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16 Differences Between RVing in America and RVing Abroad

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After RVing to all 50 states and touring a dozen countries by motorhome, our family of four has plenty of experience RVing here in America and RVing abroad.

With travel restrictions winding down, Heath and I have discussed at length what we wanted to do next. Should we RV full-time in the States again? Or should we go on shorter trips and keep working toward our goal of RVing around the world?

Ultimately, RVing around the world won out!

RVing America Versus RVing Abroad

Expanding our comfort zone and challenging ourselves are huge motivations for Heath and me when we think about travel. After six years of full-time RVing in the States, RVing here simply doesn’t stretch our comfort zone anymore. I could navigate RV life in America in my sleep.

It’s one of the main things that makes RVing abroad appealing to us. It’s a new challenge, and it opens us up to experiencing so many beautiful places.

Beach camping on the South Island of New Zealand

Every country we’ve visited so far has been different than the last, but I wanted to share a few of our thoughts on the main differences between RVing abroad and RVing here in the States. Let’s start with the obvious.

1. You may drive on the wrong side of the road.

As excited as I was to rent our campervan in New Zealand, I was equally terrified of driving on the left side of the road and the right side of the car. To add insult to injury, New Zealand has very few red lights and instead has multi-lane roundabouts. Do you know how hard it is to navigate a right turn in a three-lane roundabout on the wrong side of the car and the wrong side of the road?

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand has a very high accident rate, mostly due to tourists like us. They do an amazing job of labeling the roads to compensate for this, and our rental also had notes and arrows on the windshield to help remind us to stay on the left side of the road. Perhaps most helpful is that the gear shift, blinkers, and windshield wipes are on the same side you’re used to in the States.

You’ll be on the right side in most places, just like in the States. But if you plan to RV in the UK, Japan, Australia, or New Zealand, you’ll want to be prepared for this! (Last year, we RVed in Japan, New Zealand, England, and Wales and then visited Grand Cayman. Now, I automatically drive on the left side and get honked at. Oops!)

2. You will need to learn to drive a stick.

Honestly, there’s no better description than just watching this video:

Heath knew how to drive a stick…on paper. But in reality? Not so much. Many RVs abroad are manual transmissions, so learning how to drive one is a necessity. In contrast, I’ve never seen a manual transmission RV manufactured in the States. You can find rentals with automatic transmissions, they are just a little harder to find and sometimes more expensive.

3. Everything is bigger in Texas America

“You have a small rig then?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty small.”

The manager at the holiday park leaned over the desk and peered out the window. “Oi! That one’s massive!”

In America, the smallest RVs are about 21-24 feet long. Even Sprinter vans can be this long! Abroad, that will be the size of the largest RVs. This is a huge adjustment for us mentally. A seven-meter (23 ft) campervan feels small because in the States, our last RV was 40 feet long and had three slide-outs!

You definitely won’t be seeing RVs that big abroad.

4. You can’t drive just anywhere.

In America, it felt like we could take our RV almost everywhere. Sure, there’s the occasional length limit, such as the Pacific Coast Highway’s 30-foot limit and certain roads in national parks. But in general, we run into few limitations. (The biggest ones I can think of are propane-free tunnels and low clearances around New York City!)

But the older the country, the more difficult it is to navigate in an RV. When I say roads are tiny, I mean TINY.

Your average two-lane road in Wales.

And many towns and especially cities won’t allow RVs to drive in. In Italy, for example, these are called zona traffico limitato or ZTL. If we saw a ZTL sign, we knew we couldn’t go in that direction… Or at least shouldn’t. Definitely ended up parked in one in the video above 😂🙈

Before we RV in each country, we Google search “tips for driving in ________” and can usually find an ebook or blog post sharing traffic signs, what the roads are like, and things to be aware of before we arrive in the country. This is a huge difference between RVing in America, where most roads can handle large trucks and RVs.

5. A rose by any other name…

RV. Camper van. Caravan. Motorhome. Camping Car.

Every country calls it something different, and BONUS, in most countries, it’ll be in a different language. Don’t worry, we’ll post pictures on Instagram of l’autocaravane.

Similarly, campgrounds will all have different names. The UK and New Zealand have holiday parks, Italy has campeggios, and we have RV parks.

6. Those campeggi though 😍

Speaking of campgrounds…

Campeggi are INCREDIBLE.

When you only have a motorhome and no vehicle, you’re locked in when you get to a campground. Italy understands that, and the campeggio experience is very all-inclusive.


We stayed at an all-inclusive campeggio in Orbetello on the coast of Italy. There was a private beach, pools, multiple restaurants, a grocery store, gelateria, a cafe, a schedule of activities, multiple playgrounds, kids’ bathrooms complete with toddler-sized showers, and so on.

They even had a senza glutine (GF) menu at meals so I could enjoy ravioli and eggplant parmesan like everyone else. (Okay, now I’m hungry.) Campgrounds like this attract families, making them even more attractive to us now. Ellie made friends (who only spoke Italian) and had so much fun playing in the giant toddler pool.

We camped under giant trees, smelled saltwater in the air, and still had access to everything we needed all week!

7. Free camping abounds abroad*

*not including Canada or Japan

Italy and all of Europe are known for plentiful free overnight camping options. (I know what you’re thinking—awesome campgrounds and free camping options? Why am I not there already?!)

New Zealand has a reputation for freedom camping or what we might call boondocking in the US.

To say it’s amazing is an understatement. There is free camping everywhere.

Just another gorgeous free campsite in New Zealand.

Free camping in the US is practically exclusive to the west coast where there are more public lands. Even then, the lands are remote and often difficult to access in larger RVs.

In New Zealand, we had 30 MBs down, and we were camped on this giant lake surrounded by mountains on every side. We stayed as long as possible before we had to dump our tanks..and promptly returned. It’s one of our favorite free campsites in the world 🌏

8. Two words: Chemical toilets.

In all of our RV rentals thus far, the RV has had a cassette toilet. RVs in the States have them too, particularly smaller rigs like the Winnebago Revel. This means you must dump your cassette toilet almost daily because it isn’t very large and will fill up quickly.

However, you may not dump your cassette toilet in the same place as you dump your grey water. In Italy, we dumped our cassette in chemical toilets specifically for this purpose. In New Zealand, I recall Heath rolling our cassette toilet like a suitcase across the parking lot to dump it in a public bathroom.

I really can’t tell you if this is a pro or a con. But it’s definitely different!

9. Hookups

All of the hookups will be completely different abroad versus in America. Different electrical cords and plugs. Completely different water hookup. (There is no constant water hookup, so you will fill your tank and use your pump.) No dump station at your campsite.

And, when RVing across Europe for example, every country will have different hookups and regulations around propane, making this hookup particularly confusing. There’s a whole website dedicated to figuring out propane across European borders.

If you rent an RV, the rental company will cover all of this when you pick up your rig, so you’re not totally lost when you try to hook up for the first time!

10. Canada is basically America but with cheaper healthcare.

There are not many differences between RVing in America and in Canada, though it is technically “abroad”. I highly recommend planning a trip across the border, if you can, because Canada has so much beauty to offer and is full of camping opportunities.

Since it is our neighbor to the north, you will probably drive your own RV rather than rent one, but RVs in Canada are very similar to US rigs.

(But seriously on the cheaper healthcare thing… When I was sick in Canada, I got a prescription for $80. When I got it refilled in the US, it was $400, and the bottle was half the size. It would’ve been cheaper for us to drive back to Canada and get a new prescription than to fill it at home. I think about this all the time.)

11. Public Transport 🚃

I don’t think I’ve ever ridden the bus in America.

I’m scratching my head, but since I don’t live in a major city, it has never been a part of my life. And other than the shuttle bus in Glacier National Park, we’ve never used public transport as part of RV life either! We almost always had a car.

Riding the vaporetto in Venice

Abroad, this has been a fixture and one small thing that stretches our comfort zone almost daily. Since many cities are inaccessible by RV (not to mention, I don’t want to drive an RV in Paris!), public transit is the best way to get out and explore. Many campgrounds, particularly in France, included bus tickets in our campsite cost so we could leave the motorhome and explore.

We also rented bikes in New Zealand and Italy, which was another great way to navigate.

12. Thank you for delivering my package, Amazon.

So this might be possible abroad. I haven’t tried it because I don’t think it is. But often in the States, we have had Amazon packages, DoorDash deliveries, and more arrive straight to our campsite.

I’ve never tried this abroad, mostly because convenience like this is a very American concept. In the States, we expect things to open when we want, deliver straight to us no matter where we are, and arrive fast. If you put “the big grey motorhome with the silver Honda in front” into the description on Uber Eats, you expect your tacos to be delivered straight to you. This is so specific to America.

Abroad, we’ve struggled to find restaurants open before 7 PM, and practically no one delivers outside of cities. It’s something we didn’t realize we did so often in the States until we went abroad and didn’t have the option.

13. Languages, obviously.

This felt so obvious I wasn’t sure if I should include it. But you’ll need to understand another language, even in Canada and Mexico. In all of our travels so far, since camping is a tourism industry, employees at campgrounds speak multiple languages.

Signage is almost always also in English or uses symbols/pictures that are universally understood. So language can be a difference, but not as big of a deal as you might think.

You’re definitely going to want to download Google Translate! (Also this chicken was so good!)


14. You spend more money.

The most obvious con to RVing abroad versus the States is the cost. The cost of living (I’m talking gas prices, food, and restaurants) will vary widely depending on which country you’re RVing in. And on top of that, you’re paying for an RV rental. This is typically thousands of dollars a month.

When we decided to spend two months campervanning across New Zealand, we received a quote for over 10,000 New Zealand dollars! We got creative and worked with the rental company to create content to offset that bill, but we still paid well over $5,000 for our rental.

On top of the RV rental, you’ll probably pay for flights and hotels as well. We’ve taken 3-4 nights in a hotel or Airbnb to adjust to jetlag. I highly recommend this if you have the time, but it is an additional expense. Visiting cities in RVs is difficult, so this is a great way to explore a city, adjust to a different culture, and feel energized before you hit the open road.

Because RVing in the States was always full-time for us, we knew it wasn’t a vacation. Internationally, it’s hard not to think of your travel as a vacation—even when it’s long-term. We always eat out more and pay for more experiences abroad than we would in America.

italy gelato
Gelato is always worth it.

15. We try things we wouldn’t otherwise experience.

Have you ever heard of jetboating? Ridden a cable car to a mountain peak? Made your own hot tub on the beach? Seen a mud volcano?

I definitely haven’t done any of those things in the States…except ride a gondola or two. (But the one in Italy was NEXT LEVEL.)

I love how travel constantly exposes you to things you wouldn’t or couldn’t otherwise experience. We’ve seen amazing things in the States…but there are some things that simply don’t exist here.

Like hiking at night suspended on hanging bridges that connect a forest of redwood trees.

Or jumping on a trampoline in a cave…? This was one of my favorite travel experiences ever, and one that my sweet four-year-old LOVED!

16. And lastly, everything is an experience.

I started this post by sharing that one of the things that Heath and I love about travel is how it stretches our comfort zone. It also gives you a chance to be captivated by everyday experiences.

Getting ice cream.

Grocery shopping.

Going for a walk around the campground.

All those little things feel more magical when you’re somewhere new.

Yes, that does mean some things are extra challenging, like finding gas stations and refilling the propane tank.

But it makes every day a little more memorable.

Have you ever thought about RVing abroad? What country is at the top of your list? Comment and tell us where, and then let’s all go! 🌍

10 Responses

  • I’ve only driven a motorhome in one other country — Australia. Left-hand thing terrified me for two weeks. Went the wrong way in one roundabout. But it was fun, if a little difficult with a 24′ rig. I found it small, all the campgrounds did that “Oh….” thing.

    • I think that’s probably the biggest difference abroad! It’s so small to us, but giant to them!

  • Thinking of RVing in Norway – have heard it is spectacular and free camping abounds! Would love to hear of anyone’s experiences!

  • Curious about what the cost per month for your France and Spain RV rental will be? Does insurance cost drive it up much (Much less litigious than the USA)? I look forward to hearing about your trip. I have traveled in both countries for several weeks, but never by RV. Get ready for some very late-night dinners out in Spain!
    Yes, prescription drugs are so much cheaper anywhere else. In Toronto last month, I got an off-label (For weight loss, not diabetes) Ozempic prescription for about $200 USD plus another $55 to get a prescription (Doctor visit). Thru Kaiser, Good RX, etc. (Which covers it for diabetes, but not weight loss), it would be almost $900 for a month’s supply. Same drug, same dose, same manufacturer.

    • Not sure which portion of the total fee is insurance, but it’s about $140/night for the rental.

  • Goals!!!! I’ve wanted to visit New Zealand after I saw Erik Anders Lang do an Adventures in Golf segment there a few years ago. Never thought about doing it in an RV. Now you have the wheels turning.

  • I lived in the Dolomites in Italy and in Bavaria for 5 years. Never RV’d but rode my motorcycle all over. Camped in Switzerland, Austria, France and more. Mostly boondocking, never really knew if it was legal, but they were always just an overnight place to set up tent, then ride again. Sounds like it’s just as easy now with a Euro RV, which is the style we prefer. It’s on the list for sure. Thanks for the good info.

    • Wow that sounds awesome! It really is so easy over there. So many camping options! 🙂

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