I don’t want to miss one minute of my trip blogging, so just get to it when I can.
About a month ago, we left London and started the final leg of our journey. 16 weeks of travelling Europe in a camper van.
We found it surprisingly difficult to find information on how to campervan around europe as an Australian. Without being an official resident of any EU country it was rather difficult. So to help fellow travellers, I thought I’d provide a brief outline of what we did.
Errrrr… ok fine, it’s not that brief, but there’s a lot I wanted to share 🙂 I do hope this helps any Aussies, Kiwis or foreign citizens in planning your trip. It really is such an awesome way to travel.
Please note I am no expert, I am simply aiming to help others who may not know where to start. This is a very basic guide and will not be useful for seasoned campers.
Please stay tuned for the coming parts of this series which will cover budgeting, free/wild camping and lessons learnt.
Why we chose to travel by camper van
We chose this mode of travel for a few reasons, the main one being that we wanted to travel to loads of countries on a budget. Having a camper van is also has it’s added benefits such as:
- giving you the flexibility to go where you want, when you want.
- having your hotel room go with you (saving you constant packing & unpacking).
- being able to save heaps on eating out as you can cook your own food/buy your own drinks.
- being able to “stealth” camp in cities.
- being able to “free camp” pretty much wherever you want. Europe is quite accepting of this, so long as you clean up after yourself.
Hire v Buy
That’s not my idea of travelling on a budget.
So we decided to take the buy & sell option. Now I can’t say this doesn’t have risks, but given the cost savings and the fact we literally found the best camper ever, this was the better option for us. Stay tuned for my thoughts once the trip is over. We are yet to have a road-side breakdown. Touch wood.
When it comes to campervans, clearly spending more money will get you a better campervan. But as any traveller knows, most of your money has already been allocated to international flights, beer hall-ing in Germany or lids off in Mykenos.
If you choose well, a slightly more expensive campervan will likely have less engine issues, be more comfortable and will hold it’s value. I would suggest spending the most you can afford to go without during the trip, knowing you’ll get most (or all) of it back if you find the right van and look after it properly.
If it were up to me, I would have the mister sell the beloved motorbike gathering dust in the yard and put it into the campervan. But alas, a free standing bath isn’t a required feature for a camping trip, apparently.
What to look for in a campervan
Now obviously this will come down to personal preference and budget but here are some of the main factors to consider.
There are literally thousands of options for campers ranging from a typical camper van (VW Transporter or similar) through to a converted work van (a.k.a Stealth camper) up to a full motorhome.
You will need to decide what features (see more below) you are looking for and then that will dictate the type of camper you need.
Diesel v Petrol
When it comes to Diesel or Petrol, it’s a personal preference. However through research we found that Diesel engines generally need less maintenance and are more fuel efficient.
Although Diesel fuel costs are slightly higher, you generally get more milage.
Be aware that due to EU restrictions on Diesel emmissions in the EU, certain older cars are not able to be driven in cities such as London, or you will be fined, please see this link for more information.
From my basic girl understanding: Diesel is also preferred due to the torque that is created in the Diesel engine. For anyone that doesn’t understand this, torque = pulling power. So once your van is loaded with food, luggage, bed etc, torque is very important as it will help you get from a to be without burning too much fuel.
This will really define the size of camper you go for. As you are going to spend a lot of time in it, it’s preferable to have enough room to stand up straight whilst cooking or moving around the camper.
Otherwise you may end up with sore neck and shoulders from ongoing hunching. A friend of ours made the point of expressing that standing height was one of the most important factors to ensure comfort for living in your campervan. We are very glad he did!
If you are planning to spend more time outside the camper, you could look at having an awning, meaning you could go for a smaller campervan without the head height. If head height is a required feature, then you will be looking at a converted work van or larger.
*NB: When considering a longer/bigger van for extra room, please note that campers longer than 6m and over 3.5t incur higher tolls than standard size campers and are difficult to find parks for in bigger cities.
When factoring in clearance heights, make sure you take into consideration any air vents and/or tv aerials.
Most campers will either have a fold away (rockn’roll) bed, meaning you pack it up daily, as it usually doubles as seating for when you eat, or a fixed bed/bunks.
We went with a fixed bed mostly because who could be bothered to pack up a bed every day, and with most fixed beds there is always storage underneath.
Again you have multiple bathroom configuration options, campers can have both a shower and toilet or one or the other.
If you are considering a camper with a bathroom, please note that from my research I have found that people mostly complain that they tend to smell and can be a hassle to clean. Please also note that waste must be disposed of properly (eg. you can’t let your junk out on the street).
If you need power pretty regularly, you’ll need to pop into campsites anyway so you can use their showers then.
We have been on the road for 6 weeks and not having one hasn’t bothered us at all.
If you choose to go with one, this will have a water tank with pump and also potentially a water heater. All this gear takes more space and adds additional weight to the camper.
All toilet waste can be disposed of at campsites.
Again, your preferred kitchen layout will be based around what type of trip you’re taking. Will you be eating out a lot? Do you want the option of cooking your own food? If you are happy with cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, then you may not need a full cooking set up. However if you have specific dietary requirements or like us, enjoy cooking, you may prefer to have a single or double burner cooktop with a basic sink.
The cooktop will typically run on butane gas and come in lots of different sizes. You will need to ensure you buy the right sized canister so that’s it’s changeable in Europe. If you want to save yourself the hassle of changing in Europe, just buy a spare to take on the road.
With any sink, there will be a water tank with pump. This will be fillable at all campsites or when driving past the sneaky farm. Make sure the tank has been well looked after and definitely run it through a bit before drinking/cooking with the water the first time.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a group of 6 surfies looking to catch some waves in Lagos or a couple taking a year long sabbatical, you’re going to need storage. And more than you think!
Make sure all cupboards, drawers etc have a locking device to ensure they don’t open while driving.
Hmmmm… this is a tricky one. If you buy an expensive motorhome, which obviously no one can afford, most of the time, you won’t have any issues.
If you have a bit of cash to spend in the converted work van space, depending on who has done the conversion, you will potentially have a clear and detailed plan on how the electrics have been installed. The further down you go in price, it becomes more likely that it’s been a backyard where you’ll have a bunch of switches that work by the great hand of Zeus.
Your electrics will run:
– any lighting in the rear
– pumps for toilet/shower and/or sink
– any fans, heaters or airconditioning units in the rear
– 12V power outlets
– any 12V appliances that will run without a 240V power hook up (explained below)
Campervans vary from having none to all of the features listed above. It’s important to note that the more features you have, the greater the drain on the car battery.
If you are considering a campervan with many of the above features, it’s important to ensure it has a back up battery. Preferably a gel battery that has a longer life span and doesn’t leak (like acid batteries do).
This will need to run on split relay charger and therefore will further complicate your electrical system in the rear.
Try to get seller to draw you a basic schematic of the electrical layout which will assist you in you have any electrical issues during your trip and can’t find the damn fuse to replace. Which is our current predicament!
A 240V hook up is a direct line for 240V power into your van. You will find these at all camp sites and at some free camping locations.
Thankfully due to this wonderful invention, I can blog on the road.
This is a separate system to the 12V explained above and runs on it’s own fuses and is only an option when you are hooked up at campsites.
All you will need is a basic 3 phase power lead to connect your van, however please note in some Scandinavian countries, you will need a 2 prong European single phase convertor into your 3 phase in order to connect. If all this information phases you, just go to the local caravan store and get them to
Even the larger long wheel base campers are relatively cosy. so if you can, find a van with a fixable tent/awning structure which encloses an area outside your campervan. This will extend your living space with minimal effort and be especially rad when it’s raining or there are mosquitos or those dread midges.
This unfortunately was a feature not on our van however we bought a tent/awning to use for this purpose from Go Outdoors in the UK. It’s important to note that because it’s not fixed to our camper directly, it only gets used when we are camping for more than a few nights. If we had one as part of the van, we would use it far more often.
Right hand drive v left hand drive
If you’re buying the camper in England then you will most likely only have right hand drive options.
As most of Europe drives on the right side of the road, you will need to be comfortable with driving a RHD on the right side of the road.
Although it’s not a major issue, just have to make sure you have a left hand side window behind the passenger seat where you can head check your blind spot.
International driving permit
Before you leave Australia, make sure you get your International Driving Permit. Please check Smart Traveller for your state specific requirements. This is basically a copy of the information on your licence in a little cardboard book but without it you can’t legally drive in many Eurpoean countries and then your insurance may be void if you were to have an accident and wanted to make a claim.
You can do this from overseas however it does cost extra to get them to post it internationally.
Finding a campervan
We used several sites to research options and some of the ones I can recommend are:
We found ours on Auto Trader.
As you are buying from a stranger, I would suggest doing a background check on the camper van you are looking to purchase.
We used www.mycarcheck.com which will check if the vehicle:
- is stolen
- has been written off
- has any outstanding finance
I would never recommend buying off a stranger without undertaking this or a similar background check.
International money transfer
Please note that when you find your camper van there are a few options for payment.
Typically the seller will request either a bank cheque or an international money transfer.
The bank cheque option is much less risky however you will need someone with a UK bank account and trust them with your money.
If an international money transfer is your only option, make sure that you sign some type of agreement with the seller that agrees that the seller is selling you the campervan at the set price. You should both sign & date it and if possible take copies of their licence. You can use this as a contract of such until the money transfer has cleared.
You do have to put some level of trust in the seller so make sure you get all the documents in place before making any payments.
Transfer of ownership
Once the money transfer has cleared or you have provided the bank cheque, the seller should fill out the V5C form which they will send to the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). Ensure they give you sections 9 – 12 of this form which will act as your ownership document until the DVLA sends you the full V5C UK Registration Certificate.
When you sell the campervan on, you will provide sections 9 – 12 of this certificate to the buyer (only after you have received the money). It will then be your responsibility to send sections 1 – 8 of the certificate to the DVLA.
MOT Test Certificate
The seller should also provide you with the MOT Test Certificate which shows that the vehicle is roadworthy. If the seller doesn’t provide you with this certificate, you will need to take it to an authorised assessor to “take it over the pits”, similar to as you would do in Australia.
Make sure you check that the tax has been paid for the period you want to travel. If it hasn’t, you will need to pay the tax.
Anyone can buy a campervan, however you need to have a UK address to register the van to.
If you have a friend that is willing to let you register the vehicle at their home address, you’re sorted.
We registered it to a friends house under our name.
We only found one company, Down Under Insurance, that would insure a camper van owned and being driven by a licenced Australian (they also cover Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders and South Africans) without a UK residents card. It’s important to note that they don’t cover every country in Europe, so be sure to check their list of covered countries before planning your trip.
I’m here to help!
I hope this helps any Aussies looking to take a camper van trip and please feel free to pop your questions in the comments and I will do my best to answer.
So without further adieu, I’d like you to meet Reginald, our home for the next few months.
This is our kitchen/dining.
Here is the couch, with storage underneath.
And here is the master bedroom, with the “wardrobe” beneath. That box on the right is our “fridge”.
This is us set up the first night we free-camped in Scotland (see my Scotland post for places to go).
When the weather is nice, you just roll open the doors, and voila! Alfresco dining!
I could think of no better way to travel Europe! Stay tuned for more of our adventures!
And please please please feel free to ask any questions you might have about campervanning around Europe.
Don’t forget to hashtag #travelwiththemacadames on your travel pictures – We’d love to see where you’re exploring!
Anisa – The Macadames. xx