Which is nature photographer's best vehicle?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by alpshiker, Sep 30, 2007.

  1. Could you please suggest amongst the range of vehicles that the car rental
    companies offer in the United States, what could be a good subsitute for the
    Toyota Liteace I normally use here in Europe? I don't need a proper RV, but
    would need a car where the back seats can be laid flat to sleep in it. An
    elevated driver seat, modest look, size and fuel consumption would be other
    qualities I would appreciate if available.


  2. Do you need 4 wheel drive? Going off road?

    If not, any "mini van" type vehicle would likely do better than many SUVs. Back in around 1990 I was shopping for a vehicle to camp/sleep in ... the Toyota Forerunner was too short to sleep in ... and I'm only 5'5".
  3. I don't need a 4WD actually. The problem is that the US rent a car companies offer small affordable city cars one one hand, or vehicles that are big, wide and heavy and accessorily very comfortable with some price expense on the other. Maybe I should keep just one or two criteria: back door that can make a shelter for the rainy days, and the possibility to lay the seats flat to sleep. I have no idea whether any of the Ford Escape or Windstar, Trailblazer, Uplander, offer a 6' long flat area to sleep on. Maybe some have tried them?
  4. Most of my best images were made while bicycling. Consider strapping a bicycle to the back of whatever you rent.
  5. Any of the Mini Vans will work some you can remove the seats others the seats cans be folded into a bed. I own a Ford Escape Hybrid and just did a cross country trip of 10,145 miles and only stayed in a motel, 4 of the 17 days I was on the road. I am 5'11" with the back folded down you can streach out at an angle but then you will need someplace to put your gear. I can sleep by just laying the drivers seat down.
  6. I rented a Chevy Trailblazer for a trip to Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra. I'm 6 ft. and
    slept comfortibly in the back, on foam pads with the seats folded down. Nice ride!
  7. There are outfits in San Francisco and Los Angeles, maybe some elsewhere, that rent VW Westphalia camper vans. Not much more than 20 mpg, though, and not my favorite car for long freeway trips.
  8. If you can find a company that rents the Honda Element, that might be your answer. The seats in front can be slid all the way forward and the seat backs folded down to horizontal. The back seat folds backward into the cargo space, creating two full length surfaces for sleeping. Good mileage, and it can be had in 4-wheel drive, although rental agencies might not have that feature.
  9. Thanks for all the answers!

    The Honda Element looks just what I need, but unfortunately there are none for rent as far as my search went.

    There are two ways actually on three that work to make a sleeping space. Taking the seats out of the car should be forgotten on the road. Laying the back of the seats flat is another option, it makes a warm mattress but the surface is generally not flat and it takes time to fill up the holes with cloth and all things available. That's what I do in the Toyota LiteAce but it's not as comfortable as it would seem unless you can make customized foam cushions. Sleeping on the car's floor is the best. Cold nights are really cold down there, but with a good foam mattress, the back is straight. The Honda would have allowed it with the seats flipped on the sides. In some cars the back seats are turned upside down over the seat and it makes a flat hard surface. Then you have a good insulation from the cold that comes from the car's body.

    The Westphalia type is of course the best if you want to spend months on the road or are not traveling alone.

    For those who have used rental type of vehicles, could you please tell me more on the way they can be transformed as suggested above?

    Thanks so far!
  10. "Taking the seats out of the car should be forgotten on the road."

    Hmm. I think that is by far the best choice. Rent a Chrysler Town and Country/Dodge Caravan (same vehicle, different trim; I see them in Europe occasionally) and figure out a way to dump the seats for your time in the U.S. Offer to pay someone who lives near your pickup point to keep them, or rent a storage locker (should be possible for $100/month or so if you pay in advance), or something. With the seats out, the Chrysler/Dodge vans will fit 4'x8' panels (122cm x 244cm) lying flat in the back, so there's plenty of room.

    And yes, get a good pad, as that floor gets cold! (I prefer Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey to Chrysler, but you can't reliably rent those - although I have seen Siennas at National Car Rental.)

    I suppose if you can't find any way to lose the seats, you could see if any vans have seats that all fold down to the same level and then you could put a sheet of 4'x8' plywood over them, but this plan has a lot of drawbacks.
  11. Ralph, thanks, good plan I will keep this in mind. Perhaps some rental company would accept to deliver the vehicle with some seats off.
  12. Paul I see you have one of the older Toyota vans sold here in the 1980's with the engine kind of under the drivers seat. I own a Honda Odyssey van. The back seat folds into the floor and the center seats may be removed. With some closed cell foam or camping sleeping mats I'm sure you could sleep well on the floor. I have used a pickup truck with top over the bed and plywood on the floor as my "RV". The van has a nice ride at about 20 mpg. Two could travel well if they are friends, no tent needed.
  13. >Paul I see you have one of the older Toyota vans sold here in the 1980's

    Yes, a 1990 model, 300'000KM and still running! It climbs the mountain roads like a goat even it's not a 4WD and the engine is just 1600cc. Also pretty short body even if spacious inside. It can turn around on narrow roads which is handy when looking for road views. Not imported any more, it will be a pain to replace it and so I am keeping it.

    Honda are very nice cars, -the Honda Element mentioned above looks perfect for the needs- but tell me if I am wrong: I got the information that Honda does not let it's cars for rent. There is probably a reason for this policy, but it sure would be nice to have them. I havn't seen any Hondas at the major rental companies websites.
  14. A few of the newer mini van models have fold flat middle row seating. That could probably accomodate you for sleeping. Something else you may want to look into is a few companies like Enterprise will rent you a full conversion van with no interior except the front seats and trim. So long as you don't need to carry several people with you (well, ahem, with seat belts anyway) it makes an ideal setup for long trips. You can almost literally camp in the back of it for a couple of people (maybe even 3-4 for a tight fit) and you can fit tons of gear in the back. The prices aren't always that steep depending on what you are doing with it. I think prices tend to start around $19.99 US a day and run something like $.40-.75 a mile (could get steep if doing a lot of driving).

    I would try looking outside of the traditional rental car companies like Budget, Hertz, etc and try looking at a few that might not be based at an airport. At worst you might have to pay a cab fare or two to get there, or in some cases like Enterprise they advertise that they will pick you up where ever you need to be picked up to get your rental car (not sure if there is an expense attached).
  15. Certain models of the the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Grand Caravan have, since 2005, Stow 'n Go seating, where the 2nd and 3rd rows fold flat into under-floor trays. These trays can be used for storage when the seats are in their usual position.

    I don't know how much they are to rent, or which agencies have them, or what their fuel consumption is, but they are big enough and long enough to allow you to stretch out in the back.

    Again, note that NOT all Dodge Grand Caravans or Chrysler Town & Country models have them, so you will want to specifically ask for those that have stow 'n go seating.

    Good luck!
  16. You should try to find a company that rents a Ford Taurus X Wagon (formerly called the
    Ford Freestyle). The 2007 and earlier models were called the Ford Freestyle and the
    updated 2008 model has been renamed the Ford Taurus X. (The regular non-X Taurus is
    just a sedan.)

    The two back rows of this Crossover wagon fold flat as does the front row passenger seat
    to form an excellent flat sleeping surface and it handles more like a car than an SUV. I've
    seen some Freestyles as rental vehicles. The 2008 Taurus X might be too new to be in any
    rental fleets yet, but it won't hurt to look.
  17. Right, it all comes down to renting a particular car. I think that I should contact a local company where they can offer and secure a specific model and customize it on demand instead of one of the large rental company where you are not certain about the exact model you will drive until you pick the car.

    Thank you guys for all that useful information!

  18. Try U-Haul; you may find something there that might work for you, and cheaper than the car rental companies.
  19. Why not? A small delivery vehicle should be OK, except perhaps for the big red UHAUL sign!
  20. I don't think the U-Haul option would be very affordable if your trip is more than a few days or a few hundred miles. U-Haul *trailers* are cheap, but anything with a motor in it gets pricey pretty quickly.

    I don't know about the other rental companies, but with National Car Rental's "Emerald Club" membership ($50/year), when you get to the car rental parking lot they just point you to a long line of cars (the "Emerald Aisle"; get it?) in the price class you reserved, and you can just walk down the row, sitting in various cars/vans, for an hour or two if you wish, until you find one you like and drive off. You'll have to look into the availability of "EC" membership to EU citizens (if you're not a US citizen); perhaps you can join the equivalent in the European division of National/Alamo and use that membership in the U.S. Click on "Emerald Club" at nationalcar.com to investigate.

    I suspect that some of the frequent-traveler websites also have car-rental forums where you could learn more on choosing specific cars rather than just accepting the car they give you at the rental desk.
  21. There are things that are obvious from within, but when you fly a long way and are lost in an airport in a foreign city with too many luggage for you to carry, the last thing you would wish is go out hunting for cars... I am no exception.

    I checked the Jeep Grand Cherokee offred at one of the companies and it seems that it should work. The rear seats fold flat neatly. There is no scale to figure what the dimensions are, but if the front seat can lean forward, a luggage filling the gap, it should be long enough to accomodate a small to medium size photographer. Any experience?

  22. "When you fly a long way and are lost in an airport in a foreign city with too many luggage for you to carry, the last thing you would wish is go out hunting for cars... I am no exception."

    I understand what you're saying, but you don't have to "hunt" for cars. You just walk down the same aisle you'd walk down to your car anyway, but instead of being required to take the car in space #29, you can take any car in spaces #20 through #50, for example.

    Unless you can get a company to guarantee they'll have the Jeep or whatever you want - and I don't know of any that will, in any country, because their fleet is constantly being juggled around - if you can see the choices you'll increase your chances of finding something that works for your needs right away instead of going back and forth between the terminal and the parking lot (especially if you're not familiar with some of the cars/vans being offered to you at the desk).

    Also, for a vehicle like an SUV or a minivan, your odds will probably be better if you rent early in the week (Monday afternoon or Tuesday) than if you try to rent on a Friday or Saturday or Sunday, when those vehicles are likely to rent out for the weekend. (For a boring "fleet" sedan, it's the reverse, as those are usually rented by businesspeople during the week.)
  23. Ralph, thanks for your kind explanation! It can probably be a good option, but there much chance involved in it. I would rather secure a car before leaving. The problem is there is this mention: such or such car model "or similar". The "similar" could miss the option I am looking for, and I don't think that any company would change it's contracts just for me, so I will probably call the local office and know from their experience what risks I am taking.

    ''Also, for a vehicle like an SUV or a minivan, your odds will probably be better if you rent early in the week''

    Thanks, that is good to know!
  24. A minivan is the way to go, and good availability of those. A minivan is definitely easy for
    jumping to the passenger window to get a shot (please park first :) or slipping quickly to
    the rear sliding door(s). Many of the newer minivans have dual sliding doors now. I used
    to shoot from a 92 Chevrolet Astro van and you can practically buy those now for the cost
    of a few weeks rental.

    If you're planning a winter trip in the U.S. and enjoy wildlife photography, you should
    consider southern/coastal wildlife refuges with car tour routes (e.g. Bosque del Apache).
    The van makes a great blind on wheels. Now, you could remove the passenger seat and
    put a tripod there, shooting off the driver's seat, or keep that seat there and get a window
    mount for your ballhead/telephoto combo, such as the Kirk or Groofwin products (keep
    the tripod by a sliding door). I've used the Groofwin, and like it. The van will gives you the
    taller window to accommadate the height of the window mount/head/tele stack and still
    be able to tilt the lens down toward the ground.

    If you're interested in this, see current PhotoNet thread "Which window mount is best?",
    especially the remarks of D. Robert Franz, Jan 15, 1998; 10:08 a.m.. Then look at his
    work. He knows his stuff!

    Sounds like an adventure.

    All the best!

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