The variety of people seduced by the idea of living, or at least holidaying, in a home on wheels is wide, from retirees to digital nomads. If you are just getting started, how do you know whether towing or driving is the right option for you?
Spending time living on the road is a deeply appealing prospect for many. In the UK, the National Caravan Council estimates there are more than half-a-million caravans in regular use, and 225,000 motorhomes of various types.
What’s the difference between a caravan and a motorhome?
At the most simplistic level, there are two basic types of van - caravans and motorhomes. The difference between the two is fairly obvious once it explained. Put simply, a caravan doesn’t have an engine. A motorhome does.
In order to go anywhere, a caravan needs to be pulled by a tow vehicle. A motorhome needs you to get in and turn the key. As a result, campers, trucks and all manner of liveaboard commercial vehicles can be classified as motorhomes.
If you don’t know which might suit you best, here are a few considerations which help potential buyers get the issues straight in their heads, before they make an expensive mistake by buying the wrong one.
Things to consider about which is right for you
Caravan are considerably cheaper. If budgets are tight, you’ll get a lot more mobile home if you pull it behind you. Presuming you have a car. Even if you don’t, caravans are still much cheaper. £1000 will buy you a functioning caravan. £2000 will buy you a caravan and a tow car. £5000 might buy you a motorhome. But you’ll want to spend more if you want to actually get anywhere.
Caravans are more comfortable. No matter how much you spend on a motorhome, one end of it will be single-glazed and draughty, with a steering wheel and handbrake in the way. Caravans have no such impediment. Anything vaguely modern will have comfortable sofas, double glazing and hot water and heating. Careful buying and deeper pockets are needed to achieve the same on-site comfort in a motorhome.
On the road
Hard to argue that a motorhome is a more manageable rig on the road. Towing isn’t hard but it is off putting to many. Depending on when you passed your driving test, it can be very hard to tow a caravan too without an additional driving licence qualification. If you passed your driving test in 1997 or later, you are restricted to towing tiny tourers, but you can still drive a fairly chunky camper or motorhome. As a result, among younger vanners, caravans ain’t cool.
Motorhomes are cooler. No question. Volkswagen campers, converted school buses, RVs and all manner of other motorhomes are popularly regarded as cool. Aside from the Airstream ‘silver bullets’, caravans just don’t have the same cachet. If image is a consideration, you’ll be wanting a motorhome.
Type of travel
You need to decide how you want to travel. If you want to travel small distances every day or two, stopping wherever you find something interesting, then a motorhome is the way to go. The smaller the better. If you’d rather get your miles in early and stay for a long-time, the caravan’s comfort card comes into play. For lounging around on site for a week or more, unless you have a massive motorhome, a caravan just can’t be beat. If you like stopping somewhere remote and a bit of off-grid boondocking though, it’s got to be a motorhome.