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So what do you need to consider when buying a Motorhome for the first time? If you have not motor homed much or at all, don’t worry. This guide will walk you through all the things you need to consider.

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Buying a Motorhome for the First Time – What are the Trade Offs?

Van life is full of trade offs even if you have a million dollars you’ll still have trade offs.  They are otherwise known as opportunity costs. 

You trade off having one thing for the ability to include another.  It is easy to think that the more people and or pets in your group the less options you have. 

Think of the best possible motorhome money could buy. Even the person with a motorhome the size of an interstate coach with all of the trimmings has to deal with where to park it when wanting to travel into the old towns of the Cinque Terre on the Italian coast.

It would be a nice problem to have but you can see whatever your choice you will have trade offs.

What is a Stealth Camper?

Buying your first motorhome
Stealth Campers blend in as they look like a Normal Mini Van.   Photo Credit:Sochi

Groups of 1 or 2 have lots of options. Stealth campers that don’t look like campers can park in the middle of a city are a brilliant option if you want to explore cities, especially if your into nightlife. Have a night out in Berlin at one of the many night spots, walk back to your camper in a quiet side street and wake up late in the morning for a fried breakfast.

My wife and I dream of this and will do it one day. But we have 3 kids and the offerings of a stealth camper throw up obvious trade offs that I don’t need to mention.

What is a Motorhome?

Buying a motorhome in Europe
This is our Motorhome Parked up in Bulgaria. At 7.3 metres, 5 seats, 7 berth it is classified as a “family camper”.

A motorhome is a larger vehicle sometimes referred to as an RV (recreational vehicle). These are the  obvious choices for families as they have plenty of space.

These come with the issue of size and the obvious fact they are a motorhome. Compared to a stealth camper it is rare that you’ll drive them into the Berlin city centre, free park, head out for a big night out and then stumble back for a nice sleep! Some cities have camping grounds and motorhome parking near the centre but not too often.

But, before you worry about Make and Model have a read below.

Be as honest as you can spend time discussing the questions.  You’ll thank yourself later as it will make the ultimate decision at the time of purchase a lot easier, you will save Money in the purchase process as you’ll know what to negotiate on and what your must haves are.

Buying a Motorhome for the first time – What are your travel goals? 

This is where I challenge you! Be honest here! What do you want to do when travelling in your motorhome? What are your goals and why are you travelling? How do you want to do it? What is the most important for you?

When you honestly answer these questions and have a good understanding of your objectives you’ll find it much easier to decide on the type of Motorhome you buy!

 Things to consider:

  • Campgrounds v Free camping
  • Electric hook up all the time or off grid all the time 
  • Winter Camping v Fair Weather camping
  • Full comfort v Full practicality

How many seatbelts and beds do you need?

When buying  your first motorhome this is a Very Important question. We have 5 family members and must have 5 seat belts. Believe it or not this ended up being a big factor in which van we ended up buying, so its our first question as your van must have the right number of belts.

The question of Beds is a little different. We have 5 people to provide beds for BUT… one of them is only little in stature (not so little in personality though). Did we really need 5 beds or can we have 4 and an alternative option for a bed? What do you need? When you get to looking at layouts of your van (After you’ve answered the questions below) be sure to pressure test the practicalities of the bed layouts. The brochures make the best of the options when in reality the options may not be the best for you. Don’t worry about this now but here is an example where “vanlife” has its trade offs.

What Payload do you need in a van?

Payload - Buying a motorhome for the first time
Payload is the total weight of your motorhome fully loaded and ready for travel. Including all travellers.

When I was first asked this question I dismissed it as not important. What is Payload you ask!

It is the amount of stuff you can put into the van before it is legally to heavy to drive! So what do you need to consider with Payload before you start!.

How is Payload Calculated?

The weight of the vehicle in running order is calculated the following way:

Weight of the vehicle (No surprises) 75kgs for the driver (I don’t know about you but I’m bigger than this), 90% full tanks (Diesel and Water).

Here are my vans weights (Approximates as an example) Van – 2750kgs + 100l of water = 2850kg + 100l of diesel 2935kg + a 75kg driver = Mass In Running order in this example 3010kgs.

Now this is where you need to think long and hard especially if you have a large family like mine.

The majority of large motorhomes on the road have a maximum running weight of 3500kgs. This leaves 490kgs for anything you want to take, including the children!

In our family we have 2 adults and 3 children this alone adds an additional 200kgs to the weight leaving 290kgs for everything else! There goes my dream of putting a kayak on the roof and having mountain bikes for each family member! Do I forgo clothes for my hobbies or leave the kids with Grandma for 12 months so I can take my bike???

 Be sure to think this through and as you can see it is a fundamental to the first 3 questions in this guide!

All is not lost: In our case we chose a motorhome with a 4 tonne (maximum) running weight. This meant we could take the kids!

 Also remember if you want to bring items like bikes or your beloved Kayak,  some motorhomes are better suited than others (Some have large Garages – but have an obvious trade off of size).

What size vehicle does your domestic licence allow you to drive?

Buying a Motorhome Abroad - will I need an international license
Do you have the right license to drive a large Payload Motorhome? This is an essential consideration for buying a motorhome abroad. Pic Credit: Pakolek-cv

My domestic licence covers me for a 4 tonne vehicle, but if yours does not consider getting a licence that allows you to have the payload you need to meet your goals. Its well worth it and provides a great amount of flexibility for you, ensuring you are driving legally when you have fully packed your van. 

Having the correct license is equally important for your insurance too.

Buying a Motorhome Abroad – International Drivers License

If your driving in foreign countries, remember also you’ll need an international drivers licence. You can get an international drivers licence from your local automobile association or you can use an internet based service like IDL services.

Using a service online like IDL services was super easy and superfast. They allow you to select the type of vehicle you are allowed to drive and also provide the added bonus of a 2 year licence. Our Australian based version was only 1 year and needed to be renewed locally (Meaning for us heading back to Australia).

The ILD license has additional language translations and a handy card version of the licence added. We chose to use this service and had our international drivers licences within 6 days.

What MUST you have in your Motorhome?

I don’t mean a stove or fridge as the vast majority of campers have these. What I mean is what are the non-negotiables.

Here is an example. We feel we must have an alcove bed and a way of gaining privacy in the van (I know what your thinking already) for us these were must haves. Why? The Alcove allows greater living space on the van floor and allows us to work while the kids sleep up top! The privacy although valuable for what you are all thinking also serves the purpose that when travelling as a family you are bound to have an argument or two or at least need to avoid an argument.

Our van has a partition door allowing the back of the van to be segregated from the front. We love this feature as we can set the kids up (ours are 11, 9 and 4) in the back with a DVD and enjoy a drink and chat in the front or sit down and do some writing in relative peace.

It also lets us home school our kids easily (sometimes the 4 year old doesn’t get the other kids need to think in a quiet space)

Budget – Buying New or Second Hand Motorhome?

Whats your budget for buying your first Motorhome
Buying a motorhome for the first time? Whats your budget “New” or “Secondhand”?

If your buying your first motorhome you should know, second hand vans are always going to be a cheaper option.  You don’t pay for the depreciation the previous owner does. Buying a near new second hand van for a good price is an excellent option.

Other considerations with a second hand vehicle

  • In Europe there are emission zones. Older vehicles may not meet the emission targets required to travel into or near the major cities.
  • You need to have a roadworthy check
  • Your insurance costs may be higher
  • Second hand vans have higher maintenance costs.

Our advice is get the newest van you can within your budget. If that is a brand new motorhome, then that is fantastic, but that said, lots of forums and campsites where people have older vans and are having a great time too, without too many major issues.

We brought our van new as we live in our motorhome full time and wanted the benefits of the warranty period and a certain layout that wasn’t available second hand at the time.  Read more about why we live in our van full time.

We decked out our van for full travel and these are the items that are essential for motorhome living.

Motorhome Accessories for 2018

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Your Guide on What to Consider when buying a Motorhome for the First Time. Trade Offs, Stealth Camper vs Motorhome, Seat belts, Beds and Layout, Payload, Licensing, Must haves (those not negotiable items) & Budget the New vs Second Hand vehicle considerations.
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Family Travel Blogger | Vlogger | Digital Nomad. Exploring the World, offering Advice & Tips on travel with kids, Travel Budget and Top Destinations

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