When Does Buying a Camper(van)/RV as a Tourist Make Sense?

If you’re planning to visit a country for a longer period, you may be faced with a tough decision. You want to see every part of the country you’re visiting, but the costs of renting a vehicle will quickly deplete your budget. Especially when you want to rent a campervan or an RV.

So when is it cheaper to buy (and sell) a vehicle, rather than to rent it? This depends on numerous factors. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to control all of these factors. However, this article will help you determine if you should buy or rent your vehicle as a tourist! I’ve included a sheet that will do the math for you, based on your custom input!

Buying vs. renting: what’s the tipping point?

As a rule of thumb, you should consider buying a vehicle as a tourist when you’re planning to drive it for more than 3 months.

If you’ll be in a country for a shorter amount of time, you may still be able to save money by buying a vehicle, but the risks and lost time will make it unlikely.

If you’re planning a really long trip (>6 months), you’ll definitely be better off buying a vehicle and selling it after your trip.

But what factors into these decisions? Here are some of the pros of renting a vehicle as a tourist vs buying one.

Pros of renting a vehicle as a tourist

Insurance coverage

Insuring a vehicle as a tourist can be tricky, as we found out when we looked for insurance for our own campervan in Canada. When renting, you likely won’t have to worry about finding suitable insurance, as your rental company will have insurance packages for you!

Also, insurance companies usually cover a minimum of 12 months. So if you’re looking to travel for less than a year, you might end up having to buy more coverage than you actually need.

Less risky

With renting a vehicle, there are far fewer variables that are outside of your control. If you’d be buying a vehicle, you’d be responsible for the maintenance (what if the engine blows up?). Also, will you be able to find a buyer for it after you complete your travels? These are all factors that you won’t have to worry about if you’re renting!

Less time wasted

Let’s be honest. You’re in another country to see the beautiful nature it has to offer, or for its rich culture. Not to browse the Facebook marketplace for used vehicles. If you decide to rent a vehicle, you can arrange everything before setting foot in your destination. When buying a vehicle, most of the process can start only after you’ve arrived.

Pros of buying a vehicle as a tourist

You can save a lot of money

Depending on the length of your trip, your savings can quickly add up. It’s as simple as that. If you have the time for it, buying (and then selling) a vehicle as a tourist can save you a lot of money.

More freedom

Owning your own vehicle definitely has its perks. You’ll be able to customize your vehicle (as we did with the campervan that we bought in Canada!). Also, you won’t have to worry about any scratches. Rental companies have a bad rep for charging your credit card when they find a tiny scratch. When you buy your own vehicle, you won’t have to worry about that!

When should you rent instead of buy a campervan?

As mentioned, this is dependent on a lot of factors. But let’s just do the math here.

Let’s assume the following:

  • Duration of travels: 60 days
  • Price of renting a campervan per day: $150
  • Cost of purchasing a campervan: $20,000
  • Resell value after travels: $10,000
  • Cost of insurance (in case of buying): $500
  • How many days spent looking before purchasing: 21 days
  • Costs per day during the search for a vehicle: $120

In this case, the total amount spent on renting a campervan would be:

  • Renting: 60 days * $150 = $9,000

While the costs for purchasing and selling a campervan would be higher:

  • Cost of purchase: $20,000
  • Proceedings from sale: $10,000
  • Cost of insurance: $500
  • Costs during time spent looking: 21 days x $120 = $2,520
  • Total for buying (and selling) a campervan: 13,520

So, based on this calculation, you’d be better off renting a campervan if you’re traveling for 60 days.

Here’s a chart of how your costs over time would look for buying vs renting:

To add salt to your wounds, you would “waste” a significant chunk of your traveling time looking for a campervan if you’d be buying one instead of renting.

When should you buy instead of rent a campervan?

We ended up buying our campervan instead of renting one.

Here is the math in our situation:

  • Duration of travels: 360 days (at least)
  • Price of renting a campervan per day: $150
  • Cost of purchasing a campervan: $20,000
  • Resell value after travels: $10,000
  • Cost of insurance (in case of buying): $2,000
  • How many days spent looking before purchasing: 21 days
  • Costs per day during the search for a vehicle: $120

In this case, the total amount spent on renting a campervan would be:

  • Renting: 360 days * $150 = $54,000

While the costs for purchasing and selling a campervan would be higher:

  • Cost of purchase: $20,000
  • Proceedings from sale: $10,000
  • Cost of insurance: $2,000
  • Costs during time spent looking: 21 days x $120 = $2,520
  • Total for buying (and selling) a campervan: 14,520

So, based on this calculation, we were much better off buying a campervan, as we were planning to travel in it for at least a year.

Here’s a chart of how our costs over time would look for buying vs renting:

By buying instead of renting, we are expecting to save ~$40,000. This is easily worth the 3 weeks it took us to find, buy and insure our campervan. Despite the risks of owning our campervan, we have not regretted our decision!

The 90-day tipping point

With the assumptions in this post, the tipping point between renting and buying a campervan is ~90 days.

If your travel duration is less than 90 days, it makes more sense to rent a campervan. Even though buying a campervan could be cheaper in the end, you’d also lose precious traveling time searching for a suitable campervan, while also taking on risks of maintenance and breakdowns.

Here is the math in this situation:

  • Duration of travels: 90 days
  • Price of renting a campervan per day: $150
  • Cost of purchasing a campervan: $20,000
  • Resell value after travels: $10,000
  • Cost of insurance (in case of buying): $1,000
  • How many days spent looking before purchasing: 21 days
  • Costs per day during the search for a vehicle: $120

In this case, the total amount spent on renting a campervan would be:

  • Renting: 90 days * $150 = $13,500

While the costs for purchasing and selling a campervan would be higher:

  • Cost of purchase: $20,000
  • Proceedings from sale: $10,000
  • Cost of insurance: $1,000
  • Costs during time spent looking: 21 days x $120 = $2,520
  • Total for buying (and selling) a campervan: 13,520

Here’s a chart of the costs over time for this situation:

So, based on this calculation, the costs are pretty much equal between renting and buying. But with renting, you have the advantage of hitting the roads on day 1 of your travels, and not being at risk of having to pay for any breakdowns!

Some considerations before deciding to rent or buy your campervan

The calculations in this post are very crude. In other words, your mileage may vary a lot.

Also, this assumes that all other costs are equal, like food, gasoline, parking, etc.

We have owned a campervan for the first time in our lives. And while it hasn’t always been easy, it’s been a very fulfilling ride so far.

Things break down all the time (like that time our solar inverter caught fire…). Costs are almost always underestimated. That’s why I thought it was important to shed light on our calculations, to hopefully help future travelers make the right decision between buying and renting a van!

Try our spreadsheet here

The images in this post are created by this Google Docs spreadsheet.

You can find it here and make a copy to change the parameters yourself, and see how the calculation changes!

Wrapping up

Are you planning your round-the-world trip and can’t decide whether to rent or buy a campervan? I hope this post has helped you decide.

I’d love to hear about your considerations. Have you bought or rented a campervan in the past? Let me know in the comments below!

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