Free Camping in Europe
What DrC and I are doing for the most part in Europe is driving around in a small campervan and parking our big, conspicuous selves here there and everywhere without paying. This method of travel is known by several terms such as freedom camping, wild camping, or freeloading.
We partially travelled this way in Australia. Our van was relatively small and didn't lend itself to free camping as it did not have a waste water containment system, a shower, or a robust power system. As a result, we would free camp maybe two or three days and then we would be forced into a campground of some sort to charge up the battery and take a shower.
Dapple is bigger and does have all those items. Her power system could probably use an upgrade with solar and a better house battery, but it is sufficient to our needs. We can go three or four days without dumping our black or grey water systems and a little bit longer before topping up with water. Showers are quick but actually quite nice with the water heater providing a really nice, reasonable pressure experience. We were a bit startled when we moved into her to realise that our budget of hitting a campground every three to five days was excessive. In fact, it turns out that we camp in an official spot only every three or four weeks.
Usually what drives us into paid campgrounds isn't a functional need of the van but a lack of decent free camping options. This has proven particularly true as we enter the high season. In the winter, I think locals find us such a rare commodity that they really think nothing of us pulling up in a cemetery parking lot and spending the night. Who cares? One camper in the dead of winter. Ignore it. In the summer... ooh not so much. This is when local campgrounds make all their money for the year. Also, there are so many campers drifting around Europe in summer, it makes sense that they need to be corralled into designated parking areas.
Also, unfortunately, many of our fellow campervan people are assh*les. I'm sorry. It's just a fact. They dump grey and black water in the middle of parking lots, throw trash around, obstruct traffic. They spend maybe two weeks a year in their camper so they are often shitty drivers. Weirdly, they seem to come with satellite dishes and air conditioners and god knows what amenities and are just gargantuan taking up multiple spaces like long, elephantine buses. I'm not surprised that in highly trafficked destinations, the local police and community get utterly exasperated with these witless behemoths and ban them left right and center.
These bans have made our summer season in Croatia more challenging, and I expect that problem to increase when we make our way over to the UK. It will probably be necessary more and more for us to find a paid parking spot. However, here in Croatia, we are pushing hard against it primarily because ... love you Croatia but... these camper places are literally highway robbery. They are charging an insane amount for what is essentially a flat spot with few services. Today, for example, we are in Zadar and the local campground is 45 euro (roughly 80 NZD) per night with no trees and extra for electricity. I could literally park Dapple in a field a few kilometres away and spend less staying in a hostel. So instead, today we snuck into a defunct campground on the edge of town for the day and will probably pop up to an apartment parking lot on the outskirts of town for the evening.
In other countries, they put out the welcome mat. Almost literally. Travel Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Germany and you will often find small dedicated parking lots in medium and small towns. For a very tiny fee or no fee at all, you can park on a level spot. Some have water, trash, dumping and or electrical options. All of these are supported by the local community in the interest of attracting travelers. The quid pro quo is if you spend the night there you should be both a polite guest and a consumer of local services. In such places, we often walk into town and buy some groceries, top up the fuel tanks, or spend a few at a local cafe or bar. Honestly, these are my favourite park for nights.
Free camping isn't for everyone. If you don't like street noise, you're afraid of the locals coming by at night to drink beer and get a bit rowdy, you're threatened by the couple in the next car having sex... it's not for you. For DrC and I, however, this is the next best thing to anchoring out.
CURRENT: I actually wrote this last week, now we are fleeing Croatian heat and onuour way to the UK. Salzburg Austria last night Frankfurt Germany tonight.
LAST WEEK: We dithered around in Croatia trying to enjoy heat, high prices, and rocks. Apparently DrC and I are not cut out for an Adriatic vacation. We got really bored.
PLAN: We have four days to cross the continent and make landfall in Dover. In case you are wondering why, Schengen. Just look it up. We can't stay in EU countries for more than 90/180 days. So two months in the U.K. here we come.
Many of you either hail from the UK, have relatives, or have spent lots of time. We he 8 weeks to fill. Tell us what to do, where to go, and if you want us to visit...
TIP OF THE WEEK
Sticking with the theme of wild camping, two tips. First, get yourself an app called Park4Night. Brilliant and useful. People are just starting to use this in AU and NZ so be part of the movement by contributing to this fantastic resource. Second, two surefire places to find a not-pretty-but-functional and quite free camping spot are in industrial zones (wide streets, lots of places for trucks to park, and dead quiet at night) and at the edge of small/mid sized towns right where the apartment building meets the edge of farm lands. This is where locals park all their campers long term and you can just slide in between them and disappear.