When my uncle got sick a few years back, my dad and aunt took a road trip to southern Oregon to pick up something their brother had always dreamed of: a turquoise VW van, complete with a Merry Pranksters sticker on the dash. The van wasn’t cheap, efficient, or reliable, but it did have style. Something about those old rigs sparks a feeling of freedom, wanderlust, and nostalgia for a time when surf breaks weren’t so crowded, outdoor adventures weren’t meticulously documented for Instagram, and Gore-Tex was a brand new technology.
We’ve talked about the benefits of renting your adventure vehicle before–here are a bunch of great companies to explore–but a shiny new sprinter lacks that special something—character, mostly—that launched thousands of lives on the road throughout the latter half of the 20th century. So we’ve rounded up the best retro van rental services in the states, to keep the aesthetically-minded traveler’s dream alive.
This hip company based out of Costa Mesa exclusively rents out vintage VW vans. Family-owned Vintage Surfari Wagons has a fleet of 20 lovingly restored vans, fully equipped for all your adventure needs. Owners Bill and Diane Staggs promise your journey will be more whimsical and radical from inside the turquoise or burnt orange walls of one of the most iconic adventure vehicles in history. Perfect for the aesthetically conscious California road tripper, Vintage Surfari Wagons will get you up and down the 101 in perfect style.
Starting at $129/day
Vacations in a Can doesn’t provide the engine (which, let’s be real, isn’t necessarily better “vintage”), just the digs. Fortunately, their diminutive trailers can be pulled by just about any car–no need for a big truck. Renting and selling custom teardrop trailers out of Penngrove, California (40 miles north of San Francisco), Joe Kosareff, co-owner with his wife Leslie, builds the trailers himself–he’s a master craftsman with 35 years of experience–and the duo is full of advice, from where to camp in California to how to care for and best enjoy your own teardrop trailer.
Starting at $130/2 nights
Happier Camper rents and sells super-light fiberglass campers out of Los Angeles. Towable by most any car (the trailers are all under 1,200 lbs), the colorful, carefully restored fleet of cute campers are perfect for road trips. There are a handful of manufacturers behind these so-called “glass eggs,” but Happier Camper favors Boler, a Canadian manufacturer that started making them in the late 60s as an alternative to the popular Airstream.
Starting at $125/night
Speaking of Airstreams, this company founded by former CEO of Airstream is an awesome option for those who might want a little help deciding where best to take their Silver Bullet. They partner with Off the Beaten Path, a travel planning company, to offer combo rentals and vacation itineraries. That’s not to say you can’t strike out on your own, though. Each rental includes a pre-equipped tow vehicle, and can be picked up in Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
Starting at $2,400/3 nights
A family business started by vintage restoration-fanatics Steve and Shelley Austin, Retro Rentals is one of few retro rental companies based outside of California. Pick up one of their stylized, unique trailers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and explore the wonderful wild lands of the Midwest.
Based out of Western Montana, Dragonfly Vans offers fully outfitted VW Westfalias. Founded by VW enthusiast Scott Quinett, the company benefits from Quinett’s lifetime of experience–27 years–driving Vanagons. Originally, Quinett rented his vans out of the Pacific Northwest, but he moved his business to Missoula to share what he calls a “no-miss positive experience” with Montanans and tourists alike.
From $775/3 nights
Did we miss someone? Let us know in the comments.
Top photo from Happier Camper
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