Caravanning holidays remain one of the most popular pastimes of Europeans. There are lovers on all sides – the classic caravanning couples over 50, but also the young families with a modern caravan as well as young active holidaymakers with self-built vans.
The holiday season is coming soon. Just turn up with the camper van to explore epic road trips and enjoy freedom in incredible places
Many owners of a new caravan had the idea of spontaneously enjoying the unspoiled beauty of places without rules, away from noisy campsites and neighbors. That clearly shows a study of Gfk who interviewed caravanning fans. Some 72 percent indicated that leisure-vehicle holidaying meets their need to carve out their own itinerary and be independent. 71 percent of the respondents said that they wished to be close to nature, and 70 percent opined that caravanning would enable them to be flexible and spontaneous while on holiday. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
This year it could be even more stressful than usual because the “vanlife boom” is unbroken. It seems there are many people with the same idea. The number of new registrations of motor caravans in Germany increased by 93 percent (8510 vehicles) in April 2021 alone compared to the previous year, announced the Caravaning Industry Association (CIV D). Sales in almost all national markets went up as well, and further sales growth is expected for the coming years.
Knowing the rules of overnight parking (wild camping with a motor vehicle)!
The opposite of being self-determined are the annoying barriers at typical campsites that only open at a certain time. Spontaneous peoples’ toenails roll up when they have to plan their vacation ONE year in advance. What do you have a mobile home for?! If you happen to get a booking, you can hand your neighbors the coffee through your motorhome window, most of the camping pitches are that small. No, thanks!
Unfortunately, there are always and everywhere rules, even when standing free with the camper. If you look at the growth rates in the camping industry, it is probably good for protecting the environment. Environmental pollution is one of the reasons wild camping is forbidden in many countries. High penalties apply for disregard.
According to the statistics of CIV D Germany, France, UK, Sweden, and Italy are the top 5 countries with the most newly registered motor caravans in Europe in 2019. For this reason, we will show up the rules of wild camping (overnight parking) with a motor vehicle for these countries in more detail.
What is not expressly prohibited is permitted – watch the traffic signs! A registered motorhome can therefore be parked in public spaces without any time restrictions. Parking or overnight stay bans must be clearly indicated by signs.
Spending the night in the vehicle goes beyond just parking and is therefore subject to different rules. To restore your driving ability, you are allowed to spend one night in the vehicle. A period of about ten hours is assumed. Beware: parking is not the same as camping. You should therefore refrain from setting up camping furniture or extending the awning. Otherwise, the permitted one-time overnight stay will become a special use that requires approval. Staying overnight in the same place several times, for example, a public parking lot is also a special use which becomes “wild camping” and is prohibited in Germany.
The French government does allow wild camping… with some caveats. These are:
- There must be permission from the landowner
- It’s forbidden to wild camp with a motorhome or camper on the French coast
- No motorhome wild camping is allowed in French National Parks or near designated historic sites
- French Local authorities have the right to create specific rules for their area which must be displayed on signs prominently and adhered to.
Often it will be difficult to find the landowner to get permission for wild camping in a remote location. As long as the vehicle owner applies common sense and is respectful of other people, especially local residents, it’s unlikely to be asked to move on.
Wild camping with a motorhome or campervan is NOT legal in any of the countries in the UK.
For most UK motorhome holidays, vehicle campers need to either stay in more remote areas, like the Peak District, Yorkshire, and Northumberland. Although, if you are planning a Wales Road trip, the Brecon Beacons are awesome for finding overnight parking spots.
For Scotland, the Scottish Outdoor Access code says that wild camping, which “is lightweight”, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place is fine. That right applies to tents, in a non-motorized recreation and does not extend to activities that are based on the use of a vehicle such as sleeping in cars, campers, vans, or caravans.
The fact of the matter is that most land in the UK is owned by somebody. It’s nearly all private land and there is just no right in a motorized vehicle to turn up and park.
To stay 100% within the letter of the law and avoid any chance of being asked to move on, vehicle owners should use a campsite while touring. However, it is (or has been in the past) tolerated in many places if holidaymakers are considerate and use common sense.
It’s not easy to sleep on the road in a caravan or motorhome in Sweden. Many people think the Allemansrätten, the Right of Public Access to Nature is the same for vehicles as it is for tents, but that is wrong. The legal situation is different.
The law prohibits motor vehicles from traveling on any public land in a natural environment and the prohibition is valid even for the owner of the land. This law applies to cars, motorcycles, trucks, mopeds, snowmobiles, caravans, and motorhomes, etc. Obviously, there are exceptions that allow circulating on roads especially designated for cars that run between forests. There are also exceptions for those who travel in rescue vehicles, those who work in reindeer herding, and other cases. But as a general rule, it is forbidden to get off the road.
On private roads, called in Swedish enskild väg, it is the landowner who determines what kind of traffic is allowed. If you come to Sweden in a motorhome and get on one of these roads pay attention to the signs with the text Ej husbilar/No campers to avoid problems.
In national parks and nature reserves, it is forbidden to drive motor vehicles. Sometimes there are parking lots connected to the national park that allows parking and the overnight stay of caravans and motorhomes.
With motor vehicles, you can usually only park 24 hours or until the next working day (if you arrive on weekends) in the parking areas of the resting areas. If there are other rules that limit or extend the parking you will find an indicative sign at the parking lot.
However, there are many places where for a small fee you can park and spend the night and at the same time also be close to lakes, the sea or nature in general, which is what most caravan drivers look for.
Each area in Italy has its own regulations, but in general, it is illegal to wild camp in Italy. However, in rural areas, it may be worth asking the municipality or locals if you can get permission to park for the night.
Italy has 4700 “Area di Sosta”, which are dedicated motorhome parking areas. Some are free, while others charge a fee for a 24-hour stay. Most of them have facilities for emptying wastewater and toilet cassettes, refilling freshwater, and disposing of your waste.
Use official overnight places to stay flexible and relaxed!
The rules of most countries are complicated to understand and sometimes it is difficult to go to sleep relaxed because you are afraid that you will be rudely woken up by the police, but how to live this fancy-free and nature-connected life as shown in all these caravanning commercials?
Most European countries provide official places for you to stay overnight. These are generally referred to as camper stops. Overnight parking can be limited to 48 hours. The whole point of camper stops is freedom and environmental protection. You can’t book them in advance. It’s first-come, first-served. Often they offer toilets and the opportunity to empty your toilets/water tanks and refill for some Euros. Each country may refer to them by their own name and signpost them accordingly:
- Spain & Portugal: Área de servicio para autocaravanas
- France & Belgium: Aires de Service
- Germany, Austria & Switzerland: Stellplatz
- Italy: Area di sosta
- Norway: Bobils
An Aires de Service in France. Come as you want and stay uncomplicated together with your buddies. They don’t charge per person or for using awnings. Fast pay per Credit Card at a machine. Next day, next spot!
Another Aires de Service in France with a 5-minute walk to the beautiful public beach.
According to the dwif survey, a total of 11.7 million overnight stays by motor caravan tourists in Germany are made on pitches outside camping parks every year.
Current brochures already list more than 5,600 destinations in Europe; around 4,000 addresses are pitches within Germany alone. In addition to the official overnight parking spaces, amusement parks, swimming pools, wineries, and farms, castles and palaces have now largely opened their doors to mobile vehicle tourists. They have recognized that another guest sector is slumbering here.
There are various apps and websites comparable to the Airbnb idea for mobile vehicles where you can book online parking lots easily, quickly, and flexibly. Most of these providers live from a lively community and the exchange between users.
App for Europe (Languages: English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish)
Share places where it is good to rest. With a camper van and fitted van. With Park4night find and share the places where you enjoyed relaxing, spent the night, had a picnic, or cleared your head. Uncover the hidden places, close to nature that gives you a feeling of freedom, e.g. forests, beautiful views, parks, creeks, or beaches. Inform the community of possible activities around (Windsurf / Kitesurf, Biking, Hiking).
Map on webpage for Europe (Language: German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch)
App for Europe (Language: English, Dutch)
With Campercontact, you will always find a motorhome site that suits you. Reliable information at your fingertips will give you a careless and unforgettable holiday. Base your choice on one of the 300.000 reviews written by other motorhome owners and get a good idea of each motorhome site.
Map on webpage for Germany (Language: Currently only German)
Discover parking lots in nature, far away from overcrowded campsites. Wild camping in Legal! Risk-free booking and 100% money back for all Corona-related cancellations.
Map on webpage (Language: German, English, Italian)
App for Europe (Language: German, English, French, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish)
Discover the most beautiful parking lots all over Europe. On our map you will find green pins for private parking lots and orange pins for wild camping spots – everyone will find something here!
Book and app for Germany (Language: German)
With Landvergnügen – the other guide to parking lots – you will discover over 1,100 idyllic travel destinations for mobile homes, caravans, or camper vans! Rural hosts from all over Germany look forward to your visit. The Landvergnügen annual vignette (enclosed with the parking space guide) enables you to stand for 24 hours free of charge in a quiet and natural atmosphere.
Book for France (Language: French, Multilingual French, English, German)
Traveling in a motorhome? Get off the beaten track and explore the hidden treasures of rural France…
- Enjoy safe and peaceful nights in all the regions of France,
- Meet hosts passionate about their work and try their produce: olive oil, cheeses, wines from all the winegrowing regions, organic fruit and vegetables, cured meats, honey, foie gras…
- Unlock the secrets of rural France and savour authentic French gastronomy!
The principle is simple: farmers and winegrowers invite you to stay free overnight on their properties for up to 24h. France Passion hosts offer a friendly welcome, a flat, stable parking site, and advice and insider tips on local places to visit.
Book for UK (Language: English)
The Brit Stops book contains details of over 1000 hosts who are all looking forward to meeting Britstoppers. It features country pubs, farm shops, vineyards, breweries, craft/antique centers, etc. all offering an invitation through the Brit Stops scheme to stay over for one night in your motorhome or campervan in a safe environment – free of charge! Self-converted vans must have some form of the chemical toilet on board and no camping-type activities can take place outside the van (cooking, chairs, tables, pup/toilet tents, etc.).
Story by Melanie Langenmair