“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation – a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from Here… Nearly every American hungers to move.” -John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley
The Great American Road Trip. I have yet to take one, but I feel that with a country as expansive and diverse as the United States, one full traverse is necessary to truly understand what the familiar outline of the 48 states on a map represents.
For any others who feel the road calling their name, a rising trend makes executing a cross-country excursion easier. Campervans, generally popular in Europe and increasingly so in Oceania, are becoming more common in the United States.
Campervans, which act as compact recreational vehicles, provide both transport and accommodation for those on the move. With seating and sleeping space for four, a propane-powered cooker, a refrigerator and a sink, campervans possess the convenience of a traditional RV (minus the bathroom) in an environmentally friendlier, and much cooler package.
While gas-guzzling RVs are generally associated with retirees and outdoor-fearing
families on “camping trips,” campervans bode well with a younger generation of travelers willing to make the concessions that come with a smaller space. An average of 17 mpg allows for much more distance per dollar than the 7-11 mpg average of larger RVs and a smaller carbon footprint. Compact campervans can also easily navigate roads and explore places bulky RVs would never be able to travel.
Like RV use, campervan travel tends to rely heavily on campgrounds, especially for showering and bathroom use. But if you are willing to forego the facilities, you can stay anywhere you are allowed to park overnight. In an article by the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler, he said the rugged vehicles make it easy to stay “as close to the outdoors as you can be, without a tent,” and the lack of hotel reservations make detours and unexpected stops no problem. Money saved on hotels combined with the ability to make and store your own food on site offsets some costs to purchase, or more likely, rent your campervan.
Companies based out of Australia and New Zealand, where the Frugal Traveler says campervans are considered “trendy,” have recently expanded service to the U.S. JUCY Rentals, Lost Campers and Escape Campervans each have locations in the US. While JUCY and Lost Campers are both centered in the Southwest, Escape Campervans has locations to pick up or drop off your van in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Miami and New York, giving east coast natives a chance to rent without purchasing a plane ticket or driving their own vehicle across the country first.
Prices for rental from all companies vary, similar to airfare rates, based upon season, location, amount of days rented and how far in advance the vehicles are booked. During peak season, fares hover around $60 to $70 per night including 100 free miles of use each day, averaged over your rental. Although added fees apply for additional miles, compared to hotel and travel costs, campervans still prove to be a practical financial choice.
While the companies provide similar converted minivans and features, the campervans’ appearances reflect different traveling styles and concerns. For those looking for an inconspicuous vehicle that doesn’t scream “I’m a tourist,” Lost Campers provides advertisement-free vehicles. JUCY Rentals’ funky green and purple vans stand out and clearly state the company’s name and Escape Campervans prides themselves on their unique hand-painted vans for those who prefer a more festive appearance.
Young drivers eager to hit the road will be pleased to know, unlike many car rental services, which require drivers to be at least 25 or pay a hefty surcharge, camper vans are available to those 21 and above with no additional fee.
While the campervan culture has yet to obtain the following it has found in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, huge potential for growth exists in a sprawling country like the United States. Those looking for the freedom of an open itinerary and the ability to roll out of bed in a new place every morning might make the campervan America’s next big thing.