We bought our first motorhome in May 2017 and started touring long-term about 8 months later. Since then, we’ve explored 17 countries across Europe, travelled over 30,000 miles in two different campers and made many, (MANY) mistakes. My goodness, living in a motorhome has been a learning curve! Time has gone so fast, and yet we’ve managed to do so much.
So, we sat down with a glass (fine, ok, a bottle) of wine and decided to share our best lessons and tips to help you have the best adventures in your motorhome or campervan, no matter how long you want to go touring for.
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Motorhome life Tip 1: If possible, rent before you buy
If we could go back, we would rent a van for a week first, or even just a weekend before buying or talking about living in a van full time. Admittedly, this would have taken a chunk of money out of our kitty, but I think we would have had a better idea right from the start about what worked for us and what didn’t.
Our first motorhome had a (small double!) rear end bunk bed and an overcab bed for Jade. She hated the overcab bit as she couldn’t sit up in it, and we didn’t like sleeping in a bunk bed.
Also, the only seating area was the dinette. One tiny table area. For three people. For two weeks. It didn’t work well. Jade spent most of her time during the day on OUR bed (where she could sit up) and we had the table.
Poor Mr WB usually worked in the cab when he needed to spread his things out. I believe renting would have highlighted some of these issues and saved us having to change our motorhome so quickly.
Living in a campervan tip 2: How you live at home is NOT how you live vanlife
At home (or on our boat) we spend a lot of time separately. Jade is normally in her room, music blaring and watching youtube. Mr WB is in his office and I’m normally curled up in the spare room (my office) writing this blog or doing accounts. (Or on social media. For research or promotional purposes. Honest. Talking of which- are you following us on Facebook??)
But when living in a motorhome, we spend time TOGETHER. Talking. Playing games. We rarely watch TV. I think in an entire year we’ve only watched a movie twice, maybe three times. We don’t even carry a motorhome TV onboard, we just use a laptop. (The obvious exception to the TV rule is me and the F1. Watching that is non-negotiable, although I often watch it later in the evening when everyone else is in bed. Those are the days when you don’t see me anywhere near Social Media!!)
The point is- don’t try and replicate your home life in a van, especially if you want to travel long-term. It won’t work and you’ll never find a layout which works for you as you’ll be looking for too many things you don’t need.
Got a new motorhome or campervan? Here’s our FREE step-by-step guide to get you started on your first trip!
Lesson 3: You don’t need as much STUFF as you think you do
Ok, confession time. While living in our first motorhome, we carried four warm, snuggly blankets with us. FOUR. There were only three of us onboard!! At various times over the past year, we have also carried a juicer, blender, hand whisk and cake tins. None of which we have used. There’s also an iron and fold up ironing board in here somewhere. Pretty sure it’s still in the box.
I’m not saying YOU shouldn’t carry all these things. If you juice every day or bake cakes once a week- AMAZING (and can you come travel with me?!?!) but we don’t do those things. So we shouldn’t be carrying those things. Downsizing is one of the hardest things to do when you’re preparing for full-time camper living. Be ruthless!
Need help with storage in your camper?
- Amazing Motorhome kitchen storage tips you NEED to know
- Get more clothes storage ideas for your camper
- The Ultimate Guide to external motorhome storage boxes
Lesson 4: Motorhome Life will not make you healthier
In my dreams, living the vanlife in Europe would make me… better. I’d wake up earlier, do yoga and meditate for an hour, go for a run, eat carrots for breakfast and feel ‘inner peace’. In a week I’d be stick thin, with blonde beachy waves (no idea where the blonde came from!!) and I’d be able to prance around in a bikini without holding anything in.
SPOILER- it didn’t work like that. I do actually wake up early, (which is when I’m writing this!) I have exercised a couple of times (in a year!) but mostly I feel like a complete idiot when I do. My exercise of choice is HIIT- which is 20/30 minutes of High-Intensity Interval training. I love it- mainly because it’s over so quickly- but I feel so self-conscious doing it outside where people can SEE.
I try to ignore the twitching curtains and people walking their dogs, but it’s hard. So I use every excuse not to do it. I have never, EVER eaten carrots for breakfast- why would I when there are pain chocolat to be had?? Or croissants? Or warm crusty bread? And I have moments when I feel at peace- but then I wake up.
Vanlife doesn’t change YOU or the people you travel with. No matter how much you want it to. If you’re looking for ways to stay fit on the road, these tips will help.
Vanlife tip 5: Size matters
Seriously. Don’t go TOO big.
Yep, I said it- and this is one of our most important motorhome tips.
Our second motorhome was 7.9m, which was too long, especially with the trailer added. We’ve just downsized to a 6.7m camper, and it’s SO MUCH EASIER to find places to park. We’ve also gone under 3.5 tonnes, which again makes long-term touring and living in a motorhome cheaper.
Having said that, think about how much space you need. If there’s 5 of you living and sleeping in a campervan, you need to be VERY careful which camper you choose!
Also, think about height. If you are above 3m, you are classed as a CAT 4 vehicle on toll roads in Europe, which more than doubles the price you pay on some motorways. Our first van was 3.2m (that pesky overcab bed) and we didn’t even realise what that would mean. Our first European trip cost us over £200 in toll fees alone- for a two-week trip!!
Motorhome Tip 6: Wild camping will (probably) NOT get you murdered. Or convicted
Oh, wild camping. How you used to terrify me. Our very first trip away was to South Wales (which is amazing. If you haven’t been- go!) and the subject of wild camping came up. To be honest, I didn’t even really know what it was– I just knew it SCARED me. I honestly thought we’d be breaking the law and get arrested. Or murdered. I didn’t know how to find places to stop at- and what if it was all full when we arrived? Where would we stay then? We’d have to drive around ALL NIGHT and then we’d crash and DIE. Nope, I’m not dramatic at all.
Want to learn how to find wild camping spots in the UK? Read more
If the idea of being self-sufficient and paying very little for your overnight stops appeals to you, then please please believe me when I say that IT’S OK. Our first trip where we wild camped was Scotland. The first night was hard and we didn’t sleep well. I panicked and worried and woke up to every little sound- and that’s after we spent ages worrying about where to find somewhere.
The second night was easier. By the end of the first week it wasn’t even an issue anymore. In fact, when we stopped at a campsite for a few nights so we could safely leave the van whilst we rode the bikes, I resented the £27/night fee. That’s how quick it was to adapt.
Since then, we’ve travelled the rest of the UK (including Cornwall), and wild camped with our motorhome in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, and even found things to do in Liechtenstein!
We class aires as ‘wild camping’ as you don’t book in advance and you don’t pay very much for them, but we have also found places where we’ve stayed for free. It really can be done.
Campervan tip 7- you are lazier than you think you are.
By their very nature, vans have a lot of storage under the seats. Some of this stuff is pretty easy to get to and some of it is a pain in the backside.
Be flexible with your storage- we found that how we first arranged our cupboards wasn’t great so we rearranged them to a better solution. But we’ve also discovered that if something isn’t easily reached, such as our spare plates or bowls for guests, we just won’t bother to get it out.
We keep 3 large plates and 3 pasta bowls, as well as small plates and cereal bowls in an easy access locker for daily use. The rest are stored at the back of the van in a really annoying nook. We’ve found that, if we have guests, we just serve dinner in a pasta bowl instead of bothering to dig under the seat for an extra plate.
The exception to this is wine, which is stored securely in a cupboard as far from the motorhome heating as we can, so that it stays cool. Funnily enough, we are always motivated to move the seat cushions and dig a bottle out!
The same applies with outside gear. We have an external motorhome storage box, which is the perfect place to keep our RV camping chairs, BBQ and other bits and bobs, but if we don’t stack it neatly, everything falls out when we use it. Taking a little time to organise your storage is really important and will make motorhome life much easier.
Lesson 8: Our biggest Motorhome Life mistake(s)
Happily, we had to really think about this one. There have been LOADS of little mistakes we’ve made while living in a motorhome, (like forcing the fridge door shut and bending the catch or learning that just because the motorhome sat nav says to ‘turn right’, doesn’t mean we should ignore the ‘low bridge’ signs), but we haven’t made many BIG mistakes. **touch wood**
There are two we can think of:
Check your vehicle is safe
The first was trusting our motorhome dealer when he said the brakes on our first motorhome had been serviced. We took his word and didn’t even check the brake fluid, which was a mistake when we were about to visit the Alps! (For anyone wondering, the brake fluid will either be vanilla or red. Just make sure it’s not murky or dirty.)
Because we tow an unbraked motorbike trailer, there’s a lot of extra pressure put on to the motorhome, especially when we’re travelling down a steep mountain. Like in Switzerland. We didn’t fully appreciate how much extra force it was until we pulled into a car park and our brakes were on fire.
Literally- there was smoke. Even two hours later, there was still smoke. We probably should have called our breakdown assistance at that point, but we decided to head for the local garage- which was at the bottom of the mountain. As we set off, we realised our brakes were completely useless and we only had the handbrake to slow us down! It was the most scared I’ve ever been in the van. We did make it to the bottom safely, and got to the garage who replaced our brakes, but it was a sobering lesson.
What we should have done was stopped more often, used engine braking (low gears) and not ‘ridden’ our brakes all the way down. What we do now is stay in or around second gear, let the revs creep up to 2000RPM, then brake down to 1000RPM (ish), then come off brakes and let it roll again. This allows the brakes to cool between each ‘pulse’. There are lots of ways to do this and if you search enough forums you’ll find many heated opinions on the best way to bring a motorhome down a mountain, but we’ve just transversed Germany, Switzerland and Austria with an unbraked trailer without any problems or burning brakes using this method, so it works for us. Please, before you travel, make sure your vehicle is safe.
Check your gear
The second BIG mistake was forgetting Gas when we went to Europe. We found ourselves without gas, at the start of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, and not able to use any of the gas bottles we could buy from supermarkets because they didn’t fit our UK system. Let me tell you, living in a motorhome in Europe in March without any gas isn’t much fun.
We weren’t in any mortal danger, but we felt very stupid and angry at ourselves for forgetting something so essential to our lie. (Seriously, there was a brief time period where we considered just sulking our way back to the UK- luckily we didn’t!)
But motorhome living is a learning curve and there’s always something to improve. After one year, we are definitely still learning new tips- even after all our travels. In fact, we find that the more complacent we feel, the more mistakes we make! Stay sharp, people. 🙂
Tip 9: Most Useful Kit
Apart from the actual motorhome and basic stuff which we all use daily (like the toilet, for example. Or plates…) here are some of the most useful bits of kit we’ve bought this year:
- Folding sofa/ double chair. This is BRILLIANT- you can put your feet up and read a book in comfort, or two adults can sit and share dinner and a glass of wine. We carry this and several folding chairs and it collapses to about the same size as the other chairs. One of my favourite things we’ve bought and we use it pretty much at every place we stop.
- While we’re talking about outside things, our collapsible BBQ is also really useful. Many places allow BBQs, but not open fires on the ground. With this, we can have a fire, but it’s kept off the ground. We bought a metal plate from B & Q (UK hardware shop) which sits underneath and catches any stray sparks. Leave it overnight and it’s cool in the morning to empty out (somewhere safe) and pack away. We carry some fire logs and if possible we’ll use any wood/ twigs we find lying around in a wild camping spot.
- Indoors, we LOVE our Le Creuset kettle. It’s a little pricey, but we honestly believe the quality is worth it. A solid base allows for quick boiling, it whistles (which I thought I’d hate but actually is so useful when you’re sitting outside) and it has happily survived a year of travelling in our sink (make sure it’s cool first.) Definitely worth the investment.
- We also love our motorhome sat-nav. This has taken us all over Europe with rarely an issue. Definitely a useful bit of kit.
- Vent system. We spent a fortune on gas to heat up the rear seating area while fulltime winter motorhoming as there’s no engine heating there and Jade was freezing. What we’ve now made is a vent which goes over one or two of our cab vents and feeds the warm air back to her. It’s pretty nifty and cost a whole £9.99 Patent pending. #notreally
- TIP- If you DON’T use your van during winter, you NEED to close it down properly. Read our essential motorhome/ camper winter storage preparation tips
- DC laptop chargers so you can charge laptop computers whilst driving. Genius. (Although I’ve just updated my laptop to a Macbook Pro and I’m struggling to find a charger for it. Boooooo.)
Vanlife tip 10: Most Useless Kit we’ve NOT used
I alluded to this a little earlier, but here’s some of the stuff we have on board that we haven’t touched for over a year, either while living in a motorhome in the UK or in Europe!
- Hand Whisk
- Cake tins
- Blender (no longer onboard)
- Juicer (again, no longer with us)
- Iron and ironing board
- Spare plates & bowls. (see No 7)
- Spare ramps. (Ramps (for levelling the van) are awesome. Spare ramps….?? Why??)
- (I’m sure there are some others, but as most of these things are MY fault, I think I’ll leave it there for now!! 🙂
(P.S- if you carry any of this stuff onboard and you love it, then that’s great. Everyone’s list will be different- this is just for guidance. And possibly comedy.)
Do you have any motorhome or vanlife tips?
So there we have it- the top 10 tips we’ve learnt from motorhome living. Over to you. What are your favourite lessons from vanlife? Which of these resonate with you most? Let me know in the comments below so we can all share.
How else can I help you today??
– Show me awesome Road Trip Accessories
– I want to learn how to plan a Road Trip
– Help! I need to stop rattles in my Motorhome (or RV or Camper!!)
– I want to explore Europe by Road
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Kat never planned to buy a motorhome. She also never planned to quit her job as an air traffic controller, go touring around Europe in said motorhome, start one of the UK’s largest motorhome travel websites… or get a cocker spaniel.
Find out how she went from stuck in the rat race to being a digital nomad and inspiring thousands of people to have their own epic adventures here.
If you’d like to connect with Kat, send her an email or follow her adventures on social media.
43 thoughts on “10 essential tips for living in a motorhome or campervan”
Very interesting and hepfull
Thanks Vincent. Glad you enjoyed it.
Strange- there should be an image under that sentence- can you see nothing there at all? It seems to be working fine for me and others who have pinned it so not sure why it’s not working!
This is a great post – we’re going to start touring Europe soon ourselves – though in a fifth wheel camper – and we’ll be taking some of your lessons on board!
Shame about Lesson 4 though!
Ooooh- fifth wheel camper sounds fun! Have you seen my latest post about how to tour Europe in a Motorhome (or 5th wheel camper!!) 🙂
Just finished reading it, very helpful
You guys did so well. A real inspiration for me. Thank you for sharing your adventure. X
Thanks Linda- hope you can have your own adventures too! x
I’d love to take a year and travel and live in a motor home. I’m not sure my husband will ever jump on board the idea. I think the first 30 days of dealing with less “stuff” would be the toughest part for me. Thanks for sharing! So much to see, so little time.
Thanks Davi. I agree- it’s a bit of a struggle at first, but you very quickly get used to it. Maybe just start throwing his stuff out a little at a time until he doesn’t notice any more!! 🙂
My husband and I love watching your family’s adventures on youtube. We are planning on buying our 1st moho and I loved your layout. My husband wanted a fixed bed until i showed him the Bailey 79-6 fingers crossed this will be our aim next year to start off slowly. However the wild camping is exactly the way I think.. good to know there will not be some axe murderer waiting till I’m asleep to strike!!? really looking forward to watching where you go for second year. Love your blogging also..you do make me laugh??. Thank you for all your help x
Thank you Patsy- I’m so pleased you guys are getting in on the motorhome life! You certainly won’t regret it. Tag me in a picture of your van when you get it- would love to see!! 🙂
Great post thanks. We are just coming up to our 12 months anniversary around Italy, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Crete, Sicily and now in France and are loving the nomadic life. We almost exclusively wildcamp and have had no problems doing this so far. Our biggest mistake was leaving the awning up overnight when rain was forecast without having it on a slope or the middle roof support strut installed. The result was a BANG about 2.00am as the weight of water on the roof smashed one of the awning arms. Luckily we were just 20km from the only Fiamma dealer in Croatia who had the part and a number for someone to fit it. Lesson – wind down your awning or set it out properly and with tie downs in case of unexpected high winds. If bad weather is expected then wind it in. We hope to catch up with you sometime as we are planning on doing this for several years to come.
Hi Alan- fantastic!! I’m so looking forward to travelling around Croatia and Greece next year (fingers crossed!) Funnily enough we had a similar problem with our awning- we left it out overnight and the wind blew it up over the roof!! Oops!!!! Luckily no damage- we just looked stupid 🙂 Would be awesome to see you guys on the road somewhere.
A real inspiration for me. Would be awesome to see you guys on the road somewhere. Thank you for sharing your adventure.
Thanks David. If you see us, be sure to say hi! 🙂
Hi Kat. You certainly know how to sell the dream. We have had our vdub four years now and travel down to Spain every year. Looking forward to turning left out of the tunnel in 2019 for a change. Only 4 months of work left and then no need to book return dates. Fantastic read, keep it up.
ps, Andalucia is well worth a visit. Keep inland though. So much history.
Gaz n Jenni
Lucky you!! You’re going to have so many amazing adventures!! 4 months will fly by! Thanks for the tip re Andalucia- I’ll add it to our (never-ending!) list!
I bought my first Van (T5) last year. When I’m out in it I love it….. but I also feel very guilty when it just sits there (“take it out more then I hear you cry”), problem is with Kids Clubs it’s not always that easy. I’m also not mechanically minded which concerns me. We bought the Van off a guy who cleared loved it to pieces and I’d hate to think I let it degrade through lack of use or lack of care. All the trips I’ve done I’ve adored, the North Coast 500 was simply stunning and possibly one of the most fun holidays I’ve ever had…. all trapped 24/7 inside a tin can with my 18 stone Fireman brother in law. Let’s see what 2019 brings. Love the website keep up the good work. Currently working out where to go with my 12 y/o Son early Jan for a night. It will be his first night out in it….any tips?
Amazing!! What an adventure for you and your son! Not sure where you’re based, but I’ll assume early January will be cold! I’d suggest somewhere which allows fires (always fun for a kid) or somewhere you can plug into the heating so he doesn’t hate the van for the future! Many van users aren’t mechanically minded- take it to a garage just as you owuld a car. Don’t let that stop you enjoying your new purchase. Good luck for 2019!
wonderful. amazing article. here i w’ll say thanks for guideline because i was planing for long road adventure trip in next week. thank you so much. i really take some tips which will be helpful for me.
You’re very welcome! Have an amazing trip. 🙂
Interesting read, shame about number 5 as we’ve just become new owners to a larger 7.8 Motorhome ?
We was only 7.04 before but had a easy lifter bike trailer on the back which made us longer than this new one MH, which we can put the bike and cycles in the garage. Couldn’t take the push bikes before.
Also with the trailer we didn’t have any overhang so like you had to move on at times which wasn’t a problem.
It will be interesting for us to see how we fair now when we return to Europe.
Ooooh- sounds like fun in your new motorhome! Happy travels!
We’ve got an old van, but it’s been well looked after. We’ve also augmented it with solar panel, inverter and numerous other bits and bobs. I’m sure we’ll get rid of some of the stuff we’ve got, but we have collapsible pans and kettle which are brilliant space savers. Our biggest problem is clothes!
Love this post. I cannot recommend enough hiring before buying. We actually did this in NZ before we came back to the UK to buy our first van. Many years later we actually ran a hire company for a few years and had lots of renters who were trying before they buy.
Awesome! that is very nice and help full article. Especially for me because i was planning for trip with my friends. So thank keep posting such type of post. I really love it.
Awesome- hope you and your friends have a great trip. Safe travels 🙂
Great work Team! Keep Going Team
Life at home is completely different when compares to life at campervans one should must gearup with every pros and cons and things which are basic requirements luke water and gas inverter before starting the trip.
We’re planning to pack our jobs in, buy a motorhome and take the kids off round Europe for a year next Spring. We’re total motorhome newbies as we’ve always camped, so I’m scouring sites to find out about all different motorhome. My wife isn’t convinced that we should take bikes with us as they might get nicked or will be tricky to store. I’m not convinced we need to take a tent with us as we will have the motorhome. What do you think? Does it limit you if you don’t or could you enjoy without them?
Hi! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your blog posts. Thanks a ton!
thanks for sharing this information with us, the article is really informative and appreciated.
Great article. Heres a few things/thoughts
We have a VW T5 conversion with a bench passenger front seat. Drop the seat and this has provided a perfect flat pad for a basket for the dogs at night. A large dog in the past, or as we have now, 3 smaller dogs easily fit on. Its also useful when you get in the van and want the little ones out the way of your feet.
We went for a VW exactly for touring more easily with a height less than 2 metres.
An automatic gearbox makes life so much easier when touring; think about driving around a town you know nothing about including traffic lights, congestion etc – beats a manual hands down
Know the laws on what you need to carry suchas a breathayzer in France.
Agree wholeheartedly on the sat nav. Mine is 10 years old, I use it because I can play music and it is interupted when the guide wants to navigate me. It has served me through 10 countries so far but do ensure you keep the maps up to date. Oh finally, do have a backup paper map book sometimes old school is the best school.
Hi Paul. Thanks for your comments and some interesting points. Two I’d like to address are the gearbox- we tow a trailer and having a manual makes it much easier to manage, especially in the mountains. Also, you don’t need a breathalyzer in France 🙂
Great post Kat 🙂 I think my biggest mistake was buying a vehicle that was 1) very old and 2) simply not well used. It had been neglected by previous owners and within just a couple of months of full time living in it I’ve had SO many things go wrong and break – roof vents, the fridge, water pump, taps, blinds. I dread to think what else could go wrong! I’m already planning my second vehicle!
Hey! We did exactly the same thing with our first vehicle- bought an older model, but it had a lot of faults. It’s all a learning curve isn’t it?! Hope you managed to fix all the issues!
On the plus side older vans are a great way to learn how things work and once you’ve mended/replaced/fixed/cried about or lived with 173 things you will know everything you need to know about you van. Also they are much cheaper. We are currently dealing with a broken ignition lock on my old 1992 Fiat Ducato Euramobil – meant we had to leave the key in the lock over the Easter camping weekend while we cycled around, funnily enough nobody nicked it! In my other life (before divorce) I owned a newish Hymer and I can honestly say, new or old, it doesn’t affect my enjoyment (addiction) to MoHo life 🙂
Loved reading your story,I can relate to most of what you said.I live in a 3.5t ldv so height barriers are a problem.All my stuff I hardly use goes to the back off cupboards.Its freezing now so i have to put all clothes in vacuum bags so they don’t get a damp smell.The condensation has iced on inside off the windows and starting up the generator which is bolted to underside off van to turn the heaters is a big no at night,I light candles just to look like it’s warm haha.I laughed when you mentioned spare ramps.The biggest problem i need to solve out off them all is the toilet seat,it’s freezing cold lol.
Really enjoy reading all about your adventures, and all you have learned, very useful info, I’ve just learnt not to wait to fill my gas cylinders as we had snow 2days before I was going to fill them so ended up not having enough to keep heating on, a hard lesson.
I wish I could do the same as you Kat, just quit and drive all throughout Europe! That would be amazing. We’re having a short trip out of town and this article helped a lot! Thanks!
Ha- it’s a lot of fun- in normal times. Glad it was useful! 🙂
Thanks for the article. Our van has been sitting for quite a while, covid hasn’t helped. We have a couple of years till we can van-it for any long trips. I don’t enjoy driving smaller roads with a wide van, the 15cm fat bit has caught me out once on a high petrol station kerb (glad we were carrying gaffer/duct tape). We travel with three dogs so we need a fair bit of floor space. We done more trips away than I thought we would, unexpected weekends by the coast, or in the mountains, long weekends near Grenoble seeing family, wild camping in the Tarn. So lucky to live in the south of France, so we don’t have to go far. Love your emails, you tube channel, and facebook page, they have saved us making so many mistakes