Renting a Camper in France for the Alsace-Lorraine, Alps, and Burgundy June, 2023
So we left you after our quick trip to Amsterdam and then a flight to Paris. We spent about 5 weeks renting a 1 ½ bedroom apartment on the Left Bank from homerental.fr. We rented from them (minimum 30 days) two years ago and again this time as we were very satisfied. The Euro was at about 1.08, and the apartment ran about $140 a night. We loved the location just 2 blocks from the Luxemburg Garden and have already placed a deposit for next June. I am not doing a full write up of our month in Paris, but pictures, etc. are all at our blog roadeveron.blogspot.com
On June 6 we rented a camper van from Avis Car Away. Again we placed our deposit many months in advance, so this time we also purchased the “cancel up to 2 days ahead for any reason” insurance through them. We rented the linen package for 50E but did not purchase additional insurance or roadside assistance, as both were very expensive. Thus we had a 2500E deductible. This made me extremely nervous for the entire month, so you will have to value your own stress level. Mark had driven 2 campers we owned in Europe, every year for 3-9 months over a 10 year period. We had had only scrapes, etc. so we felt somewhat comfortable. Except for the stress, we didn't need any excess insurance. Our 28 day rental with cancellation cost us about $140 a day. Much less than a similar camper rental in the US. Last year we spent a month in France traveling by rental car and apartments. The cost was about the same, but we prefer having our own bed and bathroom and not having to pack up and move every other day.
Of course, we also had to pay for some campground fees for 17 of the 28 nights. That averaged $23 a night. Campgrounds in Europe are much less expensive than in the US unless you are at the beach or traveling in July or August. In popular areas near tourist cities such as Nancy, Strasbourg, Riquewihr, Chamonix, etc. you pretty much have to be in a campground. Later in our trip in the Alps and on our way back to Paris we found far more free parking stops (called aires in France) using apps such as Park4night and Campercontact. Advance reservations of a few days are advised for holidays and weekends even in June if you are planning on going to a regular campground.
Our camper was a year or two old, a Pilote V 600 on a Citreon Jumper 20 foot van. It had a manual transmission—nearly all small campers in Europe are manual. It was an excellent floor plan for two. Swivel cab seats, passenger seats for 2 with table, 2 burner propane stove, 20 gallon fresh water, wet bath with sink and slide away cassette toilet, Truma hot water with ducted heat, double size bed in the back that could be folded away, eye level compressor refrigerator with fairly large freezer. Two propane tanks, just one of which easily lasted the month using only the hot water and stove. There was one coach battery and one solar panel on the roof. This only gave you enough battery power for a day or two unless you were driving a lot. We didn't drive much most days, so we had to go to campgrounds more often than we like in order to plug in.
Campgrounds in Europe charge for everything, a fee for the site, each person, and usually $5-6 for electricity. Sometimes showers are also extra. We showered exclusively in the van which wouldn't be everyone's choice. When we had our own camper in Europe with a propane refrigerator, one battery, but one 160 watt solar panel, we hardly ever had to plug in. On the plus side nearly every campground has a nearby bus stop to visit whatever city of interest was nearby. In France you can order your bread and pastries the day before, and they will be available the next morning. Almost all the campgrounds have a bar and restaurant and often food trucks. You really don't need to cook much unless you want to. However be very aware that the vast majority of campgrounds in Europe are completely closed for 2-3 hours at lunch—no calling, no checking in.
Basic kitchen supplies came with the camper along with 2 levelers, water hose, 5 gallon jerry can for extra water, and an electric line. All of the supplied dishes were glass which we didn't care for so we packed away the extras in the drawers under the bed. There was lots of storage room and even a little hanging closet that could hold about 6 hangers. Our starter kit had a kitchen sponge, 1 packet of dish soap, and 1 roll of toilet paper. We were given only one small sharp knife and our one pan was very large. So we bought a bread knife and small pan—on return we found out we could have asked for additional kitchen supplies. So come prepared with a list of what you think you'll need when you pick up the camper. We also wished we had asked for an additional electric cord. Usually the hookup is only 1 post for 4-8 vehicles and you need a long line. Luckily for us we were able to borrow extra lines from the campgrounds when we needed them. But that is way less than ideal. We highly recommend buying the Michelin Atlas of France. Google works some of the time but has a tendency to send you down very tiny roads in order to save you 10 seconds. Checking the route in an atlas will often steer you a better way. Plus Michelin marks scenic places along the route that you can research and decide whether to add them to your tour. We strictly avoided toll roads as tolls are based not on number of axels but height—campers pretty much pay like a semi truck. Very expensive
Not everyone, even in the States, drinks the water from their tank, but we do. So among our first purchases was bleach and we sanitized the tank ourselves. We had brought a long neck funnel with us, which also came in handy when we wanted to pour the water from the jerry can into the tank. Some campgrounds do not have hose taps and the only way to get water is to fill the jerry can first and transfer.
We had brought several items with us (necessitating two carry-ons and one checked bag). These included duct tape, tire pressure gauge, screwdriver, spring type windshield heat reflector, wash cloths, small containers with lids to make ice cubes, extra dish towel, extra towel (which doubled as a bath mat and doormat), a dozen command hooks & refills, metal clips, travel mugs, my bed pillow, 12 volt inverter to charge computer and tooth brush, a 12 volt socket doubler for the cab so we could charge phones and plug in our dash camera, fly swatter, clothes lines, a few small spice containers, electric adapters, color catchers for laundry, bra wash bag. We wish we had brought Mark's Aeropress to make coffee as he had to drink instant the entire month! We did get Mark an international driver's license but he didn't need it. You absolutely should get one if going to Italy, Spain or Portugal as they can fine you for not having one.
We rented the linen pack which had two pretty terrible pillows, pillowcases, two sheets, a blanket, two bath towels and one dish towel for 50E. There was an extra blanket in the camper by accident and we were glad we had it. We did not get the table and chairs for outside. We probably should have as we had a nice awning and sitting outside is de rigeur in Europe. Our camper had 3 vents but none were powered—this is the norm so it is pretty hard to get a good breeze going. Weirdly, there were no fire alarms, propane alarms, nor carbon monoxide alarms. We always carry a carbon monoxide alarm with us though.
Make sure that you have them demonstrate every window, shade, screen, burner, faucet, table adjustment, swivel seat, etc.. We didn't and after two days found a broken window shade and a clogged drain in the shower. We then notified them and weren't charged, but we could have been. Also the manual they gave us really didn't cover our camper but a similar one. The lady pointed out the QR code which she said had complete videos, but we are pretty incompetent with QR codes, and didn't use it. I suggest that one person video all the demonstrations while the other watches. Or even make a video.
Driving in France is pretty straight forward. However, there are numerous speeding cameras which have a 5% tolerance—so if the limit is 80kmh, you will get a ticket for going 84kpm. Many villages don't post speed limits but you are supposed to know that once you pass the sign with the village's name that the limit is 50kph until you see the exit village sign or otherwise posted limits. Tickets are expensive. On our last day we stopped near our return to eat lunch. Mark tried to use a credit card and then cash to pay but the parking meter machine was broken. We sat in the camper and when he went outside, we had a parking ticket. No knock on the door, just a ticket. The rental agency said it might take several weeks but the bill would be 35E plus the rental agency fee of 40E. Yuk. Also buy a parking timer disc from a tobacco shop before going too far. Some small cities require them in their parking lots and they are very inexpensive even if you never need it.
We very, very much enjoy camping in Europe. We have done it by tent, our own camper, and now a rental. The rental can be stressful but on the other hand you always have a place to lay your head and go to the bathroom! Plus you have somewhat more opportunity to be spontaneous with your travels. We had planned three days in Nancy and loved it, so we spent 5. We planned 4-5 days on the Route de Grand Alpes but two turned out to be enough as the narrow roads and long drop offs were very stressful for me—our next time the Alps will be by Smartcar!
After our French camping trip in June, we flew from Paris to Missoula, Montana, where we had put our “stuff” in storage 15 years ago, intending to spend 2-3 years on the road. We then U-Hauled it all to the Raleigh, North Carolina, area where we have rented an apartment for 9 months to do some purging and thinking about what's next.
We are happy to answer questions if you have them. There is some more info and lots of pictures on our blog, https//roadeveron.blogspot.com. Our website is https://theroadgoeseveron.com, and also has all my previous write-ups about our 15 years of travel in Europe and New Zealand, southeast Asia, South America, southern Africa, etc. Happy Travels.
Vicki and Mark Sherouse firstname.lastname@example.org