Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Camping in Europe

New Forest, England
Montolieu, France
In general, camping in Europe is not a problem. It's very popular in every European country and campsites are thus available everywhere. There are quite a few different paper and digital maps that show where to find them too, which is why we didn't 'plot' them and uploaded them to our skydrive like we did for Mexico and Central America for instance. So why the need for this post? Because there are a couple of things to keep in mind before packing the tent…

For starters, camping in Europe is popular and thus expensive. Compared to the rest of the world, the standards can be pretty poor too. Especially in south European countries, don't expect to find even the most basic things like a toilet seat or toilet paper. You might shrug and think that it's not a problem, and to be honest you're right too. But when paying up to 90 US$ for a site, yes ninety dollars(!), we think toilet paper could be included. We're not the only ones feeling that way either; the Europeans camp a lot in motorhomes and various motorhome organisations have concluded that their members are very unhappy with prices and facilities on offer. So much so that a whole network of so called 'camper spots' has emerged where you can park your camper for a nominal fee.

The most northern campground in the world, Nordkapp, Norway. Even further north than Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
Small campgrounds
are often best
Farm campground, Austria
We were told that camping in Norway is extremely expensive. Coming from the US or Australia that is certainly the case. However, countries like Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain are even more expensive than Norway. The so called basic fee, your site, is already high. Then they start adding per person, per motorcycle, per tent, power (if needed) and to top it all off there is tourist tax. But there is more. Quite a few require you to buy your own garbage bag, charge for hot water to do the washing up, charge up to 6 dollars an hour for internet and washing machines (when available) can set you back 9 dollars a load too. As free camping is against the law in most European countries, there aren't many options. 

How's this for a campspot?
Zabi Raj, Poland
The only option we found is ACSI, a camping organisation that issues a discount card with which you can stay for a reduced rate in the off-season. We were lucky to find one and have used it too. Problem with the off-season is that it's very short in most cases as campgrounds tend to close here as early as September. That's where the book that goes with the ACSI card comes in handy as it also shows when the campgrounds are open (although some campgrounds decided to close earlier anyway).

Moto Relais, a campground for motorcyclists, France
Magic views from a campground in Finland
We have no idea why campgrounds in Europe close so early. The weather was still fine and there were still plenty of campers on the road too. From a business point of view it didn't make any sense to close the doors and send paying guests away, especially not as the running costs of a campground are minimal (i.e. water as power has to be paid for extra). Perhaps they make so much money in the summer that they can afford to close down and spend winter at the Bahamas or something?

Camping in the shrubs in Sweden...
... or along a lake, easy in Sweden!
So what is the alternative? We have mentioned a couple of campgrounds on this site that are an exception. Friendly people that actually treat you as fellow human beings instead of a milking cow. Especially in Poland we found good campgrounds, with proper facilities for a very reasonable price. Poland is a friendly country anyway, so pack your bags and go! The other alternative is to restrict your camping to Scandinavia where free camping is permitted. Perhaps because of that, campgrounds in Scandinavia offer the best facilities for motorcyclists too. They usually come complete with a camp kitchen, proper showers and toilets, a place to do your dishes and free internet. Most southern European sites lack all of the above.

Who needs an hotel with views from your tent like this? Finland