For less than the price of airfare and a week’s stay at a hotel, you can cover hundreds of miles of this beautiful country we call home. (Provided you don’t get crazy with the mileage and you cook a few of your own meals along the way. But hey! That’s part of the allure!)
Check out a state park or hit a festival. Cruise down Main Street, USA or get off the grid and spend some time with nature. And if you find out that the RV lifestyle is perfect for you, any of the resources above would be more than happy to point you in the right direction for purchase. It’s a welcoming community of friendly lifestylers, so go ahead—unplug and hit the road. You never know what adventures you’ll find from behind the wheel of an RV!