Are you thinking about traveling in Europe but don’t want to pay expensive hotel rates? If you want to explore without breaking the bank, you may want to rent an RV in Europe.
With a bit of planning and research, we found that it’s easy to find an RV that perfectly fits your budget and travel style. However, if this is your first time renting or driving an RV in Europe, there are probably some questions in your head. We sure did!
Don’t worry – we’re here to answer all of those questions for you. We’ll cover the top 10 most commonly asked questions about renting RVs in Europe and share our experience.
What Are RVs Called in Europe?
Renting an RV in Europe isn’t really difficult to do, but they aren’t typically called RVs on the other side of the pond. They typically go by caravans or motorhomes. Sometimes an RV in Europe might also be called campervans or camping cars. The Class A, B, or C naming distinction commonly used in North America is also less prevalent.
“Motorhome” is a more inclusive term, referring to any vehicle converted into an RV-style dwelling. A campervan can also refer to a smaller vehicle — usually based on a van chassis — that has beds, cooking equipment, and other accessories.
Are RVs Common in Europe?
The RV culture is alive and well in Europe. In fact, Caravan Salon is one of the biggest RV shows in the world, and it takes place annually in Germany. Many big-name RV companies in the US are actually headquartered in Europe, like Dometic, Lippert, Hymer, Truma, and more.
Touring Europe via an RV can be a fun and unique way to experience the continent for either a short or extended stay. While we were there, we saw many privately owned RVs in the campgrounds and on the roads. Campgrounds are plentiful, and there are also many places to overnight park in cities and towns.
That said, there are several key differences between European RVs vs. North American-style RVs. They’re typically smaller than their North American counterparts to navigate the older, narrow roads.
Amenities in campers are also more limited in European RVs than what you might expect. European RVs are more likely to have cassette toilets instead of holding tanks. They also probably won’t have slideouts, air conditioners, or even generators. These differences in the RVs create differences in the RVing culture than in North America.
Pro Tip: If it’s your first time driving in Europe, make sure you know these 10 Things Tourists Do Wrong.
Renting an RV in Europe: Top 10 Questions Answered
You’re ready to rent an RV in Europe, but you should check off a few boxes before diving in. There’s a lot about Europe that’s the same as the U.S., but also many differences. We answer the most important questions below.
1. How Easy Is It to Drive an RV Through Europe?
Driving an RV around Europe can seem daunting because of the different road types, driving laws, and transmission types that vary from country to country. Fortunately, renting an RV in Europe has become quite easy, with a wide selection of models available and comprehensive guides found online.
Drivers must remember that European roads are often narrow and windy, unlike wider highways in North America. Depending on the country, driving cultures and unspoken rules of the road might also vary. However, the roads generally offer stunning views, so they are worth navigating.
Research any different laws or regulations before driving a European rental RV. There may be local regulations you’re not used to, and you need to know the road rules as they apply to Europe.
Most European RVs typically rent with a manual transmission. So you should be comfortable driving a manual or find a rental company that offers an automatic option.
2. How Much Does It Cost to Rent an RV in Europe?
Renting an RV in Europe isn’t cheap. But it’s usually less expensive than staying in hotels or Airbnbs, though.
Renting an RV in Europe will typically cost somewhere between $100 to $200 USD per night. A lot will depend upon the type of RV, what country you’re in, how long you are renting for, and whether or not you intend to return the RV to the rental location or drive it one way to a drop-off location.
That’s not cheap. But a hotel or an Airbnb will likely start at those prices (if you’re lucky) and only go up from there. You also have the added transportation expenses on top of your hotel stay and having to go out for food.
3. Where Can You Park an RV in Europe?
There are many places to park an RV in Europe when traveling and visiting different places. This is particularly true in locations that benefit from tourism and know there will be many campervans in need of parking. Along highways, there are rest stops or aires for refueling, dumping, and water fill similar to in North America. They’re notable because of a sign with an RV symbol on it. Most also expect that you won’t be staying more than one night and are self-contained.
We found RV parking quite easily by using the Park4Night app. This app would tell us whether a parking area was for day parking or night parking as well.
Just like in the U.S., there are many paid RV parks and campgrounds, public and private, across Europe. However, these campgrounds might have a different feel than most US campgrounds.
As most European RVs are smaller than their U.S. counterparts, so are the sites. The sites are often just a strip of grass with an electric plug-in. Sewer and water hookups don’t exist, as you rely on your tanks and dump stations. However, most campgrounds will have a water filling station, dump site, and/or place to dump your cassette toilet.
4. Can You Camp for Free in Europe?
Besides paid campgrounds, we found there were plenty of free places to camp in Europe. There are also books and apps to help you find aires and other free camping sites across Europe. A couple of the more useful apps are Park4Night and iOverlander. Be wary of any local laws or regulations and pay attention to signage that might prohibit overnight camping.
If you are familiar with the Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome programs in the U.S., similar programs exist in Europe. There’s France Passion in France, Agricamper in Italy, España Discovery in Spain, and others.
5. Do I Need a Special License to Drive an RV in Europe?
At a minimum, most European countries require a passport and your regular driver’s license. Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may also need an International Driver’s Permit. Your rental company will be able to tell you what is required, as you will need to supply proof that you have the correct licenses to be able to rent the vehicle and drive it.
If you frequently drive internationally, you may want to look into the International Driving Permits offered by International Drivers Association in over 150+ countries.
6. What Types of RVs Are Available to Rent in Europe?
Different types of RVs are available in Europe, but the vast majority are Class B motorhomes. This is largely due to roads in older European cities and towns (many are centuries old) being too narrow and winding to accommodate large vehicles.
Because of this, most motorhomes in Europe will generally fall between 19 feet and 25 feet long. A 25-foot motorhome is actually considered rather large. Anything upwards of 29 feet is huge.
Larger motorhomes can be quite limiting where you’re allowed to travel. While larger motorhomes and sometimes even travel trailers are available, weight is another important consideration. Weight regulations are much more strict than in the U.S.
We drive massive Class A motorhomes on a regular driver’s license in the U.S. In Europe, with a typical Class B license – which is issued to drive a passenger car – you’re allowed to drive a vehicle of up to a maximum of 3.5 tons (7,000 pounds). Or, you can pull a trailer of less than 750 kilograms (a little over 1,650 pounds). Any vehicle beyond those limits requires a special endorsement or a different class of driver’s license.
With this in mind, most European motorhomes fall within the 3.5-ton guideline, have no slideouts, and are rather narrow.
7. How Long Can You RV in Europe?
Americans and Canadians traveling through Europe in an RV are subject to the 90/180 rule. This allows you to travel freely without a visa for 90 days throughout the 26 countries that make up the Schengen Region, which consists of the vast majority of Continental Europe and Scandinavia.
After 90 days, you must leave the Schengen Region for 90 days before returning. This is the easiest way to rent an RV and travel around Europe, but you could also opt to apply for a long-term visa for longer stays.
8. What Is the Best Time of Year to RV in Europe?
The best time of year to RV in Europe is subjective, depending upon where you’d like to go and how tolerant you are of crowds. But there are a few general guidelines that might help.
Like in North America, summertime is high season and what we consider to be our least favorite time to RV. The crowds are bigger, and the prices for RV rentals and campgrounds are higher due to the high demand.
The shoulder seasons of April to May and September to October are good times to travel just about everywhere in Europe. Milder temperatures, lower prices, and fewer crowds make these two seasons great options for RVing in Europe.
Winter RVing can also be good, particularly in southern Europe, with reasonable rental prices, great weather, many year-round campgrounds, and easy travel. The Mediterranean Sea keeps temperatures and weather pretty mild along its coast.
9. Can I Take My Own RV to Europe?
If you want to spend a long time in Europe, you can take your own RV. Remember to consider the size restrictions you’ll have to deal with while traveling Europe, but shipping your own RV is actually a realistic consideration.
It takes a lot of planning, but there are companies that help navigate the process, and the cost can be reasonable if you plan an extended stay in Europe. All in all, shipping your own RV would cost in the neighborhood of $6,000 or so. That depends on size, where you are having it shipped to, and a few other considerations. Just remember you also have to pay for the return trip!
There are a few other things to keep in mind, such as any necessary modifications to make your rig compatible with European standards for things like electricity and LP gas. Also, consider the cost of insurance, how your rig should be licensed, and whether or not you should get a European driver’s license.
10. How Do You Rent an RV in Europe?
A key thing to do before renting is to consider your route. Where you want to travel in Europe can greatly affect what you rent, where you rent, and other details.
You can rent an RV from a rental company that operates across the continent or one that’s more localized to a single country or a handful. Shopping around is important, as prices can vary widely from country to country, as well as the time of year. For example, renting during shoulder season versus high season could cost a third of the price.
Another important consideration is whether you’ll make a round trip or want a one-way option. A round trip is less expensive, as it costs the rental company a lot of time and money to return their rental. So expect to pay quite a bit more for a one-way rental with a drop-off point.
Once you’ve made up your mind, follow the rental company’s guidelines for secure booking and payment, so you can dive into the nitty gritty details of planning your road trip adventure.
Pro Tip: Make sure you know these 9 Major Differences Between European RVs and North American RVs before you hit the road.
Is Renting an RV in Europe Worth It?
All in all, is renting an RV in Europe worth it? We would say yes! In our experience, we saw way more traveling this way than we thought would be possible. We also loved being able to explore the places in between the destinations and stopping in smaller charming towns we had never heard of before.
It is an amazing experience that you’ll cherish for years to come. The daily cost is cheaper than what you’d pay for Airbnbs or hotels. Plus, having the RV gives you a level of freedom and flexibility that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
If you’re considering renting an RV while traveling through Europe, go for it! Just make sure you do your research beforehand so you know what to expect.
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