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 (or bus), 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.”
Scroll 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.
A Brief History of the VW Camper Van
In the begining, Volkswagen originally had two models—the appropriately named Type 1 and Type 2. The first, Type 1, is what we commonly and fondly call the Beetle. Type 2 is the microbus so popular with hippies from the 60s and campers of today (as shown in this very article lead image). Two models of the type two—the Combi, short for “combined-use vehicle", and Splittie, named for its split windshield—went into production on March 8, 1950.
Before long, many VW van owners and outdoor enthusiasts started converting their Type 2’s into camper vans. Soon after bringing the first Type 2 vans to market, VW joined forces with a company called Westfalia to produce camper van conversion kits, originally called the Camping Box. These camper van conversion kits essentially turned a VW van into a tiny home on wheels.
The first VW Westfalia campers made it to U.S. shores in 1956 and remained popular until production of the VW camper van was halted on December 31, 2013. Though with the recent resurgence in popularity, it's no surprise rumor has it that VW is working on an electric version due to make its appearance in late 2022.
Where to Find VW Camper Van Rentals
Below, duh! Jokes aside, there are numerous VW camper van rental companies around North America and beyond. Some are private companies, while others are booking sites similar to accommodation booking sites that represent various companies. You can also find some sites that only rent out VW camper vans.
Smaller, independent companies will likely require you to collect and return the camper in the area where they are based—perfect for those excitedly typying “camper van rental near me" into google. Larger companies might have multiple depots throughout a region or around the country. This is great if you don’t plan on starting and ending your journey in the same place.
Vintage vehicle rental is a niche market with a limited number of vehicles available. While you could come across a great deal for a spontaneous road trip or camping trip, you will need to book a VW camper far ahead of time if you plan on going on an adventure during busier times. If you are specifically looking for a vintage VW camper, try searching: “vintage VW camper van rental” or “VW camper van vintage.” wink wink
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.
Now that you've browsed the listings and decided what you like and don't like, we'll dig into a few more broad but important questions on the mind of many looking for a VW camper van in the USA or abroad.
Are VW camper vans worth the money?
Good question. And a tough one to answer, as "worth" is entirely subjective when it comes to dealing with older vehicles. Doing a road trip or camping trip in a VW camper van is all about the journey, the adventure, really. Because there are a limited number of VW camper vans available for rent, a well-maintained van could cost the same (if not slightly more) than a hotel room. Still, renting a camper van gives you the freedom and flexibility to make your home for the night wherever you find yourself on the road.
Keep in mind that, due to age and the boxy shape of classic VW camper vans, they have a lower gas mileage than more modern vehicles. Most VW busses’ gas mileage is around 15 to 20 miles per gallon. This will need to be calculated into your daily budget.
Because most VW camper vans sleep four people (snuggly), there are more people to split the cost–and make memories in these unique and popular vans.
The difference between a camper van and a motor home
Both camper vans and motor homes are classified as RV’s (recreational vehicles—bet you didn't realize that's what RV stood for). This term refers to a motorized vehicle that is used for camping, and other general exploration.
Camper vans are generally smaller than motor homes. This could mean that you need to crouch down when moving around inside. However, some campers have been modified with roofs that pop up to provide more height and extra headroom while you are parked.
One of the significant differences between a camper van and a motor home is the absence of shower and toilet facilities in a Volkswagen camper van.
Because they are smaller, camper vans may feel a bit cramped, especially if you are a group of adults traveling together. But they can often go where RV's can't. Camper vans can sleep between two and four people on one or two double beds, while motor homes can accommodate a combination of single and double beds for between two and six persons, or more. Keep in mind that even the best VW camper vans will have less space than the smallest motorhomes. That means your sleeping space will double as a kitchen and lounge area. Still, some have roof racks or pop tops where you can store some of your gear or sleep at night.
Motor homes usually have a long wheelbase. While this gives you more room, it also means you are likely to pay higher toll fees and ferry charges, not to mention find a worse turning radius and off-road terrain more difficult to traverse.
Can you rent a VW bus?
Yes, c'mon. Scroll back above! But fr, you don’t need to buy this iconic camper van to go on an adventure in one. Instead, you can rent a VW bus and take to the road. Since Volkswagen vans are no longer produced, there is a limited amount available for rent. Still, numerous companies across the U.S. rent out VW camper vans for outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers to take on the road.
Many VW campervans (especially those produced before 1973) have manual transmissions (aka stick shift), and rental companies may require the driver to have experience driving this type of vehicle.
These Volkswagen vans are considered to be vintage vehicles that require considerable amounts of maintenance (not to mention the initial restoration). For this reason, many rental companies have strict limits on the number of miles that you can drive each day. In some cases, the rental company may also set a limit on continuous drive time.
Volkswagen campervan rental companies will likely require you to have full cover on your current car insurance. They may also request a security deposit and place a hold on your credit card to cover any damages that may occur to this iconic camper van.
How much does it cost to rent a Volkswagen camper?
Renting a VW camper could cost anywhere between $130 and $350 per night. Many van rental companies have a minimum rental period – usually 3 nights. Some companies offer discounted rates for longer rentals. You may also find that rates change according to season, similar to hotel rates.
Some camper van rental companies may charge an additional relocation fee if you drop the van off at a different depot from where you collected it. Planning your route to collect and drop off your rented Volkswagen camper van at the same depot can save you from paying a relocation fee.
Similarly, there may be extra fees involved if you collect or return your rented van on a Sunday. You may also need to pay a cleaning fee, so check the fine print carefully before booking your VW campervan.
You may need to pay for insurance or risk a high excess in the event of an accident. This may be covered under your current insurance, so be sure to check before you head out.
Remember that you will need to pay local and state taxes on your Volkswagen campervan hire. This will be calculated upon checkout (or where you enter your payment details if you are renting a van online).