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9 Major Differences Between European RVs and North American RVs

9 Major Differences Between European RVs and North American RVs

Camping is a worldwide activity, but there are some nuances across borders. European RVs and North American RVs have differences, and some may surprise you. 

This article teaches us what Europeans call RVs and if you need a special license to drive one. We also break down 10 major differences between RVs on these two continents. 

Let’s get started! 

What Are RVs Called in Europe? 

Europeans call motorized RVs campers, and travel trailers are often called caravans. However, depending on which country you’re in, there may be a slight variation. For example, while in France we learned that they call them “camper cars.”

You’ll typically find four main types: vans, semi-integrated campers, integrated campers, and trailers. The vans are similar to camper vans in America. Semi-integrated campers, aka C-class, are comparable to Class B motorhomes in America.

Integrated campers are more like Class C motorhomes in North America. You may even hear them referred to as A-class motorhomes.

You’ll also have different brands. Instead of Thor, Airstream, and Forest River RVs, you will more commonly see Hymer, Burstner, Dethleffs, and Carthago.

New to RVing? Discover the Differences in Class A, B, and C RV Motorhomes.

european travel trailer rv caravan
Travel trailers are called caravans in Europe.

Can You Drive an American RV in Europe? 

You can drive an North American RV in Europe. However, there are a lot of things to consider. First, you’ll need to ship the RV to Europe. Then, you’ll want to consider the significant differences between European RVs and North American RVs we will discuss later in this article.

Camper vans that have solar and are self-contained would be the most practical North American RV to consider driving in Europe. Size is a significant factor since the roads in Europe tend to be much narrower than in America, and turnarounds and parking aren’t very easy to find.

A large RV, such as a Class A motorhome, fifth wheel, or long travel trailer, would be nearly impossible to drive in Europe based on size alone. While we saw a handful of large campers in Europe, they were rare and were limited to major roadways and large campgrounds. Visiting towns and cities would be very difficult in this type of rig.

Do You Need a Special License to Drive an RV in Europe?

It depends on the location you’re going. As an American or Canadian driving in Europe, your passport and driver’s license are frequently adequate for driving in most countries. Some places, however, require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). These countries include: Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Spain.

An IDP is usually just a more easily translatable license for European traffic officers.

It’s easy to get an IDP. You can get one from any AAA office, even if you’re not a member. It costs under $25, and you’ll need two passport-size photos, your passport, and your driver’s license.

Additionally, if you’re towing a caravan in Europe, you may need a B+E driver’s license (car and trailer combination). You need it for driving trailers over 750 kilograms. If you’re renting a caravan in Europe, discuss what you may need with the rental company. 

mortons couple driving european rv
You’ll need to get an international driver’s permit to drive an RV in Europe.

9 Major Differences Between European RVs and North American RVs

Enjoying the great outdoors by traveling in an RV is quite universal. But there are differences between the tiny homes on wheels in Europe and America. Let’s look at 10 of the most significant differences.

1. European RVs Are Smaller and Lightweight

European RVs are shorter and narrower than North American RVs. And therefore they’re usually lighter weight. There are reasons for this.

One reason is Europe’s continuous strive to develop more eco-friendly options. And with Europe’s consistently high fuel prices, the smaller the vehicle, the better. 

Another reason European RVs are smaller is the old and narrow roadways throughout the continent. Some of the oldest civilizations in the world are in Europe, as are their infrastructures. Parking in historic villages and maneuvering on one-lane roads can be impossible for large North American RVs.

RV navigating tight European roads
You’ll need a small RV to navigate many of the roads in Europe.

2. North American RVs Often Have Slide Outs

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a European RV with slide-outs. Most North American RVs, even some campervans, have slide-outs to provide extra floor space and elbow room. But that’s not the case in Europe. 

European RV manufacturers simply haven’t put slide-outs in their designs. However, that’s slowly changing. On the upside, it’s typically better insulated when an RV doesn’t have slides.

3. European RVs Don’t Have Black Tanks

European RVs don’t have black tanks because they typically have cassette toilets. So instead of hooking up a sewer hose to the camper and connecting it to the dump station, you dispose of your cassette toilet contents in the dump station. 

A benefit of a cassette toilet is that you can dump the contents into a regular toilet. So it gives you some flexibility when a dump station isn’t nearby.

However, if you’re unfamiliar with this type of toilet you might want to do some research ahead of time. Due to their smaller capacity, you may be visiting the dumpstation more frequently than you’re used to.

New to cassette toilets? Here’s everything you need to know: Cassette Toilets Explained: What They Are and How They Work

dumping cassette toilet tank
European RVs usually have cassette toilets and different dump stations.

4. Dump Stations Are Different in Europe

In addition to the different toilets, dump stations in Europe will be new to you as well. These stations are look like water stations rather than just a hole in the ground. The station’s main difference is the separation of gray water and sewer dumps, unlike how they go into the same hole in North America.

To empty your grey tank, you simply park over a grate in the road and let the grey water run into it. Having an electric gray tank release valve is particularly handy in these situations. 

european grey water dump
Dumping grey water into the grate at a European dump station.

Your cassette toilet contents do NOT go into this grate. There is a separate spot for dumping your cassette toilet waste. Sometimes it is located in a completelydifferent area. This area usually has a non-potable faucet for rinsing and flushing the cassette.

There will often be a separate potable faucet for filling your fresh water tank.

You’ll find dump stations in Europe at campgrounds, fuel stations, etc., similar to where they are throughout North America.

dump station in europe
Example of a dump station in Europe. Not all look like this, but often have a similar setup. The vehicle parks over a grate to dump gray, the cassette contents go in a special dump, and the fresh water is separate from the cassette rinse.

5. European RVs Are Usually Diesel With Manual Transmissions

Most European RVs have different drive trains than North American RVs. They typically have diesel engines with manual transmissions. This mean you want to watch what fuel you’re putting in the tank at the fuel station, and be familiar with manuals. Otherwise, you should specifically seek out a rental company that offers automatic transmissions.

Manual transmissions use less fuel, which is beneficial in Europe with high fuel prices. Unfortunately, North American RVs with manual transmissions are pretty much non-existent. Therefore, most North American drivers may not be accustomed to this style of driving.

Keep in mind that roads are narrower and windy, so driving a manual vehicle in these conditions may complicate things.

6. Separate Twin Beds Are Typical in European RV Layouts

Separate twin beds are typical in European campers and a growing trend in North American RVs. There are several benefits. You get more storage space under each and can use them as couches or lounge areas during the day. 

There’s also a piece of mattress that often goes in between the two single beds to make one large bed if you want. North American manufacturers are starting to add this idea to floor plans in motorhomes, campervans, and travel trailers.

7. European RVs Are 240v vs. 120v North American RVs

European outlets differ from North American outlets, which also holds true for the electricity in RVs. They are 240 volts, while North American RVs are 120 volts. 

It is one of our favorite things about European RVs. This means the electric hookup cable is small and lightweight, yet carries more power than you’d get in a North American camper power cord. The cable is typically a 16-amp, 240V cord, which is equivalent to about a 32-amp 120V service here in North America.

Now some may think 240V is more dangerous. But saying that 120V is less dangerous than 240V is like saying it’s less dangerous to be crushed by a 1000 lb weight than a 2000 lb weight. While 240V is more powerful, our 120V service is plenty of current to stop your heart. They are both dangerous, and electrical safety should be taken seriously no matter which is used.

My Favorite Thing About European RVs compared to North American - The Electric Is Better

For safety, the 240V plugs sit more secure and deeper into their outlets so as to prevent pull-outs and shock hazards.

The true benefits of this difference is in the cord itself. It is easy to maneuver and is very long as to reach power pedestals a good distance away. Most come on an easily rolled-up spool to promote tidy setup, takedown, and storage.

If you’re going from America to Europe to rent a camper, keep in mind that you’ll need to buy a converter for your electronics. 

8. Campground Hookups Differ

Overall, campgrounds are very similar in Europe and North America. European campgrounds tend to have more on-site amenities, more non-camper lodging options, and a more laissez-faire approach to campsites, which are known as “pitches.”

One major difference, however, is the hookups. In Europe, you won’t find pressurized water or hookups for water. And there’s no sewer on individual campsites, since all toilets are cassettes. Instead, you must fill your freshwater tank at the water station and dump your cassette toilet at the dump station. 

Many North American campgrounds have full hookups with water, sewer, and electricity on each campsite. There are some dry camping properties, but you don’t have to drive far to find a campground with full hookups.

9. Propane Tanks and How You Fill Them Differ in Europe vs. North America

In North American motorhomes, the propane tank is often welded to the frame of the RV, so the only option is to refill it at a service station by a propane technician. Other RVs have removable tanks, but you can still take them to a refill station to fill the same tank rather than buy a new one.

Propane tanks in European RVs are different than in North America. First of all, they are shaped differently. Second of all, propane refill stations are self-serve. That’s right, you will refill your own propane!

propane refill in france
Refilling our own propane in France.

Propane-powered vehicles are much more common in Europe, and you can purchase and dispense liquid propane gas (LPG or GPL as it’s known there) right at the fuel pump. Our European rental RVs were our first experience pumping our own LPG.

Depending on which country you’re in you may use one of a variety of adapters. The pump nozzle latches securely into the adapter and you pull the lever to pressurize and start dispensing. Be careful: when you release the nozzle at the end, the pressure sound might startle you the first time!

Are European RVs More Sleek Than North American RVs?

Whether European RVs are sleeker than North American RVs is a personal style preference. But, yes, overall European campers are sleeker and modern looking. You see a lot of streamlined cabinets, leather seats, and an overall luxurious but simple look and feel. 

However, North American RV manufacturers are starting to see the appeal of a sleeker look. For example, Leisure Vans, a Canadian RV manufacturer, does an excellent job of making their interiors modern and clean looking.

European RV
European RVs often look more modern and sleek than North American RVs.

Experience a European RV on Your Next Vacation

Are you ready to rent a European RV and road trip around the continent? We highly recommend it! Camping your way through European countries is an excellent way to see history, experience cultures, food, and more at your own pace. 

If you RV around Europe, tag us in some photos. We’d love to hear about your adventures! 

What other differences have you noticed between European and North American RVs? Drop a comment below.

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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