I found that renting an RV in Europe to be one of my best travel experiences. It allowed me to travel the back roads and to stop whenever I found something interesting to explore. It also allowed me to get closer to people doing the same from all over the world.
For me, travel is about the experience and getting close to the people and their culture. Europ is wonderful and there is still a lot of it I haven’t seen. Especially to those countries that were once behind the “wall.”
But I have to admit the thing I hate about travel is the hassle of coordinating flights, car rentals, hotels and trying to maintain a schedule. Even with the internet, it can be daunting especially in various countries where you don’t know the languages?
Aside from that, I just hate my travels being dictated by a strict schedule. It just takes away from being able to really immerse myself in a culture and just enjoy a relaxing trip. I found that renting an RV in Europe was the best and most enjoyable option. Don’t be afraid, it’s not as scary as it may sound.
It has long been my dream to travel throughout Europe in an RV. But, as many of you, I had those burning questions: how much would it cost, how difficult would it be to get one, how would it be driving a bigger vehicle on those narrow roads and how RV friendly is Europe?
I can tell you Europe is super RV friendly, in fact very RV friendly. Many towns offering free or cheap RV parking, and also offer free or discounted bus passes and other amenities to those using the RV spots.
The Rental Process and Companies
There are nearly as many resources for renting an RV in Europe as there are for cars. There are major leaders in the RV market, individual RV dealers who have rentals and brokers like Tripadvisor who will give you a list of available rentals. It will depend on the country you want to pick your rental up in.
After a lot of research and reviewing different sites I chose McRent and have absolutely no regrets. I searched a lot of sites and looked at various companies and found the price to be about the same across the board, so based my decision on what I read in reviews and what I felt comfortable with. For me, when I am faced with a new experience or the unknown it often boils down my gut feeling. I did call them twice prior to my departure wanting to make sure I had the right driver’s license and insurance so I wouldn’t run into any surprises upon arrival. I also wanted to ask for good directions and the best way to reach the rental pick up point. Both times I reached very pleasant and friendly English-speaking reps that went out of their way to help me.
Since I was flying into Frankfurt, Germany, the closest pickup location was Friedberg/Hessen. Upon arrival, I was welcomed by Randolph Schuetz (firstname.lastname@example.org) who spoke perfect English, was relaxed and made the whole experience delightful.
We went through the paperwork, and he spent about 30 minutes walking through the rig and answering a million questions I had about RVing in Europe, fresh water and waste connections, propane filling in different customers and a whole myriad of other questions I had.
- RV Rental Cost: I’m not saying it was cheap, I did the math and compared it to renting a car, hotels or pensions and meals and it still came out to a bit higher. But there was no way you could put a price on the fun, experience and sheer convenience. I rented for three weeks and it was mid-season, the daily cost was 97 EU or about $109 US. The total with VAT (tax) was $1972 EU or about $2215 for the three weeks. This included a one-time $129 EU ($145) processing fee. The rental companies offer extras at a cost: bedding, camping chairs and table, kitchen wear, towels etc. I just found their prices for these items to be ridiculous. I brought what I could with me, bought paper plates and just picked up what else I needed at the store. You can also shop Amazon or eBay Europe and have it mailed to the rental location cheaper. They won’t know what’s inside. When I left I just gave it to other RVers and gave some to friends.
- VAT or Value Added Tax puts a hurt on you; it was 19% on my three-week rental and came to approximately 315 EU or $355 US. It wasn’t until after I was there that I learned the trick. I had read about tourists being able to request a refund on the VAT they pay while traveling. So when I was there I inquired and found out on rentals (cars and RV’s) you had to have the rental for at 30 days to have the VAT reimbursed. This trip I was restricted to three weeks due to a family issue, but given that knowledge I would recommend to anyone to make your trip at least 4 weeks or 31 days.
Basically, with the VAT reimbursement, your fourth week of rental would be free. I believe McRent will do all the paperwork for you, ask them up front.
- Required Paperwork: It was pretty simple, I just needed; my passport, driver’s license and credit card. I had my international driver’s license with me, but they only needed my California License. An International Driver’s License wasn’t needed, but I always recommend carrying one. I got mine at AAA for about $15 including the picture and felt the added protection was well worth it. You never know if you will be stopped or in an accident in a foreign country and the international license being translated into various languages is easily recognized and may save you some hassle.
- Insurance: There are two types of insurance I want to discuss; the first being general auto insurance for the rental. The rental came with general liability insurance and they offered an upgrade from that. I make it a practice to never buy the extra insurance offered by rental companies; I have just found the price to be a rip off. But, I am not crazy either and realize that if you’re in an accident in some foreign countries they will automatically find you at fault just because you’re a tourist. So I always check ahead with my credit card companies and find the card that offers the best vehicle rental coverage with it. I then pay for the rental with that card. The next insurance I HIGHLY recommend is travel insurance, this is something that is often overlooked or people poo poo. Until you have your camera stolen, get sick in a foreign country or have an emergency back home you need to get to. Travel insurance typically covers: medical help, emergency medical evacuation, trip cancellation and stolen or damaged gear. You can Google travel insurance and find a company that fits your needs. I personally always use World Nomads, it was recommended by veteran travelers and I find it very quick and easy to get my trip coverage. I also like the fact I can extend my coverage on-line if I decide to stay longer and they send me emails to let me know my coverage is about to end.
- Picking up the RV: When I booked the RV it had Frankfurt listed as the closest to the airport. After getting the exact driving directions and options together, I realized it was actually in Friedberg about 45 KM (28 miles) from the airport. The McRent office offered a pickup and drop-off service for 75 EU each way ($84 US). I then looked at Uber (but they pulled out of Frankurt last year), taxi which turned out to be the same as the rental company picking me up and the train. Since there is a train station below the airport, it seems like the way to go. I checked the fares and found out it would be approx. 10 EU ($11.25 US) to Friedberg and the station was about an 8 EU ($9 US) taxi ride from the McRent location. So it seemed like a much better option. When I arrived in Frankfurt and after 14 hours on planes realized I had to take the train from the station to downtown and transfer. So taxi it was.
- Type of RV, Size, Manual vs. Automatic, Gas or Diesel: I rented a Compact Plus Globebus T4 since it was just me it was plenty big, and two people would be comfortable. It measured 22 ¾ feet long x 9 feet high and 7 ¾ feet wide. It was a perfect size for some of the narrow roads and low bridges. I’ll warn you the chances are your rig will be a standard (manual) drive. I got caught off guard and hadn’t driven a stick in several years. Needless to say, there were a lot of angry Germans my first half hour on the road as I kept stalling at lights. But the old days kicked back in, and I got it under control. Chances are it will also be a Diesel which turned out to a blessing as Diesel was .8 EU ($.90 US) a gallon cheaper.
Flight Cost/Options: This is where I highly recommend searching in advance, I recommend using Skyscanner which has a recurring scanning app that will keep checking fares over a period you specify and notifies you of changes. Also look at your credit cards concierge services. Personally I travel hack, I use a credit card with travel benefits (points) to pay all my regular bills and living expenses throughout the year. (This is only recommend this if you are disciplined and will pay the balance off each month. I live debt free and never carry a balance) I also used another credit card with travel reimbursement points to rent the RV, I had enough to reimburse me for a third of the RV cost.
GPS: I highly recommend using one as I found the maps to be too small especially when going between countries. I brought my Garmin RV 760 from home and bought the European Map SD Card from Garmin for $99. It was well worth it and I have used it a couple of years driving there now. I set it to avoid the highways and for the three weeks only traveled the backroads.
Books I Bought Ahead of Time: I did purchase an English version Europe Road Atlas and a couple of travel guides on Amazon. I highly recommend checking out Vicarious Books, they are out of the UK and don’t ship to the US anymore. But you can arrange to have them ship to the RV Rental Office you choose and have them hold the package for you. You will want to purchase the ACSI travel guide, it’s kind of like Passport America. It is a directory of discount campgrounds and comes with a discount card. I was able to use it about ½ the time and saved a lot.
Campgrounds/RV Parks – Advance Reservations Needed/Cost?: I was traveling in June and didn’t make any campground reservations the entire three weeks. There was never a problem getting a spot, though if you are traveling during the end of July and August, Europe’s vacations period, I would recommend calling ahead. To be honest I found finding a campground or Stellplatz (free camping area) easier than it would have been to find a hotel. You can also download a free campground app to your phone for most countries; Stellplatz in Germany, Aires in France. In Europe not all campgrounds take reservations, so if you’re heading to a popular destination I would plan on arriving early just in case.
I found the campground directories and joining the Facebook Europe RV (Caravanning) groups to be immensely helpful. The two Facebook groups from the UK gave me more information and support than I ever expected. I mentioned the ACSI International Camping Card, if in Germany you can also join the ADAC (their version of AAA Auto Club) they also have a discount camping card program. I suppose other countries auto clubs have the same.
Another benefit of having the card is campgrounds that require it will hold your card instead of your Passport. Though in the three weeks and four countries I never had any campground want to hold my Passport. You can expect to pay $10-$20 per day for a camp space, this can include 1-2 people. Electric may or may not be included. If it is late and you don’t feel like searching for campground there are also plenty of places you can pull over and park.
Hook-ups (Water/Sewage)/Laundry/Showers: Campgrounds in Europe are a bit different, the basic campground is the same but you may not find power in your site, it may be in a gang box that you have to run an extension cord to. I was really surprised (in a good way) that at many of the free camping and cheap locations actually an automated/coin-op electrical post. You just plug-in and put in as many EU as you want power. Normally I paid 1-2EU per day which was well worth it.
In Europe most RV’s are not set up for water or waste hook-ups. You just fill the water tank and instead of gray and black tank you have a gray tank and waste or black canister. In most locations you will not have a water hookup or sewer/waste drain in your site. There will be a separate location to dump your tanks and fill with water. It was nice to come across free dump sites in many towns throughout Europe. Most of the campgrounds had great amenities; but some showers require coins as well.
I recommend always keep a supply of coin change with you for electric, dump sites, showers and laundry.
Internet Access: At just about every campground I had to pay extra for the internet, typically 1 EU a day. Though it says for 24 hours, I was working on the road and found they are data limited. A couple of days I went over my limit and had to buy a few internet access cards. If you’re thinking on streaming a video plan ahead. Germany was by far the hardest country to find free WiFi but with recent law changes that took place in August of 2016 that should change in the upcoming year. In the tourist towns that offered it, it was weak, and you really had to ask people where the best access was. Most McDonald’s had it as with some other restaurants.
Since I am a freelancer and digitally dependent for work finding internet access was crucial. I always managed, but found I was getting up early and working late some days when people were not on the networks. If you have questions about internet options in Europe Motorhome WiFi is the go to site and people. They are very helpful and have what you need to help you if you are planning on long-term internet needs. They were always available via Facebook or email even on the weekends when I had some issues.
Exchanging money, getting money on the road: If you can order some Euro‘s or currency from your bank before leaving it will be helpful. But it is not always available and if so plan on ordering them at least a week in advance to be safe. You will find exchange kiosks at the airport when you arrive. But be warned you get ripped off, I avoid them if at all possible. Typically I will exchange $50 at the airport when I arrive so I have it for a taxi if I need it. (some taxi drivers will not accept credit cards so be sure to ask upfront) ATM cash machines are the easiest and least expensive way to obtain cash in Europe and are everywhere in Western Europe.
Not every bank will do currency exchange. On my last trip I was really surprised how many banks had stopped doing it. You will need to rely on the bigger banks in the city to exchange cash. ATM’s are your best bet; typically you can use a credit card or your ATM card to get Euro’s. I could not get my credit cards to work in the ATM and the bank couldn’t figure out why either. It was OK then I avoided a cash advance fee and luckily I had plenty of cash in the account my Debit Card was attached to. Just be for warned. (Note: upon my return and doing more research I found out that foreign ATM machines do not recognize a PIN number starting in 0. So it may be something to be aware of and change before your trip if needed.)
Credit card use is not as prevalent in Europe as it is in the US. You can use it at most gas stations, hotels and most RV parks/campgrounds. But you will find many grocery stores and average restaurants will not accept them. You will need to ensure your credit and debit cards have a chip and you have a pin number. One tip when using your credit card, if asked what currency you want the charge ran as that countries or dollars, always tell them the currency of the country you are in (Euro’s, etc.) These establishments often set their own exchange rate and in most cases it will be higher than the exchange rate your bank will give you.
When overseas be sure to use a card with zero international transaction fees.
Propane Tanks: Your rig will come with at least one full propane bottle, mine came with two. In the three weeks I didn’t even use 1. Since I ended up staying in campgrounds so I would have internet access to work, I used the showers there. So I only used the propane a couple of evenings when it got cold and for cooking. Its important considering propane filling is not standardized like in the US. You can exchange bottles or need special adapters in some countries. If you are traveling during a colder season, I would recommend picking up a small electric heater in Europe. It will save a lot of propane and help keep the chill off.
Ice: OK, admittedly this is where the Europeans laugh at me. I pack a couple of ice trays (from the dollar store) in my bag when going overseas. Hey, what can I say, I like ice in my soda, and you won’t find ice cubes in most countries.
Meals: Since I was traveling the back roads coming across grocery stores, meat markets and bakeries was never an issue. I prefer to buy fresh and enjoy the bakeries and farmers markets when I came across them. One day I passed a farmer working his garden and struck up a conversation. I ended up leaving with a basket full of fresh veggies I wasn’t counting on. I offered to pay him, but he wouldn’t hear of it. It’s just a great reminder you don’t need to be fluent in a language, but you do have to try.
You’ll be surprised how far pointing, smiling, and being polite will get you. I ate at a friends place I met a couple of nights and got a feel for the local foods. Most of the time I had the refrigerator full and would cook my own meal and just sit out and relax.
Crossing Borders: This typically isn’t an issue as there are 28 countries in the EU that are part of the Schengen Agreement. Going from country to country is just like traveling from state to state. If you are going outside these countries, always check to see if a Visa is required. In any case always be sure to have your passport with you.
Backing up Documents: I try to be prepared for the worse; you never know when you will lose your wallet, passport or credit cards. I always make copies of my important documents; driver’s license, passport, front and back of credit cards, travel insurance policy and plane ticket. I then pack an extra copy in a separate bag, email myself a copy and upload a copy to the cloud (my Dropbox account). I also bring two passport photos with me in case I ever need them for a visa in a pinch. This may be overkill, but better safe than sorry. Also keep a one credit card and some cash hidden in a separate place. I wear a cash belt myself and keep some cash, a spare credit card and my Passport in it. Though most thieves will know about these so be subtle.
You will have to check with your phone carrier. I had Verizon and added an international option for $40 for the month. You can also buy an international SIM card online before leaving. You find these at Motorhome WiFi.
Google Translates: Has just about every language. Allows you to select a language to download and use it on your phone when you’re not connected to the internet.
Google Maps: A great map and navigation program.
Aires Campingcar Infos
European Travel Guide
Roadtrippers: Fun routing program
ACSI Europe: Discount camping card and campground finder.
The Caravan Club lists over 200 camping sites throughout Europe in 16 countries. The website offers a nice magazine and brochures full of ideas RVing in Europe. You can also join for camping discounts.
ACSI Camping The most comprehensive starting point for campers packed full of information about campsites and camping. Find one of 9900 campsites anywhere in Europe. You can also purchase a Discount Camping Card here or by purchasing the published directory from Vicarious Books.
Europe by Van and Motorhome by David Shore and Patty Campbell: Basic how-to guide to taking an RV through Europe that is more than a listing of campgrounds. Good tips but dated.
RV and Car Camping Vacations in Europe: RV and Car Camping Tours to Europe’s Top Vacation Destinations by Mike and Terri Church: Detailed routes and advice for traveling throughout Europe are provided in this guide for RV and tent campers. Great resource.
Another Option for traveling Europe: If you are planning a long-term trip of several months to Europe. Then you might want to research the option to purchase with a guaranteed buy back. These are RV dealers who will sell you a new or used RV or Camper Van and buy it back at a guaranteed amount at the end of your trip. They will also help handle the registration and insurance.
www.bwcampers.com You can also buy a campervan from BW Campers. BW Campers will take care of the insurance and registration for you. You can sell the campervan back to BW Campers (guaranteed), or you can find a buyer yourself.
www.bilbos.com Bilbo’s Trading Co: Buy-backs available.