Campervan Hire UK and Europe- Essential things you Need to Know!

Wild Camping in the UK with a motorhome or campervan

Planning a campervan hire in the UK or Europe? Feeling a little overwhelmed by all the camper rental options? Don’t panic- this guide will share the tips and tricks you need to plan your perfect campervan holiday- even if you’ve never rented one before!


Why hire a camper van?

There are many reasons why hiring a campervan is a good idea. If you don’t currently own a camper, there are a LOT of advantages to hiring one before you buy- it’s a great way to try out if it’s for you.

Also, if you’re trying to stay away from crowds and hotels (you know, due to a pandemic or something…), a campervan is a fantastic option for staying isolated- especially if you hire one with its own toilet and shower.


Campervan Hire in UK and Europe- things to decide first

There are a LOT of things you need to consider and decide before you even start looking at campervan hire companies or quotes, so let’s start there. 

  • How many people 
  • What layout?
  • Bathroom?
  • Size?
  • Weight/ driving restrictions
  • Insurance

How many people will be travelling in the Campervan?

This is vitally important and affects most of the next decisions you make. You will need a seat belt per person, including any baby in a car seat. 

You also need to make sure there are an appropriate number of sleeping berths- some campervans may have 4 seatbelts but only sleep 2 or 3.

What layout?

This is an almost never-ending rabbit hole, especially if you’ve never rented or owned a campervan before. There are hundreds of different layouts, styles and accessories- many of which are totally down to personal preference! 

However, some things to consider are:

  • Is a fixed bed an essential, or are you happy to make up bench seats every night?
  • Do you want an eating area you can all gather around inside the van, or do you plan to eat outside?
  • If you have children, where will they sleep and do you still have somewhere to sit after they’ve gone to bed?

Also, be aware that many Europe campers don’t come with an oven as standard- they have a hob and occasionally a microwave (not useful if you’re planning to wild camp or use aires!) 

Bathroom

Another thing to think about is what bathroom requirements do you have? Many couples are happy using the great outdoors or using a porta-potti. Showers can be had at a campsite or using a solar shower.

If any of that makes you frown, then you need to hire a campervan with a fitted bathroom. There are many varieties of these on the campervan hire books- but it may restrict your dreams of a classic VW for the week! 

Campervan Travel- Size matters!

I hate to break it to you, but bigger isn’t always better. Especially if you’ve never driven or hired a large campervan or motorhome before. Lots of space may seem lovely, but you need to learn to park it- something which isn’t always easy.

Of course, much of that depends on what you want to do during your campervan hire- we’ll get to that shortly.

CAMPERVAN HIRE IN EUROPE- size restrictions

Europe has many more tolls than the UK- and the size of your camper can really affect the price of these tolls! Over 3.1m high is classed as a truck, so any motorhome with an above cab bed could be expensive.

Also, larger campers tend to be less fuel-efficient and also they tend to cost more to hire in the first place! So really think about what you need. 

Campervan hire- Weight/ driving restrictions

This is important in many ways. For example, many campervan hire companies won’t hire to anyone under 25 or who has held their driving licence for less than a year. 

Also, if you are hiring a campervan or motorhome over 3.5 tonnes, you’ll need to make sure your driving licence covers it. You can find out more about that here.

Campervan Travel Essential- Insurance

Most campervan hire quotes include insurance, but many won’t include your personal possessions, only damage to the camper itself. You’ll need a travel insurance policy which will cover your things. 

Mileage

This is an important one! Many Campervan hire companies do NOT include mileage- and this can add a HUGE amount to the price if you’re planning to tour Europe.

So either plan a holiday which doesn’t include much driving, or find a company which includes unlimited mileage in the price.

Age

In my heart, I want a classic VW. I think they are awesome- pretty, cool … and far too small for me! Apparently, they are not the easiest things to drive either (old gearboxes and no power steering!) They also don’t often have air-conditioning, which can be important depending on location.

Newer vans are much more economic, higher, safer and better at putting more into a small space! They also tend to have headroom for those of us who are above average height!

Other things to think about with Campervan Hire

Most motorhomes only have manual gearboxes. There are a few automatic campervans for hire on the market, but they come at a premium. 

Campervan Hire in UK and Europe- Planning your trip

In my opinion, you need to answer these questions before you start looking at campervan hire companies. HOWEVER, if you are booking last minute, you may want to just book whatever is available and then plan your trip around that location!

  • Decide where you want to go
  • WHEN
  • How long for?
  • Plan your itinerary
  • Round trip or one way?
  • Budget

Decide where you want to go during your camper hire

This is an obvious place to start, but actually can be quite tricky, especially for campervan hire in UK and Europe. There are just so many places to explore! Here’s a complete guide to planning your UK road trip.

If you’d like some Europe road trip itinerary ideas, these are perfect for any length of holiday.

Short or long term motorhome hire?

Are you hiring the campervan for a weekend? Week? More? All of this will affect how far you can travel during your trip.

TOP TIP- if you’re travelling Europe or the UK for longer than a month, you might want to consider buying your own van. It might be cheaper in the long run! 

When is the best time to hire a campervan in UK or Europe?

Honest truth? There’s a reason us Brits and Europeans talk about the weather a LOT, especially in the north. It rains… a lot. And this can be a real pain in a campervan- especially a small one.

Obviously, no weather can be guaranteed, but here’s a rough guide:

Best time to Campervan hire in UK:

April- October. Ish. In 2018 March and April were AMAZING weather. In 2019 it barely stopped raining and it was sooo cold. I prefer the September/ October period; the kids are back in school, campsites and roads are quieter, but the weather is still (hopefully!) warm enough and light enough to sit out in the evenings. 

Try and avoid driving anywhere on a Bank Holiday in the UK (Google them to be sure). The roads are notoriously bad for traffic on a Bank Holiday and you could easily be gridlocked for several hours. 

The big summer holidays in the UK are mid-July to beginning of September. Avoid those times if you possibly can; campervan hire and campsites cost more and everywhere is busier .

Best time to Campervan hire in Europe:

Campervan Hire in Europe has a little more flexibility in terms of season and weather than the UK. Many people from Britain flee down to southern Spain or Italy for the winter (November-March). It’s regularly nice weather all through the winter here, with only a few rainy days if you’re lucky.

Further north, expect snow. Many places from mid-Europe up has mountains, and these are all busy ski destinations. Of course, this means snow… and campervan hire in the snow is not for the faint-hearted or the unprepared! It can be done, but I would suggest not for your first trip.

Plan your itinerary

Once you know where to go, plan a rough itinerary. Always leave enough room to detour to fun places you find along the way. Learn how to plan a perfect road trip itinerary here.

Round trip or one way?

There is a premium for one-way campervan hire, but it can save you a lot of time if you’re not planning to circle back. If this is something you’d like to consider, look for a hire company who offers one way camper trips.

Budget for campervan hire in UK and Europe

Lastly, you need to decide your budget. Campervan hire can be more than you think- especially in the school holidays. Always get several quotes so you can compare.

How to find Campervan Hire companies

There are a LOT of campervan hire companies. And yes, it can be overwhelming. Make sure any company you deal with has a proper phone number and registered address. Also, before you contact them, do a Google search for reviews. Don’t worry about the odd bad review, but if there’s a recurring theme or a lot of negativity, it’s time to move on.

Things to check your motorhome or campervan hire company provide

Make sure the company provides the following, or be prepared to bring your own!

  • Towels
  • Bed linen
  • Pots, pans, plates, utensils
  • Outdoor seats/ BBQ/ Bike rack/ awning 
  • Toilet chemicals (not essential- they’re easily purchasable in UK and Europe)
  • Mileage
  • Ability to cross borders with the camper
  • Insurance (personal possessions aren’t normally covered- you’ll need your own policy)
  • Breakdown assistance (and what it covers!)
  • Gas bottle (check you don’t need to bring a full one back- not always easy to do!)
  • Campervan essentials: Electric cable, levelling blocks, water filler hose
  • Do they provide sat-nav?
  • Free parking at depot for your car if necessary

If you are at all unsure, pick up the phone and speak to someone. If they’re not helpful before you’ve even booked, they’re REALLY not going to be helpful after you’ve paid your money, even if you have a problem. So pick a company you feel happy speaking with. 

BEFORE YOU CONFIRM YOUR CAMPERVAN HIRE:

Read the paperwork carefully. Then read it again. Make sure you understand exactly what is covered, what’s not and what extras you need to pay for. Get EVERYTHING in writing, including an exact cost for mileage if it’s not unlimited. Make sure you know what state fuel, water, waste and gas tanks must be returned in. 

Confirm pick-up and drop-off locations, especially if they’re in different locations. Remember that, unlike cars, it’s unusual for campervan depots to be near major airports, due to the size of the campers. Some companies will offer to arrange airport transfers for you; others will assume you’ll make your own way to/ from the location. Make sure that’s clear in advance. 

Also, confirm the nearest airport. Many major cities in Europe have several airports at totally different locations (like Heathrow and Gatwick for London.) Finding the nearest airport to the depot may influence which flight you book. 

Think about where the depot is. If it’s in the middle of a big city (possible), then you need to be confident moving the vehicle around city streets as soon as you leave. If you’re not, pick a depot and company in a more remote area- but accept that will be harder to get to!

Campervan hire- what paperwork do you need to collect the camper?

Most companies will require:

  • Driving licence (plastic part only)- check it’s in date!
  • Possibly an International Driving Permit.
  • Maybe a code from the DVLA. Ask them in advance if this is needed. 
  • Credit card
  • Possibly proof of your travel insurance (again, ask beforehand what they’ll need on collection)

Fly-Drive RV Holidays

If you are flying in from somewhere outside Europe, make sure you are allowed to drive a campervan in Europe. Also, make sure everything is provided as you expect (you really don’t want to be bringing sleeping bags or saucepans in your luggage!)

Having said that, remember that UK and Europe is full of people actually living their lives, and it’s easy to pick up essentials fairly cheaply if needed. 

Campervan hire tips- collecting the motorhome

Make sure you get a full and thorough handover and don’t worry about how long it takes. The person doing the handover will have done the spiel a million times before, and it’s easy for them to forget or assume you know something. Do NOT be afraid to ask questions or ask them to explain something further. If in doubt, ask them if you can take photos or film something to remind yourself later. 

Make sure you know the following as a bare minimum:

  • How to fill fuel (and is it petrol or diesel?)
  • How to fill water
  • How to connect electric
  • Where’s the fuse box?
  • How to turn gas on/ off
  • How to replace/ refill a gas bottle 
  • Is there a crash hose on the gas bottle? If not, don’t drive with it switched on.
  • How to light fridge (and if it’s a manual switch over or automatic)
  • Where the leisure battery is?
  • How to empty waste water
  • How to empty toilet
  • Position of fire blanket/ extinguisher, smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector. Check they work.
  • How to put on heating/ hot water on electric panel and how to adjust controls. This bit could take some time to sink in. 
  • How to lock cab and hab area, and how to deadlock steering/ set alarm if possible.
  • HEIGHT, WIDTH, LENGTH and WEIGHT of camper. Write these down and keep them handy.

Campervan Travel in Europe- additional things to consider

  • Is there a toll pass? (Unlikely- you’ll probably have to pay for your own tolls)
  • Is there a vignette if needed (essential in Switzerland)
  • Do you need a crit-air sticker (France and a few other cities in Europe)
  • Is there the essential kit as required by European law?
  • Do you have all paperwork needed to drive (you must carry this at all times)

Before you drive ANYWHERE, check the vehicle carefully for any damage, no matter how small. Take photos of EVERYTHING and make sure all damage is noted down. It may be hard to check the roof- it’s your call if you want to ask them to inspect it or not. 

Hiring a campervan in Europe or UK- first night tips

Don’t plan too much for your first day and ideally book up a campsite to give yourself time to settle in and get everything sorted out. Having said that, we took our camper wild camping on the first night… and I soaked all my clothes with the shower by accident. So expect the unexpected!! 🙂 

First night in a camper? Here’s a step-by-step printable guide for you to download and take with you.

Returning the campervan

Awwww- it’s all over. I hope you’ve had an amazing trip. 

When you return to the motorhome/ camper depot, make sure you have abided by their rules in terms of water/ waste tanks (normally need to be empty to avoid a fine.)

Also, make sure you are on time to avoid a large fine- these companies don’t have long to turn their vans around between bookings. 

Campervan hire in UK and Europe- summary

I hope these tips have been helpful if you’re planning on hiring a campervan in Europe or UK. It’s absolutely our favourite way to explore a country and we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some spectacular places in our camper.

For more campervan travel ideas in UK and Europe, check out our road trip itineraries.

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