Wild Camping, Savage Camping, Boondocking Europe
Actually none of these names really fit overnight parking in Europe. Europe doesn’t have much in the way of “wild” or even “boondocks”. But whatever you call it, overnight parking outside of campgrounds can save significant costs on a European motorhome trip. Campground fees in Europe vary wildly but in season in cities or beach/resort areas a couple with a small rv can expect to pay $40 or more with additional charges for electricity of $3-5 a day and sometimes $1-2 for each shower. Even in off season fees will average $20-25 a night without electricity. There are no state or forest service type campgrounds with their subsidized fees. To stay in a campground every night will cost $900 or more a month.
We have spent the last 9 months in our 22 ft Roadtrek Adventurous traveling through Germany, Scandinavia, Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. We have spent an average of $275 a month on camping fees. The following is what we have learned from our experience and from the numerous books by both Americans and Europeans who have done long term motorhoming in Europe.
Over the past ten years the concept of parking overnight in a motorhome outside of a campground for free or low cost has taken hold in Europe with a vengeance. Two countries have been the leaders—Germany and France. In both of them, as well as in Italy, many communities have set aside particular parking areas for motorhomes. Many of these areas are free. Most have water and a drain, some have electricity. Sometimes there is a daily fee, sometimes a fee just if you use the services. Usually there is a limit of 24 or 48 hours for your stay though this is often ignored except in high season. Other rules include not using an awning, grill, or setting out table and chairs. You are supposed to be parking, not camping, and the authorities clearly differentiate the two. In Germany these places are call stellplatz and in France aires. There are very helpful books published on where to find these places, many with GPS coordinates printed and also that can be downloaded into your satnav.
There are also schemes such as French and Italian Passion which publish directories of places you can stay for free in vineyards and other agricultural sites. The owners hope you will buy some of their produce, cheese or wines but that is not required.
In Great Britain, The Caravan Club publishes a directory of certified sites which are usually farms willing to take up to five motorhomes at a cost of less than $10 a night. Some of these sites have water or electricity, others are just mowed fields.
Finally, there is just finding your own spot. The most important aspect of this is being sure you are in a safe place. We have an alarm system for our rv and we chain the front door handles together and the side sliding door. No one could pick a lock or break a window and get into our van if we are inside it. In addition, we try to park so we could move quickly. We have a small can of attack spray and we have a cell phone with a sim card for each country we visit. We park before dark and walk around the area to see what kind of buildings etc. are in the vicinity. Where possible we park in well lighted areas near occupied buildings or other campers. We have read that village squares and small towns are safer so we head for them when we can. Some books recommend that if you are staying in a rest area that the toll roads are safer than freeways. However in Spain and southern France there have been numerous reports of robbery of overnight parked vehicles on highways and such parking is highly discouraged.
Often other campers share information on where they have parked. A young British couple we met told us that the Lidl supermarket chain allows overnight parking after store closing hours. A German couple shared that they often stop at a restaurant or bar and ask if they eat dinner or have a drink if they can park for the night. Not free, but better paying $30 for a good dinner than for a place just to park.
In Scandanavia and Great Britain roadside rests are a good bet away from cities. If you are not allowed to stay in one, it will be clearly signposted. We have also found that many historical sites, ruins, and especially megalithic sites have parking lots which make good places to stay. We have parked beside churches, schools (on weekends or holidays only). A medium to large hospital might also make a good stop and we have parked in airport parking lots the night before meeting friends or family. Often towns provide bus or large vehicle parking or parking for the marina or ferry. Read the signs—if it doesn’t say no overnight parking you may have found your spot.
Must Have Book: Camperstop Europe
Others: All the Aires Spain and Portugal, All the Aires France, French Passion, etc.
Books are available from www.vicariousbooks.co.uk You can have them mailed to US or posted to your first campground in Europe. Their store is in Folkestone, England (near Dover).