Flashlights are “torches”. Trucks are “lorries”. Underwear are “knickers”. Car trunks are “boots”. Same things, but known in different English-speaking cultures by different names.
Little did we know when setting out to buy a motorhome in Europe that what we knew about types of motorhomes in America would have completely different designations in Europe.
Trailers are “caravans”. We have yet to hear anyone identify their rig in Europe as an RV (Recreational Vehicle), instead we hear the the more generalized, “camper”. America has 3 designations for motorhomes while we have found five designations in Europe that fit into 2 American categories. Let’s start with identifying our own rig Charlie:
Charlie is designated here in Europe as an Integrated motorhome. This means he has one long box without disruption. His interior has a static bed and a pull-down over the cab. In America, we believe he’d be considered a Class C as he is only 6 meters long (18 feet) although he does not sport a permanent bed over the cab also known as a cab-over or alcove.
Class C RVs in America are what most people think of when they think of a motorhome. Class Cs include integrated and cab-over that do not fit the classifications of a Class A (bus-like) rig nor a Class B modified van. In Europe, most of what we see on the road would be Class C but are further classified as Integrated, Alcove (cab-over), Crossover, or Semi-Integrated.
Class A motorhomes in America are the rock-star touring busses that often host full-timers. Driven by a diesel motor (some of the best are called diesel-pushers with the engine in the back) they are a full apartment on wheels. New ones have sliding room parts to expand the width, full bathrooms (or two), complete kitchens, bedrooms, and even a washer/dryer combo! In a year and half on the road, we only saw one Class A rig and it was at an expat campsite in Agadir, Morocco, sporting French plates.
Newest wheels on the block in America are the Class B and B+ modified vans – Mercedes Sprinters are desirable but there are many others. This is by far the most common rig we see in Europe. VW campervans with pop-top tents or the ubiquitous Class B+ Sprinter vans or their equivalent made by Hymer, Adria, Knauss, and more. The interior berths two people, but the tall box allows people to stand while the VW campervans require major outdoor living for cooking and even standing.
Anecdotally, we’ve observed 21% of the campers we see in campgrounds all over Europe are Class B campervans, 29% of the rigs we see would be considered Class B plus (Semi-Integrated, Sprinter) comprising the most common camping rig on the continent. Another 15% would be the cab-over Class C types, and the final 10% would be the Class C integrated types like Charlie. In Central and Northern Europe, we found more families liked towing trailers/caravans, renting a permanent spot at a campground, and storing it there to enjoy on weekends and holidays. We estimated approximately 25% of rigs on the road are towing a trailer/caravan. Interestingly, many of these caravans are stored year-round at a campground for their families to enjoy, more like a weekend getaway to the same place year after year.
Americans might be tempted to seek out or ship their more luxurious and spacious Class A rigs for their extended time on the European continent, but we have found that while the major highways would be fine for driving, getting around towns, into campgrounds, and “blending in” would be compromised by these larger vehicles. Additionally, European camping infrastructure isn’t set up for Class A sized rigs.
And what about towing? Many European travelers tow trailers called caravans of all sizes behind their Mercedes/Volvo/Skoda station wagons. Again, we only saw one Fifth-Wheel during our expedition: a British couple camping in Essaouira, Morocco! We have yet to see anyone towing a car. Laws require that all four wheels be trailered, rather than 2 or 4 down as in America. We saw a few weekenders towing boats or closed trailers with four-wheelers/ATVs. Most people have bike racks installed on their rigs (like Charlie), and some have snazzy racks for a scooter or a small motorbike.
One of the coolest types of rigs we’ve seen here in Europe and have yet to see truly take off in America is the Overland Vehicle. Usually a Land Rover or Toyota Land Cruiser decked out with 4-wheel drive, a rooftop tent and a snorkel for crossing rivers or deserts, these trucks are made for overlanding around the world. It’s not unusual to witness a huge Unimog or Mercedes truck with a hand-built box-home roll into campgrounds in Albania or Morocco. We met a maker of these high-end rigs in one campground and drooled over their McGuyver/Swiss Army knife-like features. Alas, maybe we’ll have to trade Charlie in for one of these ‘Round the World rigs one day.
If you had asked me two years ago what I knew about camping conveyances, I wouldn’t have been able to give you the names or intelligently describe the differences between them, but now I feel proficient to see the pros and cons for each type. Finding the right fit for you is as personal as finding the right sport shoes. Knowing what features you want or need is a great way to start sorting out what type will be a good fit. Talking to a dealer and stepping into rigs may help you visualize what you or your family might need. We spent hours looking on-line at different features. Once you figure out your needs, your next decision is to whether to buy, lease, or rent!
-written and photographed by Tammy