As a road trip addicted family, it was only a matter of time before renting a recreational vehicle and hitting the road! My first question, of course was price…how much does it cost to rent an RV? I mean, beyond the daily rental prices highlighted on each listing.
Now that we are back from our first RV adventure (and prepping for our second!!) I want to share with you the REAL price of renting an RV…in fact, I even have a downloadable RV rental spreadsheet to help you plan your next trip.
Download This Spreadsheet
First thing I want you to do is open our spreadsheet and make a copy for yourself. All of the line items in this worksheet are outlined below, so you’ll want to keep it open as you read on.
Fees and small nuances may vary among RV rental companies. For example, Cruise America does not offer towing options, which are included in our spreadsheet. Our prices here are based on Outdoorsy, which is our rental company of choice. (Stay tuned…we’re telling you why later this month.)
The Rig Rental
The first thing we want to look at is your primary expense – the rig itself. The cost per night here can vary considerably from as low as $35 per day to over $2500 a day (this luxury RV is a perfect option for The Masters or Super Bowl) depending on the Class.
I’m speaking in generalities, but here are some guidelines on the rental cost (nightly rates) for each of the classes:
Class A is the big rig that looks more like a bus. It’s going to be the highest price and offer the most space. For example, this one has full closets, full fridge, bunk beds, a spacious kitchen, washer and dryer….the works. Keep in mind that if you are asking for rental prices, you are probably new to RV life. This big guy is not how you want to start (unless they are delivering to a place for you, and you’re not driving it.)
Class B is basically a camper van…everything you need is there, but it really looks like a van from the outside. sCAMPer Vans like this one are the most popular of this type, and are great for saving money.
Class C is what “most people” think of when they think of an RV…it’s ideal for families and a great way to start out. Expect to pay about $160-300 per night. Our first RV rental was like this one and was a perfect size for us…a family of 4. We just rented one that was a year older and saved about $40 per night.
So, the advantage of going with Outdoorsy’s peer-to-peer model is being able to rent a towing RV. The space-to-price ratio is considerably better with a towing rig…but you have to have a vehicle that can accommodate it.
For example, our 2017 Toyota Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds so we are towing this cute trailer to Montana soon that is only 3100 lbs. The GVWR is the number you are looking for when checking the towing capacity. It’s only $90 per night. If you want something like this travel trailer, you need a hitch, wiring harness and break controller.
If you want to rent a 5th wheel (which is probably the best way to gain lots of space for fewer dollars) then you’ll need a high-towing capacity pickup truck and a 5th wheel hitch. Look at this fifth wheel, with a full kitchen, bunk beds, even a fireplace!
If you’re looking for something super affordable then think about one of these pop up campers (folding trailers) on Outdoorsy. They are bare-bones, but totally beat sleeping in tent for comfort and convenience.
Stay and Save
If you are planning a long trip, look for options that offer “weekly” or “monthly” fee discounts. We saved a lot by renting the tow-behind for 2 weeks, even though our trip is only 12 days.
Rental Insurance and Additional Fees
As I was researching, I found that most people don’t really discuss the rental insurance and added fees that you encounter when renting, so I want to cover them here.
First, let’s talk insurance. Outdoory has a relationship with Liberty Mutual for insurance, which is required. You have three options that vary based on the level of risk you want to assume (a $1500 – 2500 deductible.) I have to assume that the rates are different for everyone, based on the model of RV you select, but we have found them to be $30-55 per day on average.
We also purchased Damage Protection, which is a flat $69 … and for our long trip we got Roadside Assistance at $60. Trip Insurance is also available – we were offered it at just under $85.
Outdoorsy indicates that you should expect to pay 20-25% the nightly rate (or more) for the cleaning fee, delivery fee and any other fees, if applicable.
We don’t have a pup, so we had no pet fees…we did not have it delivered, but opted for a pick up near our home, so we avoided delivery fees. The Class C had a required cleaning fee, but the cleaning fee on the trailer was optional. Since I am a mad cleaning freak woman, I opted out – I know I’ll deliver it cleaner than I picked it up.
Some RV owners also offer “prep packages” that include things you might need on your trip like linens, pots, pans and such. We know that RV life is for us, so we went ahead and invested in most of that already (or used our backpacking equipment.)
All that to say, you can usually save here if you want to. Our pre-trip fees (not including insurance) were well under 10-15%
On The Road
Time to discuss the cost of actually being on the road. If you are using the RV at a nearby campsite, this will obviously be cheaper than if you are doing what we are doing and traveling in an RV across the country. Everything is relative, right?
Most RV owners will allow you a certain number of miles per day, and then charge an overage fee. From what I can tell, the standard is 100 miles per day with a 35 cent amount-per-mile overage fee.
Our trip to Destin and back was 770 miles. The rental was for 4 days, so we were only granted 400 miles…and at 35-cents a mile over, we had to pay an additional $130 total. Not too bad.
When we take the road trip from Atlanta to Montana and back, via South Dakota, we will be driving so much that this was not a feasible model. That’s another reason we elected to take a towing RV. You are much more likely to find an “unlimited mileage” option on a towing rig.
If you’re on a road trip, you need to plan for gas with or without an RV…but with an RV it costs a bit more. In general, a Class C driving RV will get you about 10 mpg they say (who is “they” anyway??) but ours got between 8 and 9 driving it between 65-70mph.
Our Highlander gets 21mpg but research says I should expect 13-18mpg while towing at full capacity. For planning, I’m going with 12-13mpg.
You won’t find this on the spreadsheet, but it is worth mentioning – because time is money. Our trip to Destin should take under 6 hours (usually 5.5 hours) but ended up taking 7.5 hours of driving time. You just can’t drive an RV like you do a regular vehicle. Plan accordingly.
Some RVs don’t have generators…others (like this one) charge a flat fee for all generator use, but what I see primarily is 4 hours of generator use per day and then a small fee for each additional hour (usually about $3.)
So, do you need it?
The generator which charges the “house” batteries is what makes an RV self-contained; it’s like a magical source of electricity.
We used the generator on our drive to Destin so that the boys could have AC in the back, so they could watch a DVD, and so the fridge would keep our steak and milk cold. We did not use it at all once we were there, because we picked sites with electric hook ups. If we were boon docking (dry camping) we would have needed the generator to keep the power running. Just like tent camping, you can always shut the generator down and go “dark”. The house batteries will power lighting for a time. Other essentials like the water pump for water pressure will require more power. You just need to keep an eye on the house battery levels and plan accordingly.
Crazy Family Adventure doesn’t use the generator at all when they travel, just opening the windows for AC and giving the kids other options for distraction when in the car. The fridge should generally stay somewhat cold depending on how much is in it. (Hint- the more the better) So, this is another area where you can save money, if you want.
Finally, you need a place to stay. You could boon dock for free in a Walmart parking lot, but that’s no fun! Prices vary from affordable to extravagant, so just pick accordingly. Most state parks are going to be under $50 per night (we stayed at Big Lagoon for $18/night). Campgrounds will offer more amenities like a pool, laundry, activities, sewage, wifi, etc…but you will pay more.
Save Some Dough
Once you’re back, be sure to write a review for your RV in order to receive a $10 credit for your work!
If you’ve never RV’d before (or are lacking some general camping equipment) then there are a few things you might need to get started.
Towing is worth looking into because it is by far the most affordable option. It’s also a complicated topic with many variations so I’ll try to keep this fairly generic.
A fifth wheel is a special hitch that sits in the bed of a pickup truck, and allows for much larger towing capacities (thus larger RVs) and overall easier operation.
A regular hitch puts more of the downward trailer weight on the towing vehicle, further limiting towing capacity.
In either case you’ll want to check the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) on the RVs you’re looking at, and compare that with the towing capacity of your vehicle.
Don’t be complacent here – we recommend that you don’t even come close to the line. Maybe 50-75% depending on the elevation changes you’ll be dealing with on your journey. You’ll want to make sure that your vehicle drive train is able to handle it, and in many cases a professional towing package (from hitch to transmission) is recommended.
You may also want, or need, a brake controller, which allows you to adjust the sensitivity of the trailer’s brakes, up or down, to deal with varying road conditions. Brake controllers can be a very simple DYI install, or more complex depending on your vehicle. Our Toyota Highlander required a lot of under carriage wiring so we opted to have one professionally installed.
Even if you don’t opt for a brake controller, you will without a doubt need a wiring harness to plug into the brake and signal lights. (Some may overlook this detail when only using a trailer hitch for small accessories like bike racks)
Please note that links above are examples, and are very vehicle specific.
The bottom line – do your research, both on the RVs you’re looking at and your own vehicle. Once you’re set up, towing can be a very cost effective way to rent with Outdoorsy. Towable RVs are a smaller portion of the cost, and often come without extra mileage fees.
General RV Stuff
Before you purchase anything new, be sure to ask the RV owner if it is already supplied!
Jumper Cables. You never know; don’t even chance this one. And depending on how your generator is configured (if you have one) you may just need the cables to jump start it as well! Sad but true, some generator starters are powered from the very house batteries that they charge, so if your house batteries get too low you’re kind of stuck.
Disposable Gloves. It’s about the poop, y’all. You don’t want to touch it or the hoses that transport it.
RV Rug. If you see yourself going on more than one RV trip, invest in this. They are not too expensive and they will save you soooo much cleaning. Plus, you’ll have your own special “space” outside the RV for enjoying your morning coffee and evening fire. This is the one we have, and we love it. It even comes with a carrying case.
RV Toilet Paper. They will probably have some…but always ask!
Queen RV Sheets. RV beds are usually Queen size (check first!) and they are shorter than normal beds. These are the sheets we use…I don’t have to worry about the fit, or packing our nice high thread-count sheets for camping. These are always in our RV bin!
Filtered Water Pitcher. Even if the RV says they have filtered water, I’m a snob. I don’t trust the filter and I don’t trust the campground. This is our go-to filtering pitcher for home and camping…It’s reverse-osmosis so it gets out EVERYTHING! Plus, you can fit it in the fridge and have a nice cold water after a hike.
Outdoor Chairs. You need chairs. I bet you have some…but if you don’t, pick up these. They work for backpacking, too. Or these for the kiddos.
Large Trash Can. RVs are small. The trash can is always smaller than the trash bag. This helps considerably, especially when you want the kids to throw out their trash.
Clothes Hanger. If you’re going to the beach, you NEED this! I did not take one and I was complaining the whole time. We are heading to the mountains next, and I still have this one coming in the mail because you never know.
Extra Hose. Chances are your RV owner has a hose that you can use to connect the water hookup to the RV. But if you are heading to a sandy beach or a muddy mountain (especially with kids) it helps to have another way to rinse off. We recommend a second hose, with a Y tap spliter.
Be Careful of These Fees
You’ll want to avoid these credit card charges once you return home, so be sure to follow the rules of your rental.
Late Fees. There is a 1 hour grace period with each rental, but after that the fees add up! Know the return time before you plan your trip.
Dirty RV Fee. You don’t have to take her through a truck wash for a normal rental. But if an RV is returned covered with dirt, soot, trash, food, wine stains, etc, and you do not wash the RV prior to returning it, the owner may charge an additional cleaning fee.
No-show Fees. If you don’t show at the designated time of pick-up, it is counted as a cancellation. All cancellation fees are subject to the owners pre-defined rules.
RV Damage. Any damage to fiberglass, cushions, cabinetry, electronics, etc., or any item not covered by the Outdoorsy Insurance Policies is your responsibility. You will be charged the actual cost of parts plus any hourly labor costs needed to repair the damaged item.
Dump Fees. If you do not empty the grey and black matter (the dirty water and poop) then you will typically be charged an additional fee. Don’t be afraid of the poop, friends.
Refueling Fees. Be sure to return the RV with the same amount of gas with which is was delivered, or you could be charged.
Smoking Fee. If it’s a no smoking (or no pet) RV then respect the owners or pay the price.
Tool Violation Fee. Sometimes, if you violate a toll, then you have to pay the toll charges plus an additional fee for the hassle the owner has to take on.
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Disclosure: Thank you to Outdoorsy for partnering with us on this adventure. Post may contain affiliate links. Opinions here are all our own.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.