So you want to get into VanLife but aren't sure how? Maybe you want to go on an amazing cross-country road trip but don't have your own van? Here is a step by step guide to get you into a van without having to commit to buying your own.
Did you know you can rent a camper van or RV just like you can rent an Airbnb?
Outdoorsy.com is an amazing website that allows you to easily search for vans and RVs all over the country. It allows you to filter by size, choose amenities you want in your van, and even add on airport pick up!
Before we start, here are a few terms you may need to know:
Dry Camping: Spending a night in place without any hook ups (water or electricity).
Bureau of Land Management (BLM): The BLM manages public lands, land owned by the people, which often offers amazing Boondocking spots. You can use this land for free as long as you leave it as you found it!
Boondocking: Basically dry camping in a remote place that isn't technically a campground.
Full Hook Up (FHU): Access to both water hook ups and Shore Power. Campgrounds will use FHU when describing that they have both water and power available at the campsite.
Grey Water: The water than goes down the sink drain and shower drain. Basically any used water that isn't toilet water. Part 1 of the sewage containment system.
Black Water: The water that goes down the toilet into a camper septic. Part 2 of the sewage containment system.
Shore Power: The place to plug into power for your RV, usually found at a campground. RV plugs are different than typical wall plugs because they require a ton of power. You will need to find Shore Power to charge up if your RV amenities don't run on solar or fuel.
Self-Contained: When you have a sewage system that can hold any water you use in the RV, your RV is self-contained.
How to search for a van:
You'll start by searching the location, just like you would for Airbnb.
2. Drivable vs Towable:
If you're flying to your starting location, you'll want something drivable. This means you don't have to rent a car to tow the camper. You can hop in, turn the key, and hit the road.
If you're driving to your adventure instead of flying, look for something towable. Then you can leave your camper at your campsite to hold your spot while you go on mini excursions with your car. This way you can keep your car with you too and just tow the RV behind you. Maybe you can even get a super cute airstream! Just make sure your car is big enough to tow whatever you rent.
If you're not comfortable driving big trucks, start by selecting sizes under the category you picked in step 2. I'm a terrible driver but am comfortable in both "Campervan" sized vans and "Class B". Those are a great place to start with your first trip!
You can filter by power source under the Amenities tab.
I always look for a van with solar power so that you don't have to plug in over night. The van will charge during the day (you just have to park in the sun as often as possible) and it will work all night long.
Some vans are inverter powered. This means you have to plug into Shore Power in order to recharge. This works for people who prefer campgrounds with power, but I like to live off the grid, so I have never had Shore Power overnight.
Either way, as long as you have the "generator" option checked, you'll find something that will charge your phone at night which is important in the middle of no where.
When you pick up your van, the person you're renting from will explain how to use everything. So don't be scared if you don't know what any of this means!
If you are traveling in the winter, early spring or late fall, you absolutely need to search for a van with heat. If you're in the mountains, it will get cold at night, no matter how hot it gets during the day.
Most vans will have at least a fan, but if you're a princess like me, you can also look for an AC. You will really only need this in the summer. I prefer to open the windows at night when it's cooler out!
I always look for something with a kitchen and running water so that I can cook some meals when I'm in the middle of nowhere. For this, you can search "sink", "stove" + "fridge".
The listings will explain if there is hot water or not, and if the stove is built in or a pull out propane stove. Either way, the owner will explain how to use it before sending you off, so don't worry about it! It's always easy to use. Peek at the photos if you're curious and there should be hints on what type of stove you're getting.
I'm an avid camper, so not having a bathroom doesn't bother me. But I know most people like a bathroom in their RV. If you get a toilet, the owner will show you how to use it before you leave, so don't stress about it.
For toilets, you'll get one of these:
Some camper vans have super easy bag system toilets. You put in a cartridge, do your business, and then the whole bag closes up and goes right in a trash can. This is my favorite way to go, if I can find it, I always take it.
Some vans use a carry and dump system, which means you do your business, and before it gets too full, you dump out somewhere (a dump station, preferably). I hate this method personally. It's not THAT bad, but I would rather pee outside personally.
Other vans use a black water system. I thought I would hate this, but it really isn't so bad at all. You use the toilet like a regular toilet, and then after a few days find a dump site at a gas station, pull the van over it, pull out the tube to dump, and pull a lever. It's way less gross than it sounds. You'll have to do this with grey water too.
You can also choose whether you want/need an indoor or outdoor shower. Indoor showers can be super small, so personally I prefer outdoor showers. But if it's cold out indoor is better for obvious reasons.
Once you've found a van that you love based on the things above, you can request to rent it for the dates you're traveling. You'll have the option to have it dropped off to an airport, but sometimes it's cheaper to simply Uber over to the owner's location for a pick up.
You'll put down a deposit to hold your rental and agree to some terms. You can choose which insurance package you want to buy and you'll need to verify your license before you get on the road. Outdoorsy has great insurance to cover you and the owner, and also an awesome roadside assistance program!
9. Things to Note:
I have had older vans that were... quirky. They're usually amazing for photos, but this isn't always great for a first time road tripper. If you have the option, start with something newer that is less likely to break down. If you do break down, Outdoorsy has amazing roadside assistance in place to help you no matter where you are. Remember that things can always go wrong, it's not the end of the world. Worse case scenario, you can always rent a car and an airbnb if something happens to the van.
10. Hitting the Road:
This is the fun part! Before your trip, you'll pay the full remainder for your rental, and the owner will provide pick up details on where to meet. When you pick up the van, the owner will go over how to use everything with you, and most owners provide a manual if you forget something too.
That's it! You're on your road trip and seeing the world! Have a blast, and don't forget to take photos!
Have any questions of your own? Ask away in the comments below! I will do a Q+A in a future blog post!