RV rental USA: Our US west coast road trip by campervan

By

I’ve been to the USA many times and driven across different states but I have never done a US road trip in an RV or campervan and it’s something I have always wanted to do. RV-ing is huge in America – they have such a varied and accessible landscape, open space and incredible scenery, so you can understand why. Simon and I have rented a budget camper for road trips in Italy and in New Zealand in the past, but this would be our first ‘RV rental USA’ with our two-year-old son in tow. It was time to introduce Finn to his first RV holiday USA. With compact budget campervans not suitable for two adults and a toddler, this time we were aiming for the real deal – a full size motorhome – so we set about renting a campervan USA for a proper US west coast road trip.

Renting a campervan USA with Cruise America – our RV rental Portland to San Francisco

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Simon was excited (and nervous) to drive the huge van. Photo: passportstamps.uk

A lot of advice we came across online suggested buying your own motorhome for a US west cost road trip. Coming from the UK, buying our own RV wasn’t an option so we were looking for campervan rental USA options that fitted with our location and budget. For the itinerary we had in mind, we wanted to pick up our RV rental in Portland, Oregon and drop off the RV rental in San Francisco, California. We were familiar with Cruise America, having seen many of them along the road on previous trips – I had also seen one of the motorhomes at a travel trade show and they looked pretty good, so we decided to book with them. Making a reservation from the UK was very straightforward and they have a lot of information, including safety and driving demos, on their website. This helped us get an idea of what to expect.

RV rental prices in the USA with Cruise America – how much does it cost to rent a campervan in the USA?

Although every trip is different, I am going to try and break down the RV rental prices, including the hire costs of the van, insurance, additional extras and other expenses to be aware of when planning a campervan road trip USA. Below is our complete experience renting a motorhome from Cruise America – including a photo tour of the RV, what it was like to drive, our day-to-day life as a family on the road and a round-up of the positives and negatives of our experience. You can see the full road trip itinerary for our incredible trip around Oregon here.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
We couldn’t wait to get on the road in our new house on wheels! (Photo: Helen Wright)

As with all our travel stories, reviews and advice, everything you read on passportstamps.uk is based on an honest account of our travel experiences and designed to help you plan your own exciting adventures. For full disclosure, passportstamps.uk did receive a small discount from Cruise America in exchange for coverage across our site and social media channels under a strict agreement that all reviews of our Cruise America RV rental would be an honest reflection of our true experience.

How to plan a budget for your RV campervan road trip

To help you work out what you will need to budget for your own RV USA trip, here are some vital stats to put our RV rental costs into perspective:

The costings for the US west coast road trip that we cover in this post cover two weeks of Cruise America RV rental and 2000 miles. This represents the average rental duration for a UK visitor and the length of trip we recommend for a family campervan road trip USA.

The motorhome we rented was a Cruise America C30 ‘Large’ RV. This is the biggest van available to hire through Cruise America. In reflection, with just three occupants, we could have rented the, slightly smaller, C25 (Standard). As I was also six months pregnant during the trip, on the advice of Cruise America we decided that a bit of extra space and a separate sleeping area for Finn would give us more room to spread out and a bit of extra comfort. According to official information, this van actually sleeps seven people but I certainly wouldn’t advise that. Realistically, the C30 can sleep five people comfortably (two sharing the bed in the main cabin, and one person per bed in the front half of the van, of which there are three. You could get two people in the bed situated over the cab, but it would be ‘cosy’). The bed suggested for two people (adjacent to the kitchen area on the diagram below) would not sleep two adults comfortably.

cruise america c30 blog
Diagram of Large Cruise America C30 RV taken from cruiseamerica.com

The fuel and campsite costs are based on the prices we paid during our trip across Oregon. Oregon is a tax-free state and we noticed that gas prices in California were significantly more expensive, almost $1 to the gallon more. Camping fees were also slightly higher in California. Trust me, these motorhomes are gas guzzlers so it is worth looking at fuel costs in different states when you are deciding on your road trip destination, especially if you plan on doing your USA road trip on a budget.

RV Rental Prices: How much does it cost to rent a motorhome in the USA?

To get you started:
Cruise America RV basic rental on the C30: $60 per day for 14 days, $840 (£660)
Mileage fee for 2000 miles: $700 (£550)
Zero deductible full cover insurance (more about this later): $139.30 (£110)
Generator fee at $3.50 per hour: $28 (£22) – eight hours
One-way drop off fee: $400 (£314)
Environment fee: $5 (£3.90)
Tax (Washington State): $205 (£161)
Tax (Rental Tax): $132.28 (£104)

Total: $2049.58 (£1924.90)

Other necessary spends:
Campsite fees for 14 nights at an average $28 per night: $392 (£307)
(We talk about places you can camp for free in an RV and how to reduce camping costs later in the post)
Propane use: $15 (£11.70)
Fuel for 2000 miles at $3.26 to the gallon: Approx $650 (£510)
Cleaning products, e.g: cloths, surface cleaner, sponge, toilet bleach etc. (You are required to clean the van before returning it, so I have included this as a necessary spend. Only a broom is provided by the company): $10 (£7.85)

Total: $1067 (£837.50)
Total + Basic rental fees: $3116.58 (£2761.50)

Optional extras:
Kitchen kit (available to purchase from Cruise America for $110): $110 (£86.50)
Personal kit (available to purchase from Cruise America for $60 each): $180 (£141.30) for three
Kettle, toaster, washing up bowl (purchased from Walmart): $17 (£13.50)
Infant/toddler car seat (not available to rent from Cruise America, and purchased from Walmart): $70 (£55)

Total: $377 (£296)
Total plus necessary extras and basic rental fees: $3493.58 (£3057.50)

So there you have it – for a true reflection of RV Rental Prices for a campervan rental in the USA, expect your road trip to cost in the region of $3400 / £3000 for two weeks.

Why you should do a family road trip USA in a motorhome RV

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Happy campers on the road (Photo: Helen Wright)

You may be surprised to find that campervan rental USA isn’t as cheap as you thought but it’s worth noting that as well as a budget way to explore, a US road trip in an RV is also, and most importantly, about the experience. We had an amazing time on the road in Oregon and (our son, especially) loved the freedom, ease and flexibility that a campervan offers. From sea views to secluded forests, riverside camping and a few cheeky freebies, taking a road trip in a motorhome enhanced our experience of the state dramatically and we would definitely do a trip like this again, exploring even more of the USA.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Top spot! RV Camping on the beach (Photo: passportstamps.uk)

Of course, you can do a road trip by car and staying in hotels like we did in Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes. For a handy comparison of RV rental prices and car rental plus motel costs, we worked it out to be an average spend of £132.50 per day (based on an average £93 per night motel rate and £39.50 per day for a medium-sized SUV Ford Escape) Vs the RV + camping costs.
*Not including fuel, tax and insurance.

Mid-size car + motel: £1,855 for two weeks
RV + camping: £1,786 for two weeks

PROs for the car option: The fuel and insurance fees will be much lower and you can travel between distances a lot faster. Less extra fees. Easier to drive around in towns / cities.

PROs for the RV option: With the RV you can cook your own meals in the van – hence saving money on your daily food/drink budget. When staying at hotels and motels, there is less flexibility and spontaneity on where you can stop and stay on the road trip (and probably far inferior views from your bedroom window). A major plus for the RV option is that you don’t need to unpack and repack every day, or adhere to rigid check in and check out fees. And, of course, waking up on the beach is luxury on a budget.

Who lives in a van like this? Inside the Cruise America C30 RV

Photos of the Cruise America C30 RV layout inside

photos inside the Cruise America RV c30 USA RV rental prices
photos inside the Cruise America RV c30 USA RV rental prices
The living space and kitchen (top) and bedroom (bottom) of the Cruise America C30 RV (Image: passportstamps.uk)

When we picked up the RV, it was immaculately clean and tidy, both inside and out. As I mentioned before, we did go for the larger RV option (the C30) but we were really impressed with the size and space. The side door opens onto a living space area with two long seats and a compact kitchen. The long seat behind the driver converts very simply and easily into a dining table. If you are taking a family campervan road trip, this is where you would need to fix on the car seat when you are in transit, as the other sofa does not have fixings for child seats.

At the back of the van was a separate, double bedroom and that was where Simon and I slept. It was divided from the main living space by a curtain and so, when Finn was asleep, we were able to have the interior light on. The bedroom area is huge – I couldn’t believe our campervan had a full-sized double bed and built in wardrobes! We were able to fully unpack and not live out of our suitcases for the whole trip, which was great. Cases and other big items (such as Finn’s Pram) were safely stored in the trunk/boot area at the back of the van so we didn’t have to worry about tripping over them or finding areas to squeeze them in. The bed was comfy – not the most luxurious mattress I have ever slept on but better than I expected in a campervan. It was snug, but there was enough room for Simon and me (with my big pregnant belly). You could also open a rooftop vent and sliding windows (with mesh to keep the bugs out) for some fresh air in both the bedroom and living area.

How much storage space is there in an RV?

There is so much storage in the RV. Above all the seats in the living area there are good sized cupboards. We used the ones next to the kitchen to store extra food / cooking supplies and the storage on the other side was used for Finn’s clothes and toys. We would also fold his bedding and keep that tidied away during the day. The area over the top of the cab folds down to create a bed (this is the one where you could fit two people at a push). Ideally, if Finn was older, he would have slept up there and we could have kept the main area just as living space, but since he is only two and not used to sleeping in a proper bed yet, we could not risk him rolling out during the night. For the most part, we kept the area above the cab pretty clear. This was for two reasons: firstly, loose items up there could have fallen down as we were moving, so it wasn’t safe to use it for storage. But, also, having things stuffed up there made the van look messy. As we were living, driving and sleeping in the RV, we made a big effort to keep it tidy and clean and this makes a big difference. When we were parked up for the night, we would keep Finn’s car seat up there as it was quite bulky and there was nowhere else to store it when the table / bed was set up.

The toilet and shower in the Cruise America C30

Probably the biggest surprise was the shower. It was much bigger than I was expecting and separate from the toilet. It had a really decent sized showerhead and space to move. I was genuinely surprised at how generous the space was. As it turned out, we didn’t use the shower very much as we preferred to use the campsite facilities, but if you plan on utilising it, water can be warmed by the furnace (which runs on the RV’s propane) and takes around 30-45 minutes to heat to a decent temperature.

The toilet was contained behind its own lockable door, and was a usual pump based unit, attached either to the running water (if we were at a campsite with water hook up) or the grey water tank. This is a tank of water that we would refill whenever we had access to a tap and allows you to have running water, with the help of the water pump switch, when you are not attached to a hook up. This water is also used for the sink when not attached to the main water source but isn’t suitable for drinking.

The toilet waste (yes, lets call it that), is either pumped directly into a sewer at your campsite if you have waste hook up, or stored in a waste tank until you can reach a dump facility to empty the contents. Not all campsites have private dump facilities (aka, next to where you are parked for the night), so you have to use the shared RV dump found at most RV sites. The waste is contained in a pipe, so you can’t see it, but it isn’t as bad as it might sound. I recommend adding some thick rubber gloves to your shopping list. It is advised that you empty the dump tank as often as possible (daily, if you can, but this isn’t always possible if you are primitive or wild camping). By doing this, you can prevent the toilet area in the van becoming smelly – something you will definitely appreciate as the weeks go on. Of course, the other top tip is to use an alternative toilet whenever possible (such as the campsite facilities) and keep potty use in the van to a minimum. You are asked to use special, rapidly dissolving toilet paper in the RV (the brand we used was called Scott and can be purchased in Walmart for a lot cheaper than in the campsite shop). This will stop your pump and tank from getting clogged and is much better for the environment.

The kitchen in the Cruise America C30

photos inside the Cruise America RV c30 USA RV rental prices
Not much space for prep but the kitchen was convenient.

The kitchen area comprised of a three-hob stove, microwave and a full-size fridge with a top freezer. There is lots of storage. We used the top cupboards to store food and the lower cupboards for utensils, pots and pans, bulkier items and cleaning products. One of the cupboards has built-in shelves to keep your china plates and bowls from moving around as you drive. There isn’t a lot of space to prepare food, so you need to utilize the table as much as possible, which isn’t always convenient if you have stopped to have a quick lunch but the kitchen size is decent and perfectly useable.

For us, travelling with a young child, we had to be organised about when we would use the kitchen. As Finn goes to sleep at 7.30pm, with his bed right next to the stove, we weren’t able to cook at all after that. Even the microwave would likely have woken him. We had to, either, eat earlier before Finn went to bed or cook outside on the campfire or outside grill. With some campsites quite remote (and also remembering that you can’t drive once the bed is down in the living space as Finn needs to be in a car seat when moving), it is wise to have some cold food options (such as salads, sandwiches or a meat and cheese plate) in case you get hungry.

The living space was adaptable for a family trip

The area that was the most adaptable in the van was the living area, which transformed from a table dining area, to fixing in Finn’s car seat and then, at night, Finn’s bedroom. The table folded into the wall (with the table leg being stored under the seat). The cushions moved down to become a bed. It was all very clever and well designed and not difficult to change between the set ups at all.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
The middle section of seats transformed into a dining table (Photo: Helen Wright)

After breakfast, before taking to the road we would fix in Finn’s car seat, which literally took a minute. Child car seats aren’t available to hire from Cruise America so you are required to make your own arrangements. I talk about travelling to the USA with child car seats in my travelling with kids post but we rarely rent from a car rental firm and usually buy a US-approved car seat once we arrive in America. The toddler safety seat we had for Finn this time was the Evenflo Tribute LX from Walmart, £70

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip child seat
On the road, we folded the table away and fixed on Finn’s car seat (Photo: Helen Wright)

Before this trip, Finn slept in a cot at home and used a travel crib when we stayed in hotels. We were not sure if a travel cot would fit in the aisle of the van and so had spoken to him about sleeping in a ‘big boy RV bed’ and he was very excited about it. I think it was an adventure for him and he was very proud of his bed when it was all made up at night, taking to it straight away and sleeping really well. We put some of the spare cushions on the floor in case he rolled out but there was plenty of space, so it was fine. If you are planning on renting the RV with a baby, a travel cot would have fitted in the living area aisle space… just. But not in the bedroom as the floor space was pretty narrow to allow for a bigger bed.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip child sleeping toddler
Finn was very proud to sleep in his ‘big boy RV bed’ (Photo: Helen Wright)

Life in the RV – evenings outside at the campsite

As Finn goes to bed early, we spent most of our evenings outside when the weather was dry. This was one of the huge benefits of doing this USA trip in a motorhome because, travelling with kids, you can find yourself stuck in a dark hotel room every evening. Once he was asleep, we would sit outside and have dinner or a glass of wine, usually next to a burning log fire. It was everything I’d imagined about a trip like this and camping in America. It was one of my favourite aspects of renting an RV rather than driving a car and staying in hotels. Campfire wood is available at most campsites (usually for $5 a bundle, which is plenty for a small fire to last all evening). Bonfires are required to be built in designated areas to protect against forest fires.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Where possible, we took advantage of being able to eat and relax outside (Photos: Helen Wright)

Most camping plots come with your own bench table to sit on outside, but the Cruise America RV also has its own outdoor table, which is stored in the trunk area of the van. The RV does not come with camping chairs, so you do need to buy them separately. We purchased two at Walmart for $10 and did get a lot of use from them because it meant we could sit closer to the bonfire when the temperature dipped in the evening.

One of the negatives we experienced with a trip like this was that when the weather wasn’t on our side, we did end up a bit trapped in the van. There isn’t that much to do in the campsites at night and when it was raining we were forced inside our bedroom in the RV once Finn was asleep. But that is always the risk you take when you go camping!

Is there heat and aircon in the RV?

The Cruise America RV comes with a built-in furnace, which runs on the propane supply and provides central heating as well as the heat for the sink and shower water. It also has very strong aircon, which runs on the generator or external power plug in. You definitely don’t need to worry about being too hot as it is fierce on the high setting, We were freezing! There is also a fan option, or you can have the celling vents and windows open. All are covered with a mesh insect guard.

What are the USA campsites like?

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
We found the campsites in the USA clean, picturesque and beautiful maintained (Photo: Simon Henry)

This isn’t the first time we have gone camping in the USA. We camped at the Grand Canyon and Sedona during our Arizona road trip before we had Finn. The national and state parks, and the state forests in the USA are beautifully maintained and usually stunning places to visit – even more wonderful if you get to stay overnight. This is when taking a USA road trip in a motorhome really becomes the trip of a lifetime. It’s so exciting being able to go off the beaten track with no time constraints and exploring harder to reach places. If you are looking for adventure and you don’t want to do the same trip as everyone else, an RV gives you the ultimate freedom.

There are also privately-owned campsites, but for the most part we stuck to the national and state campgrounds. These are usually set in beautiful surroundings and provide safe, calm and well-looked after sites to camp and park your RV. Facilities at the parks vary, with some having full hook up (electric, water and dump at your plot), some with part hook up (electric and water / or just electric) and primitive camping, which is just a camping plot and no connections to the van. Prices vary, but on average we paid around $28 for full hook up and $18 for primitive camping.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Camping in the USA is perfect for a family trip (Photo: Simon Henry)

Campsites can be booked in advance from the official park websites (in our case Oregon State Parks and Rec, NPS.gov and California State Parks) and is recommended in busy times and also to secure a preferred spot. Some of the more popular campsites start getting booked up 6-8 months in advance. All the campsites we stayed were suitable for families, had clean, well maintained facilities, felt secure and friendly. As well as paid staff members working some hours, often, the parks will be monitored by a ‘park host’ – which, from what I gather, is a RV resident who exchanges free camping for being on-call to help other campers. They also monitor guests and check that everyone is parked in the right place and obeying the rules. Some of the bigger RV sites have more than one park host and they work in shifts.

You don’t have to book your RV spot in advance. You can turn up on the day and park in a vacant camping space but there is always a risk the campground will be full. Plots are all numbered and those which have been pre-booked will be marked with a ‘reserved’ card. If you opt for drive up option, you need to have the correct amount for your vehicle and plot in cash and you are required to register manually and deposit your fee inside an envelope, and put in the security box. These are later collected by the site hosts.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
We got lucky with a few campsites right on the beach (Photos: Helen Wright)

What the campsite will be like depends on where you are and what type of campsite you have chosen. Since Oregon is dominated by forests, the majority of our camping sites were surrounded by trees and green grass. It was very peaceful and idyllic – and so dark in the evenings, under the canopy of trees! During the trip, we also chanced our luck at a couple of ‘fully booked’ campsites along the coast. Getting lucky with a walk-up spot and a cancellation, we got to spend a couple of nights alongside the beach. These sites, which were also national or state park campgrounds, were very different. The actual plots were more like car parking spaces. Parked on the concrete, they had no hookups or outdoor tables, but did have the luxury of being right on the beach. For our full Oregon itinerary – read our Oregon Road Trip post here.

What are the showers and toilets like at USA campgrounds?

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
The RV campground facilities were clean and decent

I found it funny that a lot of my friends and followers on social media asked me this question – but I guess it’s something you’d have no idea about if you had never done a campervan road trip USA before. I’m thrilled to report that all the campground toilets and showers we used were really clean, with decent, hot showers! I was really impressed. They are cleaned twice daily and most were free to use – some had a coin operated shower (25c a minute on average). The toilets in almost all of the RV sites we stayed in had flushable toilets and provided toilet paper too. As I said before, the RV campgrounds are so well looked after that we had no problem paying the fee to stay at them. You can see the money received from guests is put back into maintaining the parks. Most had playgrounds for kids, clean and tidy litter disposal with recycling and even amphitheaters where they hold events and screen outdoor movies in the summer months.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Super clean showers, disposal areas and peaceful outside space (Photos: passportstamps.uk)

There is definitely a sense of community there with everyone being considerate of their neighbours (quiet time is officially set for 10pm but we had no disturbance at any time). Often there will be a camp shop, outside sinks for washing up and marked walking trails. As you wander around you might pass kids riding bikes and scooters, other guests cooking outside or using the BBQ, just chilling out on camping chairs or walking their dogs. Dogs are also required to stay on leads too, so that is comforting if you have younger children. Our overall experience was of a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. There was also free WIFI in around 50% of the parks we stayed at. It wasn’t the best connection but better than nothing!

How does the RV hook up work and is it easy to connect?

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Family teamwork – Finn loved helping Simon with the hookup (photos: Helen Wright)

Everything you need to easily connect your Cruise America RV at the campsite is included within the RV rental prices. This includes a clean water pipe, grey water pipe (toilet water), electricity cable with a voltage adaptor and your sewage pump.

Once you are connected (particularly to the water and the waste dump), you are really in for the night because you can’t move your RV to go anywhere. If we planned to go out again after checking into the campground, we just didn’t connect right away, plugging in later when we were parking up for the evening. I admit, Simon handled most of the practical stuff with the van and did all the connections for the whole trip (being pregnant gave me a great excuse). Even though it’s a dud job, it really emphasized the family teamwork aspect of camping. While Simon handled the outside jobs, I set up the beds or tidied up inside. Finn loved helping Simon with the connections, taking pride in helping him connect and disconnect each day and checking everything was set up correctly. It wasn’t so much fun in the rain though… Finn left it to Simon that day!

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Camping come rain or shine!

How easy is a Cruise America RV motorhome to drive?

The Cruise America C30 is 30ft long and 13ft high so before the trip, Simon and I were a little bit nervous about driving the rig! Cruise America have safety videos and tips online and I highly recommend checking them out in advance of your trip. The key thing to remember is that the rear of the RV goes back further than the wheels, so when turning corners you have to leave enough space for the back to get around. It takes a bit of getting used to but Simon, who did most of the driving, got the hang of it really quickly. Five minutes after leaving the depot we got lost and he had to do a three-point-turn, so that was a baptism of fire.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Finn wanted to get behind the wheel at any opportunity! (Photo: Helen Wright)

Parking the RV is the hardest part as there is no internal mirror and no digital reverse camera. You really do need the help of someone to guide you back when reversing into spaces at the campsites and parking on the street. The vans themselves are quite old – not modern at all. The dashboard has no digital displays or USB, but does have an audio port for your iPod (you have to have your own wire). That was probably one of the biggest let-downs with the Cruise America RV rental. For the RV rental prices, I was expecting a few more small perks inside. Our basic Jucy Camper in New Zealand even had a small, no frills DVD player and screen and I thought the Cruise America would have the same, especially for the family market, but sadly not. Obviously, in a 30ft van you are pulling a lot of weight behind you so the RV does feel quite shaky and rattly as you drive along. The cab area is quite noisy at higher speeds, in order to hear the radio you have to have the volume quite loud  which makes having conversation in the driving cab a bit tricky. It’s a bit of a shame as music and conversation can really make a road trip. I am told that Cruise America do have more modern vans and have been modernising the cab area of the RVs to make them more enjoyable to drive, but it’s just a matter of luck on which RV will be available when you collect it for your trip. There is also no radio in the back of the van, linked to the auxiliary battery, so when you are parked up you can’t have music on because it would drain the main engine battery. These are only small things but would definitely enhance the experience of living in the van.

Is a standard UK driving licence enough to drive the RV in the USA?

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
We loved being on the open road (Photo: passportstamps.uk)

We have a full and detailed post about driving in the USA that you should definitely check out before your RV Holiday USA. But, yes, a valid, standard UK driving licence is all you need to rent a Cruise America RV and you must be over the age of 21. The plastic card part of your licence is all that is required, you don’t need to worry about the paper component. You will also need a credit card and Cruise America will keep the details, along with a $500 deposit, until you return the motorhome to cover the cost of the RV if you decide to make off with it.

Where can you park the RV?

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip
Did did manage to find a Dispersed Camping site (by chance) and it was incredible. (Photo: Helen Wright)

For the majority of this trip, we stuck to designated campgrounds with clearly numbered camping spots to park your RV. These can be owned by the national or state authorities (State Parks/Forests or National Parks) or privately owned campgrounds, such as the KOA group (Kampgrounds of America). Private campgrounds like KOA are more like holiday resorts and often have laundry facilities, swimming pools, games rooms, cafes and 24-hour reception desks. Because of this, they come at more of a premium – between $30-$50 per night, on average. There were other, smaller RV parks but these looked more like crowded car parks so we generally disregarded them.

The State and National campgrounds have less of the extra facilities but tended to be in more beautiful locations, with a more chilled-out atmosphere. The average cost for these sites (with full hook up) was between $25-$32 per night. Just an RV spot with no hook up was usually around $18.

When can you park an RV campervan for free in the USA?

Working out where we were allowed to park our RV overnight for free (whist sleeping in it) was initially quite confusing. In the states that we visited – Oregon and California – you cannot just park your RV in a roadside rest stop and camp overnight. In some states, such as Arizona, this is allowed. This meant we were restricted to staying at designated RV camping areas. Some National Forest areas do allow ‘dispersed camping’ (free camping in rural locations) but we found it really confusing to work out where the National Forest boundaries were, as some boarded into State or National parks where it isn’t allowed… In the forest areas, we found that we had no 4G phone signal and no access to the internet (including no GPS), so unless we had properly researched the exact location that we wanted to park, it was impossible for us inexperienced RVers to find the right place. Because it was our first time camping in an RV and we had our two-year-old with us, we felt more comfortable staying at official campgrounds that had facilities, as they felt safer. Next time, I think we will research our stops better and stay in more dispersed camping sites – a great way to save money!

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip parking walmart
Parking in Walmart is perfectly safe and legal – and free! (Photo: passportstamps.uk)

One place you can officially camp for free in an RV, is in a Walmart car park. At first we weren’t sure whether this would be safe, especially with a toddler, but after some research we decided to give it a go. We parked in a Walmart twice on our trip. During our stay there were lorries, other RVs and people sleeping in their cars. The camping vehicles keep to the back of the car park, so as not to interfere with the regular shoppers, and you aren’t allowed to put awnings out or chairs and tables. Other than that, you just pull up and get settled. Camping at Walmart was actually fine – it was quiet enough (not as peaceful as in the forest, of course) and we had a 24-shop on our doorstep if we needed any supplies. Plus, we saved a bit of cash, which is ideal for a campervan road trip on a budget. Some Walmarts do not allow overnight camping so definitely check the specific store you plan to stay at in advance.

What is the best length for an RV holiday in the USA?

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip parking walmart
We loved #vanlife (Photo: Simon Henry)

Two weeks is an ideal amount of time to take a USA road trip in a campervan. Being six months pregnant probably affected my energy a bit, but by the 15th night, I was happy to clear up our RV and give it back. I loved the experience but the chance to check into a hotel and have a bath was calling… Finn, on the other hand, would have happily moved into the motorhome and lived in it full time. He loved everything about the experience – from helping to do the hook up and checks with daddy, to pretending to drive, helping build a campfire, sleeping in his new bed and the freedom of the campsites. It was a fantastic experience to have as a family and we created some incredible memories.

PROs and CONs of an RV Road Trip in the USA

Things we loved about our experience with Cruise America RV:

We really did have a brilliant time and this was a trip we will always remember. The freedom of being able to stop spontaneously in some beautiful locations and to be able to explore a little off off the beaten track is a unique experience that I would recommend to anyone, especially families looking for an adventure. Taking a campervan road trip USA with your family is a real bonding experience. You have to work together to keep everything running smoothly and the opportunity to go back to basics and spend quality time together is priceless. For a big family holiday in America, our day-to-day budget was low. We enjoyed cooking and living in the RV and having all our stuff to hand whether we were at the campground or on the road. The van has excellent storage and the interior is well designed to maximise space. Cruise America have a 24-hour toll free Renters Assistance line if your RV breaks down or you have any problems and this is comforting – especially for motorhome firs timers! An RV road trip was both a challenge and experience and we can’t wait to do it all over again.

Cruise America RV rental Portland San Francisco west coast road trip child car seat
Finn seemed quite far back at first but he loved having so much space (Photo: Helen Wright)

A few negatives:

These RVs are big and they burn through fuel at a rate of knots. It is definitely worth checking the average fuel costs in the state you are planning your roadtrip. In California, the gas was $1 more expensive per gallon than in Oregon. In a van like the C30, this is a significant extra spend on your budget. We loved being in the RV, and the living area was great but the cab was dated, very noisy and not that enjoyable to drive long distances. A few added extras would have enhanced the driving experience (a basic DVD player / USB ports in the front / bluetooth connectivity).

One of the things that are not provided with the Cruise America RV are wheel levellers which would have been handy when dispersed camping or in spots where the space was on a slope. We worked around this by parking as cleverly as possible but these would be an additional perk. The Cruise America kitchen kit is expensive and does have to be returned at the end of the trip – my advice would probably be to decline the kit and purchase your own supplies at Walmart for half the price – then donate the items to Goodwill at the end of your rental. On that note – I felt the drop off should have a Goodwill crate for you to donate unneeded items to the charity (for a nightly collection) or to other renters. We had to leave our camping chairs, cooler box, towels, carseat and other items like toys and kitchen equipment that wasn’t included in the kit and were told just to leave it on the floor outside the office. It would be a great incentive for Cruise America to work with a charity so these items could be donated to a worthy cause.

The only other aspect of renting a Cruise America RV that we found negative was the confusing insurance options. The RV comes with a standard cover but, reading the small print, this insurance has a $1500 excess no matter what the damage. This could be anything from a full-on collision to a tiny chip in the windscreen. It also means that if someone else damages the RV when you aren’t even in it (like denting it in a carpark or knocking your wing mirror off, for example) you are still required to pay this set excess fee. We felt vulnerable taking on this responsibility that we had no control over and so felt as though we had no choice but to take out the zero deductible cover on top ($140 for two weeks). Since returning the RV, Cruise America explained that if the cost to repair the damage is less than $1500, renters are refunded the difference, which is good. It just wasn’t articulated that clearly to us at the depot and perhaps we should have read the small print in mote detail. It’s not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things but it was a surprise to be shouldered with the extra spend and to have to make the snap decision at the rental desk. So just be aware when you are making your booking.

Getting to the USA from the UK

We actually collected the campervan rental in Seattle, Washington driving directly to Portland, Oregon where we began our US West Coast Road trip. We did this because we were able to take advantage of a really good flight deal on Norwegian Air, flying from London Gatwick to Seattle, and returning from California to London for £370pp. (This was a Ecomomy Low Cost+ ticket that included seat reservation, one checked bag and in-flight meals.) There are direct flights to Portland from London on Delta but they were significantly more expensive for our dates. It’s worth noting that the Cruise America depot in Portland is also a lot smaller, with less availability than the Seattle outpost, so ended up being a great option for us. The drive from Seattle to Portland was 175 miles, taking 2hrs and 40mins.

SEE MORE OF OUR EPIC ROAD TRIPS AND itineraries

one-month itinerary new zealand
On the road to Mt. Cook

The ultimate one-month campervan itinerary for New Zealand

Two-week road trip around Italy

Costa Rica – a 14-day road trip itinerary

Lake Garda, Italy – a road trip around the lake

The six best places to go in Iceland

A trip around Virginia, USA

Explore Lake Tahoe, California

Driving the desert – road trip to Arizona

Driving to France – a trip to Le Touquet

Share this post

Related Posts