European Campervan Life
Can’t decide how you want to travel and where you want to stay? Make both decisions at once and hire a campervan for some of your trip.
On paper European campervan travel seems like the dream. Rolling to wherever the road takes you, sleeping anywhere you want, saving money on transport and accommodation. And the reality is… pretty much that. Taking a campervan, for at least some part of your European backpacking odyssey is a surefire way to get you off the beaten track and into some pretty enviable environments, from unexpected pristine beaches and mountains, to frontrow sleeps in some of the world’s most popular cities. But like all things backpacking Europe, it’s important to get it right.
Size does matter
It matters bigly! Too big, too expensive, too hard to park in cities, too hard to drive down narrow European, cobblestoned streets on your way to a Portuguese bakery to swipe one of their renowned tarts (we mean the pastries!); too small, not enough sleeping space, uncomfortable, fights ensue, best friends become mortal enemies in a relentless battle for bedspace.
There are basically, very basically, two types of campervans. One is the traditional, grey nomad, family, ma and pa caravan on wheels type. High roofed, long wheelbase, plenty of amenities. The pros of these small, rolling houses is that you’ll have everything that you need, especially berths for crew to sleep. The downside is that you don’t really need a kitchen inside your van, and definitely don’t need a toilet – do all that biz outside! Either literally, or in the amenities provided by Europe’s many rest areas, gas stations, and public places in general. And as you don’t need all that extra space, you’ll find yourself restricted by your height and length, restricted from underground carparks, which are your best parking options during naughty nights out in the big city, and struggling to find place in regular carparks – some of which have height-restricting bars to stop these big campervans from taking up residency in prime parking real estate.
The second type of campervan is less a house on wheels and more a regular van, a worker’s van or family van, converted to resemble a little cabin on the inside. If you’re travelling with only two or three of you, this is the ideal size for your motorhome. You can park anywhere and everywhere, drive your road hostel like a regular car, and not pay too much on fuel. Of course, as mentioned, space is the real decider here, so work out who you’re rolling with, how much sleeping real estate they will likely occupy, and choose accordingly.
Booking your new home
Many of the same issues arise when booking a campervan as when booking a hire car, so make sure you’ve got all the right paperwork, credit cards, etc. and are aware that one-way hires, and hires for young people, will usually attract a fee. From there it’s time to research. Depending on where you’re coming from, there are a bunch of campervan companies offering different deals at any given time. The enfant terrible of the campervan world, Wicked Campers, has a presence in Europe, as well as other brands with less risque paint jobs, such as Spaceships, en Indie Campers. We also like to use aggregating sites to compare a bunch of different companies at once, although they will often only show the prices for the bigger, traditional style of motorhome.
If you’re a flexible backpacker, and we implore you to be so, it can be worth your while to follow some European campervan companies, particularly those geared towards backpackers, on social media. From time to time they’ll offer low fares, sometimes 1€ fares, to people who are willing and able to relocate motorhomes from one European city to another. These deals aren’t as rare as you might think, but you wouldn’t want to plan your trip around them – it’s more something you can take advantage of should the opportunity coincide with your travel plans.
Where can we go?
Wherever you like, that’s the whole point. Europe is your oyster in a motorhome, and the police are more relaxed than, say, in Australia when it comes to moving along rolling vagabonds from their public carparks. That’s not to say that camping in your van is legal everywhere, it’s just to say that you can try and just play dumb if and when you’re asked to move on. For a little bit of risk you can get a lot of reward, so roll with it and see where the road takes you!