If you already have a van that you are happy with, fantastic! I’m sure it will be perfect…
However, if you have never purchased a motorhome before, or taken one on a long road trip, here are a few things to consider before buying;
Right or Left Hand Drive?
As we were planning on travelling Europe for over a year, we were keen to buy a left-hand drive van. If you drive a right-hand drive van you will find that there are scary blind spots, especially when joining certain intersections across Europe. That’s fine if you have a passenger to look for you, but if you are travelling on your own, it would not be advisable. However, the same can be said when you re-enter the UK…you will find that a left-hand drive creates the same hazardous blind spots at the same junctions.
Another point of worthy mention: All toll bridges have the kiosk on the left-hand side. If you are travelling alone, you will need to lean across or actually get out of the van and walk around (which we saw plenty of times!). Make sure you keep a tray of coins and a debit card in the cabin at all times. It will prevent impatient beeps at toll pay booths.
Whether you buy a right or left-hand drive van really does depend on where you plan to travel the most. We certainly do not regret buying a left-hand drive motorhome. It was perfect for our 12-month road trip!
It never lost its value either – that’s just a myth, in our experience.
What Size Berth?
This is a very important consideration. Do as much research as you can. Because where ever you think you’re going to sleep, will probably be subject to change!
I was very sure that as a family of four, I wanted a 6 berth motorhome. It was a good call. We had a very large over-cabin bed that my son slept in (he was the only one who could sit up without banging his head!). We had a dinette that converted into a double bed at night for our teenage daughter. Then we did something rather extreme…
We pulled out our short rear lounge (that converted to a double bed) and actually created a fixed double bed on gas struts (for extra storage underneath). We did this for two reasons;
- A short rear lounge is a useless space. It is too short to be comfortable during the day and a hassle to change into a bed at night;
- Sleeping on a makeshift bed for a two-week holiday is one thing – sleeping on a makeshift bed for a year is quite another. I was not prepared to give up my memory foam mattress (which we easily cut to size) and feather pillows. Sleeping well is essential. Comfort is King. Do not compromise.
As it happened, I could not cope with my husband’s excessive snoring (due to new allergies) so 6 months into our road trip, my husband and son swapped places. It actually worked out well for us. Both of us had much more room!
What I’m trying to say is that circumstances change. We were lucky to have the space to accommodate a change in sleeping arrangements. You really do not want to be in a position where your options are limited.
We had friends who returned to the UK this year to sell their van and buy another one because of the bedroom arrangements. They did not have a fixed bed and were rearranging the lounge every evening. They said they simply got fed up being in the same place all day and all night. Believe it or not, even in a tiny space, you still appreciate a change of scenery!
If you are travelling full time, I would advise a fixed bed. If you have children, an over-cabin bed is great but you will appreciate other options if they argue a lot! Don’t forget to pack a bed guard for over cabin beds. Its a long way down if you fall! Even though our son was 9 years old, I added a baby bed guard, just in case.
We were very grateful for the dinette/bed because it served as a sofa during the evenings. We would simply change it into a bed, add a mattress topper, throw a pile of cushions against the walls and cuddle up to watch movies.
So don’t worry about sacrificing a sofa area for a fixed bed. You can always be resourceful!
There are hundreds of great makes and models out there. I am no expert so I will not even pretend to know what model is best. That said, there are a few things that we learnt along our trip.
Engine size = make sure you have enough power to get up those Austrian Alps but do not go overboard or the majority of your money will be spent on fuel. We saw tonnes of American RV’s with huge engines but we rarely saw a happy face at the petrol pumps!
Also, there are a great number of campsites and aires that cannot accommodate RVs and large Concorde motorhomes. You will have to work far harder to plan your trips. Even if you find suitable pitches, they tend to be those furthest away from all the amenities.
Our van had a 2.5 Ford engine, with 135 bhp rather than the lower 110 bhp. It was perfect for us. It tootled along the motorways superbly, never struggled on the hills and was extremely economical. We didn’t need anything higher than a 2.5.
The ford engine was a great buy for us. Despite being over 10 years old, the van had only done approximately 7,000km. The engine was like new. If anything it was slightly neglected from under-use!
Whatever you chose, think about the cost of your trip versus the resale value. Motorhomes with more than 50,000 miles on the clock do not sell very quickly unless they are priced accordingly. Large RVs may be very lavish but you need to be a millionaire to drive them. Certain models have a better reputation than others in terms of dependability. Parts can be expensive for old vans that are no longer manufactured. We found that out the hard way when one of our exterior storage doors blew off on a motorway. It cost us over £600 to source a replica and have it spray painted.
However, our 2005 Rimor Superbrig was comfortable, reliable, fast and economical. Given our time over again, I would not change our choice. For a secondhand family van, it was perfect.
Length & Weight Load
Outandaboutlive has a great website explaining weights and payloads. I would advise reading their web pages before purchasing a van. You really want to be able to purchase a van with a high payload, especially if you are touring for more than 6 months.
The police in the UK recently stated that over 8 million motorhomes are overweight. It can be very challenging trying to meet legislative requirements.
We thought about weight in everything we packed. It was one of the reasons we did not fit a satellite or an air-conditioning unit. Every extra adds weight. You must be ruthless. If it’s absolutely not necessary, don’t pack it or fit it!
We visited a weighing station before we left the UK. We were overweight. So we ensured that we travelled with an empty water tank and we removed all of our food & toiletry shopping until we arrived in France. You would be surprised how much 12 bottles of wine weigh!
Make sure you write a list of exterior extras you need and others that are desired. Don’t compromise on the things you ‘need’ when purchasing a van, but be prepared to pay for extra’s that are on your ‘desirable’ list.
There are hundreds of extra’s for motorhomes – you could spend thousands if you so wish, but here are a few things we recommend (and had fitted);
You may be fortunate enough to purchase a van with a bike rack already fitted but if not, make sure you have one professionally fitted. Shop around, there are plenty on the market. You can decide to have a tow bar rack or a rear mounted carrier. Both have Pros and Cons.
We did see people who preferred to tow a trailer with bikes inside. Many travellers also tow scooters and mopeds. Its a great idea but be careful of your weight and remember that you still have to fit on small pitches, or pay a premium for a larger pitch.
You may be fortunate to have a large rear garage – perfect for storing bicycles. No need for a carrier – but make sure they are accessible. We watched countless campers unload their entire garage to get to a bike! Easy access is less stressful.
As we are a family of four, we purchased a rear mounted Fiamma 4 bar cycle carrier. We had it professionally fitted and kept the receipt.
Please be aware that you must display a ‘Cycle Warning Sign’ in all European Countries. We purchased a bike cover with the sign embedded.
You really do benefit from having bicycles in Europe. It makes sightseeing so easy. You will adore the cycle paths around the canals in France.
Take a look at our Bicycle Page for information on what to consider when purchasing bikes.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THIS PIECE OF AMAZING KIT!
We had never heard of a SOG until we had our solar panels and bike rack professionally fitted. The owner of the shop asked how long we were travelling. We informed him that we would be travelling full-time and he recommended a SOG. Good man!
Essentially it is a fan that is fitted externally meaning that all toilet odours are filtered to the outside through a carbon filter mat that is fitted to the exterior of the service hatch.
In hot weather, the toilet cassette can really chuck out some repulsive smells. Also, due to the heat and pressure build-up, some people experience ‘blow-back’ when they open the seal! Ewww…
The SOG prevents all of this.
We paid almost £200 for our SOG including fitting. I really can not sing this genius idea’s praises any louder. We never experienced smells – ever, even on the hottest day.
Plus, it is ecologically sound. No expensive toilet chemicals are required (meaning less weight to carry around too!). It breaks down all toilet matter naturally, meaning that you are able to tip waste in a freshly, dug hole if you want to! It’s all biodegradable!
I have no idea why new vans are not fitted with this device as standard. It’s brilliant!
Buy it! You won’t regret it.
Most vans will come with a ladder as standard, but if you are unfortunate to find a van without one, you may want to consider adding a rear mounted ladder as an essential upgrade.
How else will you get on the roof to reach the roof storage box, adjust your satellite dish or wash your solar panels?
You can survive without solar panels if you are travelling – but I wouldn’t want to!
We purchased two 120w Solar Panels for our van. To our surprised they charged even when the sun was not shining – they only needed daylight.
If you are travelling full-time, I would certainly advise fitting at least one solar panel. We were able to wild camp for weeks without electricity. The solar panel always kept our leisure battery full.
We never once, during our 12-month tour, ran out of power.
Now, I think this addition is essential if you do not have a large garage or storage area within your van (we didn’t). However, I think there is a bit of snobbery in terms of what type of storage box you use.
If you want your roof box to match the white of your motorhome, then please do part with the best part of £400 for one. Or, if like us, you are not so worried about the colour, why not fit a traditional black car roof box?
That’s what we did. It never bothered us that it was black. As far as we were concerned it provided 450ltrs of extra storage space for half the price of a Fiamma box.
We purchased a Thurl roof box, which fitted well on our roof bars (you will need these too if you are wishing to fit a top box). It stored all of our winter clothes, bedding, coats, boots, tools and pop-up tent.
Your leisure battery runs all of your 12v appliances and sockets when you are not connected to an electrical hook up.
If you are travelling for a long period and wish to avoid being over-reliant on camper stops and campsites, then a leisure battery will be your best friend.
It will power your fridge, TV, lighting and any other items whilst you are not linked up to electricity.
Unsurprisingly, leisure batteries are not made to function like a car battery, in so far as, car batteries do not take kindly to the constant charge and discharge that a leisure battery will encounter over its life. Therefore, do not think that you can save money by putting in a standard car battery.
Leisure batteries, also known as deep cycle batteries, auxiliary batteries, and wet batteries come in three categories:
- Category A – higher storage capacity for people who frequently use their motorhomes away from electrical hook-ups
- Category B – aimed at caravan users who frequently use sites with hook-up facilities, but require a greater battery capacity to operate devices such as motor movers
- Category C – for users that require a lower capacity battery to cover basic operation of their habitation equipment for short periods away from a hook-up
For the purposes of travelling for long periods, you will need to purchase a high capacity category A leisure battery.
We purchased a brand new 150AH Energy Bull Leisure Battery before we left. It never failed us. It was a reliable work horse that kept all of our appliances charged – only requiring daylight, not sunlight.
The capacity of a battery determines how long a battery can provide power before it needs to be recharged.
Greater or lesser capacities are expressed in Amp hours (Ah). So a 115Ah battery provides power for a longer period than a 65Ah battery; it also takes longer to recharge completely.
However, there are many other factors that influence how long a battery will last.
The table below sets out some of the Ah required by standard motorhome equipment:
|1 florescent light||.75||5||3.75|
|2 Halogen lights||1.5||3||4.5|
|Total + 20% safety margin||23|
This shows a total of 23Ah per day. This does not include kettles, phones or mobile devices. You can see from this chart that a high capacity battery will be necessary if you wish to spend time wild camping or away from an electrical hook-up.
However, there are many factors that can affect the batteries life, such as age, high consumption rates, temperature (manufacturers express Ah at an average temp of 25c and there are many occasions when the temp will be constantly above or below this in the real world).
Therefore, it is difficult to accurately predict the capacity of the battery you will require. This is where motorhome design will have an influence. The battery is required to be stored in a separate compartment with external ventilation. You will normally access it from the outside. Look at this battery compartment and then buy the highest capacity battery you can to fit in it without compromising safety.
Once you have done this, dependant on your travel plans, you will want to consider alternative charging methods for your battery, that don’t require you to start up your van or move your van to recharge the battery after a night’s stop over.
We opted for a solar panel fixed to the roof, which kept our battery charged sufficiently for us to wild camp for weeks at a time, subject to weather and consumption needs. Remember rainy days may keep you inside your motorhome and consumption will go up threefold.
If you plan to visit more than one European country on any given tour, an LPG gas conversation may be something you wish to consider.
It can be difficult to find certain bottles in certain countries and let’s not even talk about the issues with numerous different adapters!
We decided it would be easier and cheaper (in the long-term) to pay for an LPG conversion. The professional fitting was fantastic and we had a gas cap fitted to the outside of the van so that we could easily pull into a petrol station and top up with LPG (or GPL as it is commonly known as) at the pump at hundreds of stations throughout Europe.
When we purchased ‘All the Aires of Spain and Portugal’, it came with a really useful map of all LPG stations across Spain and Portugal, together with GPS Coordinates. For all other countries, we used myLPG.eu but some of the suggested sites were out of date or inaccessible. It’s good to see when the last inspection or review was carried out.
We paid £450 for our Gaslow R67 11kg LPG conversion, including Professional fitting. Our annual bill for LPG for the 12 months we were on the road was approximately £25. It really did pay for itself in terms of cost and resale value. It was lovely not having to worry about sourcing and refilling gas bottles.
If you have never driven a motorhome before or a vehicle any longer than an estate car, I would suggest that a reversing camera will be cheaper than having to repair your van at a later stage.
Throughout Europe, you will be tested by awkward parking spaces, tiny roads, one-way streets, pitches with trees… A reversing camera takes the stress out of parking.
Even when my husband would ask me to get out of the van and direct him in, I found that he never listened anyway. I would shout instructions and he would do what the hell he wanted. In the end, I insisted on a reversing camera – I wasn’t prepared to get wet anymore!
A word of warning: We purchased an ‘all singing, all dancing’ Sat Nav, Bluetooth, GPS Navigation, Touch Screen head unit on Ebay, only to find that it was not compatible with our van. It cost us much more to have it fitted than if we had purchased a similar one from Amazon for a slightly higher price. But make sure it has European Maps – it is a Godsend.
Personally, I prefer an inbuilt system. I spoke to so many motorhomers across Europe who had their dash-mounted systems stolen whilst at the supermarkets. It takes less than one minute to smash a window and grab a dash mounted SatNav. Thieves haven’t got the time to try and remove a fitted head unit. Your reversing camera is as good as useless without the viewing screen.
For us, it was worth the extra cost – and was a good investment when it came to selling our van.
Oh my goodness, we were driven mad by flies during the black fly season in Spain! We had a sliding screen on our motorhome but somehow the little blighters always got into the van, together with mozzies and other insects. I think it takes too much time to open and close the sliding screen – it only takes a few seconds for flies to invade!
So, when we arrived at Montroig we had finally had enough of swatting flies and being bitten. We marched off to a motorhome shop and purchased a chenille fly curtain – I can only say it is miracle worker!
I don’t know whether it is the fabric or the movement of the curtains, but flies hate them. For the last 7 months of our trip, we never had one fly or mozzie in the van!
I extend a sincere ‘thank you’ to the inventor of these curtains – they really did make our trip more enjoyable!
We did not fit either a Satellite or an air conditioning unit, namely, because we were travelling mostly through the autumn, winter and spring months and we were trying to avoid British TV!
But if you can’t bear the thought of missing X-Factor, then a satellite might be a wise investment – that said, we met plenty of motorhomers that could not receive a signal in Southern Spain. A satellite is not a guarantee.
The same principle applies to an air conditioning unit. If the thought of a hot van makes your blood boil, you may want to consider adding a Dometic roof air conditioning unit. But think of the weight. These units are not light!
For us, both of these items were expensive luxuries we could live without.
Be careful when selecting a larger berth motorhome, that it has the same number of travelling seats. We saw many motorhomes advertised as 4 or 6 Berth, but actually, the internal layout only permitted two travelling seats with seat belts.
I was determined to find a van with 6 travelling seats. I was also keen to find 2 x rear facing seats and 2 x forward facing seats around a dinette table. I wanted this in anticipation of our children arguing whilst I was sat in the passenger seat, unable to intervene. I knew they would not sit next to each other for any period of time without half killing each other. Again, it was a good call – and certainly worth being fussy over. I was not prepared to compromise on this requirement.
It worked out very well for us because the table acted as a peacekeeper and a useful space for colouring and playing with toys whilst driving.
As a family travelling, you have to think of every eventuality!
Kitchen spaces are so small, even in newer vans. I was keen to find as much work surface as I possibly could. I did not like corner kitchens where the sink cover also acts as a counter top. I really tried to think about food preparation, dishes, cross contamination etc. Think about how you naturally move around a kitchen as make sure your van works for you.
Whilst we all dream of outside BBQ’s and preparing our veggies sitting in the sunshine, the truth is, it rains in Europe too. Purchase your van with rain in mind. If it works when you are cooped up in a steamed up motorhome, you know it will be a breeze in the sunshine.
If you are a family, don’t rely on your dinette table as preparation space, unless you can be sure that the children/partner have somewhere else to sit. Asking kids to pack toys away or sit in bed whilst you prepare food will wear thin after one week!
Look at where the plugs are situated. Does it work for you? Don’t buy a microwave if you haven’t got a plug in the area you wish to place your microwave – you don’t want to be lugging items around the van every time you need to use them. Where will you lay out your plates to serve? Where will you rest a hot pan? Where will you plug in a kettle? Is there room to let the steam escape? (Otherwise, your kettle will eventually destroytroy the underside of cupboards if it continuously boils beneath them).
We were delighted with the kitchen in our Rimor Superbrig. To this day I have never seen a van with as much free work surface. It had fantastic storage, good lighting, great air extraction and practical plug sockets. Okay, we could have done with a larger fridge and cooker – but hey, it served us just fine, for 12 months!
Remember, the larger the fridge/freezer, the more you fill it – the more weight it adds. Sometimes, it is better to shop more frequently and be resourceful with your cooking.
When selecting a van, don’t be afraid to try out the bed. Make sure you fit! If you have to transform a seating area to create a bed, make sure you do it before you purchase – it will give you an idea of how easy it is, what the foam is like and whether you fit okay.
Whilst we had no problem with the size of the beds, we did find the foam deeply uncomfortable. As aforementioned, you might be able to suffer a poorly foamed array of cushions for one week, but your quality of sleep will be disturbed by aches and pains in the long run.
I decided to purchase memory foam mattress toppers for both the dinette and over cabin bed. The one on the over cabin bed stayed in place at all times. The one for the dinette was rolled up and fastened with a bungee cord during the day and stored at the back of the over cabin bed. It was super quick to unroll and put in place – and it made the bed so much more comfortable.
Personally, I would highly recommend this for any van where you are expected to lay on the cushions of the furniture in situ. It is very easy to cut the mattress toppers to size with a Stanley knife. It will be worth the effort, especially for long road trips.
With new motorhomes, I’m sure the quality of the mattress on a fixed bed is much better than older vans. However, if you need a certain mattress for health reasons, don’t be afraid to fit a different mattress. Thankfully I trained as an upholsterer so I did not think twice about cutting our beloved memory foam mattress to pieces, resealing it and fitting it to our fixed bed in our motorhome.
Have a go!
Having a good night sleep is the difference between having a good or a bad day.
We converted our rear lounge to a fixed bed on gas struts with under bed storage
Just like trying out the beds before you buy, do the same for the driver and passenger seats. See how it feels, imagine driving hundreds of miles. Do you have clear vision? Is there space for your books/maps/coffee cups? Are the seat covers washable? You will need them to be!
Is there a space to have a GPS/SatNav head unit fitted? If not, where will the dash mount sit? Where will the reversing camera sit so that you can see it?
Where will your pooch travel during the day? Does the cabin have enough room for a cage or canvas carrier?
Where will you keep your European Travel Kit and fluorescent jackets, should you break down? Where will you keep the fire extinguishers? Can you get to these items quickly? Check the windscreen wipers, indicators, brake lights, hazards, air conditioning etc. On older vans, does the air conditioning need to be re-gassed? If so, do it before you leave. It will be worth it!
Do both chairs swivel to become captain chairs? If so, great! Test them, make sure they work!
In our case, only the passenger chair swivelled around to face the living area. I suppose it was better than nothing but the cabin also had a step up into the living area, so the captain’s chair never really felt part of the lounge furniture. It ended up being a great place for our dog to sit, though!
Whatever you do, avoid carpet at all costs! You will spend every hour hoovering. The debris on campsites will make its way into your van, no matter how careful you are. Sand, pine needles, leaves, gravel, dust – it all carries in.
Make sure you pack a long telescopic brush and a dustpan and brush. You don’t want to be bending over all the time to sweep the floors. Use the long brush for sweeping and the small dustpan for collecting and discarding. Sticking a few floor wipes on the end of your brush or shoes works wonders for cleaning the floor.
It is advisable to pack a small travel hoover, though, just to give the chairs and beds a good ‘going over’ once a month. It always surprised me how much debris fell down the sides of sofa’s and beds even though I thought I was meticulously clean.
Purchase a good quality water absorbent mat for the front door and make sure there is adequate storage near the door for wet shoes. Other than that, expect to sweep frequently.
In the bathroom, it can be tricky to brush the floors, so I used a bathroom mat that could be taken out, brushed off and cleaned.
Do whatever you can to save your back and keep housework to an absolute minimum!
Storage counts for everything! There is no doubt that the latest vans have some incredibly novel ideas for storage. Everything from under-bed to overhead storage is accommodated for.
If however, you cannot afford a new van with all the latest gadgets and mod cons, then you will need to give some thought to storage solutions…
I think storage falls into five main categories;
- Kitchen Paraphrenia
- Bedding and Towels
- Outdoor equipment
When looking for a van, think about these five categories. Where will you store your clothing? Do you need winter and summer items? Will you store it all inside the van? Where will you hang wet items? How many shoes will you need to take? How will you store underwear and swim suits? How can you make the available space work for you?
Our Rimor Superbrig had one large wardrobe with hanging space and one lift up drawer at the bottom for shoes. But as a family of four, there was no way I would be able to hang all of our clothes in one wardrobe so we decided to remove the hanging facility and build 4 deep shelves in the same space. Each person was allocated one shelf. I then screwed a laundry bag to the inside of the door for each person for their underwear and swimsuits.
Other than our coats (which we hung on a hook in the shower), every item of clothing fit in the wardrobe, with room to spare. It really is about making each space work for you!
With kitchen items, you really need to be decisive about what you will use on a daily or weekly basis. Prioritise your equipment. We knew that we had to find space for saucepans, pots and pans, utensils, plates and cups. Other items we tried to be savvy with e.g. collapsible colander, flat grater, handheld mixer and blender.
If you can’t live without a microwave, consider where it will be stored during travel. I would not recommend driving with anything on the worksurfaces. We kept a small low voltage microwave under the bed and brought it out when we needed it.
Also consider where you will keep bottles, food, pet food etc. Be careful with bottles whilst driving. Kitchen storage also needs to include cleaning products, bin bags, sprays, an electric and a gas kettle, wash basin and roasting trays etc.
Top Tip Travel Hack: Pack a ball of elastic bands – they are great for keeping cutlery tied together, cupboards closed and opened food bags sealed. We always put elastic bands around our cutlery whilst driving – it stops all the clattering about. We also fitted screws underneath the cupboards that had external handles and held them together with elastic bands – preventing items falling out of cupboards every time you turn a corner or hit a bump! You can usually tell if this is a problem in a secondhand van – the table and countertops will have signs of damage.
We did not tow a car, moped or trailer during our 12-month trip, nor did we feel the need, however, if you are considering towing, the Camping and Caravanning Club have some great advice regarding the types of towbars, licence issues, regulations and weight distribution etc.
We did see many people towing small Smart cars – it is very useful for exploring, especially if you have a large van that will limit your parking options. Personally, we enjoyed exploring public transport options – it all added to our adventure – plus, we got to see places and meet people we wouldn’t have seen or met had we stuck to roads.
Public transport is very accessible, clean and affordable in most countries throughout Europe. We took trams, trains, boats and buses to countless towns and cities. You don’t have to miss you just because you don’t have a car!
Nobody wants to buy a van with resale value in mind. Most motorhomes are a long term investment. But there are people like us, who know that there will come a time when they need to sell their van in order to recoup their original investment…
For every extra you add to your beloved van, you are adding money to its resale value. It’s an investment. Obviously, new and used vans lose money in depreciation but you can limit this by taking great care of your motorhome and adding the extras that buyers are looking for.
The aim is to make your motorhome stand out from the thousands of others for sale in the same price category. Our Rimor Superbrig was 10 years old but it had low mileage. On top of that, we made some great modifications, updated the interior and sold the van with tons of extras. We knew it was probably one of the best vans on the market at that time within its price range and age. It was no wonder it sold in days!
We purchased ‘Colin’ for £17,500 in 2015. We added approximately £2,500 worth of extra’s and sold the van in 2016 for £23,500. Plus we had 12 months of amazing memories. Bonus!