What It’s Like Traveling in a Campervan – Review of Escape Campervans

Escape Campervan Review traveling in a campervan

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If you enjoy camping, I’m sure you’ve seen the #Vanlife campers out there. And even if you’re not a big camping fan, maybe van life appeals to you for the ease of travel, cost, and access to a multitude of destinations. This year we took our first campervan trip by renting a fully equipped van through Escape Campervans. This was a graduation gift trip for my son. The following is both a review and our guide to traveling in a campervan and van life, especially since we are not a van life family.

What is Campervan Travel?

At its core, campervan travel is camping in a van. But we’re not talking mom’s minivan here. Usually, those who choose to camp in a van are in anything from a smaller van like a Ford Econoline to the bigger Mercedes Sprinter vans. Occasionally, you may see your standard minivan out there, but we’re going to talk solely about what Escape Campervans has in their fleet.

Escape offers everything from tricked-out jeeps, to the fuller larger vans with a roof pop up We chose their Mavericks van without the rooftop sleeper.

For our camping trip, our van had a place to sleep, dine, and cook. While many who live the van life on Instagram have converted their own vans to have bathroom facilities ours did not. I’ll review why this wasn’t a problem.

Ultimately campervan travel is a mix of tent camping and RV living. Traveling in a campervan was easier in some respects, and provided more conveniences in some ways and more hindrances than others. We decided that the conveniences far outweighed any difficulties we had. (truly, they were minor and no vacation is perfect.

The other benefit of traveling in a campervan is the road trip aspect. If you’ve driven a van or SUV, you can easily pop behind the wheel of a campervan. That’s one of the major conveniences we found. We easily drove through the mountains and into the National Parks, whereas a larger RV would have probably made me more nervous on those seemingly treacherous highways. Plus, the National Parks do have size limits when it comes to camping; go big and go home.

Why Escape Campervans?

We went with Escape Campervans for a few reasons, aside from cost.

Because they are a company, and not a peer-to-peer like Outdoorsy or RVShare, they offer roadside assistance 24 hours a day. If I were doing a shorter trip, or a week-long stay in one area and not covering a good portion of California, a peer-to-peer might have been fine. I felt safer knowing I had the company at my disposal. There are other rental companies out there too, but the reviews won me over.

Escape Campervans has been around doing van rentals in the United States since 2009, and now has 13 locations and over 600 vans in their fleet.

By traveling in a smaller van, we had more access to areas that a larger RV may not have. Plus, having driven this van as well as a class C RV, it was easier to drive.

Escape Campervans also offer extras to pick up at the time of your rental, making getting on the road that much faster. Depending on if you’re flying in, these little extras made a world of difference. We added a bedding kit, a kitchen kit, and camp chairs. I only regret not adding the folding table as it would have given me more cooking space. Other items in their extras I packed on my own (and some of those I didn’t even use.) You could get by with a sleeping bag, but that was one more thing I was not going to pack!

Finally, the Escape Campervans are fun to look at. Each van is handpainted in an original artistic design. It’s like driving with your very own personal mural. Not only did it make it easier to spot our van, but it also made for great pictures, as well as finding other Escape Campervans on the road. Unfortunately, you can not request a specific design. The logistics of that are too complex and honestly, unnecessary for the company to manage. There were other designs we would have enjoyed, but our Galactic theme was still out of this world!

What is the cost?

Let’s get this out in the open. How much does it cost to rent a campervan? And how does it compare to other forms of travel?

Obviously, these answers are all it depends. It depends on what size you rent, whether you do free camping or not (more on that below), how far you drive, and the cost of gas.

Our camper van trip included 11 days in California with the goal of seeing as many of the California National Parks as we could. We started in San Francisco and traveled to the Redwoods, Lassen Volcanic, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. We exceeded our daily mileage allowance. With Escape Campervans they allow 100 miles a day. Technically they charge you $30 a day, but it was included up front in our reservation. After that, it is 30 cents a mile. For us, that tacked on about $100 at the end of our trip. But we went far!

Here’s my breakdown:

  • Rental for 11 Days – $1871
  • Gas in California Summer 2022 – $554
  • Groceries – $289
  • Campgrounds – 393
  • Total – $3107

Consider the same renting a car and staying in a hotel room and eating nearly every meal out. When planning this trip, a rental car was only $300 less than the cost of the Escape Campervans rental. Hotels would have easily exceeded the campground costs, as would dining out. To see what we did, this was the best way to see much of California. This might seem like a lot of money, but it was less than $150 per person per day for this trip.

Traveling in a campervan with children

if you want to bring your family along and travel in a campervan, this is a lot of fun and easily doable with small children. For a family with teenagers, still can be done, but I would recommend the larger van with the pop-up, or adding the rooftop sleeper. Alternatively, you could travel by day in the van, and bring a small tent in order to have more sleeping space.

However, I found that the sleeping area was more than adequate for me and my adult son. We had also met a couple on the road who traveled in a campervan with their baby and found it much more comfortable than tent camping would be. Plus, with a child in diapers, you’re not worrying so much about bathroom facilities as you would be with toddlers and small children.

How much storage space is in the van?

I think these vans are quite cleverly designed with lots of space to store our stuff.

First, up front near the driver’s seat, you’ll find pockets in the doors and a large amount of “shelf” space in the center console. We stashed our phones, wallets, sunglasses, maps, and souvenirs with ease. In between our seats we had the full floor where we kept a bag of snacks, jackets, hats, and gloves. Even on the dash, we had room to set my portable solar-powered charger to recharge during the drives. (which I highly recommend.

In the center section, it is a bench and table by day and a bed by night. Under one side of the bench, that ran behind the front seats, is storage to fit the extra cushion of the bench. We just piled the cushions together since it was just the two of us, and used the storage area for our clothes. We could have easily packed more in there but found we didn’t need to.

Behind the opposite bench or the foot of the bed when made, was more storage. We stashed extra food and drinks there, as well as the luggage we weren’t using. On top of that were our bigger suitcase, extra water gallons, and our hiking day packs.

Finally, we had the back of the van that opened into the camp kitchen area.

Food Storage and Cooking in a Campervan

The benefit of traveling in a campervan such as the ones designed by Escape Campervans is the camp kitchen area. The back of the van opens with double wide doors to reveal shelves, a camp stove, a cooler drawer, and even a kitchen sink.

We filled the shelves with the food we purchased during a grocery pickup at Walmart. In fact, I probably over-purchased for our first pickup, as we only had to grab items at the grocery store here and there over the next 11 days. Regardless, we had shelves to place our dry goods, both above the camp stove and above the cooler drawer.

The cooler drawer was perhaps my favorite thing about our campervan. Consider it like a small mini fridge. It had a temperature control and re-charged any time we were driving. Our instructions were if we were parked for any length of time, to turn on the van once a day to charge up the fridge via the solar panels. Since we stayed in each area only a night or two, and then drove into the parks, this was never an issue.

The nice thing about the Escape Campervans is how much water they hold. You have a 5-gallon tank that the kitchen sink activates through a small pump system. We added water to it a couple of times but that combined with our drinking water we purchased, it was plenty to get us through the week and a half.

Because we had a full kitchen, traveling in a campervan ultimately saved us money. Plus, every meal was a cooked meal. We did more than just sandwiches because we had the propane stove available to us.

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to order your food ahead of time for pickup at a Walmart. This saved us a ton of time and got us on the road faster. If you’re an Instacart shopper, you can do the same for pick-up as well. Super Walmarts will have the propane tanks you need for the camp stove, at a cheaper price than what they sell at the Escape Campervan store. Ace Hardware stores have them too.

Sleeping in a Campervan

My biggest concern was how much room we would have to sleep. Turns out, it was a decent amount. It was nice after our long drives to simply roll into the campground and fold down the bench table into a sleeping space. There were days we didn’t even make the bed if we knew we didn’t need the table area.

After long days of hiking and exploring, I never had a problem falling asleep. it was comfortable enough and definitely better than sleeping on an air mattress on the ground.

Depending on the time of year would make a difference in your comfort. We did travel Northern California, and even though it was the summer months, we were in areas that was not unbearably hot. There are options to buy a portable air conditioner or portable heater for the winter months.

Pro tip: Fighting with the fitted sheet is difficult even in the best of situations. My son would tell you it was no big deal to put the fitted sheet on, but I wanted to get the bed made faster. I tucked the flat sheet/duvet cover around the bed and skipped the fitted sheet all together.

Campervans in the National Parks

If you’re traveling in a campervan in the National Parks, you will not have any travel restrictions on the length of the vehicle like you might if you were in an RV. If you weren’t aware, driving into the National Parks or camping there, may have size restrictions. It’s more challenging to drive a large oversize class A RV. Yes, RV travel is more comfortable, but for us, we were plenty comfortable with our set up and our goal was to explore as many National Parks in California that we could.

Escape Campervans will tell you to stick to the main roads and not go off-roading, as it voids your warranty. They also stated you are not covered if you travel to Death Valley in the summer. It’s just too hot.

Where to Stay in a Campervan?

Basically, you can stay anywhere when traveling in a campervan. While there are free options for campers out there, (see below), we chose a variety of campgrounds for our overnight stays in California.

When I was making our reservations, I wanted a couple of things. One, at the end of the day, I wanted to get somewhere I felt safe sleeping. It’s not that free camping isn’t safe. I also needed a place that had a guaranteed spot. I was concerned with the idea of dispersed camping being full and then we’d be out of luck.

Two, since we didn’t have bathroom facilities, I wanted easy access to a bathhouse of some sort. I picked spots in the campground that were a quick 1-2 minute walk from our site.

Three, a hot shower from time to time. While we were camping, we knew we wouldn’t shower daily. I tried to pick a few places that had shower facilities in addition to laundry. We did laundry twice on the road and it was a great way to keep our packing to a minimum.

Our campgrounds ranged from the following:

  • National Forests – primitive with vault toilets (think fancy port-a-potties)
  • California State Parks – a variety of types of sites and bathrooms. All were super clean and gorgeous!
  • National Parks – again, amenities vary. Manzanitas Campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park had the basics
  • Private Campgrounds- it varies, but the one we stayed at just outside Yosemite had plenty of showers and sinks to wash dishes
  • Resort-style campgrounds – honestly, for what we paid, was just not worth it. We weren’t there for the amenities and our site was not clean, not well marked, or well lit.

Visit Recreation.gov to find National Parks and National Forest campgrounds. Visit the state park website of whatever state you’re visiting. Every park we stayed in the California State Parks area was pristine. Or check out Campspot to make reservations directly at campgrounds across the US.

How to Camp for free in a Campervan (and should you?)

You can camp for free. I’m not an expert in this, but I did a lot of research into it before we left. You can camp in a Walmart parking lot, on the side of the road, or on the Bureau of Land Management areas. We did see a lot of happy campers camping alongside the road just outside of Yosemite, including those in campervans.

BLM lands offer dispersed camping for free. Dispersed means there are no facilities. This was another reason why we opted not to attempt this, even for overnight camping. I don’t mind peeing in the woods if I have to, but I don’t want to make a habit of it!

I’d recommend checking out The Dyrt as another way to find dispersed, free, or cheap campsites.

Final Review

Overall, I would hands down choose escape Campervans again. The kitchen alone sold me for the benefits and fun of traveling in a campervan. Plus, I loved that we never needed to “unpack” and set up a tent as an alternative to traveling cheaply. For our first time traveling in a campervan, we were happy with the entire process.

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