Motorhomes and caravans come in all shapes, sizes, and designs. It is up to you to decide what you really need and/or like on your adventures. That decision is not easy to make. Also, after due consideration, be prepared that your present liking and need become obsolete with time. Yes, you will change your opinion, and that change can cost you a lot of time and money.
If you want to make that change less costly, you have to carefully consider every decision you make on the path to your ideal camping equipment. Well, to be truthful, there is no such thing as ONE ideal camping equipment. But you can not have it all, right? So, you’ll have to compromise and choose whatever best suits you in most conditions you plan to find yourself.
The first choice of many to make is always – a vehicle. Do you want a dedicated RV (recreational vehicle), a so-called motorhome, or you’ll use your car to tow a trailer, a caravan?
It can be a matter of personal taste (do your heart boom louder when you see a nice trailer or is it a compact motorhome that your eyes follow when passing by?). Still, it is also a matter of practicality and, of course, expenses.
Let’s say that you want to own your camping vehicle, so at the moment, we’ll leave renting out of consideration. Also, we’ll leave out all those small decisions like how big the vehicle will be, or what kind of beds, cooking equipment or storage space you want in them.
To make that decision right, you have to consider a few important factors like cost of purchase, cost of maintenance, driving requirements, driving experience, space and payload, mobility on site, and comfort. There may be other factors, but I believe you’ll find those quite important.
First, look at our scoring table (based on our experience and knowledge so far). For each factor, we gave 1 to 10 points to motorhome and caravan, respectively. Those points are meant to express the ratio between motorhomes and caravans (for example, 2.5 for a motorhome and 10 for a caravan under the “cost of purchase” means that you’ll pay four times more for a motorhome than for a caravan of the same class, age and functionality).
Let’s take a look at the details.
Cost of the purchase
This one is straightforward: you’ll pay four times more for a motorhome than for a caravan of the same age, class, and functionality.
Cost of maintenance
And this one is equally straightforward: the maintenance of a caravan is easy and cheap compared to the motorhome. A motorhome is a car, and you have to take care of regular services, registration, insurance, tires etc. Yearly registration of a caravan is much cheaper and maintenance is basically about tire condition and pressure plus occasional brake checkings.
Of course, you have to take care of electrical, water and gas installations as well as for fridge, kitchen equipment, etc. But, this is the same for a caravan and motorhome.
This one is clearly in the direction of a motorhome. Most motorhomes require only B driving license since their mass is not more than 3500 kg. So, the only thing a motorhome driver has to do is – adjust to the size of a vehicle.
But, besides that, the authorities will not ask you for anything else – just your B driver’s license.
Most caravans are heavier than 750 kilograms. That means you’ll need a B+E driver’s license. And that means you’ll have to go to driver’s school and pass additional tests. It will cost you some time and money. After that, you’ll be licensed to drive a vehicle up to 3500 kg and tow the trailer (caravan) up to 3500 kg. Bear in mind that you’ll have to respect the capabilities of your towing vehicle and some others rules you’ll learn during your additional education.
This one is also clearly in the direction of a motorhome. A motorhome is a large vehicle, but nevertheless, it is compact. You still have only four wheels, and your back wheels are following the front ones precisely. When you go backward, you have to do exactly the same movements as you do in a small car.
However, remember that motorhomes are mostly longer than 6 meters and can be up to 2,3 meters wide (or even 2,5). So, don’t think for a second that you’ll drive that kind of a vehicle like your car. You’ll have to learn a lot of things. Carefully.
Driving a caravan is a whole different story, especially if it is a long one. You’ll have to adjust the speed, go very carefully in turns, and take care about the back of a caravan when turning or passing by other vehicles. And all that before you even get to the parking place. There, you’ll probably have to make some maneuvers with a caravan, including driving it backward.
In a car, I can drive 7-8 hours before feeling dangerously tired. With a caravan, that feeling is present after 3-5 hours. So, count on frequent stops.
Well, there is more: storm, wind, rain… you don’t want to experience that while driving a caravan!
Of course, there are caravans and caravans. You can have smaller mini or micro caravans up to 4 meters. Compared with longer and havier caravans (longer than 7 ms and heavier than 1750 kg), they are easy to tow.
Anyway, driving requirements and experience are two strong points for a motorhome. Almost everything else is in favor of a caravan.
Space and payload
If you plan to go camping or traveling carrying just yourself (and one or two passengers), with some food and necessary private things, any motorhome or caravan will be all right. But, if you have some sports equipment like windsurfing boards, kayaks, bicycles, or something else, you have to consider space and payload.
The formula is simple: if you need more space, you’ll need a larger motorhome or caravan. However, a larger vehicle means a heavier vehicle, which will reduce your payload.
Motorhomes ready for traveling weigh almost always more than 3000 kg. With passengers, some food, and clothes, your payload (what remains to a maximum of 3500 kg) may be reduced to 100 kilos or less. If you need more, you have two options: increase maximum vehicle mass (for that, you’ll need another driver’s license – C1) or tow with your motorhome a smaller trailer with your equipment. In both cases, you’ll lose the advantage of a motorhome over a caravan.
In the case of a caravan, you have space (and payload) in your car, plus a lot of space and an additional payload of a caravan. That means you can take with you almost anything you want.
That is another strong point for a caravan.
Mobility on site
While talking to people without experience in modern camping, I noticed one strong biased opinion about the mobility of motorhomes. People seem to think that with a motorhome, they will be freer to wander around. It is quite the opposite!
Of course, you can have a small motorhome and go everywhere where the car can go. However, most motorhomes are bigger, and you can NOT go everywhere. There are narrow streets and off-road places, sometimes forbidden for motorhomes of any kind. Also, when you look at what is happening in the camps, you’ll see that people come with a motorhome, park it on the parcel, and often don’t go anywhere with it. They use bicycles or scooters to go to the store or explore the area.
For really curious adventurers, this is not enough. What if you need to drive 40-50 km uphill to reach the starting point for a beautiful hike? What if you wish to go to another beach reachable only by narrow non-paved road?
A caravan gives you a lot of additional mobility. You’ll park it at the base camp, and then you are free to explore and go everywhere the car can go. With that in mind, the ideal combination is a smaller caravan towed by an off-road car, or at least a car with a four-wheel drive.
So, mobility and the ability to actively explore your chosen destination are clearly on the side of a caravan.
Lastly, something not so obvious and, I admit, not applicable to all people. If you are taller than 190, you’ll have to be very careful about motorhomes. In general, the headroom in a motorhome van is less than that. Semi-integrated and integrated motorhomes have more headroom, but again, there are bed sizes (transverse beds in vans are too short). If you are tall, you are probably bigger than the average person, so forget those small toilets and showers in most motorhomes.
Caravans can have the same problem, but in general, the same sized caravan compared to a motorhome will have more chance to accommodate taller and bigger people.
Thus: a little bit more points to caravans for comfort.