Wild Thing! Wild Camping in Europe

For the ultimate feeling of freedom it’s hard to beat wild motorhome camping. The Gap Decaders share their top tips for a wild adventure

What is wild camping?

Bay of Cofano, Sicily

What do you dream of when you think about motorhome wild camping? From a grassy crossroads at 2,000m in the French Pyrenees with the world at your feet and the stars within touching distance, to cliffs overlooking the mighty Atlantic in Portugal, where the waves thunder in and connect with land, wild camping in a motorhome can offer you views, experiences and surroundings that you just can’t get any other way.  

Motorhome wild camping is not to be confused with free overnight parking; stopping somewhere convenient because you need a place to sleep and a corner of the supermarket car-park looks quite inviting when you’ve been driving for ten hours!

The real deal, wild camping in a remote spot that you seek out, surrounded by nature and the great outdoors to awaken your senses and soothe your soul, is something else entirely. 

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If that’s the adventure you’re looking for and you’ve never wild camped in your motorhome before, there are some basics you need to know before you head off into the great unknown.

Where can you wild camp?

Carrapateira, Western Algarve, Portugal

Most countries have laws regarding motorhome wild camping. Just to confuse matters, some areas of some countries, such as national parks, have different and additional laws. As a responsible motorhome wild camper representing the motorhome community, you must understand these or you risk being moved on or getting a fine. 

You can research these rules on-line, but you should also follow any signage you see and also chat to other wild campers about their experiences and knowledge of the local area.

In Europe, a good rule of thumb is that the further inland and remote you are, the less likely there is to be an issue. Wild camping as a solo motorhome, where there might be one or two other vans in the same spot, rarely causes the level of consternation with the local authorities that 30 motorhomes, with all their associated waste, noise and activity causes.  

Be discreet and respectful. Remember that in most cases, you want to be seen as ‘parking’ and not ‘camping’, which have different meanings in law. You would be camping, for example, if you hang your washing out, use levelling devices or leave chairs and a table outside overnight. Parking means not leaving any outward signs of occupation visible. 

It is harder to wild camp in the UK than Europe. Ours is one of the most crowded countries in Europe, on a relatively small land-mass, which makes people protective of their open spaces.  Wild camping is not tolerated in the same way as it is on the continent, and motorhome services are not always easily accessible as they are elsewhere in Europe. That is not to say you can’t wild camp in the UK, it just takes a bit more planning and forethought.

How can you find wild camping spots?

Bourg d’Oueil, Pyrenees, France

There are a number of apps providing information on wild camping, free overnight parking spots, campsites and aires. Just open and ask the app to search in your location and it will return the details of different types of overnight stops with directions and reviews from other motorhomers. 

Always read the reviews for wild camping spots as this is where you’ll find information about rules, any security issues that you should be aware of, size restrictions and noise levels overnight. We stopped in a beautiful spot in Spain which was idyllic, except for the hundreds of barking dogs and various church bells ringing every half an hour. If we had read the reviews, we might have looked for a different place to stay!

Always have a second option in mind so that if you arrive and it’s not right, or there is no space, you can move on.

Is Motorhome Wild Camping Safe?

Bay of Cofano, Sicily

Yes! Use common sense and take the necessary precautions. If you pull up at a spot and it doesn’t feel right, listen to your instincts and move on. In two years of full-time travel in Europe, the majority spent wild camping, that has only happened to us once.  

Don’t sleep with your windows open unless they are high, use your rooflights instead. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers; gassing is a myth and there are well researched reports to evidence this, despite this every year there is a scare-mongering story. Carry a large and heavy torch, which is a very legitimate item for a motorhomer to have, hopefully you’ll never have to use it.

We were wild camping literally at the top of a mountain in the Pyrenees, it was the most gorgeous spot imaginable. We were woken at 4am by the van moving and jumped out of bed to investigate (always wear pants when wild camping by the way), to find a herd of cattle rubbing themselves against the van! Other than that incident, in the whole 500 plus nights we have wild camped in Europe, we have never felt unsafe and always sleep like babies.

Zahara de la Sierra, Spain

How Do You Wild Camp?

Lots of people ask us that question. Do you just pull in off the open road and well… park overnight and carry on as usual?  Well, pretty much, yes!  There is no reception to check into, no cable to plug in, no site rules to read and best of all, no bill to pay!  

Before heading to your spot, make sure that your access won’t be restricted; it’s pretty devastating to find the right place, get there and realise that the track is not passable or there is a height barrier.  

Park with respect for any other motorhomes already there. It’s rude to park closely to one another in a large empty space, to block someone’s view or run a generator for any length of time.

You might like to work out where the sun rises and sets for the best views. If you need to level your van and don’t want to use levellers, look for bits of wood or rocks you can use instead. If the spot is not level, the chances are there will be the perfect branches and stones around which wild campers before you have used.

Once there, don’t outstay your welcome. We reckon three days is probably the maximum in any one spot.  Follow the mantra of leaving no trace; never, ever leave rubbish behind or empty your black (WC) waste or grey waste at a wild camping spot. Respect the local environment and the people and animals who live there, as well as fellow motorhomes who will come behind you. 

Once you’re parked and level, your fridge is switched to gas and the leisure battery is powering your home on wheels, open a bottle or make a cuppa, sit back and enjoy your stupendous view!

Izzy & Phil aka The Gap Decaders

Izzy & Phil aka The Gap Decaders quit their high-flying jobs and sold their house and almost all of their possessions to travel full-time in Europe in a motorhome for two years. Their plans changed when they realized that going back to the hamster wheel was not an option, and their grown up gap year became a way of life instead. The Gap Decaders Motorhome and Road Trip Travels blog www.thegapdecaders.com was born and Izzy & Phil share information about destinations, travel tips, road trip itineraries and practical motorhome tips they have learned during their life on the road.

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