Renting a motorhome in Italy

The author, at 12, with his Uncle Marc (19) and the author's trusty hippie-orange VW family campervan somewhere in the Alps, Renting an RV, Italy, Italy (Photo © Frank Bramblett)
The author, at 12, with his Uncle Marc (19) and the author's trusty hippie-orange VW family campervan somewhere in the Alps

Camping is a great way to see Italy, but you needn't be tied down to tent pegs; RV rentals are as easy in Europe as they are here at home

Seeing Italy by campervan allows you to experience a Europe most travelers on the train-and-hotels route miss.

Did you know you could camp by the beach on a Venetian barrier island, or in the Fiesole hills right above Florence, or near a bus stop just north of central Rome? Read on!

Why RV in Italy?

An RV vacation combines the best parts of European travel—visiting the great art cities, driving the countryside, exploring villages and lakelands, and discovering hidden mountain meadows—without the usual expense.

How much does it cost to travel by motorhome?

Rentals that sleep two run roughly $600–$1,500 per week in low season ($1,000–$2,100 in summer)—once you add in the prudent extras of CDW and GPS (details on that in a minute).

Campers sleeping four to six run $950–$1,700 in low season, $1,400–$2,500 in summer.

You could park it by the side of the road at night (in some places) and sleep for free, but let's assume you prefer campgrounds. That'll add $31 to $64 per couple for each night.

The total daily cost—for transport and lodging—is just:

  • For two people: $116–$200 in low season, from $176 in summer
  • For a family of four: from $260 in low season, from $400 in summer

Keep this in mind a campervan takes care of your vehicle and lodging all at once.

These days, double rooms in dowdy two-star hotel cost about $160 per night for two in mid-season, $280 for four in the same room (we're cramming the kids in the parents' room to save money here).

Add a midsize car rental for $250 per week and you're spending a minimum of $195 per day for a couple, or $315 for a family of four for the hotel-and-rental car option.

So, at $116 for a couple and $160 for a family of four, renting a motorhome costs just 60%–80% the price of staying in a hotel and renting a car.

(Yes, you'll guzzle a bit more gas than the rental car family, but since most RVs are diesel—but few rental cars are—that alone will nearly balance out the price difference on fuel.)

Base RV rental costs

  • A smaller campervan—which sleeps two below, plus one or two smaller chaps up in the pop-up tent on top—rents for $85 to $135 per day in winter, up to $145 to $230 in summer.
  • A larger, Winnebago-style RV that sleeps four to six people will run $136 to $160 per day in low season, $200 to $270 in high season.

Added fees & taxes

  • Collision insurance (CDW) is sometimes included, sometimes $20 to $25 per day, and is sometimes required.
  • Bedding and towels is sometimes included, sometimes another $20 to $50 per day (way, way too much; just bring your own).
  • Sat Nav (GPS) costs another $5 to $6 per day, or sometimes around $35–$40 per rental.
  • Additional drivers are $6 to $12 per day
  • Make sure any quoted price includes VAT (tax), which can run to 23 percent. 

What type of motorhome should I get?

Size matters. For those of you used to the road behemoths here in the U.S. that are twice the size of an average New York apartment, know that European RVs tend to be rather smaller and lighter. 

Some are almost comically small—smaller than a mid-sized SUV in North America—yet able to transform into a campervan sleeping two or even four (cramped, yes, but still functional). A few budget models are really just cars with a pop-up tent fixed to the roof.

There are several good reasons for these tiny motorhomes—and for limiting yourself to the smaller vehicles.

European roads are narrow and winding, and petrol (gasoline) and diesel both incredibly expensive—figure on getting 23 miles to the gallon at $5.50 per gallon (10 km to the liter at €TK per liter). The smaller the better.

I would avoid renting anything longer than six meters (about 20 feet).

Sick to the common Class Cs, which handle more like a car than a big rig, and you'll be fine.

Other motorhome tips

  • European RVs have traditionally been manual transmission, but automatic seems to be taking over.
  • The minimum rental period is almost always five or seven days (though budget campervan outfit Wicked Campers will let you rent for just 2 days/1 night).
  • Minimum rental age is usually 26 (21 with Wicked Campers—though they don't have pickup/dropoff stations in Italy)
  • Rentals in Germany tend to be cheapest—though once you pick it up, you can drive anywhere.
  • Check into any restrictions on taking it into Eastern Europe.

Other benefits of RVing

It's not just the savings. You also get all the cultural benefits of leaving the standard tourist route and hobnobbing with others who have ditched minibars for camp stores and traded pillow mints for tent poles. It's a great way to strike up fast friendships with vacationing Europeans.

In a hotel, you rarely get to know the people in the neighboring rooms, but campers in adjoining sites are quick to chat. Many nights you end up pooling the barbecue and bottles of wine with the neighbors and sharing travel stories under the stars.

Finding a place to park the RV

While there are loads of Italian campgrounds out in the sticks for the get-back-to-nature crowd, there are also plenty of in and around the major cities.

Although most city campgrounds are on the edge of town—count on a 30–45 minute bus or subway ride to the historic center—there are exceptions.

Local tourist offices list area campgrounds. There are an obscene number of camping-related Web sites; Googling the words "camping" plus the place you want to go results in a whole crop of regional directories. I also list a few dozen on the main camping page.
Camping links
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for car travel

English (inglese) Italian  (italiano)  Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
car automobile ow-toh-MO-bee-lay
scooter/motorboke un motorino oon mo-tair-EE-no
gas station stazione di servizio stah-zee-YO-nay dee sair-VEE-tzee-yo
gas benzina ben-ZEE-nah
diesel gasolio [or] diesel gah-ZOH-lee-oh [or] DEE-zell
Fill it up, please al pieno, per favore ahl pee-YAY-noh, pair fa-VOHR-ray
Where is... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the highway l'autostrada lout-oh-STRA-dah
...the state highway la statale [written "SS"] lah sta-TAHL-eh
...the road for Rome la strada per Roma lah STRA-dah pair RO-mah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
keep going straight sempre diritto SEM-pray dee-REE-toh
to cross attraversare ah-tra-vair-SAR-ay
toll pedaggio peh-DA-jo
parking parcheggio par-KEH-jo
road map carta stradale kar-ta stra-DA-lay
where can I pay the fine? dove posso pagare la multa DOH-veh Po-so pag-GAR-ray la MOOL-tah

Typical road signs / terms » more

English (anglais) French (français) 
Stop Stop
Exit  Uscita
Staffic light Semaforo
One-way Senso unico
Dead-end Strada senza uscita
Parking prohibited No parcheggio or parcheggio proibito
Pedestrian zone Area pedonale
Limited Traffic Zone (you pay to drive in) ZTL or Zona Traffico Limitato

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).



Camping Panoramico Fiesole is in an Etruscan town in the hills right above Florence (Photo courtesy of Camping Panoramico Fiesole)

Camping and campgrounds (campeggi) are a cheap way to spend the night while traveling