Outdoorsy owners Chris and Anna Helmers have enjoyed adventuring together since the beginning of their relationship. “Anna and I met on day one of our freshman year of college in Southern Illinois back in 2010,” Chris shares. “Nature, travel, and adventure have been the bedrock of our relationship for 12-plus years. It has brought us to St. Louis, San Diego, and now our current home in Portland Oregon. Along the way we try (and fail) to do every hike we can and see everything cool there is.”
That said, all of those early adventures were done RV-free—that is, until one fateful trip when the Helmers discovered their love of vanlife. “Back in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, Anna and I took a trip to explore the ‘Mighty 5’ national parks in southern Utah,” Chris recalls. “We flew into Las Vegas and rented a camper van through a nationwide rental service.
“Despite having no frills, we had the time of our life. The freedom of bringing our ‘home’ everywhere we went had us cooking meals at beautiful overlooks and catching every sunrise/sunset that we could. When our trip sadly came to a close, we were left wondering how to get an RV for ourselves.”
Unfortunately, Chris and Anna would not get an RV of their own for quite some time. “It stayed just a thought for almost two years, until I had a conversation with a friend who told me he was renting his car part-time to cover his payment,” Chris tells us. “The rigs we were looking at all ranged between $100K–$200K, not a small expense. Anna and I had the epiphany, ‘What if we could rent out our van when not in use to help cover the cost?’ The idea of actually profiting off of the rental wasn’t even a thought.”
This was all excellent timing, as Chris and Anna had just had a baby and were therefore in need of a new mode of travel. “After welcoming our first child, Zoe, into the world in August of 2021, we knew life would never be the same. While parenting is certainly an adventure all on its own, we didn’t want to make what made us ‘us’ to fall to the wayside.” A van was the answer!
“At the time of purchase, our daughter was six months old,” Chris says. “We were planning a big camping trip up to Washington, but had concerns about how Zoe would do sleeping in a tent for ten days. It felt serendipitous that all the events were coming to a head.”
With the perfect rig picked out, the next step was figuring out how to rent the van. “I researched various outlets and explored starting up my own business, but Outdoorsy was a homerun,” Chris tells us. “The platform felt very intuitive and familiar, having used sites like Airbnb historically.
“Coming from a sales background, I know lead development and product awareness are two of the most important factors for driving revenue. I could have invested time/money building the perfect website, growing a social media presence, and creating my own insurance partnerships—but at what cost? Outdoorsy let me launch my listing in minutes, and over the course of my first year I booked 19 renters, equating to over $16K in revenue, all with zero marketing efforts on my end.”
That’s right, the Helmer’s rental business made over $16K in less than a year! “We purchased our van on March 31st of 2022,” Chris recalls. “In early April we listed our van on Outdoorsy, and within two weeks we started to get inquiries. We had our first two bookings in May of 2022 and by July we were almost booked out every month. Anna and I had to start blacking out specific dates so we still had the chance to use the van ourselves!”
Anna and Chris are thoroughly enjoying adventuring in their van. That said, they also love renting. “Meeting our renters has been one of the funnest parts of this adventure,” says Chris. “Everyone has their own story, but a love of nature and the outdoors is at the center of it. We have hosted young couples who have never done a nature getaway and were enamored by what they could see with a camper van.
“Many of our renters have been like Anna and me—young parents who want a safe, easy way to go camping with their kids. There have been folks who live locally and renters who have flown in from all over the country, including Massachusetts, Florida, and Louisiana.
“We hosted one young couple in October who flew in from Atlanta and had always wanted to visit and see Oregon. They had a son close in age to my daughter and rightly had some anxiety about a cross-country camping trip. They booked my van after seeing the pictures I posted of our own family having adventures. We chatted on and off for months, helping them plan what to pack and building an itinerary. We honestly felt like we were hosting ourselves!
“The day came for their trip to begin. During the walkthrough, their son reached out and let me hold him as I showed the renters how the van worked. It’s corny, but it was an incredibly heartwarming experience. We were able to share an infant bed, walker, and a few other items to help lighten their baggage. At the onset of our RV rental businesses, I never thought I would have experiences like this.”
All About Chris
Favorite morning beverage: “Coffee from Stumptown Roasters. We have a bean grinder and French press ready to go at all times in Mojo (our van).”
Favorite campsite meal: “Breakfast burritos!”
Music you like to play on the radio: “Fortunately, our van has Bluetooth so I can sync up my Spotify account when I drive. Depending on the time of day, I have a different genre every hour.”
Best game to play on the road or at your campsite: “Anna and I have a portable version of Yahtzee, we get oddly competitive with it.”
Favorite season: “Summer—perfect weather in the PNW and endless days.”
Last photo you took: “Our last trip was to Mount Rainier National Park. On the drive home we hiked up to a fire watch tower overlooking the mountain, a breathtaking sight!”
What’s your Outdoorsy spirit animal? “A Saluki (Egyptian hunting dog).”
If you could travel anywhere in an RV, where would you go? “Would love to go be a beach bum in Baja, Mexico!”