Europe in a campervan

Camping is a great way to see Europe, but you needn't be tied down to tent pegs to do it. RV rentals are as easy in Europe as they are here at home.

Our hippie-orange VW campervan took my family (the author, left age 12, his Uncle Marc, right age 19) everywhere in Europe. This campground is by a mountain stream high in the Italian Dolomites. (Photo by Frank Bramblett)Our hippie-orange VW campervan took my family (the author, on the left age 12, his Uncle Marc, on the right age 19) everywhere in Europe. This campground is by a mountain stream high in the Italian Dolomites.

An RV vacation combines the best parts of European travel—visiting the great art cities, driving the countryside, exploring villages and vineyards, and discovering hidden mountain meadows where you can indulge in show tunes—without the usual expense.

These days, double rooms in dowdy two-star European hotel cost about $130 per night. Add a midsize car rental ($470 per week) and you're spending a minimum of $200 per day for a couple, $280 for a family of four (assuming the kids stay in the parents' room)

A campervan, on the other hand takes care of a vehicle and lodging all at once. Rentals run around $700 per week ($910 in summer). You could park it by the side of the road at night and sleep for free, but let's assume you prefer campgrounds. That'll add $30 per night ($45 in high season). The total cost—for up to four people—is $130 per day ($175 in high season).

It's not just the savings. You also get all the cultural benefits of leaving the standard tourist route and hobnobbing with others who have ditched minibars for camp stores and traded pillow mints for tent poles. It's a great way to strike up fast friendships with vacationing Europeans.

In a hotel, you rarely get to know the people in the neighboring rooms, but campers in adjoining sites are quick to chat. Many nights you end up pooling the barbecue and bottles of wine with the neighbors and sharing travel stories under the stars.

Finding a Campervan

AutoEuropeThe best site to find a campervan or motorhome to rent is consolidator Auto Europe (—a discount car rental agency which has campervans for rent in Germany, France, and Spain (along with Australia and New Zealand).

A few other RV specialists that might be of help include,, and, all of which link to dozens of rental outfits across Europe.

A campervan—which sleeps two below, plus one or two smaller chaps up in the pop-up tent on top—rents for $60 to $75 per day in winter, up to $100 to $130 in summer. A larger, Winnebago-style RV that sleeps four to five people will run $70 to $100 in low season, $110 to $180 in high season.

There's often a ridiculous "service fee" of $100 to $175 added to the price, and $30-per-day collision insurance (CDW) is usually required. Bedding and towels cost another $70 to $80 (bring your own). Make sure any quoted price includes VAT (tax), which can run to 19 percent.

Size matters. For those of you used to the road behemoths here in the U.S. that are twice the size of an average New York apartment, know that European RVs tend to be rather smaller and lighter.

There are several good reasons for this—and for limiting yourself to the smaller vehicles.

European roads are narrow and winding, and gas incredibly expensive—figure on getting 23 miles to the gallon at $5 per gallon—so avoid renting anything longer than six meters (about 20 feet). Sick to the common Class Cs, which handle more like a car than a big rig, and you'll be fine. European RVs are usually manual transmission.

The minimum rental period is almost always seven days. Rentals in Germany tend to be cheapest—though once you pick it up, you can drive anywhere. Check into any restrictions on taking it into Eastern Europe. British rentals often add a fee if you take the vehicle to the Continent.

You may want to get an International Camping Carnet, which is required in a few countries (Denmark comes to mind), and useful in others, where it can stand in for having to hand over your passport. It costs a shopping $45 from organizations like Family Campers and RVers (

Finding a place to park your RV in Europe

A campsite by the side of the little river in Sneem, County Kerry on the west coast of Ireland.A campsite by the side of the little river in Sneem, County Kerry on the west coast of Ireland.

While there are loads of European campgrounds out in the sticks for the get-back-to-nature crowd, there are also plenty of in and around the major cities. Although most city campgrounds are on the edge of town—count on a 30–45 minute bus or subway ride to the historic center—there are loads of exceptions.

You can get a spot in the Bois du Bologne woods overlooking the Seine in Paris (011-33/01-45-24-30-00,, set up camp on the beach just outside Venice (011-39-041-53-2511,, or take in a sunset panorama over Florence at Campeggio Michelangelo (011-39/055-681-1977,

Local tourist offices list area campgrounds. There are an obscene number of camping-related Web sites in Europe; Googling the words "camping" plus the place you want to go results in a whole crop of regional directories. I also list a few dozen on the main camping page.

The Italian site (you can get an English version of the menubar; is choc-a-block with info on camping and RVing all across Europe, including hundreds of country-specific links to tons of other useful Internet resources, free sites to park your RV, and on-line camping catalogues.


This article was last updated in January 2008 . All information was accurate at the time. | | |
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