Renting a Camper Van While Traveling Abroad7 min read
Getting out into nature and moving at a slower pace is restful and restorative for the body and the mind. But traveling in nature, tent camping and road tripping via car often come with lots of hassles. And hotels and rental accommodations can get expensive. Camper vans give you the best of both worlds—they come complete with beds, cooking stations and often toilets and showers, so you can enjoy nature more conveniently than camping and at a lower cost than staying in hotels.
Renting a camper van is an especially great way for adventurous and outdoorsy travelers to see a new country. As travelers looked for ways to get out and explore while staying socially distant during the pandemic, a number of new companies have popped up that make camper van rentals all the more accessible for international travelers.
So if you are considering renting a camper van abroad, or if you’re looking for a way to get up close and personal with a different side of your destination, read on for a few tips and tricks to make sure your trip runs smoothly.
How to rent a camper van abroad
The idea of renting a camper van, converted van, RV, motorhome or camping trailer to serve as both a means of transportation and overnight accommodation is not new. It has long been the case that interested travelers could check with car rental agencies about booking these kinds of vehicles. What is new is the ease of access that travelers can now enjoy in the post-pandemic era of travel.
Dozens of new services, websites and apps have been launched in recent years to make the camper van road trip easier, and many of these apps benefit international travelers who may be unfamiliar with the infrastructure, geography and selection of vehicles.
When it comes to renting a liveable vehicle, websites like Indie Campers, Outdoorsy, Roadsurfer, Wicked Campers and Yescapa are here to help. Sites like Yescapa and Outdoorsy serve as marketplaces offering peer-to-peer rentals where you can rent from other individuals—just like the Airbnb model—while sites like Wicked Campers and Roadsurfers own their fleet of vehicles, so you rent directly from the company. Indie Campers offers a bit of both.
Each site lets you enter your travel dates and starting destination to browse the different models of vehicles available. Options include everything from converted minivans where the back seats have been replaced by a bed and kitchenette to decked-out RVs with private bedrooms, full kitchens and plenty of space for seating.
Depending on which site you use, you’ll be able to browse amenities like additional camp chairs, cooking essentials and GPS rental. That means you can tailor your trip can be as luxurious or as basic as you’d like.
Considerations when renting a camper van abroad
When choosing which vehicle to rent, you’ll want to keep in mind the same basic information you’d consider when searching for a hotel; things like the number of travelers and how many beds you will need. Then there are the specifics of renting a camper van; things like what size vehicle you are comfortable driving.
Depending on the amenities included in your rental, you’ll also need to consider where and how you’ll have your basic needs met. If you’ve opted for an all-inclusive RV experience, you’ll know exactly where you’ll be using the bathroom and taking a shower. You should consider whether you will have access to a water and sewer hookup wherever you camp—if you don’t, you may not be able to use the amenities of your camper to their full capacity.
If you’re choosing a more basic model of vehicle, these amenities may not be available, meaning you’ll want to have a plan for stopping regular stops at grocery stores and coffee shops (or find a nice private tree!) when in need of a bathroom and frequent visits to local community gyms or amenities-rich campgrounds when in need of a shower.
Luckily for travelers, booking a camper van online isn’t the only thing that’s gotten easier as this sector of travel has gained popularity. Sites like Warmshowers.org make it easy to find places to shower, while sites like CamperGuru and Hipcamp make it easy to find sites to camp for the night. Airbnb has also seen an increase in campsite listings on its accommodation booking platform while Google Maps makes searching for public restrooms, local gyms and grocery stores an easy task for international travelers.
Best countries to rent a camper van abroad
A number of countries are known to be popular destinations amongst van dwellers and those looking to travel by camper van because of their right-to-roam laws, which mean campers can park overnight for free almost anywhere that isn’t private land.
Most Eastern and Northern Europe nations—including countries like Sweden, Finland and Norway—are friendly to both camper vans and tent campers. Most Western Europe nations—including countries like France, Germany, England and Scotland—are tolerant of overnight parking. However, overnight parking in non-designated camping areas in destinations like southern Portugal, coastal Spain, Iceland, Croatia and Switzerland comes with a risk of fines. This map is a helpful resource for those looking to travel by camper van in Europe.
Outside of Europe, Australia and New Zealand are popular destinations for traveling by camper van because of their natural beauty and freedom camping laws, as are countries like Argentina in South America. Travelers can search their destination as well as terms like free camping, freedom camping, wild camping and bush camping to find more specifics. A general rule of thumb is to stay out of cities and off of private land, which you’ll likely be doing anyway when traveling by camper van.
Other things to know when renting a camper van
Where to camp isn’t the only logistical rule to keep in mind when renting a camper van abroad. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with local traffic rules like speed limits and traffic signs, especially if you’re traveling to a destination where you don’t speak the local language.
You’ll also want to know a bit about driving permits. Larger vehicles may require a special class of driving permit so be sure to check with either the rental agency or local traffic agencies before your trip.
Be sure to pick up an International Driving Permit (IDP) from AAA before you leave. This permit is an official translation of your American driver’s license. The only organization authorized by the U.S. State Department to issue International Drivers Permits is AAA. Be sure to get your IDP before you go abroad. Other countries cannot issue IDPs to Americans, and while you are able to mail your information to AAA if you are applying from abroad, the process can take up to six weeks.
You’ll also want to be familiar with your insurance. Rental insurance is often included in bookings made on credit cards but may be included as an option when renting your vehicle so know which way you’re insured before you head out. And be sure to have travel health insurance coverage in case of an accident while abroad.
The last thing you’ll want to have a plan for is what happens in case of an emergency. Booking a camper van through a rental agency that owns their own fleet may include roadside assistance for issues like popped tires or unexpected breakdowns, while bookings made via a peer-to-peer service likely do not. And if you find yourself in a country where you don’t speak the language, you’ll want to have a game plan for what to do in case you need to call for assistance. It can be helpful to add a few phrases related to car troubles into your pre-travel language prep. Emergencies are unlikely but they can happen and you don’t want to be caught unprepared.