Motorhome, far from home

Words Johan Schronen Photography Terry Chapman
Hotels, tour buses and taxis naturally spring to mind when you’re thinking about a foreign holiday. But have you considered motorhoming overseas? It’s a means of holidaying that could offer a great deal more value.

Exploring a continent in your very own mobile ‘hotel room’ not only seems an ideal way to see a lot more of many countries, but also puts you in charge of your itinerary – and it doesn’t have to break the bank.
Caravan & Outdoor Life readers Willy Plotz and Terry Chapman of Plettenberg Bay, who have both become addicted to touring Europe in their motorhomes, vouch for the fact that it’s great value for money.
Motorhome, far from home
But instead of renting motorhome rigs overseas, they opted to buy. Terry bought a Fiat Ducato-based Dethleffs in the UK and Willy a Hobby on a Ford Transit chassis in Germany. Terry says the purchase and storage costs obviously had to be factored into the equation, but at R550 to R600 a day (with fuel, food and overnight fees included) it’s an unbeatable excursion abroad, from a cost perspective.

Budget accommodation for a couple is normally around €50 (about R500) a day, and hiring a car for a few weeks costs about the same, so with food you’re probably looking at R1500 a day, more than double what it costs to holiday in your own motorhome. A saving of at least R600 a day over three weeks amounts to a staggering R12 600 – or more!
Terry explains that he previously explored the United States (including Alaska) and Canada in a motorhome which he bought in the States. When not using the rig himself, he had the option of handing it over to a motorhome rental company that hired it out and gave him a cut.

‘I was earning dollars with it while I was back in South Africa, which meant that storage was practically free. There it was a win-win situation for me, but in Europe I wasn’t fortunate enough to come across a similar rental arrangement.’ Motorhoming in Europe has become quite a craze among locals and foreigners, according to Willy. ‘They are everywhere, and most countries are extremely camper-friendly. Places to park and overnight are in abundance, and many are free, while others cost just a few euros per day. You only pay for water and an electricity hook-up if you want it.’ Willy explains that many of these overnighting facilities are really basic, ‘as rudimentary as a parking lot with water, a toilet drop and an electricity feed’. They weren’t designed to be fully fledged caravan parks or camping sites. You’re not allowed to ‘camp’ as such – that is, make fires or set up a site with an awning and camping chairs. Some sites don’t have ablutions: just water, electricity and a drop tank for your sewage and grey waste water.

But most motorhomes are self-contained anyway: if all you need to do is top up with water, dump some sewage and charge the batteries, then a spot with just the basics is great, as long as it’s free or almost free. One drawback with motorhoming in Europe, though, is that your movement is restricted when it comes to town driving, especially in the narrow streets of the old villages. Terry warns that venturing into towns and villages with a bulky motorhome should be avoided. ‘These vehicles aren’t easy to park or to turn around. The simplest is to park on the outskirts and use public transport or taxis to get into the towns and villages.’ When you’re on the road in your rig in Europe, you feel like you’re part of a roving motorhome community: there’s a great spirit of camaraderie when you meet up with other motorhomers and caravaners at each overnight spot.

Planning your trip
A good starting point is to familiarise yourself with the network of overnight sites for motorhomes or ‘camping cars’, as the French call them. The local authorities run most of them, but there are also some privately owned sites on wine estates and farms. These sites are called ‘aires de service’ in Belgium and France, ‘Stellplätze’ in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and ‘aree di sosta’ in Italy.

In Norway they’re known as ‘bobil parks’, in Spain as ‘áreas de servicio para autocaravanas’ and in Portugal as ‘áreas de serviço para autocaravanas’. These camper stops range from car parks on the outskirts of towns to remote rural spots, beachside locations and even vineyards. Many online guides and booklets are available to help you plot your routes. There’s also an array of reputable motorhome dealers where you could negotiate a bargain and perhaps arrange cheap storage between your visits. Refer to the info panel for some useful websites we’ve found; we’ve also included the contact details of motorhome dealers and clubs in Europe.

Spoil yourself
So if you want to treat yourself and tour Europe by road every year for the next five years, do the sums: a holiday by motorhome, whether you buy or rent it, is an option that makes a lot of sense. Not only is there the upside of seeing new places at your own pace, but you don’t have to endure the stress of hiring a car and booking in and out of fixed accommodation along the way.
Take your RV to Europe – Ron and Adelle Milavsky (Intrepid Traveler, 2005)
ISBN 9781887140546
Price US$14.04 (±R110)

Europe by Van and Motorhome –
David Shore, Patty Campbell (Odyssey Press, 2007)
ISBN 0938297066
Price US$16.95 (± R130)
Recommended websites – Explore Europe’s diverse architecture, culture, countryside and food in a convoy of motorhomes on a guided tour along scenic roads to tourist attractions and other worthwhile places. – A motorhoming couple started this website more than ten years ago to share their experiences and information about their travels, the places they’ve discovered and sites at which they’ve stayed in Europe. – An active blog and practical information about touring Europe in a camper, including an essential guide containing a collection of information and tips from experienced motorhomers.

Motorhome dealers and rental agencies – For more than 50 years, Auto Europe has been in vehicle and motorhome rental services. They’ve expanded over the years, and now they encompass more than 8000 rental locations in more than 130 countries all over the world, including many in Europe. – Meridian Motorhomes is a small, well-established, family-run business based in Sussex, with staff who pride themselves on good service. They offer a free-of-charge three-month ‘no quibble’ guarantee covering all aspects of the motorhome, and they provide a courtesy car if any problems are encountered.


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