Last updated 20 April 2020
Travelling through Europe in a campervan or motorhome
Travelling through Europe in a campervan or motorhome is one of the best ways to see these beautiful countries at your own pace. So if you’ve been reading my detailed motorhome articles, you should now be well and truly prepared, and “in the know” to get yourself ready for your big trip.
Many people have commented on the level of detail in these articles, and the amount of planning that goes into it. To be honest, we’ve done it so many times now, that it hardly seems like onerous planning. We intuitively do this stuff. However, if you are a first-time hirer, owner or driver of a motorhome, it pays to be well prepared.
If you are new to the world of campervan hire, however, the details and the pre-planning will be what could ultimately save you from a disaster. The last thing you need is an administrative issue threatening your plans.
Once we have done all the upfront planning, it’s freedom from then on. From the moment we pick up the campervan, there are no real plans or rules. There are just places to go, experiences to be had, and plenty of food and beverages to be consumed.
There is nothing quite like the freedom of slow travel, travelling wherever you like and staying for as long as you like. If we love a place, we’ll stay longer. If we don’t, then we simply move on.
You can read all about our campervan and motorhome road trips in Europe here >> Motorhome and Campervan travel
Planning a motorhome travel itinerary for Europe
The level of detail that goes into planning an itinerary will depend largely on the amount of time you have to spend. It’s kind of done in reverse. If you are only spending a short amount of time in the campervan or motorhome, then the level of planning is usually considerably more, so as to ensure that you git in as much as you can, or want. I will stress though, that on paper, Europe can be ever so enticing.
It’s easy to get over-excited and want to cram as many of those beautiful cities and areas in as possible. If you are new to motorhome life, or to driving a motorhome, it might be best to limit the amount of driving. Big days, day after day, of driving can be incredibly exhausting and opens up room for driving error, irritability and a general loss of enjoyment. It is also worthy to note that distances and times given by apps such a Google Maps should only ever be used as a guide. Notwithstanding traffic issues or events such as protests that are a constant part of the French landscape, driving always takes longer in a motorhome.
If you are driving on the autoroutes, your trip time will be considerably less, but possibly more expensive where tolls are involved. If you are on the country roads, the time taken to travel is much longer than the app will ever tell you. The mapping apps don’t take into account the size of the vehicle you may be driving or the level of confidence or experience of the driver. All of these factors will impact the speed at which you can drive. Add in some mountain ranges and steep roads where you are driving close to the edge and I can guarantee you that you won’t be driving fast.
Tip: Always add additional time to your driving route to ensure you don’t become stressed or frustrated at the driving time.
Europe is an amazing place to road trip in a motorhome and it’s quite simply why we keep coming back over and over again. The (current) ease of crossing many of the country’s borders without any regulation makes it easy to pop in and out of countries. Do note however that you need to be aware of where and how you might cross a border and ensure that you do have the appropriate paperwork if necessary.
Some travellers have very clear ideas about where they want to start and end their trip, others less so. As a starting point consider the following when thinking about your itinerary. If you own your own motorhome and time isn’t an issue then planning will be more flexible. However, if you are hiring, these kinds of questions should be considered before you actually hire, and pay for, a motorhome.
|Budget||The amount of money you have at your disposal will be a key factor|
|Hiring or buying||Whether you are hiring or buying a motorhome will influence your itinerary|
|Location of the hire company||Does the hire company allow one-way hires or must it be returned to the same location as pickup?|
|Time||How much time do you have for your trip?|
|Time of year||Budget required, weather and the number of people changes depending on the season and time of year|
|Events||eg Tour de France, Oktoberfest, Christmas markets|
|Must-visit locations||Do you have a bucket list of must-visit cities or locations or is your trip more about travelling slowly in certain areas or countries|
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide of all the questions you should think about and answer before hiring a motorhome in Europe. Read our beginners guide to campervan hire. It will help you with the above questions, and so much more. CLICK HERE
Should you hire or buy a motorhome?
There’s so many things to think about here. If you are not sure about what choice to make, head on over to our very detailed article on how to buy a motorhome in France for non-EU residents. Whilst this is the best guide for those who want to buy a motorhome, we go into all the specifics about when hiring vs buying (or vice versa) is a better choice.
In summary, key things to consider are:
- Duration of your trip – Generally if your trip is over three months, buying would be the best option (from an economic sense)
- Time of year – the cost of hiring for longer periods of time during peak season might outweigh the purchase cost of a small campervan
- Ability to sell at the end of your trip
- Financial capability to outlay a large amount of cash at once
- Where to store if not using it continuously
- Vehicle preference – including configuration, size and transmission
- Maintenance (if you own) vs maintenance-free (if you hire)
Tip: If you are a non-EU resident and considering buying, please read our article noted above. It will save you money in the long run, save you being ripped off and buying a vehicle that you can’t own legally, and allow you to sell it to recoup your money. Avoid buyback schemes too.
If you are thinking about hiring, we recommend France Motorhome Hire, who operate from a depot south of Paris. It’s an easy location to get to (via fast train from Paris) and makes driving your motorhome for the first time much easier given it is not in a big city. We’ve been using FMH since 2012 and now start and finish all of our trips here, whether we stay in France, or go further afield into Europe. It takes all the pressure of trying to muddle through all the hiring companies. We trust these people and the level of service and vehicles they provide. See our promo code in this article for €50 off your hire!
Before you make a hiring decision, read our Ultimate guide to hiring a motorhome in Europe. It’s a comprehensive guide to all the questions you need to think about prior to making the decision to hire.
If you aren’t sure what size motorhome you might need, take a peek inside a campervan to get a feel for the amenities and space.
There are even more tips here in our article on how to ensure you have a successful campervan pickup. Most people don’t even think about what might be required until they arrive at the depot. Depending on who you hire with and the time of year, this process can be chaotic and the end result will be you getting rushed out the door without having checked over the vehicle properly. That’s why it is important you have a checklist in your head before you arrive.
Our 2017 Europe motorhome itinerary
To give you a sense of just how much European countryside we covered on our trip in 2017, I’ve put together a map. It might seem like a lot of driving but it was not onerous for us. As you can see from the detail further down, we averaged about 100km a day, over a 42 day period.
Remember, I’m an Australian and 100km for us to drive in a day is not considered much at all. This is probably why so many other Aussies love driving campervans! The distance you go depends completely on your personal plans.
As I noted above, thinking about the distances you want to drive is important. Where possible, if you can have at least one additional driver, it will make a huge difference to the trip for all involved. We usually start off our overall planning with an old fashioned atlas. It allows us to get a good view of the countries on one page, and then some of the more detailed information as well.
From there we will get onto the laptop and start using Google Maps. We also use My Maps (Google) so we can plot more locations and save planned itineraries, which you can’t do on the general Google maps. We will research other destination blogs for possible ideas and also check out the various travel guides that we have at hand.
How much does it cost to drive a motorhome around Europe?
I get many questions about the cost of running campervans and motorhomes, particularly as it relates to fuel and camping costs.
Of course, everything is relative, and everyone has a very personal opinion on what represents good value and what is expensive/inexpensive. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal circumstance and where you see the value.
What I constantly remind myself of is that I can’t expect everything to be the same as it is at home, and that goes for cost. Things are going to cost more or less wherever I travel. Often my own currency is not strong against the Euro or the US dollar either. What I use as a comparison however is the cost of alternatives.
So, in this case, the alternatives are the cost of hotels and other accommodation, car hire or other transport. I have mentioned before that a campervan is our accommodation, our transport and often our restaurant, so I am sure to benchmark accordingly.
One of our motorhome trips, lasting 42 days, cost us on average, €133 per day. This is inclusive of our campervan hire, fuel and camp fees. I have not included food as this is highly variable, and we eat and drink very well when we are travelling. On average, we would spend a lot more on food, wine and beer than a lot of people would.
We are not budget travellers so I can honestly say that we have certainly paid this amount (and more) for a hotel room before, and then had to add everything else on top.
For those that love the detail (and I know there are plenty of you), the following provides you with a snapshot of where we drove showing how easy it is to get to some really great places without having to drive all day.
There’s no getting around this cost. If you hire a campervan and drive it, you will eventually need to refuel. But, surprisingly, it never feels as though this is a constant activity. Given the size of the vehicles, they are very efficient.
It is important to note that the price of fuel can differ broadly from country to country, area to area. Fuel costs have also seen increases of about 20% on average over the past four years. Fuel is also more expensive on motorways than in the small towns. Always only use these as a guide as prices are always subject to change.
If you are hiring a motorhome, this is the main running cost. Other costs such as replacement gas or toilet chemicals are usually relatively small in comparison.
|Odometer||Litres||Price / Litre>||Cost|
|L’Isle D’Abeau (South Lyon)||16,242||65||€1.49||€97.39|
|DAILY COST (42 DAYS)||€16.69|
Cost of campgrounds for motorhomes
The type of camping spot dictates how much you pay.
We generally travel in the campervan during off-peak times, meaning we worry less about where we are going to spend the night and whether we need to book a campground. Note, there are always exceptions to this depending on the location/country you are in.
Many people will only ever camp in official campgrounds for reasons of safety, convenience, camaraderie and services. Others will use a blend of these campgrounds and also use a selection of aires and programs like France Passion.
Then, there are travellers like us who are comfortable in our motorhome and in our skills and abilities to choose appropriate (and safe) locations that are not at campgrounds. We prefer to stay for the night in quieter spots, not crawling with people and not parked right next to someone. We also love to give money directly to local people, hence why we use and prefer France Passion.
As an example, back in 2015, we stayed at a blend of campgrounds, Aires and France Passion locations. Whilst we prefer not to be in campgrounds, there were plenty of occasions in Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg where we had no choice but to do so. The detail below shows our costs. It was a rough 50/50 split between paid sites and non-paid, bringing the average down significantly. In 2017 and 2018 however, our trips saw us avoid campgrounds completely, so our camping costs were zero.
Note: We are responsible motorhomers who only ever park our vehicle where it is safe and appropriate to do so. Networks and associations that bring us services like France Passion, Aires, Home Camper and Bienvenue a la Ferme help keep costs down when staying in a motorhome in Europe. They also highlight locations you might not otherwise see and allow for wonderful interaction with locals.
We are passionate about travelling through Europe in a campervan. We’ve had so many wonderful experiences over the years that keeps us coming back for more. We always save money by travelling this way, but more importantly for us, it offers us enormous freedom to do whatever we choose. I know it’s not for everyone, but if I could convince those who have been thinking about it to give it a go, my job would be done!
Looking to do a road trip in the USA? Here’s some more detail on how to get yourself ready for your big trip.
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Please note: Beer and Croissants provides accurate information at the 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.
In the spirit of full disclosure, any bookings made through Beer and Croissants with France Motorhome Hire will generate a small commission, but will not cost you any more. In fact, by working with this company, we hope to bring you special offers from time to time. We do, however, always pay the full hire of any of our FMH hires ourselves.