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Alpine escapades: navigating Europe's peaks and valleys in a rented campervan

Imagine winding through the breathtaking Alps and meandering along the idyllic landscapes of Italy, all from the comfort of a home on wheels. This is the journey Alex Johnson and his partner Sam from Colorado embarked upon in September, a venture that epitomizes the spirit of adventure and the joy of discovery. Catered to tourists, especially those new to the world of campervanning, their story unfolds the simplicity and exhilaration of traversing Europe in a rented campervan.

From the outset, Alex and Sam's expedition was no ordinary getaway. It was a foray into a life less ordinary, exploring the picturesque corners of Europe in a campervan that promised both freedom and coziness. They navigated the rental process with ease, selecting from a variety of options to find a van that was not just a mode of transport, but a companion in their journey. Equipped with a kitchenette, a snug sleeping area, and all the essentials, their chosen campervan was a perfect fit for beginners, setting the stage for an adventure filled with stunning vistas, cultural encounters, and unforgettable memories.


A beginner's guide to campervan rental in Europe

Before diving into Alex and Sam’s adventures, let’s talk about the campervan rental experience in Europe, specially tailored for beginners. Renting a campervan in Europe is an exciting and unique way to explore the continent, offering both freedom and comfort. Whether you're planning to meander through the majestic Alps or soak in the Mediterranean sun, here's a beginner’s guide to get you started.

Navigating rental options with

One of the first steps in your campervan journey is choosing the right rental. This is where becomes your go-to resource. It allows you to compare various rental offers and shops. The Score is a rating system based on previous customers' online reviews. This score helps you gauge the quality and reliability of rental shops, making your decision-making process easier and more informed.

Exploring online marketplaces

Online marketplaces like and Goboony offer a wide array of campervans from private owners. These platforms are akin to the Airbnb of campervans, providing a personal touch to your rental experience. You'll find a diverse range of vehicles, from vintage vans with character to modern models with all the latest amenities. These sites are ideal for those looking for a more personalized, community-driven experience.

Choosing large rental companies

For a more traditional approach, large campervan rental companies like Indiecampers and McRent are popular choices. These companies offer a fleet of well-maintained and uniformly equipped campervans, ensuring consistent quality. With branches across Europe, they provide the convenience of picking up and dropping off the vehicle in different locations, which is great for extensive, cross-country trips.

Opting for local rental shops

Lastly, small local campervan rental shops offer a unique and often more intimate rental experience. These shops might not have the extensive fleet of the larger companies, but they often make up for it with personalized service and local knowledge. Renting from these shops can also support local businesses, and they might offer unique, locally popular models of campervans.

What to consider when renting

When choosing your campervan, consider factors like size, amenities (like kitchen and sleeping arrangements), and budget. Remember to check for hidden costs, insurance coverage, and the support provided by the rental company in case of emergencies.

Understanding prices and rental conditions

Navigating the cost and rental conditions is a crucial part of planning your campervan journey. Here, we'll explore what factors influence the price, the typical rental conditions you might encounter, and any differences between countries or regions. Plus, we'll take a closer look at what Alex and Sam paid for their rental campervan.

Factors influencing rental prices

Type of campervan: The price varies significantly based on the type and size of the campervan. Luxury models with high-end amenities will cost more than basic models.

Rental duration: Longer rentals often have a reduced daily rate compared to shorter rentals.

Season: Prices are generally higher during peak tourist seasons, such as summer and during major festivals or events.

Location: Rental costs can vary based on the country and even within different regions of the same country. Popular tourist destinations tend to have higher prices.

Additional features: Extras like GPS navigation, camping gear or additional insurance coverage will add to the cost.

Typical rental conditions

Mileage limits: Some rentals come with a cap on how many miles you can drive per day or rental period.

Insurance: Basic insurance is usually included, but additional coverage can be purchased.

Deposits: Most companies require a security deposit, which is refundable upon returning the campervan in good condition.

Pickup and drop-off locations: Flexibility in these locations can affect the price.

Differences between countries or regions

Rental prices and conditions can vary across Europe. For instance, renting in Western Europe (like France or Germany) might be more expensive than in Eastern Europe (like Poland or Croatia). Countries with a higher cost of living typically have higher rental rates.

Alex and Sam's rental details

Alex and Sam opted for a mid-range campervan from a reputable local rental shop in Zurich, Switzerland (where they landed from Denver). Their campervan was equipped with essential amenities like a kitchenette and a sleeping area, perfect for their needs. For a one week rental, they paid CHF1,200 (around $1,350), which included basic insurance coverage and a 2000km mileage limit that suited their travel itinerary across the Alps and Italy. This cost was inclusive of all the necessary equipment they needed for a comfortable journey and a spare gas can. The rental would likely have been less expensive had they rented the campervan in Austria, Italy or Germany, but flight connections and itinerary planning made Zurich a good starting point.

When renting a campervan, understanding the pricing structure and rental conditions is key to planning a successful trip. Costs can vary based on several factors, and it's important to consider your travel needs and budget. Websites like are valuable resources for comparing prices and conditions across different rental services. With the right preparation, a campervan trip in Europe can be an affordable and unforgettable experience.

Also read this guide by Ask the experts: getting advice from rental shop staff

Navigating European roads in a campervan: tips for Switzerland, Italy and Austria

Driving a campervan across European countries like Switzerland, Italy, and Austria offers a unique and exhilarating experience. However, it's quite different from road-tripping in the United States. Here are some key aspects to consider when navigating the roads in these European countries.

Understanding road rules and differences

Driving on the right

Like in the U.S., all three countries drive on the right-hand side of the road. This should make the transition easier for American drivers.

Speed limits

Speed limits vary and are usually lower than in the U.S. In Switzerland and Austria, highways typically have a limit of 120 km/h (about 75 mph), and in Italy, it's up to 130 km/h (about 80 mph). However, speed limits are reduced in urban areas and can be as low as 30-50 km/h (about 18-31 mph).

Driving with an American driver’s license

For American drivers like Alex and Sam, the good news is that driving a campervan in Europe is generally permissible with a valid U.S. driver’s license. However, it's often recommended and sometimes required, to also carry an International Driving Permit (IDP). The IDP, which translates a U.S. license into several languages, is recognized in many countries and can be easily obtained in the U.S. before departure.

When it comes to the type of vehicle you can drive, a standard U.S. driver’s license usually allows you to operate campervans and motorhomes that fall within certain size and weight limits (commonly vehicles under 3.5 tonnes). It’s important to check the specific requirements of each country and the specifications of the campervan.

There are also age restrictions to consider. Most rental companies require drivers to be at least 21 years old, sometimes 25, and have a minimum of one or two years' driving experience. Additionally, there may be an upper age limit for renting vehicles in some countries.

Toll roads

Switzerland and Austria require a "vignette" (a sticker placed on the windshield) for highway use. In Italy and Austria, many highways and tunnels have tolls. Be prepared to pay these fees, often in cash. Ask your campervan rental provider if the van is already equipped with a “vignette” for highways in the countries you intend to drive in.

Narrow roads and historic areas

Especially in Italy, some roads can be narrow and winding, particularly in historic areas and small towns. Driving a campervan in these areas requires careful navigation and patience.

Mountain driving

The Alps present unique challenges with steep inclines, declines and hairpin turns. Ensure your campervan is in good condition, particularly its brakes and tires.

Parking and overnight stays

Parking restrictions: Be aware of parking regulations, which can be strict in city centers. Look for designated parking areas for campervans or areas that prohibit parking of camping vehicles.

Overnight parking: Unlike in the U.S., "free camping" or parking overnight in undesignated areas is often restricted, especially in tourist-heavy regions. Use designated campsites or parking areas in these cases.

Utilizing Apps for Parking and Overnight Stays: To navigate the nuances of parking and finding overnight spots, Alex and Sam used helpful apps like Park4night. This app provided them with a wealth of information on campgrounds, spots for legal overnight camping, and even unique locations such as farms and vineyards that welcome campervans.

Cultural considerations

Respecting quiet hours: Many European countries have "quiet hours", typically at night and during lunchtime. It’s important to respect these times, especially when parking in residential areas.

Environmental zones: Some urban areas have low-emission zones where certain vehicles are restricted. Check if this applies to your campervan.

Safety and preparation

Carry required items: In these countries, it’s mandatory to have certain items in your vehicle, like a reflective vest, warning triangle and first-aid kit. Check with your campervan rental provider if your campervan is equipped with these required items.

GPS and maps: While GPS is invaluable, having a physical map as a backup is wise, especially in remote areas.

Alex and Sam’s experience

Alex and Sam found that driving in Switzerland required careful adherence to speed limits and purchasing a vignette for highway travel. In Italy, navigating narrow streets in small towns was a challenge but also part of the adventure. In Austria, they enjoyed the well-maintained roads but had to be mindful of tolls and parking regulations.

Navigating European roads in a campervan can be a fantastic experience, offering a sense of freedom and adventure. Being aware of the local rules, road conditions, and cultural nuances will make your journey smoother and more enjoyable.

Cultural etiquette: respecting local customs

In their travels through Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, Alex and Sam learned the importance of understanding and respecting local cultural etiquette. As campervan tourists, being mindful of cultural norms is essential for a harmonious journey.

Switzerland: Known for its punctuality and orderliness, Switzerland values quiet and respect for privacy. Campers should be mindful of noise levels, especially at night. In rural areas and campgrounds, a friendly greeting to neighbors is appreciated, but respecting personal space is paramount.

Italy: Italians are known for their warm hospitality. However, in smaller towns and villages, it's important to remember that afternoon siestas are common. This means keeping noise to a minimum during these hours. When interacting with locals, a little effort in speaking Italian, even just basic greetings, goes a long way in showing respect for their culture.

Austria: Austrians place high importance on environmental conservation. When camping, it's crucial to follow guidelines for waste disposal and recycling. Greeting people with a polite 'Guten Tag' (Good day) or 'Grüß Gott' (a traditional greeting in Austria) can make a significant difference in how you're perceived.

Emergency preparedness: staying safe on the road

Alex and Sam understood the importance of being prepared for emergencies while traveling through different European countries in their campervan. Here are key aspects they considered for emergency preparedness:

Emergency contacts: They kept a list of emergency numbers for each country. In Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, the general European emergency number 112 is operational. Additionally, having the contact details of the campervan rental provider is crucial for any vehicle-related emergencies.

Healthcare access: They ensured they had a clear understanding of how to access healthcare services in each country. Having travel insurance that covers medical emergencies is advisable.

Breakdowns and repairs: They familiarized themselves with the campervan's basic mechanics for minor issues. For more significant breakdowns, they had a membership with a roadside assistance service, provided by their rental company.

First-aid kit and safety gear: Their campervan was equipped with a first-aid kit, reflective vests, a warning triangle, and a fire extinguisher, all essential for dealing with minor injuries or accidents.

Weather and road conditions: They regularly checked weather forecasts and road conditions, especially important in mountain areas like the Alps where conditions can change rapidly.

Connectivity and navigation: staying on track

In terms of connectivity and navigation, Alex and Sam took several steps to ensure they could always find their way and stay connected:

Offline GPS and maps: While they used GPS for navigation, they also downloaded offline maps on their devices as a backup. In remote areas, especially in the mountains or rural regions, GPS signals can be unreliable.

Data and Wi-Fi connectivity: They opted for an international data plan to ensure continuous internet access. Additionally, many campsites in Europe offer Wi-Fi, but it’s wise to check connectivity levels beforehand, especially in remote areas.

Local SIM cards: In some cases, purchasing local SIM cards for better coverage and rates, is particularly useful for longer stays in one country.

E-SIM providers: As a convenient alternative, they also considered using E-SIM providers like and Betterroaming for seamless connectivity across multiple European countries, offering flexibility and avoiding the need for physical SIM cards.

Physical maps and guidebooks: They kept physical maps and travel guidebooks in their campervan, which came in handy in areas with limited digital connectivity and added a traditional touch to their navigation.

By being prepared for emergencies and ensuring reliable ways to navigate and stay connected, Alex and Sam were able to travel with peace of mind, focusing on the enjoyment of their journey.

Environmental considerations: traveling responsibly

Alex and Sam were committed to being responsible travelers, especially in terms of respecting the environment. Here are the key environmental considerations they followed during their campervan journey:

Leave no trace: They adhered to the 'Leave No Trace' principles, ensuring that they left the campsites and natural areas they visited just as they found them. This meant carrying out all their trash and minimizing their impact on the surroundings.

Eco-friendly practices: They chose eco-friendly products for their journey, including biodegradable soaps, and avoided single-use plastics as much as possible. They also made sure to use designated chemical disposal points for the campervan's waste.

Respecting wildlife: While exploring natural habitats, they maintained a safe and respectful distance from wildlife, avoiding any interference with natural behaviors or habitats.

Supporting local and sustainable businesses: Alex and Sam made it a point to engage with the local communities by shopping at neighborhood and farmers' markets and patronizing small, sustainable businesses. This not only allowed them to savor the authentic flavors and crafts of each region but also enabled them to contribute meaningfully to the local economies, all while adhering to eco-friendly practices. Their shopping experiences became a rich tapestry of cultural immersion, connecting them more deeply with the places they visited.

By incorporating these environmental considerations, Alex and Sam ensured their journey was not only enjoyable but also aligned with the values of sustainable and responsible tourism.

Also read’s guide on sustainable adventuring: Adventuring responsibly: leave no trace and sustainable practices for equipment rentals


Rolling through Europe: Alex and Sam's campervan adventure

Join us on an enchanting journey with Alex and Sam, a duo who left behind the hum of city life in Denver for an epic campervan journey across the heart of Europe. Starting in Zurich, they charted a course through the awe-inspiring landscapes of Switzerland and Italy, culminating in a scenic return via Austria. Their adventure, encompassing both majestic natural wonders and quaint cultural enclaves, unfolds as a tale of discovery and awe.

Their journey began in Zurich, from where they steered southward, traversing the Swiss highways to the enchanting town of Grindelwald and nearby Junfraujoch. The adventure then took a picturesque turn into Italy, entering through Andermatt, a journey stretching about 265km (160 miles) to the tranquil waters of Lake Como. From a cozy campsite near Como, they ventured to Bellagio, hopping on a ferry to Varenna, each locale painting a vivid picture of Italian charm.

The road then beckoned them towards the majestic Dolomites, weaving through the outskirts of Milan, pausing by the shimmering expanse of Lake Garda and the historic allure of Verona, before coursing through Trento. As they delved into the heart of the Dolomites, each trail and peak narrated its own story.

Gradually veering westward, their sojourn led them to the Stelvio Pass, their final highpoint, presenting a breathtaking blend of altitude and beauty. The journey back to Zurich was a scenic retreat through Austria, skirting the edges of Liechtenstein, a testament to Europe's intricate tapestry of landscapes and cultures.

This odyssey, marked by stops at Jungfraujoch, Lake Como, the Dolomites, and the Stelvio Pass, was more than a mere road trip. It was a journey through a spectrum of experiences, from lofty Alpine heights to the serene Italian lakes, offering a trove of insights for both the experienced camper and the curious novice. Join Alex and Sam in this narrative as they explore, discover, and inspire, traversing the splendor of Europe's heartland in their home on wheels.

A day to remember at Jungfraujoch

Their route leads them through Switzerland, southwards from Zurich through Lucerne up into the Alps. The day's destination is the picturesque town of Grindelwald. They park their campervan in a welcoming campsite, nestled above the town and at the foot of the imposing Eiger North Face. The site, like many in Europe, is pet-friendly and ideal for first-time campers.

The highlight of their trip soon unfolds: a journey on the Jungfrau Railway to the Jungfraujoch. Under clear, blue skies, the duo sets off on this once-in-a-lifetime excursion.

The train climbs to the Kleine Scheidegg, where the iconic Hotel Bellevue des Alpes stands. Boarding the Jungfrau Railway, they travel through the Eiger North Face to the Jungfraujoch, the "Top of Europe" at 3,571 meters.

Charming discovery at Lake Como

Alex and Sam's adventure takes a leisurely turn as they arrive at the captivating shores of Lake Como in Italy. This renowned destination, with its picturesque setting, is a jewel in the Italian landscape, offering a mix of natural beauty and cultural richness. The campervan, their dependable companion, allows them to explore this idyllic area with ease and comfort.

Upon finding a quaint campsite near the water, they are delighted by its accessibility and the warm welcome they receive. The site, nestled amidst lush greenery, provides a scenic spot to park the campervan, complete with necessary facilities. Here, they unwind by the tranquil lake, soaking in the serene atmosphere and the stunning views of the surrounding hills and elegant villas.

Lake Como is not just about relaxation; it’s a hub of activity. Alex and Sam rent a canoe in Bellagia to explore the lake, a perfect way to see the many charming villages and grand estates from a different perspective. The couple enjoys local cuisine at a nearby restaurant, savoring dishes like risotto al pesce persico, a regional specialty. The lively atmosphere of the lake at night, with soft lights reflecting on the water and the gentle sound of waves, makes for unforgettable moments.

Throughout their stay at Lake Como, Alex and Sam discover the unique blend of natural beauty, historical charm, and modern luxury that this area offers. The convenience and flexibility of their rented campervan enable them to fully immerse in the experience, creating memories that will last a lifetime. This stop at Lake Como, a blend of relaxation, exploration, and culinary delights, becomes a highlight of their campervan adventure.

Adventure in the Dolomites

After their tranquil experience at Lake Como, Alex and Sam continue their campervan adventure to the Dolomites, a magnificent mountain range that's a UNESCO World Heritage site. This region, known for its stunning peaks and lush valleys, promises an entirely different experience, combining natural splendor with thrilling outdoor activities.

As they drive their rented campervan through the winding roads, they are greeted by the awe-inspiring sight of towering cliffs and spires. The Dolomites offer a dramatic change in scenery, with rugged landscapes that are a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. They find a campsite nestled in a picturesque valley, surrounded by majestic mountains. The site, though in the midst of wild nature, offers modern amenities that make it a perfect base for beginners in campervanning.

Their days in the Dolomites are filled with exploration and adventure. They embark on several hikes, following trails that lead to breathtaking vistas and serene alpine lakes. The Tre Cime di Lavaredo, with its iconic three peaks, becomes a favorite spot for a day hike. The trail around these famous peaks provides stunning views and a sense of the vastness of the mountains.

The Dolomites are not just about hiking; the region is rich in history and culture. Alex and Sam visit charming mountain villages like Cortina d'Ampezzo, known for its cozy atmosphere and historic sites. They explore local museums, learning about the area's World War I history and the Ladin culture unique to this region.

One of the highlights of their stay is a cable car ride to the summit of a nearby peak. From here, they witness a panoramic view of the Dolomites, an unforgettable sight that showcases the beauty and grandeur of the mountains. The evenings are spent back at the campsite, where they share stories with fellow campers, many of whom are also exploring the Dolomites in campervans. The sense of community among travelers adds a warm and welcoming dimension to their adventure.

Throughout their extended stay in the Dolomites, Alex and Sam find themselves in awe of the natural beauty and the myriad of activities available. The flexibility of their campervan allows them to experience the Dolomites at their own pace, making each discovery more personal and memorable. This leg of their journey proves to be not just a physical adventure but also a journey into the heart of one of Europe's most stunning landscapes.

A thrilling ride through Stelvio Pass

Leaving the serene beauty of the Dolomites behind, Alex and Sam point their campervan towards one of the most exhilarating drives in Europe – the Stelvio Pass in Italy. Known as one of the highest and most dramatic mountain passes in the Alps, the Stelvio offers a thrilling challenge that's a must for any road trip enthusiast.


Navigating the hairpin turns of the Stelvio Pass is an adventure in itself. The road zigzags through the mountain, offering breathtaking views at every turn. Despite being beginners in campervan travel, Alex and Sam find the drive exhilarating, with their trusty rental providing a steady and comfortable journey up the mountain.

Upon reaching the summit, they are rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. The area around the pass is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering numerous hiking trails and photo opportunities. They find a camping spot near the pass, perfect for those who wish to be close to nature yet comfortable. The campsite, set amidst the stunning Alpine scenery, provides basic amenities, allowing them to enjoy the wilderness without being completely off the grid.

Here, in the heart of the mountains, they spend their time exploring the rugged terrain, eagerly trotting along the scenic paths. The evenings are spent under a blanket of stars, the crisp mountain air adding to the sense of adventure and freedom that only a campervan trip can provide.

The Stelvio Pass and its surrounding area not only offer a memorable driving experience but also a chance to immerse in the natural beauty of the Alps. For Alex and Sam, this stop becomes a highlight of their journey, showcasing the raw beauty of the European landscape and the joy of discovering it at their own pace in their rented home-on-wheels.

Reflecting on a Journey of Discovery and Connection

As Alex and Sam's campervan adventure drew to a close, their journey from Zurich to the heights of the Stelvio Pass and back left them with a tapestry of memories and a deeper connection to the landscapes and cultures of Europe. Each stop, from the snow-capped peaks of Jungfraujoch to the serene shores of Lake Como, from the rugged beauty of the Dolomites to the thrilling ascents of Stelvio Pass, brought its unique flavor and learning.

Navigating through these diverse terrains, they found more than just scenic beauty; they found a sense of belonging and a deeper appreciation for the world's vast wonders. Their experiences transcended the mere act of travel, evolving into a journey of personal growth and shared discovery. As they returned their campervan in Zurich, they carried with them not just photographs and souvenirs, but a wealth of experiences that would continue to inspire and resonate with them long after their return home.

This odyssey, a blend of adventure, culture, and natural beauty, stands as a testament to the transformative power of travel. It reminds us that sometimes, the best way to understand the world, and ourselves, is to hit the road with an open heart and an adventurous spirit.

Concluding the Campervan Chronicles: Embracing the Road Less Traveled

As we reach the end of Alex and Sam's captivating campervan journey, it's clear that their expedition across Europe's peaks and valleys was more than just a holiday. It was an immersive exploration, a chance to live life on the road, and an opportunity to embrace the spontaneity and freedom that comes with campervan travel. Their adventure serves as a comprehensive guide and an inspiring tale for anyone yearning to embark on a similar path, particularly for those new to the world of campervanning.

Their story, woven through the majestic Alps, the serene Italian lakes, and the picturesque Austrian landscapes, underscores the ease and joy of exploring Europe in a rented campervan. From selecting the perfect vehicle that catered to their needs to navigating the diverse European roads and cultures, they demystified the campervan experience for beginners. The practical insights and tips provided in their narrative, coupled with the beginner’s guide to campervan rental, offer a valuable roadmap for future travelers.

Alex and Sam's journey highlights the unique beauty of Europe, experienced through the intimate and flexible lens of campervan travel. It's a reminder that sometimes the best discoveries are made when we venture off the beaten path, steering our course through less explored roads. Their adventure, marked by breathtaking landscapes and enriched by local cultures and cuisines, illustrates the endless possibilities that open up when we choose to explore the world in a campervan.

As we bid farewell to their story, it’s evident that their journey was as much about discovering the external world as it was about uncovering internal landscapes. Whether it's navigating the intricacies of campervan rental or exploring Europe's hidden gems, Alex and Sam's adventure is a testament to the spirit of exploration and the joys of life on the road. Their experience invites us all to consider the road less traveled, to embrace the unknown, and to discover the joy and freedom that comes with campervan travel.


Also read:

The ultimate campervan rental road trip: top destinations and tips

Advice for first-time campervan renters: insights from a seasoned explorer

Mastering campsite etiquette: being a responsible camper

Capturing the moment: a beginner's guide to outdoor photography

19 simple tips for your winter camping adventure

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