When planning a road trip around Europe, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing a motorhome or campervan. Deciding on an RV rental in Europe can seem daunting. It’s a significant investment, and you want to make sure that you end up with a vehicle that meets your needs.
In this article, I’ll guide you through all the questions you’ll need to ask yourself before choosing a motorhome or campervan. By the end, you’ll know exactly what you want and need to choose the perfect motorhome.
What is a Recreational Vehicle?
A recreational vehicle or RV is just a name that encapsulates all forms of ‘homes on wheels’. The term covers all things from motorhomes to campervans, caravans and camper trailers. I’ll use it occasionally throughout this article to refer to ‘campervans and motorhomes’ so I don’t have to keep saying both! An rv rental in Europe is very popular so this will help inform your decision.
What is a Motorhome?
A motorhome is a large recreational vehicle. It is a ‘home’ built onto the chassis of a truck or bus, making it self-driving. A motorhome will have living quarters, including a kitchen, a bathroom with a toilet and shower, a seating area, and a bed. Motorhomes also usually contain mod con’s such as air conditioning and heating.
There are two classes of motorhomes, Class A, which are the largest, and class C, which are smaller. Motorhomes range in size from around 6.5 meters to 9 meters long, although they can be longer.
The larger size of a motorhome allows for more spacious living. For example, the kitchen will be more functional than that of a smaller campervan.
Given their size, motorhomes are more expensive to buy and rent than campervans. Hiring a motorhome during the European summer will cost anything from €120 a day and up. While buying a used, well maintained ‘young’ motorhome will set you back at least €50,000. Then, of course, the prices go up with the size and luxury modifications.
What is a Campervan?
A campervan is essentially a smaller version of a motorhome; it is built onto the chassis of a van. Campervans also vary in size from small to larger van sizes, but they are usually smaller than small motorhomes.
Campervans have many of the same facilities as a motorhome; they are generally smaller and less spacious.
So, for example, the kitchen fridge will be smaller, and there won’t be as much bench space. While you sacrifice some space with campervans, they have their benefits: they are smaller and much easier to drive. Parking is also more manageable in a campervan than a larger motorhome.
The prices for hiring a campervan usually start at around 60 euros per day in the summer. A newer model used campervan, in good condition, will usually set you back over €35,000.
8 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing an RV Rental Europe
Now that you know the difference between a motorhome and a campervan, how do you choose between them? Moreover, how do I know what I need ‘within’ the motorhome and campervan itself?
By the time you’ve answered these 11 questions, you should have a pretty good idea about whether you need a motorhome or campervan and what facilities and fixtures you’ll be looking for when choosing your model.
Let’s get started.
1. What is Your Budget?
This seems like an obvious one, but in the world of motorhomes, in particular, it’s a crucial thing to know. You need to be realistic about what you’re willing to pay. Your camper or motorhome will be your largest expense when travelling in Europe. What are you prepared to pay? Don’t forget that it’s not just the upfront payment for the vehicle; it’s also the additional expenses such as:
- road taxes
- repairs and maintenance
If you’re hiring your recreational vehicle, the final price you pay will include all these expenses. Insurance will often cover any need for repairs and maintenance, although you will need to pay a bond which can be used to cover any damage you incur that insurance won’t cover.
The bond is usually held or ‘frozen on your credit card, which means that you’ll need to have that amount available on a credit card to be frozen.
It can’t be the money you plan on spending on your trip because you won’t have access to it until after you’ve returned the vehicle in one piece.
When you buy your RV, you’re up for all the incurred expenses. These expenses are also often higher than you may be used to with a standard car. They will also be payable yearly, often whether you’re using the motorhome or campervan or not.
Before choosing a motorhome or campervan, you’ll need to decide how much you’re prepared to spend for the duration of your trip, including all the additional expenses. Campervans are generally cheaper than motorhomes.
2. How long do you want to travel with your campervan or motorhome?
The longer you plan on travelling around Europe in a campervan, the more likely it is that a ‘bigger’ RV would be required. That isn’t to say that you need a large motorhome, however.
What you may want after a while is space. It’s easy to put up with cramped conditions or a lack of storage in the short term, but it can get tedious over time.
If you’re travelling for an extended period of time, you may choose a motorhome or campervan with a decent seating area. Maybe a larger bed is more important to you. Someone who loves to cook might be ok with eating out for a couple of weeks but will eventually want their own kitchen.
Campervans and motorhomes come with a reference to ‘berth’, that is, the number of people they can sleep. A good rule of thumb is to go up one berth when in doubt. It may add an extra bed you don’t need, but it’ll usually also add additional seating space and other allowances for the extra person.
3. How Many People Are You Travelling With?
On the subject of extra people, avoid trying to squeeze too many people into one motorhome or campervan. This is a common thing that happens with small children. People often try to squeeze them into one bed.
We’d highly recommend counting children as adults and making sure you have a campervan or motorhome that sleeps everyone separately because this will also give you more space in general.
One thing to consider when travelling with a group or with mixed families is privacy. The smaller the campervan, the less privacy you’ll have in general. There isn’t room for it. A motorhome, however, will often have a private, enclosed toilet and/or bathroom. There may also be other measures such as doors that divide certain sections.
If you’re travelling for a while or not so worried about budget, going one berth up is a great way to create more space. Consider the dynamics of the group and look for RV’s that have options to allow each person to have some space and privacy. You may survive a week on top of one another, but what about a month?
4. What Kind of Lifestyle Do You Lead?
One of the obvious examples of this is in the kitchen. You might be someone who loves cooking. Maybe you’re just on a special diet for health reasons, and you like to eat a certain way. Whatever the reason, it would be vital that you have a useable, functional kitchen.
The smaller the campervan, the fewer kitchen facilities it will have. Indeed, the smallest of campervans may have a one-burner stove and a tiny 20L fridge. The bench and preparation space could be the table.
While this is fine if you don’t cook regularly or prefer to eat out, it’s not ideal for someone who likes to cook good food. Larger campervans and all motorhomes will have much better kitchen facilities. You want to look for something that has multiple burners, a little bench or preparation space, and a decent-sized refrigerator.
If you’re travelling with kids, maybe storage is a high priority. Kids have stuff that has to be stored somewhere. So maybe storage space is the one thing that you’re most worried about. Again, if you’re travelling for two weeks, you could probably cope with a smaller kitchen or less storage. However, the longer you’re travelling, the more important these things will become.
Do you plan on taking motorbikes or bicycles with you? Consider the essentials you require in the RV and which ones you can leave behind for a while.
5. Where Do You Want to Stay in Your Motorhome or Campervan?
When choosing a motorhome or campervan, one enormous consideration is whether you want to overnight at campgrounds or try to wild camp.
There are millions of campsites all over Europe, and they offer the luxury and comfort of several useful facilities.
The most significant benefit is access to electricity. Other common facilities in campgrounds include toilets and showers and areas where you can wash dishes. Most campsites have laundry facilities which are usually coin or token operated. Holiday parks are large campgrounds and may have swimming pools, tennis courts or gyms.
Aside from the luxury, camping grounds also offer easy access to fresh water and grey or wastewater drains. This means you can fill up and get rid of the water accumulating in your grey water tank. Campgrounds are one-stop shops. Although they’re all different in size and quality, they’re usually a reliable and stress-free way to RV around Europe.
On the other hand, wild camping is where you stay ‘in the wild’ at places that are not specifically campgrounds. This is illegal in many European countries; however, some countries allow it. Illegal or not, many people also still do it. If you want to wild camp, you need to be self-sufficient and self-contained. You’ll need a power source, so solar, or a generator. You also need to find fresh water and grey water dump sites along the way.
There are also options in between wild camping and campsites, which are called Aires in France. These are relatively cheap areas where you can park your campervan or motorhome overnight. For a few extra euros, many also have places where you can dump your grey water and refill your fresh water tank. However, you’ll need to be self-sufficient to use Aires as they don’t offer electricity.
I have never had the courage to wild camp illegally in Europe! Many people do it, though. It often requires you to be stealthy and prepared to move on if you’re asked to. If it’s not something you think you would do, you can quickly meet all your recharge and refill needs with campgrounds. If you’re going to wild camp, you need to focus more on choosing a self-sufficient motorhome or campervan.
6. What Places Do You want to Explore on Your Road Trip?
Europe has plenty of spectacular old cities and small rural villages, including many long winding mountain roads. These can pose challenges to larger campervans or motorhomes. Therefore, when choosing a motorhome or campervan, you must consider where you want to drive it. Otherwise, you’ll run into some problems.
The bigger the motorhome or camper, the more problems you will encounter in cities when it comes to parking. It can be a nightmare to find a large enough spot to accommodate even a small motorhome. This is also sometimes true of tourist attractions close to cities.
While much of Europe is used to the idea of motorhomes, parking does not always align with the concept. Driving through narrow, busy streets trying to find somewhere to park is not a great way to start your day of sightseeing.
The same goes for smaller, off the beaten track locations such as villages and rural areas. These areas often have very narrow roads, almost like alleyways, and it can be challenging to navigate. In Western Europe, you won’t have much of a problem with bad roads, but that can also change if you venture further east. The roads in some regions of eastern Europe can be bumpy, to say the least.
If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in and around these sorts of places, you have two options. The first is to get a campervan that allows you to park in a standard parking space and navigate tight spaces more effectively. The second is to take bicycles with you.
Having bicycles fitted to a bicycle rack at the back of your campervan or motorhome makes it easy to park a little further afield and cycle to your destination. Bicycles can also be useful for things like running to the supermarket. It means you won’t have to pack up the whole motorhome or campervan every time you run out of milk or bread.
7. Do You Want a Home or a Bed?
What it boils down to is the question of comfort. Do you want somewhere to ‘live’ while you travel, or do you intend to be out there seeing everything and doing all the things, simply sleeping in your RV at the end of the day? If it’s just a bed and somewhere to keep your items, then a smaller option is by far the best choice when choosing a motorhome or campervan.
If you want comfort and feel at home inside, having more space and more functional facilities will most likely do that for you. A considerable part of answering the questions in this article is to get you to think about what will make you happy and make you feel at home. What do you need to be satisfied?
8. How Confident Are You With Driving?
The final thing to consider when choosing a motorhome or campervan for a road trip is driving. How comfortable are you with driving in general? In Europe, there’s a good chance you’ll be driving long, windy, mountainous roads. Are you confident with that? How confident are you when you add a large motorhome into the mix?
A campervan will handle more like a car, but a large, heavy motorhome doesn’t have the same manoeuvrability and agility as a smaller vehicle. They are higher, wider and longer and can take some getting used to. A large motorhome weighs more than 3500kg. You might also need to upgrade your driver’s license to be able to drive it. Are you prepared to do that?
Final Thoughts on Choosing an RV Rental Europe
Hopefully, by taking a minute to think about your trip, your personal preferences and the practicalities of what you need, you’ll have come to some conclusions about what will and won’t work for you. Once you have that in mind, the next step is to start looking for it.
With so many different options regarding size, shape and layout, with a bit of persistence, you’ll be able to choose the motorhome or campervan that is perfect for you.
Christine is the owner of travellerswithtime.com. She and her partner Ben have spent the last few years traveling through New Zealand and then Europe by campervan. They travel with their dog Alisa, who they adopted in Croatia. You’ll find them exploring old cities, hiking through National Parks, and taking unforgettable road trips. You can follow them on Facebook.