I rented a camper van through Outdoorsy, the Airbnb for RVs, and it’s the perfect platform for first-time RVers

frank olito camper van
I rented this camper using Outdoorsy.

  • I booked a camper van for a weekend road trip through Outdoorsy, the Airbnb for RVs. 
  • I had trouble with my van and with customer service, but it was a largely positive experience. 
  • Although the van was expensive, Outdoorsy provided me with the necessary tools for a first-timer. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

When I decided to rent a camper van for a short road trip in January, I admittedly didn’t know where to start. 

Quickly, I learned there are three main sites for RV rentals: Outdoorsy, RV Share, and Cruise America. After doing some research and reading multiple RV blogs, I found most people agreed that Outdoorsy was the best of the three

Outdoorsy is a peer-to-peer rental service (much like Airbnb) that started in 2015. Over the years, the platform has expanded and today there are over 200,000 vehicles listed for rent in over 4,800 cities and 14 countries. Jen Young, CMO and co-founder of Outdoorsy, told Insider in December 2020 that the number of RV rentals made on the site skyrocketed during the pandemic. 

I, too, decided to rent a camper van during the pandemic after years of wondering if life on the road was for me. Ultimately, I booked a 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van through Outdoorsy for a weekend trip from New York City to Philadelphia.

From booking to talking with customer service, here’s what planning a road trip through Outdoorsy is like.

First, Outdoorsy’s landing page prompted me to search for an area in the US and plug in my travel dates.

Outdoorsy's landing page.
Outdoorsy’s landing page.

I typed in New York City and then the dates I was looking to rent the van. I was surprised it didn’t ask me any other information, like how many people were traveling or what type of vehicle I was looking for. 

After I entered this basic information, the available vehicles were listed in a grid on the left and laid out on a map on the right.

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The available vehicles.

There were two things that stood out on this page. First, Outdoorsy’s business model is largely the same as Airbnb, where people rent out their homes for travelers. Essentially, all the vehicles listed on this page are owned by people in the New York area who want to rent out their RVs when they aren’t using them. The resemblance doesn’t end there: This page is even laid out like Airbnb’s website. 

The second aspect that stood out to me was the variety of vehicles that were listed. There were over 500 options when I searched, and some were traditional RVs, towable trailers, and camper vans. 

At the top, there were filters, which helped narrow down my search significantly.

outdoorsy review
The filters.

There were six tabs at the top of the screen that helped narrow the search. In those tabs, I was able to specify that I wanted a camper van — I figured taking a larger, more traditional RV would be too difficult for a novice. I also specified that I wanted to pay less than $500 per night and wanted the camper van to be delivered to my home on the day of my departure. 

Only a few camper van owners allowed for delivery — as most renters pick up the vehicles themselves — so my options quickly became limited.

After narrowing my search, there were only two camper vans that suited my needs, so I began chatting with the owners directly.

outdoorsy review
The messages.

The first van I liked was a 2014 Dodge Sprinter that was located in Connecticut for $200 per night, while the second one was a more luxurious 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and located in New Jersey for $400 per night. While their prices varied greatly, each had plenty of bright, large pictures that showed off every inch of the vehicle. 

Like Airbnb, I had to message and confirm with the owners before actually booking the camper van. The messaging system is built directly into the website, and I received a text message and an email each time an owner sent me a response. 

In my conversations with both of the owners, I confirmed the price and asked if they would be able to drop off and pick up the van on my travel dates. 

Unfortunately, one of the owners decided I was too far away, so I went with the 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. 

Before booking the more luxurious van, I double-checked the list of amenities to ensure it had everything I needed.

outdoorsy review
All the features listed.

These visual icons clearly helped confirm that the van had everything I would need on my short road trip, including enough room for two people, a bathroom, and fresh water.

When double-checking the page, I became concerned about one aspect of the van: There was a 75-mile limit each day, and I would be charged for every mile that I went over. This would mean I couldn’t travel that far outside of New York City if I wanted to keep the price low. When I looked at the other vehicles on the platform, most didn’t have this requirement. I chatted with the owner again, and he explained that he put the limit on the van because he didn’t want people traveling too far.

In the end, I decided to proceed with the booking anyway because this camper van was a perfect match for my needs. 

Once the owner confirmed the price and dates, the booking process was simple and fast.

outdoorsy review
The Mercedes Benz page.

The camper van cost $400 per night plus $200 for delivery and pick up. An additional $180 was added to the bill for insurance, which included up to $1 million in property damage protection and a $2,000 deductible. 

In the end, the grand total for a three-night rental came to $1,700. I was also notified that Outdoorsy would take a $3,500 security hold that would be refunded when the van was returned. 

I was surprised by how expensive the camper van was for just a short weekend road trip. For $1,700, I could fly to Europe and back again. According to Outdoorsy, the price of a rental on the site can vary greatly depending on the type, style, and size of the vehicle, but in 2020, the average price for a rental was $161 per night.

While the van I rented was priced a bit higher than most of the other vehicles on Outdoorsy, it was more luxurious, so I was paying for the high-end features. 

Leading up to the arrival of my van, I turned to Outdoorsy for some much-needed guidance.

outdoorsy review
RV travel tips.

Since I had never traveled in an RV or a camper van before, I knew I had a lot to learn. Luckily, Outdoorsy provided teaching tools that were built into the site. On the camper van’s page, there was a section titled “RV Travel Tips,” which had detailed videos explaining delivery, propane tanks, and WiFi. 

Additionally, I was having trouble finding an open campground that was located within driving distance from New York City in the middle of the winter. I turned to Outdoorsy again, which had a section on its website that lists campgrounds near certain points of interest across the US.

When the camper van finally arrived outside my apartment in Brooklyn, we instantly ran into some issues.

camper van frank olito
The camper van in Brooklyn.

During the walk-through of the van with the owner, he discovered a leak from the bathroom that was pouring into the living space at the back of the van. After investigating further, he decided he needed to cancel my booking and bring the van back to his shop. 

The co-founder of Outdoorsy, Jen Young, told me that vehicles listed on Outdoorsy must be inspected every 90 days, but these issues do arise. 

Although it was very frustrating to have my trip canceled just seconds before it was to begin, the owner assured me I could rent the van the following weekend. 

The problem was that Outdoorsy was not aware of the new booking we agreed to. Nervous that I was going to be charged for a trip that never happened, I jumped on a call with customer service. 

The customer service rep I spoke to gave me conflicting information when compared with what the owner was told to do. I decided to reach out to customer service again via email. Unfortunately, every time I received an email back from them, it was from a different person who was more confused than the last. 

Ultimately, we were successfully able to rebook the camper van for the following weekend, but customer service did not offer any discounts for my troubles, which was frustrating. 

Young said Outdoorsy is working on a new product feature that will clear up the confusion among the customer support team in the future. 

“On the customer support front, we also learned a lot this past year after our busiest year on record, and we’re hard at work to address the areas we know we need to improve on in order to provide both our owners and renters with the best support possible,” Young said.

The following weekend, I was finally able to take the camper van out on the road – with Outdoorsy by my side the whole way.

Frank Olito camper van
The interior of the camper van.

When the owner dropped the van off the second time, he walked me through a quick tutorial of all the van’s systems. As a first-timer, I didn’t understand some of what he was saying, but I hoped for the best. During my journey, I did run into some issues with the heater and electricity, but I contacted the owner directly via his phone number instead of Outdoorsy. 

Owners should upload a manual of their vehicles to the Outdoorsy site so that renters can access it throughout their stay when issues arise. 

Outdoorsy did, however, send a text message early in my trip, explaining that I had free roadside assistance in case of “an unexpected emergency.” The text message included the phone number I would need if such a situation arose. Thankfully, it didn’t.

I also downloaded the Outdoorsy app just in case I needed it during the trip.

Outdoorsy review
The live chat function on the app.

I downloaded the app so that I could access my messages quickly. I also wanted the app because Outdoorsy has a 24/7 live chat function. Since I was a new RVer, I wanted to make sure I had every support system at my disposal. 

Although I ran into problems along my journey, I didn’t end up using the app at all, but it was reassuring to know it was there as an option. 

When I returned to Brooklyn, the owner came to pick up the vehicle in another easy process.

camper van frank olito
The camper van back in Brooklyn.

When the owner arrived, he inspected every inch of the vehicle to ensure I didn’t break or hit anything while traveling. Even though I went over the 75-mile-per-day limit, he decided to not charge me because of electricity and heater issues I had experienced.

After I signed a few papers, my first experience with Outdoorsy came to a close. 

I received an email to write a review of my journey a couple of days later.

outdoorsy review
The review screen.

Just like most reviews, Outdoorsy asked me to rate my experience on a five-star scale, to describe my overall experience, and to upload any photos from my trip.

According to the platform’s site, over 5,000 people have rated their experience with Outdoorsy a 4.87, which is 92% of customers.

Although there were a few mishaps along the way, in my experience, Outdoorsy is the perfect platform for first-time RVers.

Frank Olito camper van
The camper van and me.

From the beginning, it was clear that Outdoorsy’s main mission is to help acclimate new RVers to the world of road tripping. That fact is evident in their easy booking process and in the tools they provide both on their site and on their app. 

I believe the growing number of people who feel inspired to get out on the road for the first time because of the pandemic will feel reassured and confident getting behind one of these rigs thanks to Outdoorsy. I know I did. 

Even though I had trouble with my van, customer service was a bit confusing, and there are a few features that the company should improve upon, I always felt like I had a support system to help along the way — whether that be the owner himself or the support service via Outdoorsy. 

If I take another road trip in the future, I would probably use the platform again — but I’d choose a less expensive vehicle.  

Read the original article on Business Insider