Try Before You Buy in the Sharing Economy

sharing economy camper van by the beach

Campervan photo by Curt Pittman

“The Sharing Economy” has gotten lots of media attention and investor money over the past decade. The movement has spawned 100+ start-ups after the success of Uber and Airbnb in the travel world, RentTheRunway and Gwynnie Bee on the fashion side.

The phrase is kind of misnomer though. Unless you’re referring to home exchange services or Couchsurfing before the community became a corporation, nobody has really been “sharing.” The owners are asking for money to borrow or use something they normally would use themselves. “The Monetization of Formerly Unused Assets Economy” doesn’t have the same ring to it though I suppose.

I’ve used Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, and city bike-share services a good bit in my travels, but there’s one aspect of these rental services that would make you a wiser consumer too. Use them to try before you buy.

After you’ve spent time with them, on your own schedule, you will have a better idea about whether the product is worth the financial outlay.

Here are a few examples of how you could put this into practice.

Try an RV or Camper Before You Buy One

This is going to be the summer of the road trip in the USA, the year of camping, the year of drive vacations. Many people will be rolling their RV out of the driveway and going on the kind of vacation where they can still keep a safe distance from people who are not in their family. This concept is suddenly looking tempting to a lot of travelers who have never considered it before, especially compared to the risk of getting on a plane.

You can easily spend $50K, $100K, or more on one of these homes on wheels though, especially the ones that have a built-in vehicle. The bigger, fancier, and newer it is, the more chance you’ll be borrowing the equivalent of a condo mortgage to own it. Then you’ve got to budget a good bit for fuel.

So how about renting someone else’s RV or campervan instead so you can learn from that experience? Maybe after renting one with a cab you realize a pull trailer makes more sense. Maybe after trying to maneuver with something 30 feet long, you decide you don’t need something so big. Or perhaps, on the other hand, after being with your family in one for a week, you realize you need a lot more space instead so you’re not on top of each other.

RV rental in a national park

Through the company RVShare, you can rent anything from a monster vehicle that looks like a rock star’s touring bus down to cute little teardrop trailers that don’t require a huge vehicle to tow over a mountain. You can search by area, by type, and by price to find the ideal rental in your area. Some owners will even deliver and all have to meet stringent cleanliness standards these days. Insurance is included in the rental quote too.

Spend a little money through the sharing economy to try out the RV lifestyle before plunking down a year’s wages to buy one!

Rent Camping Equipment Before You Commit

If you’re the kind of person who goes camping several times a year anyway, you’re in great shape this year. If you’re thinking of taking it up for the first time, however, you might feel overwhelmed and a bit dismayed about how much equipment is out there to choose from. You can quickly spend thousands of dollars on a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a propane stove, camp dishes, and lanterns. Those are just the basics. If you’re going to hike through the backcountry to find the perfect spot, you’ll be adding in a lot more gear.

If you’ve got a camper friend who already has all this stuff in the garage, you might be able to talk him or her into letting you borrow it. If not, there are companies out there who can rent you brand-name equipment you return later. The best-known one is, with whole packages you can rent so you don’t have to think about it too much. There are some others around as well and your local outdoor gear store might even have a rental division. Get the word out you’re looking and see what pops up.

sharing economy camping gear

If you spend a fraction of the purchase price first before you invest in a car full of gear, there’s far less risk you’ll make a purchase you later regret. You might find out you love/hate that particular tent, or that light, or that pad so you can look for alternatives later. Try before you buy. OutdoorsGeek will even apply part of your rental payment toward the purchase price if you end up loving something enough to keep it.

Rent a Car Before You Buy One

Most people don’t put nearly enough thought and analysis into the two biggest purchases they’ll make: a house and a car. It’s hard to take a house for a test run, but you certainly take a car for one. You can either endure the dealer experience to schedule a test drive there–which is inevitably going to be short and sweet–or you can choose another option with no sales rep in the passenger seat.

If you’re lucky, the car model you have your eye on is available through Enterprise or one of the other big car rental companies. They won’t guarantee you that particular model online, but if you call your local office and tell them you want that specific car, they’ll make it happen if you have some flexibility. You can also look around your neighborhood for Zipcar options—a good choice if you are in the market for something specific that they rent out a lot.

try before you buy

What if your tastes are more exotic though? Then your should turn to the service, which is a peer-to-peer car rental service. When I pulled up the city of Tampa, I found a couple of Teslas available for under $100 a day and a Masarati Gibli for $95 a day. You could try out a Porshe, an Alfa Romeo, or a Mustang and see how much you love it before you make a financial commitment that’s going to last longer than your last two girlfriends. Or rent a 2007 Prius for $25 a day before you go buy one used.

Try a City on For Size Before You Move There

In the old days, most people moved to a new city because of a spouse or a job. Now in this environment where remote work is so common, people move to a specific place because they want to, not because they have to.

Before the sharing economy emerged, it was very hard to try a city out and see how much you would like living there either. You either popped in for three days in Los Angeles as a tourist or you spent a small fortune on staying in a hotel for two weeks to a month. While Airbnb created plenty of upheaval in the real estate and long-term rental markets, it has been a godsend for digital nomads and people who don’t need a year-long lease somewhere. It’s also great for those who want to try out a place to live.

try out a city before moving

In my book A Better Life for Half the Price, about moving abroad, I strongly advise everyone to do a trial run of any place they are considering moving to permanently. Rent an apartment through Airbnb or Vrbo in a real neighborhood. Eat where the locals eat and shop where they shop. Get a haircut, drink coffee, try the local food. This is especially important before you move to an exotic place with a different culture, but it’s also a good idea if you move from Vancouver to Toronto, or El Paso to Boca Raton. Better to spend two weeks finding out that dream location wasn’t so dreamy than to be miserable for years because it was a bad fit.

How about you? What have you tried out as a rental from the sharing economy and then gone on to buy it?

This post was made possible through financial assistance from our advertising partner RVShare. As always, all opinions are our own. 

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Try before you buy in the sharing economy

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