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A small camper van has some big upsides — and downsides too

The Jucy conversion has built-in camping tools.
The Jucy conversion has built-in camping tools.
(Jim Edwards)

If you’re a shrinking violet, you might think twice before taking to the road in Jucy’s mini RV, which is painted blazing shades of lime green and purple and is plastered with ads.

But if you don’t mind attracting attention, this small-size rental can be big fun.

Jucy, a New Zealand vehicle rental company, is testing the waters in the U.S. with offices in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco.

Your ultimate guide to planning the best summer road trip »

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In the U.S., it primarily rents Dodge Caravans, which have been customized as pop-up camper vans that can sleep up to four.

I rented one in the fall for a four-day road trip to Arizona, where I visited friends and went cave-hopping, checking out Colossal Cave in Vail, about 25 miles southeast of Tucson, and Kartchner Caverns, outside Benson, about 45 miles southeast of Tucson.

It didn’t take long to realize that I was a rolling billboard. My first stop was for fuel, and I immediately drew the attention of a fellow driver at the next pump.

“Does it really have a sink?” he asked, gesturing at a slogan on the side of the van that read, “This Jucy RV comes with everything, including the kitchen sink.”

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“I think so,” I answered. “I just rented it. Let’s look.” I opened the back and found a small sink, a gas stove and a mini-fridge.

“Impressive,” he said.

Another customer who had wandered over to take a look adjudged it to be cool.

“How much is it?” asked a woman who was filling her car at a nearby pump.

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“It depends on the time of year,” I said, cutting the conversation short and getting back into the van. I was beginning to feel like an auto show model.

It was the first of several encounters with curious onlookers.

Compared with larger RVs, Jucy is inexpensive. Costs start at $45 a day and can climb to as much as $110 a day.

Compare that with the $60 to $200 a day you’ll be charged for a standard 19-foot RV. Prices are the highest in August, when many Europeans join Americans in touring the U.S. You’ll also pay mileage fees and a deposit.

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My charge during Thanksgiving week was $45 a night, plus a daily $25 charge for unlimited mileage.

The biggest cost saving for Jucy renters is probably in fuel charges. I averaged 20 mpg with my Jucy. In a normal RV, my mileage would have been in single digits. I also felt good about leaving a smaller carbon footprint with this van than I would have in a larger vehicle.

Of course, a full-size RV also would have a toilet, a shower, more storage space and walk-through capability. I had none of these with my green-and-purple camper van.

But I had a pop-up “penthouse” top, which was pretty comfortable and offered a bird’s-eye view of the desert landscape at Kartchner Caverns State Park Campground.

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Another plus: It was an excellent spot for wildlife viewing. I watched a javelina (a tusked, piglike creature) and jackrabbits scurry through the camp.

Besides the penthouse bed, you can sleep in the rear of the van. The back seat folds into a bed that can sleep two, or you can convert the area into a dining table. A storage area is below.

The van is efficient and well-designed, but the space is very compact, and there’s not much room for extra gear. You’d have to be super well-organized to travel in it with four people -- and everyone would have to limit baggage.

One thing I wish I had brought: a low-temperature-rated sleeping bag because it was pretty chilly. I learned when I returned the van that I could have rented a camper pack that included sub-zero-rated bags.

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Jucy gets points for being much easier to park and maneuver than a regular-sized RV, and when I ran into a windy stretch on Interstate 10 in Arizona, I didn’t worry about it blowing off the road in the next big gust. In a larger RV, I probably would have been tempted to pull off the road.

The company has made some changes since I rented my van, a Jucy marketing representative told me. I had to pick up my van in Lawndale, but the company will now deliver a vehicle to Southern California residents for a fee. And you can pick up your rental after hours.

The small size of the vans, coupled with their energy efficiencies, make them an attractive alternative for younger travelers.

Just remember, you’re going to get lots of stares and questions.

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travel@latimes.com

@latimestravel


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