The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us switch our travel focus from big overseas trips to dreams of rolling a hired caravan, campervan, motorhome or similar to the edge of a beach and staying put for a week or two.
But how you hire that home-on-wheels has changed in recent years. The commercial companies holiday-makers would traditionally turn to are now competing with peer-to-peer services – where people hire campervans, motorhomes and caravans directly from the owners. It's a trend, unsurprisingly, that's been dubbed 'Airbnb on wheels'.
And given that one in five van owners use their van for fewer than seven nights of the year, it's no wonder peer-to-peer services are booming right now.
Hiring that dormant van directly from its owner gives the owner a bit of income – and hirersthe chance of a cheaper campervan holiday than they otherwise might get from a traditional hire company.
But there are potholes along the road to avoid. In this guide, we steer you through what to expect from peer-to-peer hiring websites, costs you'll pay, how these sites stack up against traditional hire companies, and everything else you need to know.
You can now hire campervans, motorhomes and caravans directly from the owners.
All the websites work in a similar way. You enter your holiday dates, pick-up and drop-off locations, the number of berths you want, and search for a vehicle that meets your needs.
You can also narrow your search to find the vehicles that have specific facilities and features you need, such as a shower and toilet, or the scope for bringing a pet. From there, you can browse the listings, which usually have photos, a description, a full list of the amenities and any other restrictions on booking (such as a minimum hire period, how many kilometres a day the owner allows, or whether you can take the vehicle off-road).
Some websites let you contact the owner to ask questions before booking or request a reservation to open up a conversation. The owner can accept or decline your booking, and to secure it you'll need to make a down payment (usually the balance is due several weeks before you arrive to pick up your vehicle).
A commercial hire company such as Apollo, Maui or Britz typically has a fleet of vehicles in different sizes and models. They upgrade them regularly and make sure the vans are always of a certain standard: in other words, you know what you're going to get.
Although there'll always be a market for those who prefer the commercial option, some people are turning away from large corporations. Instead, they want nostalgia, a budget experience, or a #vanlife holiday that'll look good on social media, such as Instagram.
Hiring a stranger's vehicle is a bit more of an adventure… your dream home-on-wheels may be parked just around the corner from you!
That's where peer-to-peer websites come in. Hiring a stranger's vehicle is a bit more of an adventure. You might stumble across anything from a lovingly restored vintage caravan to a near-new motorhome. Better yet, your dream home-on-wheels may be parked just around the corner from you!
There are other pros and cons too:
Security deposits can be as much as $10,000.
There may be fees beyond the rental costs. Here's what you can expect, bearing in mind that fees can vary between websites.
Charged by the website and often non-refundable.
These can range between $40 and $300 a night, depending on the age, size and condition of the vehicle you're hiring. Owners set their own prices.
A bond or security deposit will usually be taken or 'frozen' on your credit card a couple of days before the hire period starts (as with a hotel or hire car company). This cost can be high – up to $10,000 in some cases – but you may be able to lower it by choosing a more expensive insurance policy or accident excess package.
At the end of your booking, the full amount should be refunded if there are no issues or claims. But if there is damage that needs to be repaired and paid for out of your bond, ask for an itemised bill for the costs. If there's anything you're not sure about, don't hesitate to challenge it.
Some websites let you buy insurance through them with a third party. Others ask you to buy your own to cover you for cancellation or any other eventuality. You usually pay a certain amount a day on top of the hire costs. The more you pay, the less excess you pay if you need to make a claim.
Some websites bundle fees into the hire costs (such as fees for booking, cleaning or service), whereas others itemise them separately. You may also have to pay extra mileage fees, late fees (if you don't bring the van back on time), cancellation fees, credit card fees and more.
Not necessarily, which may surprise some. As with any hire service, it really depends on what type of vehicle you're after, how long you want it for and whether it's peak or low season.
We recommend cross-checking prices with a range of other websites and hire companies, traditional or otherwise, taking into consideration any security deposits.
No one wants to approach a holiday with worst-case scenarios in mind, but as with any kind of vehicle hire, things can go wrong. What happens if your campervan conks out midway to your destination, or you need to get some damage repaired?
Some hire companies bundle roadside assistance into the cost of the booking (or the owner may pay for it). It's worth checking if your booking has it, what it includes, and whether there'll be extra fees if they have to come to where you are and arrange a tow.
It's also worth checking what liability insurance is on offer… Make sure you read the fine print for any buried catches and exclusions
It's also worth checking what liability insurance is on offer, if any, and what it does and doesn't include. Make sure you read the fine print thoroughly for any buried catches and exclusions.
If you need to get any damage to the campervan repaired during your holiday, check what the process is. If you're told to arrange repairs yourself, make sure you get an itemised receipt and challenge any dubious items that seem unrelated to the damage.
In the event of a breakdown and your vehicle being off the road in the middle of your holiday, ask how the company would handle this. Who, if anyone, would cover your accommodation costs? It's important to know all this before you book
The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us turn away from big overseas trips to homegrown adventures. That's where hired campervans come in.
Here's some advice for a smoother hire process.
Read the terms and conditions closely and check out reviews about the website or company on dedicated feedback sites such as Trustpilot, just to find out how incidents and disputes were handled in the past. Make sure you read your contract thoroughly so you know what you're liable for if things go wrong. Look up your rights under the Australian Consumer Law when it comes to hiring vehicles.
Peer-to-peer websites require you and the vehicle owner to complete some kind of departure form, handover report or pre-hire checklistat pick-up. Take time-stamped photos of the entire van inside and out, and photograph every page of the report for your records. It'll cover you in case there's a claim, bogus or otherwise!
A good van owner should take you through how everything works, let you know of any niggles or nuances in some of the functions, and give you tips or even a quick driving lesson, so you're all set by the time you hit the road.
Check the company's T&Cs but in most cases, you'll need to hold a full valid drivers license that isn't subject to any restrictions or conditions. Also consider other issues such as not being able to drive a manual vehicle if your licence is automatic only.
And be aware you'll be adjusting your driving style – a campervan is longer, heavier and higher to drive than a car. You'll find it's slower to accelerate and to stop and parking can also be a challenge.
We look at the different features and costs of some of the main services in Australia.
Note: This is a general guide only – make sure you read the full contract and terms and conditions before hiring.
One of the best-known websites in the market, Camplify has thousands of listings. You can search for everything from budget hires to pet-friendly ones.
ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, WA
6161 registered vehicles across Australia, NZ, Spain and the UK.
$40-300 a night.
Caravan, motorhome, camper trailer, campervan, expander, 4WD campers.
Camplify holds a bond/security deposit on the hirer's credit card. The amount depends on the van chosen and the liability held by the hirer.
Hirers are covered for damage at no extra cost but you can add an Accident Excess Reduction Package (Silver or Gold). Excess ranges from $500 to $5500 per incident, depending on the booking/vehicle type etc and the package chosen
Service fee varies, but is generally $30-100 per hire. Hirers are also charged a 15% booking fee on all bookings through Camplify. This includes 24/7 phone support, nationwide Roadside Assistance and a Payment Protection Guarantee.
Flexible (Change of mind policy)
Strict (Change of mind policy)
In the event of an extenuating circumstance being declared by Camplify, which may or may not include any relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, hirers will receive:
Operates in a similar way to Camplify, with a website that's easy to navigate and lays out the information, fees and terms clearly.
NSW, SA, QLD, VIC, WA, TAS.
1600 across Australia.
Owners decide their own prices.
Campervan, caravan, motorhomes.
$1500 for campervans and motorhomes, and $1000 for caravans and camper trailers.
Generally range from $1000 to $2700 per event for a motorhome, campervan or caravan. You can take out an optional excess reduction policy with Camptoo's partner RentalCover.
Cleaning fees, booking costs and flexible booking costs are bundled into the hire costs.
Depends on the owner – so check the information on the advertisement and booking overview. CampToo recommends hirers take out separate travel insurance that covers them in case of cancellation.
If COVID stops you honouring the booking – because you or someone in your party has got COVID (you'll need medical evidence), or because you or a location is put under a stay at home order – you may be entitled to a full refund (excluding booking fee) or credit. T&Cs apply.
This website features vans in Australia and NZ, and offers clear information on liability reduction, COVID policies and hiring for a one-way trip (if that's what you're after).
NSW, NT, SA, QLD, VIC, WA, TAS,
150 across Australia.
Owners decide their own prices.
Caravan, motorhome, camper trailer, campervan, expander.
Varies according to the value of the vehicle and whether or not you take out basic or premium liability reduction. If you do, you pay a 'small' security deposit ranging from $500 to $5000. Without it, you pay a 'large deposit' ranging from $2500 to $10,000.
$500 per incident (with liability reduction).
Late return charges, excess kilometre charges, processing fee, cleaning fees, soiling fees, cancellation fees. Booking fee is also non-refundable.
Strict cancellation policy
If COVID stops you honouring the booking, you may be able to cancel it or change the dates free of charge. T&Cs apply.We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE
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