Why and How to Try Van Camping This Summer


Try a Van Camping Rental to Glamp Up Your Summer Camping

roadsurfer van rental

Van camping in Joshua Tree National Park

You’ve heard of van life, but you’re likely not ready to give up your house and try full-time life on the open road. So why not test out van camping for just a few days instead? Whether you’re an avid tent camper looking to upgrade or a non-camper looking to experience travel by van, this is the summer to try out van camping. Thankfully, you don’t need to buy a van to try out this new adventure. Rental companies, like Los Angeles-based roadsurfer offer rentals of safe, clean vehicles so you can try van camping without overinvesting.

How and Why to Book Your Rental Van

We love tent camping, but more than two nights of sleeping on the ground in a row get old. We also wanted to cover a lot of ground during our trip in variable spring weather, and tent camping just didn’t make sense. For longer trips like this, consider renting a van to explore. And if you’re coming from Utah to camp in California, bringing along your vehicle and all your tent camping supplies just wouldn’t make sense.

To book a van, just visit roadsurfer’s website and pick your model. We rented the two-person Couple Condo, and it had ample space for two with room to cook, lounge, eat, and use the restroom. But it’s only a $10 a day difference to upgrade to the Road House XL, and the extra amenities make it worth the cost. First, these vehicles are a bit fresher and newer, and they have a pop-up roof where you can sleep without having to assemble and disassemble the couch beds each day. If bringing kids, they can fit in this vehicle as well.

With the manual pop-up roof and couch beds, up to four adults can sleep comfortably.  The kitchen has a large fridge, a 2-burner gas hob, and a sink. There’s also a built-in dining table that seats up to four people. The climate is always comfortable thanks to gas heating and air conditioning. Other highlights include a toilet, hot water shower, outdoor shower for spraying off gear, built-in cruise control, and Apple CarPlay.

To book, just visit the roadsurfer website, select your dates, and away you go. You’ll often find discounts for last-minute trips here too. If flying to pick up your rental van, fly into the LAX Airport and take an Uber or Lyft to roadsurfer’s office to start your adventure.

Plan Your Itinerary

Roadsurfer is roadsurfer is a German/Munich-based camper van rental start up and outdoor expert with stations in 12 European countries and it’s first U.S. station in Los Angeles, California (with drop-offs possible in San Francisco and Las Vegas). If you’re looking to stay stateside, it’s easiest to book your trip out of southern California.

We decided to explore California’s coast and deserts with a five-day California road trip beginning in Malibu and ending in Joshua Tree National Park. We stayed at a stay park near Malibu’s beaches, cruised to the desert and hot springs of Palm Springs, visited iconic Pioneertown, and wrapped up by hiking the famed trails to Barker Dam and Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park.

Beaches of Malibu

Follow our itinerary on roadsurfer’s website, or plan your own Tour de California. You can also head north to national parks like Sequoia and Kings Canyon, or follow Highway 1 along the coast to beach towns and camping sites near the ocean. You can boondock it and stay at a campground without hookups, but we loved staying at RV parks with hookups so we had full power, sewer, and water at all times. Our favorite campground was Sam’s Family Spa in Palm Springs because it had the additional amenity of hot springs and a swimming pool for guests.

Whatever you choose, ensure you plan your trip to return in time to deliver the van at roadsurfer’s Los Angeles office for the next round of campers.

Pack Your Gear

While the van rental includes many camping essentials, there are a few things to bring along that can make your camping go smoother. Follow roadsurfer’s packing list for full details, and follow our basic list for quick essentials. First, we recommend packing your own sheets or sleeping bags for sleeping in the van. If traveling with that much gear is impossible, rent a bedding kit from roadsurfer. It includes pillows, sheets, and a blanket.

Cooking essentials come with the van rental, and the kit includes plates, bowls, coffee mugs, glasses, cutlery, pots and pans, cutting boards, knives, cooking utensils, a can opener, a corkscrew, salad servers, a rinsing bowl, and a lighter. Camp chairs and a table are also included.

Definitely bring your own toiletries, first aid kit, sunscreen, games, beach toys, water bottles, toilet paper, and spices/cooking oils. Roadsurfer does have a donation area where campers leave behind goods they didn’t use, and we were able to find some cooking oils and spices that we didn’t think to bring along. Other items we liked having were pour-over coffee packets. These made caffeinating before our adventures easy, thanks to their single-serve nature. Bring along an iPad to watch movies at night in the campsites.

Driving & Dining

Driving a van is not entirely intuitive. Before you get on the rod in your rental, practice driving, turning, and parking in an uncrowded parking lot. This will help prevent accidents that could damage the vehicle, or injure you. We also recommend stocking up at the store on easy camp meals that you can cook in the van. Eating out at unique destinations like Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace and Broad Street Oyster Co in Malibu was also a blast, but we loved cooking simple meals in the van’s kitchen too. Take note of your van’s height clearance and use caution when entering trailhead parking or parking garages, as the vehicle may not fit properly.

Pasta is an easy cooking option, but we also liked pre-making the sauce for this spicy Peanut Butter Ramen for an easy meal on our first camping night. This recipe required few fresh ingredients but tasted far superior to our usual camping eats.

After a night or two on the road, camping, cooking, and driving will feel intuitive. Staying in a rental van allowed us to avoid the windstorms and cold weather that came through during our trip, but it’s also ideal for avoiding scorching summer heat thanks to the built-in AC. No matter where you explore, you may quickly find it sure beats sleeping in a tent.


About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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