FARGO — On a two-week trip to the West Coast a few years ago, my family and I set up a large tent in 50 mph wind gusts — in the dark — at Wanapum State Park Campground in Washington state.
Certainly, that means I should be able to handle a 32-foot RV, right? Actually, that was a breeze.
Late last summer, our family decided to go camping in Bismarck in a Jayco Greyhawk we rented from a Fargo outlet. As it turned out, going in an RV made a lot of sense because COVID-19 regulations shut down some amenities, such as showers, at some destinations.
There are a few things to consider when renting, but size, or class, of motorhome is one of the biggest decisions.
Our 32-foot rental was a Class C, which is large, but has more of a pickup-style cab. Others are the larger Class As (tour bus-style flat cabs) or Class Bs (van style). No special driver's license is required for most RVs, which is a common question posed to rental agents.
Besides RV dealers and rental companies, online sites such as RVShare give owners of RVs a place to rent their vehicles. We explored that route as well.
If you’re interested in RVing part-time, renting is a good option. It’s also a starting point if you’re interested in a long-term commitment and buying your own.
“Some people, you know, they hear so much about camping, how much fun it is. Well, before you dump $20,000 or $50,000 into something new, try it for a weekend or a week,” said Duane Bauer, a rental specialist at Pleasureland RV Center in Brainerd, Minn. “That way you know what you’re looking for in a new camper.”
So what goes into renting?
After our online order with the necessary dates, I spent some time watching YouTube videos for our specific rental. That helped, including knowing exactly what to do with the dirty work: You know, the waste disposal. And, of course, how and when you can run the on-board generator for power inside the coach.
On the pickup date, I met our rental agent Tyler Fix at GoGo Rental. We did a walkthrough in the coach and he told me about power sources, lighting, refrigerator and range operation. He also demonstrated the slideouts to expand the living space, and of course, how the waste tanks operate.
One of the most important things you can do is take notes during the walk-around tour with your agent. If you’re like me, you may forget the simplest operation they describe, such as how to select shore power to your coach upon plugging in or setting the water dials to the right combination.
After some paperwork and leaving a security deposit, it was time to get behind the wheel and pack up at home.
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For a large rig, it turned corners just fine. You certainly don’t have to expand your turn radius as much as a semitruck, but just be aware of the pivot point. The one thing I did notice though is that I had to turn the wheel perhaps 50% more on turns, which you get used to very quickly.
On our model, the turn signals activated a video screen displaying the side cameras, giving you extra security while turning or shifting lanes.
Except for some rattling of various things inside the coach (you are basically driving a house on wheels), it drove much like our minivan. As far as gas mileage, our rig got between 8-12 mpg, and wind certainly will vary that number.
Packing and camping
Try not to overpack, but depending where you stay, bring what you need. With five of us, including my wife, mother-in-law and two teenage sons, we packed our usual camping supplies and enough recreational gear to keep us occupied on the three-day weekend.
“Totes are the key,” Fix said. “We learned if you pack some Rubbermaid totes its just easier for everyone packing up rather than just grabbing things and putting them in the RV and forgetting where they put things.”
There were plenty of storage options both inside and outside our coach that some kind of strategy was necessary (like where did we put the hot dog irons?) to find things at the campsite.
We hauled our bikes on the back of the RV using our own rack. We stayed at the Bismarck KOA Journey, which was a quick bike ride to a supermarket and about 2 miles from the business strip of Bismarck. Even though they were on my list, I still forgot to pack items such as cooking spray for the grill and a spatula, both of which I bought at the nearby supermarket.
I’m going to speak dirty again here but there’s no way around it. Booking one of the last campsites available for Labor Day weekend, I felt fortunate that we at least had an electrical and water hookup site, but no sewer connection.
So we had to watch our blackwater tank meter and as much as we tried to conserve water while washing dishes and showering, our graywater meter showed “full” after just 24 hours. Fortunately, the campground’s dump location was about 40 yards from our site, but it still takes time to disconnect and prepare the coach to move. But in roughly 25 minutes, we were back at our campsite, only to do it again the next evening.
Of course, YouTube came in handy here as well. There is a pattern. Black then gray, which helps clean the hose before you store it.
Dumping an RV isn’t as bad as you might think. The campground site and a final dump at a Fargo travel center were both clean. Just wear a pair of disposable gloves, which is recommended anyway.
The benefits of an RV are many, the biggest being temperature control. As frequent tent campers, you can’t escape a hot day or night, even with a fan. Of course, the opposite is true as well as Labor Day eve brought on a chill and being able to set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature overnight was surely welcomed the next morning.
Rental companies may want you to return their RVs in the same shape they left their lot, so upon arrival back to Fargo, we unpacked our belongings and spent some time cleaning the coach before refilling the gas and propane tanks and dumping the waste tanks a final time.
“The whole packing up process is almost longer than the packing process because you’ve made yourself at home over that week so you’ve got stuff in different places than where you originally put it,” Fix said.
As for cost, the rental fee was certainly the majority of our $1,200-plus weekend. It was a good introduction if we ever decide to rent one again for a longer trip.
A year-round solution
Both Bauer and Fix said they had more rentals this winter than usual. Some customers rented for trips to the South or just as far as the Twin Cities.
While you can actually camp during the winter, that type of setup requires additional chemicals, such as RV antifreeze for the septic system and the use of water tank heaters to keep the pipes from freezing.
Bauer said with Brainerd International Raceway in town, some out-of-town visitors are willing to pay a bit more to have an RV delivered to the track and have it be their home during racing events there.
Before and during our trip, we did take notes of a few things that needed attention, such as a loose ladder hook and other minor details we noticed to maximize our deposit return.
Fix said most renters are delighted with their experience and both he and Bauer said several customers will rent larger units the next time.
It’s a home on wheels and not everyone has the money, space or commitment to put into their own RV.
“They know what it costs to buy one but they just figure everything out with storage, maintenance and insurance, its just cheaper to rent from us,” Fix said.
Rental takeaways and tips
- Get to know your RV. There's several YouTubers who answer your most common questions and rental agencies may have instructional videos on their websites. Also, ask questions during the rental check-out, such as "Can I run the generator while I'm driving?"
- Pack similar items in the same compartment. For instance, we put our portable grill, hot dog irons and other similar equipment in the same exterior compartment.
- Pre-chill your refrigerator and freezer. While packing at home before you leave, start the process of chilling these compartments. It may take a few hours to get them to temperature.
- Bring disposable gloves and sanitary wipes. You will most certainly be handing the discharge hose on your trip. Remember, black then gray. Also, it's a good idea to have disposable sanitary wipes available for your potable water hose and other needs.
- Make it your home but don't bring your home. Remember, you still need room to move around the coach, but pack what you need. Communicate to your group what drawer you are placing things in.
- Expect a hefty fuel bill. Again, getting around 10 miles per gallon, plan accordingly. Also truck stops are a good place to fuel up since they're typically much larger and may offer other services, such as propane refills and dump sites.
- Know what your dealer expects upon return. Do you need to thoroughly clean the rig? Can you return after-hours? What about any damages?