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Camping in Europe

Contrary to popular belief, the days of $15 lodging in Europe have not vanished. The secret is to bring your room with you.

I’m suggesting that you bring a tent, even if your plans don’t include backpacking. Unlike in the U.S., camping in Europe is very convenient for the independent traveler. Most cities and towns have a campground within walking distance or a short public transit ride away. All you need is a lightweight tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad—all easily tucked into a small or medium-sized duffel bag. You can leave the rest of your camping equipment at home. The great cuisine and rich culture of Europe are just a short distance from your tent flap.

European campgrounds are clean, comfortable, and secure, with spotless bathrooms, hot showers, washing machines, and very often a small grocery, snack bar, and a sheltered pavilion for socializing. Like youth hostels, the other great budget alternative for lodging in Europe, campgrounds offer a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow travelers.

Wherever you go in Europe you are likely to find a campground that is convenient, inexpensive, and often picturesque. In France, Villeneuve-Loubet-Plage on the Cote d’ Azur has seven campgrounds offering easy access to trains that will whisk you to nearby Nice in minutes. Many of the chateaux in the Loire Valley have riverside campgrounds within sight or just a short stroll away.

For cathedral gazing in Chartres, pitch your tent at the riverside municipal campground, a 15-minute walk away. For wine tasting in Burgundy take a bus from the center of Dijon to a campground on a lake one mile out of town.

Even Paris has a campground within the city limits. The Camping Bois de Boulogne is convenient, with a shuttle bus to take you to the nearby Metro Station and access to all of the city. Only slightly less convenient is a campground in Versailles, located near a commuter train that will whisk you to the Eiffel Tower in half an hour.

In Scandinavia lodging costs are very high, but with a tent and sleeping bag you can sleep for just a few dollars per night. For example, a 15-minute commuter train ride from downtown Stockholm brings you to Angby camping, complete with sauna and an adjacent public beach on Lake Malaren. In Denmark the large and pleasant Absalen Campground is only a half-hour by public transit from downtown Copenhagen. And in Norway the spectacularly situated hilltop Ekeberg Camping, with a panoramic view of Oslo’s harbor and surrounding fjords, is only a 20-minute bus ride from downtown Oslo. From there you can Eurailpass all the way up to Bodo, above the Arctic Circle, where you can enjoy the warm summer climate and spectacular scenery from a bus-accessible fjord-side campground only two miles out of town.

Wherever you happen to be in Europe, the local tourist office will be happy to direct you to the nearest site. But you may also wish to bring along a guidebook to camping such as Traveler's Guide to European Camping: Explore Europe With Rv or Tent by Mike and Terri Church. You can also research from home on the Web. One of the most easily navigable of the many websites is www.eurocampings.co.uk/en/europe/.

It is handy to bring along a few plastic trash bags in case you need to protect your baggage while setting up your tent. A small flashlight is useful as well. Also recommended is a Camping Carnet, available for $15 at most campgrounds or in the U.S. through the American Automobile Association. This identity document can be used in lieu of your passport or a security deposit when registering at the campground office; it often will gain you a discount as well.

If you’re skeptical, try mixing camping with stays in hotels. You may be surprised to find that you prefer camping. And with the money you save on lodging you’ll be able to eat better and do more.