I've always liked the idea of having a house on wheels while on vacation, stopping wherever I want, cooking my own meals and not having to unpack in a half dozen hotels on a week long trip. However, I didn't want to drive and park something the size of school bus.
Camper vans are especially fun when you can park at a scenic spot and enjoy a meal with a view at your own private table. At night, you can cook dinner on a gas stove, eat at an insect-free table for two, and sleep soundly on a comfortable bed. In the morning, you can make coffee without stepping outside. When it's time to park, a small camper van slides into a standard parking place with no fuss.
For two people camping in Yosemite, the cost to rent a camper van can be comparable to lower-priced hotels in the park, and van rentals can be reserved with much less advance notice. In other locations, an inexpensive hotel or motel may be less expensive than the camper van, but consider the cost of meals as well as convenience before making a decision.
Types of Camper VansFor many years, renting a Volkswagen Westfalia camper van was a great way to go. They're still an acceptable solution for some, but these aging campers aren't for everyone, feeling underpowered on uphill climbs and while they're well maintained by the rental companies, they're still more likely to break down than a newer model might be.
The Westfalia camper van is about the size of a standard mini-van, easy to park and drive and delivering higher gas mileage than its larger counterparts. It is also a camper, with stove, sink and refrigerator, and, thanks to its easy-to-pop-up top, it has two double beds. It does not have an onboard toilet.
If you like the idea of the Westfalia camper van but would prefer something a bit newer, look for "Class B" campers made by companies like Road Trek, Pleasureway and Leisure Travel Vans. The "B" size is about as big as a large van and you'd be surprised how much can be packed into such a small space, including small bathroom and showers. We've included links to a few companies that rent them below.
Tips for Renting a Camper VanIf you decide to rent a camper van, here are few tips to help make your experience more comfortable:
- Be sure you know exactly what will be provided in the camper van. Ask about what's in the kitchen kit, and rent sheets and towels if you need them.
- The Westfalia camper van does not have electrical connections, but they do have interior lights that operate from the auxiliary battery.
- When you pick up the camper van, it looks simple when someone else shows it to you, but it becomes complex when you have to do it yourself. Make notes, take pictures and do everything yourself. Otherwise, you'll spend the first three days of your trip wondering exactly how you were supposed to start the refrigerator, or how to turn off the heater.
- If you want to cook meals in the camper van, plan them in advance, and make a grocery list. You may want to bring a few staples from home, such as salt, sugar and cooking oil.
- Unless you plan to travel a very short distance, opt for unlimited miles. The small difference in daily rate pays for your peace of mind.
- The step in and out of the camper van is a little high, and you have to get over the wheel well. If anyone in your party has mobility problems, discuss them before you rent.