When we made our motorhome trip across Europe, we had many doubts and very few places where we could get this kind of information. As such, we decided to write this article to give some tips and share how was our experience . Let’s cover the following topics:
- How to find a place to sleep
- Fines and Parking
- Insurance and Inspection
- The gas
- The water
- Finding bathroom
- Countries we love to travel by motorhome
#1 - How to find a place to sleep
Where to sleep? Before we left Lisbon neither of us knew well whether we would have trouble finding sleeping places, because although many people travel in campervans, most use campsites a lot, which for us was not an option, because apart from we have no money for it, it is very limiting. Adding to the fact that we are complete newcomers to these wanderings so we still had that initial indecision to find sleeping and parking places made the start of the trip quite interesting. Over time we become more comfortable and without fear or trouble finding places to stay overnight.
It is important to know how to behave, and to know that there are places where we can only be parked while others can for example open the awning and have lunch outside at the table, it all depends on the place and it is up to us to know the situation and evaluate, do not forget that our freedom ends where the freedom of the other begins.
In Portugal people are sometimes outraged when they see a camper with the awning open and the table and chairs set up. Obviously if you have to occupy parking spaces in very busy places, or visibly bother others, you should not do so, but in places where people are not passing and where we are clearly not bothering anyone … why not?
In the photo below we stopped for lunch on a road in Greece.
Going back to choosing a place to sleep, before we start the adventure in the world of caravanning, we found a website, which is campercontact which has over 20,000 sites in Europe where motorhomes can stop and stay overnight, 7 000 of them free. Over the course of 9 months we’ve been to all sorts of places – from villages with free water, electricity and internet sites, winery farms, cheese farms, even sleeping on people’s homes, all for free.
In addition to this site, there are others like Park4night or iOverlander. These websites have mobile applications and even if you don’t have a net to see, we can always download the coordinates first.
We used these applications usually when we needed to change the waters, or when we had to find places to stay in more complicated areas like cities …
We never had any problems, even in places far from everything and everyone. In 263 travel days we only paid to sleep four times and only three times we were told that we could not sleep where we were – twice in the Netherlands where it is supposedly illegal to sleep inside the campervan outside the campsites and in Croatia when we were inside. of a natural park.
Sometimes we felt a litlebit of anti-caravanning , with signs saying that camper vans cannot park or stay overnight, because the cities or towns want people to go to the campsites or the number of camper vans is really excessive and where sometimes there are less positive behaviors on the part of some people.
In the big cities we always chose to stop downtown because we didn’t feel very comfortable leaving our house on wheels in the suburbs – everything we had was there and the centers tend to be a little safer, it also made us better because we could Always eat at home and save.
Big cities have parkingmeters and usually on Sunday you don’t need top pay (we always tried to visit this day). On paid days, we paid a few hours, especially when we weren’t in the camper. In Amsterdam the parking meter was 4 euros per hour, which for us was unthinkable to pay. We found a solution that was parking on the northsude of the river, where parking was not paid for and we took a free boat that went to the city center and took only 5 minutes. This means that we have to adapt to situations, always thinking of the safest solution for us.
Sometimes there are situations where arranging a parking spot is not easy at all, for example when you reach a large city at rush hour, or an anti-caravan tourist area and on every street there is a sign that says ‘no parking’ ‘But we have to adapt to situations, for example we were going to Sarajevo in Bosnia, but we got to the rush hour and I was really confused so we just decided to continue the trip.
Here are some tips we use:
- Always park as if necessary, you can start straight ahead, ie do not leave the motorhome facing a wall or an alley, because if there is a robbery or any problem and we have the caravan ” ready to go. exit ” and just for the first time and hit the accelerator.
- Before you park, look around at buildings, at people, at cars, and see if we feel safe or not.
- Don’t do something like that: Take photographs by the van, get in a little, leave the camera and go for a walk. And don’t show too many things of value overall so as not to attract unwanted attention, especially when we leave the van to go do something.
- Knowing how to adapt behaviors and demystifying that idea we sometimes have of mistrust and fear and knowing how to observe the situation and the place.
- Do not leave documents in the van and if possible have an alarm or GPS Tracker.
Find a place to park
Many of the places we chose to stop for the night were found just by looking at the GPS, and looking for a lakeside road with a village not far away. Even if it doesn’t work, it probably puts us on a right track.
When trying to drive many miles, in countries with good motorway networks, taking advantage of sleeping truck rest stops usually have water to fill the tanks. We just happened to do this once because we had a lot of time but in some situations it makes sense to do this.
Churches and cemeteries are always good options for those who want a quick place to park.
#2 – Tickets and parking lots
Over the course of nine months of traveling around Europe in low cost mode we have been establishing a very close relationship with fines and parking lots.
– Parking: When we visit a European capital for a few days and parking meters cost 2 € / h and if you pay from 8h to 20h, we have two options: we always pay and we spend 24 € every day we have in the city, which for us It was out of the question due to value or if you do as we did it was, don’t pay when we’re in the camper and pay a few hours when we’re out. Obviously this is not 100% correct, but in our case we really had no other option.
Over these months we got some fines – from 9 € to 100 € and none of them came to Portugal (some have been over a year and a half). What we always thought was that the fines would never reach Portugal, and even if they did, we could never be forced to pay, because our tax address is Portuguese (this is the case with parking lots).
– Speed: We were fined twice for speeding, which is a bit ironic because we count on our fingers the times we exceeded 80km / h. We caught the fines on those straight-line radars that only perhaps slow down, and by the time we noticed we had already been ‘flashed’ – We never got any fines either.
This happened in 2016/2017 but I think now (2019) there is already a greater exchange of information between the various European entities in this area, however we were always fined (parking) by municipal entities (like Emel from other countries) which It also makes fines difficult to arrive.
#3 – Insurance and Inspection
Shortly after we bought the motorhome for the trip, we began to wonder what we were going to do about insurance and inspection, as the countries we wanted to visit and the time we were going to travel posed some problems.
When it comes to insurance, the matter is complicated and even we have no concrete answer to give, because as far as we know normal auto insurance has a clause that we can only be 60 days in a row abroad. ( our insurence in Portugal)
We only knew this in the middle of the trip, because when we made our insurance, which was then made at Castello e Veludo, even though we said we were going to be away for almost 10 months, no one warned us of this clause. We believe the mediator didn’t know either, but they still had an obligation to warn us. Either way we should have read the full contract as well, which, although it is extensive as we all know, is worth reading in such a case.
The question is that if insurance needs to be triggered after we are more than 60 days away, how will the insurer prove that the car is out these days? In our case with a little research maybe they could prove it (because we had the facebook page with the trip), but in most cases it must be very complicated to prove.
We filed for insurance in Slovenia after 8 months and it went well, but it only took a 20km trailer, if for example bringing the van to Portugal from the tip of Norway maybe the insurer could try to find out.
Another factor to consider regarding insurance is its coverage. In normal auto insurance the Balkan countries outside the European Union are not covered (Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania).
One way to resolve this issue is to talk to your insurer and see if you can extend insurance to these countries, another option is to pay for border insurance. The values in this case differ. In Macedonia they asked for 50 € for example. In some cases the values differ depending on the number of days.
What did we do? Well, in our case we chose not to go to Macedonia, because we thought the value was too high for our chances at the time, and we were already making a detour into the country, so we just went back at the border and followed towards Greece.
In the other countries we couldn’t do this because we really needed to move back home, but what happened is that simply no one at the border asked us for insurance and we simply didn’t pay.
If this is what should be done? No. We advise those who can afford the insurance, because if there is an accident or something like that can lead to a complicated situation.
Inspection was another problem we had to deal with during the trip, because the motorhome is from March and we left in November, so we had no chance to do it before we left Portugal and forced us to do it abroad.
This was probably the least information we could find and even when we were in Portugal we went to some inspection centers and nobody really got us clear.
One thing is for sure, an inspection carried out abroad is not valid in Portugal, so even doing the mid-trip inspection, once we arrived, we had to do it again.
Another problem that this raises is that older vans especially tend to fail, for example from emissions, noise or other small things, so if we simply come to a foreign inspection center to do the inspection if if they are strict we may risk failing.
At first we didn’t even know if we could perform the inspection abroad, then we came to know that. If we can do in any country and any inspection center? We do not know. What we do know is that insurance is supposed to be valid only if we have the inspection done. The point is that countries have different ‘inspection roles’, there are countries that don’t even have stamps. This is to say that if for example they have in Ukraine, or elsewhere a little farther the police probably have never seen a Portuguese inspection role, so a fine for not having it seems to us very unlikely.
How do we resolve the issue? We did the inspection in England, in a land called Stratford-Upon-Avon, in a very shady workshop. We arrived at this workshop because a friend of a friend had lived nearby and said they were passing cars outside. When we got there, he pretended to do the inspection, took us to a room, said something like ‘how do I know they aren’t from the police?‘ and what he was doing was dangerous and I don’t know that he then asked us for 120 pounds (160 €), gave us 3 standard A4 sheets with the results, a signature, a workshop stamp and that’s it … we wondered, we had done that in 5 minutes in Word, but that’s it.
What did it serve us for? For nothing, never at any border we were asked “Do you have inspection?”, We almost never showed it to anyone … The usefulness of it was above all that we were more relaxed because we knew we had it. If it were ever really accurate, we don’t know if it really had value.
#4 – The gas
In a motorhome, gas is used primarily for three things: the most important stove, the boiler, which heats the water for bathing, and the heater.
Usually motorhomes have one or two gas bottles, just like those used at home. But for those who want to make a long trip, it is complicated to use this cylinder system, because each country has its gas bottles, with different adapters (reducers) that cannot be changed. That is, you need to buy a gas cylinder each time it runs out, which is around 50 euros minimum – because you need to buy the gas, the reducer and the can itself.
The solution we found was to change this gas system, to LPG LPG. So we can fill the tank at any gas station in Europe that sells LPG. Amazingly, LPG in Portugal is one of the cheapest in Europe, but even being a little more expensive in other countries, it is cheaper than using regular bottle gas. In 9 months we spent about 100 €. Putting the system to LPG cost us 300 € (but it turns out to value the camper) and the only concern we had to have is that there are some countries in Europe where the gas pump hose nozzle is different, so we either fill before you go to the countries where this happens, or if you buy adapters that cost 30 € on ebay.
#5 – Water
Water is a fundamental part of a camper, and on our 9-month trip across Europe we spent an average of 100l every 3/4 days, which meant that every few days we had to get water and a place to dump the dirty water. .
When it comes to clean water it has never been really difficult to fill the deposits. First there are countries with plenty of areas to support motorhomes(ASA), where it is possible to fill and discharge the waters (France, Spain, Germany, Norway), then in coastal areas there are always water points available, inland all villages have virtually a source.
What we did was have with 2 10l bottles, which we used to fill the tank when we couldn’t connect the hose. In the latter case they can always go to a campsite and pay a small amount if needed to dump and fill the waters.
Note: we never drank this water, it was just for bathing and washing the dishes.
When it comes to dirty water the subject is a little more complicated. When there were no campsites or camper areas, especially in countries where it is really difficult to find these sites, we would do something that we do not explicitly want to say here, but a little thought gets there .. in virtually every village, town there is an infrastructure that deals with dirty water, and there are places where water flows to be treated, water that has cleaning products …
What we were doing was ultimately resorting to these sites. We did not like this solution very much but it is always better than pouring water to the floor. The toilet water was ultimately poured into the public toilet toilet. It is very important especially that toilet water never spills directly onto the floor as it has really strong chemicals and has a very negative environmental impact.
#6 – Find bathroom
We decided to talk about this topic especially for those who are thinking of traveling around Europe in vans without a toilet.
If we think it is possible to travel for 9 months in Europe without a bathroom? Yes, it is possible. However it will raise some problems, especially for women obviously. It also makes things a little less comfortable. We advise those who do not have a bathroom to at least carry a portable toilet for when they have to be.
When it comes to public toilets, we found a lot, especially in more tourist areas, what happens is that if the area is tourist in summer, probably in winter the bathrooms will be closed. In large cities, virtually all have toilets somewhere in the historic center, probably to pay. Which is not always bad, because when you pay you are usually clean. Another little “trick” is to pass a MacDonalds or use the hole technique like our ancestors.
Bathing is a bit trickier, the bathroom with showers is rare, except for example in truck stop areas (motorways), so the solution is probably to get one of those electric showers and take a shower outside in an area little bit more concealed (natural soap), or arranging a system in the van so you can take a bath inside (for example with a curtain and a large bowl)
# 7 – Countries we love to travel by motorhome
We visited 37 countries in our motorhome, some just for a few days and other for for several weeks. However, there were some who stood out for the conditions they offer to motorhomes and for the way you can enjoy the country in this way of traveling.
Norway was one of the countries we liked to travel by motorhome because of the beautiful landscapes and the great conditions for this kind of travel.
There are many places where you can stay overnight and change the waters in places completely surrounded by nature. Moreover even outside these places, we can always park and stay in beautiful areas without ever bothering us, this added to the good quality of the roads make for a really nice trip.
The photo above has a funny story, we were looking for a place to stay overnight and spend one or two days (Norway) when we turned onto a dirt road and went to this place, we looked at this corner (where is the van) and It there was an electrical outlet with power! In other words, we could turn on our fan heater and spend two very warm days in a very beautiful place (on top of that we had no alternator at the time and we took the time to charge the battery too). Probably the site is used in summer for scout camps or something.
Note: We traveled through Norway in April and especially in the south-central / south of the country. From what we are told, when you travel further north these areas tend to shrink and in winter some water freezes in the pipes, so taps may not always be operational.
France is a great country for motorhome travel as it offers thousands of places to stay overnight, from state to private. We stayed in fifth wineries, cheesemaking … all for free. We ended up buying cheese and wine from these places, but we were not required to.
In the case of Greece, it was not its great conditions for motorhomes that marked us, but the way you can enjoy this country in this way of traveling. In Greece it is possible to park literally on the water .. Take a look at some of the photos and you will understand why we loved it.
With more than 11000km of coastline, there are many almost motionless roads at the foot of the coast, making such moments possible.
Finally the most important tip / advice we can give is … go! Having made this trip is certainly something that will accompany us for the rest of our lives and that has changed us a lot, opened us horizons and gave us a new perspective of what we want for the future. We advise anyone to do the same, surely they will not regret it!
We hope this article is helpful, if you have any further questions we can help with, please email us or leave them in the comments.
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