When many think of a “camper van” they typically imagine a tricked out Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit van with all the bells and whistles, plus space for all of that weekend gear—and likely a very Good Dog, too.
But there’s a quirkier, more simple side to living the road life, and it’s been “a thing” loooong before #vanlife ever became one. We’re talking about the veritable Volkswagen van, of course. No matter the format—bus, Westfalia, or Vanagon—there’s a dedicated community of enthusiasts, and rental services, keeping the tradition alive since the 1940s.
Today, there are no shortage of VW camper van rental companies in every corner of the US offering a perfectly modest, low-speed approach to van camping for those not quite ready for the reality of full time #vanlife. As one of our featured van’s owners, Duke Geren, puts it: “These vehicles were never meant to go fast. If you’re doing 400, 500, 600 miles a day, you’re missing the point.”
Read on for our top picks of VW camper vans to rent near you. And yes, they are all named. So read on and don't forget Duke's wise words.
Model: 1986 Westfalia Synchro
Company: Trickster Trips (Anchorage)
Named for Polychrome Pass inside Denali National Park, Poly has a self-described “beefy” heater, which stands up to the frigid mettle of the 49th state. She’s equipped with 4WD and has a long history of cruising Alaska through prior ownership and rental use. Where will you take her next?
Model: 1985 Westfalia Weekender
Company: Black Forest Westfalias (Seattle)
Some owners have built more utility and off-road capability into their vans. “It's really quite amazing where these 2WDs can go with a few upgrades,” says Mike Kane, owner of Black Forest Westfalias. Wolf was purchased in 2015 from a painter and went through a complete overhaul—lift and rebuild with an awning and full cooking setup included. This is the van that gets into those nooks and crannies Sprinter vans can only dream about.
Model: 1989 Vanagon
Company: Go Camp Camper Vans (Portland & Beyond)
Go Camp is a relatively new company, taking on a more regional approach to the “Airbnb” shared rental model. For example, Maupin is actually owned by enthusiast Duke Geren (see above) and is rented to adventurers in the Portland area for short periods. In his van, he added a variety of creature comforts including interior LED lighting and Bluetooth audio capabilities. As their site says, the van came from the airline industry, so it’s built to serve.
Model: 1990 Wesfalia
Company: Outwesty (Tahoe City)
This simple van arrived at Outwesty with 270,000 miles on the clock and faded paint. The company completely stripped it, installed a new engine, transmission, cooling system, and an array of other mechanical components before wrapping adding a fresh coat of silver. She’s known for having “a lot of soul” and Outwesty is proud of the retrofitting they’ve done, saying that “perhaps this is how Westfalia should have done it from the beginning.” We can't argue with that.
Model: 1966 Bus T1 “Splittie”
Company: Retro VWs (Hurricane)
Early-era VW buses have enjoyed a major rise in value over the last few years, which makes it all the more amazing that this WWII fighter plane inspired, lifted, split-window (hence the nickname) van is available for daily rental. VW only made the split-window van from 1950-67 and they become harder to find each year. If the military paint is a little too loud for your taste, they have more traditional options in orange and green, too.
Model: 1991 Westfalia
Company: VanGo Rental(St. Paul)
Cruisin’ Rex has a history of helping others. She was once rented by a vet and her 14-year-old shepherd dog. The vet made an extra effort to build a proper ramp to help her dog into and out of the van for a final trip north, so it's dog friendly. Though with only a bare basic buildout, this van is meant more for minimalist car campers than those wanting a rig to be the star of the show. Aka look elsewhere for that perfect sparkle light, "I woke up here" photo opp.
Model: 1990 Westfalia
Company: Vintage Van Adventures(Brunswick)
Currently on a nine-week adventure through Maine with an artist/journalist, this automatic (read: rare) van has Floridian roots, but its heart is in the Pine Tree State. The rental company’s owner bought it from a local VW “guru” who rebuilds and sends engines for these beasts all over the world. The Westfalia has around 180,000 miles in total and a recently updated interior with a two-burner stove, 10-gallon sink, and two 6’ x 4’ beds. New England Van Life at its purist.
Model: 1972 to 1985 Westfalia & Vanagon
If you’re in the Boston area, you’ve got a few different options, all within driving distance. For the traditional set, go for a 1980 Vanagon with sweet modern walnut cabinetry and 2WD badging on the side. Want something a little different? There’s a 1979 Westfalia with a … “floral” print … and a sink installed behind the driver’s seat. This one is all custom and the ingenuity is almost worth the price of admission itself.
Model: 1978 Westfalia
Company: Florida Oldscool Campers (Tampa/St. Petersburg)
VW rentals are hard to find in the Southeastern US, which makes this company’s lineup—which includes the very lovely Jasmine, above—all the more special. This late 70s edition originally came from Asheville, NC and sports a loud green & yellow plaid interior that's perfectly matched by the “hum” of the engine, which runs “a little louder than other buses,” according to the company. There are likely few better ways to cruise down Highway 1 through the Keys.
Model: 1971 Van
Company: Hawaii Surf Campers (O’ahu)
This bright van had a long life as a haole before being brought to O’ahu by Hawaii Surf Campers (HSC) in January. Once on the island, the company (which has a separate conversion business for those already with a van) cleaned up the interior, lightened up the exterior green paint, and made several other adjustments that are pretty standard when getting an early '70s Bus seaworthy—err roadworthy—again. The van has relatively low wear given Hawaii’s recent travel restrictions and HSC hopes to get her back on the road soon. Start planning for 2021 now!