Renting or buying a camper

Buying a camper

Buying a camper is a difficult expedition. You cannot just try them out as when you buy a car. You cannot even drive them, can often only see them in a showroom. When buying second hand privately, then a test drive is possible, maybe the vendor will even let you try it out for a couple of days, but not very often. Hence, you have to take a plunge, which is often for a very expensive piece of kit. Hence, most people will look to hire a camper beforehand, even trying out several different types. Justifying the cost of buying is often hard, but essentially, anything less than 6 weeks use a year means you would be better off renting. Quite a lot of people have opted for smaller campers, such as the ubiquitous Volkswagen California with a pop-up roof, and use this as their daily car plus holidays, weekends, etc. as this is a vehicle which is easy to park, sighting into a normal parking space, and does not protrude into people’s faces, resembling more of a minibus. Nevertheless, most of the campers you will see on campgrounds are large beasts, 6, 7 metres long and 2M50 wide.

Renting a camper

Renting a camper is not very cheap. It is also possible to rent for just a few days, but a 2-week rental in summer is not cheap, plus fuel, plus the campgrounds. However, a camper should not be seen as a cheap holiday, more of a lifestyle, a way of vacationing differently that encourages exploration.

Our rental experiences

The first camper we rented was back in 2001, from Hertz in Paris. This was a biggish camper, some 6 metres long, bed above the driver’s cabin and 2 bunks in the back. It was a nice camper, and we had a great week in France despite an absolute deluge. My fondest memories were of cooking some freshly bought prawns in the camper whilst it poured down outside but with the window open, and of sleeping outside the town hall in a village as all the campings were closed due to flooding. The camper was fine except for the motor, at 90 bhp it was way too weak to climb the hills etc.

Our next experience was 11 days out of Vancouver, Canada. This was a big beast, with a 7 litre engine and 3 speed automatic. After 11 days, I was happy to return it, determined to never rent a big camper again. They might be suited to North American roads, but parking, driving, fuelling (consumption was dramatic), but absolutely no fun.

Hence, on the annual pilgrimage to Italy to see the father-in-law, I saw a company renting pop-up campers for a very reasonable price. When we picked it up near Rome, I saw why. Patched up holes in the roof, very uncomfortable beds, with gear that barely worked, it really was a heap, 20 years old and battered. Our younger son has some humour, and when we went over the first bump in the road he shouted “brace, brace” as if still in the plane.

Therefore, next time I made no mistake and rented a new Volkswagen California, which drove like a dream, easy to park, top quality beds, good on fuel, electric pop-up roof, and all mod cons. Very nice.

I guess the bigger campers will now have improved; the latest technology including cameras and radar for parking, automatic lighting, washers, cruise control with reactive braking, making life much easier. My wife likes the medium-sized campers, often based on the Fiat Ducato (or French equivalent), which means you can stand up when stopped (in the pop-up you are hunch backed when the roof is down). I explain that these are harder to park being bigger than the pop-up, and actually have less space as the bed is no longer in the roof but takes up 2 metres of the cabin space. Then there are also the same model with a pop-up roof. In fact there are so many models, it is hard to choose, but this is where renting becomes more interesting to try and see what you prefer.

Renting a camper has many possibilities, and a need to assess all of them. Almost every time there is the insurance aspect, which will cost €15-21 per day to cover the excesses, and there seemingly is no excess insurance that will cover this as with car rentals. With most of these you will also need to be able to park your car either at the renter, or nearby, unload and reload all you need for the trip. We also rented campers after flying in, which means you need a camper well-equipped with plates, cutlery, pans etc (not always the case), linen, bedding etc. This saves on the often long drives (running up mileage and fuel costs), but of course comes with the flight cost, plus transfer to the depot.

Where best to rent a camper


Renting through private owners

The plethora of websites such as GoBoony, Wikicampers, Indiecampers, etc allow owners to rent their campers through the website for a commission (usually around 15%), and provides security for the renter. You can get new campers, old campers, of all different sizes, hand pick them up from their homes.

Camper rental companies

There are plenty of these, from large campers to pop-ups, and a sizeable range. Many dealers also rent out campers and these tend to be new. The price will usually reflect the age, so you need to search the best deal.