The Escape Campervans “Mavericks” model is a fantastic solution for any road trip within the United States. We spent over 3 weeks in this fantastic car and had an extremely comfortable, fun to drive solution to our sightseeing adventure. When my Scandinavian girlfriend told me she wanted to go on a month long road trip across the U.S., the words from my mouth were “hell yes!”, but my first thought was, “where do I even start with that?!”
The idea sounded pretty dreamy, and also like something I’ve always wanted to do, but where exactly does one start when planning such a trip? It’s a bit more logistical than say, booking a plane ticket and winging it.
Before you can even plan an itinerary or route, the first step, and arguably the most important one, is to secure a vehicle. Not just any vehicle, but one that is big enough, well maintained and reliable enough.
And I explored quite a few options before finding Escape Campervans.
For a little context, my girlfriend and I met in Panama in 2011 and have been traveling ever since, so I don’t exactly have my own car or place to live in the U.S.
Options started filling my mind, some better than others. I fantasized about buying the lifted adventure van I had always dreamed of – if only for a few weeks – and selling it. But buying and selling a car was way too expensive and tedious and involved for our time frame .
I reached out to Instagram acquaintances who had their own sportsmobiles that I used to ogle over. No dice, stranger.
I reached out to fellow travelers i had met in Central America who had documented their own USA van purchases and ramblings on Facebook. Not willing to share.
I reached out to distant family members who had perfect, expensive setups, who graciously declined.
I reached out to Venice beach bums and asked if I could borrow their home for a few weeks (and take good care of it). Both parties weirded out at that prospect.
All the while I had gutty daydreams about breakdowns, accidents, and being responsible for other people’s property. I’m sure they were all thinking the same thoughts.
It turns out that most people are hesitant at best about lending out their beloved vehicles, especially to someone who is planning on driving it through thousands of miles of desert, mountains, dirt, wind and mud – not to mention living in it. So even if you know a few potential lenders, don’t get your hopes up.
For a time, after crafting many thoughtfully worded messages to a wide array of personalities, I was defeated.
Enter Escape Campervans. Through some online research I learned that they had exactly what I was looking for, with a fleet of nearly 200 vehicles that I could use. This was when our dream started to come true.
They offer pickups and drop offs throughout the US, with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami and New York.
They have two van models to choose from. The “Mavericks” is their larger option, a fully outfitted ford E350. It comes equipped with a kitchen (refrigerator, sink, two burner stove and pantry space), and a convertible middle area – which can either serve as two benches and a table, or fold down into a spacious and comfortable bed. I’d say the bed is probably the equivalent of king size, with blackout curtains all the way around.
Pretty ideal for those who don’t mind sleeping in.
Escape provides the bedding, pillows, kitchen ware, chairs, gas canisters for the stove, and a U.S. SIM card if desired.
Our particular van had an additional rooftop sleeper that popped up (I’m assuming this is where people stash their kids) – which was also nice on warmer nights for a tent camping vibe. At 6 feet tall I was able to stretch out up there (barely).
Here’s a fast forward video about how the innards work:
To be honest we didn’t use the sink much, we preferred the big Arrowhead water jugs with the nozzle on the front – for portability and also because we didn’t have to find a hose to fill the sink with 8 gallons of hose water.
The fridge worked extremely well, to the point where our groceries were actually frozen overnight on the max setting. This fridge is hooked up to a solar panel on the roof and is always running. No complaints there. It’s more spacious than you would think, easily holding our food in addition to a handful of beers at a time.
The gas stove had a bit of a personality, as most camping equipment does, but it got the job done. Pro tip: the metal stove grate is removable as you can also use it to cook over the campfire.
Our particular van, #344 “the Kiwican” actually only had 55,000 miles on the odometer, and was an absolute dream to drive. It’s just luck of the draw I guess. This particular van was custom built for a pro surfer from New Zealand and was only one year old.
Escape doesn’t do specific vehicle reservations, and you choose from what is available in your particular city on the day of your pickup. Luckily I booked on a good day. I was pretty amped on the neon jungle paint job as well, after spending years in Panama – the vehicle felt like it was meant to be.
I’ve driven many types of vans in my past, I took my driving test in a Dodge Ram van and drove a Ford 350 all over the country when I was in bands, so I know a nice cushy van when I drive one. It’s definitely not like renting a U-Haul which feels like a rusty German tank.
Overall the cockpit is no-frills but has what you need. Every vehicle has an auxiliary jack for phones and iPods. The speakers are nothing to write home about, nor would I really expect them to be upgraded over a fleet of 200 vehicles.
After some EQ and L-R Front/Back balancing, we got it to sound pretty decent. This is definitely worth messing with since you’ll be listening to music for dozens of hours in there over the course of your trip.
I’m a big “cord guy” so I was delighted to have two separate car lighter slots for charging stuff. Between two phones, a bunch of camera gear, two computers and a trusty Verizon internet box, we put that car battery to good use on every haul.
One cord that you might love is the car charger to MacBook cable, which has an extra USB port, so you can essentially charge the Internet box and the computer at the same time. I work from the road so this cord was my MVP. Another good one is a 2 USB splitter for the other side. I noticed the MacBook USB port charged considerably faster.
One thing that was sorely missed was some sort of dashboard mount for the iPhone. I am pretty good with driving and navigating but to be honest, the roads are gnarly sometimes, mountainous, windy and fast, and it’s a little bit dangerous to be fiddling around with the phone. I was missing this dashboard thing constantly, even in moments when I just wanted to look at how many miles till my next turn. If I could do it all again I would buy something similar to what all the UBER drivers use on their dashboards.
For navigation, we used Waze in the cities – which saved us from a couple gnarly traffic jams but also got us near lost and confused on some mountain back roads. Turns out it’s not always the best to try to take lesser beaten paths when you are out of cell service and in the wild.
Most people don’t know that the GPS in their phones actually still works, even when you’re out of cell service, but in the event that you accidentally close the app or need to change your route, you would lose the navigation and list of directions (you can still see your little dot on the map though, no matter what).
Google maps did just fine and I actually started to prefer it towards the end of the trip. Waze’s minimalist interface only gives you a purple line to follow and not much context about your surroundings, and behaves a bit strangely when you want to zoom out and see what’s happening around you.
I also love that Google maps gives you options for routes before starting the navigation. Sometimes you want to take the scenic route, after all.
We didn’t do much, if any, route planning beforehand – aside from what national parks we wanted to see and roughly how many days to stay at each location.
Every time I searched these internet forums with big wordy paragraphs about what roads to take and not take, many people contradicting each other, I was more and more confused.
It’s 2016 – get a decent data plan, and bank on using your phone on this trip – a lot. There were a lot of moments when I tried to imagine the world of road tripping before Spotify and google maps and well, it must have been a drag.
The van’s relatively small size in the world of RVs and trailers was really an asset at the end of a long day of driving. The ability to pull over and cook or camp at a moments notice with minimal setup, as well as the ability to use both RV sites and tent sites gave us a freedom I’ve never had when car camping.
Being able to pull over on any road and have ‘camp’ already made at all times is a reassuring feeling. If we didn’t want to make a fire, we didn’t have to. Watching people fiddle around with their tent poles did not make me jealous at all.
I brought a tent but had no desire to use it at all, the van is that comfortable. Many times we would leave the van in the bed position and not even mess with the table. For that reason I would recommend bringing an external folding table for use outside.
I would also definitely recommend bringing some sleeping bags as an additional layer of warmth when necessary.
Constantly throughout the trip I had peace of mind, knowing that I had paid insurance on this vehicle, it had everything I need, and in the horrible event of a mechanical problem, essentially, it’s not my vehicle, a friend or family’s vehicle, and thus NMFP (not my ‘effin problem).
The guys at Escape have so many vans covering so much terrain that they would be out of business if they didn’t have a reliable and sufficient formula for maintenance, upkeep, and roadside support.
We probably saw 20 to 30 other Escape Campervans throughout the most epic spots of California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah over the course of a couple weeks. These things are everywhere.
The size and selection are what made me confident in my choice of Escape over the competitors. Some competitors only offer the smaller Dodge caravan model (which Escape has as well) but they charge extra for the big Ford model, and it’s always out of stock.
If I’m gonna be living in a van, I want the biggest one.
Gas mileage was averaging 16.6mpg. Not great, but the 30 gallon tank will get you pretty far, and luckily for us, we were finding gasoline for as cheap as $1.50 per gallon in certain parts of Arizona.
I am guessing the roof sleeper dings the gas mileage slightly. If budget is an issue and you’re only 2 people, you might be able to do without it.
Mechanically there were no issues with our van, aside from a computer glitch that threw some warnings on our dashboard at one point. We did call roadside assistance once, and the guy knew the exact van we were in and seemed on top of his game for 7AM, even though after restarting the vehicle everything seemed to be ok.
I would recommend this company in a heartbeat, to anyone looking for a reliable camper van rental without outrageous pricing – for the peace of mind of “not being responsible for destroying your acquaintance’s vehicle” and knowing that at the end of the day, everything you need to survive, eat, sleep, drink, stay or go is under your roof and totally under your control.
*Escape Campervans hooked me up with a good price in order to write an honest review.
I have nothing negative to say other than a few organizational errors between cities, which is to be expected with a company dealing with 200+ vans and all the moving parts associated with it.
For more information regarding our route, where we camped, what we ate, the best road trip tracks for a good time in the desert, and all of that – check out the blog post here:
THREE WEEK SOUTHWESTERN USA ROAD TRIP