Imagine the feeling of waking up each day, grabbing your morning coffee and having breakfast while looking out across the lake/mountain/beach you parked next to the night before. You take a look at the map, plot a course and make your way to the next destination. In your own time, on your own schedule, in your own home on wheels. Perhaps you take a detour, find a gorgeous little village and stay for a week. This is life when traveling Europe by campervan.
We explored Europe by campervan for 5 months and it was an incredible road trip. The region is well set up for touring by campervan. The ease of travel between countries and the cultural and natural diversity of Europe make a road trip here a rewarding experience.
Once you decide you want to campervan around Europe, it is a steep learning curve. We spent countless hours researching the best motorhome companies in Europe, itinerary ideas and the equipment we would need for the trip.
There is also a lot to learn once you are on the road traveling Europe by campervan for the first time. Particularly if you are not from Europe! Over the 5 months we learned a lot and we wanted to share this knowledge with you.
To fast track you past the learning stage and help you plan your trip by campervan around Europe we have listed all of our best campervan tips in this Definitive Guide to Europe by Campervan. There is A LOT of information here so don’t forget to save or share the article so you can reference it later.
|Related: We traveled Europe by campervan with our two kids aged 10 and 8. See our tips for traveling by campervan with kids.|
We may receive a small compensation if you make a purchase after clicking the links in this post. It doesn’t cost you any more and it is a huge help to us to keep our site running. You can find more info in our disclaimer.
The natural thing to think about first when planning to campervan around Europe is the itinerary. There are millions of different campervan routes in Europe and it can be hard to whittle it down to a manageable list. We suggest you start with this list of questions to help you narrow your planning efforts:
Our suggestion is to pull out your Europe bucket list, a map of Europe, Google Maps and your Weather App and start planning. We love using Lonely Planet Guide Books when we start planning a new trip. They give a good overview of a country, the key sights, and best time to go. Click here for the latest prices for Lonely Planet Europe.
As you start to form your plan, my best piece of advice is don’t lock in your itinerary. The beauty of travelling Europe in a campervan is that you can make it up as you go along. Prioritise the countries and sights you want to see and adjust your Europe itinerary as you go.
|Expert Tip: When looking at distances on Google maps, add half the time again to get a realistic idea of the time it will take in a campervan. Travel by campervan is much slower than by car and you will most likely stop a number of times on the way. In our experience a 3 hour trip on Google Maps typically becomes a 4-5 hour driving day.|
Buy or rent? There is no right answer to this question and it really depends on your situation. Here we guide you through a couple of key questions to help you make this important decision.
In short, renting is the simplest and easiest option. There are many motorhome rental agencies in Europe. But that convenience comes at a hefty price. It will be much more expensive to rent over a longer period. Buying a van requires a large financial outlay but will most likely save you more over the long term.
Some important factors in making a decision on whether to buy or rent are:
Before you choose to purchase or rent a van, you should spend some time thinking about the best campervan configuration to suit your needs.
There are literally thousands of different van configurations. It is hard to know what will work when you have never traveled by campervan.
To help you choose the right van configuration, here are key questions to ask yourself:
If you are traveling with kids, we talk more about bed configuration when traveling Europe by campervan with kids here.
Work out your priorities and slim down your campervan requirements before you start looking.
We cannot stress the importance of this enough: get to know your new home before you go too far from where you rent or buy it.
Here are some of the key things to check:
It is also really important to know the height, length and width of your van! Unlike in the USA, there were MANY occasions heading down a country road or under a small bridge we would notice a road sign with the maximum width or height. We would have to find another way around because we wouldn’t fit. It is VERY important to know this!
Navigating into campsites and getting out of carparks is often tricky and we saw a few other drivers taking out light posts and fence posts in their attempts to reverse!
Our van didn’t have parking sensors or a reversing camera and it was impossible to see what was behind you.
We suggest that if you are traveling with other people, one of you always get out and direct the driver into or out of the spot. Agree on a method for helping the driver with reverse parking. We found that hand signals worked better than voice commands.
Supermarket carparks were a good place to find spots to park when in towns. They generally had more space and we could take up a few spots. Much less stressful than parking on a busy street!
Larger campervans come equipped with grey water tanks. This collects all the used water – from the kitchen and bathroom sinks. The older the van, the more likely it is this tank is going to have a unique and not so great odour.
Our recommendation is to empty the grey water tank before setting off on long driving days. When we didn’t empty the grey water tank we would be driving along with our sleeves held over our noses! The smell of grey water wafting through the van is terrible and was much worse in hotter weather.
We tried everything to improve the situation. From special tank cleaner to dishwashing liquid to putting ice cubes into the tank. Nothing got rid of the smell. The best solution was to have an empty grey water tank whilst driving.
If your van has a toilet we suggest you use toilet chemicals to control the odour. Carry spare bottles of toilet chemicals. They were not always easy to find in smaller places.
If your campervan has a refillable LPG bottle, monitor the gas level and don’t let it get too low. In some countries such as Portugal and Austria it was difficult to find LPG so we tried to keep it above half full. Having said that, we used the gas for cooking, heating and cooling the fridge when off the grid and it really didn’t use much gas at all. We probably could have only filled it once or twice in 5 months.
Note also that there are four of different types of LPG gas bottle fittings used across Europe. Our campervan came with all of them and we could screw on the one we needed when we refilled.
The website mylpg.eu/adapters explains which fitting type is used in each country and also has a listing of LPG filling stations. Also, if you were like us and had no idea how to use an LPG pump, have a look on YouTube for some guidance.
There is some additional equipment you will use all the time that we recommend you purchase for travelling in Europe by campervan.
You will need to buy a 12V USB port adaptor to charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you get a good quality one with a high current output to enable fast charging of your phone.
If you have electronic devices such as a laptop or camera battery charger that are powered by AC voltage then see if you can find a 12V charger for them. Alternatively, we recommend buying a voltage inverter which allows you to run an AC device from a 12V port.
When choosing an inverter you need to check that the inverter output is the correct AC voltage and is rated at a significantly higher power than the device you are powering. For example, I needed to run my laptop power supply which was 220V at 180W so I bought a Bapdas 500W Car Power Inverter. In the USA you can find the same brand for the US voltage. Click here for latest prices.
We also recommend purchasing bicycles when touring Europe in a campervan. Campsites are often located a little out of town and the bicycles give you more flexibility to get out and explore the local area without having to drive the van everywhere. You could purchase them secondhand on ebay like we did, or look for a good deal on a new bike that you can sell at the end of your trip.
Many campervans have a bike rack on the rear to carry bikes.
|Related: For a full list of our favourite travel items see 14 Travel Essentials we can’t leave home without.|
It is easy to stay connected when travelling in Europe by campervan. We travel with a laptop, a tablet, 2 kindles and 4 mobile phones. The kids have a mobile device and headphones each because it was the cheapest way for them to have access to music and audio books. We talk more about this in our article on road trip activities for kids. Click here to read it.
To satisfy everyone’s need for music, we purchased a Spotify family membership for access to music online. Spotify is a great app. It meant everyone had their own playlists and could access unlimited new music throughout the trip. It is possible to save playlists to listen to when offline.
Download Spotify for free. Click for:
Apple Store free download (iOS)
Google Store free download (Android)
We also signed up with our local public library to borrow ebooks and audio books for free. This was one of the best decisions we made. It has saved us hundreds of dollars and also helped entertain the kids on long drives.
Check with your local public library whether they are set up. Our library used the Borrowbox app. The kids would listen to audiobooks on their phones as we were driving and we could download ebooks to the tablet.
Download BorrowBox for free. Click for
Apple Store free download (iOS)
Google Store free download (Android)
The only limitation with the Borrowbox app is that often new releases were not available, and popular books were constantly on loan. So the other option is to sign up for an Audible account. Audible gives you access to a huge range of new release audiobooks as part of a monthly membership. Sign up, try it and receive one free audiobook.
The two kindles were shared between all 4 of us. Book exchanges seem to be a thing of the past and we very rarely found somewhere to exchange English books so the kindles were great.
Our family bought us an Amazon voucher as a farewell gift. We made very good use of this during the year when we couldn’t find books to borrow from the library. Click here for latest prices on the kindle.
One of our top campervan tips is not to rely on camp ground WiFi. I was very surprised in Europe to find WiFi connectivity generally pretty poor. We found camp grounds almost always promised WiFi but in reality it was slow and unreliable and sometimes expensive.
As we didn’t book any of our trip in advance we were planning most nights once the kids were in bed. To do this we needed internet connectivity.
To reduce our frustration levels with WiFi we bought local prepaid data plans. In 2017 the EU introduced a new law forcing mobile data roaming costs to be the same across Europe as the country you purchased the SIM. This means you can get a SIM in your first country and know it will work practically everywhere at the same rate.
While there are still huge variations in the plans on offer, it is much easier than before when it often made sense to get a new prepaid SIM in each country.
The Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki is an amazing source of information that we used to determine the best deal.
If you are using free WiFi it is important to protect your data by using a VPN.
A VPN (virtual private network) allows you to use public and open WiFi connections without the risk of your data being compromised. We use IVACY all around the world. Just switch it on when you connect to WiFi and know your information is safe. Click here for latest prices and deals.
We highly recommend that you have a number of different navigation tools on hand to help plan your journeys. There was never one tool that met all of our needs.
For high-level planning, our first point of call was our Philip’s Big Road Atlas Europe. This may seem a little old school, but we regularly referred to this map to give us a good overview of distances and when itinerary planning.
Harvey also loved using a highlighter in the atlas to track our journey so it will be a great memento of the trip. Buy your Europe Atlas here.
|Traveling with kids? For tips on how to manage long travel days with the kids, see our best activities for road trips with kids. Also check out Europe by Campervan with kids where we talk about how we prepare them for travel days.|
A dedicated GPS/Sat Nav like our trusty TomTom with up-to-date maps is essential for a few reasons:
There are many different types of GPS but make sure you get European road maps included. We used an entry level TomTom and found it simple and reliable to use plus we liked the Australian voice option who would tell us “mate, if those back seat drivers don’t keep it down, ditch them at the next servo”.
The only problem with our GPS is that it would sometimes suggest tiny roads or routes through village centres that our 7m/3.5 tonne van could not pass through. There was no option to filter out roads not suitable for oversized campervans!
We would then also use the Google Maps app on our phone to see what route it suggested because it tended to be better at avoiding small roads.
We strongly recommend that when you have WiFi you download Google Maps for use in offline mode to avoid being reliant on mobile data.
The other great thing we used Google Maps for (if you have an internet connection) is to use satellite view or street view to check just how wide a road is. If you can see lines in the middle of the road you are good to go. If not, you may need to think twice.
We also occasionally used an app (or website) called Via Michelin which was able to give estimates for toll costs and more realistic travel times compared to Google maps.
Also ensure you research different country rules in relation to things such as driving laws, low emission zones, how tolls are charged and child restraint requirements. They differ a lot between countries. We had to change our plans in and around London due to restrictions on older vehicles entering greater London.
Our Philip’s Big Road Atlas Europe had an excellent country section in the front that summarised the basic rules and regulations for each country.
Toll roads are common in Europe (except Germany and the Netherlands). We recommend you do your research on the cost of toll roads in each country, how much time they will save you on the journey and how they have to be paid. It differs country by country.
The Via Michelin site was useful for estimating tolls on different routes. France was super expensive because our campervan was over 3m tall and classified as a bus. We spent 30 Euros ($35 USD) on one 5 hour drive down the west coast of France. Italy and Spain were much more reasonably priced and had fewer tolls.
In most cases you can pay the toll using cash or a credit card at a toll booth. One exception is Portugal which has no toll booths, just toll points with cameras that scan your number plate.
In Portugal you must register a credit card against your number plate at the Welcome Points just over the border on their main motorways. Then your card is automatically charged when you pass a toll point. More information on the process can be found here.
Another variation is the vignette. This is a prepaid motorway toll in the form of a sticker which you typically purchase from petrol stations near the border and display on your windscreen. They are required in Switzerland, Austria & Slovenia and other Eastern European countries. They come with varying length validity. Being caught out will result in a hefty fine.
If you want to avoid tolls, you can set your GPS/Sat Nav and Google Maps to do this. As a rule of thumb, if we weren’t in a hurry we would avoid toll roads. If we were traveling a long distance we generally took the toll roads to maintain the sanity of both parents and kids.
If you plan to use camp grounds in Europe my best recommendation is to purchase an ACSI camping card. ACSI is a non-peak season discount program containing over 3000 campsites around Europe.
It saved us hundreds of dollars in camp ground fees in the low and shoulder seasons over the 5 months. You need to order this before you arrive in Europe (unless you have a friend who is local) and make sure you allow plenty of time to receive the membership card and guides.
We bought them directly from ACSI and had them sent to a UK address. They took about 6 weeks to arrive. It was worth paying a little extra for access to their mobile app as it was a good way to search for campsites in the general direction we were heading in.
We also suggest you don’t rely too much on camp site reviews. Also, don’t believe bigger is always better. Often in the larger campgrounds the actual sites were small and expensive. Look for smaller, locally run campsites, or look for free campsites.
One of the best ways to save money when touring in Europe by campervan is to free camp or stay at Aires which are cheap basic sites. We found the park4night app to be an excellent resource for finding free and cheap camp sites.
This app lists free and fee based camping sites all over Europe. The sites and ratings are all user-generated. The sites range from supermarket car parks to gorgeous spots along the coastline. It is available offline if you pay the small monthly fee and we recommend paying for this option.
We also strongly recommend checking out memberships such as France Passion. They offer free overnight camping in wineries and farms. A similar system was operating in Portugal and we found these listed in the park4night app.
Europe also has an extensive network of Aires, which are basic stops for campervans. They typically have a waste dump point, fresh water and toilets. Sometimes they have electricity hookups and showers.
We occasionally used these but found them not to be ideal for stops of more than one night with the kids. They can also be searched on the park4night app.
We thought we would free camp way more than we did. It is a great money saver and was much easier in some countries and places than others. But in reality we had a 7 metre, 3.5 tonne, 2 wheel drive van that couldn’t sneak down little dirt tracks.
We found we stressed more when stopping in a carpark with the kids as they couldn’t go off and explore. If I am honest, sometimes the effort to search for a free camp was beyond me at the end of a long day driving with the kids. But, there are many people who travel all over Europe and rarely pay for a campsite. It is definitely worth doing.
Note that free camping is illegal in some countries (such as Croatia) and in others they make it hard to find a place to stop (such as Italy). Some countries allow it in the off season but not through summer. Take a look, give it a go and see what works for you.
Our best tip when you are coming up with Europe road trip itinerary ideas is don’t plan too much. Resist the temptation to book anything in advance!
We had a very high level view of the countries we wanted to visit and in what order, but did not book anything before we started. We decided every couple of days where we would go next. It gave us so much freedom to be flexible, to stay longer at places we liked, to take up recommendations we received along the way, or choose a place based on how everyone was feeling at the time.
We found that if we arrived at a campground by mid-afternoon we always found a site.
The summer school holiday periods do require a little planning. Camp sites get very busy over the school breaks, especially those on the coast or on lakes. While most campsites have a percentage of their sites that cannot be booked, in order to claim one you will need to arrive very early during the summer.
We dealt with this challenge by heading inland to the mountains during summer where we had no trouble finding accommodation. So look at visiting less popular places away from the coast during these busy times or be prepared to arrive very early at your destination.
If you are keen to save money, plan to cook most meals in the van. In a past life eating out and experiencing the local food was a key part of any trip. However, when you are feeding 4 people every day for 5 months in Europe, eating out quickly becomes a huge expense!
To try and stay on budget we rarely ate out, but we still found ways to experience the local food. Browsing the aisles at the supermarket for local treats and buying smaller snacks/treats when we were out sightseeing became our cheaper way of experiencing the local food.
|Expert Tip: Make sure you have enough food on hand to get through Sundays! Supermarkets are usually closed on Sunday, even in large towns.|
We bought a camping recipe cookbook. Every recipe could be cooked on a gas top. It was a great resource and we used it every day during our trip. Click here for the latest prices.
We also could not have survived without our stove top coffee maker, toast maker and unbreakable wine glasses. Check out the latest prices by clicking on the images below.
It is a good idea to do your grocery shop on route between destinations. We would look for large supermarket chains – we spent less, we could buy in bulk and shop less frequently.
Campgrounds were often not close to the shops and I found it annoying to pack the van up to go to the supermarket once we had arrived and set up camp.
We can highly recommend that you buy beer, wine and spirits at the discount supermarkets. We found many drinkable wines in the 2-4 euro price bracket and even found a decent bottle of gin at Aldi for 7 euros.
Admittedly our standards have dropped over the past year, but we still wanted to enjoy a glass of wine or beer at the end of the day!
|Top Tip: If you have the space, stock up on long life pantry items in cheaper countries to save money.|
Lidl and Aldi were by far the cheapest supermarkets in Europe. We would look them up in Google maps while driving and make a detour to shop there on the way to our next camp site.
They may not have the best range of products but they saved us HUGE amounts of money.
We recommend you set a budget and track your spending. I know if sounds boring, but it is not much fun if you plan to travel for 6 months and run out of cash in 3.
Costs can easily get out of hand, especially if you are doing a lot of activities, staying at camp sites and eating out. We researched costs a lot before starting our trip. It is pretty difficult to find this information for a family of 4 and we just had to go with our gut a bit. We will post our Europe costs soon.
We set a budget by country, tracked it each day and reviewed it on a monthly basis. Having a budget helped us make adjustments to our trip when we needed to in order to stay on track.
There are a number of mobile apps out there to track your travel spending once you are on the road. The one we love and use is Trabee Pocket. It allows us to easily track all our spending by country and category in the local and home currency on the go.
We can also export our costs to other applications such as excel where we track our overall budget for the year. We highly recommend this app. For those on iOS devices the other great app is Trail Wallet. It has similiar functionality.
Download Trail Wallet. Click for
Apple Store download (iOS)
Plan how to keep your campervan and valuables secure. Thankfully we were never broken into during our trip but it is worth taking measures to have peace of mind that your stuff is going to stay with you.
Our van was pretty old so we figured it was unlikely to be stolen (there were much better ones around!), but we were more worried about a break in. Being an older van there was no alarm, no deadlocks and windows that were pretty easy to pull open.
We purchased a Pacsafe Travelsafe 12L GII Portable Safe to lock our passports, documents and devices in when we weren’t in the campervan. The bag was secured under one of the seats to lock it to the van. If we were free camping we would also secure it at night. This bag has been one of our best travel purchases. We take it on every trip and use it everywhere we stay. Click here for options and latest prices.
In cities we always stayed either in camp sites or in secure parking stations. We always pulled the blinds down when leaving the van in a car park or on the street. Often one of us would stay with the campervan when doing grocery shopping if the area didn’t have a good vibe.
We didn’t come across many other travellers who had experienced a break in so there is no need to be overly concerned. I just really didn’t want the hassle of losing our most important things, so were happy to take precautions.
Ensure you have a printed copy of the insurance papers and rental agreement/proof of ownership handy. Old school I know, but trust me, it is required!
We made the mistake of only having a soft copy of our insurance papers available on our mobile phone. On crossing the border from Montenegro to Bosnia, we had to deal with a very irate Bosnian border officer who insisted, persistently, that only a paper copy would do. We were in the middle of nowhere. We were forced to purchase additional insurance at the border. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good day.
Also take originals of everyone’s birth certificates and marriage certificate. You never know if and when you may need them. It is almost impossible to get them once you are abroad and moving regularly.
Last but not least try and get off the beaten path on your tour of Europe. While Western Europe offers many beautiful destinations, some of our favourite places were small towns in Eastern Europe. These countries are also significantly cheaper.
The beauty of traveling by campervan is that you aren’t constrained by train or bus lines or hotels. You can travel anywhere! It presents you with a great deal of freedom that you can’t achieve when traveling any other way.
Exploring Europe by campervan was one of the highlights of our family gap year. We heartily recommend it as a family friendly way to travel and cannot wait to plan another trip. If you are thinking of travelling Europe in a campervan and you have questions, please let us know in the comments below – we are happy to help.
Have we missed anything? Leave your best tips for touring Europe in a campervan!
Read more about travel to Europe
As Seen In:
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Affiliate Disclaimer: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites