Purchasing your home on wheels.
So you've decided to join the vanlife movement, with your mind firmly set on a European adventure. Now you need to get your hands on a van and the right one for that matter! Buying a vehicle overseas is a daunting task, especially when you are not especially mechanically minded. So where to start...
Choosing where to buy your van.
Online vehicle marketplaces like Marktplaats and Mobile are a great place to find, compare and purchase second hand vehicles directly through their owner. This service is similar to Gumtree in Australia and Trademe in NZ. To overcome the language barriers, use the google chrome browser which autotranslates the websites into English with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy. Having decided on what we were looking for in a van, we focused our efforts in the Netherlands and Germany. We found there was a good selection of vehicles that were generally well-maintained and at fair prices. Shopping around and doing your research will help you to gauge the market and get a better understanding of prices. We were told that a fair price for what we were looking for was around 8000EUR. Just be aware that you have to act quickly to avoid disappointment. Campers are extremely popular and during the summer period they sell extremely fast. We bought ours only one day after it was listed online.
Purchasing & registering your van as a non-resident.
The hitch in purchasing a vehicle overseas is that as a non-resident you are unable to have it registered. This can be be resolved if you have family or friends overseas who may register it for you under their own name or address. Don't be afraid to seek help with this. Dan stumbled across a "finding service" Dutch Campervans (based in Utrecht, Netherlands) on a forum. We used the services of Donna Turner who for a reasonable fee bought the van on our behalf. This allowed us the time to look for and purchase the van while we were still in Australia. We found our van "Aramoana" on Marktplaats. Donna went out and inspected her with a mechanic so that we knew she was in sound condition. I don't claim to know anything about mechanics and this saved us the hassle of having to arrange our own inspection. She then arranged to store her until we arrived. It was a mixed experience in terms of communication and there was a lot of trust involved but we came away pleased with the service and ecstatic about our van. At the time it was very daunting to spend so much money on a vehicle based solely on a few photos and someone elses opinion but we could not have come away with a better result. We got a good price and sorting it all out before we arrived took a lot of pressure off. Being able to resell the van at the end of this trip will also save us thousands of dollars that would have been spent on rental fees. If you are interested in Donna's services, the best way to contact her is via phone as she can take time to respond to emails.
Getting yourself insured.
Third party insurance cover. This is mandatory so make sure that you are covered for the countries you plan to visit. We are covered by Aveco Insurance under an International Liability policy as we are travellers (similar to rental car insurance). We organised this through Donna at a price of 600EUR for 6 months. Keep in mind that this only covers us for damage done to other vehicles. Double check where you plan to travel to and any borders that you may cross on the way. We met a British couple in Croatia that had driven to Montenegro for their honeymoon and were turned back at the border because they were not covered. We suggest leaving room to be spontaneous on your trip, by adding any country you may go near to your policy. Our itinerary is forever changing and evolving as we meet new people and get new suggestions.
Contents insurance. We were initially very concerned about the safety of our belongings but found that it just wasn't worth insuring the contents of our van. After much deliberation we decided to go without. It is almost impossible to make any claims for belongings left unattended in vehicles. We have two lockable boxes for use in our van but we generally choose to carry our valuables on us. Always take the extra precaution of keeping your possessions out of sight in your vehicle and choose to park in public areas. In some cities it is worth avoiding street parking altogether and paying for secure parking lots with a security presence. We have friends who were broken into in Madrid and Athens. Unfortunately, having a foreign number plate can make you more of a target. Overall we personally have had no issues, however we saw another van that was broken into near the abandoned Bobsleigh track in Sarajevo. Looking around in the carpark it must be regularly targeted as the ground was littered with shattered window glass. It was quite an isolated area, with little foot traffic bar tourists so keep this in mind during your explorations. Pray for the best and make sure that your phone and computer data is always backed up to a cloud or hard drive and that you have multiple bank cards in case of theft. Here are our favourite van-friendly towns and our tips for wild-camping.