If you go RVing with your family in Europe, then your first question is: what vehicle best suits your needs?
For RVing in Europe, there are basically two type of vehicles to choose from:
travel trailer (also known as a caravan)
motorhome (also known as a camper van)
Both types have their pros and cons. I’ll list them here for you and then it’s up to you to decide which vehicle suits your needs best.
After explaining the difference between a travel trailer and a motorhome, I’ll get some pointers about the interior of your RV and why I recommend you to also travel with an awning or porch.
1. Pros and cons of a travel trailer
A travel trailer (or caravan) is an RV that you tow behind your car. This is the biggest advantage: you have a separate car for sightseeing and other trips like getting the groceries. You can leave the travel trailer at a pitch, so no need to make the RV ready for the road every tour.
Unfortunately, this is also the disadvantage: you need to tow the caravan with a car. This can be difficult if you’re not an experienced driver, and, more importantly, not every car is suitable for towing.
For example, the average family car can tow 1200 kg which means you can only tow a travel trailer of max 4 meters long. Although some families cope with RVing in a small trailer, for lots, this is too little.
Although travel trailers are generally cheaper than motor homes, you need to take the cost of buying a strong enough car into account as well.
2. Pros and cons of a motorhome
RVing with a motorhome (or camper van) is gaining in popularity. The disadvantage is that you don’t have a separate car. You have to get your RV ready for driving even if you only need to do some shopping. However, lots of motor home owners solve this by taking bikes or a scooter with them. Moreover, some tow a small car behind their motor home.
The advantage is that you have your ‘house’ with you at all times. Anywhere you go, you can bake eggs or make fresh coffee right there on the spot!
Another advantage of a motorhome is that it is made (or can easily be made) ready for boondocking. There are lots of free spots for staying the night. You do need a big enough water tank and solar panels for electricity, though.
Caravan or motorhome, what will it be?
Essentially, when choosing between a caravan or motorhome, it comes down to one question: do you intend to stay more than a few days on one campsite? If so, then choose a travel trailer. If you want to travel faster and only stay for one or two days in one spot, then a motorhome suits you and your family better.
How about a fifth wheel then?
A fifth wheel is not as common (yet) in Europe as it is in the US. We have seen a few of them and these things are enormous!
Not familiar with it? A fifth wheel is a big trailer that you hook on the back of your truck. The advantage is the turning radius. The disadvantage is that you need a truck that can tow a big trailer.
Europe is not quite suitable for a fifth wheel, though.
In Europe, the high ways are big enough for a truck and fifth wheel to drive, but when you leave the high way you can – no you will – get stuck in cute little villages. And I know from experience because we even got stuck with our caravan in a small town in the south of Portugal. A fifth wheel would have torn that house front down.
Characteristic of fifth wheels are the extended parts. When folded it looks like a regular van, but when extended many compartments are sticking out. The space in the fifth wheel is, therefore, huge. When you have a large family, going with a fifth wheel is probably the most comfortable way of family camping.
But keep in mind that it will limit the places where you can go in Europe.
Okay, back to the RV stuff:
Interior of your RV
Both travel trailers and motorhomes come in different sizes and with different interiors. When choosing your vehicle, think of the following:
Small or big, that’s the question. For full-time travel, some extra space can be very convenient. Although I know families that travel long term in a mini van, we wanted a few additional meters.
2. Fixed bed
Smaller RVs have a sitting area with a table and seats that you can transfer into a double bed. Some motorhomes have an extendable bed above the driver’s seat. This is fine if you go camping for a short period. But for traveling full-time, a fixed bed with a good mattress is desirable.
3. Bunk bed for children
If you have toddlers or older children, a bunk bed in your RV is perfect! Of course, this takes a lot of space, so bear in mind that the size of your RV will be bigger as well.
When we first left, our oldest was 10 months old. He slept in a travel cot and we made our RV suitable for this. Now he is 2,5 yo and he and his little sister of only 8 months sleep in the bunk bed. We made their sleeping area baby and toddler proof, as you can read here xxlinkx.
Compared to the big RV’s from the US, kitchens in European RVs are small. But they have everything you’ll need like a stove and fridge. In general, the bigger the RV, the bigger the kitchen. We even have a microwave!
What’s probably more important, though, is the size of the fridge. With a family of four, you’ll need that space, so before buying or renting xxlinkxx your RV, check the fridge.
5. Toilet and shower
Most RVs have a toilet and shower. Only small vans don’t. When checking RVs, make sure these are of reasonable size.
We never use the shower, though, because it is so small! But we always stay on campsites, so we use the showers there. However, if you plan to stay on motorhome campgrounds or go boondocking, do mind that you won’t find any sanitary facilities.
6. Maximum weight of your caravan
As mentioned earlier, most cars can tow a travel trailer of max 1200 Kg. This is the total weight of the trailer ánd it’s loaded weight.
7. Driver’s license
Also, consider that for big caravans you need a particular driver’s license. With a regular driving license, you can only drive a combination with a maximum total mass of 3500 Kg (thus, car and trailer).
Awning for RVs
You can truly increase your comfort level with an awning. Although an awning can take some time and energy to set up, when done, you have a lot of extra space. Not every RV is big enough to accommodate the whole family during dinner. In high season the weather is probably good enough to eat outside, and you only use the RV to sleep in. But when you encounter cold or rainy weather, the awning is the perfect place to eat. Get a small electrical heater and zip it completely closed to have a comfortable temperature inside.
Not every RV is big enough to accommodate the whole family during dinner. In high season the weather is probably good enough to eat outside, and you only use the RV to sleep in. But when you encounter cold or rainy weather, the awning is the perfect place to eat. Get a small electrical heater and zip it completely closed to have a comfortable temperature inside.
For small children, it is perfect to have an outlined spot. Our baby and toddler play a lot in it.
Some RVs have a porch. This is especially convenient when you move around a lot and don’t want to waste time and energy on setting up an awning. The advantage is that it is easy to put up and it provides some shade in front of your vehicle. But it gives no shelter for rain or cold. It depends on your travel plans if you prefer an awning or just a small and easy to set up porch.