How to travel Europe in a campervan (with your family)

I’ve got to say, it has taken me a good six months of research to make my final decisions about long term travel and stay in Europe. Some of the questions we have as a family have been the asking are:
How shall we travel? Shall we hire a car? Or lease a car? Or perhaps we should buy a car? Maybe we could travel by bus and train? or Plane? Each time we threw up a question we researched and pondered, considered and then crossed that idea of the list.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS?
When it comes down to it. Travelling is hard work. Being on the road for an extended period of time will take guts, effort, sheer determination, compromise and money. So, what is the most effective way to travel as a family? not spend squillion’s of your hard earnt cash on air bnb’s, hotels, motels, car hire and or train trips you ask? Hmmm this may be a very long answer. So stick with me as I make myself clear.
BECOMING INTREPID TRAVELLER’S 
So, we decided to take the plunge and leave the world as we know it behind to become nomads we took our time exploring so many possibilities. For us the most efficient way to travel would be in a home with wheels. Especially as we have a kid, so some stability is important and needed during a time of constant change.
We also recommend breaking up your van time with some house sits.  We use Trusted House Sitters, who we have found to be amazing. Here is a link for you, by using this link you will get 25% off your membership. Just add this coupon code for the discount RAF237366  . You can read more about House Sitting here.
MOTORHOME OR CAMPERVAN – WHATS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO?
So, we wanted to find a home on wheels that was not too big in size so we can still manage to travel to the European cities.  Big enough that we can have some creature comforts, unpack our bags for the most part for the long haul and kick back without too much fuss. But, not too big! Lots to think about right!
Because we chose to stick to a van that’s up to 3500 KG in weight and allows us to drive on our current driver’s licence (International drivers licence). We bought a Elddis Autoquest 180, which is a motorhome. Our van has a shower, toilet,  bed, gas, etc, more details to help you make your mind up below.
Campervan
Campervans are a smaller home, usually something like a VW or Mercedes.  They are equipped as a self-contained travelling home. And, with campervans there is generally no divide between the cab and the living quarters. Campervans usually have basic facilities for cooking, washing, and sleeping. They usually can fit up to 2 people comfortably.
Motorhome/RV
A motorhome or otherwise known as RV is built on a truck or bus chassis and designed to serve as self-contained living quarters for travel. There is normally a divide between the cab and the living quarters behind, which contain sleeping space, toilet/shower and kitchen facilities.
And, motorhomes come in classes. An A class usually refers to the BIG KAHUNA’s, or otherwise those big suckers you see on the road, longer than 8 metres in length.  B class are often referred to as campervans, smaller and more compact with no cab divide. And, then there is the C class. This class is somewhere in between the A and B. Its what we have a 7.3 metre long,  3 metre high Peugot Elddis Autoquest 180.
A Class – Check your licence
Anything  over 4000 Kg in weight (most likely an A class) requires a different licence, usually a truck licence.  Something to consider. Also heavier vehicles are charged more via ferries, tolls and vignettes. For more details about Vignettes, costs, tolls etc check out this useful website Tolls and Vignettes – Europe
HOW TO TRAVEL? TO BUY OR RENT IS THE QUESTION 
Lets face it travelling with kids is fun in smaller stints when staying at hotels and or air bnb’s, villa’s.  But when you are travelling long haul, all that unpacking and packing up again can become a terrible drag. Not to mention the drag of trekking and schlepping to airports, train stations and bus stations.
Adding additional time to your holidays or long term travel. Even if you have got time, travelling by air, sea or train in public transport is expensive, time consuming and well quite frankly painful. Freedom to travel where you want in a motorhome or van is liberating. Just look out the window and there you are on your tour around Europe, sucking up all the beauty it has to offer. Pull up when you want and where you want (well almost, not is a busy city).
HOW LONG IS LONG?
When I refer to long haul, I mean longer than 3 months. Buying a campervan or motorhome to travel around Europe in under 3 months would just end up being a chore. But, its up to you. Plus there are many logistics to buying and selling to which I will get to eventually. Patience my friend patience. All is coming.
SCHENGEN VISA – WHHHHAAAT?
So if you do plan to travel for the longer haul, longer than 3 months. You have come to the right page. Before we continue on. If its the first time you have starting the Google search online.
And, if you happened to have landed here on my page then you may not even realise anything about Schengen? Because,  if you are not an EU national (hold a valid passport) or hold a valid working visa. And if you are not a student with approval to stay then you should know you are not welcome any longer than 90 days in any of the 26 Schengen countries within a 180 day stay.
HOW CAN LONG CAN YOU STAY IN EUROPE?
So what does this mean I hear you say? If you are new to this I will direct you to some awesome sites that explain these terms very clearly as there are lots of blogs that discuss Schengen visa rules. I’ll just be re-gurgitating all the same same. And, if you are not familiar with Schengen visa rules for non EU Nationals, then please click here.
WHO CAN STAY IN EUROPE FOR LONGER THAN 3 MONTHS?
I do stress that Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, Asian’s, Pacific Islanders are not European Citizens so you all need to be aware that you cannot overstay your welcome. Schengen visa requirements and agreements are different for each country. Please make sure you meet and understand the rules. It is also useful to know and understand Bi-Lateral agreements when you are heading on over for longer than 3 months.  Read on here. 

WHO CAN STAY WITHOUT A VISA?

What areas and which countries are included in Schengen zone? Click here for the list.  Australian’s, Americans and New Zealanders do not need to apply for a visa at this point.  Because things are changing and soon we will be required to apply for a visa to travel into Europe. As of 2020. For now you are ok to travel to Europe, enter and stay for up to 90 days in any of the listed 26 Schengen countries.

MOVING AROUND

Also to note that UK (Which includes Scotland and Northern Ireland) allow us Aussies, Kiwi’s to stay for up to 180 in a 365 day period (you beauty). Ireland allows us to stay for up to 90 days (this is in addition to UK 180 days and 90 days in EU). So really, if you want to schlep around for a year you can. You just have to be prepared to move a lot!

EUROPEAN COUNTRIES THAT ARE NOT PART OF SCHENGEN

In addition to the time you can spend in UK and Ireland you can also legally stay in other European countries. These include Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Romania, Cyprus for up to 90 days in each of these aforementioned countries. Turkey is also another option if you are willing to drive that far. And, further afield you can also travel to Northern Africa, Morrocco, Casablanca, Fez.

SO, HOW DO I WORK OUT THE DAYS??? WHAT IF I OVERSTAY MY VISA?

Well, this is a good question, I was stressing about this one big time I must admit. It’s so tricky to work out the specifics. There is help though. There are other mad humans like us out there that want to travel the world and have some idea’s as you and me. So, thankfully there are some clever peeps who have made App’s that help you calculate you time in Schengen Zones. Phew, I hear ya.

Using an App to work out Schengen – OH GAH they are all terrible

These guys MSSDevLab have made an app that you can download both on Android and IPhone’s from Google play. The app is called Schengen calculator free or you may choose to pay a small fee for the premium app by same guys. It is not great but its the best one I could find. You can also search for other similar apps available via google play. If you find a better one please send me an email, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

WHAT’S MORE COST EFFECTIVE

Congratulations, you have made a decision. Because, it is the most cost effective way you can travel around the globe buying a van. To lease one for this period of time would cost way too much. Leasing is great for up to 3 months travel as you have the convenience of insurance, car break down, all your amenities on hand, the pick of the bunch. But, if you decide to travel for longer than 3 months, buying is your best bet!

WHERE TO BUY A VAN?

If you are from the USA, UK, Australia or NZ the best bet is to buy in the UK/ Scotland or Ireland. Buying in the UK means you can buy a right hand drive (although a bit challenging driving a right hand drive in Europe which is left hand drive you will adjust). If you are English speaking negotiations is much easier buying from English speaking country.

Then there is also the consideration that if you buy a reasonable van that you might also wish to ship it home to sell? Depending on the cost/value of your van it could be a viable option. And as long as you don’t spend over $66,000 AUD you keep you van under the luxury car import duty tax threshold. If you are not from Australia its worth while checking costs of shipping, duties and other taxes.

UK or EUROPE

There are several companies in Europe (namely, France, Germany and Netherlands) that offer buy back options where you can buy your van from them. Because, registration will be linked to their business address. And you will need to buy insurance still under your name, all you need is an address to link your insurance too. Once you have finished with the van you agree on terms of re-sale or buy back. The longer you have the van the less you will receive, losing a considerable amount of income.

SELLING IN AN ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRY 

So we decided not to take this option. Because we wanted to be able to sell our van privately and to be honest with buy backs it seems much like renting really. Because, you end up selling back to they buyer at a premium. And, good van’s don’t depreciate that much over 12 months. The buy back system is convenient, but you will pay for it. I have not linked these companies here as I am not familiar with their practice so don’t wish to recommend as I have not had any personal experiences with them. If you google campervan/RV/Motorhome travel in Europe you will find them easily.

Mobile Home, Hymer, Camper, Vacations

HOW TO BUY A MOTORHOME or CAMPERVAN

If you are buying a right hand drive in UK region then there are loads of FB pages with Campervan’s/Motothomes for sale! These are all private sales, or mostly private sells. Some of the pages I’ve been following are:

@Motorhome for sale around UK

@Hymer For Sale

@Motorhomes For Sale UK

You might also want to check out Auto Trader, Ebay and Gumtree for sales in the UK. Plenty there to choose from if you prefer to buy direct from a business rather than private sale. Please be wary though, not everyone is always upfront and totally honest. Our first van we had some guy say he was the owner of the van. When we went to view it, it was not his van but someone else’s.

BEFORE YOU HAND OVER ANY $$$

Once you have decided on a van, if you are not in the same country its really important you have a representative or friend, family member go and check out the van and make sure the sale is legitimate and all the books, history, motor registration known as MOT in UK checks out. And, once all is checked out if your friend, family member or representative is willing and able they can pick up the van for you.

Buying oversea’s or buying when you are in the country?

And they can store it until you arrive if you are planning on purchasing before you land. If that’s too much of a gamble for you then consider searching for your dream camper prior to landing and then make contact prior to landing with the owners/business and arrange times to view. We felt more comfortable buying Lottie once we landed. We only viewed 3 motorhomes in one day and bingo. We bought a van!

MAKE SURE YOU ARE BUYING A LEGITIMATE VAN

If you have decided to purchase prior to arrival, then make sure you representative/broker friend and or family can verify the legitimacy of the sale before ever sending or wiring any monies through. We preferred to wait till we arrived in the UK to buy our van so we could see it in the flesh. We wanted to view the van before we bought. Our representative went and viewed the van once we have narrowed down our preferences to 1 van that had all the bells and whistles and ticked all the boxes.

PURCHASING

So, once the final decision has been made its time to hand over the DOSH right. So, this is always a bit scary, because lets face it most vans are anywhere between 20-60K. Its an expensive exercise. There are a number of ways you can transfer money from overseas if you decide to purchase and pick up direct prior to arriving.

WIRING MONIES

The safest and cheapest option we have found to date is via Transferwise transactions. or you can also consider opening a HSBC Global account which is brilliant. Gives you the opportunity to load up in currencies and a debit card that doesn’t incur fee’s and exchange rate fee’s. You can check out their terms and conditions, costs as well via Google. Because, you will save you $$$ in transaction fee’s and conversion rates etc. We also use our ANZ Global account and international transfer as its relatively cheap, up to $9 per transaction (if you are in Australia).

REGISTERING YOUR VAN

Ok, so this is the tricky part. To be able to register your vehicle and insure it you need a UK address to register to. So, you need to be living or staying with someone such as a family or friend so that the V-LOG and registration papers can be sent to you. You will not be able to do it any other way unless you ask a family member or friend to insure it in their name which gets really complicated.

So best bet is to see if your family member, friend, or representative is happy for you to use their address when you go to insure your van and register it for the time that you own it. This will include MOT (Ministry of Transport vehicle safety check which is compulsory in the UK) as well as Insurance.

SIGNING OFF

Once you have signed off on the deal you will need to transfer the previous owners name into your’s. In order to do this you need to sign a DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency UK) form and pay the transfer fee if you are purchasing in the UK its around 265 GBP. Ensure you hold onto the transfer slip as this allows you to on sell your van again.

Vlog and Registration

** Please note that you also need to ensure you pick up your V-LOG book if purchasing in the UK as this is a legal requirement and you will need to show this at border crossings in Europe if ever pulled over. This will show the officers that you are indeed the owner of van and you are legally allowed to drive it. Its basically a legal piece of paper stating you are the owner and its the transfer paper for when you sell, or export.

INSURANCE

There are very few insurance companies that are willing to insure your van if you are not a resident of EU. We found that Down Under Insurance  DUinsure.com.au are willing to provide insurance for Aussies Nomads whilst travelling in the UK. We chose Herts Insurance instead as they were considerably cheaper by around 400 GBP which is $800 in AUD. That’s a huge savings. For the same insurance.

Please**note Hert’s Insurance and Down Under Insurance will not cover your vehicle in Morocco, Montenegro, Turkey and further afield countries. However, when crossing over into these countries purchase insurance for the time you are there at the border. Border controls are stationed at each of these above mentioned crossings

INSURANCE INCLUSIONS AND EXCLUSIONS

Because there are limited options available premiums are very high. So, you want to travel on a budget for an extended amount of time, you have to pay the price. Make sure you check the policy, read the fine print and ensure it covers you for your whole intended stay and travels! **Note that you will not be reimbursed by either of the above underwriters if you do not have an immobiliser installed if your van is stolen. READ THE FINE PRINT ALWAYS.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ANY FRIENDS OR FAMILY IN THE UK?

That’s what we were up against, so all this research only to come to another dead end, hence why I’m writing this blog to you good people out! You may instead nominate a representative instead. Please send me a quick email to find out all the details. We are really happy with our guy Mike or find Mike @Ukmotorhomefinder on FB

And, he is totally amazing and legit and really helpful to assist you on-selling your van (for a fee) and helping you to store it as well should you need to store it for a time. And, Mike will do all checks, ensuring that the van has not been stolen, or in a major accident, all the MOT registration checks and general inspection. If all checks out you are in the running for a new van!

WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A VAN

Time of the year you are travelling. If you will be travelling in winter, its so important to have heating! As well as cooling for hot summer days down the south. Consider seat belts. If you intend to have an extra friend stop buy or travel with you then having more than 2 seated belts is imperative. Check this out first. Storage, so you need to consider how much you can bring with you. If you have kids then you need to bring a lot less. You can buy when you are over there so make sure you are brutal when choosing what to bring.

Security – A safe is really important, if you buy a van with out one, then consider buying a good one to install, you wont lose money on this, it will be an added bonus on re-sale. Also, an Immobiliser is a must, an alarm, wheel clamp or steering wheel lock at the very least.

Strap to ensure the doors can not be opened. Vans do get stolen all the time here so it pays to ensure you secure your precious belongings and expensive investment. We also found these nifty window and door alarms that are really handy and cheap. You can attach to windows and doors and they will go off (loudly) if someone tries to tamper or enter your van.

Bike Racks & Bikes – vans are usually longer than 5 metres in length, travelling in and out of ancient and old cities and villages can be really challenging. You want to make sure you stay outside of the cities. Park up in a RV campervan ground and then catch public transport. Better yet, get some exercise in and hit the road on your bikes. A great way to get around smaller cities and villages, you can lock them up and then just cruise back to your van when you are ready to hit the road again.

And, bikes will save money and time in the long run as you won’t be waiting for public transport (buses in Italy can be very unpredictable) as well as paying the extra costs to travel. Plus you are getting in your fitness as well. Bonus! We love walking everywhere and buses are usually great as well.

EXTRA’s and MUST HAVES on YOUR VAN

Below you will find some other must haves when buying your van. If it doesn’t already have them, these items will keep you safe, sane and savvy on your trip!

  • Solar panels to save on costs
  • USB ports
  • Refillable LPG Gas bottles/cylinders and fittings/external nozzle
  • Reverse cameras
  • Central heating
  • Truma Boiler
  • Electric Hook up and food grade water hose
  • Freshwater tanks
  • Thermal screen covers to keep out heat and or keep in warmth
  • Bolted down digital safe is recommended or an immobiliser
  • wheel clamps
  • inverter for when you are on battery if you are not on mains
  • Pump for additional water carriers to pump water from carrier into van (40 kg when full so cant lift the carrier to the water nozzle)

CLASS A, B, or C CAMPERVAN/MOTORHOME

As mentioned above, you need to check your current drivers licence and make sure that you are qualified to drive the van. Usually C class licences cover weight of the van for up to 3500 kg. Some drivers licences cover over this weight, make sure you check what you can drive before you purchase. Campervan’s/motorhomes that range from 5-7metres sit within this range and 3500 weight.

INTERNATIONAL DRIVERS LICENCE

You need to apply for your international drivers licence prior to leaving your country.  Valid for up to 12 months.

We hope that you find this blog useful and would love to hear your comments or thoughts, or any feedback you might like to share!

Enjoy Van life. Its pretty magical. If you want to learn more about camping in Europe and UK and Home sits why not click here.

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