When they hear our plans, some people say, “Oh, what a wonderful idea.” 

Others say something else, the subtext of which is “You’re crazy.” 

And nearly everyone asks one or more of the following


Why an RV?

Because we think it will give us a different kind of experience of Europe than we’ve had in the past. And we think it will allow us to afford being in Europe for more than a couple of weeks.

Once upon a time, we did a 6-week train-hotel-rental-car-hotel whirlwind tour of five countries in Europe. That was before the dollar went into the tank and children staked their claims on all our discretionary spending. So until recently, travel to Europe was out of the question. But then four years ago, we went to northern Italy for a week in March and also joined a bus tour group following the last two weeks of the Tour de France in July. We'd also begun taking students to London a number of times for 10 days or so.

On all these trips, we stayed in tourist hotels and ate all our meals at restaurants, which proved to be expensive. When even a spartan tourist hotel room costs $200 a night and a meal is $30 for anything better than a Big Mac, it became obvious that we couldn’t afford to spend much time in Europe that way. And unless we were willing to take on the added expense of a rental car, this sort of travel limited us to the big city we were in and to locales no more than a day trip away by train.

In that last respect, the Tour de France experience was different because, unlike most of our other trips, the bus that took us from place to place gave us a chance to relax in small French towns. However, a disadvantage to the trip was that with thirty other people on the bus, we couldn’t follow our own schedule. 

Then we read Ron and Adele Milavsky’s Take Your RV to Europe. Like them, we hope that traveling in an RV would address these shortcomings. We also hope it will give us a chance to get away from the standard tourist itinerary and to meet Europeans who don’t spend their workdays dealing with tourists. And we think using an RV will mean we can afford to stay in Europe for months at a time instead of days.

Won’t it be expensive to ship? Why not rent a European RV?

It's costing us less than $4500 to ship Rover to Zeebrugge, Belgium, plus about $600 for the gas and campsite charges to get it halfway across the country from Minneapolis to the Port of Baltimore.  In the high season, it would cost more than $1000 a week to rent a European RV that’s roughly comparable to an American Class C like Rover. In this first 2-month trip, then, we will more than make up for this cost. (However, this doesn’t include insurance, which deserves its own discussion.)

Isn’t gas much more expensive in Europe?

As I write this in June 2008, gas in France is about $8.00 a gallon, and Rover gets about 10 mpg on a really good day. If we were driving on US interstates 400 miles a day, we’d run out of money very quickly, even at $4 per gallon. But things are much closer in Europe: Amsterdam to Marseille is less than 900 miles, and if we ever do get that far and back, we would want it to take us two or three months to do it. The gas for that distance will be about $1400; Rover could go 3500 miles for that amount in the US: many RV tourists in this country would rack up that distance in the same three months. 

Aren’t American RVs too big for European cities and country roads?

A 40’ Class A motorhome with slide-outs probably would be too big, not just for some of the roads but for the campground spaces as well. But Rover is only 24’ long and has no slide-outs (we've read that many European campgrounds prohibit them, in any case).

Doesn’t Europe run on 220-240 volt electrical instead of the US’s 110-120?

Yes. So we had Rover's generator removed and installed a step-down transformer in its place, and we bought a collection of adaptors for the myriad of plugs that European countries use. The adaptors will connect the European 220-volt shore power source to our cable; the cable will connect to the step-down transformer’s input; the transformer will convert 220 volts of input into 110 volts output; and the 30-amp cable that came with our RV will run between the transformer’s output plug and Rover’s 110-volt shore power plug-in point.

We also replaced the RV manufacturer’s stock battery charger with a Xantax converter/charger. The converter function will convert the house batteries’ 12-volt power to 110-120 volts, so we are not dependent on shore power for our 110-volt needs. And we also bought two Interstate Freedom AGM batteries to serve as our 12-volt house power source, because they're advertised as being able to keep their charge for months at a time, without requiring periodical recharges: and that's what they'll have to do during the 7-9 months we'll have the RV in storage in Europe between our visits.

2011 update: we cannot stress enough the importance of buying a converter/charger that's as bomb-proof as possible (especially if you're an electrical moron like us). This equipment is the heart of your electrical system, and it's good to have one that can sense a problem quickly and protect itself and your batteries. We have a Xantrex Freedom 458 series converter/charger that we bought at Camping World--and had them install.

By the way, it's also a good idea to have purchased your Europe-trip house batteries before the converter/charger get installed: that way, the Camping World technician can feed into the converter/charger the correct information about charging the batteries.