Taking your first steps into the world of touring may seem a daunting prospect, but follow our beginner’s guide to motorhomes and you’ll soon be ready to go.
We’re providing you with the information you need to make sure you have the confidence and the knowledge to get the most from your first tour, as we answer all your questions on licences, layouts and much more.
1. How big can I go?
Consider what the largest ’van you can comfortably drive would be. How long is your drive at home and, if you plan to store your motorhome under cover, how high is your garage or carport? If you live near country lanes, consider a narrower panel van conversion.
2. Where can I park?
Check whether your home deed or lease has a covenant preventing you from keeping your motorhome there. Ensure there are no parking-zone bylaws before you leave it at the kerb. You could always consider storage at a site too.
3. Double check your driving licence
If you passed your test before 1 January 1997, you can drive a motorhome up to 7500kg on your B+C1 licence. When you reach 70, you must submit a medical form to renew your licence to continue driving a ’van over 3500kg, and do this every three years.
However, those who passed their tests after 1 January 1997 must pass a C1 test to drive a motorhome heavier than 3500kg.
4. Choose the right layout for you
Once you’ve decided on your motorhome layout, you’ll be in a better position to choose your vehicle. Look at different floor plans and consider how many belted travel seats and sleeping berths you need, whether you need a shower and a toilet, a fixed-bed or one you make up. Consider how your circumstances may change in the next few years.
Also, read our annual Owner Satisfaction Awards to find out the best brands of new and used motorhomes for sale, and the best supplying dealers.
5. Separate ‘likes’ from ‘must-haves’
Draw up a shortlist of preferences – any motorhome ‘must-haves’ (belted seats, beds over 6ft) and ‘would-be-nices’ (microwave, reversing camera). Be prepared to compromise on the would-be-nices, but not the must-haves. Draw up another shortlist, this time of ’vans.
6. Where to buy?
The best prices for pre-owned motorhomes will be available to those buying privately or from an auction – but this is only an option for those who are experienced and know exactly what they’re looking for. Buying new or pre-owned from a local dealer will ensure you have a warranty, which will give you some peace of mind.
7. Visit a show
Motorhome shows are great for shopping around for a first ’van. Having a host of models in one place makes it easy to compare similar ones – don’t forget to read our top tips! Also, you’ll usually be in a good position to negotiate a deal. Similarly, large dealerships may offer a selection of new and pre-owned models.
8. Try before you buy
Campervan hire and motorhome hire can help you work out what you really want and need. Rent a motorhome with the same (or similar) layout to the one you’re considering. Find out how it suits your practical requirements. Also, a number of dealerships offer try-before-you-buy discounts if you go on to purchase from them.
9. Take a test drive
If you’re buying used, take a thorough test drive, ideally on a mix of open and urban roads. Make up the beds and lie on them, and ensure that all the components (heating, water systems, 12V electrics) work as they should.
10. Sort out your finances
Regardless of whether you pay for your motorhome out of savings, a retirement lump sum, equity release or finance, set a budget and stick to it!
11. Get the right insurance cover
Take out a dedicated motorhome policy – and go fully comprehensive. Check age limits for policyholders, and study any breakdown cover offered as part of the policy. Are there limits on the size of the vehicle that can be recovered? Get the motorhome’s contents covered, too.
12. Start by going local
Don’t head out on an epic adventure for your first trip in your new pride and joy. Be prepared to discover the odd niggle and to return to your dealer to get it fixed under warranty. Some will encourage you to spend your first night at their on-site pitch with hook-up; it’s a sensible option.
13. Where to stay in the UK
Check out our very own list of the best campsites in the UK in our annual Top 100 Sites Guide – the listings are based on voting by readers of Practical Motorhome and sister magazine Practical Caravan.
14. Where to stay on a budget
If you’re looking for cheap (or maybe even free!) stopovers, check out our ever-expanding list of Nightstops. In addition, both The Caravan Club and The Camping and Caravanning Club have comprehensive networks of minimum-facility, five–pitch CS/CLs (certificated sites/locations). They also offer cheap temporary holiday sites, which can run for a number of weeks and cost just a few pounds a night.
15. Your first trip abroad
Beginners nervous about touring abroad for the first time should consider going on an escorted tour with the likes of GB Privilege. The main clubs also offer their own versions, while booking your ferry crossings and touring sites, and giving other help in advance. Take your V5C (logbook), MoT and insurance certificates when you go abroad, along with a high-vis jacket, beam deflectors, a warning triangle and a first-aid kit. Double-check each country’s requirements before you leave home.
16. Save money abroad
Many Continental countries offer a low-cost network of stopovers suitable for motorhomes – in France they’re known as aires, in Germany they’re stellplätze. They’re safe and legal, and for a few euros you’ll be able to hook-up to electricity, take on fresh water, and drain down waste and toilet tanks.
17. Go independent on the Continent
Those who would prefer to travel independently around mainland Europe should consider using Camping Cheques (Alan Rogers) and Touring Cheques (Select Sites). These offer low-cost camping during the low season.
18. Which accessories must I have?
At the very least you should take toilet chemicals, grip mats, levelling ramps, a CO detector, a fire extinguisher, a torch, camping chairs and a basic toolkit for simple repairs and maintenance. Don’t forget to check out our reviews of key motorhome and camping accessories.
19. Stick to the limit
In the UK, ’vans with an unladen weight of more than 3050kg are restricted to 50mph on single carriageways, 60mph on dual carriageways and 70mph on motorways. Spain recently enacted a €500 fine for going 1km above the limit. Make sure you know how to stay legal before you head off on tour.
20. Belt-up on board
Laws mandating the wearing of seat belts in the rear of motorhomes can seem confusing. Motorhomes first registered on or after 20 October 2007 must have belts for front- and rear-facing travel berths. If a belt is fitted, it must be worn.
If you enjoyed our beginner’s guide to motorhomes, why not check out some of these…
If you’ve enjoyed reading our article, why not get the latest news, reviews and features delivered direct to your door or inbox every month. Take advantage of our brilliant Practical Caravan magazine SUBSCRIBERS’ OFFER and SIGN UP TO OUR NEWSLETTER for regular weekly updates on all things caravan related.
Don’t head out on an epic adventure for your first trip in your new pride and joy