Searching for an RV or recreational vehicle can be a bit confusing when it comes to different terms that are used. In the age of the internet, RV camping and RV living have changed. RV living is not just for hippies anymore. Camping isn’t about renting a small camper and trying to make due. Before you can have fun, you have to do the research, and that means understanding terms.
Camper Van vs. Caravan: Do you know the difference? A camper van is a motorized vehicle that usually sleeps 2 to 4 people. Camper vans may have a small kitchen and other amenities. A caravan is a non-motorized trailer that must have a vehicle to tow it. Caravans have beds, a place to cook and usually some type of bathroom.
The terminology involved in buying or renting any type of RV can be confusing. With so many different classifications of vehicles, it can make it hard to find the right wording when trying to do an internet search. I am going to try to clear things up a bit for you to make your life and your searches a bit easier.
Camper Van vs. Caravan, What’s The Difference?
Knowing the different terms can make a huge difference in what you are looking for and what you will get when looking for estimates or repairs. I am going to give you definitions of what each RV type is and how to tell the difference.
While some places may use a variation on these terms, these are the general terms used. RV or recreational vehicle is used to describe most of these categories, and just asking about an RV may get you a confused look. All of these terms represent different types of recreational vehicles or vehicles used for the purpose of recreation.
By knowing what the different terms mean, in general, can help to narrow down what you are looking for both in searches online and when it comes to talking to dealers and repair shops. I am not going to go into things like inspections and getting one road legal. Still, many repair shops or dealerships can help you with that aspect of things, if you decide to purchase one.
I am going to go over what each term means in general and give a brief explanation of what they are. Also, I want to go over some other words you may come across as well.
There are several terms used to describe different types of RVs, although they break down to a few basic ones:
- Camper van – a motorized vehicle, usually sleeps 2 – 4 persons.
- Caravan or travel trailer – this is a non-motorized trailer, that must have a vehicle to pull it.
- Motorhome – a larger version of a camper van, can accommodate up to 10 people.
- Tent camper trailer – non-motorized pull behind, smaller than a caravan.
A camper van is the smaller of the motorized RVs and is considered one of the classes of motorhomes. To be specific, a camper van is also called a Class B motorhome. Camper vans can also be a cargo van that an individual has built out with a bed and amenities themselves. There are also van upfitters that can transform a cargo van into a mini “home” on wheels.
Camper vans are the smallest and the most economical when it comes to fuel mileage. This smaller size also means that there is less storage space, so it’s ideal for camping, but not living in for the long term.
The size can be an advantage when it comes to parking, fueling and maneuverability. Similar in size to a full-sized van, you can fuel a camper van easily at most gas stations without issues and even park them in a regular parking lot space. This can make stocking up for a camping trip easier as you can just take it to your local grocery store to stock up.
Since it is all a single vehicle, this also means that controlling the temperature inside won’t be a hassle either. Usually well insulated, heating or cooling can be as easy as running the interior heat or AC to keep things warm or cool, as needed. Although, if you plan to purchase one, motor maintenance needs to be taken into consideration.
In the long term, a camper van is probably not optimal for most people and definitely not for more than a couple. While many do have room for up to 4 people to sleep in, long term living can be an issue for anyone who isn’t a minimalist. You also need to be willing to give up some privacy since the bathroom is so small you need to leave the room just to change your mind.
We also have a post “What is Van Camping?” that explains more about this topic.
A caravan is also known as a travel trailer. They are towed by a vehicle and are the most popular second-hand RV available due to the lack of motor maintenance required and the convenience they can offer. A good way to think about a travel trailer is if you don’t like the local season, you can travel to another state or region of the country.
The most significant advantage of the caravan is the kitchen and bathroom that make it very much like a home. This way, if you have pets, you can take them along, pay lower costs than the rent of most apartments and move when you feel like it without notice. RV living can be more convenient than living in a traditional home. You can even have a small washer and dryer in your RV, along with other comforts.
Probably one of the most important drawbacks of living in a caravan is the lack of space. When you are considering it just for camping, it is great, but living in one long term comes with compromises. Storage space is limited, not ideal if you are someone who likes to buy in bulk. The size can also make the fuel cost to move it to be higher than a tent camper trailer.
Overall, whether you plan to camp for a couple of weeks or live in one for a couple of years, a caravan style RV is a good compromise. Offering a daily hot shower, a hot meal at night, and a temperature-controlled environment all makes the long term a viable option and makes the short term a real vacation. However, they are not for the woods and backroads, more like RV parks or developed sites.
Other Posts of Interest
- Van Camping vs. Tent Camping: What Is Better for You?
- Why We Bought A Yeti Cooler
- Do Camper Vans Get Stolen? A Guide To Preventing Theft
A motorhome, in this context, would be a Class A and a Class C recreational vehicle. A Class A motorhome is the largest, and usually has “slide-outs,” these are used to add more space while parked but make the overall vehicle narrower during transportation. Slide-outs are 1 – 3 sections of the walls that move outward, which can help to provide more interior space when parked.
These can even offer an additional room, such as a bedroom, that is not available while the vehicle is in motion. Although the extra room afforded by the slide-outs is a definite bonus when it comes to a Class A motorhome, the added cost may turn some people off of them. This can be a considerable downside to the Class A motorhome.
The Class C motorhome is similar in construction to a Class A, but it does tend to be on the smaller side. A Class C would be closer in size to the Class B or camper van than a Class A and can be a compromise for those on a tighter budget. Although smaller in size, it does allow for pulling a car behind it for sightseeing tours. This can make restocking easier too.
While Class A and C both are slide-out optional, they also allow for more room inside over a camper van, which can make long term living more comfortable. When trying to decide between a Class A and C, consider things like how many people you need to accommodate, if there are pets involved, long term and short term and budget.
A camper trailer is just that, a trailer you use to camp in. A camper trailer usually provides enough room for 2 to 4 people to sleep in, a camper trailer may not offer things like a restroom or a kitchen. Often a light-duty vehicle is all that you need to pull a camper trailer. They would also be one of the cheapest to purchase, whether you are buying used from an individual or dealer and even when buying a brand new one.
A camper trailer usually does not offer much in the way of amenities, or temperature control. The term “pop-up” may be used in reference to some camper trailers since they collapse for travel and pop up for use. Due to their small size, a camper trailer can be easily transported and parked.
A tent camper trailer is a good choice if you plan to go camping in an area that has mild weather, but they aren’t a good choice for where there are extreme temperatures. It is not feasible to attempt to heat or cool one of these due to their construction since many pop-ups have canvas walls. This makes them less expensive to build and sell, but not the best choice for long term or heavy use.
How To Decide – RV Shopping
The intended purpose of the RV you are looking into may make a big difference in how much space you need, hence what kind of RV you need to look into purchasing. Here are a few things you will need to take into account:
- What is your budget?
- How many people will you need to accommodate?
- Will you have pets with you?
- Will you be using it long term or short term?
- Should you buy or rent?
- Climate or environment you will be living or camping in.
By carefully considering the answer to each of these questions or subjects, it may help you decide on what kind of RV you are looking for and what your options will be.
The questions aren’t listed in any specific order of importance, as each area is just as valid and will all play a significant factor in your final decision.
What Is Your Budget?
Budget can be the most significant factor before you go any further in any shopping or research. Whether you have a budget of $2,000 or $200,000, it is going to make a big difference in where you can begin your search and whether a purchase or rental is even a possibility.
A budget doesn’t just determine new or used but can help you decide if renting is a possibility or if a purchase makes more sense for your situation. Whether you are looking at a camper van or a caravan, knowing what kind of money you have to work with will be a big part of that decision.
While your budget may be a huge factor, you may think your budget is too small to be able to afford a purchase. For anyone who lives on a budget, tax time may be your friend if you are looking to purchase an RV. Several online sites offer second-hand sales for less than $5,000 for a decent RV.
How Many People Will You Need To Accommodate?
Does size matter? In this case, size very much matters. Trying to make room for 6 people in a camper van may not be the most optimal situation, no matter how close you are. On the other hand, having a Class A motorhome for just 2 people may be too much room and needlessly increase your expenses, not only the purchase price.
Will You Have Pets With You?
Long term living can pose another set of issues with animals. While a couple of dogs or cats may not seem like they take up much room, even a couple of 20-pound dogs can need more room than 2 extra people do.
Besides needing room to move around indoors, your pet will also need a place to have food and water dishes. And maybe even bathroom accommodations as well, at least in the case of cats.
If the dogs need their own bed(s), then this is another thing to keep in mind. Here is a dog bed from Bark Box for your dog to enjoy sleeping on in the RV.
Will You Be Using It Long Term or Short Term
Probably one of the biggest questions involved when considering the difference between a camper van and a caravan is if you will be using it for long term or short term. Each has its separate challenges and issues.
Long Term – Living in any type of RV long term can be a challenge and not something to take lightly. Limited space means trying to balance room for all the things you will need. You will need space for food, the clothes you will need for the changes in climate and any recreational equipment that you want to have with you. If you will have pets with you, room for their food too.
While it can save on bills in the long term, it also means that if you have dogs, they won’t have a fenced-in area all the time, so this is a problem you will need to address. Camping with dogs doesn’t mean they can run and play freely. It also means that you need to train your pets as well. From leashes to riding in cars, it can be an adjustment for them. You also need to plan for seasonal changes and the challenges that it brings.
Short Term – Short term living means deciding between a purchase and a rental of an RV. You need to keep in mind how many bodies (human and animal) that will need accommodations. Also, how long do you anticipate you will be gone, where do you plan to be and how far is it from your home to where you plan to go. If someone is sick or has special needs, staying closer to your home might be a better idea.
While room inside is a consideration that you must think about, even in the short term, it is not as much of a concern as long term. If you are just planning on a 2-week camping trip in a secluded park, then you may need less room since every one may be spending most of their time outdoors, including the animals. An RV park may be a different story though, as your outdoor space may be limited.
Should You Buy Or Rent
This is a big one, but it all depends on if you plan to use your RV for short term or long term stays. Purchasing for the long term puts you just around the same cost of an apartment, but with more freedom. But, if you expect to go camping only once a year for 2 weeks, then a purchase may not be the best option for your situation, maybe you should consider renting.
Climate Or Environment You Will Be Living Or Camping In
Knowing where you plan to live or vacation can also be a huge factor in what you plan to get, whether you rent or buy. You don’t want to use a camper trailer, like a pop-up, in some place that will have heavy snow or that typically has bad weather (heavy rain or strong winds) at the time that you plan to travel there.
If you plan to travel some place where the temperatures will be pretty constant (not too hot or cold) while you are there, then a camper trailer may be the perfect, low-cost option. If you are traveling or living some place that the temperature could change more than 20 degrees one way or the other, then something more substantial might be the way to go.
Summing It Up
As you can see, camper vans and caravans both have their pros and cons. But with a little thought and preparation, you can find the option that meets your family’s needs the best. And don’t be shy when visiting your local RV dealer, ask any questions that you may have. They are eager to supply you with the information to help you make an informed decision.