Don’t Buy. Adventure Vehicles for Rent.
We can't all afford vanlife. But we can rent it.
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From small teardrops to Airstreams, livable trailers are having a bit of a moment. The only problem: Most cost upwards of $10,000—and even more to store when not in use. The solution: rent. Here are ten companies that loan towables and campers for summer adventures—without the cost of ownership.
Australians Emma and Nick Thomson grew up camping in the outback. When they relocated to the United States, they got to know their adopted country via road trips. In 2007, after attending a wedding with 50 friends based out of pickups or minivans, they decided to rent retrofitted minivan campers in the United States.
Today, their company offers 120 rental vans in three locations: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City. “Our renters love getting in a camper van that doesn't scream ‘I’m a rental,’” says Emma.
Started in New Zealand by three surfers in 2003, Escape Campervans moved to the United States in 2009. With 400 “mini-bagos,” Escape is the largest camper van rental fleet in North America. Each vehicle is unique: hand painted by local artists and outfitted with a full bed and linens, a two-burner stove, cooking utensils, flatware, running water, a sink, and camping chairs.
When Derek Michael was a kid, he fell in love with the classic trailers his dad restored. As an adult, he borrowed one from his dad for weekend excursions. “I could just pull in, set up camp, and wake up to a beautiful sunrise,” says Michael. Soon, he started restoring vintage, ultralight fiberglass trailers until his driveway overflowed; thus, Happier Camper was born. Rent a Happier Camper in Los Angeles; look for new rental locations soon on the city’s west side and in San Francisco.
Off the Grid Rentals
When avid outdoorsman Nizar Najm couldn’t find the trailer he needed to take his three kids on a desert camping trip, he bought a rugged teardrop and a few tents and started his own company in California. Tucked in the corner of Rebel Offroad in Orange County, Off the Grid rents luxury camping gear, including rugged teardrop trailers, rooftop tents, fridges, freezers, and compact generators. “We provide you the luxury camping experience without the up-front costs of ownership, like insurance, storage, and maintenance,” says Najm.
Vintage Surfari Wagons
Run by native Southern Californians, Vintage Surfari Wagons began as a dream. Owner Bill Staggs dreamed about driving his own VW camper around the beaches on Oahu. So he and his wife, Diane, decided to plan a trip and rent one, which inspired them to offer the same service at home, starting with two campers. Their fleet now includes 20 restored VW campers, which they rent from Los Angeles, with drop–offs possible in San Francisco. All come loaded with camping equipment, and employees are happy to give tips on the best camping spots in the area. Vintage recently added guided tours to its offerings.
Antique lovers Steve and Shelley Austin often knock on doors to acquire their vintage campers—some of which date back to the 1930s—that have been left in yards to rust. The couple then restores and rents the vehicles. Soon there will be a dozen to choose from, each with a theme, including a party wagon with an old-fashioned ice cream freezer and a vintage Coca-Cola cooler. Pickup in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Exported from Australia to the United States in 2012, cheery green Jucy minivans sleep up to four. Pop the tent on top or sleep inside: The passenger seats morph into a bed. Vans also have a screw-in table, fridge, gas-burner stove, and sink in the trunk, plus a TV and DVD player that fold down from the ceiling. Pickup in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas. Rates start at $40 per night.
Traveland RV Rentals
If you’re looking for a traditional RV rental, Traveland has a new, fuel-efficient fleet of rental motorhomes (think Mercedes diesels), available from two locations in British Columbia. Rent one you can tow yourself, or go for a fifth-wheel truck–and–trailer combo. Rentals come with unlimited Wi-Fi but are allowed only on paved roads.
Vacations in a Can
“As we got older, we still loved to camp but became less tolerant of flattening air mattresses that made it tough to get a good night’s sleep,” says Leslie Kosareff. “But we refused to become conventional RVers.” So Kosareff and her husband, Joe, started Vacations in a Can, which rents compact teardrop trailers. Most have room for two adults, a galley, and storage. The company rents three models out of Penngrove, California.
Adventure Travel Sport Rentals
For luxury van shenanigans and 4×4 adventures, Adventure Travel Sport Rentals offers Sportsmobiles, Tigers, and Toyota 4Runners for pickup in and around Boulder, Colorado. All vehicles come with solar panels, bedding, dishes for four, and a cooler stocked with the drink of your choice. If you’re from out of town, they’ll pick you up at the airport and help you create an itinerary for your trip.