Motor Homing in Europe
The Best Way to Meet Your European
|A young camper savors Florence's
delights from the backdoor of her family's motor
I have completed an 8-month trip across
Europe by motor home. As a former tour operator, I have
traveled just about every way imaginable. I found motor
homing hard to beat. You pack once; you travel where you
want when you want; you have no worries about where the
next hotel room will be, and you have to try hard not to
If you are traveling to Europe on a
short 2-or-3-week vacation, a motor home may not be ideal.
Some wrong turns on unfamiliar roadways, and this can cause
problems for people on a tight schedule. But for a family
exploring Europe for the summer or a retired couple with
plenty of time, it’s ideal. So why didn’t I
meet more Americans in over 9,900 inspected campgrounds
First, let’s look at the basics.
There are three ways to acquire your camping van or motor
home: rent, lease, or buy. The least expensive way to go
on a long trip is to buy. You may want to buy from an outfit
that will guarantee to buy back your rig at the end of the
trip. For optimum savings, consider a good used motor home
with low mileage. I contacted an outfit in Amsterdam recommended
to me by an experienced RVer and made my arrangements over
the phone. When I arrived, my camper was ready and waiting.
I even shipped several cartons of supplies in advance and
they were stored in the motor home until I arrived. There
are some technicalities regarding insurance and registration,
but these are handled by the outfit that sells you your
I met a number of Americans traveling
in Europe who had considered motor homing but decided against
it because they were afraid of being stuck with the motor
home at the end of their trip. The buy-back program resolves
this dilemma. Many companies will agree to sell your camper
on consignment at the end of your trip, but I found most
people wanted the security of a guaranteed buy-back. Buy-backs
vary but usually average around 65 percent of the purchase
price. Needless to say, the longer you travel, the cheaper
the cost per day. Reasonable used motor homes and camper-vans
ideal for touring Europe range between $13,000 and $35,000
depending on size, year, and condition.
Europeans love to camp and there are
campgrounds just about everywhere. They range from complete
destination resorts with swimming pools, tennis, entertainment,
bars, restaurants, and grocery stores on premises to more
rustic campgrounds with few extras. Almost all campgrounds
have basic necessities such as bathrooms, showers, dishwashing
facilities, electric hook-ups, and chemical toilets for
waste. Many people find a central location they like and
take day trips using the campground as a base until they
If you take the cost of your camper
(minus buy-back or anticipated resale price) insurance,
registration, campground fees, and gas you can get a good
idea of your costs. My costs over 245 days, traveling an
estimated 16,500 kilometers, were 1,678 euros for gas, 1,452
euros for insurance, and 932 euros for registration. Campgrounds
averaged 15 euros per night for one person, electric hook-up,
and camper. Add five to eight euros per additional adult
and three to four per child. My low was eight euros and
my high 28. Some people save money by free camping (camping
in truck stops, beaches, and along the road) but I did so
only in an emergency and don’t recommend it as a standard
practice. Besides, you miss one of the big advantages of
camping Europe. When you’re in a campground, it’s
hard not to socialize and meet people. Fellow campers will
be intrigued by the fact that you’re an American camping
through Europe. I can’t count the number of times
I was invited over for a glass of wine and conversation.
And if you are traveling with kids, you’ll be amazed
how they communicate through body and sign language as if
talking really didn’t matter.
Another way to add meaning to your
trip is to allot some time for visiting with a local family.
Servas, an organization of international hosts in over 100
countries, will provide you with host lists for the countries
you request. The normal routine is to spend two nights at
the home of a host family, usually including dinner. The
objective is to learn about each other’s way of life
and exchange ideas. Some hosts will give you a tour of the
local area and all can provide useful information. Servas
charges nothing except for a membership fee, but the usual
procedure is to thank your host with a small gift or bottle
Finding space in campgrounds is a lot
easier than finding space in hotels (although at popular
vacation destinations in July and August, it’s helpful
to call ahead and reserve a spot). Not all campgrounds take
reservations, so if the area campgrounds are crowded the
best bet is to arrive early. I never made a reservation
during my eight months of travel and was only turned away
twice because a campground was full. In both cases, I got
a spot at a neighboring site. I also tried to arrange my
itinerary so I avoided crowded vacation destinations during
A good campground guide is essential
for locating places where you want to stay. Another essential
item to get before you leave is an International Camping
card. This provides admittance to most campgrounds (in some
cases at reduced rates) and is held by the campground instead
of your passport. Don’t leave home without it. (See
the Camping Tips below for a listing of good books on camping
in Europe and other services and suggestions. Proper planning
is the best insurance for a smooth travel experience.)
Tips and Resources
Propane Tanks: Your
camper will undoubtedly come with one full propane
tank (used for refrigerator, hot water, and sometimes
heater) and possibly a small reserve "camper" tank.
If you’re traveling for more than two months,
get a second full tank from your camper outfit.
This gives you plenty of time to get your empty
tank replaced when it runs out at the most inopportune
Electric Heater: Get
a small electric heater in Europe. It saves on
propane during chilly nights and you just plug
in at the campground.
GPS: I never
used one but the new camping books are coming out
with GPS readings. Hand-held or dash mounted. If
you’re into gadgets, you might enjoy one.
Satellite TV: If
you’re on a long trip this is a great way
to keep in touch with what’s going on via
CNN, BBC, etc. Many campers have them.
cash machines are the easiest and least expensive
way to obtain cash in Europe and are everywhere
in Western Europe.
Internet Access: For
many connectivity is absolutely crucial these days.
Many campsites have WiFi, WiFi in stores and chains
along the way, other mobile Internet possibilities coming
online all the time.
David Shore and Patty Campbell, Europe
by Van and Motorhome. Basic how-to guide
to RVing through Europe more than a listing
of campgrounds. Good tips on a successful trip.
Carol Mickelsen, Caravan & Camping
Europe 2012 (Aa Caravan and Camping Europe).
Mike and Terri Church, Traveler's
Guide to European Camping: Explore Europe with
RV or Tent (Traveler's Guide series). Picks
best campgrounds in popular spots. My guide
for much of my trip. Indispensible.
Caravan Club: Caravan Europe, Caravan France.
Two-volume edition is the most comprehensive
printed listing of European campgrounds available.
Separate volume for U.K. campgrounds. Also sells
a membership card for U.K. campgrounds.
Camping: The website on which it
can be purchased is complete with a search engine
which lists more than 9,900 campgrounds in Europe
in 29 countries. They also sell off-season
discount camping cards.
US Servas, Inc.: www.usservas.org.
Braitman & Woudenberg: www.bwcampers.com.
Dependable camper sales with buy-back and support
Rutenkolk Caravaning: www.rutenkolk.de.
STEVE HUNT is a
professional tour operator who has traveled extensively.
He is currently touring Europe by motor home.