If you want to enjoy the great outdoors but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars buying a trailer or motor home, the growing rental market offers many options.

I'm sick of sleeping in a tent. So are my kids. I can't afford to buy an RV, so I thought that meant the end of our camping days. But this summer, we discovered renting RVs, and our camping life was born anew. I rented trailers three times in three states, and here's what I learned.

Man and woman sitting in RV camper in daylight
Credit: Courtesy of Outdoorsy

It's a growing market.

Just as camping has grown since the pandemic, so has the RV rental market. It will reach an estimated $356 million this year, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2012. The rise in individual owners making their trailers available via Airbnb-esque apps/websites has driven prices down. I used Outdoorsy in Wisconsin and Michigan and RVShare in Missouri. Cruise America is another option; that's more like a rental car company.

You can go as big or as small as you want.

Prices range from $500-plus per night for a luxurious motorhome to less than $100 for a trailer that's not much more than an enclosed bed on wheels.

You don't have to pull the trailer or drive the motorhome; some owners will drop it off and pick it up for you.

For me, this is the most important part. I don't own a vehicle that can tow a trailer, and even if I did, I wouldn't do it.

Read the details.

For two of three trailers, we had to bring our own bedding, which struck me as odd. One had irregular-shaped mattresses that no sheet would fit, which struck me as odder still.

Try to be there for drop-off.

I felt bad for Chris, from whom I rented a trailer to stay at Babler State Park near my home in suburban St. Louis. I couldn't get to the campsite in time to meet him, and on a Friday night when he could have been enjoying a quiet evening, he instead answered a flurry of texts about where the keys were (on a hook; I don't know how I missed them), where the marshmallow skewers were (in a locked closet that I needed the "hidden" keys for), etc.

Get your kids involved.

Mine delighted in checking out models online. There are more options than you'd think. As the number of people working remotely has increased, so has the number of people living on the road. Jennifer Young, co-founder and CMO of Outdoorsy, told me many new trailers are laid out with a "work from the RV" lifestyle in mind.

View through RV camper of woman paddleboarding
Credit: Courtesy of Outdoorsy

It's not just comfort. RVs offer flexibility that tents lack.

Because of rain or cold, we've cancelled one tent trip, cut another short, moved three to different parts of the state and once we rushed to a concrete bathroom for shelter as a storm rolled in. None of that would have been necessary if we had rented RVs. And the flexibility RVs offer goes beyond just enduring bad weather.

On the third of our three RV rental trips, the campground was sold out, so friends of ours who wanted to join us couldn't get a site. I invited them to cram into ours. With their kids and mine in the trailer, I had nowhere to sleep. Even though the whole point of renting the trailer was so I wouldn't have to sleep in a tent … I slept in a tent. And it turned out to be the best camping trip we've ever had.

My girls laughed and played all weekend with energy enhanced by the fact they slept well because they were in beds. Same goes for their friends, who were only there, to say nothing of well-rested, because we rented the RV.

As my kids ran around doing who knows what, I sat next to the fire, thinking back to our first camping trip, when I had to keep an eye on them the whole time. I compared that with this one, in which I saw them only when they wanted food. When I wasn't pondering life's imponderables, I cooked my meals over an open flame and solved the world's problems with my fellow dads.

On the way home, my kids excitedly sketched out our next rental RV adventure—a float trip across mid-Missouri. I wonder where I'll sleep this time.