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Campervans vs motorhomes – what’s the difference?

When is a campervan not a campervan? When it’s a motorhome, of course. But, hang on a second, what’s the difference? Both are designed for life on the road, both have a steering wheel as well as sleeping quarters. Which is which? And, perhaps, more importantly: which is best? These are two questions we’ll try to answer here as we examine the differences between campervans and motorhomes.

Nell Camper in Cornwall

Campervans are smaller than motorhomes

Close your eyes and picture a campervan and, chances are, you’ll be conjuring up a vision of a classic VW. Now imagine a motorhome. It’s a big, white, truck-like vehicle, right? Wrong! The lines between campervans and motorhomes are a little blurred these days and it can be difficult to tell them apart. Having said all that, the most obvious difference between a campervan and a motorhome remains size and shape. A campervan is typically a van that has been converted so you can sleep in it and cook in it as well as drive in it. A motorhome is a purpose-built home-from-home where comfort has been built in from the beginning. Typically it has a longer wheelbase which means it will be bigger than your average van. The extra space means the driving cab is often separate from the living quarters whereas in a campervan it usually forms part of the living space; either with swivel chairs turning round to face a table or with seats that fold down to make a bed.

Campervans do not have toilets (most of the time)

The extra space in motorhomes also means more room for more rooms; most importantly of all more room for a bathroom. Well, okay - not many of them have an actual bath but most of them have a toilet and a shower. This means that you do not have to share facilities on campsites and that wild camping can be a little more comfortable too. Campervans are less likely to have a toilet and very rarely feature a shower cubicle but never say never. As campervan design develops, more and more of them have some kind of cassette-style, portable toilet and some even have a shower. Usually they will be a little more rudimentary than the motorhome version; perhaps a shower head that attaches to the tap in the kitchen sink leaving you to shower en plein air.

Motorhome on beach

Life is easier in a motorhome

With more space and separation between the driving and living quarters, life in a motorhome can be a little easier. If you by or hire a motorhome, once you’ve parked up, you can simply get into the back of your home-on-wheels and make a cup of tea or get a beer out of the fridge. With some motorhome models, when it comes to bedtime, you might just be able to hop straight under the covers in to a ready-made bed – but it’s a different story in a campervan. Once you’re parked up, you’ll probably need to pop the top, swivel seats, fold out tables and flip up kitchen covers to transform your van from vehicle to living room. Then, when bedtime arrives, a few further tricks and flips might be needed to turn the table into a bed. Some might say that’s part of the fun of life in a campervan but others might argue that convenience is king.

Driving is easier in a campervan

While the larger size of a motorhome undoubtedly gives it a few advantages once you’ve parked up, it can make life on the road a little harder. For a start, motorhomes and any vehicles over 3.5 tonnes require a different driving licence in the UK but anyone can drive a campervan, making them particularly popular for campervan hire. Secondly, the larger size and greater weight means motorhomes tend to use more fuel so travel is more expensive. And thirdly, there’s manoeuvrability. Campervans come in all shapes and sizes but most are not too much bigger than a large family car. That means they can fit in most parking spaces, cruise under height barriers at car park entrances (though do please check) and squeeze down country lanes which might be problematic for bigger motorhomes. Of course, there are lots of vintage campervans out there which have their own quirks and foibles when it comes to driving. If you’re driving one of these the going can be slow and you may need to take extra care - but, on the plus side, you are guaranteed to turn heads.

Camper at Pleasant Streams

Campervans are allowed on more campsites

Another place where the smaller size of campervans can come in handy is when you’re trying to choose a campsite. While there are hundreds of campsites out there which happily accept motorhomes, caravans and campervans, some of the smaller sites will allow campervans but not motorhomes and caravans. Many of the campsites we love are small independent sites that do not have the type of hardstanding pitches that are sometimes necessary for larger motorhomes. It’s also a little harder to get off the beaten track in a motorhome so for a sense of adventure, the campervan is the winner. (You can browse our full collection of campsites that allow campervans here.)

Campervans are cheaper (sometimes)

As campervans are smaller and typically have fewer facilities and mod cons included, they are typically cheaper than motorhomes. For people looking for a cheaper way to experience life on the road, a campervan is the more affordable option: except when it’s not. Vintage VW vans and high-end new models can cost as much as some of the more basic motorhomes so there are always exceptions to the rule. The running costs also tend to be less for a campervan. As previously mentioned, smaller, lighter campervans tend to be more fuel efficient so driving should cost less.

Which is better: Campervan or motorhome?

The difference between the top-of-the-range motorhome and the simplest campervan is vast but there’s a definite blurring around the middle. Take, for example, the Volkswagen California. There’s the Volkswagen California 6.1, a campervan, and the Volkswagen Grand California, a motorhome. Even the name is shared but the top, the toilet and about £10,000 divides them. Which is better depends on your point of view. For style points, driveability and cost, the campervan is (usually) the winner. But when it comes to comfort and convenience, the motorhome has the edge. Sometimes at least.