Camping with a camper van

Those of you who have been following our blog for a while, know we like to camp. The freedom of going to different places, staying a bit longer where you like it or just chasing the good weather: for us it’s the best way of traveling. We also like to explore: resting is for a quiet Sunday at home – not for when we travel. So, a roadtrip is one of our favourite ways to travel.

But camping has its disadvantages as well. It’s great when the weather is good. It get’s tricky when temperatures drop or when there is heavy rain involved. We tried camping in fall in Wales, but had a lot of issues with humidity in the tent. We tested if a rooftop tent was the way to tackle that problem (in short, it wasn’t) and now we decided to rent a camper van.

So, is this the way to go?

For us, yes and no 🙂 It’s not an easy question to answer. Let me take you through the pro’s and con’s of it all.

First of all, renting a campervan (or buying one, for that matter) is not cheap. We decided to rent through Camptoo, but as I’m writing up this blogpost I’ve noticed that the company has been bought by Goboony in the mean time.
These types of websites mediate between owners of camper vans or mobilhomes and those who want to rent them.
You can also opt to rent directly from the owners. Our camper was property of Travel on Wheels and we would book directly with them if we ever decide to rent one again.

Although we would love to own a van ourselves, we don’t have the budget to buy one and unless you plan to travel frequently with a van renting is probably a better option. You always have a recent van, you don’t have to pay for maintenance, insurance, a safe parking place when you don’t use the van… We personally can’t travel that often with a camper van. We hardly ever have a free weekend and we want to explore outside Europe as well. So for the moment, renting seems to be the best option for us.

So, the price is a first disadvantage. When we traveled, it was during a mid-priced period (school holiday but not in the summer months) and we payed a whopping €134 a day. Bigger mobilhomes might be even pricier, high season is more expensive than this and you have to factor in that you also have to pay for gas (and they do use a lot of that!), road taxes (hello France and your very expensive system of ‘payage’) and a place to park overnight.

To find a place to park overnight we mainly used the park4night app. You can often find free or low cost spaces to park, even in countries where wildcamping is not allowed, like France & Spain where we went.
I’m not saying you cannot go wildcamping in those countries, but we mainly focussed on the coast and cities and with police frequently checking in those areas, we didn’t dare to take the risk. We avoided campings (because they are usually very expensive with a camper van) and focussed on camper-parkings. That meant a free or very low cost space to spend the night, but coming from tent camping – well – it’s not always a beautiful place to park. Often it really is like a parking lot with a few facilities, but that was OK for us. Nights were still cold and so we’d spend those mainly inside anyway. Of course you can find some gems as well, like this place near Biscarrosse, the free camperspace in Solignac or that tiny camperspot in the North of Spain… But you need to do your research before you travel and you need to be lucky: full is full, you often can’t reserve a spot before you arrive.

Our campervansite near Biscarosse. €8 to stay the night.
Free camper van parking near Solignac.
Camperpark in a beautiful coastal area in the North of Spain.

Another disadvantage is the slower speed of travel, though sometimes this can also be an advantage. It depends on how you look at it. We would mainly use a camper van in fall, winter or spring. This also means (for us) that our time to travel is limited: we have fixed school holidays of one or two weeks. For this trip we went during the Easter holidays, which meant we had 17 days (Easter Monday was a bonus day in 2022) and we wanted to explore the north of Spain. We did 3544 km in 17 days and the bigger part of that distance was done in a mere 4 days. Ideally you’d want to have more time on your hands to cover a distance like that.

Our Polarsteps map.

When we arrived in the north of Spain, we traveled only short distances each day and that was perfect. So, for trips further away you might want to look into options of flying to your destination and renting a camper van there – but that makes it even more expensive.

We didn’t have bicycles with us and for future campingtrips I would like to look into that. Like we said, we mainly focussed on the cities. That often meant that we would park somewhere and have a long walk ahead of us to visit the city. Cycling might make exploring a little easier / quicker.

A last disadvantage we’d like to mention is the size of the vehicle. You really have to be carefull where to drive & park. We found out the hard way that we’d better use a specialised app like Sygic Truck (where you can put in the dimensions of your vehicle and he only selects roads you can actually drive on) to plan our route.

But, of course, traveling like this has a lot of advantages as well. Let’s take a closer look at those!

A camper van is a relaxed way of camping. First of all, you sleep in a real bed, which is more comfortable than a thermarest campingmat. You also have a heating system, so byebye cold & wet nights in your tent.

A big bonus is that you have a fridge, cooking equipment and a toilet at hand at any time. This means you can stop to eat or go to the toilet at any time. We found this very relaxing. We’d stop for a cave visit and make a quick lunch afterwards before going on the road again; no need to eat out or search for food while on an excursion. Or on longer highway stretches you can make a fancy salad or even a pasta on a parking lot, instead of having to buy expensive and often not really tasty highway food.

It’s also a bonus that you don’t need facilities every day. You have a tank of water with you and often you have enough electricity to go off-grid for one or two days (might even be longer if your camper van has solar panels). You can wash yourself in the van, you can cook, charge your phone… That makes it all a little less challenging than doing the same thing with a tent.

So, would we do it again?

Yes, without hesitating even once. We really like this way of traveling and for us it’s an ideal way to go camping in the colder months. For summer camping in Europe we still prefer our own tent, because it’s still more flexible and A LOT cheaper. But we’d also love to explore for instance Canada, the US or Australia like this. We just need to save up a bit more for those trips 😉

We loved vanlife!

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