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6 things I learned from renting an RV for the first time

Renting a rig is a great way to try out RVing—here are some tips to make the process easier for first-time renters

Photo: Sanna Boman

Renting an RV is an easy and affordable way to try out the RV lifestyle without committing to a major purchase. As someone who typically tent camps—but doesn’t always enjoy it—I recently decided to rent a motorhome for a trip to the desert. It was the perfect excuse to elevate my camping experience and get a taste of what sleeping in the great outdoors could look like with (most of) the luxuries of home. 

There are plenty of options available for those looking to rent an RV. In my experience, peer-to-peer platforms (for any type of rental, not just RVs) typically offer a greater range of options at a lower price point than traditional rental companies. So I started by scrolling through listings on RVshare and Outdoorsy until I found exactly what I was looking for: A 24-foot Jayco Redhawk Class C motorhome, located not too far from me and available during my requested dates. 

While I’ll admit that driving a vehicle of this size on California freeways during rush hour was a bit nerve-racking at first, it ended up being the perfect choice for the trip. Despite dry camping far from amenities, I had a kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, and a plush bed to keep me comfortable, warm, and well-rested during the entire trip. 

RV and truck parked in the desert at sunset
Renting an RV is a great way to try out RVing without committing to a major purchase. | Photo: Sanna Boman

I live in a busy city with limited parking, and owning an RV is not the most practical choice for me. However, being able to rent one for trips like this is a great option, and I will definitely do it again. 

Here are six things I learned from my experience as a first-time RV renter. 

1. Pick your own level of commitment

Renting an RV is a great way to ease into RVing and future vehicle ownership, and you can start as basic as you’d like. Perhaps you want to try sleeping in a motorhome or trailer, but you’re not quite ready for driving or towing a big rig yet. Rent from an owner who offers delivery, and have them deliver the rig to the campsite for you. Then all you need to do is show up to camp without worrying about things like parking, leveling, connecting to hookups, or emptying tanks. 

I wanted more of the full experience, so I rented a motorhome, drove it to my destination, and set up camp myself. However, I did pay extra to have the owners dump the black and gray tanks at the end of the trip. Dumping is a natural part of RV ownership—but having someone else do it for you is a nice perk of renting.

Related 6 steps to planning a successful RV road trip

2. Make sure you ask for a proper walkthrough

Even if you have previous RV experience, you’ll want to get a thorough walkthrough of the unit you’re renting. All RVs are different, and you want to make sure you know how your specific one works, including any quirks or tricks. It’s a good idea to film the walkthrough on your phone in case you need to reference something later. This is also a good time to ask any questions—no matter how stupid they might sound—and ask for demonstrations. Have the owner show you how to turn on the generator, open and close slides, and check the battery and tank levels. Make sure you know where hoses, batteries, and fuse boxes are located. 

Class C motorhome with a bike rack in the rear and open slides
Ask the owner to show you how to open any slides. | Photo: Sanna Boman

If you’re renting a trailer, get a proper demonstration of the hitch setup. If it’s a motorhome, you’ll want to know which side the gas cap is on. Remember to also write down the dimensions of the RV somewhere easily accessible so you know where you can and cannot fit (don’t head straight for the McDonald’s drive-through). 

3. Read reviews and beware of scams

If an RV rental listing sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Read the reviews written by previous renters and look for red flags. If multiple reviews complain about the same issue—a dirty rig, rude owners, or mechanical problems, for example—chances are you’ll also be dealing with these things if you rent the vehicle. If a rental is listed at a significantly lower price point than other similar rigs, ask yourself why that might be. If you scroll through enough listings and reviews, you’ll quickly learn what to look out for.

Related 6 red flags to look out for when making a campground reservation

It’s also worth looking at the availability calendar for the RV you’re interested in. A calendar showing no other upcoming or previous bookings can be a red flag—but it can also mean that the owners are new to renting. Do your research and listen to your intuition. If you’re worried about something specific, consider sending a quick message to the owners to ask for clarification on that thing. Their answer (or lack thereof) can help you determine whether or not to proceed with the booking. 

Keep in mind that owners typically do their own research as well, so make sure you have a properly built out profile before you submit a booking request. Include a photo and provide as much information as possible about yourself, your upcoming trip, and your RVing experience. This will help owners feel more comfortable—and more likely to approve your request to rent their vehicle. 

4. Read the fine print and make a budget

Whether you’re renting from a rental company or a peer-to-peer service, it’s important to carefully read the listing, including the fine print. There may be extra costs associated with things like mileage and generator use—plan ahead and budget for any overages. If you’re planning on driving 200 miles per day but the rental contract only includes 100 miles per day, you’ll want to know this ahead of time so it doesn’t come as a surprise when you’re charged for extra mileage. 

Class C motorhome with two camping chairs in front
Camping chairs are included with many RV rentals. | Photo: Sanna Boman

You’ll also want to double check what’s included in the rental and prepare accordingly. Many rental RVs come with camping chairs, bed sheets, towels, and kitchenware—but not all. Some feature extras such as barbecues, folding tables, games, Netflix, and spices for cooking. Some are pet-friendly and others will charge you a steep fee for any signs that your dog tagged along for the ride. Know what to expect and bring anything you’ll need during your trip that’s not included. 

In some cases, the listing will specify what kinds of camping and driving you’re allowed to do, so if the description says “no dirt roads” or “no festivals,” that’s probably not the rig you want to rent for your next trip to Burning Man. 

Related Renting an RV: Tips for the first-time RV renter

5. Be flexible

You might have an idea in mind of the perfect rig when you start your search. While it’s not impossible to find something that checks all your boxes, it’s unlikely—especially if you’re traveling during weekends or holidays. Temper your expectations up front by making a list of must-haves and would-be-nice-to-haves. For example, a family of six would absolutely need something big enough to sleep everyone. But while it would be nice to have permanent beds or bunks for each person in the family, someone might have to settle for a fold-out sofa or convertible dinette. Your preference might be a spacious Class C, but perhaps a smaller Class A would better meet your needs. A little flexibility goes a long way when it comes to finding something that works for you.

It’s also worth asking questions. Sometimes a feature you’re looking for might not be listed in the description, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. In my case, I found a rig that met all my criteria but one—I was looking to rent something for 2 nights, but this one had a 3-night minimum. I messaged the owners, and they kindly agreed to let me rent it for just 2 nights.

6. Carefully review the departure and return forms

Just like when you’re renting a car, you’ll want to carefully inspect the RV at the start of the trip and make sure any damage or imperfections are documented. Take photos of the generator hours and, if you’re renting a motorhome, the odometer. At the end of the trip, when returning the vehicle, do the same thing and make sure your numbers match any return forms or receipts. Even if everyone means well, mistakes can happen. I returned my rental RV with only 4 hours added to the generator, but I noticed I was being charged for 24 hours. It turned out to be a case of a missed decimal point and it was promptly fixed when I pointed it out.  

A view of the desert through an RV side mirror
Review the departure and return forms carefully. | Photo: Sanna Boman

If you’re renting an RV using a peer-to-peer platform, remember that in the vast majority of cases, you’re renting someone’s personal vehicle. Treat it like you would your own, and you’ll likely have no issues with additional charges. 

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