I Tried Cabana’s Hotel-on-Wheels, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Camping Experience

A fresh spin on glamping!

Camping, glamping—either way, I can’t exactly say I’m a veteran. While I have, in recent years, developed a much stronger appreciation for nature and exploring the unknown, I wouldn’t add any form of camping to my list of hobbies. So when a rep for Cabana mobile hotel reached out about a choose-your-own-adventure road trip opportunity, my interest was piqued. It can’t hurt to try something new!

At the time my trip was offered, it was still before people were actively hopping back on planes and before L.A. was fully reopened. So, the idea of setting out on a road trip to uncharted territory in a spacious luxe vehicle sounded especially intriguing. Especially since all I’d have to pay for is gas—my itinerary, campsites and rooming (via the van) were offered at no cost—there was really no reason not to go.

But there was one small (ok, large) problem: I’ve always driven a sedan and there was just no way I was going to drive a monster van! So I initially turned down the offer until a chance conversation with a friend led to the decision to go for it! We agreed that if she drove the vehicle for the trip’s entirety, I’d cover the gas. Keep reading for everything you need to know about the Cabana mobile hotel.

The Company and Its Services

Cabana officially came to fruition a year ago by way of founders Jonathan Savage and Scott Kubly. Its growth has elevated massively in recent months—just today, in fact, the company announced it raised $10M to maintain its end-to-end travel experience.

The company operates primarily as a personalized travel-planning service (which includes an amenities-filled van for transport), but its vans can also be rented with the user’s own route in mind. The van comes with a comfy, camper queen bed (the width of a queen with the length of a full) and a bathroom that includes a tiny shower. It also comes with a heater, window shade, small ceiling fan, Amazon Fire TV and sink.

Van rental (regardless of whether or not you use the travel service) ranges from $224 – $249 per day (holidays are slightly more). For an additional fee, you can request a slide-out kitchen, early check-in and late drop-off, and camp chairs. There’s no limit on mileage, though a full-tank fill-up is approximately $150. Each van fits two adults (a four-seater is in development).

Should you choose to utilize the built-in concierge option, you’ll fill out a brief questionnaire with scenery, distance, location and climate preferences. From there, you’ll receive a curated yet surprise itinerary that shares the campsite details, along with food, drink and sightseeing stops along the way. National parks, wine country, and Highway 1 drives are common destinations. A member of Cabana concierge is readily available should you have any issues during your stay.

My Experience

There’s excitement in the unknown, and not only was I embarking on my first glamping adventure, but I’d never been to California’s Eastern Sierras, so this would be a unique experience all around.

My friend and I swooped up our vehicle from the rooftop of West Hollywood’s Andaz Hotel at 7am, made an obligatory Starbucks stop and we were on our way! Our first stop was Bishop, a small town 4.5 hours away. We were given a few hike and bike options out that way, but by the time we arrived, it was next-level scorching. So we opted for a light bite at the famed Erick Schat’s Bakkery (yes, it’s spelled like that). From there, we did a little shopping in town. There were some small antique establishments, a brewery, a café and a tiny boutique where I actually bought a couple candles and a top.

The heat was rough, so by this point we decided to head to our first campsite. Because we were booked for two days, we got to embark on two completely different scenic experiences, but both within an hour from each other. Our first campsite was the beautiful, lush surroundings of Big Pine Creek. This was truly a picturesque dream. We felt so at ease once we were stationed up a huge mountain and nestled into the majestic greenery. We grabbed a hard Kombucha and put our feet in the ice cold creek.

All seemed perfect… until we came to the realization that we had no service. And that’s when our biggest fears kicked in. We inquired about this from the get-go, and while we figured it may be spotty, we didn’t expect it to be non-existent. Cabana’s built-in T-Mobile service just wasn’t making the cut. Had we known, we would have opted for a different destination. By this point, it was dark, so there was no driving down the mountain. We couldn’t access anything—including the built-in TV with Netflix. So no music, no phone, no forms of entertainment—I didn’t even bring a drop of reading material with me because I thought I’d be too occupied. While the scenery was beautiful, there really wasn’t much for us to do after a certain point in time. We decided to go to take up our Cabana mobile hotel bed and pray for better luck during Day 2.

We woke up bright and early, with the initial plan to go on an AM hike. Unfortunately, because we still had zero service, we wouldn’t be able to find our destination before it got too hot. So we went with the only other option, which was go downhill and get on a main road. From there, we were led to the Old West town of Lone Pine. We went to a deserted train station to take pics, followed by lunch at Bonanza Mexican Restaurant, where I indulged in a delicious plate of chilaquiles. Afterward, we perused the colorful murals that adorned town, and headed to our next destination once the heat was unbearable. Next up was our desert stay at Tuttle Creek Campground, five minutes from Lone Pine. While I preferred the ambiance of the former stay, I really like that we got to change it up and experience both.

And unlike our last visit, we actually had service this time!… or so we thought. Things were going smoothly for a couple hours, when slowly but surely it came to a halt, and we were back to square one. This definitely put a damper on things, because had we known, we would’ve stationed ourselves a little ways down for the sake of having options to connect. And here we were, once again, hitting the sheets at 8pm until our early rise to make it home in time for drop-off deadline.

Bottom Line

The concept of Cabana mobile hotel is innovative and well-executed. I appreciate the research and knowledge that went into our curated travels. Everything about our trip made sense as far as getting around is concerned, and what we’d have in close(ish) proximity. Also, the van was everything advertised: All the amenities were in place, the van was spotless upon pick-up, it drove smoothly and we got a surprisingly good sleep in its bed.

All of that said, the lack of service put a major damper on our experience. Had we been a couple, perhaps we would have felt differently about the situation, but two friends going glamping absolutely need service. If I were to do it all over again, I would be absolutely certain that where I’m headed has at least decent service so I’m not stuck. And I would definitely bring magazines, books or some kind of entertainment that doesn’t require a phone. I’d perhaps even download some movies in advance or have access to some without a connection.

I’ve expressed my feedback to the Cabana team, and I’m confident they’ll take it into consideration moving forward. At the very least, I hope they provide a disclaimer that there’s a chance no service will exist. I think the service aspect is especially important since people utilizing the van aren’t characteristically the same people who would pitch a tent and rough it for two days.

As for the cost, the company aims to be the average price of a hotel room, so it makes sense, even though the size is far more compact. Split down the middle, $125 plus gas is pretty doable for a unique experience.

All in all, if Cabana mobile hotel gets its service situation together, I would absolutely use it again and recommend it to others… provided I find someone else to drive, of course!

Now that you’ve got road trips on the brain, click HERE for the perfect new playlist for all your cruising needs!

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