A classic US road trip has long been on my list of Things To Do. Jess and I had been planning an adventure across the US for the summer of 2015, and we were delighted when Jucy offered to partner with us on the adventure and lend us one of their spectacularly green RV’s in which to travel.
For those of you not familiar with the company, Jucy was founded in New Zealand back in 2001, and has swiftly grown to cover New Zealand, Australia and the USA, offering RV hire as their main service. With vehicles that are more compact than the RV’s you may be more familiar with, they are aimed at the more budget conscious traveller who wants something that’s relatively fuel efficient and easy to drive.
Anyone who has visited New Zealand or Australia will have seen the bright green and purple Jucy vehicles being driven around by happy looking travellers – I certainly saw plenty of them during my years in the two countries. They aren’t as familiar a sight in the US yet, but I imagine that will change in the years to come. We certainly got a lot of attention during our trip! But I get ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the beginning.
Looking at the map of America, we knew that we had to do something pretty epic to put our Jucy RV through its paces. Some sort of classic American road trip seemed appropriate. But which one?
Well, when it came down to it, there was only one to choose from. But we did three, because that’s just how thorough we wanted to be with our test. We started out in San Francisco, driving down the mind bogglingly pretty Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles.
Then we picked up Route 66 in Santa Monica, and followed it for 2,400 miles to Chicago, with the odd detour to see sights such as the Grand Canyon.
From Chicago, we hotfooted it across Illinois down to Independence, Missouri, where we took our chances with Dysentery and set off along the Oregon Trail all the way to, you guessed it, Oregon, where we finally turned south and found ourselves back in San Francisco.
Three paragraphs on a 7,000 mile road trip covering three distinct adventures doesn’t quite do them justice, and Jess and I will be covering a variety of aspects from these trips in a number of posts, both on this blog and over on Independent Travel Cats.
In this post though, I want to talk about our experience with the Jucy RV that we hired, so you can figure out if this sort of hire is right for you. I’ll start off with:
Everything you need to know about the Jucy Champ
In the US, unlike in Australia and New Zealand, there’s only one option when it comes to hiring a Jucy vehicle – the Jucy Champ. This is a four person vehicle, converted in-house by Jucy from a minivan base, which is either a Dodge Grand Caravan or a Chrysler Town and Country.
Jucy hires their vehicles to anyone over 21 years of age with an English language drivers license (pick up an International Driving Permit or a certified translation if your license is from a non-English country before you leave), and you can drive the vehicle anywhere in the US or Canada. You can even have multiple drivers at no extra cost, as long as they meet the requirements. If you are worried about driving in the USA, I’ve written a guide featuring some of my top tips for driving in the USA to help get you going on the road!
Let’s talk about the features, starting with the interior.
Features of the Jucy Champ
The interior is designed so you can comfortably fit four people when driving – two in the front, and two right at the back. Legally, there are belts for five, but unless it’s three kids or very close friends this might get uncomfortable for longer journeys.
When stopped, there is a place to put a table in the back, and you can sit four people around it. This is handy when the weather is inclement. It’s a minivan, so you can’t stand up inside, in case you were wondering!
For sleeping purposes, the back of the vehicle converts into a double bed (with the front seats all the way forward). I’m not that tall, at 5’ 10”, and I fit fine, but we thought it might be a bit tight if you were much over 6ft tall. All is not lost though, because this is where the awesome penthouse comes into play.
Atop of the Jucy Champ you will have noticed a large purple box. This isn’t for storage, rather, it’s a pop-up tent that has a mattress inside. This comfortably sleeps two people, and is accessed by a ladder. It also has lots of little areas for storage whilst you are up there, in the form of elasticated netting, so you won’t lose your car keys in the bedding! More on storage shortly. Space wise, it seemed more roomy than the downstairs options, and with netted windows on all four sides, there was plenty of air to keep us cool.
Right around the back of the vehicle is the kitchen area. Somehow, Jucy managed to fit a sink, draining area, chopping board, pull out stove (+ an extra stove for taking to a table), fridge, cutlery tray and pan storage, here.
I love cooking, and having this fully featured kitchen at the back was wonderful – morning coffee every day plus a self-cooked meal every night really made the trip. And it helped our budget to no end of course, not having to eat out for every meal. The fridge though was the crowning glory – I spent a year driving and camping around Australia living largely on tinned food due to the lack of refrigeration, and the joys of fresh food and cold beer were not lost on me!
Jucy offers a number of extras. Some, like the cookery kit and bedding, are kind of essential unless you want to bring your own pans or sleeping bag. Others, like camping chairs and table, are nice to have but not critical. You can also hire a GPS device, although I’d recommend travelling with an unlocked smartphone and just using that if you can, which will save you some money.
Finally, if you have any problems at all on your trip, or even just questions on how things work, there’s a 24 hour roadside assistance number you can call to get the help you need. We never needed to call this number, and had no problems at all, but it was nice to know it was there if we needed it!
Good Things About the Jucy Champ
There were loads of features that we loved about the Jucy Champ. I’m going to go over some of them now, and then talk about some of the trade-offs that a smaller vehicle like this necessitates. First though, some of our favourite aspects:
Lots of storage. In the back of the vehicle, just behind the driver’s seat, there’s a huge compartment under the bench chair which goes deep into the vehicle, and into which you can fit a great deal of stuff. For two people, you’d easily be able to fit everything you need for your trip in here. For four people you might need to be a little more economic with your packing, but you should still manage. On top of that storage, the kitchen area has a very generous pan storage cupboard, and the fridge will suffice for your food. Unless you fill it with beer of course.
Plenty of power ports. Everyone travels with lots of tech gear these days – cameras, phones, laptops. We’re certainly no exception. I was therefore thrilled to discover that the Jucy Champ had four of those cigarette lighter style 12v outlets, as well as two USB ports. For charging our phones and hooking up the GPS, we were set.
The one problem was our laptops and cameras, which require more conventional power sockets. We picked up a power convertor on Amazon for $30, which converts the 12v DC car power into a more conventional 110v output in the form of two US style plugs, which kept us going. You can grab one from Amazon at the previous link, or from most auto stores in the US.
Two batteries. Powering a fridge, the interior lighting and charging our electronics uses up battery power. For this reason, the Jucy Champ comes with two batteries, one which is used for starting the engine, and the other for powering the accessories.
This means that even if you stop in the same place for days on end and run the second battery flat, you’ll always be able to start the vehicle. In addition, there’s a solar panel on the roof which trickle charges the batteries, keeping you topped off when it’s sunny. We were told that the second battery would last for a couple of days under normal usage, with a couple of hours of driving required to fill it up again. For most usage scenarios, this seemed more than enough!
One thing to remember – there are two 12v ports in the front of the vehicle which are powered by the engine battery. I’d suggest only using these when the engine is running so as not to flatten the battery.
Easy (and economical!) to drive. This is one of the key reasons to hire this vehicle over a larger RV. It’s so easy to drive – essentially the same as a car with a slightly higher viewpoint. Being smaller than an RV (17ft long and 7ft high) meant that it was super-easy to park, and fuel consumption was also good. We averaged around 22mpg on our trip, with a mixture of interstate and standard road driving.
Other features I liked as a driver were the cruise control and the automatic gearbox, fairly standard features on US cars, which make long road trips a lot more pleasurable. A more unusual feature was the “manual” gearbox, where you could instruct the car to shift up and down gears by moving the gear level from left to right when in “Drive”. This was handy for engine braking on steeper inclines, something that automatic cars aren’t always great at.
Finally, there’s an “eco” button on the dashboard which activates a more economical mode, whereby the car will adjust its gear shifting to try and maximise fuel economy. We had this on for the entire journey.
Awesome stereo. A road trip is nothing without music, and I put together some CDs before we set off containing all sorts of songs themed to our trip. The CD player supported both normal CD’s and CD’s full of MP3 tracks, which meant I could fit over 100 songs onto each CD, and the sound was excellent through the speakers.
In addition, there was an AUX-in port, and Jucy provided us with an AUX cable before we left, meaning I could just plug my phone in and listen to all the songs on that for the trip. There was no USB or Bluetooth stereo support, but that wasn’t an issue for us with the AUX cable.
Easy to convert. There’s nothing worse on a road trip than arriving somewhere and having to spend ages converting the vehicle from “driving” mode to “sleeping mode”. Traditional RV’s tend to have the advantage here as they have so much space, but the Jucy Champ was so easy to convert between modes that it usually only took us a few minutes to get her ready to sleep in.
Some of the models of Jucy Champ have an electronic roof tent system, where you just press a button to pop up the tent. Ours was a manual mechanism that required me to wind the handle. This wasn’t difficult, but closing it was sometimes a bit challenging, as you have to ensure all the pieces of tent are inside. It is do-able though, even as a one-man job.
Hard to lose. Ok, maybe this was just me, but I did love the fact that a bright green and purple vehicle is nearly impossible to lose in a car park after an hour of wandering around a giant shopping centre. The bright colours also attracted a lot of attention, and I lost count of the number of times we showed people all the features of our mini-RV. The kitchen at the back was always a firm favourite, and we struck up plenty of conversations thanks to Jucy’s stand out attire!
Electric doors. Yes, I’m just a big kid at heart. I loved the fact that the big sliding doors on the side of the vehicle, as well as the rear door, could be remotely opened from the car key, or from inside by pressing a button.
Great kitchen. I love cooking. The kitchen area in the Jucy Champ is pretty impressive, given the limited size available. The two stoves, powered by gas canisters (available for around $3 in the camping section of Walmart), were more than adequate for everything I wanted to cook, and the fridge was fantastic.
Window blinds. When we slept inside, we obviously wanted privacy. All the rear windows are tinted, but on top of that they also all come with blinds that are custom cut to fit the windows. It can take a bit of practice to put these up as they attach by suction cups, but once you have it figured out they are easy enough to put up and take down.
Disadvantages of a Jucy Champ
Of course, life isn’t perfect, and neither was the Jucy Champ. To be honest, these “disadvantages” are really just things to know – having a smaller RV like this means some features of larger RV’s just don’t fit!
No electric hook-up. This is one of the main drawbacks of the Jucy Champ, particularly when travelling in hot or cold months. Most large RV’s come with the ability to plug in to external power, meaning you don’t need to worry about running your second battery down when stopped, or travelling with a power convertor to charge your gear. It also means that paying to stay at a fancy campsite is largely negated because one of the benefits they offer is power hook-up that you can’t take advantage of. The main problem of not having hook-up though is:
No A/C when stopped. This is likely to be the deal breaker for many people if travelling in the hotter months – as we did! When you stop the vehicle and turn the engine off, running the air conditioning would kill the engine battery very quickly. If there was an external hook-up, the A/C could run off that, although the additional wiring and electronics required probably wouldn’t fit in the vehicle. We were generally ok, as we could sleep on top in the roof tent when it was too hot, and the breezes kept us cool. We only had to retreat to a motel for one night, when we were passing through Needles in California, and the temperature hit 106F.
No toilet / shower facilities. This should be fairly obvious from the size of the vehicle – there’s clearly no room for a shower or toilet anywhere! This wasn’t really a problem in the US though, as there are free toilets all over the place, and showers can be found in a variety of locations, from gas stations to camp sites.
Limited availability. Currently, Jucy only has US locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Admittedly this gives you access to some of America’s most spectacular landscapes, including California, Arizona and Utah, but does make longer cross country trips a bit harder as you’ll generally need to do a round-trip adventure.
Water fill-up. The Jucy Champ has an on board water storage tank which carries six gallons of water which you can use for washing up (they’re not designed for drinking). The tank is filled via a little hole in the kitchen area, which we found rather tricky to use, as the hole was quite small and had no lip. A hosepipe wasn’t always available, so we ended up fashioning a funnel. This was really just a niggle.
No Pets. This is a fairly standard hire-car policy, and is just worth bearing in mind – if you have a furry friend
Costs for this sort of US road-trip
We did a fairly extensive trip, so our costs were a bit higher than average. I’ll average out the costs to give you an idea of what a week might cost, as well as an average day, to help you budget for any length of trip.
We were on the road for a total of 26 days, and covered 7,000 miles, consuming around 300 gallons of fuel. The major costs for a trip like this are fuel, food, hire of the vehicle itself and accommodation.
Hire of the US model Jucy Champ in peak season is around $112 / night, or $784 a week. You can save a good deal by travelling off-peak, when prices are as low as $33 / night, which is what we would recommend as a cost-saving option.
On top of that you have to consider if you want insurance ($0 – $22 / night) and what sort of mileage you’ll be covering (mileage starts from 25c / mile, packages are also available).
We went for the unlimited mileage package ($25 / night) and full insurance cover ($22 / night), so the total cost for our hire was $159 a day, or $1,113 per week. Insurance is not required, but we would certainly advise it!
For food, we normally ate out for lunch and made our own breakfast and dinner, so our food budget was around $15 – $20 for the two of us each day, or $105 – $140 per week.
Gas was a major expense, but only because we’re a bit nuts and chose to drive 7,000 miles. For smaller trips, such as the classic “California triangle”, you’re looking at more like 2,000 miles max, which is more manageable (and affordable!).
The Jucy Champ did around 22 miles to the gallon during our trip, so we consumed about 300 gallons of fuel, at a cost of around $33 / day with fuel averaging out at about $3 per gallon (gas varies by State from up to $5 a gallon in the west to $2 a gallon in the east of the country). I’d suggest that would be a maximum spend, and you would likely do much better than us!
In terms of accommodation, we stayed at motels a couple of times ($60 / night for two) and in the National Park campsite at the Grand Canyon ($18 / night for two), but other than that we were able to find free spots all across the US which saved us between $10 and $50 per night in camping fees. Campsites in the US vary quite a lot in price depending on the facilities, location and time of year, so do some research beforehand in order to keep inside your budget.
There’s an excellent resource here on finding free camping locations in the US to help you out. So our total accommodation spend was $156.
Putting all our numbers together:
- Vehicle Hire: $159 / day ($112 hire + $22 insurance + $25 mileage)
- Food: $15 / day
- Fuel: $33 / day
- Accommodation: $6 / day
- TOTAL: $213 / day
Overall, our trip cost $213 per day for two people, or just over $100 per day per person.
Using our numbers, here are some forecast costs for a more average trip, let’s say a 2,000 mile trip over two weeks from Las Vegas in March:
- Vehicle Hire: $67 / day ($33 hire + $22 insurance + $12 mileage)
- Food: $15 / day
- Fuel: $20 / day
- Accommodation: $10 / day
- TOTAL: $112 / day
There’s also the option to add on bedding and towels for up to four people for a fixed $100, a GPS for $10 / day ($90 maximum), and cooking equipment / utensils ($115 fixed). Obviously all costs are indicative and your particular travel style will give different results, so please only take these as an guideline!
Travelling in the off-peak season is clearly the most cost-effective option for a trip. In addition, Jucy run a number of special offers, and depending on the time of year you go, sometimes a set number of miles will be included in the price. My advice would be to visit the Jucy website and put some dates and options in to find the best deal for your budget.
Another way to save is of course to travel with more people. The Jucy Champ has sleeping accommodation for four people, so if you travel as a group, the only cost that will really change will be your food. You’d be able to do a trip like ours in peak season for around $50 – $60 per day per person, or as little as $30 per day per person off-peak. That’s a serious bargain!
Obviously, there are various factors to take into consideration, including your food / drinks budget, how far you want to drive, what level of accommodation you are looking for, and your activities budget, but these numbers are a good place to start.
Is a Jucy Champ hire right for you?
We had a wonderful time in our Jucy Champ, but of course it’s not for everyone. We’d suggest it’s great if you’re on a tighter budget, and would like a smaller, easier to manage vehicle that comes with nearly everything you need for an epic adventure.
We’d also suggest that an ideal amount of time for an adventure would be 10-21 days, and aim for no more than two to three thousand miles – not just for reasons of cost, but also to ensure you have some time to see as much as possible.
The vehicle suits younger couples and groups as well as families, but be aware that whilst the storage is plentiful for the size of the vehicle, it’s not infinite!
Overall, we’re happy to recommend Jucy to anyone looking for a fun adventure, and are looking forward to our next Jucy road trip already!
So you know: we were given a discounted rate for our Jucy RV hire in return for sharing our story. We covered our own expenses for our journey (food, fuel, accommodation etc). Check our our code of ethics for more on how we work with companies.