A few months ago my wife and I got the bright idea to rent an RV and take a casual trip down the Oregon and California coast to my niece's wedding in Oxnard, CA. We both enjoy the outdoors but typical tent camping is no longer a restful experience for my wife so this seemed like a good compromise. Further, it was a good option that would allow us to travel with our lovable labrador retriever Zoie who is simply a part of the family. The fact that I would even do this was a big step for me because I have in the past sworn that I would never be an RV owner. However, as I have aged I guess my perspective and thoughts on this sort of thing have softened.
When my wife and I first discussed an RV trip I was a bit surprised at her high level of excitement. In fact, within 15 minutes of our first conversation she was on the web looking at rental options of which there are many. One of the things I learned is that there are a number of private individuals out there that rent their rigs presumably to offset the cost of maintaining and storing them. Most private individuals seem to sour on pets, and since taking Zoie along was a requirement, we ended up renting from one of the big RV rental companies (there are 3-4 of them) Cruise America which has a liberal pet policy. Basically if you return the RV to them in the same condition that you received it you can travel with a zoo. Since there were only two of us and the dog (which in reality makes it three of us since Zoie is basically at big as my wife) we opted for Cruise America's compact RV the C19. For those of you who are not RV savvy the "C" refers to a class C RV which basically means it is a camper style where a primary sleeping area extends over the cab (alternatively a class A is the "bus" style RV). The "19" refers to the fact that the RV is 19' long.
As is my habit I read a number of reviews regarding the Cruise America experience of others. Reading the reviews scared me a bit because many were extremely negative particularly with regard to customer service. However, my experience at the Portland, OR Cruise America site was pleasant and efficient. I arrived before the stated pickup time to take care of paperwork and was on my only 15 minutes their stated earliest pickup time. I suspect that service issues are highly site specific (e.g. from what I have read NEVER rent from Cruise America in Las Vegas). My only criticism is that while I was given a tour of the vehicle I really was not given much explanation of how to use the vehicle. Cruise America does have a 23 minutes video on YouTube that goes over the basics of how an RV works and a pdf users manual on their web site. The problem is that these instruction materials were for a larger unit, not what I was renting (there were differences). Since I had done my homework I was armed with questions to make sure I knew what I was dong before I drove off their lot. Doing homework ahead of time is a good idea if you ever rent an RV.
Our trip lasted 8 days and covered a total of 2400 miles. So, was it worth it? Renting the RV turned out to be quite expensive. To start the actual cost of the RV for 9 days was about $2,500. Even though our trip lasted only 8 days you really need the extra day to clean the RV before you return it. According to Cruise America's rental agreement the RV needs to be returned exactly as you receive it both inside and outside. In a few minutes I will be taking our C19 home for the past 8 days to a self-serve car wash to give it a bath. Last night my wife and I spent roughly 5 hours cleaning the inside. The penalty for not returning the RV in an acceptable state of cleanliness (judged solely by Cruise America) is a $50/hour cleaning fee. I'll let you know later today if we passed the test. The $2,500 rental fee does not include unlimited milage. Cruise America gave us 900 free miles (not sure how that is calculated but they knew where we were going). Beyond that you pay $0.34/mile. So, based on our total milage about $440 will be added to our bill bringing the total to roughly $2,940 for our 8-day trip. There is also a fee for using the on-board generator ($3/hour + fuel which they estimated to be 1 gallon/hour). If you are what seasoned RVers call "boondockiong" (i.e. staying in places where there are no services or hookups) this can add up. Fortunately for us we only had 8 hours of generator use (mostly to run the air conditioner for Zoie while were doing some wine tasting). So for us the cost of using the generator should be $24 plus about $32 in fuel. The total cost of the RV for our trip is now $2,996. This morning I refilled the LP (liquid propane) tank at a cost of $7 for 0.6 gallons. We only used 1/3 of the LP tank on our trip so I suspect you can go a long way on a tank of propane. This brings the cost of the trip to $3,003. Last but not least is fuel. Cruise American gives an estimate for the C19 of 14-15 mpg. We got between 11 and 11.6 mpg throughout the trip regardless of what type of driving we were doing. Conservatively I would estimate that we spent $1,000 in fuel. So, when all is totaled the cost for just operating our rented C19 for 8 days covering 2,400 miles was about $4,000! Keep in mind that this does not count the cost of RV parks/campgrounds which were on average $40/night (range $33 - $65 based more on location rather than what is offered). Thus this was an additional $320.
What I learned from the trip is that I actually did enjoy traveling in the RV. We did not eat out a single time on the trip (actually took too much food), was able to stop along the road for a casual lunch sitting in our chairs overlooking the ocean, and never had to worry about finding rest stops (really important since I drink a lot of soda). Even so I don't think I would do this sort of trip again in a rented RV. The cost is simply too high. For $4,000 you can live pretty high on the hog for 8 days. That's not to say that I would never again rent an RV. Actually I could easily see myself renting again if I were not traveling far and planned to stay put for some period of time. Alternatively if I wanted to go someplace that was some distance away from our home we could drive our car to the destination and rent the RV there to cut costs.
I should say a few things of note about the C19 we rented from Cruise America. While the C19 worked just fine the interior is a bit cheap and the unit we rented was a bit beat up. I don't blame Cruise America for this since the care people take with their units is likely highly variable. The beds have seat cushions that are only a couple inches thick rather than matresses which are not horribly comfortable and we ended up bringing a heavily padded mattress cover to make the overhead bed usable. Also, I question if the design of the bed would hold up with a large person (I am over 200 lbs and where I slept sagged by the end of the trip). Cruise America's literature gives the distinct impression that its units are equipped with a combo convection/microwave oven. The C19 came with only a microwave which would have been problematic if we had planned to do any oven cooking. Finally, the tanks in the C19 are entirely too small. The "black" water tank (septic) was manageable. However, the "gray" water tank (water that goes down the drains) and the freshwater tank were both under 20 gallons and did not last long at all. We had great difficulty making the gray-water tank last an entire day. If you are in a position to have to take showers in the RV this can be really problematic if you have no place to dump. My sister and brother-in-law, who have owned an RV for years, just upgraded largely to get something with bigger tanks. I totally understand why.
I apologize of my descriptions are a bit random, but after all these are random thoughts! If you have questions that I have not addressed let me know and I'll try to answer them from my experience.