Motorhome, van or camper van: how to choose?

It’s decided, you’re going on a road-trip. But which vehicle should you choose? Van, camper, van? We’ll help you choose.

Van, camper van, van… Leisure vehicles are all the rage. When it’s time to take the plunge, you’re hesitating. That’s normal. Each vehicle has its own advantages and disadvantages. Are you banking on comfort? Handling? Features? Price? Depending on your answers, a vehicle model will emerge. Here are the features and characteristics of each one. To help you make the right choice.

1. Van, van, motor home, what are they?

Le mythique Combi de Volkswagen

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Andrew Balcombe

For regulars, it’s obvious. For neophytes, it’s less clear. So let’s start with a brief explanation of the text.

The van: this is a compact vehicle, less than two meters high. There are many different models available, fitted out by manufacturers, craftsmen or even private individuals on the basis of a utility vehicle. It’s often the typical adventurer’s vehicle. One example is the legendary Volkswagen Combi. Several models feature a lift-up roof for an extra bed.

The van: taller (at least 2.50 m), longer (around 6 m). It, too, is fitted out from an already bodied utility vehicle (Fiat Ducato or Citroën Jumper, among others). It includes a kitchen area, toilet and at least one bed. It remains discreet and easy to handle.

The motorhome: a carrier vehicle (Ford, Fiat, Citroën, Renault, Mercedes, etc.) on which a cell has been installed. The most common model is the nasturtium, recognizable by its cap above the driver’s compartment, which houses a double bed. For a long time the star of sales, it now accounts for only a tiny proportion. Prized by families, it is particularly shunned for its fuel-hungry size. The profile, as its name suggests, has an aerodynamic profile and a compact layout. It is very popular. Finally, the more expensive integral, where the bodywork has been totally redesigned to integrate the driver’s station.

The detachable cell: much less well known, much less sold in France. So we won’t dwell on this type of vehicle, even though it may be suitable for some adventurers. You’ll find them for hire in some countries. It’s a cell on the back of a pick-up truck. Useful for exploring regions where the road network leaves something to be desired. This isn’t always the case, but often the cell can remain on its feet while the traveler goes for a ride. A bit like a caravan. Disadvantage: there’s no communication between the vehicle and the cell.

Let’s take a look at the major differences between the first three vehicle models.

Comparatif camping-cars : tous les modèles

2. Living space, comfort, functionality

L'intérieur d'un camping-car

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Andrey Armyagov

There’s no mystery about it: you’ll have the most space in a motorhome. In fact, the van is essentially designed for living… outside! Vans are halfway there. It’s worth noting that many van builders fit them with opening roofs.

If you’re the type of person who likes to take their own home with them on vacation, or if you simply need space (often with children) and a minimum of comfort, opt for a motorhome (or van). These vehicles feature a real kitchenette with refrigerator, hotplates, storage space for crockery and linen, toilet, bathroom with shower. And a real, comfortable bed. You’ll find some of these features in a van, but often in smaller sizes. Very few vans have a toilet and shower. Choose an external shower and portable toilet. Or set up close to these conveniences, on the street or at a campsite. Another advantage of motorhomes and vans is their permanent beds. No need to remake your bed by moving several elements every night.

The van generally has a high payload. The payload is the difference between the empty weight and the gross vehicle weight. It’s enough to fill your vehicle without risking overloading. Note, however, that compared with a camper van, the space available for eating, sleeping or cooking will be less.

Finally, in winter, the comfort of a motorhome will be appreciated. The type of opening on vans (sliding doors) means that a lot of heat is lost. Also, insulation is lighter. If you opt for the latter and intend to enjoy it all year round, make sure you have an efficient heating system.

The vehicle of choice: motorhomes, by far!

Renting a motorhome or van in France

3. Discretion

Le Mercedes Viano

Photo credit: Shutterstock / LIAL

The van is all-purpose. It can be likened to an SUV. Try to find out if this Mercedes Viano is fitted out! Complicated, isn’t it? The point? To be able to spend the night on the edge of a field, in the middle of town, without attracting attention.

It’s more complicated with a van, because of its large windows, ventilation grilles and bodywork that’s rarely all-encompassing. Mission impossible with a camper van. In some regions, where these vehicles arrive by the hundreds in the high season, you may have to fall back on areas dedicated to campers. So much for the view.

Advantage vehicles: vans and panel vans

Renting a motorhome or van in France

4. Handling, parking


Photo credit: Flickr – Guillaume Vachey

There’s no match. The van, with its reduced height (less than two meters), will go through all the gantries installed in certain parking lots. All tunnels. It’s no problem either to drive through a winding city center or up a winding mountain road. In this respect, their performance is similar to that of cars, but they are heavier. The length of vans, and of many delivery vans, allows them to be parked in a single space.

Not so with motorhomes. With the latter, it’s more complicated to find a place to spend the night at the last minute. Vans are still very maneuverable, but less so than campers. As with motorhomes, their height means higher tolls. In terms of fuel consumption, vans are king (7 to 8 L/100 km). Motorhomes have the disadvantage of higher fuel consumption (around 11 to 15 L/100). Vans are about halfway there.

The advantageous vehicle: vans

5. Versatility

A l'intérieur d'un van

Photo credit: Shutterstock / howsheviewsit

This is an important factor when choosing your vehicle. Vans have the advantage of being usable on a daily basis: for going to work, picking up the kids from school or transporting bulky objects. With a few simple adjustments, you can remove some of the equipment, particularly the bench seats. And even in its current state, fuel consumption is close to that of a car. This is not the case for a van, and even less so for a motorhome.

Using your van on a daily basis is one way to recoup the investment it represents.

The advantageous vehicle: vans

6. Awards

Un Fiat Ducato en road-trip

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Michel Seelen

The price difference between vans and minivans is minimal. Expect to pay at least €30,000 for a new van. Some vans are even more expensive than minivans. And second-hand prices remain reasonable. The first motorhome models are a (small) notch higher (€5,000 to €10,000 extra). But between new and used, available options, etc., it remains difficult to make comparisons. A vehicle purchased from a private individual will generally cost you less than from a dealer. But the risk of a mechanical or layout fault is greater.

Take the time for a meticulous examination, even if it means enlisting the help of a connoisseur.

Renting a motorhome or van in France

The advantageous vehicle: vans and small vans

7. Result

Camping-car en pleine nature

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Andrey Armyagov

There’s no question of orienting yourself towards one type of leisure vehicle or another. As you may have guessed, your choice depends on your uses and needs (frequency of use, places visited, expected comfort…), the size of your household (the presence of children in particular) and your travel philosophy. If you can’t pinpoint a particular type of use, there are three solutions:

  • Opt for the van, an intermediate solution that’s very popular at the moment,
  • Start by renting: test, test and test again to find out which model suits you best
  • Visit trade fairs and specialist stores, and settle in on board!