There's something truly romantic about the idea of the great American road trip. The open road, the wind in your hair, the roadside diners still waiting to be discovered—it's something just about everyone wants to do at least once. But what's not so romantic are the crappy (and expensive) motels, leaky tents, or the incredible amount of planning you've gotta do to make it worthwhile.
Enter: the campervan. Escape Campervans, to be precise. These gems of the highway offer an experience that lands somewhere in between camping and traveling in a traditional RV, and look anything but ordinary. It's essentially a standard full-size van where the cab remains more or less untouched. But in the back it's a different story. There you'll find a host of custom modifications that include a convertible table, a kitchenette with fridge and 5-gallon sink, and seats that transform into a queen-size bed.
Personally, the first time I ever even heard of a campervan was while planning my own road trip around the Ring Road in Iceland. It ended up not being quite the right choice for me, but I started to wonder... why wasn't there anything like that in America?
Rob Mewton of Escape Campervans
Turns out someone else was wondering the same thing all the way back in 2009: Rob Mewton of Escape Campervans. The Kiwi transplant was familiar with campervans thanks to the company's presence in his native New Zealand, but as he drove up the California coast, he realized, "there were no campervans in America and I couldn't figure out why!"
Growing up in New Zealand, Rob was an avid surfer in search of an easy way to chase the best waves. He "started out by sleeping on a board bag and then a tent and then in the back of a station wagon with a mattress and then finally graduated to a van with a mattress bed setup and a cooler and a little camp stove and that's where the idea [for campervans] started", he explains.
Because there was no tent to set up or breakdown and plenty of storage for everything you'd need, hopping from one great surf spot to the next was as easy as climbing in and driving away. That's the ease that Escape Campervans fleet strives to maintain. In Rob's words, "We give you everything you need and nothing you don't."
This might seem like a no-brainer at first. After all, isn't an RV just a fancier, nicer campervan? Not quite.
"For me, 100% it's just that a campervan is far less stressful than an RV," says Rob, "When you drive in downtown San Francisco, you can park right on the street." Try doing that with an RV! He also points out that with RVs you have to worry a lot about low-hanging branches, bridge and parking garage restrictions, and you have limited campsites you can use. None of this is true for a campervan.
Campervans can park just as easily in a standard campsite as they can in one designed for RVs and their more compact size means driving one is probably a good deal simpler than getting used to the enormous heft of an RV.
The other thing Rob points out? Campervans keep you closer to nature than an RV. There's no room for a TV, there's no shower, and while you can eat inside, you'll have more room picnicking outdoors. Basically, it all goes back to getting "everything you need, and nothing you don't." Because the biggest perk of every campervan rental shouldn't be the bells and whistles; it should be the freedom to roam wherever the road takes you.
When you rent a campervan from Escape Campervans, it's pretty obvious they're not your standard rental company. I mean, how many rental cars have crazy custom paint jobs featuring everything from the scenery of Sedona's red rocks to enormous, hungry fish painted on the sides? When I asked Rob why this was a standard feature of their rentals, he said as part of the company, he knows just how cool campervans are and what great experiences you can have in them, "but when you look at the outside and it's just a white van, it's really boring!"
So the Escape Campervans team turned to local artists to make every single van unique. Now, not only do they all feature beautiful artwork, they have names, too. "I probably have about 100 favorites! They're all hand painted, all original artwork," says Rob. It helps people connect with each other on their road trips, and it even helps them bond with their ride. "We've had renters tattoo [the vans] on their bodies! Nobody's doing that with their Hertz rental car," he adds, and it's pretty hard to argue with him there.
But their unique approach to the biz is more than paint-job deep. Customers get an "escape plan" with their rental, too, which is an incredible collection of tips and suggestions from the staff that extends far beyond just how to plug your iPhone into the van's speakers. Instead, it will help you figure out what to do if your campsite is full, point out hot springs along your route, tell you the prettiest lookout points, and more. "We try not to be a rental car company, we try to be a travel company."
And that's Escape Campervans in a nutshell. It's not just a place to rent a vehicle, it's a whole new way to travel that actually understands that getting there is half the fun.
Escape Campervans at a Glance
Number of locations in North America: 12, with plans to expand
Types of Campervans: three, which range in size and amenities and can sleep two to five people
Equipment included: cooking utensils, pots and pans, sheets and pillows, picnic chairs, camp stove, atlas, and more
Coolest add-on: rooftop sleeper, which adds sleeping space for two more people or just extra room
Size of the fleet: 600 campervans, and counting!
Our favorite design: Big Sur, because if you're gonna drive the PCH, you might as well match it!