Living in a camper van or motorhome is a cheap and convenient way to see lots of locations. If you are looking to explore in comfort then it is a great option.

I lived in my camper van for 9 months, and loved it. My vehicle was a converted small Mercedes Sprinter which I converted into a camper van. I spent almost all of my time free camping, with occasional visits to camp sites when in built up areas, and also in rural areas to refresh water supplies and empty toilets, etc.

I travelled in France, Belgium, Spain and Portugal from September to June. I had no problems at all. I know free camping in these areas is more difficult during June, July and August as the police do not like too many people taking up car parks when there are lots of visitors to the beaches.

My camper van looked like an ordinary van from the outside, and so did not attract much attention.

But, If I were going to spend a lot of time living in a vehicle I would consider buying a motorhome as these are more comfortable. But a well converted camper van can be just as comfortable.

For a long period of time I would suggest that you have a wash room, with a toilet and perhaps a simple shower. Toilets are easy to empty with occasional visits to campsites, but showers require a lot of water to be carried. You can generally let the waste water just run onto the ground, but you may have to collect the water if you intend to camp on hard surfaces such as car parks.

If you intend to spend time in northern Europe, or anywhere else that is cold uring winter, I would suggest a heating system of some kind. There are special camper van/motorhome heaters that live outside of the vehicle, run on diesel, and pump heat into the vehicle. These take a bit of work to fit and make some noise with their diesel engine. A simpler option is to get a gas heater that sits on top of a gas bottle, but you need to have some sort of ventilation in the vehicle such as an open window, to allow the burnt gases to escape. You should also insulate the vehicle to ensure that the heat stays in and the cold stays out. Also thick curtains that fit the windows well will keep a lot of heat in.

I would consider a high-top vehicle necessary, to allow standing all of the time in the vehicle. During bad weather, which could last several days, you need to be able to stand comfortably and move around.

Having at least a small area where you can walk around is also good for stretching legs. Typical VW layouts, with the seating across the van is not good for living in a van, and is really only meant for weekend use.

Expenses can be kept to a minimum with free camping, limited driving and buy stocking up at supermarkets. LPG is cheaper to buy in large quantities, so having large gas bottles means you can save money there.

Electrical power is also a consideration. A vehicle for living in should have a good 12v electrical circuit. You would need 1 or maybe more leisure batteries. These should be charged when the engine is running, as this is the quickest way to charge them. Also consider solar panels which will provide a small amount of power during daylight hours. If you need lots of power, for a TV or laptop when consider having several leisure batteries. If you will be free camping away from other people you can get a generator to provide 240v electricity. Wind turbines, like those on yachts, can also provide reasonable levels of 12v electricity, but they can be expensive and need to be taken down from the roof every time you drive the vehicle.

Good things

You always have your home with you

You don't have to plan your day looking for accommodation, or end your day short because you need to find a hotel.

You always have a form of transport

You don't have to use public transport. You can drive where you want, when you want. If you are exploring a lot of locations you will save lots of time and money by not using public transport. You do not have to get up early, or wait around for a public transport connection or flight. If you do not like somewhere you just dive on. If you do like somewhere you can stay. You can save lots of time this way

You can stay in beautiful locations

Most campsites are situated in lovely locations, and many have great facilities. However, if you are keen to try free camping (wild camping) then you can stay, for free, in many beautiful locations. There are few things better than watching the sun go down at the beach, and then wake up in the same location in the morning. All just by stepping out of your camper van or motorhome.

Ability to carry possessions

With a camper van you can carry much more than if relying on public transport for a trip. This is great if your trip will incorporate sports such as surfing, wind surfing or cycling.

Bad things

Security

Camper vans and motorhomes are easy to spot and are a target for thieves. If you are careful you can reduce the chances of theft or damage. Stealth campers can help greatly in making your vehicle 'blend in' to the normal traffic.

Initial cost and maintenance costs of the vehicle

Of course you have to purchase or build a camper van or motorhome, and these generally cost a lot of money. However you can trade in your existing vehicle. If you sleep in the camper van you will save accommodation costs and on a long trip this will work out much cheaper than using public transport and hotels. All vehicles need maintaining, and this can be expensive. Careful driving and good maintenance will keep your costs down.

More difficult to drive and park than a car

Camper vans and motorhomes are bigger and generally more difficult to drive than a car. All modern vehicles will have power steering, big mirrors and more expensive models will have reversing sensors or cameras. But the vehicles are large and require a good deal of care. High or wide vehicles will be limited to where they can go. Many car parks now have height restrictions. There is always somewhere else to park, and pop-top models get around this problem.

A problem when visiting islands

If visiting islands for a day or more taking a vehicle is often not an option. Sometimes taking a vehicle on a ferry is expensive, and often not an option. This can be overcome by finding somewhere secure to park the vehicle and then relying on public transport. Secure parking areas are available in a lot of areas. It is worth asking at campsites if they are able to store the vehicle for you during your separation from it. Campsites often store caravans for people.

Toilets and showers

Most camper vans and motorhomes do not have toilets and showers. This is because they take up a lot of room inside the vehicle, toilets can smell and showers require a lot of fresh and waste water be carried. Bigger motorhomes tend to have a toilet and a shower. It is easy to add a portable toilet to a camper van, but storing it is often a problem, and it will almost certainly smell. Most people tend to use campsites at night, which have showers and toilets. It is normally easy to find a toilet in any area where there are people, even at the beach. Cold water showers are available to most popular beaches in Europe. Whilst cold water showers are not ideal they are free. Solar showers are an option, and it is easy to rig up a simple shower for outdoor use with a camper. Most people rely on campsites and beaches though.

Comments (80)

  • triple ccc's picture

    hello, can use any info on how or who (or) were I can take my unity to be wired

    Jun 25, 2016
  • John O'Connell's picture

    I'm 60 years old with Terminal Cancer and Pulmonary Hypertension. I need a Vehicle which will suit my 6'3" frame. I prefer sitting higher than local traffic but I also like a vehicle I can take into most car parks. I no longer have any meaningful strength or stamina. I need advice on the type of Vehicle I could live in here and abroad. I'm Ex Forces so am used to "Roughing it" but..........

    Jun 14, 2016
  • Peigi 's picture

    Hi, I purchased a Nissan Elgrand recently, it already has a fridge, sink and leisure battery system installed. Also has pop up roof with room for sleeping and I plan on installing an inverter so I can run my microwave etc...Where would I be able to find a twelve volt tv/DVDs player in the uk also has anyone used the twelve volt shower system. I am single woman with three very small yorkies and would love to store what I want to keep and live in my van for a year or two. I would like to connect with any other ladies who have done this or are thinking of doing it.

    Nov 04, 2015
  • Sara's picture

    I would like to turn an x trail by Nissan into a camper, any ideas. I cannot put carpeting down because I have chemical and fungal sensitivities.

    Sep 26, 2015
  • Sara's picture

    I would like to turn an x trail by Nissan into a camper, any ideas. I cannot put carpeting down because I have chemical and fungal sensitivities.

    Sep 26, 2015
  • Jeremy Cruickshank's picture

    I am not sure that stealth vans are the answer as thieves are not fools. If they do think your van is a standard commercial vehicle, they may target it to steal tools and other valuable items. It's no coincidence that many commercial vans in the UK display a notice in the rear window: 'No tools left in this vehicle overnight'.

    Jul 27, 2015
  • Janette Taylor's picture

    what about finacial and what about address if u have post bank if you lose your credit cards etc

    Jun 14, 2015
  • Ryan's picture

    Hi guys, I saw someone mention solar showers. Does anyone know of someone wanting any? I am In the forces and have been given a large quantity of them.

    Feb 05, 2015
  • slingshot's picture

    I would love some solar panels for my small stealth camper van, how can I get in touch with Ryan?

    Regards
    Jon

    Feb 24, 2015
  • Phillip's picture

    Hi all,
    I always wanted a motorhome but due to the price I was not in a position to do so until I went through a divorce and my dream came true, I bought a Autotrail 4berth for £46000 which was a year old with 6000 miles on the clock and lived in it for two and a half years and have to say they were the best times of my life and only sold it to start my own business and needed the money to set it up, my family thought I was nuts but it was so comfortable that would recommend it to anyone and intend to do it again one day as I traveled around a lot and saw the country so go for it folks and enjoy.

    Jan 30, 2015
  • Darren's picture

    Hi Phillip

    What a great adventure. Thanks for sharing.

    Feb 03, 2015
  • sean's picture
    sean (not verified)

    Hi Darren & Site visitors, Firstly I must say what a fantastic site with some great comments.

    So I recently learned about internet marketing and it's taking off but quite slowly. As a result of increasing debt and living costs, along with the eternal need be free, my girlfriend and I have decided to plan the camper van lifestyle. The plan is to raise funds to buy a good quality van and support this way of living for at least 2 years around the UK. After the 2 years perhaps using a blog site to fund the life permanently.

    As total newbies to camper vans it's quite a daunting challenge, yet one of hope. I love free camping in tents and have spent some time on caravan sites as a kid, I guess my real concern is surviving the winter and places to free camp within the boundaries of the law.

    I'd like to ask the community here for advice, but don't want to spam your site. Would it be possible to leave our G+ page details or gmail in the comments please? I will return here for the next few days to see a reply.
    Thanks from Sean

    Sep 25, 2014
  • Darren's picture

    Hi Sean

    Great to hear about your planned adventures.
    You can always discuss, and level links for, anything campervan related. If you G+ page is about campervans or your travels then please go ahead and let everyone know about it.

    Sep 25, 2014
  • Kos from Greece 's picture

    Hi guys, just today came across the website trying to find some info and ideas to improve the car for weekends this winter.
    I've been doing free camping for the last 12 years (tent) never done camping sites as here in Greece people are very close in camping sites (I don't know how it is out there) and when I'm going camping its because I want to be close to nature and not people [there is enough people in Athens that I live :) ]
    Well this summer me and wifey decided to mod the car and try to spend our holidays different this time, by driving around Peloponnese (west side is the best part guys +if anyone needs info I can help you out),we did nearly 1 month on the road.
    I've got a Peugeot 307 3door hatch, took the back seats out, cut a mattress (12cm thick for good nights sleep) exactly the shape of the car and separated so I could fold the front seats and unfold the mattress and do the opposite to drive . Thrown the necessary gear on the roof box, clothes / 12v shower / folded chairs and table and went off... Stoped anywhere we liked the spot, enjoy the day at the beach and go sleep in the car at night, the next morning after breakfast we moved to the next spot and every day the same thing, needless to say that if we decided to do the same thing and staying in a hotel (especially with the kind of views that we had right in front off the sea) it would cost us at least 2500€ in accommodation only. We spent 650€ and enjoyed it!! :D
    Now we are thinking of doing some weekends in the winter but we come across some difficulties... We'll get our around them though :)
    Nice to come across this website and thank you guys for the info

    Aug 31, 2014
  • Molly from Windsor UK's picture

    Hi, came across your site this morning while having breakfast, nice and informative.

    I too am fed up like most here paying high prices for rent, when house prices seem to keep getting out of my reach, so instead I bought a bus, yes a bus, a hopper bus, a 18 seater which is now just 2 seater bus. Windows all round, which by Tuesday will have 8mm security mirror reflective film on. The bus's name is BURT cos that seems to be one of the destinations on the board so all the neighbours said to keep it as it suits this old bugger (not me). I plan to live aboard for probably 9 - 16 months full time, I am self employed and my renovation company that I run will still continue, so having to give some serious thoughts to electrics powering laptop and wifi to answer enquiry emails.

    So far have gotten down to the removing the horrible vinyl and finding that its only ply lined on the chassis, so have bought myself a Karcher K4, chassis cleaner, POR 15 rust prevention paint and a black top coat. New boards will be laid on top, was considering fibre glass as a base just to stop water ingress, but if I treat the marine ply carefully and fill all edges with epoxy resin and surfaces with yacht varnish, plus put a bitumen layer underneath I should (fingers crossed be water free), sounds good in principle and should work. Hope to get a website going with all the news and restoration. I've got a bespoke carpenter/joiner onboard, plan on doing some bespoke cabinets, a captains bed with portholes. The obvious things before furniture comes in is to insulate, so on the ceiling which is currently carpeted will use armaflex 18mm, the sides will have 200-250mm foil backed roofing insulation (yet to be fully decided what brand, but may as well be expensive, then having seen many articles about vapour barriers will put a vapour barrier around. The floor will be duly insulated too, probably 250-300mm then ply on top of that and again varnished, then carpet tiles ontop of that for ease of cleaning - have a springer spaniel and she will have muddy paws! Debating this morning about toilet and shower, have the external stuff like a shower tent and shower materials, may get a solar panel for it though so its nice and warm. Thule have a new awning out, its a Quickfit awning, looks good to put up for one person, yes has to be one person and must be easy, they say it only takes 15 minutes - cool and just the job for breakfast outside. Debating on the diner still whether this will be another pull out bed or even a rock n roll bed, not sure. I've got the space for it all. My grey dull office 4 drawer office filing cabinet was painted up by some local spray company and will be the kitchen larder and utensils holder. I've bought some nice lime green items from John Lewis to compliment the off white colour scheme inside with some jazzy colours. The 110Ltr fridge has been bought, a compressor one Waeco, sitting in the middle of the lounge room. Next things to consider are the security, I know I want some good locks - I've got air compressor front doors as you can imagine and a rear side exit door, T bars on the front door, but exit will have to be strengthened may get a mobile welder over to install some strong steel plates into the insulation areas so I can add locks and chains or whatever I source on the interweb - isn't it so great now having the web to source items, either on ebay who I am a great fan.

    Well I don't want to overshadow this website with my current conversion, so adios and good luck everyone, if you see BURT the bus around, give me a wink and a hoot, I shall be going up and down the UK. He is currently red at the front and has a grey behind!

    All the best.

    Aug 21, 2014
  • denise 's picture

    my dog and I want to travel west in Canada to get away from life, I am over 50 and fed up. I think a van would be ok. Just pull out the back seats, make a box for a bed with storage under for clothes, back wall where the tail gate opens make a cupboard for microwave, hot plate, bbq mini fridge, roof rack for storage, ladder on side to get to storage, solar panel to run kettle and radio, curtains on window for privacy, generator for heat its still very cold here. But the small tent trailers under 24 ft looks just like home but are expensive. I don't want to pay for a camp site because it would double the cost after paying for a tent trailer. Can I just pull in the bush or a lane way off the highway out of site and park for the night. any advice for a first timer on her own.
    I can't take much more I need to get out.

    Mar 08, 2014
  • Kerryanne's picture

    Yeah I'm a student entering my 3rd year and have managed to save the funds to buy a camper this coming summer and have decided to buy a van and travel initial for the summer break and who knows may stay in it when I get back. I have a gym membership so shower and indulgence won't be an issue, can't afford accomodation so bring on the free wheeling xxx

    Feb 22, 2014
  • Popaloo's picture

    I read with interest the difficulties of getting a compact loo that does not smell and has no water or chemicals slopping about when you are travelling.

    If you have a look at Popaloo this could solve a lot of your problems…Water,Chemical and Smell free..

    It's something we all have to do..but it's a lot nicer with a Popaloo.

    Feb 17, 2014
  • CHRISTOPHER's picture

    Iv been living in my van in leeds west Yorkshire since may 2013 after spliting up from the girlfriend and having no where to go I brought a vw lt 46 thats been converted to a camper iv fitted a 100 watt solar panel and have a 1000wat and 2000 watt inverter. now going in to my first winter so will see how I go on with the cold. I enjoy the life living in a van and something I thought about for years.

    Dec 17, 2013
  • Anonymous's picture

    Christopher - I'm interested to know how you get on. That's not an easy climate to be running around in - what have you done about insulation and heating? How are you getting on finding places to park? Any specific difficulties you have had to overcome?
    Good luck with it!
    Phil

    Jan 01, 2014

Pages

Leave a comment

User login