Pros and Cons of small motorhomes and campervans- what’s best for you?

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Buying a campervan or motorhome can be daunting. After all, type ‘Motorhome for sale' into Google right now and there are 135,000 results! How on earth are you supposed to choose which size or type of camper is best for you?

What if you want a small motorhome or campervan? What options are available? And heck- what even IS a small motorhome? Just how small is ‘small'?

Conversely, how big a motorhome is TOO big? Should you buy an RV? What size motorhome works best in Europe? Should you choose over or under 3.5 tonnes?

 

Here's a guide to the main types of motorhomes and campervans available, along with some handy tips to help you choose the best one for you.

Small Motorhomes- what is a small motorhome?

There is no definitive answer on what is a small motorhome. Many Americans, used to big RVs, look at our 7.5m motorhome and think that's small! 

In the UK and Europe, anything under 6 m is considered small as it fits into a standard parking space (by length- not always by width!)

Small motorhomes also have low profiles- meaning they don't have above-the-cab beds. Or no ‘hump'- if that makes it easier to understand. 

Best small motorhome to buy under 6m
Small or micro motorhomes- which is best to buy?

 

What types of small Motorhomes are there?

Unsurprisingly, there are LOADS of different types of small motorhomes on the market.

Small and tiny motorhomes are one of the most popular categories– people use them in place of a car or need them small enough to fit on a driveway.

Here are the main categories of small (and medium) motorhomes:

 

 

Micro motorhomes

Micro motorhomes are possibly the cutest things ever. These tiny vehicles are essentially a small van or people carrier with a pop-top roof. Apparently, they can be designed for two… but I think you'd have to REALLY like the person (and both be quite small!) to make it work for any length of time.

Many of the models are designed with only one person in mind.

The Romahome R10 is a popular example of a micro-motorhome. I doubt I'd be able to last in there very long, but if you're shorter than me, and want a small motorhome which can double as a car, this might be a great solution for you. 

Are there small Motorhomes with a toilet?

I'll be honest, I was gobsmacked to learn that a Romahome has ‘toilet facilities' onboard. That is some seriously impressive engineering! 

One of the first things my husband asked when we were hiring a motorhome under 6m was “Does it have a toilet?” So I want to reassure anyone else concerned that yes- many motorhomes under 6m have toilet facilities- most even have a full bathroom!

Best small motorhome with a toilet
Best Small Motorhome (with a toilet!!)

 

Best Motorhome under 6m?

There's some debate about where a micro motorhome ends and a small/ compact motorhome starts. 

We recently hired a Bailey Alliance 59-2 motorhome (5.9m long) and were gobsmacked to experience how spacious it felt. We had 4 adults and a dog inside most evenings and it didn't feel cramped at all. It only has sleeping room and seatbelts for two, but there was plenty of space for a couple (with or without pets!)

There are LOADS of other compact motorhomes under 6m. It's impossible to list them all, but some popular manufacturers are listed in the section below.

 

Who makes small motorhomes to buy in UK?

Honestly, pretty much every big motorhome manufacturer has at least one model in its range which is sub 6m and is available to buy in the UK.

Some to check out (in no particular order) are:

  • Hymer
  • Bailey
  • Swift
  • Chausson
  • Adria
  • Autotrail
Small motorhomes- tiny enough to park anywhere, but big enough to live in!
Small motorhomes- tiny enough to park anywhere, but big enough to live in!

 

Best Small motorhome under 6m?

Watch the following video to see our thoughts on these compact motorhomes. Most are under 6m!

  • Autotrail Imala 734
  • Autotrail Imala 625
  • Autotrail Imala 615
  • Swift Kontiki 675 Lounge with Stargazer window!
  • Adria 670SL Coral
  • Adria Matrix 590ST
  • Chausson Welcome 530
  • Elddis 196 Autoquest
  • Swift Freestyle 612
  • Dethleffs Eurostyle T 7057

 

How much are small motorhomes (UK)?

Oh, this is a tough question- because it's all down to whether you're buying a new motorhome or used, how high the mileage is, condition, ex-hire etc.

We bought our Swift 496 motorhome as an ex-hire and got a fantastic deal on it- but we did have to fix several errors which had been caused. It all depends on how much work you are willing/ able to do.

Price details on several brand new small motorhomes are in the video above.

Is a small campervan right for you? Which type is best?
Is a small campervan right for you? Which type is best?

 

 

Small camper vans

Small or mini campervans are another popular choice. Many people use them in place of a car, which saves money in all sorts of ways. Again, the debate rages- what constitutes a ‘small campervan' or just a campervan? For me, I think the defining point for campers is a bathroom.

Many van conversions now have a ‘proper' bathroom; I suggest that any which don't are ‘small campers'. The most popular models of small campervans are the VWs… although their latest model has a bathroom, so I guess that's now a big campervan…

 

Man, this is getting confusing! Let's regroup with a pic of a cute dog (I would love to train our dog Mac to do this!)
 


 

Moving on…

 

Panel Van Conversions

Many of the bigger campervans are also known as panel van conversions– and boy are they getting high-spec! We looked at several of these vans at the latest NEC show and it opened our eyes to a completely new list of possibilities. We really loved some of them.

For me, these are the best types of van for ‘vanlife' if you don't want a motorhome or traditional camper. They can be customised, have room for enough storage (essential if you're going to live onboard for a decent length of time) and have enough room for one or two people (and possibly a dog) to have some epic adventures!

I wish I'd known vanlife was a thing in my 20s… I'd have gone all over the world in one of these!

[irp posts=”9197″ name=”5 awesome Clothes Storage Ideas for small campers, RVs and motorhomes”]

 

Best camper or campervan for vanlife
Best camper for vanlife- a panel van conversion?

 

Best Campervan models (with shower and toilet)

A bathroom is a deal-breaker for me, which is why I'll never be cool enough to have a small campervan like an old VW. Headroom is another problem; at nearly 6ft I want to be able to stand up in my home!

Many panel van campers have toilets and headroom. Some even had a fixed bed- which is mind-blowing for me! How do they fit so much into a tiny space??

[irp posts=”8979″ name=”Essential Advice for new Motorhome & Campervan Owners – A step by step guide for your first trip!”]

Who makes large or small campervans (available in UK?)

Vanlife is growing in popularity- meaning there are more and more designs coming onto the market. It's hard to list the best designers, because SO MANY people take a panel van shell and create a custom interior.

Some of the designs are AMAZING, but they are custom jobs or small firms who only do a couple of renovations a year.

Seriously, it's probably impossible to list them all. 

To get you started, here are the bigger manufacturers for campervans in the UK. It's by no means exhaustive, but hopefully, it gives you a place to start looking

  • Swift Motorhomes (yep, for campervans)
  • Autotrail
  • VW
  • Adria
  • WildAx
  • Autocampers
  • Danbury

 

Review of some of the most popular campers for vanlife

Before we bought our new small motorhome, we were seriously considering downsizing to a panel van for long-term vanlife, for a number of reasons.

We would LOVE to design and build our own, but time constraints might be a factor (along with ability!!) So we'd probably buy one pre-fitted.

Watch our review of some popular large and small campervans in the video below. We take a look inside the:

  • Swift Select 184 Panel Van
  • Swift Select 144 Panel Van
  • Swift Select 164 Panel Van
  • Autotrail 634 Sports V-Line

 

New UK Tax on brand-new motorhomes and campervans

One thing to consider is the new Government tax on brand-new leisure vehicles, which includes motorhomes and campervans.

In September 2019, the UK Government introduced a new tax which puts a large premium onto brand new vehicles in the leisure industry. So if you're interested in buying a new vehicle, be sure to ask the dealer EXACTLY how much you have to pay, including tax. 

 

 

Small Motorhome camping- is it possible to go wild camping in a small camper?

Absolutely! We had a blast in the sub-6m motorhome we borrowed for the weekend. We took it wild camping in Wales with absolutely no preparation and very little extra equipment.

We also spent a couple of nights on a campsite and didn't feel claustrophobic in the slightest, even after 5 days. 

Low profile coach-built motorhomes

Of course, you can get a low-profile motorhome under 6m, but you can also get them much longer- our last camper was 7.9m and 4.2 tonnes! Read about the pros and cons of a motorhome over 3.5 tonnes

We prefer a low-profile motorhome for touring Europe as anything over 3.1m high is classed as a truck, with the corresponding (much higher) toll fees!

There are hundreds of layouts (I've not officially counted, but if you ever visit the NEC Caravan and Motorhome show, you'll see how many different types there are- and those are just the new models!)

 

Low profile motorhome- best camper for Europe
Low profile motorhome- best type of camper for Europe?

 

Motorhomes with over-cab beds

These are the more ‘traditional' motorhomes, with an extra bed over the cab. I've not seen many of these under 6m- in fact, I'm struggling to think of a single manufacturer who makes small motorhomes with over-cab beds! If you know of one, let me know!

Our first motorhome was an over-cab bed and we thought it would be the perfect layout for us and our daughter. Sadly, it didn't work out- she hated being over the cab.

However, many people love it- which is the reason there are so many different types of motorhome on the market!

Over-cab motorhome in Europe
Types of motorhome and camper vary greatly!

 

A-class motorhomes

A class motorhomes mean the cab is a lot bigger- we always think it feels like a spaceship or a 747 cockpit! The front window goes straight up and down, instead of being slanted back like a traditional motorhome.

We've never owned an A-class, but friends of ours swear by them. It's entirely down to personal preference. 
 

Tag Axle Motorhomes (an extra axle due to length)

Really long motorhomes need an extra axle for stability and to help with weight distribution. These are the ones with two wheels close together at the back! You only get tag axle motorhomes over 6m long.

 

Types of RV – American style motorhomes 

We're beginning to see more and more RVs in Europe. It's fun to see them, but I'm not sure how practical they are, especially in the UK where the roads are so narrow!

Still, we were camped up next to one on the Kiel canal in Germany- they were having a grand old time. They even had a little car which went in the boot!! 

There are several types of RV- Class A, B and C.
 

Class A RVs are the HUGE ones you think of, often with slide-out living areas and other cool gizmos.

Class B RVs are, surprisingly, camper vans and van conversions. These are the smallest type of RV. There's also Class B+, which are just bigger campervans!

Class C RVs are similar to UK motorhomes in size and layout. They often don't have slide outs.

Fifth wheel trailer for vanife
Is this the best van for vanlife?? Not sure it works in Europe!!

 

Fifth wheels

We don't see many of these in Europe, although we did see one in France, being pulled by an actual truck, towing a caravan! It was amazing- I wish I'd been able to take a photo. 

In America (and Canada!) they tow these with enormous trucks; we've always thought that would be pretty cool! 
 

Unimog and adventure vehicles

My husband is desperate for one of these- a Unimog or just a 4×4 van. Maybe we'll get one for when we explore South America! He'd happily convert one of these- but they are crazy expensive!! 

Unimog- the perfect type of van for vanlife
The perfect vanlife camper? If you can afford it!

 

Build your own Motorcaravan

If all else fails, you can always try your hand at building your own campervan or motorhome. We've rebuilt several boats, so I've always said I wouldn't do this- but honestly, the idea is quite appealing!

It would be so nice to see it all come together and be able to lay it out just the way we want it. Still, you need to consider getting it properly inspected- this is important for insurance and registering with the DVLA.

I don't know all the details, having never done it, but this excellent book is a great tool to guide you through it. 

 

Of course, now you need to take this information and start deciding what's the best motorhome or camper for you

If you're considering buying your first motorhome or camper, this helpful list will guide you through it so you don't forget anything.

Let us know what you end up with- we love hearing about your adventures.

Dreaming of a life on the road? Looking for the best Van for vanlife? The choice for van living can be overwhelming- where do you even start? This complete guide to choosing the best camper for vanlife will help, looking at size, weight, storage, travel with dog or pets and for one person, two or more! #vanlife #van-living #tips
Best van for vanlife

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4 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of small motorhomes and campervans- what’s best for you?”

  1. Unimog and adventure vehicles . . .

    Just like your hubby, Mr WB, I’ve wanted a Unimog camper for years. There are a lot of things to be said for Unimogs and I’m an off road driver. I’ve gone 4×4 touring in a couple of small vehicles with a tent, driven British army Bedford 4×4, 4 ton trucks and am happy driving a bus or coach. We met a guy (Kym Bolton) at a caravan show here in Sydney and a (budget) epithany hapened.

    Unfortunately, whilst you might get 12 square metres of living space in a Unimog rather than 8 in our end choice, they are Mercedes. Expensive to buy and maintain, older commercial Mercedes vehicles (e.g. ex army) aren’t as good as you’d hope – very old fashioned and antiquated mechanicals! They are, heavy, too wide for some places, thirsty and unless you are really pushing your luck, will you ever fully use the off road abilities? The new ones are very expensive and still have a 7.6 litre egine!

    Keep up the good work Kat.

    Reply
  2. Great article and really helpful. Having spent 2 months in a fairly old Crafter in New Zealand, we are now trying to find a similar size ‘van but with 2 swivel seats. Easy, you’d think, but not if you also want it to feel light and spacious and have longitudinal beds!

    Reply

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