An Introduction to Wild Camping in Europe

Bornos Spanish Lake

Wild camping in a motorhome sounds, well, rather wild. It may also sound a little scary to some, even a little risky.

It can be.

But it can also be AMAZING!

When we started on our journey from the UK to Spain, we didn’t really have a clue about Wild Camping. The idea sounded a little too risky with our baby. We had made the decision to stick to designated motorhome parks. All until we met our first motorhomer, and learnt about this really cool app, named Park4Night. It changed our whole road trip experience and opened up lots more sleeping options. Safe wild camping in a motorhome was a possibility!

And now, 90% of our overnight stays are, ‘wild’!

So what is Wild Camping?

Basically, in short, Wild Camping in a motorhome is choosing to stay overnight in your camper in a non-designated campsite or area. There are no facilities or services, just you (and maybe a few others) and the space you choose.

Motorhome Sites

What’s the appeal?

Silence. Serenity. Secrecy. Finding your own piece of paradise away from other holiday-makers and tourists. Oh and the fact that they are free is a major bonus too. Just think how experience a 4 month trip around Spain, Portugal and France would cost if you stayed in campsites every night! Ouch!

wildcamping

But surely it’s illegal?

Well, different rules apply to different countries, and some countries are more relaxed than others. Also, rules change depending on the season and whether the authorities are getting pee’d off by the number of motorhomes taking over areas not designated for camping. Oh and also when there are chargeable campsites nearby losing out to wild camping.

It’s best to speak to other campers on route to see what experience they have, and also don’t be afraid of asking the local police if it is ok to park overnight. They will at least confirm whether it is ok or tell you to move on if not. We’ve had the local Tourist Information Office confirm some locations are ok too. Here is a brief rundown of what we know currently and our experience so far in regards to the rules of Wild Camping in UK, Spain and Portugal (April 2017).

UK: Pretty much a big no, no. Unfortunately, England is not Wild Camping friendly. However, Scotland is the exception as it is completely legal (yippee) and also Dartmoor in Devon have a great Wild Camping reputation. We would suggest avoiding the rest of England, however, you can speak to landowners and farmers to get their permission and as long as you are friendly, and leave no trace of your stay behind, they are usually quite welcoming!

Spain: Yes, no, maybe.  Although generally tolerated, Wild Camping in Spain must be done with caution. We have heard of on the spot fines, but also we have stayed in wild spots where the police drive by at night without saying a word.  Generally, if you are out of the way, and there isn’t a mass load of motorhomes camping next to a campsite you should be ok. Camping (not parking) on any public road is illegal and this applies to the road running behind a seafront promenade (which is usually a very popular spot!). Car Parks on the seafront or other places will have their own local rules.  In practice for safe wild camping areas, go along to the local tourist information who will know of local spots, or go off the reviews in the Park4Night app. 9 times our of 10 you’ll find another motorhome there already!

We only paid for 3 campsites in 8 weeks in Spain without any problems at all. Our favourite wild spot was in Andalucia, on top of a mountain road overlooking snow capped mountains and a giant gorge. Not many paid for campsites could offer you that!

Portugal: Wild camping in a motorhome is very much tolerated across Portugal and as long as you are respectful, tidy and don’t bunch together too much, the locals are welcoming of it in our experience as you’re putting money into the local community, not campsite owners pockets. There are thousands of free camping options in Portugal dotted around the cities and beaches. In the Algarve, beach camping is completely illegal, however, motorhomes are still found in wild spots and we did also with no problems at all. There are wild camping options all over Portugal, just ask any motorhomer for tips and they will give you great ideas and recommendations! Ultimately, if the Police do not want you there, they will move you on.

Wild camping

Is it safe?

Now, this can only usually be determined by your gut feel when you arrive. We look at the online reviews first and then gut feel. The Park4Night community is great at adding pictures and reviews of wild camping spots so you get a sense of where you will be staying and what to look out for. Also, when we arrive we scope out our surroundings. We consider the following:

  • Are we in a carpark that could be used during the night? i.e. do the locals tend to gather and listen to booming music until 3am?
  • Are there other motorhomes there? It’s much more comfortable to stay when others are Wild Camping with you! And a top tip, always park fairly close to the other motorhomes, it’s safer in a pack of vehicles than alone.
  • Have there been any previous bad experiences? Any mention of fines, or mishaps with the locals and we stay clear.
  • Is it beautiful? We don’t like Wild Camping in our motorhome in carparks so much, so we try to stay in the countryside if at all possible.

Always remember to either take all of your precious belongings with you if you leave your motorhome or store them away safely. Pull across your blinds and for extra peace of mind consider additional security, if you’re worried, to the front/cab area and to your habitation door/windows. We have additional security. This recommendation isn’t just for wild camping though as we also take extra precautions when parking in towns and cities. Remember your motorhome is a home on wheels and opportunists are everywhere!
Comillas

How do you find Wild Camping spots?

If you are a small camper, you can usually search for spaces on the outskirts of town. Sometimes by a river or in a beach car park. For motorhomes, it’s a little more tricky as usually, you do stick out! We use the Park4Night app, along with Camperstop and Wild Camping app. They are great at giving you the exact GPS coordinates, along with pictures so you know what to look out for.

wildcamping

Wild Camping Etiquette

  • Park sensible – if there is a designated space, park it in.
  • It’s not a campsite – avoid getting your chairs and tables out next to your motorhome. If the police see you do this, they will move you along!
  • Limit your noise – respect the locals by keeping your music to a minimum.
  • Leave no trace – take away all of your waste and don’t empty your water unless in a designated service area
  • Meet the locals – have a drink at the local bar, or buy from the local shop. This encourages the locals of villages and towns to accept wild camping from motorhomes and that’s great for everyone!

Wild Camping in a motorhome is a great way to really see the country you are visiting. A way to tap into the local culture, away from the tourist trail. It is also a great way to travel cheaply and sustain a long road trip. Use it wisely and respect the local community, and in return, you will see the country, your way.

Suriana Motorhome Travel As They Grow

8 Comments

  1. All really good advice here. My husband and I have been using a campervan for our holidays in the UK and Europe for about 10 years and we love it. We had a month in France last summer that only cost us about £500 each for the entire trip; food, fuel, tolls, ferries, and paying to see and do cool stuff like caves and museums. We also used park4night and a bit common sense and experience to find some of the most beautiful spots to park. Campers/motorbikes are the way forward for the adventurous of spirit. We’re planning to retire into one 🙂

  2. Hey, nice article with a lot of usefull tips. Another map with wild camps around the world (not only for caravans, but for hikers, bikers, climbers..too) is http://www.wildcamping.tips – if you want to check it out or add it to your article 🙂 Safe travels and happy wildcamping

  3. This is such a great blog…about to venture around Portugal in our motorhome so everything about this site was so helpful

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