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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



Limited space

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


Expedition vehicle

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

Highlight "Freedom on four wheels" in hall 3 and 4

Many have discovered or rediscovered nature and the joys of leisurely life on the road in recent years. Holidaying in one’s own camper van is “in” with the Swiss – be it a camper trip in Alaska or van life as a digital nomad.

FESPO is adopting the “Freedom on four wheels” theme to shine the spotlight on mobile travel. In the Van Life and All-wheel-drive Adventure Camp, manufacturers present a variety of camper vans, while visitors can test proven mobile travel products. In addition, fascinating talks provide a wealth of insider tips on choosing the right vehicle. Seasoned travellers and bloggers will also be there, recounting their experiences all over the world. Another highlight: during all days of the fair, savoury and sweet dishes from the Omnia oven can be tested at Campers Paradise in the Travel Adventure Camp.



Vanlifers and experts at FESPO

Globetrotter and engineer Thorleif

 - Globetrotter and engineer Thorleif

Thorleif can relax and recharge his batteries in the tranquillity of nature, far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, within his own four walls. Having topped up the water and diesel tanks and packed enough provisions, he loves being self-sufficient in his self-converted pickup. During his travels together with Simone, he has gained a wealth of experience in how to be organised within a small space without compromising on comfort. In future, the pair would like to travel for longer, get to know new cultures and not be tied to any particular place. That’s why, in summer 2021, they bought a 1995-built fire engine that they intend to convert into an expedition vehicle in the coming years.


Travel journalist and photographer Christian

 - Travel journalist and photographer Christian

Christian first boarded a plane when he was three years old and didn’t return from abroad with his parents until seven years later. Since then, he’s actually spent more time far away than at home. So it’s hardly surprising that, after trying a few other jobs, he was drawn to travel journalism and photography. Christian has now been travelling from the Antarctic to Ascona and from Mosnang to Mongolia for over 10 years – by plane, car, train and van as well as often on foot as a pilgrim. He recounts his experiences in lively travel articles and also paints pictures to capture specific moments on his travels.


Comewithus2 – Lui and Steffi

 - Comewithus2 – Lui and Steffi

Lui and Steffi have been on the road in a camper van for over six years. Hailing from Thurgau in Eastern Switzerland, the two have visited 45 of the 47 countries in Europe and also published five camping books. As well as being authors, the couple give talks, have their own YouTube channel and, whenever possible, hit the roads of Europe, where they are accompanied by Maja – a former mail bus that Steffi single-handedly transformed into a jewel on wheels. The pair most like travelling in the Balkans. “There, you’re still a guest rather than a tourist, so it’s particularly enjoyable to travel round a country like Albania,” enthuses Lui.

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Offroad Travelers – Chris and Conny

 - Offroad Travelers – Chris and Conny

Conny (42) and Chris (45) have visited 36 countries in their expedition vehicles during the last eight years, taking in Europe, North America and Central America. They most like travelling to areas well off the beaten tourist track, as that’s where they get the best impression of a country’s hospitality and traditions. The places they hope to find are not usually mentioned in any of the travel guides. That’s why they both avoid reading stacks of travel books, relying instead on their intuition, the aim being to travel around as much of the world as possible. The much-travelled duo don’t decide where to go next until a few days prior to departure, only to change their plans again just before they leave!

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Whaleontrail – Susanna and Martin

 - Whaleontrail – Susanna and Martin

It’s astonishing how much Susanna and Martin can pack into their old camper van – mountain bikes, snowboards, camping gear, climbing gear, surfboards and heavy camera equipment. The couple like nothing more than discovering a foreign country through its passions. In 2018, they therefore set out to get a little closer to the world together with Don the Whale, a self-converted Mercedes Sprinter. They spent two years on the road from Alaska to Guatemala before being forced home abruptly due to the coronavirus lockdown. Now back in Switzerland, they are using the time to recount their experiences by showing their most beautiful photos. They will be shipping Don across the Atlantic again in the foreseeable future.

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Take the path – Barbara and Roger

 - Take the path – Barbara and Roger

Barbara and Roger spent 550 days travelling through Europe and Asia in their T6 VW California. In spring 2021, the couple’s journey took them to the far north up to the North Cape via the Baltic states and Finland. They spent the majority of the winter in Greece, or rather on Crete, where they worked in an olive grove to become more immersed in Cretan life. The two continued further and further east when spring arrived, travelling through Turkey and Georgia before reaching the turning point in Armenia. They completed their incredible voyage by exploring Eastern Europe and Sardinia. The couple have recorded their experiences on their travel blog and YouTube channel.

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