Camping Around Europe
The Way to Always Beat High Prices
As the dollar sometimes sinks lower against the euro and fuel prices soar, the cost of seeing Europe, at times, seems out of the realm of possibility. However, there is always one way to save a considerable chunk of your travel budget—by doing as the Europeans do and staying at the many inexpensive, clean, and scenic campgrounds.
Campgrounds are everywhere, from the Alps to the beaches, in cities, and sprinkled throughout the countryside. With today’s lightweight, comfort-oriented camping equipment, camping no longer means roughing it. And since most places visitors want to see have at least one or two campgrounds nearby, some of the best views in Europe can be from your tent door.
Dragging luggage around a crowded urban area looking for an affordable hotel can be a draining experience, and even at hostels, you’re likely to meet only other Americans. Campgrounds are the perfect place to meet Europeans in a very informal setting. Conversations often turn into parties.
European campgrounds are generally clean, attractive, and well-supplied, with hot showers, clean toilets, kitchens, and laundry facilities. Some are practically luxurious. Many have their own restaurant or pub. Others also offer inexpensive bungalows or motels, and a few even provide entertainment.
Many campgrounds offer swimming pools, movies, fireworks displays, dances, or cookouts. One campground in Hungary overlooking a drive-in movie theater allows campers to spend an evening watching old films in English with Hungarian subtitles.
The Cost of Campgrounds in Europe
The cost of staying in campgrounds averages about $20 a night. The cost varies depending on amenities offered and location. In Scandinavia, the autobahn rest stops frequently feature free campgrounds, with showers and grills included. Swiss and German campgrounds are among the most expensive, sometimes at $40 a night for two. Many are surrounded by gorgeous scenery, some have swimming pools, and all are very clean. France has campgrounds around every corner; they vary widely in cleanliness and amenities. The subsidized municipal campgrounds, associated with towns or cities, often cost as little as $5 per night. Eastern European campgrounds are generally very cheap, and the newer ones have excellent facilities.
Please see camping.info for a list of 23,000 campsites in Europe, with current costs, guides, and resources.
Of course, not everyone wants to camp every night, and wet weather can dampen anyone’s interest in camping. But even an occasional night in a campground can cut down drastically on expenses.
What to Bring Camping in Europe
Camping equipment comes in more compact designs every year, utilizing the latest space-age materials.
Tents: Most are inexpensive, and some models roll up nearly as small as a collapsible umbrella. Ensure the seams are sealed and your tent has a floor and a rainfly.
Sleeping bags and pads: Sleeping bags can be warm even in frigid weather. Down-filled bags can be stuffed into a small bag and tossed into a suitcase. However, synthetic bags dry out more quickly if they get soggy. Ground pads and air mattresses are easy to roll up, weigh practically nothing, and make the ground feel much softer. They are also suitable for insulation in chilly weather.
Backpacks: Backpack designers have developed many lightweight, well-balanced packs that can hold everything anyone might own. Of course, they’re unnecessary if you travel by car, but backpacks are still helpful for storing belongings in a compact, organized place, even if you never take them out of the vehicle. Small daypacks are good for hikes and sightseeing.
Eating: One of the most wonderful things about Europe is the food. The eye-popping supermarkets can supply you with whatever you might need and are attractions in themselves. If you want to cook, bring along a small butane stove or buy one when you’re there.
Clothing: Bring special clothing if you plan to hike, mountain climb, or participate in other outdoor activities. Many campgrounds have laundry facilities, and the washers are usually very high quality.
The tourist offices of the countries you plan to visit will be happy to supply you with lists of campgrounds. Make sure you have a map that shows their locations. One of the best things about camping is that you can ramble wherever you please, and when you start thinking about finding a place to stay, a campground is usually close by. You don’t need reservations; even if you show up after the office is closed, you can still go in and set up your tent. Register and pay the following day.
Most Europeans are used to dealing with people who don’t speak their language and handle it smoothly. They are usually easy to communicate with and appreciate any effort on your part. A phrasebook can come in handy.
A Camping Secret
European countries are connected by the network of superhighways that crisscross the continent. Whether called Autobahn, Autostrada, or Autoroute, most highways have large rest stops complete with restaurants, clean restrooms, and showers. Many Europeans stay overnight for free in these rest stops and take advantage of the amenities offered to travelers. A traveler could spend every night sleeping in their car, van, or RV at no cost and get gas, a meal, the occasional shower, and other supplies.
If you decide to camp, you will soon discover a camaraderie among campers that can lead to lifelong friendships. Campers are always ready to exchange stories, advice, and tips on good places to visit with fellow campers. And at the end of the day, when you’re gazing out at the sea at sunset, watching the clouds drift behind snow-peaked mountains, enjoying the perfect rows of vineyards, or learning to play boules with your friendly new neighbors, you’ll wonder why you haven’t been camping all along.
Campgrounds in Europe
See our Camping Abroad section for many helpful resources.