The Ultimate Guide to Travelling Europe in a Campervan
So as you all know, for the past 5 months or so Kyle and I have been travelling around Europe in a campervan. As I have been asked how much we have spent and how much is needed to save to survive Europe's high prices I thought I would write a post on all the ins & outs of travelling Europe in a campervan while on a budget. As we have only ever travelled in the van most my tips and advice are going to be based around that particular type of travel. For those looking to travel in a van, or who are currently, than you are about to receive some life saving advice that I wish I had before heading out on the road. I now regret not doing my research more, because it would have saved us some serious dollars, and some serious stress! The tips I am going to share have only been learnt through months of travelling and gaining advice from other travellers along the road; especially our friends Naomi and Jared who we travelled with for over a month & inspired us from the beginning to embark on this adventure (check out their Vimeo). No way would we have gained this type of information without them. Thank you for opening our eyes to camper stops & the guidebook bible, avoiding tolls, maps me, amazing camper meal ideas & shopping at Lidl. Don't know where we would be without you both & your Veggie Chilli (with extra sour cream) 😝.
Why travel in a campervan:
You have a lot more freedom as to where you want to go and how long you want to stay. We got to see places that we would in no way had the opportunity if we were taking public transport.
Save money on accommodation through free camping or staying at cheap campsites or aires.
Being able to park up right on the beach for somewhere to sleep - and then waking up with beach front views.
Save money on food through cooking meals.
Not having to deal with constantly carting around heavy luggage.
Having your own home to sleep in every night instead of random hostel beds that are known to give bed bugs!
Why not to travel in a campervan:
Yes as much as I wouldn't change it for the world, there are a few downfalls which I thought I should share.
Not being able to stay city centre was pretty frustrating at times. There is rarely a campsite or aire city centre, so you'll have to catch buses or other modes of public transport in.
Sometimes harder meeting new people due to the fact that you aren't staying in shared accommodation such as hostels or air bnb.
Getting stung with extreme toll prices (which can be avoided. I'll discuss further down).
Having to pay high prices for petrol in certain areas.
Harder to access wifi if you are free camping or staying in a camper site which doesn't offer wifi.
Things to look for when purchasing the perfect van:
Enough height to stand up in (A MUST). One thing we don't have and wish for!
A sink with running water
Cupboard space for both your clothes, belongings and food
Shutters for your windows
A leisure battery that can charge off the alternator
Toilet if you aren't too keen to go outdoors when wild camping
How Much Money to Save etc.
For everyone wanting to know how much we spent in the 6 months we were travelling around Europe in our campervan, it was close to $30,000. Thats including travel insurance ($900), purchasing our van ($5000), car insurance ($1000), petrol ($5000) & all other travel expenses including food, campsites etc. (These prices are a close estimate).
Now don't freak out, cause I know that sounds like a tone of money! But take into account there was 2 of us, it was spent over a course of close to 6 months, and we travelled through 10 different countries. As time went on we got better with our money and learnt tricks on dodging prices and spending less. Our next stint out to Europe we aim to only spend around $15,000, which is totally doable now that we have some experience and know all. If you are smart about it, you can set a budget for around 50 euros a day (including petrol).
If you are still freaking out at this number, remember that you can earn money back when you sell your van. Just think, how much money will you end up just throwing away on plane, train, bus, and taxi tickets? Probably thousands. And how often will you have to wait around at an airport or train station with all your luggage waiting to get from one destination to the next? Yes, we spent $5000 on petrol, but yes we got to travel wherever and whenever we pleased. No waiting around or struggling to get to areas that are hard to reach by public transport. And at the end of it all, you can sell your van and have the extra couple of thousand dollars to go home with. How good is that!
My aim for this post is to help people save money when embarking on a similar adventure. Cause hell, if we had this kind of advice before we hit the road, we probably could have saved thousands of dollars. So please keep reading because I want your trip to be as smooth and inexpensive as possible.
Petrol and How to Save
For all Aussies, you think petrol is pricey back home.. Try coming to the UK and Europe! It's double the price. Unfortunately it's around £1/L plus in the UK and 1 €/L plus in Europe. Little cheaper in Europe which is good but we still ended up paying around $5,000 aus dollars in total. Ouch right!
Whilst in Venice we met someone who told us we could offer lifts to other travellers trough this social networking site called Bla Bla Car. You can literally just add your journey into this site (e.g. Venice to Rome), pick a price per passenger and wait for any responses. This is a great way to save money on petrol, and to also meet other travellers!
Toll Roads & How to Avoid
Don't make the mistake we made, by thinking toll roads weren't really going to cost that much. Cause they do! We spent around €100 euros on tolls driving down the west coast of France. It was rather upsetting especially when you are trying to budget. So before you hit the road make sure you have an updated sat nav that is able to 'avoid tolls' & try purchase a book that shows what roads do and don't have tools, and how much they cost. A good reference is The European Drivers Hand Book - which will give you some vital information on driving through all European countries. Including all toll roads and costs.
If you're going to avoid tolls through your sat nav, you're most likely going to be taken on a much longer route - and most likely through small towns. This is where you'll need to weigh up your options whether the extra miles is worth avoiding those costly toll roads. If you're in no rush and don't mind detouring then this is usually the best option to save some money.
Tip: France is by far the most expensive country for tolls, so if you're not all that keen on taking non toll roads your whole journey through Europe, I would advise to try skip France's toll roads if any. Spain is probably the best when it comes to toll roads. Aren't anywhere near as expensive and there's less of them. Phew!
Camperstops, Campsites, Wild Camping & Urban Camping
If you want to take away any advice from this post, let this be it! Go online and PLEASE PLEASE purchase yourself the latest Motorhome Guide Camperstop: Europe book. It will become your bible! It features almost 9000 motorhome stop overs (also known as aires) throughout Europe, detailing their facilities, prices and location. Typically, prices vary from absolutely free to 25 euros. These camper stops are meant specifically for camper vans. They are ALOT cheaper than campsites and are a great alternative when travelling on a budget. The only downfall is that camper stops don't have great facilities, and sometimes no facilities at all. If you are lucky you will get clean showers, wifi & electricity.
Another great option for finding camper stops is through an app called All Motorhome Parkings. I also used this app ALOT to find detailed information about motorhome sites, their location and price range. We slept in a lot of motorhome friendly carparks for free because of this app. But beware that some of the locations it takes you too are a little dodgy and questionable. Can't remember how many times we slept on a slant and with one eye open. Haha! But don't worry, we slept safe and sound every night.
If you are looking for far better facilities, wifi, electricity, atmosphere, pool etc. than campsites are the way to go. Campsite pricing usually varies between 15 euros to 40 euros a night. An easy way to spend money right? On average we stayed in campsites maybe 2 nights a week, cause geeez some days you just wanted to have a clean shower, be able to call home or browse the internet without having to sit in a McDonalds for hours on end. Haha!
When visiting most cities, campsites are a better option as you feel safer leaving your van there the day, and can usually catch a bus close or directly from the campsite into the city centre.
Wild camping is amazing when done right. If you're lucky you will find an amazing location - like next to a lake, or beside a mountain, or on the shores of a beach; and you get to stay for free! One night we backed right up on the beach in Nazare, Portugal and watched the sunset over the ocean from our bed. It was such an amazing moment!
Some nights do not go according to plan though, and you may find yourself driving for hours trying to find a spot to wild camp for the night. This can be rather stressful at times, and can result in a very uncomfortable sleep. You could try do some more research past this post and find out where other people have wild camped throughout Europe. Scotland is the easiest and greatest country to wild camp in. We were able to sleep next the lochs, on farm land and on cliff faces over looking the ocean.
Make sure you research wild camping regulations within the country you are travelling because it can be illegal in some places. For instance it is illegal in Croatia, and if you are caught you are slapped with a huge fine. Lucky enough though campsites are generally cheaper and are usually in good locations.
Urban Camping is when you park the night in an urban or industrialised area (i.e. a neighbourhood side street or on the side of the road). It is not the most ideal option, but you'll be surprised at how often you will have to do it. Too many nights we left it to chance and ended up having to park in a random carpark or out the front of somebodies house.
If you want to park out the front of a shop or a restaurant for example, than you can go and ask permission first. That way you'll feel more comfortable sleeping the night. Usually they will say yes, & sometimes they'll ask you to make a purchase of a drink or something cheap, which is fairly reasonable. Urban camping is definitely not something of first choice, but it did save us a lot of money.
Saving on Food
Spending lots of money on food is so so so easy! There's nothing more I love than to eat out at a restaurant and experience local cuisines. The first few months we were eating out almost every night. The excitement of it all was blinding us on this so called 'daily budget' we had planned. We spent way more over budget in those first few months because we literally had no self control and would most times eat out even when we weren't hungry. I do not regret it though. I mean, we were in Europe after all! What is travelling if not for the different types food!
After we realised our bank accounts were getting drained at a rapid rate we had to start being smarter about our choices. We eventually decided to put our little make shift kitchen to more use and started doing weekly supermarket shopping so that we could make our own meals. Our weekly food expenses dropped from about 50 euros a day to 10-20 euros a day.
The best supermarket to shop at is definitely LIDL. It is exactly like Aldi but even cheaper. It's perfect for basic camper meal supplies. We would do a weekly shop there, and only spend 30 euros. I couldn't believe how much money we were saving and how good camper meals could actually be! It's a great way to eat healthier too. I started eating a lot more vegetables, fruits and salads. Cooking in the van became a regular thing, oonly really allowing one or two nights a week to treat ourselves and enjoy a night out.
Some camper meal ideas include:
Oats with fruit for breakfast (literally our staple)
Veggie Chilli (add lots of vegetables & beans)
Lots of different kinds of Pasta! (Our regulars were Pesto and Tomato)
Tuna on rice cakes for lunch
Tuna sandwiches (Yes we ate ALOT of tuna & a lot of sandwiches)
sandwiches are a great option for when you're heading into a city for the day & don't want to spend money on food. Pack more than 1 though.
Nachos (if you have a grill)
Soup (tinned tomato soup was my fav)
Meals were limited to mostly dry foods, as our fridge could only be plugged in when driving or when connected to electricity. Our cupboard was always stocked with tuna, beans, spices, oats, crackers, pasta, sauces, vegetables (especially cauliflower because it lasts forever!), bread rolls, rice etc. All supplies can be bought at LIDL.
If you're a lover of meat than your budget may look a little bigger. Kyle loves his meat but pretty much became vegetarian on the road because it saved more money, and more trips to the supermarket to eat fresh that day. Way to risky keeping meat in an unreliable fridge.
Navigating at ease
Get yourself a sat nav before anything else! It will help avoid toll roads and save a lot of arguments between you and your partner (or whoever you're travelling with). If google maps was accessible offline it would be my first choice of navigation preference. Sat navs can sometimes be unreliable and take you on some tedious routes.
Another useful navigation system we used was an app called Maps Me. You can use it offline as long as you download the region first. Maps me is really good if you are looking for a point of interest: restaurants, tourist destinations, petrol stations, shops, accommodation etc. It can not avoid tolls though, so keep that in mind. You are only able to avoid tolls through your sat nav or Google Maps.
Best way to navigate is through GPS coordinates (well in my opinion anyway). You can google any location's GPS coordinates and easily insert the numbers into your sat nav, google maps or Maps Me. Also the Motorhome Guide Camperstop: Europe book will detail every camper stops GPS Coordinates, making it super easy to punch into your sat nav and get directions immediately.
If you have any questions please feel free to ask! I hope this will help you on your adventures, and hopefully make things cheaper and a whole lot easier. I have enjoyed sharing my little secrets in this Ultimate Guide to Travelling Europe in a campervan.