Ton and I recently completed a couple of short trips in the Pacific Northwest and as we were driving we found ourselves comparing the experience between camping in the US and in Europe. We also spent some of that time discussing our impressions of costs. So when we returned from our last trip I decided to take a look at the spreadsheets we keep when we travel to see the differences.
While we travel we keep an excel spreadsheet where we record all of our daily costs by category. We have been doing that since 2016 so it includes all of our trips to Europe, our Alaska trip, and our trips in the US. For this post I am comparing our two 2019 European trips, with two shorter trips we took this year in the US. The costs for Europe are averaged out over 110 days, while the costs for the US only include 24 days.
For this post I am only including the costs actually involved in traveling from the time we leave our home in Oregon until we return. The year we traveled to Europe we used airline miles for both sets of flights, so the airline costs are minimal. I am not going to include cost of ownership items such as maintenance, storage, insurance, and depreciation because I have not been very good about recording the costs associated with Scout our US RV.
In our spreadsheet we track the following costs associated with daily RV life:
Entrance Fees (Parks, Museums)
Tolls (Includes costs of ferries)
We are type A travelers so we move very frequently. An average week for us has about 4 different locations where we spend the night. Also, one of our favorite reasons to travel is to sample local foods, beers, and wines, so we eat out fairly frequently. Because of this our average daily costs may be a bit higher than many people. Also, the costs are expressed in US dollars, we keep our spreadsheet while we are in Europe in both dollars and Euros and update the exchange rate daily. It is not perfect but I think close enough.
The average daily cost for Europe was lower than the US. This surprised me a little as we have daily costs in Europe that we do not incur in the US. It was not a total shock because both Ton and I thought that overall it would be close, we just thought it would slightly favor the US.
Lower cost Europe by $7 per day.
The biggest difference between the US and Europe is not surprisingly fuel, but it does not favor the side you would think. Everyone knows fuel is much more expensive in Europe than the US. Last year while we were traveling fuel costs in Europe were approximately $6 per gallon. During our travels in the US this year fuel was around $2.50 per gallon. Scout’s 6.8l diesel with automatic transmission burns fuel at about 13.5 miles per gallon. François’ 2.2l with manual transmission gets much better mileage at about 20 miles per gallon. The biggest cause for the difference is we travel much farther per day in Scout than in François. Looking at our expense log due to the difference in miles driven we fuel Scout almost every day. In contrast because things are much closer together in Europe we end up fueling François only every 5 to 6 days. I thought maybe this was an anomaly caused by the trips we took in Scout this year, so I went back and looked at the expenses for 2016 and 2017 and they were very similar for fuel to what we see in 2020. So it is more about miles driven per day in the US. So even though fuel is much cheaper in the US we end up spending substantially more per day on it in the US.
Lower cost Europe by $33 per day.
Our impression was that groceries were slightly more expensive in Europe than in the US, and that is how it turned out. The difference this year was more substantial than in past years. I attribute that to the fact that this year we only had one long trip that we had to purchase groceries. The other two trips were only a week and we did not purchase food on those two trips but stocked the fridge from home. We did not have any costs on those two trips. When I looked back at our longer trips from 2016 and 2017 the average cost was lower than Europe but only by about $2 per day.
Lower cost US by $6 per day.
Experiencing the local food is a big part of why we travel so we budget for eating out a few times per week. We were pleasantly surprised by eating out in Europe. The fixed price lunch is one of our favorite things there. We thought that eating out would be more expensive than at home but it has not turned out that way. The menu prices are higher than in the US, but they almost always include the service charge. When you factor in a typical tip of 18 to 20% the lower menu costs in the US evaporate. What we found is that our costs were very similar in both places and for the time we are looking at they were slightly lower in Europe.
Lower cost Europe by $2 per day.
We budget one day a month for hotels this allows us a little break from François and some cities are easier to see from a hotel. Also, we stay in a hotel the day we arrive in Europe and the day before we depart. Currently because of my pre-retirement life as a consultant we have a ton of hotel points available to cover these nights so the cost is pretty minimal. In Europe we will sometime stay at US military short term quarters as it gives us access to the American washers and dryers there.
Lower cost US by $2 per day.
Before we left the first time for Europe I would have guessed that our camping costs would have been higher there than here. But as we traveled the first time, the well developed RV infrastructure and the variety of options to park were striking in Europe. This was the biggest surprise for me.
The opportunities to free camp there are many and we met a lot of people who took great pride in almost never paying to park. We tend to avoid urban free camping as we are just not that comfortable with it. The opportunities in Europe are probably greater than in the US, but like here because of abuses by a small number of people, becoming more difficult. We probably free camp (usually in a parking lot ala Walmart parking) about 10% of our nights.
Europe has something that I have not seen in the US and it really helps with camping costs. Each country calls it something different, but it is a parking area usually sponsored by the town or city that is designated for short term stays by RV’s. The services offered vary from a designated corner of the municipal parking lot with no amenities, to very nice facilities with water, dump stations, and even toilets. These are not posh facilities, usually just asphalt with no expectation to enjoy the outdoors. The great thing is the cost. They range from free to $10, with the norm being around $5. We probably spent around 50% of our nights in these facilities while traveling in France and Germany.
We also find that our Campground costs are lower than in the US. These are the equivalent of RV parks here. We are traveling in the shoulder season there and in Europe there is a camping organization called ACSI that is something like Passport America. The ACSI campgrounds generally go for $15 to $20 per night for a full service (electric, water, shower block) campground during shoulder season. As RV sales have taken off and demand has increased we are finding that RV parks even in the shoulder season are running $25 to $45 per night in the US.
So even though we most often camp in National Parks and other US government campsites and get our senior discount, the additional cost of US RV parks pushed the average daily cost in favor of Europe
Lower cost Europe by $8 per day.
We are very much in tourist mode while visiting Europe so our costs for sights is more. In the very popular sites in Europe we often find ourselves paying for guided tours which even raises the costs more. In the US we are now eligible for the lifetime senior discount card. This gives us free entrance to National Parks, and other US facilities. This has taken away our biggest entrance cost while touring in the US.
Lower cost US by $5 per day.
In a previous post I talked about our way of maintaining internet access. In the US we do not need this as our cell phone service provides it. Our cost for internet access in Europe gives us about 100 gb of data per month, and represents a discount for long term usage and taking advantage of periodic discount offerings from the provider we use.
Lower cost US by $5 per day.
In the western US toll roads are pretty much limited to the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas and a few stray bridges. In Europe outside of Germany and Belgium most freeways are tolled. We try to avoid them, but there are times when they are unavoidable. Also, during 2020 we traveled in Italy and made the decision to use the freeways whenever possible and pay the tolls due to the quality of the secondary roads.
Lower cost US by $7 per day.
One of the biggest chores for us is finding good places to do laundry. Laundry is more expensive in Europe. It typically costs $6 to $8 to wash and dry a load.
Lower cost US by $2 per day.
We almost never use public transit in the US. In Europe we frequently use it to get from the campsite to downtown, particularly in mid sized and large cities. In 2020 we also used a ferry to get from southern France to Sicily which was a bargain though it drove our cost per day up.
Lower Cost US by $10 per day
For us now that we have invested in a RV in Europe there is no significant difference between traveling in the US and in Europe on a daily basis. If you enjoy RV’ing in the US you will enjoy it in Europe, it is affordable, fun, and gives you another view of living on the road.
The most frequently asked question we get from Americans about our experience motor homing in Europe is how difficult is it to drive? Our quick answer is it’s easy, tens of thousands of Europeans do it every year. Our experience is that driving in Europe is different then in the US, but not so different that you should not visit Europe by RV.
Statistically fatal accident rates in Western Europe are less than half the rate of the US. The worst country in Europe is Bosnia with an automobile fatality rate of 15.7 per 100,000 people compared to 12.4 in the US, the next worst country in Europe is Albania at 13.6. Both of these countries require special insurance to drive in for Europeans. Italy which has a reputation for aggressive driving has a fatality rate of 5.2 per 100,000 which is less than half of the US.
The rest of this post gives our impressions of driving in Europe based on our limited experience.
The roads in Europe are generally very good. There is as you would expect some differences in quality from country to country. German roads were exceptionally good, better than the US. The worst roads were in Italy, especially Sicily, but they were not so bad that they required a high level of awareness. Our impression is that the standard lane width in France is narrower than in other countries in Europe and certainly the US, which is my only complaint about French roads. Driving between cities is generally very easy and no more stressful than in the US. In fact in Spain and France traffic is often much lighter than in the US on equivalent roads.
The biggest difference in European roads is in cities. Because of the age of the cities, many urban roads were laid out hundreds of years ago and therefore are narrower than modern roads. In cities parking is much tighter than in the US and sometimes spills into the traffic lanes. We find urban driving is more stressful than at home because everything is just a little bit tighter, and sometimes quite a bit tighter.
Types of Roads
Generally speaking in the countries we have traveled there are three categories of roads. The nomenclature is not standardized so for my ease I am going to use the French designations. You will quickly learn the local term for each type of road.
Autoroutes in France are designated with an A and number (sometimes E if it is considered a trans-Europe route). These are the equivalent of our Interstate highways, though in many countries (except Germany and Belgium) they are tolled. The quality of these roads is extremely good. There are frequent service areas that do not require you to leave the highway to use them. While the service areas are convenient the cost of fuel is quite high, and we have never fueled there for this reason. They often will have a restaurant and of course restrooms that are usually free to use.
The level of traffic is often less than we are used to in the US, particularly on Sunday when commercial traffic is restricted. If you are planning a long jump in Europe Sunday is a particularly good day to do it, as most stores and sights are on restricted hours so there is not much to see, and truck traffic on the A roads is very light making travel easy.
One difference is that many of the A roads are monitored by surveillance cameras, so help is automatically dispatched if an accident or breakdown occurs. Also, speed is monitored by camera systems in most countries. It is rare to see a police vehicle writing a ticket on the shoulder as we are used to. Instead a fine shows up in the mail a week or two later when you trigger a camera, and the police concentrate on other things.
The speed limit on A roads in rural areas is usually 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph) for light vehicles, generally defined as under 3.5 tons. For heavier vehicles the speed limit is 90 kph (55mph). In urban areas the speed limit usually drops to 110kph (68mph) for light vehicles and stays at 90 kph for heavy vehicles. Many RV’s (including François) qualify as light vehicles and can use the higher speed limits. We do not recommend you drive a RV at 130kph. We normally drive between 95 and 100 kph which on Sunday makes us one of the slowest vehicles on the road. Another thing to note is that the speed limit automatically drops to 110kph in rain and fog.
While passing on the right on interstates is technically illegal in the US, it is rarely enforced. If you read Europeans writing about driving in the US they are shocked that we do this. Passing on the right is enforced in Europe and never done. Because of this lane discipline is good. Slower traffic stays to the right, and only uses the outer lanes long enough to pass and then move immediately to the right again. This is actually quite refreshing and makes travel easier.
The A routes in Germany and Belgium are free. Also, a significant portion of the Spanish A routes are free, but not all, and some of the sections we traveled in Italy were free, particularly in the south. When tolls are in place they are quite expensive, particularly in France.
When we first began traveling in Europe we tried to avoid the A routes completely. Our first two trips were limited to France and we wanted to avoid the cost of the A routes. Also, the A routes like the interstates in the US really isolate you from the countryside and we miss the little things you see when you travel on regular roads. As we spent more time there we began to use the A routes more often, particularly when we were making longer drives to change regions. Now we evaluate the convenience of the A routes vs the cost. Also, in Italy we defaulted to A routes as the secondary roads were less well maintained and stressful on me and François.
Many countries in Europe use a system called Vignettes instead of toll booths on the A routes. These are passes that you purchase in advance and display in your vehicle. For residents and frequent visitors an annual vignette is offered. Many countries offer transit vignettes for shorter periods of times either weekly or monthly. So far in our travels we have not entered a country that requires a Vignette on purpose. (We did have an accidental incursion into Austria driving between two German cities.)
Determining if a country requires a vignette can be done with a simple Google search, as well as the types and cost. If you opt for a larger RV (above 3.5 tons) some countries require an electronic device that monitors actual miles driven and charges based on that. For smaller RV’s the fee is flat and you purchase a sticker and display it in the windshield of the RV. It is important to display the vignette as some countries have a video monitoring system to insure compliance. Most countries make it very easy to acquire the vignette and frequently they can be purchased at gas stations. Some countries allow you to purchase the vignette on line in advance.
In many countries the vignettes only apply to the A roads, so if you stay off of A roads you do not need to purchase one. I am not sure how practical that is as we have no experience yet.
N roads are referred to as National Roads in France. The designation N is the French designation and the letter does vary from country to country but all of the countries we traveled in had these type of roads. They are the old main highways prior to the A Roads and are analogous to US Highways. They are designed to handle semi-truck traffic so are generally wider and have shoulders. Occasionally they will have two travel lanes in the same direction, and less frequently they will be limited access. They are always free of charge, and in countries that charge to use A roads a reasonable free option has to be provided by law, and these are frequently the N roads. The N roads are more likely to by-pass towns and villages than D roads. The speed limit varies more on these roads than others, but is usually 90 kph in non-urban areas. These roads are frequently very good alternatives to A routes allowing you to see more of the countryside while making pretty good time.
Local Roads/D Roads
D roads are the most common road. They are the equivalent of our state and county roads and you will spend most of your time on them as all of the good sites are located on them.
D roads are by far the most variable in quality. The pavement is usually good, the only poor quality pavement we found was in Italy and Spain, the real variation in quality is in width. They range from very occasional limited access roads, to one lane roads with pull outs.
These are the roads that connect small towns and villages to larger towns. They also are the roads that cut thru towns and villages so you will find yourself navigating these small towns. Most of the time it is no problem except for slowing down for the lower speed limits. Occasionally you will run into a tight squeeze.
The default speed limit on these roads is 90 kph (recently changed to 80 in France). The thing is that it is 90 whether the road is a good two lane road with shoulders, or one lane with pullouts. Your average speed if you follow these roads for a long period of time will be well below 90. We plan on an average of 60 kph on these roads.
We do our best to avoid the very narrow roads, but of course we do not know the area we are driving in, so are not sure if the tiny road our GPS is guiding us down has a better alternative route that is slightly longer but faster. We tend to follow the GPS directions less regularly in Europe than in the US. If the road Greta our Garmin tells us to turn down seems very narrow we will continue along the larger road we are on and see what happens when she reprograms herself. So far our instincts to avoid narrow roads has worked pretty well.
However, sometimes you will find yourself on the one or one and a half lane roads. We just look as far ahead as conditions allow, and when we see on coming traffic we look for a wide spot to pull into. Most of these roads have small pull outs strategically placed to allow for this. There is a great deal of farm machinery using these roads and they are quite wide. The farmers are very good about moving over as much as possible to allow you to squeeze by.
Our last advice is when you do get into a tight spot do not panic and take your time working out the best solution. Our experience is that almost everyone is very patient while you and the other vehicle pull in mirrors, do some hand signaling and get it sorted out. Everyone takes the slowdown in stride as it comes with the territory.
By far the biggest difference between Europe and the US is in built up areas. Villages, towns and cities have road infrastructure that pre-dates automobiles. In the US while cities may have more going on around you, the traffic lanes remain at the standard width we find on our highways. In Europe by necessity this may not be the case, so you have all of the distractions that come with urban situations, (pedestrians, cars popping out of parking etc), you are often doing it on a less than standard width lane.
The distance between buildings and the road can be much tighter than we are used to. This can come into play particularly when you have to make a turn with a building right to the edge of the road. This tends to happen most often in small villages. It is difficult to see if there is something on the road you are turning onto and there is no buffer so you may need to swing a little wider into the on coming lane to miss the building. There often are mirrors in place on these turns to allow you to see if there is traffic coming. If you are turning from one of these roads to the main road it may be blind for you and you have to creep a little to see if there is traffic coming. My best advice is take it slow in these cases.
Often for large and mid-sized towns there will be by-passes for commercial vehicles. Your GPS may be sending you thru the town, use the by-pass as it will ultimately be faster and less stressful.
The speed limits are 50 kph as soon as you pass the city/town limit sign, and it is often enforced with a speed camera. While people may cheat on speed limits a little outside of towns, we have seen very few people cheating on the speed limits in town. As you approach the very center of the city the speed limit often goes down to 30kph.
Traffic circles are much more common in Europe than the US. The French in particular have a fetish like attachment to them, and are actively building them all over the place. As we became more used to them we began to appreciate them, particularly in the countryside. In low traffic areas they are a much more efficient way to handle cross traffic. On a N or good D road in France you will encounter circles very frequently, it is rare to go more than 5 or 6 kilometers between circles on a well traveled road.
In cities they can be a little more stressful as the traffic volume is higher and the traffic may be entering the circle in multiple lanes and the circle itself has multiple lanes. Our method to handle busy circles is to enter the circle in the right lane and stay there until we get to our exit, and exit into the right lane. This allows people to do whatever they have to do while we move along.
Europeans use their turn signals to indicate if they are staying in the circle, (left turn signal), or taking the next exit from the circle (right turn signal). Signaling is very important in the busy circles as it lets people know you are continuing around if they are exiting the circle or trying to enter the circle. This is probably the best safety tip I have for handling circles. In the busy circles people will cut in front of you to exit, just expect it and accept it.
One trick I learned from a British couple was that circles are a good way to lose the tail of cars you will accumulate being one of the slower vehicles on the road. When you enter the circle, by pass your exit the first time and go all the way around the circle. It is a courteous way to allow the cars behind you to get in front of you without having to pass you on the narrow roads, and delays you only a few seconds.
Traffic lights in Europe are quite different than the US. They are much more austere. They are usually placed on the corner of the intersection they control, and there is only the one light. The large light that you key on as you approach the intersection is angled down the road it controls, but if you are one of the first cars at the intersection you will not be able to see that light. A smaller version of the light is located about half way down the pole and is angled so the first couple of cars can see it. It is important that you not overshoot that small light as you will have no way of knowing when the light changes until someone blows their horn at you.
In the countries with Toll roads they all have done a very good job of providing enough booths so that traffic is very rarely delayed. So as you approach the booths you go from 2 or 3 lanes of traffic to 10 or 12 lanes of traffic with all of the slaloming associated with people trying to get to the correct lane and shortest line. We find it is not too bad, we identify the correct lane for us, and head in there watching for people angling across our path.
On entering the tollway you will be directed into a booth that dispenses a ticket recording where you entered.
The trick is identifying the correct lane. All European countries have an electronic system available that seems to be universally called Telepass, but each country administers it separately. Telepass owners pass thru the booths without stopping and the toll is added to their accounts. You have to avoid these booths as the fine is quite substantial if you inadvertently pass thru one of them.
We pay our tolls with credit cards and the lanes that accept credit cards are marked with a sign that looks like the back of a credit card so they are easy to identify. There are usually one or two booths that take cash if you do not want to pay with a credit card. We have heard stories of toll booths refusing to accept non-European credit cards. In our two years of driving we have not run into that problem.
The payment system is pretty straight forward. Insert the ticket you received on entering the tollway. Insert your credit card, and if you want a receipt push the button for the receipt. The gate should then go up and you are on your way with a recorded Arrivederci in Italy, and silence in France and Spain.
The pay stations usually are set at two heights, one for cars, and the other for commercial trucks. The one inconvenience is that François our RV is right in between the heights and I usually have to put him in neutral and remove my seat belt prior to engaging with the station. It can be a little bit of a scramble to get the belt back on once the gate goes up.
Limited Traffic Zones
Many cities in Europe have limited traffic zones. They are usually in large urban areas. Each country administers them differently where they exist. The guide books usually have information about what cities have them and what they are. This has not impacted us very much because in large cities we prefer to stay on the edge of the city and use public transit, so we are usually outside the Zones.
The one exception to being able to avoid Limited Traffic Zones for us was Italy. Fairly small towns had them. We ran into one in the town of Tropea which threw us for a loop until we figured out it was not in effect at that moment. The key thing is not to blunder into one as the fines are substantial if you are caught. When one is imminent there is usually enough warning to turn short of the Zone and regroup. Campgrounds and Aires will not be located inside these for obvious reasons.
Most RV’s in Europe are equipped with manual transmissions, and while newer RV’s are touting automatic transmissions the market is still overwhelmingly manual. Finding a used RV with an automatic transmission is going to be difficult.
Since manual transmissions make up less than 3% of car sales in the US most of us are either rusty or unfamiliar with sticks. I found that I adapt pretty quickly to shifting when I am there, the years of shifting gears from my youth come back to me. I will confess to finding no joy in shifting gears and miss Scouts automatic transmission. If I was buying new I would definitely spend the extra cost to buy an automatic.
The signs are different than the ones we tend to use. There is overlap such as stop signs, but most are different. Having said that they are normally pretty intuitive. Because of the many different languages in Europe they use symbols only, and very rarely use words. The signs are standardized across Europe.
All guide books have a list of road signs in the back if you come across one you cannot figure out. There are some fairly obscure signs that may require Google to sort out, but they are generally not too important, but informational.
The only time we have gotten into trouble with signs is when they contained local language. In France we would often see speed limit signs with the word Arret under it. I took this to mean ahead, like the signs we have in the US warning you of a lower speed limit ahead. After about 3 weeks I googled the word, and it really means now, the opposite of what I thought. Our experience are signs are not a big issue, and you will adapt your eye to pick up the critical ones.
Our best advice before you leave is (re)learn to use a manual transmission, and spend a few minutes looking at the traffic signs on line so you can get a feel for what you are getting into. The first day I would keep the trip drive short so you can get a feel for the roads and the RV. If you are in France you will almost certainly have your first experience with a circle/round about, just remember to use your signals as we are not used to that as Americans. And finally enjoy, it is part of the fun.
Below is a summary of our experience with our Knaus 550. We now have 4 trips in one of these vehicles, one with a rental version, and three with the 550 we purchased. As we have spent more time in François we have added some accessories to address upgrades we wanted.
We have now owned François for 18 months and made three major trips covering about 16000 km’s. We have had no mechanical issues with the Fiat portion of the vehicle. During this time we have had no system failures with any of the RV components. There is a small mystery water leak when we drive in very heavy rain that does not occur any other time. Beside that we have had no issues with the vehicle. The vehicle as purchased was very basic as is common in rental RV’s. Over time we have added some accessories to give us some luxury we wanted, or to improve the livability of the RV.
The Knaus 550 is extremely compact at 19.6 feet long, 10 feet high, and 7.2 feet wide (In comparison Scout our Malayan is 22.5 feet long, 10.5 feet high and 7.5 feet wide). In fact it is shorter than most European RV’s. Despite the compact size the living area in the Knaus is from our perspective more comfortable for long trips than the Malayan. Part of that is because the Fiat Ducato (sold as the Ram Promaster in the US) does not have the hood of our Silverado, so more of the length is devoted to the house than to the engine, but also due to some smart decisions by the German designers. We particularly enjoyed having the bed at floor level, and still having a substantial sitting area. All of the space to the rear of the vehicle is used so the bathroom is larger than in Scout, and we have a floor to ceiling storage closet. In fact the interior storage is enormous compared to the Malayan. In additon to the closet and abundant cabinet space they have a clever way of accessing the storage under the bed. The slat bed folds up in half giving you access to about 8 x 6 feet of storage. We were able to put our suitcases under there with the two lawn chairs, a folding table, and the hose and electricity cords. This storage area is also accessible from the outside, though that door could use to be a little wider. The fit and finish and quality of the latches hinges and other hardware is superior to Scout. Much superior.
The base vehicle is a Fiat Ducato which is sold in the US as the Ram Promaster. The Fiat Ducato model we have has a 6 speed manual transmission attached to 2.2 liter diesel engine. We did some mountain driving in it and it handled the hills well. I imagine it would be a little more of a struggle with an automatic, having said that I have relearned how much I like automatic transmissions. We have had no issues so far with our Fiat.
One interesting thing that took us a little while to wrap our head around is that most European RV’s do not come with a spare tire. In Europe roadside assistance is included with all insurance so they do not require a spare, if you have a flat you are supposed to call for assistance and they will come out and repair the flat or tow you to the nearest place that can. You are required to have a flat repair kit on board, but our understanding is that they are rarely used by the repair services.
The utility systems are simple compared to Scout due to the differences in camping styles in Europe. There was no inverter initially, and when dry camping you have only one USB outlet available. When we are plugged in there are plenty of electric outlets.
When dry camping the electric outlets do not work. We found that with proper management we could keep everything we needed charged from the one USB outlet, but after the first trip we did add an inverter so that we would have some more electric outlets available when dry camping. Eurocamping cars added the inverter and two additional plugs connected to the inverter. When dry camping the inverter powers these two plugs, and we have access to the USB port that works with the original house battery. After the first trip we also added an additional house battery, and a solar panel. While we have not had any issues with running down our one house battery we decided to give ourselves a little leeway.
Fresh Water, Gray Water, and Black Water.
The RV holds about 30 gallons (120 liters) of fresh water accessible by filling a tank on the outside. There is no provision for hooking up water and having it on demand. In European campgrounds there are central water points where you fill the tank on arrival or departure. If you stay longer and do not want to move, we noticed most people carry 5 gallon water buckets and they manually refill their water every couple of days. The access points for water are quite large to allow for this. On our second trip we purchased a water bucket with a spout for about €5, one of our best purchases. The systems for disposing of gray and black water are quite different in Europe, and I think it would be very difficult for a RV with an American Black water system to work here. We also have a cassette on Scout our American RV and I personally think it is less gross than the black hoses most people use. The gray water in Europe is disposed of by pulling over a grate and opening a valve, and letting the water run directly into the drain. Sometimes these drains are located in very awkward places. We almost had a disaster trying to back into one in Spain. I noticed that a lot of people keep a separate water bucket for disposing of their gray water when they are parked up for a while. I have begun carrying the gray water daily to the disposal as we do not generate that much gray water per day and it is good exercise for me.
Ton hates the smell generated by the cassette and we initially managed the smell using the blue tabs most RVer’s are familiar with. As we were traveling we began to hear about a system to manage odors called a SOG unit. It is a German designed accessory that adds a fan to the cassette that holds the black water. When you open the slot in the toilet to let the bad stuff go into the cassette the fan kicks on and pulls the odor out of the vehicle. I was skeptical but everyone we met who had one raved about them. After our spring 2019 trip to Germany I noticed that Eurocamping car had added them to their accessory list so we decided to purchase one. We have now used it on our last trip, and it does a pretty good job of managing the odor without having to use the chemical blue tabs. Ton still occasionally gets a whiff of smell so it is not a complete success, but it does seem to be an improvement.
The heater and hot water run on propane, François had standard cooking containers for propane when we purchased it. An issue that we did not experience is that there is no standardization of propane containers or fittings in the EU, so when you change countries you have to change fittings, and bottles, it is a pain but they cope with it. The heater/ hot water system is significantly quieter than the propane heater we had in our Winnebago, and also quieter than the Espar diesel heater in Scout. The heat is floor heating and works very well. We had a couple of nights in the 30’s on the trip, and were able to quickly warm the cabin when we woke up. The heater also heats the storage compartment. The refrigerator also uses propane when not hooked up to shore power.
Gaslow Propane System
We heard of a system developed in England that allowed you to avoid the lack of standardization of propane containers and regulators in Europe called a Gaslow system. This is a British system that allows you to fill reusable containers that come in the system. In Europe a significant amount of the cars and trucks on the road run on LPG. As a result LP gas pumps are available at a large number of gas stations. This system utilizes a filler system that is compatible with these gas pumps. We did some reading on this system and it looked like a good alternative. It is most commonly used by British RV’s and continental RV dealers do not seem to retrofit it. We talked to Phill and he said he would install it so we decided to have him install the Gaslow when we purchased François. Unlike the US the customer fills LP gas at the pump in Europe. (Except for Italy where the attendant must do it.) Once I learned the drill we have not had any real trouble with one exception. While the internals of the system work anywhere in Europe, the connector between the pump and the vehicle is not standardized across Europe. France, Spain, and Italy use one system, Germany uses another, and apparently Britain uses a third connector. Our system came with all three connectors. For the first two trips I had gotten used to the French connector and had no problem using it. The first time we got to Germany I realized that the German adaptor was missing. I had lost it in Spain. Eventually we were able to find a replacement at a gas station, but it was a day of panic as we would have had to have a new replacement mailed to us from England. So if you go with a Gaslow system make sure you have a good system to keep track of your adaptors. The other advantage of the Gaslow is LPG at the pump is almost half as cheap as the containers. I think the Gaslow has been a good investment. If we are not heating François we get 3 to 4 weeks between fill ups. When we run the heater we get about 5 to 6 days between fill ups.
There is no AC unit, but good windows of the same make as Scout and two roof vents without fans. We have experienced temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s, I bought a little USB fan one day in a Lidl that Ton finds amusing for how little air it moves. During the next hot spell we will search for a better fan. François did not have a screen door when we purchased it. After enduring a heat wave on our trip to Germany we asked for a screen door to be retrofitted. It was a great investment.
We added a small safe to store valuables in. When we depart François for the day we store some of our high value stuff as well as our passports in the safe.
The vehicle we had rented on our first trip to Europe was a Knaus 550. We liked the layout and size of the RV, and determined we would like to purchase one. When we returned the rental to France Motor Home Hire we initiated a discussion with the owners Phill and Hannah Spurge about purchasing a like vehicle. At the time they operated the rental company, and would sell RV’s out of their rental inventory. Phill and Hannah sold the rental side of the business to Apollo in 2018 but still receive vehicles from the Apollo rental fleet to sell used. In October 2020 they sold the Eurocamping car dealership to Sandrine and Bruno Schlernitzauer. They are also authorized dealers for Knaus, and Blue Sky if you are interested in a new RV.
They have an unique way of allowing the sale to non-EU residents that I will describe below under the heading Societe Civile, and we spent some time with them to better understand the details of setting up the Societe, and the process. As part of the purchase process they also assist with the procurement of comprehensive insurance for the RV, and register the vehicle with the appropriate French agencies.
The sales process is much like you would expect to go thru for a RV in the US. We negotiated with Phill on the price by email, and once the final price was agreed to we arranged for payment. It was fairly straightforward with no real drama.
It is difficult for a non-resident of the EU to purchase a vehicle there. The folks at eurocampingcar.com have found a way that allows legal ownership thru establishing a “Societe Civile” in France. A “Societe Civile” is similar to a LLC in the US. While Ton and I cannot legally own a vehicle in France as individuals, we can form a Societe Civile in our names and the Societe can own, insure and register vehicles legally. It is an extra step, but it allows for the vehicle to be in our names, albeit with an extra cost.
Phill and Hannah set us up with a Notary that would take care of the paperwork needed to establish the Societe. It may be possible to file paperwork without using a Notary, but unless you are absolutely fluent in French, and familiar with the legal requirements I would not attempt to do it. The cost of hiring the firm is relatively minor considering the investment you are making. We did have a few issues dealing with the firm that Phill and Hannah use, and at one point I did ask Phill to step in and help us with communication.
The paperwork was supposed to take about 3 to 4 weeks to process, in our case it took longer as the famous bureaucracy in France kicked in. Everything went well initially as the only identification required by law is a copy of our passports. The first snag that we ran into is that in France the town of your birth is very important and is apparently part of the passport. Ton’s US passport only shows Thailand as her place of birth and does not list her hometown so our initial request to file was denied. Luckily Ton maintains duel citizenship and her Thai passport did list her town of birth, problem solved. Not so fast, her Thai passport ( and US actually) does not list her maiden name, apparently European ones do, so they requested a copy of her birth certificate to verify her maiden name. For various reasons this was going to take months to get, and have translated. We offered up a copy of our marriage certificate in Thai as it listed Ton’s maiden name, and we already had an English translation. To make a long story shorter after a couple of tries this was accepted, problem solved! Not so fast, this time the administrator noticed that Ron’s passport only had his state of birth, and not his town of birth so he requested a copy of Ron’s birth certificate. This we could and did obtain, and though there was some doubt about whether the administrator was going to accept the birth certificate due to the poor penmanship of the person who filled it out over 60 years ago, he did eventually decide he could confirm that Ron was indeed born at Camp LeJeune, Carolina du Nord, Etats Unis America. For Americans plan on submitting a copy of your birth certificate as well as your passport.
The Societe Civile requires that the company have an address in France. In our case we are using Eurocampingcars address in Veron. Phill and Hannah monitor the mail that comes in addressed to Corbin Voyage (the name of our Societe Civile), and contact us if anything comes in that requires our attention. They have begun charging administrative fees for some of the contacts. The list of fees is available if you end up using them for your Societe.
At the Eurocampingcars site they have a more detailed summary of the process. If you are interested in going this way I recommend that you contact them directly.
Registration and Insurance
One of the issues that helped us decide to purchase an European RV was insurance. When we looked into insuring Scout in Europe we found that liability insurance would be approximately $1200 per year. It is very difficult to find anyone to write a comprehensive insurance plan. We finally found one company that said they may provide comprehensive insurance for approximately 70% of the value of Scout for $4500 per year on top of the liability. So if we shipped Scout to Europe we were looking at $5700 per year for comprehensive insurance. This year our comprehensive insurance for François thru AXA Insurance is €800, approximately what we pay for comprehensive insurance on Scout our American RV.
The initial paperwork to insure François with AXA was completed by Eurocampingcars, and all we did was make the payment by credit card. The first year we successfully renewed the policy directly with the agency. It took a couple of emails to get things going, but once we did succeed in getting their attention the process was done smoothly. For 2020 the renewal was very easy, consisting of a single email to the agent who then provided us a security code to go on to the AXA site to pay the fee by credit card.
The registration of the vehicle was also completed by Eurocampingcars and was completed within a couple of days. The registration fees are a one time event in France, so there is no periodic renewal of license plates like we are used to in the US.
We have chosen to store François at Eurocampingcars in Veron. The cost per day is a little less than I paid when I stored my RV in the US. We make sure that our arrival and departure days are communicated as soon as we finalize our trips. Eurocampingcars is a small operation, so there are windows when they are traveling so they appreciate the advance notice.
There is no requirement to store with them, and other clients store at other sites and other countries. In the future we may consider other storage to assist with logistics of trips.
If your motorhome is more than 4 years old it requires an annual inspection called a “Control Technique”. These seem to be standard in all western European countries. They check if all of the lights are in working order, the tires have enough tread and some other things. Also, in France there is a requirement that the tires on motorhomes be no older than 5 years. We hope ours will be well used after 5 years and need replacing anyway. I will update this section once we have some experience going thru the process as François just hit his fourth birthday.