Campervans have been a popular form of moving accommodation in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand for years, but they haven’t been as prevalent here in the US. San-Francisco based Escape Campervans is hoping to change that. The company rents out a fleet of nearly 200 campervans, mostly to visiting Europeans, Aussies and Kiwis who want to spend several weeks exploring the West Coast and beyond (they also have offices in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami and NYC).
As I was told, short term renters like me (I took a campervan out for just two nights) are referred to as unicorns because they come by so rarely. In fact, the average rental period of an Escape Campervan is 21 nights! Despite the brevity of my trip though, I loved my campervan experience and appreciated the chance to explore some uncharted – by me anyways – territory in the Bay Area.
My trip started at the Escape offices in San Francisco’s busy Fisherman’s Wharf. For visitors, it’s an easy jaunt from the airport. After a quick inspection of the van and a lesson in how to convert the inside seating to a bed, how to set up the top tented sleeping area, and how to use the sink and gas stove, I was on my way.
My husband and I weren’t going far, just two hours south of the city to the Santa Cruz area. We booked one night at a beachside campground and another in the redwoods of Big Basin State Park. While we could have saved money by “free-camping” or just pulling over by the side of the road, we wanted a legitimate campsite. Our first lesson – when camping in your campervan, make sure your campsite can accommodate the size of the van in its parking space, and make sure that the parking space is secluded enough. Since you aren’t sleeping in a tent, you can’t seek out any more privacy than what’s offered in your parking space. At our first site, it felt more like we were sleeping in a parking lot than at a campground. At Big Basin, our site was much better.
Our van had both a sitting area inside that folded down into a full bed for two people, or a small tent that could be raised on top of the van. We opted not to use the roof-top sleeping area because the forecast (accurately, it turned out) called for rain that night. I also doubted that the hard plexiglass bottom of the top tent would have been as comfortable as the soft cushions of the interior bed. As the rain poured down outside on the campgrounds around us, we were glad to be warm and dry in bed in the van with the curtains drawn around us.
The campervan comes with a fitted sheet and freshly-laundered blanket, but if you are heading into the mountains or traveling in winter, bringing your own extra blanket is recommended. You’ll also need to bring pillows.
While the main body of the campervan provides the living and sleeping space, the back serves as the kitchen. Each campervan is equipped with a five-gallon tank of potable water, which comes out through a pump-activated faucet and then drains back down the sink into a tank that can be emptied as needed. There’s also a mini-fridge which had no problem keeping our wine, shrimp, and pasta cold all night. There’s storage for a few small dry items, and Escape provides three sets of plates, bowls, glasses and silverware, plus extras like spatulas, can openers, corkscrews, and a pot and pan for cooking on the gas stovetop that also comes included. I loved this perk, as it meant my dinner options weren’t limited to hot dogs and s’mores (just don’t forget to check for propane; a can will only set you back $5 but it’s not a fun surprise to discover there’s no propane once you’re at camp).
The vans also come with folding chairs and tables, so if you’re camping away from civilization, you still have a place to sit.
Escape Campervan rentals start at $65 per day for longer rentals; shorter rentals are slightly more expensive. However, there are no hidden costs – rentals include tables, chairs, sheet, duvet, kitchen supplies, propane, and 100 miles (average) per day. There’s no charge for a second driver, no additional cost for drivers under age 25, no compulsory insurance, and the deposit is only $200, with balance due on campervan return.
Escape makes camping pretty easy, especially for travelers who don’t want to lug all their gear (or buy it upon arrival), but they haven’t quite thought of everything. The one thing I missed: a flashlight or lantern. The vans have rear interior lights at the back, over the kitchen, but once away from the van, you’ll be in the dark unless you’ve packed your own lights. Despite this minor inconvenience, as far as camping goes, staying in an Escape Campervan is a pretty comfortable way to explore the outdoors.
Escape Campervans offered me a free rental, but all opinions are my own.