So many well-marked campgrounds dot the European landscape that
finding them is usually a no-brainer. Look for the international camping sign: either a "C" with
a tent superimposed or else a stylized trailer. Europeans view camping as being cheap, socially oriented
accommodation rather than the rugged, back-to-nature experience that North Americans tend to picture. As such,
organized campgrounds in Europe are good places to meet the middle class sector of European society, a somewhat
different crowd than you'll find in hotels or hostels. Europeans RVers tend to spend more time outside their RV than
do North American RVers, and as such you will tend to meet more people in a campground there than you will in a
campground (RV park) in the USA or Canada.
The major European cities, too, harbor popular campgrounds. For instance, Thalkirchen campground on
the Isar River just twenty minutes outside Munich is a wonderful spot, bordered by the river and within a forest and boasting
cafes and bars and an international clientele. Most budget guidebooks describe the best campgrounds in and around the
bigger cities or otherwise-popular spots. In fact, nearly every town in Europe is graced with a few RV friendly campgrounds.
If you plan to do lots of camping, however, a special guide is worth its price.
Many of the tourist offices will send you detailed information about campgrounds. Consider this snippet from
Mike and Terri Church's Travelers Guide to European Camping:
Remember too, just because you're traveling by RV you don't need to spend every night camping.
You can indulge in a sprinkling of hotels. You can sample a hostel or two, many of which welcome RV's. You can
incorporate train and bus and moped and especially bicycle travel into your trip. Hey, you can put the
movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles to shame — and we encourage you to do so.
Camping, of course, is a money saver. Discreet free-camping in an RV (alias dry camping, boondocking, wild camping),
although we do necessarily warn against it and although explicitly prohibited in certain countries, is tolerated almost everywhere in Europe.
Sweden officially sanctions free-camping, and Norway and Finland tolerate it in principle.
The people of those countries consider free-camping a right: everyman's right
(Allmansratten), they call it. To properly exercise that right, as it were, a person
camps on unfenced and uncultivated land, at least 150 meters (just over 150 yards) away
from any dwelling, stays no more than two nights, and cleans up after himself or herself.
Please note, however, that Allmansratten does not apply to RV's.
When not in Scandinavia, you could take your chances and
free-camp unannounced in some discreet spot or, if you are intent on free-camping, you could do the right thing by
asking permission of the land owner. If you choose the second option, chances are your host will
engage you in a fascinating conversation and, if you're lucky, invite you to dinner. Of
course you can sleep in your vehicle if you like.
Again though, for the sake of safety, we recommend that you do not free-camp.
European RV campgrounds usually itemize fees — charging for each person,
tent, vehicle and trailer. Campgrounds in Europe are rated on a four-star scale; and apart
from the basics, four-star operations are likely to provide several of the following: laundromat, grocery store, restaurant,
bar, disco, swimming pool, water slide, sauna, tennis courts, fitness facilities,
miniature golf course, horseback riding, a library, and a playground. Absolutely great for kids!
Many campgrounds also offer mobile homes or bungalows for rent. Unless you plan to rent one of these,
don't worry about reservations: European campgrounds are never "full"; the operators will pack you in if need be.
Individual campsites are typically not delineated.
But beware that most campgrounds lock the gate for the night at about 22:00 (10:00 pm) and for lunch from noon to 14:00 (2:00
pm). Also, most campgrounds in Europe do not provide picnic tables, and, sad to say, they disallow campfires.
Though the toilets can be perplexing, we'd rather let you discover their wonders for yourself than force you to suffer
through a description here. As for the showers, expect all varieties; and if using one that's token operated, make
sure you know how much time a token gives you.
Most European motorhomes have chemical toilets with detachable cassettes designed to be emptied in
special receptacles — called "Chem WC" units — installed at most campgrounds,
or into a regular toilet. Because large, heavy, irremovable holding tanks (i.e. blackwater tanks) are not so common on European motorhomes,
many campgrounds in Europe don't have a North American-type dumping station. Campgrounds or other camping
facilities in Europe that do have such a facility are denoted by the trailer pictogram and/or the
words "Entsorgungskanal" (German), "scarigare" (Italian), or
"vidoir" (French). The German auto club ADAC publishes and
distributes — free of charge to members of affiliated clubs — a list and map of such
dumping stations. For a charge, some campgrounds will allow you to dump
without staying overnight. Don't dump these tanks by a highway or in a field — this is
highly illegal. If you must, visit a municipal sewage treatment plant to do the job.
Most campgrounds provide central drinking-water taps with a hose
connected so motorhomers can fill their tank.
Most European motorhomes are wired with 10 ampere circuits that,
given the 230 Volt standard, might allow you to use up to 2300 Watts (that's 10 x 220) of
power at any one time. Note, however, that at 230 V or so you need about half the amperage
that you need at about 120 V to result in the same power (Watts). A 1000 Watt hair dryer
requires only about 4.5 amps in Europe whereas in the USA it requries about 8 amps.
Some campgrounds offer a meter at each site, charge you
to hook up, and then charge per kilowatt-hour. Others impose an inclusive
charge. Since you may have to park quite a distance from a socket, a 25
meter connecting cord (the longer the better) designed for outdoor use is helpful.
You should tell us in advance, and the rental depot on pick-up day,
all the countries you plan to visit and if you plan to use the RV for a special purpose such as to carry supplies,
on a movie set, etc.
If you plan to take the vehicle on a ferry, you should contact
the ferry company in advance to be sure you bring all the vehicle documents required to board.
Happy RV travels!