Road Warriors

How to Rent a Camper Van in Seattle

Four wheels, a bed, and the open road: Van life is within reach.

By Allison Williams

One of Black Forest Westfalias’ vintage Volkswagens.

Like an RV but cuter, a tent but warmer. The camper van saw its popularity surge as the nomadic aesthetic blossomed on Instagram. For all its romantic where-the-wind-takes-us implications, the realities of van life take considerable investment—except with someone else’s wheels.

Escape Campervans

The cross-country outfit with more than 600 vehicles in its fleet is rooted in the ancestral home of camper van culture: New Zealand. Founded by a Kiwi, the company specializes in rebirthing boring, industrial vans into unique works of art. With a surfboard artist enlisted to start the program, each automobile gets a custom mural, the side panels exploding with rainbow clouds or abstract animals—about as far from a corporate logo or driving advertisement as it gets. The biggest Fords at the Des Moines base can sleep five people, and kitchens include sinks, stoves, and fridges. A basic rental includes only 100 miles per day but is calculated as an average, so you can follow a long haul with a rest day.

Escape Campervans are temporary shelters and works of art.

Peace Vans

When only a real Volkswagen will do, SoDo’s base for boxy classics serves up the kind of van that looks best through a faded photo filter. The pop-top Vanagons can throw off drivers used to a broad hood between them and the road; the first few turns can feel like piloting a school bus. Since Peace Vans repairs the vintage vehicles, too, they’re in pristine shape despite dating back to the days of shoulder pads and side ponytails. In 2018 the company added to its offerings new Mercedes Metris versions, easier drivers with perks like air-conditioning, and a Mercedes Sprinter big enough to stand up in.


Sure, the beds are queen size, the showers are indoors, and these Ford Transits come equipped with Wi-Fi and televisions. But the real luxury in the Seattle-born company is the top-to-bottom trip planning that comes gratis with every rental. Staffers will build expeditions down to every campground reservation and quirky roadside
pull-off, even choosing a destination for the truly plan-challenged. Founder Scott Kubly figured that Americans were leaving their PTO unused because they couldn’t bring themselves to arrange the complex details of a vacation, so the trip planning is even available to nonrenters for a fee. 

Cabana’s vans don’t come with a dog, but they do come with trip-planning help.

Cascade Adventure Vans

The Mercedes Sprinter holds a special place in the taxonomy of vans, its hefty shape big enough to feel like an actual cabin once it’s parked. The Interbay business rents bare-bones models ready to be filled with the renter’s own gear, though they have the requisite kitchenware and French press. Diesel heaters and tire chains allow them to weather even winter overnights. The vans don’t have bathrooms, but add-ons include an outdoor shower and toilet. While comfortable, the setups eschew the glamping label in favor of a utilitarian aesthetic. 

Interbay-based Cascade Adventure Vans keeps things simple.

Black Forest Westfalias

Van nerd time: The Westfalia label denotes a particular kind of converted van, named for the German region where the build-outs were first done on Volkswagens. Fall City’s Black Forest specializes in the kind of retro VW that could convince you it went to Woodstock; its four-van fleet is from the 1980s. Called Goldie, Gretel, Wolf, and Dutch, each delivers its own personality (snag Gretel for the most striking photos, for example). Owner Mike Kane poured his own VW obsession and a photographer’s affection for spontaneous travel into the company, restoring and maintaining them out of his home. He’ll deliver a rental by hauling a tiny car to the drop-off.

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