Updated 4 June 2018
Motorhome tips for beginners
Imagine waking up in the morning to the sounds of the first bird calls of the day. You roll over in your comfy bed and slowly pull down the blinds to let the light tumble gently into the inner sanctum of your campervan.
It’s at this moment that you remember where you spent the night, parked alongside a small lake, trees leaning over as though they want to touch the water too. In the background, a fabulous chateau lies in waiting for your visit today. This isn’t a dream. This is your life, your travels, your own piece of perfection.
It’s memories like these that make me a “happy camper” – sorry couldn’t resist the pun! It’s the reason why I return to travelling in campervans in Europe over and over again.
They represent freedom and spontaneity, that feeling of being able to do whatever we want, whenever we want.
But, despite being experienced campervan travellers, with many kilometres, countries and adventures under our belts, we still always follow a methodical process prior to hiring for a new trip. This sets us up well for a great trip.
This may not be a comprehensive list, but it’s our list, and we’ve never gone wrong following it.
If you are new to the wonderful world of campervanning, then this beginners guide to campervan hire will assist you with your planning.
Plan your itinerary
The planning for this can vary greatly, but use the following as a starting point to guide the type of campervan you will need.
TIP: If you’ve never travelled in a campervan before, I would highly recommend that you don’t try to see the world in a short period of time. Campervans are best suited to slow travel, allowing you to take the time to meander through countryside and towns long enough to absorb it. On a map, towns can seem relatively easy to get to. Remember that the terrain in Europe can be difficult, and any passage through the mountains will take much longer than anticipated. A trip that looks like it can take 30 minutes can take hours.
Where are you going?
Maybe you like planning every little detail and every stop, or perhaps you’re a bit more adventurous and like to take it as it comes. Whatever your style, you will need to decide on a start and finish point. This will assist in making a decision on which hiring company to use. ie if you are starting and finishing in Paris, there is not much use looking at a hiring company where the only pickup location is Frankfurt.
There are many mapping tools now available online to assist with your planning.
Via Michelin and Google Maps are the two I most commonly use. You can enter in criteria such as tolls/no tolls, motorway travel etc. And, they can all be saved and also printed out. I only use this for general planning and use the GPS for the more specific details when driving/navigating.
TIP: A GPS is a really great tool to have in your campervan these days. Whilst I do miss using paper maps, sometimes it’s the finer detail provided in the GPS that can make or break your day. eg many campsites and other places where you can stay in a campervan require the use of co-ordinates. Some of the places we have stayed at would never be found on a map.
Return trip or one way?
Linked to the “where are you going?” question, is whether you require a one-way hire. Whilst these are possible, it’s not something I would recommend. One way hires are usually only possible with companies that have multi country locations. This then almost binds you to choosing that company and their conditions. Requesting a one-way hire will also bump up the price considerably, and could over-run any savings you might have made by travelling this way.
Note: There are companies who specifically hire on a “relocating” basis, providing incredibly cheap deals to reposition campervans to other locations. However, these are offered on last minute arrangements, meaning that for most planned trips, they are not suitable.
When are you going?
The million dollar question! High season in the Northern Hemisphere is a great time for travelling. The weather is usually fantastic, everything is open…..and there’s also plenty of people hiring cars, campervans and driving them on the roads.
In reverse, the low season has wilder weather, many attractions are closed, and there’s snow and ice on the roads bringing another set of issues.
Shoulder seasons offer a great compromise, with the weather generally behaving, plenty of places are still open and it’s far easier to drive.
High season, of course, adds dollars to the hire as demand usually outstrips the availability of vehicles, whilst the shoulder and low seasons see prices come down.
Sometimes the reason for the trip is determined by an event, like the Tour de France. High season and high demand make this a more expensive time to travel and it also means you need to plan well in advance, as vehicles usually book up 12 months or more in advance.
How long are you going?
Boring facts like budget or the amount of time you can get off work normally drive this decision.
The great thing with campervans is that they can be hired for shorter periods of time (even a week would be great) or for periods that extend for months. The longer the hire period, the cheaper the per day rate is.
If you’ve not been travelling in a campervan before, it might also be a worthwhile consideration to test the waters with a shorter trip, prior to hitting the road for months at a time.
Note – this article is focussed specifically on hiring campervans. If planning on travelling in one for extended periods of time, the option of buying a vehicle comes into play. Buying a campervan overseas has a separate set of planning requirements that are not dealt with here.
What features are most important to you?
- Space /configuration – Check out my article on “What’s Inside a Campervan” if you are unsure of how they look inside
- Size of vehicle
- Economy (note most campervans from major companies are diesel and manual transmission)
What’s your budget?
For most people, this will be the ultimate factor that shapes decisions on all of the above – where, how long, time of year and type of campervan. It’s important to have an idea of this in your mind before you start looking at hiring campervans so that you don’t waste too much time looking at vehicles that will never fit your budget.
NOTE : If you are planning on travelling in peak periods and you have decided to only camp at official campgrounds, you will also need to consider pre-booking your spots. Some campgrounds book up many months in advance. If you have a little more adventure in you, then booking at every location may become less important. Everything in peak periods takes longer, costs more, and requires more pre-planning.
Are you travelling with others?
This is important as it will dictate the size, type or even number of campervans to hire. If you are travelling with others be sure to ask the following questions of yourselves and the others, before you book anything!
- Have you travelled with these people before?
- Have you/they travelled in a campervan before?
- Do they have similar characteristics to you?
- Do you all agree on the itinerary?
- How will you split costs?
Thinking seriously about these types of questions could be the difference between having a great time and/or impacting on an otherwise great relationship. Those smelly socks left draped over your bed, having to cook three different meals at night to satisfy special diets, a snorer, an early riser, a late night movie watcher….
Differences that don’t seem like a big deal at home can manifest in the confines of a campervan. If you decide you can’t co-habitate, then perhaps you can hire a vehicle each and simply travel together, leaving the living part of the trip separate.
A few years back, my brother and his wife, joined us for part of a trip around France. Aside from the fact that we had slightly different overall itineraries, we hired a campervan each and drove together for seven days, prior to splitting off in opposite directions.
All of our travel experiences during this time were shared, including some meals and definitely evening drinks, but we had our own space at night.
In contrast, we have taken my parents on two campervan trips through Europe now, where we’ve hired a six berth beast, and all hung out under the one roof. It just depends on the people and the situation.
Find a company to hire from
Once you’ve got a reasonably clear idea of what it is you want, then it’s much easier to start searching online for a company to hire from. There’s no shortage of companies or booking engines, but how do you know you can trust them?
As a first timer, I’d highly recommend using brand names that you are familiar with, or companies that come recommended from experienced travellers. Also, conduct your own reviews online and above all, make sure they are reputable. Your trip and your financial arrangements depend on it.
There are many companies out there, but these are ones I have used before or portals specialising in campervan hire.
This is where all of your “must-haves” come face to face with your budget. When getting a quote, I can’t stress enough that you must ensure you are always comparing apples wtoapples.
Some companies will quote a rate, but the inclusions aren’t always clear. Others will use a base price and charge extra for additional items like bedding. Sometimes it’s not very clear at all just what is being included.
This means that quotes from different companies, for the same vehicle and time period, could look very different. Before you jump straight in and go for the cheapest, be sure to get a full break down of all inclusions, costs and add-ons.
Here’s some of the basics that you should have in your final package. Be sure to look for how they are costed in your quotes.
- Unlimited Mileage
- Fully Comprehensive Insurance
- 24 Hour Roadside Assistance
- Bedding, Bed Linen & Towels
- Outdoor Table & Chairs
- Cooking Equipment, Tableware & Cutlery
- Guides and maps
- Full Bottle Of Gas
- Vehicle implements like levelling blocks, water hoses and electrical cables
- Bike Rack
- Toilet chemicals – starter pack
Additional items that usually carry an extra cost include additional drivers, GPS and Insurance Excess Cover (CDV). Some companies offer transfers to their depot, which could also incur an additional charge if you want to utilise this service.
It also pays to check the costs involved with cleaning. Exterior cleans are usually included in the hire, provided you haven’t driven it somewhere you shouldn’t have. Most companies won’t charge you for a final interior clean, unless you have trashed it, or leave certain things like the toilet un-emptied at the end of the hire. It’s still good to understand where the extra costs might come from at the end, if you haven’t done the right thing by the hiring company.
Note: It’s also important to have an understanding of where you want to drive the campervan. Some companies won’t allow their vehicles to be driven in certain countries (ever) or at certain times of the year (eg winter).
When you have made your assessment on all these factors, always remember to ask the hiring company for their best price, or if they have any special deals available. Demand, local conditions, and even the current state of the economy can all have an impact on business, so it’s worth asking the question.
TIP: Remember that your campervan is both your transport and your accommodation. Often, it’s also your restaurant. When you are breaking down your total into a day rate, it should be fully costed against what it would cost you to travel under different methods (accommodation, transport, food)
Below is a quick cost comparison of two companies hiring a similar sized campervan out of France. It shows what I would regard as “basic inclusions”. Items that you would readily expect to be included in your hire/price. Unfortunately not all companies are transparent.
Have a look at this list and see for yourself the difference in total cost, once they have been compared on a like for like basis.
Pay your deposit to lock it in
The amount of the deposit and the timing of the subsequent payments will vary depending on the company you have decided to go with. Be sure to make yourself familiar with these requirements to ensure your campervan is locked in for your dates. This is especially important if you are booking for peak periods.
Depending on your personal financial situations and the state of your currency, it might be worthwhile considering paying the bulk of the hire cost up front, especially if you are booking well in advance.
With fluctuating currencies, it is hard to predict what the rate might look like in 12 months time. This is purely a personal decision and one to be made at your own discretion.
Make sure you understand any policies relating to cancellations or changes, once the booking has been made.
Once you have booked
The planning continues once you have made a booking, just to make sure everything runs smoothly when you pick up your vehicle.
Get Travel Insurance
I’m not going to go on here about the pros and cons of why I think you should have travel insurance. Ultimately, everyone can and does make their own decision on this.
When we are hiring someone else’s vehicle, it’s an essential requirement for us. We insure for what we can’t control. In a campervan, that’s a huge amount. We can’t control other drivers, random stuff flying around on autobahns (like stones hitting windscreens), weather events, carparks and even thieves. We also can’t control other possibilities such as needing to cancel the hire, flight delays which impact pickup times or hire companies going bust (yes it can happen). If you are a first timer (and even if you aren’t), there are also ways in which you can damage the campervan, despite your very best intentions not to.
Whilst your campervan will be covered by the company’s general insurance, the excess on their policies are not. Depending on the level of damage, sometimes the bill can run into the thousands.
Having our own travel insurance, with increased coverage for the excess that can be charged by the hiring company is our number 1 priority. (Note : you can buy additional excess reduction insurance from the hiring company, but we choose to take out total travel insurance coverage which covers all possible travel issues)
Check requirements for drivers licences and permits
Many hiring companies no longer require International Drivers Permits (IDPs) for the hiring process, but some countries still require them, although this seems to be diminishing. Personally I haven’t bought an IDP for years now, for travel in Europe, but as always, it’s good to check based on your own itineraries and the level of risk you are prepared to incur.
Some countries require permits/vignettes to drive on their roads. eg In Switzerland you are required to buy a pass if you want to drive on their motorways. (costs 40 SFR) This is also the case in many Eastern European countries. Whilst you can’t buy these until you are in those countries, it’s good to know to assist with further planning.
Make your plans for campervan pickup
This is a really important step as it can influence the airport you fly into, whether you need accommodation somewhere else first, plans to drive out of the city, first night stopover, other transportation requirements etc.
Unlike cars, it is unusual to have campervan rentals close to major airports. Due to the size of the campervans, the depots are usually on the fringes of major cities, or in more regional areas. You’ll need to do your specific research depending on where you are arriving/place of depot, but here’s some general guidelines.
Beginners guide to campervan hire – summary
This beginners guide to campervan hire in Europe should set you up for your first trip, meaning that you can spend more of your time focused on the best parts – the places you are going to travel to.
These days, I personally use and recommend France Motorhome Hire. I’ve rented from many other companies before, but have settled on this company for their location, pricing and exceptional customer service. I have always paid my own way with this company and these views and thoughts are my own.
Whoever you choose, wherever you go, if you do your homework, you’re sure to have an awesome time.
If you are looking for extra tips on what to pack, check out The essential packing list for campervan hire.
You might also like to read these for more detailed motorhome information
If you think this post is of value to others, please share on Pinterest too.
Please note: Beer and Croissants tries to provide you with accurate information at time of writing but makes no representations or provides any warranty or coverage of liability for bookings made with France Motorhome Hire or any other hiring company.