If you're looking to tour Europe in a Campervan or Motorhome then the largest obsitical to overcome before embarking on your trip is finding the right vehicle to do it in. The aim of this guide is to talk you through the the various types of vehicles based on the assumption that you have not owned a camper before to try and give you a running start at turning your dream into a reality!

The smaller your budget the less fussy you can be prepared to be and thus considerations such as upholstery and some degree layout may need to be compromised upon. Certainly when we bought our first camper the only real consideration was the best condition for the least money.

In terms of layout, I believe you can only truly know works best for you when you have lived in it for several weeks, researched it incredibly well or are just very lucky! For us it took three years and three very different camper vans before we finally realised what were the essential requirements for us but don't let this put you off as we never suffered in any of them.

For us one of the biggest considerations is the size of the van. We like to get right into the heart of a city, park up and go off and explore and that really isn't possible in a van in excess of 6 meters as you lose the ability to squeeze into a regular parking spaces so you can be limited.

This guide covers the following areas:
  • Types of Camper
  • Touring on a Budget
  • Where to Buy

Types of Camper

1994 Autosleeper Symphony
Van Conversion
This type of camper is based wholy on a panel van usually with an extended high roof and windows cut into the sides. A van conversion is usually smaller inside than Coachbuilt campers but with the advantage that many will easily fit in a regular sized parking bay (vans 6 meter or under). In addition some vans look more discreet meaning that it is often easier to wild camp, park or get into towns and cities while travelling.

Van Conversions cover a wide range of vehicles ranging from VW style campers with facilities amounting to a pull out bed and a sink to 7 meter long Transit Jumbo or luxury Mercedes Sprinter conversions. Some of the smaller and the majority of older van conversions do not incorporate a toilet or washroom which could really limit your ability to travel freely since you become reliant on campsite facilities. While the idea of emptying a chemical toilet features quite low on the list of enjoyable activities it can also be a lifesaver and greatly increases your freedom to explore.

What to look out for
A van conversion will rust on the body so check the bottom of doors and where the fibreglass roof meets the bodywork, if applicable. Check that the conversion has been carried about by a recognised manufacturer (google the graphics on the side) - if nothing comes up it may well fit into the 'Self Build' category below.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Compact, easier to park and manoeuvre
  • Easier to wild camp without being seen
  • Available in colours other than white!
  • Often expensive compared to coach built
  • Smaller vans not equipt with a toilet.
  • Not as much living space inside. 

Our First Van - 2005 Compass Suntor
Coachbuilt Motorhome 
This van has a fibreglass body built onto the back of a panel van, giving you much more space inside compared to a Van Conversion. This is by far the most popular type of Camper and is produced in a wide variety of lengths and available with and without a sleeper box above the cab, if without this is called a lowline although virtually unheard of in the UK before mid 2000.

By far the greatest number of layout combinations can be found in a Coachbuilt Camper there really is something for everyone. I personally favour layouts which make the best use of the driver and passenger seats  which usually amounts to an end kitchen / washroom arrangement. While you may not wish to sleep in the sleeper box (we did in -10 in Austria, and were very snug!) it is useful for storage in the absence of any outside lockers. 

What to look out for
The biggest worry in a Coachbuilt motor home is the presence of damp and moisture which can get in-between the outside body and the insulation layer. If you are considering buying one it is worth picking up a damp meter and testing areas like the corners, around windows and sunroofs and especially leading edges around the front. In reality many older vans will have some damp so you need to assess it's severity and if anything needs to do to rectify the problem. 

The bodywork is also more prone to damage and much less forgiving in the event of an impact so check if any marks have pierced the surface and look out for out of place stickers or add ons which might be hiding something. 

  • Lots of choice in terms of layout and style
  • The 'best value' motorhome combination

  • With the fiberglass bodywork even minor accident damage can be very expensive.
  • Often 'big white boxes' and stand out when wild camping.

1995 Hyper B544
A-Class Motorhome
This type of motorhome is a smilar construction to a Coachbuilt camper but the cab part of the van becomes intergrated into the camper van body which bringes with it several advantages and disadvantages. For someone who has only driven a car before this type of camper can often be the most daunting to drive as excellent spacial awareness is essential as viability can be limited.

Having never owned an A-Class motorhome I can only speculate on the advantages of having one, which I assume is larger integral space and usually a pull down double bed which lowers on top of the cab area which is not as claustrophobic as the 'Sleeper Box' on a coach built. It is the least like a car or even a van in terms of driving as you side a good deal back from the windscreen and can feel detached from the road. The most popular manufacturer of A-Classes is Hymer and the interior build quality is often excellent.

  • Greater integral space
  • Large pull down fixed bed which retracts during daytime.
  • Much less inconspicuous than any other type of campervan.
  • More difficult to drive by comparison to other types of camper van.

A "home made" Transit Camper
Self Build / DIY Campervan
A self build camper van can be pretty much any camper van which is not a manufacturer conversion by and established company. By definition the standard of workmanship can vary greatly between vans and each one needs to be assessed on a van-by-van basis. Some of them are fantastic and indistinguishable from a professional conversion, while others amount to a grubby mattress thrown in the back and a few  plastic stacking boxes!

On the face of it Self Build campers can be an attractive proposition, they are often built on a comparatively newer vehicle then what you would be able to find for a professional conversion and often contain interiors stripped from caravans or other motor homes so they are sometimes indistinguishable from a professional conversion. In addition, many of them are the ultimate 'stealth' campers without windows which has advantages when wild camping in towns and cities. I would exercise caution with regards to the electrical and gas systems on-board and recommend that you have both checked out by a qualified engineer prior to your trip. Insulation is often overlooked as many of the vans are only used during the summer months, what is behind the plywood lining? The conversion itself is not really worth anything unless of a high standard so the vehicle is only worth what the van itself is worth plus a couple of hundred quid or whatever the parts in the back are worth on the open market if it was to be stripped.

  • Cheaper to buy.
  • Comparatively newer van for the money.
  • The ultimate 'stealth' camper
  • Possibly easier to ensure as a regular van
  • Gas & Electrical Safety check essential
  • Standard of workmanship varies greatly
  • Often difficult to resell unless cheap
  • No manuals or  user guides for newbies

Touring Europe on a Budget

In order to truly maximise your budget I would recommend that you to consider purchasing only from private sellers since the mark up on older motor homes on dealers four courts is excessive compared to that of cars for a number of reasons I won't go into here. Concerns such as an after market warranty does not really apply since it is likely to be useless in Europe and furthermore incredibly limited on an any older vehicle - preventative maintenance is the order of the day and failing that, a good break down policy! 

In addition, I like to look at the whites of peoples eyes when I question them about the service history and its reliability during their time of ownership. It is also likely that you will come across people who are selling after returning from their own European trip (often Auzzies or Kiwi's) and in my experience every set of owners would have undertaken their own maintenance before embarking on such a trip as I would recommend you do regardless of the condition of your eventual purchase.

Minimum Budget: £3,000 - £6,000
When I first wrote this guide, I was going to examine several price points and what could be purchased for each, however common sense dictates that the more you have available to spend the better vehicle and the more choice is available to you. I have therefore focused on touring on a budget and what can be achieved with limited funds. It's worth mentioning that between £6k and £12k there is very little improvement in the calibre of the vehicle you can buy the main variable is how desperate the seller is to sell (and/or what they bought it for), so I would seriously consider holding out of the best possible deal.

There is actually surprisingly a lot of choice within this category so much so that we have even considered swapping our more expensive camper for a cheaper one on a number of occasions! At this price point my attention is always drawn to the European imports which were popular in the in the early 1990's when importing from Europe suddenly became much easier as import tax was abolished. The Europeans (especially the Germans) have always until very recently been years ahead when it comes to camper design and build quality and there are some excellent examples available for well under £6,000.

One thing to point out in this price bracket is while there are plenty of motor homes available the vans on which they are based are more often than not extinct, however it's worth mentioning the parts to repair them are not.

Makes to look out for are Dethleffs, Hymer, Euromobil or potentially anything that is left hand drive. In fact there are some unbelievable bargins to be had in Germany, check our Import Guide and click 'Used Vans' on the top for more information.

For the best deal look to purchase between November and February when it is cold and wet and nobody is thinking about camper vans.

Budget Examples (found Jan 2011)

1991 Eura Mobil The van was imported from germany in 2001. It is a citroen c25 2.5tdi Eura Mobil,it has full service history,and all receipts for money spent since new. Has 8 months MOT ,five months tax. It pulls like a train,and returns 32.Mpg,it has 4 new tyres, it has had resent clutch fitted. Fitted with trauma under floor blown heating;it has hot and cold running water,shower room with sink hot and cold taps, telford cassette toilet,in the kitchen has 3 way fridge,sink cooker with 3 ring hob,fan extractor above oven,there is lots of cubbords and storage,there is fresh water tanks and waste water tanks with pumps to empty,it also has 3 good leisure batterys,everthing works. £3,400

1992 Fiat Hymer Camp (4 berth). 1.9ltr Diesel. Current MOT and Tax.  105,000 miles the on clock with full Service History. She is a small wheel base and can park in single car parks. It has been well designed with plenty of storage and no issues of comfort. Features include: Toilet, shower, heater, permanent double bed above driving cabin, roll out awning, kitchenette, dining area (converts into another double bed), attachable tent, bike rack, roof storage box, thermal window covers Also includes everything needed to go: Power cords and plugs for mains electricity, pots and pans, cutlery. £5,200

Auto Sleeper Legend DL Ford Transit 2.5 Diesel Camper Van. It has done 76000 miles. It's mot'd november 2011.. This is a coach built fibre glass body... 4 berth... I have owned this van since 2006.. The reason for selling is i have upgraded to a newer van.

Where to look
A classified system of adverts especially popular with Australians and New Zealanders returning from their travels to list their vans. As it's free to place an advert this is the best place to pick up a cheap bargin.
Click to browser camper section

The motorhome section on eBay is a mixture of auctions and classified listings. I would always recommend you always view a vehicle before considering placing a bid.
Click to browse Camper section

Another two sites worth considering is Preloved and Caravan Selecta.

If you are serious about getting a bargain, why not look at the vast number of motorhomes available available on the German equivalent of autotrader click to visit Mobile.de

Coming soon:

Essential Equipment
Buyers Check-list
Pre-Trip Maintenance