Not owning a camping trailer or recreational vehicle (RV), we pitched our little family tent on the gravel, and went for a wander around the campsite. Our neighbour had a slightly more luxurious setup, with a Hyundai Santa Fe towing a nuCamp Tab teardrop trailer, which comes with everything, including the kitchen sink. It looked appealing, so I asked: How long had they owned it, and how much was it? Their answers were: “We don’t own it,” and “Surprisingly affordable.”
As it turned out, the Tab next door was just one more example of the so-called sharing economy expanding its reach. At first it was VRBO and Airbnb for vacation property rentals. Then it was the likes of Turo making it possible to rent out your car, or try something different than the usual fare from the mainstream rental companies. Now, sharing has come to camping.
With the borders closed and other pandemic restrictions ebbing and flowing throughout the past 18 months, Canadians have turned to camping in droves. It’s one of the last permitted ways to get out of the house safely, and campsites have been hard to book for the past two summers. B.C. Parks’ Discover Camping reservation service received such a spike in requests upon opening last year that it crashed.
New campers need gear that they may not have. But do you really want to invest in a trailer or motorhome that you’ll only use part of the year, or even part of the season? For some, the answer has been a resounding yes, with RV, trailer and boat sales booming in most provinces.
However, there’s an easier and less expensive way to have an outdoor experience with the whole family. To buy a teardrop-shaped trailer would typically cost between $10,000 and $15,000. But my camping neighbour’s small family was able to have an easy setup, a standing kitchen, and a comfortable bed for approximately $75 a night.
So far, there are only a few companies operating in the peer-to-peer camping rental space, primarily Outdoorsy and Rvshare – the latter offering rentals in the US only. Such websites operate in much the same way as Airbnb, with easily searchable databases of trailers and RVs. Just select your dates, your preferred location for pickup, and start hunting through the listings.
As with peer-to-peer vacation home rentals, it’s possible to search by price, and add various filters depending on number of campers and your vehicle’s towing capacity.
Or perhaps you’re looking for a complete driveable package. In that case, Outdoorsy offers categories of Class A, B and C motorhome – from largest to smallest – as well as camper vans and a tantalizing option marked “Other,” which turned out to be mostly Toyota trucks equipped for “overlanding,” a cross between off-roading and camping. From boxy Westfalias to a full-sized luxury Class A model with expanding sides, there are plenty of wheeled options on offer, at surprisingly reasonable prices. A 38-foot Class A motorhome that sleeps six was listed at $237 a night.
According to Outdoorsy, the most popular rental for Canadian customers is a Class C RV, big enough for a family adventure, but still easy enough to drive. Bookings are up 145 per cent over 2020, with 85 per cent of renters new to the service, the company says.
The platform offers consumer protections, including insurance, user guides, cancellation policies, and customer support. User reviews online are largely positive for Outdoorsy.
Additional service fees and required safety deposits are clearly laid out. For Outdoorsy, three levels of insurance are available, with decreasing deductibles and increasing liability coverage. As with shared vacation rental services, the owners of most campers and trailers charge a service or cleaning fee. Some offer flexible drop-off and delivery services.
As an example, renting an air-conditioned 1990 VW Westfalia in a nostalgic bid to recreate the family trips of your youth would set you back $175 a night with a two-night minimum. The basic insurance, with a $1,000 deductible, costs $29.95 a day, and there’s a $50 cleaning fee. For a three-night, long-weekend getaway, the total is under $700, including Outdoorsy’s fees.
That’s not too bad compared with the annual mechanical upkeep on an old VW, and there are both less expensive and more luxurious options. Outdoorsy reports an average cost of $138 a night for its Canadian users. The service’s fees range from $30 to a little over $100.
For those renting out their vehicles, there are a few things to watch for. Both peer-to-peer sites allow for screening potential renters, with Outdoorsy requiring would-be renters to fill out a more comprehensive profile. This allows owners to find the right renter who, for instance, has enough experience and vehicle powerful enough to tow a larger trailer.
Both sites offer guidelines and tips for owners, as well as technical support. There’s an active Facebook group of owners for both as well.
Camper trailers and RVs ordinarily have a lot of downtime, parked in the driveway. Peer-to-peer sharing offers renters the chance to have an RV experience without the initial investment, and owners a way to defray the cost of their family’s camping machine when they’re not using it.
Drawbacks include the usual risks when lending out something you own, but customer and owner complaints are few. As with Airbnb, the renter-vetting process helps make for mostly good pairings.
Further, if you’ve been thinking about adding a trailer to your camping equipment, peer-to-peer sharing is an ideal way to try out a variety of models you won’t usually find at the chain rental place. Odds are, there won’t be many places to travel this fall, outside of campgrounds. That makes it the perfect time to consider taking things up a notch from the family tent.