Renting a motorhome in the U.K.

A camper and a tent overlooking a killer whale migration route at Sango Sands Campsite, Durness, Sutherland, Scotland (Photo by John Allen)
A camper and a tent overlooking a killer whale migration route at Sango Sands Campsite, Durness, Sutherland, Scotland
A camper and a tent overlooking a killer whale migration route at Sango Sands Campsite, Durness, Sutherland, Scotland, Renting an RV, General (Photo by John Allen)
The campground at Bath Chew Valley in Somerset, Renting an RV, General (Photo courtesy of the property)

Camping is a great way to see Britain, but you needn't be tied down to tent pegs; RV rentals are as easy in Europe as they are here at home

Seeing the U.K. by campervan allows you to experience a Europe most travelers on the train-and-hotels route miss.

One of my fondest memories of camping in Britain was when I saw 12, my family parked our hippie-orange VW Westfalia in a U.K. campground, and I got to sit on the banks of the Thames watching a meteor shower far from the bright lights of London.

Why RV the U.K.?

An RV vacation combines the best parts of European travel—visiting the great art cities, driving the countryside, exploring villages and lakelands, and discovering hidden mountain meadows—without the usual expense.

How much does it cost to travel by motorhome?

Rentals that sleep two run roughly $367–$1,047 per week in low season ($491–$1,426 in summer)—once you add in the prudent extras of CDW and GPS (details on that in a minute).

Campers sleeping four to six run $450–$1,153 in low season, $574–$1,515 in summer.

You could park it by the side of the road at night and sleep for free, but let's assume you prefer campgrounds. That'll add $5 to $18 per person—or $15 to $47 per family—for each night.

The total daily cost—for transport and lodging—is just:

  • For two people: $62–$88 in low season, $75–$108 in summer
  • For a family of four: $79–$180 in low season, $97–$263 in summer

Keep this in mind a campervan takes care of your vehicle and lodging all at once.

These days, double rooms in dowdy two-star British hotel cost about $130 per night for two in mid-season, $160 for four in the same room (we're cramming the kids in the parents' room).

Add a midsize car rental for $250 per week and you're spending a minimum of $166 per day for a couple, or $195 for a family of four for the hotel-and-rental car option.

So, a motorhome costs about half the price of staying in a hotel and renting a car.

(Yes, you'll guzzle a bit more gas than the rental car family, but since most RVs are diesel—but few rental cars are—that alone will nearly balance out the price difference on fuel.)

Base RV rental costs

  • A smaller campervan—which sleeps two below, plus one or two smaller chaps up in the pop-up tent on top—rents for £30 to £97 ($35 to $115) per day in winter, up to £50 to £143 ($59 to $169) in summer.
  • A larger, Winnebago-style RV that sleeps four to six people will run £45 to £110 ($53 to $130) per day in low season, £60 to £168 ($71 to $199) in high season.
  • Glastonbury rates—The last ten days (or so) of June are the highest of high season for British motorhome rentals, thanks to the popular five-day Glastonbury Festival in Somerset.

Added fees & taxes

  • Collision insurance (CDW) is sometimes included, sometimes £5 to £25 ($6 to $30) per day, and is sometimes required.
  • Bedding and towels cost another £20 to £45 ($24 to $53) per day (way, way too much; just bring your own).
  • Sat Nav (GPS) costs another £4 to £5 ($5 to $6) per day, or sometimes around £30 ($35) per rental.
  • Additional drivers are £5 to £10 ($6 to $12) per day
  • You may want to join a Caravan Club for £37 to £49 ($44 to $58), providing all sorts of useful help, discounts at campgrounds, plus access to their members-only "Certificated Sites"—small, private places to park (limited to max five pads/10 tents sites), often on lovely countryside farms. These clubs are included in the "RV rentals" links section.
  • British rentals usually add a fee of £5 to £16 ($6 to $19) per day if you take the vehicle to Ireland or the Continent.
  • Make sure any quoted price includes VAT (tax), which can run to 19 percent. 

What type of motorhome should I get?

Size matters. For those of you used to the road behemoths here in the U.S. that are twice the size of an average New York apartment, know that European RVs tend to be rather smaller and lighter. 

Some are almost comically small—smaller than a mid-sized SUV in North America—yet able to transform into a campervan sleeping two or even four (cramped, yes, but still functional). A few budget models are really just cars with a pop-up tent fixed to the roof.

There are several good reasons for these tiny motorhomes—and for limiting yourself to the smaller vehicles.

European roads are narrow and winding, and petrol (gasoline) and diesel both incredibly expensive—figure on getting 23 miles to the gallon at $5.50 per gallon. The smaller the better.

I would avoid renting anything longer than six meters (about 20 feet).

Sick to the common Class Cs, which handle more like a car than a big rig, and you'll be fine.

Other motorhome tips

  • European RVs have traditionally been manual transmission, but automatic seems to be taking over.
  • The minimum rental period is almost always five or seven days (though budget campervan outfit Wicked Campers will let you rent for just 2 days/1 night).
  • Minimum rental age is usually 25 (21 with Wicked Campers)
  • Rentals in Germany tend to be cheapest—though once you pick it up, you can drive anywhere.
  • Check into any restrictions on taking it into Eastern Europe.

Other benefits of RVing

It's not just the savings. You also get all the cultural benefits of leaving the standard tourist route and hobnobbing with others who have ditched minibars for camp stores and traded pillow mints for tent poles. It's a great way to strike up fast friendships with vacationing Europeans.

In a hotel, you rarely get to know the people in the neighboring rooms, but campers in adjoining sites are quick to chat. Many nights you end up pooling the barbecue and bottles of wine with the neighbors and sharing travel stories under the stars.

Finding a place to park the RV

While there are loads of British campgrounds out in the sticks for the get-back-to-nature crowd, there are also plenty of in and around the major cities.

Although most city campgrounds are on the edge of town—count on a 30–45 minute bus or subway ride to the historic center—there are exceptions.

Local tourist offices list area campgrounds. There are an obscene number of camping-related Web sites; Googling the words "camping" plus the place you want to go results in a whole crop of regional directories. I also list a few dozen on the main camping page.

More on Camping