San Diego-based mom of two Audrey Patterson frequently vacations in an RV with her family. But she’s actually only driven an RV once — a brief stretch near Burbank, California — en route to Yosemite National Park for their 2021 summer vacation. The area northwest of downtown Los Angeles is a tangled web of freeways, tricky to navigate no matter the vehicle.
“I was super overwhelmed, and I just felt bad for everyone — especially my husband,” Patterson says.
Patterson’s husband usually drives. When it came time for the family’s summer 2022 vacation — a camping trip in Big Sur, California — her husband couldn’t drive because he was arriving a day later.
With the Burbank memory fresh on her mind, coupled with the fact that she would be solo parenting her two- and four-year-old boys, Patterson was intent on not driving an RV to Big Sur.
“My husband suggested researching if we could get an RV delivered, and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, yes,’” she says.
The rise of RV delivery
RV delivery is one of the latest trends in camping, upending the traditional model where you exchange your car for an RV at an RV rental facility. One of the biggest RV delivery operators is RVshare, a company that operates like Airbnb ABNB, +2.81% for RVs. And while not all RVs offered there are deliverable, RVshare said that almost 40% of its RV rentals were delivered so far in 2022, up from 27% in 2021 and 16% in 2020.
With RV delivery, you don’t have to worry about driving, gas mileage and liability. Instead, you simply arrive at a campground to an RV that’s already set up for you. Patterson rented through a similar service called Outdoorsy, which says that 70% of its listings offer delivery.
Other delivery companies own and operate the RVs themselves. Most are regional, like Southern California’s 101 RV Rentals, which delivers to campgrounds throughout Santa Barbara, California.
Who are RV deliveries for?
RV deliveries can be great for nature lovers, but that’s not the only clientele. They’re also handy for those traveling to a destination with no hotels available or a place where hotels are expensive.
RVshare said its top 2021 delivery destination was The Campsites at Disney’s DIS, +1.45% Fort Wilderness Resort, a Disney-owned campground located a quick ferry ride from the Magic Kingdom theme park in Florida — and it’s getting more popular. According to RVshare, RV deliveries at Fort Wilderness for the first three quarters of 2022 were up 12% versus the same period in 2021.
The cost of a campsite at Fort Wilderness Resort, including full RV hookups, is $1,300 for a six-night stay during the first week of March 2023. For a six-person cabin at the resort over the same period, you’d pay $3,600.
Sure, the cost of an RV rental and delivery eats into the $2,300 difference. But across delivery sites like RVshare and Outdoorsy, there are dozens of available listings large enough to sleep six that cost less than $1,000 for the week, including setup and delivery. A few are even less than $500, making an RV rental one of the cheapest ways to sleep at Disney World.
Limitations of RV delivery
Some campgrounds ban delivery: Rules vary by campground and are inconsistent across state and national parks. For example, RV delivery is prohibited in Yellowstone National Park, but it’s OK for some sites at Yosemite National Park.
You can’t stop overnight wherever you want: For many, part of the charm of an RV trip is the ability to stop along the way.
Patterson says she prefers delivery if she’s driving to the campground in one day with minimal stops. But for a leisurely trip with many stops, she might default to driving the RV, especially since it gives her kids room to spread out.
Delivery fees can be confusing: Outdoorsy lets owners set delivery fees, and it means that sometimes a cheaper RV might turn out to be more expensive if delivery fees are high. Some companies charge a flat rate for delivery (typically $150-$300), while others charge by distance (typically $4-$6 per mile). Even then, most limit deliveries to a certain area, which varies by owner.
You can’t pack as much: For rentals near home, you can pack the RV from your own driveway. Otherwise, you’ll be equipped only with what you can fit in the vehicle that got you to the campground. That especially limits bulky items — such as bikes and surfboards.
Benefits of RV delivery
RVs can be one of the most desirable ways to camp, offering conveniences like air conditioning, kitchens, power outlets and Wi-Fi. Many of their challenges can be mitigated by delivery.
You save on gas by driving a car — not an RV — to the destination: Cruise America says, on average, its RVs get 6 mpg to 10 mpg. Instead, you drive your car — which gets better gas mileage — on the road trip and have an RV delivered from a place closer to your destination.
Insurance coverage is often cheaper: Rental company Outdoorsy requires that all renters have an insurance package that covers liability and damage. For stationary deliveries, that insurance is cheaper because you’re not paying to cover the rig on the road. Sometimes it’s less than a quarter of the cost of Outdoorsy’s comprehensive coverage to insure an RV that you’ll drive.
No onerous setup: RVs can be challenging (particularly for first-timers) to hook up, which is necessary to access fresh water, sewers and electricity.
Since Patterson has no room to store an RV if she had one, she rents every time. But each type of RV does have its downsides. With a van, she has to remove hookups and secure the items inside every time her family drives off the campsite. A detachable trailer RV provides more freedom.
“But maneuvering detachable trailers on winding roads is tough,” she says. “With RV delivery, it’s almost all upside.”
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Sally French writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SAFmedia.