The Definitive Guide to Exploring Europe in a Campervan

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Are you dreaming of an epic adventure exploring Europe in a campervan? Look no further! This comprehensive guide is packed with valuable tips and advice to help you have the best van experience ever.

I personally spent 8 months living in a beautifully converted Ford Transit campervan, exploring every corner of Europe. Now, I want to share my experiences, the good and the bad, so that you can embark on your own unforgettable journey.

If you’re curious about the ins and outs of campervan travel, already own a camper van, or simply want to add a European road trip to your bucket list, this guide has got you covered. We’re leaving no details out – everything you need to know is right here, so you can avoid the pitfalls we encountered along the way.

Why Choose a Campervan for Traveling Europe?

  • Freedom! Whether you buy a used motorhome or build your own, the sense of freedom you experience while traveling in a campervan is unparalleled. You have the flexibility to go wherever you want, whenever you want.
  • Sleep anywhere you want. Campervans allow you to park and sleep in incredible locations that are off-limits to traditional travelers. Picture waking up next to breathtaking beaches, stunning mountain views, or serene lakes.
  • Choose your own schedule. With a campervan, you have the luxury of deciding how long you want to stay in each place. You can explore at your own pace and have the freedom to change your plans spontaneously.
  • Take everything you need. Campervans offer ample storage space, allowing you to bring along all your favorite gear for outdoor adventures. From surfboards and bikes to skateboards and snorkeling kits, you’ll always be prepared for an exciting escapade.
  • Enjoy the comforts of home. Living in a campervan doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort. You can create a cozy and homey space that suits your needs and preferences.
  • Travel for longer with less money. Compared to traditional travel methods involving hotels, restaurants, and transportation costs, campervan travel is a budget-friendly option that allows you to stretch your trip for longer without breaking the bank.

How Much Does Campervan Travel in Europe Cost?

During my 8-month journey, our daily budget averaged around £25. This meant we had a total budget of £6000 for food, gas, petrol, tolls, parking/camping fees, and sightseeing expenses for both of us. Sticking to this budget was surprisingly easy once we hit the road. You’ll be amazed at how little you actually need to spend to have an incredible time.

As for the initial investment, our camper van cost us approximately £6500. This includes the purchase of the van and the conversion process. While this may seem like a significant amount, it’s important to consider the long-term savings. When you sell your van after your trip, you can recoup a substantial portion of your investment.

Think about how much money you would otherwise spend on transportation, hotels, and the limited locations you can visit. By opting for a campervan, you have the freedom to explore the most beautiful and remote locations in Europe.

What to Consider Before Buying a Campervan?

Before purchasing a campervan, there are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Headroom: Make sure the van has enough headroom for your comfort. High top or roof vans are ideal, as they provide ample space to stand up.
  • Reliability: Research different van models, their service history, and availability of replacement parts. It’s crucial to have a reliable vehicle, especially if you plan on traveling for an extended period.
  • Sleeping arrangements: A good night’s sleep is essential, especially if you’ll be spending months in your van. Plan your bed layout and invest in a comfortable mattress that suits your needs.
  • Self-sufficiency: Consider how self-sufficient you want to be. If you plan on going off-grid for several days, you’ll need features like a fridge, large water storage, solar energy, and a running tap for sustenance.
  • Energy source: Decide on your power source. Will you rely on battery-powered lights and charge devices while driving, or do you want a leisure battery and solar panels for off-grid exploration?

These considerations will help you choose a campervan that meets your needs and ensures a comfortable and enjoyable trip.

Converting Your Van

Converting a van into a campervan is an exciting and fulfilling project that allows you to customize your living space. In my case, it took about two months of dedicated work, six days a week, to complete the conversion of our Ford Transit campervan.

There are numerous resources available to help you plan and execute your conversion. I highly recommend using Pinterest for design inspiration, watching YouTube videos for step-by-step guides, and reading blog posts for valuable insights. Even if you have limited experience with tools and construction, you can still complete the conversion from the comfort of your own home.

Our Route Through Europe

We started our European road trip by taking a ferry from Poole in the UK to Cherbourg in France. From there, we embarked on a clockwise route through Western Europe. Our daily driving time ranged from 1 to 3 hours, allowing us to thoroughly explore each location without feeling rushed.

To determine our route, we consulted resources such as the Camperstop book, Park4Night app, and Google. These tools helped us identify great camping spots, plan our itinerary based on driving distance, and discover hidden gems along the way.

Where to Camp in Europe?

When it comes to camping in Europe, you have several options:

  • Aires: These designated campervan parking spaces, also known as motorhome stops, are managed by town municipalities or private owners. Some Aires are free, while others charge a small fee. They offer varying facilities, so you can choose the level of comfort you prefer.
  • Campsites: If you’re looking for extensive facilities such as showers, toilets, and swimming pools, campsites are the way to go. These sites provide a range of amenities and often offer beautiful camping spots in scenic locations.
  • Free camping: Europe is well-suited for free camping, where you can park in unmarked areas that allow overnight stays. This option requires self-sufficiency, as you won’t have access to facilities. Popular free camping spots include side roads, beach car parks, and other secluded areas. However, it’s important to respect local regulations and leave no trace behind.

The Best Campervan Resources

To make the most of your campervan adventure, here are some essential resources worth considering:

  • Camperstop Europe Motorhome Guide: This comprehensive book lists over 9000 Aires in Europe, complete with GPS coordinates. It’s an invaluable resource for finding suitable camping spots across the continent.
  • Campercontact: This website and app provide a database of Aires across Europe, featuring reviews, photos, and GPS coordinates.
  • Park4Night: This app became our go-to resource for finding free camping spots. It allows users to share GPS coordinates and rate locations, making it easier to find incredible spots that aren’t in traditional camping guides.
  • GPS Device: Invest in a reliable GPS device with up-to-date maps for all the countries you plan on visiting. This will help you navigate and avoid toll roads.
  • Big Road Atlas – Europe: While digital devices are convenient, having a physical road atlas can be useful, especially if your GPS fails or you want to plan your route in advance. It’s also a great way to discover hidden gems off the beaten path.
  • Pinterest: Use this platform to find inspiration for campervan designs and gather ideas for your own conversion. You’ll be amazed by the creativity and unique solutions people have come up with.
  • Fellow Travelers: Reach out to fellow campervan enthusiasts for advice and tips. Connect with bloggers, join forums, and follow dedicated Instagram accounts for the #vanlife community. It’s a great way to learn from experienced travelers and gain insights into the campervan lifestyle.
  • Food Shopping: Lidl is a fantastic supermarket chain found in most European countries. It offers affordable prices and a wide selection of delicious food, making it a convenient option for stocking up during your travels.

Must-Have Campervan Essentials

To ensure a comfortable and enjoyable campervan experience, here are some essential items you should consider:

  • Portable Toilet: Investing in a portable toilet is a must for off-grid camping. It may seem unnecessary at first, but having this convenience allows you to explore remote locations without worrying about finding public facilities. There are various options available, so choose one that suits your needs.
  • Portable Electric Camping Shower: There are numerous options for campervan showers, no matter the size of your van. We opted for an outdoor shower that we connected to our van’s power source. We used a curtain rod and shower curtain for privacy.
  • Campervan Fridge: While fridges can be a significant investment, they are worth considering if you plan on long-term travel. Having a fridge allows you to store perishable items, enjoy cold beverages, and save money by avoiding expensive restaurants. Research different models to find one that fits your van and meets your cooling needs.
  • Solar Panels: Installing solar panels on the roof of your van can keep your leisure battery charged for extended off-grid camping. This allows you to stay in secluded locations without relying on external electricity sources.
  • Van Security: Protecting your van and belongings is crucial, as theft can be a concern in certain areas of Europe. Install additional security measures, such as sliding bolt locks, and be mindful of where you park. It’s always recommended to carry valuable items with you and park in well-populated areas.
  • Good Mattress: A comfortable mattress is essential for a good night’s sleep. Consider the size and layout of your van when choosing a mattress. Many options, such as memory foam mattresses designed for boats, are available to maximize comfort in limited space.
  • Mosquito Net: If you plan to travel during warmer months, a mosquito net is a wise investment. It allows you to keep your windows and doors open for ventilation without inviting insects into your van.
  • Ventilation: Temperatures inside a campervan can rise significantly during summer. Installing a roof window and a fan can help keep the air circulating and prevent excessive heat buildup. Don’t underestimate the importance of proper ventilation for a comfortable living environment.
  • Collapsible Table and Chairs: These versatile items are essential for outdoor dining and relaxation. They provide additional living space and can easily be folded away to save room when not in use.
  • Power Source: Consider how you’ll power your campervan. You can either opt for a simple DIY setup with battery-powered lights and devices charged while driving, or create a more advanced system with a leisure battery and solar panels that allow for off-grid camping.
  • Gas for Cooking: Choose a gas supply that suits your travel duration. For short trips, regular camping gas cookers and canisters will suffice. If you’re planning a longer journey, consider investing in a refillable LPG canister. This option saves money in the long run and reduces waste.

These essentials will enhance your comfort and convenience on the road, allowing you to fully enjoy your campervan lifestyle.

Departure Checklist

Before setting off on your campervan adventure, make sure to tick off these important items:

  • Van Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive campervan insurance that covers the duration of your trip. Depending on the nature of your camper, classification may vary. Check with the DVLA to classify your vehicle correctly.
  • Breakdown Cover: Investing in breakdown cover is a wise decision. If your van breaks down during your trip, this coverage can provide accommodation, a replacement vehicle, and even repatriation of your van.
  • Travel Insurance: Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance that covers the duration of your trip. This will protect you in case of unforeseen events, such as illness, accidents, or lost belongings.
  • European Driving Kit: Many European countries require drivers to carry a driving kit, which includes items like first aid kits, visibility vests, and warning triangles. Check the requirements for each country you plan to visit and purchase a kit that meets these specifications.

Petrol and Tolls

Petrol costs will be a significant expense during your trip, especially if you’re covering long distances. Prices vary from country to country, so plan your budget accordingly. Andorra often offers the cheapest prices, as it’s a tax-free zone.

Additionally, some countries require vignettes, temporary tax discs that you must purchase before entering. These can be bought at petrol stations and are valid for varying time periods. Research the countries you’ll be visiting and obtain the necessary vignettes to avoid any issues.

Toll roads are common throughout Europe. While they can save time, they also come with costs. Research the toll roads along your route and consider alternative routes to avoid tolls. Non-toll roads are often more scenic and provide a different experience.

Mobile Data

Using a UK SIM card in Europe is possible for up to 90 days, thanks to the “Roam Like at Home” policy. If your trip exceeds this duration, it’s worth considering alternative options.

Many countries offer affordable prepaid local SIM cards with generous data allowances. Purchasing local SIM cards can be cost-effective and allows you to stay connected. However, be aware that troubleshooting issues may be more challenging if you don’t speak the local language.

If you require consistent and reliable internet access, portable WiFi devices are available for rent or purchase. These devices allow multiple devices to connect to WiFi, but they come with a monthly fee. Consider your internet needs before deciding on the best solution for your trip.

Our Favorite Free Camping Spots

Throughout our journey, we discovered some incredible free camping spots across Europe. Here are a few highlights:

  • Iconic Locations:
    • Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy: A picturesque car park with stunning views of Lake Como. Close to town and the passenger ferry to nearby attractions.
    • Rome – Villa Borghese, Italy: A hidden gem in the heart of Rome, tucked away next to the zoo. A quiet spot within walking distance of top attractions.
  • The Mountains:
    • Chamonix, France: A shaded wooded area suitable for both small and large vans. Easy access to biking trails and close to the town of Chamonix.
    • Les Gets, France: A car park at the base of the town with access to toilets and water. Just a short walk from the charming town center.
  • The Most Scenic Viewpoints:
    • Views of Monaco, France: Park here for incredible views of Monaco and Monte Carlo. Don’t miss the hike up Tete de Chien for breathtaking city views.
    • Valensole, France: A rural spot near lavender fields, shaded under trees, with stunning views. Accessible via a private road, offering privacy and beauty.
  • The Best Beach Camping Spots:
    • Ferrol, Spain: A stunning beach car park with direct access to the ocean. Bins and toilets available during the season.

Location Highlights

Europe is filled with captivating destinations. Here are some highlights from our trip:

  • Belgium: Rochefort for Belgian beers and Brugge for its charming atmosphere and delicious waffles.
  • Netherlands: Lisse for tulip season and Amsterdam during Kings Day.
  • Germany: Heidelberg for history and castles, Triberg for Black Forest Gateaux, and Lindau on Lake Constance.
  • Austria: Salzburg for a taste of the Sound of Music and the picturesque Hallstatt.
  • Slovenia: Lake Bled for its stunning beauty, and we can’t wait to explore more of this incredible country.
  • Croatia: Rovinj for its colorful fishing village charm, Plitvice Lakes for its breathtaking waterfalls, and Zadar for its rich history.
  • Italy: From Alberobello with its unique Trulli houses to the iconic cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice, Italy offers endless beauty and history.
  • Southern France: Verdon Gorge for its turquoise blue water, Valensole for its lavender fields, and Tete de Chien for panoramic views over Monaco.
  • Southern Spain: Barcelona for its incredible architecture and tapas, Nerja for its beautiful beaches, and Seville for flamenco.
  • Portugal: Benagil caves for a unique cave beach experience, Lisbon for its chic vibe and pastel de natas, and Porto for its stunning Livraria Lello bookstore.
  • Northern Spain: Picos de Europa for breathtaking hiking, San Juan Gaztelugatxe for its stunning location featured in Game of Thrones, and San Sebastian for its amazing food and beautiful beaches.

Our Complete Route

As a summary, here is our complete route through Europe:

  • France: Cherbourg – Cambremer – Paris – Epernay
  • Belgium: Rochefort – Dinant – Namur – Brugge
  • Netherlands: Lisse – Amsterdam
  • Germany: Heidelberg – Baden Baden – Schiltach – Triberg – Freiburg im Breisgau – Lindau – Garmisch Partenkirchen
  • Austria: Salzburg – Hallstatt – Gmund
  • Slovenia: Bled
  • Croatia: Rovinj – Premantura – Plitvice Lakes – Zadar – Split – Dubrovnik – Split (Ferry to Ancona in Italy)
  • Italy: Ancona – Assisi – San Benedetto Del Tronto – Amatrice – Lake Compotosto – Mattinata – Alberobello – Locorotondo – Matera – Sorrento (Day trip to Positano) – Pompei – Rome – Siena – Tuscany Hills – Florence – Verona – Venice (by train) – Lake Garda (Sirmione – Moderno – Torbole) – Molveno – Andalo (Dolomites) – Lake Como (Menaggio, Varenna, Bellagio) – Aosta
  • France: Chamonix – Les Gets – Tigne
  • Italy: La Thuile – Finala Ligure
  • France: Menton – Monaco – Nice – Canne – St Tropez – Verdon Gorge – Moustiers St Marie – Valensole – Cascade Du Sautadet – Vallon Pont D’arc- Villefranche de conflet
  • Andorra
  • Spain: Montserrat – Barcelona – Cambril – Valencia – Nerja – Puerto Banus/Marbella – Tarifa – Seville
  • Portugal: Albufeira – Benagil – Lagos – Sagres – Lisbon – Cascais – Sintra – Ericeira – Peniche – Porto
  • Spain: Oia – Santiago De Compostela – Ferrol – Cudillero – Llastres – Covadonga – Picos De Europa – Llanes – San Juan De Gaztelugatxe – Bermeo/Bakio – Mundaka – San Sebastian
  • France: Saint Jean De Luz – Biarritz – Hossegor/Seignosse

This route allowed us to explore Europe’s diverse landscapes, cultures, and cuisines. We hope it inspires you to plan your own epic campervan adventure!

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