Turning Heads with an American Winnebago in Europe

Why a British couple chose a Vista as their new rolling home.

Lucy Kells  |  03.19.2018

Nine to five, Monday to Friday, working to pay the rent and bills. This was our life up until early 2017, when we had an epiphany: it doesn’t have to be this way. There had to be more to life than this rat-race. We hadn’t seen much of the country we lived in, let alone the rest of the world, and we wanted more.

Deciding to go for it

My husband Sean and I have been together for 20 years. We both had great professions, working with animals. Myself a Veterinary Nurse and Sean an animal rescuer. We had very rewarding lives, but still, something felt like it was missing. We were always working towards a goal, to save for a holiday or to pay the bills and perhaps go out to dinner. But we were always working. It always felt like we weren’t free. We wanted freedom, we wanted more from life. As they say, you only live once!

This realization led us to the decision to begin a life of full-time RV travel, like many Americans before us, we started to sell everything big and bulky, downsize our clutter considerably and start the search for the perfect RV. What makes us a bit different though, is that we are both British and live in England!

europe winnebago

Searching for the perfect motorhome

The hunt began. We searched online, visited showrooms and walked inside many European motorhomes, but they all seemed so cramped, so ‘plasticy’, and more like a vehicle than a home. Nothing felt right to us for full-timing. Then we walked around our first American RV…

Well, that was it for us, there was no going back to European models after that! It had to be an American RV! We were hooked already, all we now needed to do was to find the right one.

Ask anyone over here to name an American RV and I bet 99 out of 100 people will say “Winnebago.” Even though they are not common at all over here, they are still incredibly well known. When we stepped into ours for the first time, we realized why it’s such an iconic name.

Choosing the Winnebago Vista

We knew instantly, this was the one! We had seen so many other vehicles at this point, often going home after the visit and talking way into the night about the pros and cons of each one, but after setting foot in to a beautiful Winnebago Vista, that was it – we put down a deposit the same day!

We decided to have a propane fuel conversion done before we had her delivered, as gas is very expensive in England and Europe, and we wanted to make travelling as economical as possible. This took almost a month to organize and it was like torture waiting for it to be done!

But we made use of the time by watching loads of videos and reading a great many guides. We watched online tours of the same model Winnebago as ours almost every night to keep up our enthusiasm! We ordered a huge multitude of items we thought we might need (many of which are still in their wrappers)! And we continued to sell, donate and store the rest of our belongings and soon we were ready for her to be delivered.

europe winnebago

Delivery day drama

The excitement was huge when the delivery day arrived. Ironically, our delivery date was July fourth, which to us felt very apt indeed, as it would now also be our very own independence day! We went to a local campsite, where she was due to be delivered, then waited for the dealer to turn up.

An hour passed, then two, then at last we got the call, he was almost there! We rushed to the entrance ready to be greeted with the sight of our beautiful new home driving around the corner, and there she was, complete with a nasty scrape on the front! Yes, the dealer had crashed her whilst on his way to us. We didn’t let this stop us though, and spent the weekend in her, before he collected her again for repairs.

While our Winnebago was being repaired it gave us time to take stock. Were we ready for this? Was this really what we wanted to do? You bet it was! Staying in a house now felt so cramped and confined. It wasn’t what we wanted at all. We wanted our Winnebago back!

Finally moving in

When she came back after repair, we moved right in. Even though we still had the lease on our house at that point. We couldn’t wait. Only a few weeks more and we would be completely free of bricks and mortar and able to hit the road for good! Where would we go first? The world felt like our oyster! Until we took our first trip to go and get propane.

We swiftly realized that the UK local service station was totally not set up for our size of vehicle. My husband Sean did amazingly well with maneuvering though and we filled up and came through it without a scratch. But this was just one trip for propane, this wasn’t driving hundreds of miles!

We realized we needed to research a lot more. American RVs are designed for the beautiful open roads of America, not the narrow, bumpy, badly cared for roads of England! It was certainly possible, but we needed to plan our routes much more carefully. We got home and ordered a specialized GPS system that would warn us of low bridges and narrow roads. Between me as navigator, my phone GPS, the new specialized camper GPS and with Sean driving, we knew we could do it.

Hitting the road

We set off to begin our first trip, across the UK and then onwards to France, Spain and Portugal and we are still on the road! You can certainly tell when you look around in any of the campsites we have stayed in so far in Europe, that American RVs are a rare sight. There are hundreds upon hundreds of European motorhomes and caravans, but they all look the same to us.

We like being different! The looks and stares we get when we park are very amusing. We have had many people want to look inside and many more that walk around the vehicle just admiring it when they think we aren’t watching. It’s actually a hilarious use of the rear-view camera to eavesdrop on their conversations about the RV. We feel very honored and proud to be the owners of a Winnebago!

europe winnebagoThe usual European motorhomes. You can see why we stand out at the campground!

We have accumulated lots of tips for travelling in an RV in Europe that we can’t wait to share with you, as I know many people want to do the same as us. But most think they can only do it in a small European style motorhome.

Yes, much more route planning is needed if you’re in a big vehicle, but we have managed it with relative ease in our Winnebago! Well, with only a few minor mishaps. (Yes, temporary French roadwork traffic lights… we’re looking at you!) We’ve even driven around the extremely narrow single track, high-hedged roads of Devon and Cornwall in the South of England, which have some of the narrowest roads in Europe, and some of the smallest campsites!

We can conclusively say that touring around Europe in an American A-Class RV is a lot of fun and totally viable. And when it is in a Winnebago, it is even better!

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  1. corinne hackbart Posted on 06.11.2019

    Hello Lucy. Seems like a few of us are looking to bring our RVs over. I have a friend who purchased a European RV. He says I cannot bring my US made RV for many reason. First being all European RVs have chemical toilets and not holing tanks so there are no pump outs is this true? In addition he said since the US made RV are so much heavier, the European transportation dept will place a black box in your RV checking distance driven and may restrict an owner of a US RV to be held to only 100 mi/day. Thank you for the overview of the electricle. Was not aware. If you do elaborate on that issue with photos would be extremely interested to know as well.

    Thanks for all your knowledge!!


    1. Brooke Baum Posted on 06.15.2019

      Hi Corrine, I’m not sure if Lucy will have these answers. But, I did want to note that one of our regular contributors – the Holcombe family – just shipped their Winnebago Revel over to Europe and will hopefully have lots of insights to share soon. Thanks for reading GoLife! – Brooke Baum, WinnebagoLife Editor

  2. staton s. Posted on 10.10.2018

    Hi Lucy, great article. I am relocating to France for work and want to bront my American RV. However, I have read so many nightmare stories of people trying to ship an American RV to Europe so I’m hesitant to try to ship mine. As you know, you fall in love with your RV, especially after customizing it to fit your lifestyle. I have done this with mine and don’t want to give it up, but it seems nearly impossible. Any suggestions how you were able to do this, and did you have to move it every 90 or 180 days? Thanks!

    1. Brooke Baum Posted on 10.13.2018

      Hi Staton, Lucy actually bought her RV in the UK where she lives, she didn’t bring it over from the U.S. Perhaps one of the European motorhome clubs might have a member who can give you some insights on this – would be worth reaching out. Best of luck with your relocation! Hope it works out with the RV. – Brooke, GoLife Editor

  3. Joseph Fyffe Posted on 08.24.2018

    Hello Lucy,

    I have been researching shipping a rv from the US to Europe to travel more freely than I have in prior visits. I am aware of the 90/180 day rule for US citizens in the Schengen member European countries and that the UK is not a member and allows us to stay for up to 6 mos in a 12 month period, which will be great for allowing us to do two 90/180 days spells in the Schengen area with 90 days in the UK to break them up. My problem is, i cannot find any guidance on what the maximum allowable size of an rv in any country in Europe is. The plan would be to rv it for 270 days (90/90-UK/90), put rv in storage, return to US for ~90 days, return to Europe and repeat, visiting different countries than previous year.

    Having lived in Italy for 4 years in early 90’s, I do know what you are talking about with having to plan your routes to ensure height clearance. I too am looking at a Class A, but I am concerned about allowable length, height and width. Would not be good to ship something over only to discover it’s too big and not allowed on any European roads/highways. But I also don’t want to be “living” in something long term that is very cramped either. One might get cabin fever or claustrophobia after a while.

    In the US a 38 to 40 foot ( ~12 meters) long is large but still manageable on most US roads and highways. But might be too long and not allowed on European roads. Also most of the newer Class A rv’s are 102 inches (259.08 cm) wide.

    If by any chance you know this information or know of a link where I can find it, I would be very grateful!

    Cheers and happy rv-ing!!


  4. Lucy Kells Posted on 06.16.2018

    Hi Zoe Louise King! The GPS system we purchased is the Garmin Camper 770LMT-D, its a pretty good system, but like most satnav systems it is not 100% foolproof! I never trust it fully, and so use a combination of my phone, the Garmin and myself studying routes!
    As for the power, our Winnebago was imported into the UK and so was fully converted to UK sockets inside, so we use a standard UK 240v 16Amp cable with coupler connectors for most hookups.
    Some older European campsites still use a European 2 pin plug though, so you will also need to take a Mains Continental Conversion Lead too.
    In addition to this, some European sites have been wired incorrectly and have ‘reversed polarity’, which can be dangerous as everything is still ‘live’ inside your camper, even when its switched off! Scary!!
    To be safe, we always use a mains polarity tester plug to check the polarity whenever we connect! If the power is reversed, we will use a polarity reverser lead. This is a special cable that has the live and neutral wires reversed by an electrician. By using this “reverser cable” we can then get a safe supply into our RV.
    I will probably try and write a future article about it to explain it in more detail with pictures! :)

  5. Zoe Louise King Posted on 06.14.2018

    Do you mind sharing a) the GPS system you are using and b) your solution to the issue of plugging an American Winnebago in at a European campsite?

  6. Pat Marie Posted on 03.19.2018

    Great article Lucy. I’m so pleased (and a bit jealous) that you are having such an adventure. Long may it continue.

  7. Karen Greig Posted on 03.19.2018

    Well, if I wasn’t sure about the pros in buying a Winnebago than I am now having read Sean and Lucy’s article. Really informative.

  8. John Boldero Posted on 03.19.2018

    Nice, been thinking about a road trip around europe, but I couldn’t imagine doing it in anything much smaller than my current rig, so it’s great that it’s possible to tour in a RV over the pond, safe travels!