Motorhomes, caravans and campervans are all options for people who want the ultimate freedom when they’re traveling. You don’t have to pay for hotels or spend any time trying to find the perfect accommodation for you – instead you’re bringing it from home!
But what exactly is the difference between these three options, and how do you pick the right one for you? That’s what we will attempt to answer in this guide, so read on to learn which type of RV should you get for your travels!
I’ll walk you through the major differences between the different types of recreational vehicles, and later we’ll talk about how to choose the best option for you. If you’re not sure how to tell campervans and motorhomes apart, the next section should help you figure out all the major differences. But if you already know which is which, you can just skip to the part about choosing the best temporary home for you!
Motorhomes and RVs are perhaps the most popular kind of temporary homes. They’re usually what comes to mind first when someone mentions an RV and they’re the most popular option for families. Motorhomes give you the space and luxurious you’ll rarely get from a campervan or a caravan, like a bathroom with a proper shower and more than one bedroom. You just have to be aware of the cost.
They are surprisingly easy to drive, especially for people who’ve previously driven a truck. Motorhomes are usually built with cab chassis from a truck or a van, with the Fiat Ducato cab being the most common option, particularly in Europe.
Additionally, you should know that motorhomes are categorized into different classes, depending on their size and weight. Class A vehicles are top of the line motorhomes that closely resemble buses, with a flat vertical front and very large windows. They usually measure around 30-40 feet and they’re pretty much luxury on wheels. Class A motorhomes will have full kitchens, bathrooms, TVs, several bedroom and some really hefty price tags.
Class B vehicles are actually campervans. These are motorhomes that are built on a van chassis with a raised roof, and they have more compact versions of everything you expect in the class A variant. However, class B motorhomes rarely have full sizes bathrooms and the kitchen/living/sleeping area is usually just one small space that you can convert depending on your needs at the moment. The main advantage of class B vehicles is that they’re easy to drive, you can park them anywhere and they can easily work as a second family car.
Class C motorhomes are similar to Class A vehicles but they’re smaller and cheaper. If a class A motorhome is a bus-sized giant, then a class C vehicle is its truck-sized cousin. The basic necessities and living areas are similar, but you won’t get the same luxuries in the smaller motorhome. Also, it’s important to note that class C vehicles are smaller and lighter, thus easier to drive and cheaper to register.
If you’ve looked around for campervans, you’ve probably notices that there’s a lot of different options. Some look just like smaller motorhomes, while others look like regular vans but they have living areas inside. The latter is actually a conversion van – a regular van that someone converted into a campervan. So, what’s the difference?
The main difference is that a class B vehicles were designed to be just a smaller version of a proper motorhome. All of the amenities are built in and the vehicle most likely has a sewage system under the car. Which means you can have a shower and a bathroom in it, but I wouldn’t expect anything too luxurious.
Conversion vans don’t have a built-in sewage system, since they’re virtually just regular vans turned into temporary homes. The best thing about a conversion van is that it’s easier to drive and park than any other option. And if money is not really an object for you, just know that you can hire people that will transform any van into an extraordinary temporary home.
Caravans are usually the least expensive options, but also the least functional. Out of these three types, a caravan is the only one that you can’t drive. It’s a trailer that you attach to your car and tow places. But, they’re only the least expensive option if you already own a car – if not, they’re not something you should be considering at all.
The upside of this is that it offers better insulation than both motorhomes and campervans, making it the better option for travel in cold weather. However, maneuvering a car with a trailer attached is not at all easy, and it will require some great driving skills. Reversing with a caravan attached can be quite challenging since you have to vary the pivot point where your vehicle and the trailer meet. If you’re not a skilled driver, it’s best to avoid caravans for now.
Also, unless you’re really dedicated to life on the road, you will have to consider how to store your caravan when you’re not traveling. You can’t just leave it out in the front yard – it has to be shielded from the elements as much as possible, to avoid rust and deterioration.
Which type of temporary home is the best one for you? That will depend on your answer to the following questions, so consider them carefully!
Are you travelling with your family or is it just you? Maybe you’re picking up some friends and going on the road trip of your life? The right temporary home for you largely depends on the amount of space you will require in your travels.
Motorhomes are by far the largest temporary homes, especially since you can get options that have several bedrooms and even an office. Some of the best motorhomes out there are actually converted buses and their price tags are in the millions! So, if you’re looking for a roomy option that can fit a family of 3-4 people, a traditional motorhome is probably the best option for you.
If you’re travelling alone or with just one other person, both a campervan and a caravan are decent options for you. Campervans actually offer less space than caravans, since the driving area is usually incorporated into the living area. Some campervans even let you turn the driver’s seat, so you can use it when you’re parked. The back seats convert into beds and everything else is squeezed near those.
Trailers are the more comfortable option for two people. You can cook something without worrying the smell will get into the seats and make you nauseous while you’re driving and you might even get a separate room, depending on the type of caravan you get.
Your driving skills are important in choosing the best temporary home. And it’s not just what you’re capable of driving, it’s also what you are comfortable with driving. If you’re going to feel stressed and worried the entire time you’re behind the wheel, maybe it’s not worth it to spend a small fortune on a recreational vehicle.
Out of these three options, campervans are arguably the easiest to drive. Especially the smaller ones – the experience is similar to driving a minivan or a pickup truck, in the sense of how much vehicle there is to maneuver. Larger campervans are obviously more challenging, but they’re still a bit easier to handle than large motorhomes.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that motorhomes are difficult to drive. In fact, they’re surprisingly easy to drive, but it does take some time to get used to turning and breaking. The size and weight of your motorhome are also important here since it’s much easier to turn with a class B motorhome than a class A one. You should be careful when turning and you should always start braking earlier than you think necessary because it takes a while to stop such a large and heavy vehicle. Another thing to keep in mind is that you should never attempt a U-turn in a motorhome – considering their size, that’s always risky and rarely goes like planned.
Reversing in a motorhome still easier than reversing while towing a caravan. The main issue with motorhomes is that you have more blind spots than in a regular car, so you should avoid parking it close to other vehicles.
Caravans are perhaps the trickiest to drive since you can’t directly control them. Turning and reversing with caravans is difficult and it requires you to be aware of the pivot point. But practice makes perfect, so just give it some time and you will easily master the skill.
Ultimately, your driving skill and previous experience are considerable factors for choosing the best temporary home for you. If you’re already comfortable driving trucks and large vehicles in general, you shouldn’t have any issues maneuvering a campervan, motorhome or a caravan. But if you’re mostly driven hatchbacks all your life, it will take some time to get used to driving something so big.
Do you want a temporary home that is just for occasional travel, or would you prefer something you can also use to get around the town?
Motorhomes are great for travel, but they’re not the best option for people who need a family vehicle. They take up a lot of space so it’s going to be an adventure every time you try to park it near your local grocery store. If that’s the kind of functionality you’re looking for, a campervan is the best option for you.
Especially the newer models – Volkswagen, Mercedes and Ford all make inconspicuous campervans that can actually pass for a regular passenger van. They’re much easier to drive and park in city areas, so they’re easily the best option if you’re more worried about everyday functionality than about bedroom space.
And conversion vans are easily the best option for people who want a recreational vehicle that can double as a family car. These are just regular vans with transformed interiors, so they’re really easy to drive and park. You can make U-turns for days (as long as they’re allowed) and you have less blind spots than you have in a proper motorhome.
Caravan trailers are great for people who already own a car and just want a home on wheels. They also have the most limited functionality unless you’re in the mood to push your feet through the floor and Yaba dabba doo your way to the nearest store.
What kind of bathroom amenities are you looking for in a temporary home? If you want the full package – shower, sink, flushing toilet – your only option is a motorhome and a big one at that. The smaller motorhomes usually include a toilet and maybe a sink. The main advantage motorhomes have here is that you can actually have a proper bathroom that is separated from the rest of the space, as opposed to a toilet in the middle of your kitchen that you get with a campervan.
Caravans with showers exist, but most of those are modified caravans. And if you manage to find a basic caravan that has a fully equipped bathroom, don’t expect it to be affordable or cheap. It’s worth noting that caravans rarely have separate rooms, so even if you do find one with a bathroom, at best you can hope for a curtain that will separate it from the rest of the trailer.
Campervans are the lest functional in this sense. Most of them don’t include a bathroom at all, which will require you to bring your own toilet to your trip. There are some options that have a toilet squeezed into the campervan, but it’s hardly every separated from the rest of the space. More often than not it’s right next to your kitchen, and I would not call that ideal.
Of course, you could always pull a Jeremy Clarkson and transform the entire space into a luxurious bathroom, leaving just a tiny area where you can rest for the night. But that only works if you have your own Hammond and May to provide the kitchen and living areas!
Long-term maintenance is another factor you should consider. Just like with any other vehicle, a temporary home on wheels requires regular maintenance. Motorhomes and campervans require the same type of maintenance like a passenger car, so changing the engine oil, filters, tires etc. Caravans are the cheapest in this aspect, so if you’re worried about the costs of long-term maintenance, they’re definitely the best budget-friendly option.
But don’t think that just because a trailer doesn’t have an engine you can completely forget about maintenance. It is important to keep your trailer under cover when you’re not using it, especially in the colder months. Rust is a big issue with trailers, particularly when you’re not using them too often and they spend most of the time parked somewhere. If you aren’t able to garage it, you should cover it and store it with the draw bar raised, so that water can’t pool. And if you notice any signs of rust, it’s important to deal with them immediately to stop the spread.
You should regularly check springs, U bolts and shackles for any damage, and to make sure that nothing’s come loose over time. Tires are also susceptible to damage from standing, so it’s not a bad idea to take your trailer out for a ride every so often.
All of these issues are something you will have to worry about with campervans and motorhome, plus everything concerning the engine, gearbox, breaks etc.
Keep that in mind and if you’re not yet ready to handle the long-term maintenance costs of owning a temporary home, it’s a good idea to wait a little longer. Otherwise, you’ll spend so much money on something that will just deteriorate in the driveway.
How much money are you working with? If you’re on a tighter budget, caravan is probably the best option for you. It’s the cheapest temporary home out of the bunch, which makes perfect sense since it’s just a trailer for your car.
On average, motorhomes are more expensive than campervans, but the prices can vary drastically. It depends on many factors like what size of the vehicle are you looking for, what year it was made in, whether you’re shopping new or used etc. You should also take into account maintenance and registration costs – don’t spend your life savings on a recreational vehicle if you can’t afford to maintain it throughout the year. And always have some extra cash in case of necessary repairs.
If you’re fine with shopping used vehicles, I would recommend looking at trusted sellers first. Make sure that the vehicle was properly maintained throughout the years and that there are no repairs necessary. I always recommend bringing a trusted mechanic with you to inspect the vehicle and make sure there’s nothing wrong with the engine and gearbox. Those are usually the priciest repairs, but also the easiest issues to hide for the sellers.
I can’t give you an average budget for this type of thing since the prices can just vary so much. Caravans go from $10,000 to $50,000 for the more basic options, with the modified and luxury options easily sporting another zero. The base prices for campervans and motorhomes are much higher, especially for the options that are spacious and new.
Couldn’t be bothered to read the entire thing and just want a quick TL;DR? This is where you’ll get! I’ll sum up the basic differences between the three types of recreational vehicles, as well as what you need to look for in the best ones for you.
Motorhomes are the largest type of recreational vehicles, and they’re usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of life on the road. They’re divided into class A motorhomes – those ridiculously big RVs with a bus-like front, which can easily set you back half a million dollars. Class C motorhomes are the other option – they’re smaller, lighter, cheaper and easier to drive. But also less luxurious.
There are also class B motorhomes, but those are basically just campervans. Which are different from conversion vans – a campervan is a mini motorhome built on a van chassis, whereas a conversion van is an actual van someone turned into a motorhome. The main difference between the two is that a campervan has a built-in sewage system, whereas a conversion van is more of a BYOB (bring your own bucket) kind of thing.
And then there are caravans, which are pretty much trailers you tow. They’re the cheapest to get and the hardest to maneuver, since you have no actual control of them. But caravans are also the best for cold weather travels because they offer great insulation.
How do you choose the best recreational vehicle for you? It’s simple – start with answering these questions, and then go back and see what’s the best fit for your answer!
Are you travelling solo or with a family?
How much space do you need?
What bathroom situation are you most comfortable with?
Are you a skilled driver?
Do you already own a car?
Where would you store a recreational vehicle?
Can you afford maintenance year-round?
How much can you spend on a temporary home?
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.