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The Definitive Guide to Motorhome Life
Are you planning to live in a motorhome for a gap year or are you selling up to live the dream full-time? It’s a huge, exciting step to take but before you jump in feet first, find out what living in a motorhome permanently is really like and get all our top motorhome life tips.
We are Phil & Izzy, full-time motorhomers for the past five and a half years. We sold our house and most of our possessions to live a different sort of life. We’ve travelled across Europe and beyond covering 60,000 miles, owned two different motorhomes and now an overland truck, and have learned a bit along the way about how to survive and love life on the road!
In our ultimate guide to living in a motorhome, we’ll cover planning the move, what it’s actually like to live in a motorhome and all the practical stuff you need to know to stay safe, healthy and happy, plus lots of tips for motorhome life longevity and success in your tiny house on wheels.
Planning to Live in a Motorhome
Successful full time motorhome living is mostly about preparation and that dirty word – compromise! If you are thinking about giving it all up for a life of motorhome travel, ask yourself these seven questions;
1. Does the motorhome or campervan offer what you need?
If you already own a motor home or camper van is it realistically big enough in which to live full time? 24/7 for 365 days of the year? How would you manage if one of you got ill and your living area was also your bed? What about being stuck inside when it gets dark at 4pm or it’s raining for days on end? Can you live in a motorhome in the winter when it’s cold and miserable?
These are such simple things to manage when you live in a house, but living in a motorhome full time is different. You’re in a small space where you feel the changes in the seasons and elements way more, whether you’re travelling in a motorhome in the United Kingdom, Europe or some far-flung place like New Zealand!
Is your home on wheels fit for purpose? If you’re planning on chasing the sun in Europe, do you want a left-hand drive van? Does the bed work for your needs – making one up every night gets a bit tedious after a while, and those types of beds are really not comfortable in the long term.
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2. Who are you travelling with?
Can you live in a camper with your other half, in a confined space full time? Or manage alone if you are a solo traveller? What about travelling as a family with kids? How does it work if you’re planning on travelling with a dog?
If you’re used to going your separate ways to work every weekday and enjoying the weekends together, it can be challenging travelling as a couple iwithout much personal space. Make sure you’re not looking at this aspect of van life through rose-tinted specs.
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3. Are you willing to compromise?
You may have to give up a lot to achieve your dream of permanent motorhome living. We sold our house and almost all of our possessions and other full-timers we know have rented their property. A good question to ask is whether you think you can do without all the trappings of your previous life in a traditional home.
Unless you’re willing to fork out huge sums of money (and OMG it is expensive!) on storing your stuff, then you will probably be looking at selling everything.
For us, the campervan lifestyle and the ability to travel where and when we want is worth far more than any clothes, cars or possessions could be but not everyone feels the same.
4. Are you chasing the dream or running away?
Do you want to live in a camper van or motorhome for the right reasons? Really dig deep and ask yourself and each other whether you are running away from real life – work, family issues, money problems or whatever else is going on in your world.
Camper van living is unlikely to solve any of those issues and may magnify some of them.
5. What’s your goal?
What do you want to achieve from living in a motorhome? You could tour Europe in your motorhome without a plan but will get so much more from your experience if you understand the why.
For us, it was about wanting to do something different with our life and escape the hamster wheel of ‘normal’ …feeling excited, looking forward, rather than waking up with a heavy heart to another day Groundhog Day.
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6. How are you paying for it?
Will you have enough money to finance your motorhome life? It will always cost more than you think, but the cost of living in a motorhome in UK and Europe is still so much cheaper than living in a house.
You may also have to pay to use services which are generally free or very cheap in Europe. Some of this will be offset by cheaper motorhome insurance and not needing travel insurance if you don’t intend to travel outside of the UK.
More and more younger people are choosing to live fulltime in motorhomes and vans, often working remotely as digital nomads as they travel, or staying in an area and going to work daily.
7. What about family & friends?
Are you happy to be away from family members and friends in the UK? Can you accept that they may not all be delighted for you, a sad reality of following your dreams? The bonus is, as you meet other van lifers, you’ll make a load more new friends who get you and your way of life.
Can you live with paying €1.29 for a good bottle of wine? Oh…wrong post…….
If you’re cool with all that, then this guide will help you understand the finer details of full-timing and how to live in your new home. We’ll share with you how to survive it and how to have the best time of your life doing it!
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Top Tips for Living in a Motorhome
Best Motorhome for Full-Time Living
I don’t think there really is a single make and model of motorhome that is better than others if you want to live in it permanently. So much depends on your plans and how you want to live in your motorhome.
Generally, motorhomes are not designed to be lived in on a permanent basis, so I would say that anything that’s not well made or is a bit flimsy will suffer.
If this is going to be your home for the next however many years, then look to the German or French brands for build quality and longevity. If your budget is tight, older models with a few miles are worth considering and probably a better buy than new British-manufactured motorhomes.
We had a 14-year-old Knaus for several years, which was built like a tank and just kept going!
If you’re going for a van conversion, then make sure you fully understand how it’s been built, especially if it’s a self-build. Are you confident in the skills of the builder and the equipment used? The last thing you need is to head off on the road full-time in a shoddy build, with problems that will be exacerbated by your lifestyle.
Living in a Motorhome Full Time in UK & Europe
Can you live in a motorhome full-time in UK and Europe? A lot of people contact us to ask questions about the legalities of full-time campervan living. So, is it legal to live in a van?
There is no specific law preventing you from full-time motorhome living in UK or Europe, as long as you follow the specific vehicle and residency laws of the country in which you are living or travelling.
In the UK this means you need to be a resident, with a British passport or other entitlement to live there. Your motorhome or campervan must be taxed, insured and have a valid MOT.
You must also follow the correct rules regarding where you park or stay in your motorhome, whether that’s at on permanent motorhome sites, wild camping in remote areas or using parking lots for free.
In Europe, living in a camper van has become a bit more complex now that Great Britain and Northern Ireland have left the EU. Travelling in Europe has become more complicated because of changes to freedom of movement for United Kingdom citizens in Europe.
It is still possible to travel full-time on the continent, but you can now only spend 90 in every 180 days in the Schengen area. This means leaving European countries we are familiar with, and heading for Morocco, some of the Balkan countries, and Turkey.
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The type of insurance you need will depend on where you want to travel and your circumstances. Safeguard, Sterling, Staveley Head and Comfort all over 365 days policies for Europe, which covers all the member states of the EU. Since 2021 a green card is no longer required.
You will need separate cover to visit places like Morocco, Turkey and some of the Balkan countries. If you’re lucky your insurance company may cover you, although this is becoming rare now. Otherwise, you need to buy third-party insurance at the border.
Full-Timing Motorhome Insurance
If you are renting or selling up your property to live in a motorhome and don’t have a bricks-and-mortar base to return to, then you’ll need to take out full-timing insurance.
This is generally more expensive than regular insurance and you may be tempted to not tell the insurance about your circumstances, but this could invalidate your insurance if you have an accident.
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Not a necessity by any means, but if you’re heading to Europe or in an older motorhome, having motorhome breakdown cover does give you peace of mind.
We use RAC Arrival which is offered in conjunction with The Camping and Caravanning Club. If you’re not a member, the RAC often do deals where membership is included in the price.
Choose their motorhome breakdown cover which has no height, weight or length restrictions. As far as we’re aware it’s the only product with no restrictions on the market.
You will also need travel insurance to supplement your EHIC/GHIC health insurance card (get one if you don’t have one!) if you intend on living in a motorhome in Europe or beyond.
Back-packer insurance tends to be the best as it will cover you for up to 24 months, although lots of companies limit you to a year if you’re over 55 years old.
Most companies won’t let you take this out once you’ve started travelling, so plan ahead, although if you use True Traveller, who we recommend, they have a policy where you can renew annually on the road. This policy also includes more activities and sports cover as standard than any we have seen elsewhere.
Managing Your Address
What address will you use if you’re selling up or renting? You will need a UK fixed address for your driving licence and V5 document and this address will also need to be used for motorhome insurance. Think carefully about where this might be, as some parts of the country will increase your premium exponentially due to high-risk factors.
Lots of full-timers, us included, use a family member’s address for DVLA, insurance and banks which helps maintain a credit footprint in the UK. You could also be added to the electoral roll at that address – you don’t need to actually live there.
We maintain a permanent address at my Mum’s house. We literally changed our address for everything when we sold the house. We are also on the electoral role at Mums, but after the first year of paying the 25% council tax single-person discount my Mum had previously received, we told the council we were no longer living there and she now only pays for herself.
You can ‘rent’ an address for most things, but the DVLA will not usually accept virtual, correspondence, PO Box or commercial addresses, which makes registering your vehicle difficult.
This is what the DVLA say; “We do recognise that there will be occasions where individuals cannot provide a postal address at which they reside and, in certain circumstances, we do allow an alternative address to be used. However, because of the potential risks, we will only agree to such arrangements on a case-by-case basis and we expect a robust reason and evidence that compels a driver to use such an address”
Vanpost is currently lobbying the Government to change this rule and may help you make a case to the DVLA for setting up their service.
Access to Healthcare
This can be a challenging issue, especially if you’re a more mature motorhomer 😉 Real world problems can take us by surprise – think Covid – and it’s certainly made us think about how to manage healthcare and medical issues.
You might find that once you’ve moved away from your home address your GP surgery takes you off their list. We are registered with the GP surgery which covers my Mum’s address, and we can now have virtual appointments with the doctor, but getting routine healthcare like smears and mammograms is not easy.
If you have a long-term condition and require regular medication, your GP may only be willing to prescribe three months at a time, which could leave you without medication in Europe.
Lots of countries in Europe and beyond will sell you the medication from a pharmacy if you take the box with your details and a passport, and in many EU countries, you can get antibiotics over the counter without seeing a GP.
You could take out European-wide private healthcare. Bupa, Axa and Allianz all offer international private health insurance, but we found the costs to be unaffordable. I imagine it would be even more expensive for those with pre-existing conditions.
Motorhome Accessories and Equipment
Living full-time in a campervan will inevitably result in a process of elimination; what do you want and what do you really, really need?
Motorhome and campervan storage is always a challenge for long-term travellers because of limited space and vehicle weight constraints.
How much you take will of course depend on the size of your van and payload, and what is important to you. If you like cooking, then food storage will be a priority. If you’re a YouTuber, then gadgets and gear will take up room.
If you’re living long-term in your motorhome, you’ll likely want accessories fitted which make life easier on the road. This could be solar panels to generate electricity so you don’t always have to stay on a campsite, or refillable gas bottles to save money and the hassle of finding replacement bottles.
We took out the Thetford toilet and cassette we inherited with the truck and fitted a compost toilet, which means we no longer have the grind of finding a chemical disposal point every few days.
Fitting motorhome WiFi systems, swapping to lithium batteries for more power and longevity and adding diesel space heaters are all popular options with full-timers that and help make motorhome life comfortable and more cost-effective.
How Does a Motorhome Work?
Get our free and easy guides to all things related to motorhome systems. Don’t head off into the sunset without a clue, find out how your motorhome works and understand how all the systems fit together first!
If, like us, you want an inflatable kayak, two inflatable paddle boards, kite-surfing gear, two bicycles and a portable washing machine, it’s fair to assume that some difficult decisions about everything else might need to be taken!
Clever motorhome storage options help you fit more in and be innovative about how to use the limited storage space you’ll have. If you can be organised about where things are this will also help. This will evolve as you are on the road and learn what works for you. What’s important on day one will have changed by day 60!
We bought all of our storage boxes and packing cubes from Ikea, from hard plastic stacking boxes for the garage and under the bed to soft felt boxes for the overhead bins. Ikea storage is innovative and well priced, and all of ours is still going strong five years later!
At the end of our first year of campervan life, we were having the van serviced and there was a weighbridge right next door. Out of curiosity, we ambled over and got weighed …oops! We were half a tonne over our maximum allowed weight of 4,500kg, and that was with an empty fresh water tank!
So, we had a massive sort-out and were a bit stunned to realise we had been carrying around half a tonne of stuff that we had never used! Our rule now is that if it isn’t used in a couple of months, it doesn’t stay.
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You will also want to consider how you will get about on a day-to-day basis. If you mostly free or wild camp, then you will probably be moving on regularly but if you intend to stay on sites and visit cities, you will need some form of transportation other than your motorhome.
This could be a tow car, a scooter or motorbike, e-bikes or good old-fashioned pedal cycles. Weight, space and cost will be massive factors here but it is an important aspect of living in a motorhome.
We do know people who rely solely on public transport, but I’ve always felt a bit trapped by that idea. Being stuck on a site without the means to get to the nearest village for a pint of milk or a bar of chocolate is not much fun!
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Helpful Motorhome Guides
Living Motorhome Life!
So you’re actually doing it! You’re on the road, full time living in a motorhome. For some people, it’s an easy transition, less so for others.
We spent the first two weeks of van life euphoric as we headed south to the sun, the third week wondering what the hell we had done and the following six months loving every moment. Most people who live full-time motorhome life tell us they went through a similar process.
After about six months, we took a nose-dive; the clocks changed and in the space of one day, the weather too. We became a little desponded and struggled to adapt. We were also a little travel fatigued (yep, it’s a thing) after seeing so many new places and having so many new experiences; we missed being in one place.
But we bounced back and accepted that not every day will be perfect, life is life after all …we’re just living it slightly alternatively!
We All Need Purpose
We have found purpose by setting up and running our motorhome blog and website, and YouTube channel, but there are lots of other ways you can fill your time. Try house-sitting or pet-sitting, or volunteering with WorkAway. If you’re a keen photographer, sell your images through Pexels or Unsplash and earn a bit of dosh.
Perhaps learn a language or take up a new sport; Phil has learnt to kite-surf and we are both been trying to learn Spanish as we have enjoyed living in our motorhome in Spain so much.
Connectivity is also really important. We thought we would do away with mobiles and become virtuous hippies, but the reality is we use our devices and the internet to research, map, stay in touch and blog.
Email and social media are a lifeline for keeping in touch with friends and family. How did we ever think we would manage without on such an epic, and permanent, road trip?
It would be easy to sink into a life of motorhome slobbery (and you may want to, and that’s fine) but for us, it just wouldn’t work.
We spent the first six months revelling in not having to get up for work or clean the motorhome (if we didn’t want to) but eventually, our body clocks kicked in and now we are up at around 8am most days, and often earlier on travel days.
We try to eat well and have managed to cook all sorts on our Cadac, including bread, which we would never have had time to make before, just one of the many benefits of living in a motorhome!
We hike a lot and have completed some incredible hikes across Europe, often also wild camping nearby to maximise the experience of the place.
But mostly living in a motorhome is a way to explore, see, absorb, expand our minds and meet new people, one of the highlights of the past five years. Along with all the ups and downs of this slightly crazy and alternative lifestyle choice, we are grateful every day for our life and know we made the right choice.