Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
This summer is set to be another huge season for camping and road trips. Already many places are seeing major campsite and rental-car shortages, with reports of travelers to Hawaii resorting to U-Hauls to get around. Luckily, a growing crop of companies are leasing overlanding rigs and camper vans to road-trippers looking to get away without the burden of hard-to-get bookings.
These outfits also allow those who want to sample nomadic life a way to test out options before committing to ownership and the dizzying array of equipment choices that now confront van builders. “The [overlanding] gear industry has grown so big that it’s easy to get overwhelmed,” says Cypress Overland owner Alex Birukova, who explains that many of her customers appreciate the ability to test out the various features and systems on her rental rigs before they purchase their own.
Others rent Birukova’s vehicles while theirs are being built. Waiting lists at van conversion companies and camper manufacturers only lengthened after COVID-19 normalized remote work and made an untethered lifestyle more plausible for many. Four Wheel Campers, a company that makes pop-up truck-bed campers designed for off-road travel, reported a dramatic increase in sales (and wait times) since last May, when its factory reopened. And Sprinter Adventure Van, a website dedicated to converting Sprinters to campers, has seen a 50 percent increase in site traffic since the pandemic began—and wait times for new vans ranging from several months (for a Ford Transit) to nearly a year (for a 4x4 Mercedes).
We rounded up our favorite rental companies in six cities, plus the best weekend trips to test your rig out on.
San Francisco, CA: Cypress Overland
The vehicles: Choose between a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro with a GoFast pop-up truck bed camper, a lifted Jeep Wrangler Rubicon with a rooftop tent, or a Jeep Gladiator with a rooftop tent. All come with a refrigerator, a deluxe Kanz Outdoors kitchen kit, memory-foam mattresses, and bamboo-topped camp tables with chairs. From $195 a day
The trip: Hire Cypress Overland to design your own beach or mountain itinerary, complete with GPS coordinates to jaw-dropping dispersed campsites. Or drive three hours north from the Bay Area to California’s Lost Coast, leaving Highway 1 for six miles of steep and twisty unpaved road to Usal Beach and its dispersed oceanside camping spots. Watch the sun sink into the Pacific, then next morning, continue north through Sinkyone Wilderness State Park to Shelter Cove, where you can spy on seals and sea lions or swim from black-sand beaches walled by steep mountainsides. Finally, drive east to Highway 101 to return to San Francisco, stopping in Petaluma for Lagunitas’s freshly brewed ales.
Las Vegas, NV: Pacific Overlander
The vehicles: The Las Vegas location (Pacific Overlander also operates out of San Francisco) leases a Toyota Tacoma fitted with an Alu-Cab Khaya camper that sleeps up to four in a heated interior that comes with a fridge-freezer and on-demand hot-water shower system. Also available: a Tacoma with two rooftop tents (to sleep four), a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (with one rooftop tent) and a Toyota 4Runner (with one rooftop tent). Upgrade to an Exped Megamat for ultimate sleep comfort. From $195 a day
The trip: Drive 200 miles east to Tuweep, the least-trafficked district of Grand Canyon National Park, and claim one of nine campsites beside Toroweap Overlook, where sheer sandstone cliffs plunge 3,000 feet down to the silvery ribbon of the Colorado River. Hike the Tuckup Trail along the North Rim for unparalleled views of the Big Ditch, then drive east to aptly named Point Sublime and claim one of two little-known campsites beside pink cliffs dotted with pines ($15 permit required from the Backcountry Permit Office).
Denver, CO: Titus Adventure Company
The vehicles: Lexus GX460, Jeep Wrangler Sport, and three models of campervans. Rooftop tents sleep two to four people (on the Sequoia), and all vehicles come with a bat-wing awning, full kitchen kit, Yeti cooler, and even a Colorado state-parks pass. From $220 a day
The trip: For $30 a day, Colorado native Travis Titus designs custom itineraries complete with secret fishing holes, can’t-miss barbecue joints, and little-known campsites. But oft-visited central Colorado still holds gems: Veer off I-70 to ogle aspens at Sylvan Lake State Park, then drive over Crooked Creek Pass for knockout summit views and uncrowded limestone sport climbing in Lime Park. Continue southwest past Ruedi Reservoir to hook trophy trout in the Fryingpan River before passing through the towns of Basalt and Carbondale to Marble. From here, the 13-mile Lead King Loop features panoramas of spire-like summits and wildflower meadows.
Jackson, WY: Teton Backcountry Rentals
The vehicles: The larger of TBR’s two options is a GMC Sierra fitted with a brand-new Four Wheel Grandby pop-up camper; the smaller Four Wheel Hawk camper sits on a Chevy Silverado. Both include upholstered bench seating, a queen-size bed, an interior kitchen fitted with a propane-powered heater, refrigerator and two-burner stove, a 20-gallon water tank, and a six-gallon water heater with outdoor shower. From $229 a day
The trip: TBR offers five levels of trip-planning consultation to help renters locate dispersed campsites in the Wind River Range or plan hiking or packrafting epics in the Tetons. Or just design your own adventure by driving north from Jackson to camp in the Gros Ventre Range east of Highway 191. The numbered dispersed sites at Shadow Mountain, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, offer incomparable views of the Tetons. Then drive west to camp among the lodgepoles at Colter Bay Campground (from $42) in Grand Teton National Park: a five-minute walk leads to Jackson Lake and its sweeping views of Mount Moran, and the Hermitage Point trailhead lets hikers explore the lakeshore on a ten-mile loop from camp.
New York, NY: Escape Campervans
The vehicles: The Maverick is a Ford E-150 or Ford Transit with a queen bed that converts to a table and benches and comes with an optional rooftop tent that expands sleeping capacity to up to four people. The larger Big Sur offers more cargo space in a Ford-350. Both models include kitchenettes and “bug socks” that cover the rolled-down windows with netting for nighttime ventilation. Rear-wheel drive lets vans handle highways and smooth dirt lanes (but not soft beaches or rocky roads). From $49 a day
The trip: With 13 rental locations across the U.S. and Canada, Escape facilitates point-to-point rentals for cross-country road trips. For a wild circuit that returns to New York City, drive north to the Lake George Wild Forest and Shelving Rock Road, a gravel lane offering dispersed camping among pines and hardwoods. Then roll east into Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest to claim one of the 15 primitive campsites at Silver Lake, where six hiking trails hug the shoreline and scale the surrounding hills.
Orlando, FL: Ondevan
The vehicles: Ford Transits and F-350’s fitted with custom beds and cabinetry sleep up to two people on extra-long, full-size mattresses that accommodate seven-footers. Ceiling fans bring air in or out, an interior sink and seven-gallon water tank makes for easy dish duty, and camping extras (such as portable grills and hammocks) cater to epicures and lounge lizards. From $89 a day
The trip: Drive five hours northwest to the state’s wildest forests and emptiest Gulf Coast beaches. Campsites at St. George Island State Park offer access to nine miles of undeveloped beaches and dunes. Then drive north into the Apalachicola National Forest near Crawfordville, where sandy, unpaved roads lead to secluded campsites among saw palmettos and longleaf pines, where black bears still roam. Returning to Orlando, stop off at Wakulla Springs to swim or paddle with the manatees that winter here.