Camper van and caravan types at a glance 07.12.2022
With such a huge range of camper vans and caravans to choose from, it can be hard to keep track, especially for someone new to the camper scene. What are the differences between a camper bus, a box van, a semi-integrated van and an alcove van? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the various types? Here’s our at-a-glance guide for newcomers and converts.
Just climb aboard and hit the road, taking a whole home with you – that’s true freedom! And an attitude to life that enjoyed something of a resurgence during the coronavirus crisis. More and more people with a thirst for travel are buying camper vans, so that they can be independent and take charge of their own destiny on the road – without forsaking certain comforts. But what types of camper van are available, and to what extent do they differ?
1) Camper vans offering everyday practicality
Camper bus – the all-rounder
Nothing conveys the image of total freedom as perfectly as a VW camper van with a surfboard on its roof on a beach in California. The current trend towards van life means that this hippyish travel companion is enjoying a veritable renaissance. Passionate van lifers fit out their camper buses themselves – although this blend of family vehicle and camper van can also be bought as a finished vehicle. The camper bus is not too big, meaning that it can also be used as an everyday family vehicle, while a pop-up roof makes for more space and standing room.
Box van – the compact vehicle
The box van is a goods van converted by a professional camper van manufacturer. The fit-out can range from basic to luxurious, depending on manufacturer and budget. In contrast to the camper bus, the box van has a wet room with toilet and shower in addition to the kitchenette and seating, thus offering greater comfort and independence.
Pickup – the off-roader
A pickup can also be converted into a travel companion – by mounting a camper shell or a box tent on the bed of what is actually a commercial vehicle. Various manufacturers now offer shells and boxes that can be fitted and removed with ease, meaning that the pickup can get straight back to work after the holidays. The size of the camper shell or box tent, and the extent of the fit-out, depends on the size of the pickup bed.
Who’s it for?
Suitable for solo travellers, couples and small families
Also usable as an everyday vehicle
Manoeuvrable and suitable for driving around town
Good drive comfort
Good value for money
Limited winter performance
Lack of space
Requires conversion in order to provide a sleeping area
Often lacking in sanitary facilities
2) The more comfortable options
Alcove vehicle – the classic option
An alcove vehicle is a camper van with part of its body above the driver’s cab, which provides an extra sleeping area. As this area is only accessible via hook ladder, it’s mostly used by younger members of the family. An alcove vehicle is particularly suitable for families, as the integrated seating can usually be converted into additional beds, enabling this travel companion to sleep up to six people.
Semi-integrated camper van – the comfy option
“Semi-integrated” here refers to the design of the driver’s cab, which is the original cab installed by the manufacturer, albeit integrated into the camper shell. This means you can swivel the two front seats around to provide extra seating for dining or relaxing. Semi-integrated camper vans come complete with a kitchenette, seating and a wet room and therefore offer a high level of comfort.
Fully integrated camper van – the luxurious option
A fully integrated camper van has a dedicated camper body mounted on the chassis of a standard-production vehicle. The driver’s cab no longer resembles the original design at all and seamlessly transitions into the living space, giving the interior an airy and spacious feel. Most of these vehicles have a large panoramic windscreen affording fantastic views. In terms of equipment and appointments, everything is possible in this premium class of camper vans. If the gross weight is above 3.5 tonnes, as is often the case, you will not be able to drive the vehicle on a Category B licence.
Who’s it for?
Ideal for families and travellers who want comfort
Fully equipped with kitchenette, seating and wet room
High level of comfort
Vast range of possible equipment and appointments
Fixed installation with kitchenette, seating and wet room
High and wide (>2.3 metres), so not suitable for narrow village streets or underground car parks with limited headroom
Higher purchase, maintenance and fuel costs
Not suitable for use as an everyday vehicle
Category B driving licence might not cover you to drive the vehicle
3) The flexible solution
Caravans often get overlooked in the search for the right camper van and have a somewhat dusty image, which is unjustified, as they offer several advantages. A caravan is actually a good compromise between the camper van types already described, as the towing vehicle can still be used as an everyday car – without having to compromise on camping or sleeping comfort in the van..
Who’s it for?
Suitable for couples and small families
Good for longer stays in one place
Can be used all year round
Towing vehicle can still be used as an everyday car or for day trips
More mobile than their larger counterparts
Small kitchen area
Unsuitable for off-road driving or frequent moving between campsites
Additional parking space required when not in use
4) The go-anywhere option
An all-wheel-drive expedition vehicle is the key to complete freedom and self-sufficiency on a camping trip. That’s because a converted truck can go almost anywhere, even off-road, while still offering every comfort – thanks to its extensive fit-out. On the other hand, expedition vehicles are very expensive to buy and run, and you’ll need a truck licence to drive one. They aren’t easy to park, either – whether in front of your house or on a campsite. These camper vans are therefore only a good choice for very ambitious overlanders.
Who’s it for?
Adventurers, travellers who want to be self-sufficient and people who prefer much longer trips
Can be used all year round and on almost any terrain
Extremely high level of comfort and plenty of storage space
Space for water and fuel tanks – for long periods of self-sufficiency
Very large travel companion
Expensive to maintain
You need a truck licence to drive one
No everyday practicality