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The coronavirus pandemic has led to a monumental shift in the way we hit the road. Due to ongoing international travel restrictions and a short list of countries currently welcoming Americans, many are taking to the highways in search of their next vacation — and a lot are jumping head-first into the world of Recreational Vehicles (RVs).
But will this popularity surge last, or will preferences shift back to air travel as the industry returns to normal in the months and years to come?
Well, we tackled this very topic on this week’s Future of Travel webinar, as TPG’s founder and CEO Brian Kelly welcomed Jon Gray, CEO of RVshare — and announced an exciting new charity initiative that could see you win a two-week RV rental of your own, just for donating.
Read on for some of Jon’s top suggestions for new renters — and then scroll to the end for a full recording of the session.
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No special licenses or skills are required
One of the biggest hesitations for first-time renters involves their credentials (or lack thereof). Fortunately, you generally don’t need to have any special license to rent and operate an RV for personal use, nor do you need to have any experience with an RV at all. In fact, Jon indicated that roughly 80% of RVshare’s customers are first-timers — so you’d be in good company using the platform.
He did suggest that you start with a smaller class of RV for your first rental — specifically C or B — before moving onto the full experience of a Class A motorhome. However, his experience is that operating an RV isn’t as hard as some might think.
But when you rent, are you just given the keys and shoved on your way?
“When you rent through RVshare, you meet with the owner, and they walk you through how to use the RV safely and effectively,” Jon said. And then … you take it for a spin. “Before you take it, you’re doing a test drive with the owner that will help you get comfortable with operating it, which I think really helps people with the peace of mind.”
Of course, there’s a way to avoid driving one altogether …
You can arrange for delivery
If you’re hoping to experience RV life without actually taking to the road, it’s very possible to do so. Many rentals come with optional delivery, where you can have the RV set up at a campground, waiting for you to arrive. Jon himself did this for a trip with his family earlier in the year.
“I don’t have a car to tow a giant RV, but I wanted to rent an RV for my last trip a couple months ago, one where my kids could sleep in a different room. And so we rented a large, fifth-wheel RV [that was] 40 feet long. I could have never tow it with my car, but we show up and it’s already in its spot at the campground, with the air conditioners on as we walked right in. And then, when we were ready to check out at the end of the weekend, I just sent the owner a text, and he came and picked it up later. And it was completely seamless for me.”
This can allow you to still experience the joys of a socially-distanced RV trip without even worrying about operating the vehicle.
You need to do your homework
Even if you opt for delivery, there’s still a need to plan ahead as you consider renting an RV. His first recommendation? Research the best type of RV for the trip you’re planning to take — which he flagged as the number one mistake a first-time renter makes. As an example, an RV that sleeps five doesn’t mean you’ll have five, separate beds for you and your friends.
It’s critical to pay attention to the specific amenities, including the layout and floorplan. If you’re planning to hop in an RV to work remotely this fall with the family in tow, be sure that there’s a separate place for you to take calls and work undisturbed while your spouse/partner and kids enjoy a different section of the RV.
Another critical element of advanced planning is particularly important during these times: booking campgrounds. Several readers expressed concerns about crowding given the surge in popularity of RV rentals, and Jon’s recommendation was to “book your ultimate destination campground” ahead of time. Since you know that’s a place you want to visit, it’s critical to grab that spot ahead of time.
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However, he also raised the point that RVs aren’t limited to formal, paid campgrounds. While these sites can offer a surprising number of amenities and may even have their own loyalty programs, if they’re too crowded for your liking, you aren’t out of luck — especially in national parks.
“Almost all national parks allow what’s called boondocking,” he pointed out. This is essentially “where you just pull up your RV and … turn on the generator and basically use the RV off of your tanks and generator without plugging in.” No need for a formal campground at all.
Finally, there’s the cost — which covers many aspects aside from the actual price of the rental. However, that’s the first thing you’ll need to research. Generally speaking, the larger and newer you get, the higher the price. However, big and new doesn’t automatically equal quality, so Jon strongly encouraged potential renters to carefully read the reviews on RVshare to know what to expect — and you can even filter down to look at select years’ models if you’re wanting a slightly older RV to save on the rental cost.
You’ll also need to take into account fuel costs. An owner can provide more details on the specific RV you’re considering, but Jon suggested to start with an estimate of 10-12 miles per gallon. This can quickly add up over a long-distance trip.
Some tolling authorities in certain states based their tolls on the number of axles you’re driving, so you’ll also want to consider that if you’re planning to drive on toll roads. And of course, there’s any fees associated with campgrounds you’re visiting.
However, bear in mind that RVshare does appear on many online shopping portals — including Rakuten and Mr. Rebates along with airline portals from carriers like American and Alaska. This can be a nice way to earn some extra points, miles or cash back on your RV rental.
In short, this can be an exciting new travel option, but be sure to go into the trip with your eyes wide open.
RELATED: How to use Rakuten (Ebates) to earn bonus cash back or Amex points
There are a variety of options
When it comes to renting an RV, the options are truly astounding — from small camper vans to tricked-out motorhomes with all the bells and whistles. I was amazed when I searched for a week-long rental on RVshare over Thanksgiving, and my small hometown of Fort Pierce, FL had hundreds of options within an hour’s drive.
We already mentioned the delivery option above, but you can find ones that are pet-friendly to bring along your furry companion. You can filter your searches on RVshare based on the entertainment system, and some even provide built-in Wi-Fi — though Jon recognizes that’s a growth opportunity in the industry.
“I think the RV community as a whole — particularly campgrounds — have heard the message loud and clear this summer that a large part of their future success relies on their ability to provide high quality Wi-Fi … [but] RVshare has a partnership with a company called Skyrome, where you can get a Wi-Fi booster before your trip and take it with you.”
It remains to be seen how quickly campgrounds in rural locations can upgrade their Wi-Fi systems to accommodate increased demand for remote work and remote schooling, but under the right circumstances, it’s definitely possible to stay connected in an RV.
COVID protocols are there
Of course, renting an RV from a stranger — like renting a home or apartment on Airbnb — can be a bit daunting giving the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but Jon reiterated what RVshare is doing to empower owners to ensure cleanliness. This starts with a detailed list of procedures built from guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), including specific cleaning instructions and even required temperatures for washing linens for the next guest?
And if an RV isn’t cleaned? Jon didn’t mince words.
“We’ll kick it off the platform,” he said. “We don’t want renters going into a situation where they have an RV that’s not clean” — though he stressed that these are far and away edge cases, as a shocking 93% of reviews on RVshare are five-star ones.
And if you do find yourself in one of those rare examples of not finding what you expected? The platform does offer a satisfaction guarantee.
Full webinar recording
Want to hear even more from Jon? Check out the full recording below:
“The Future of Travel with Brian Kelly” is a series of live events looking ahead at what’s in store for the travel industry as it begins to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Join Brian as he interviews top experts and company executives on a range of topics, including traveler health, cleanliness measures, loyalty programs and what it all means for the traveling public.
For recordings of past sessions, please visit the following links:
Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy
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