Planning to travel Europe in a Campervan? Feeling a bit overwhelmed and daunted by vanlife in Europe? Want to make sure you don't forget anything for your trip?
Don't worry- we know exactly how you feel. Before we set off for Europe for the first time, we felt slightly terrified (in an over-excited kinda way). And it all worked out fine. (Except for forgetting to bring any gas. And losing all our fresh water. And burning out our brakes coming down a mountain. You know, little things like that…!)
But we're still travelling Europe by van two years later- so it can't be that hard!! 🙂
I promise you, a little bit of preparation will make all the difference. That's what this guide will help you with- preparing for Vanlife in Europe!
How to travel Europe in a campervan
So, you've bought your camper van. You've packed, adjusted and repacked your campervan. You've made list after list after list. You might have even spent a few nights away in your van. You feel ready to set out and take on the world. (Or, you know, Europe.)
If you'd like some more guidance on road trips and van travel, we have some fantastic guides and checklists to help you get started in our FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY- click here to check them out!
And don't worry if you're renting a camper and haven't even seen it yet- you'll be just fine if you follow the advice below. It's perfectly possible to pick up a van and take it straight on an epic road trip adventure.
Vanlife Europe – the boring, but oh so essential paperwork
Sorry, but this paperwork stuff really is essential. I promise it gets more exciting later on!
We've been stopped twice, both times near the ferry at Caen, France. I love travelling in France in our van, but the French police near the UK border do seem to love to pounce on campervanners who may have forgotten some essential paperwork. Or who break the speed limit. Don't let that be you!
Fines must be paid in cash there and then; no- they don't provide any evidence if you've been caught speeding. It's their word against yours. If you don't have cash, you'll be escorted to the nearest cash point and asked to withdraw the correct amount.
Also, don't expect them to have change. Our fine was for 90€, and we only had 20€ notes… luckily another person who was stopped happened to have 2 x €10 notes, otherwise we'd have been going to the cashpoint 15 miles away in the back of a police car!
To the police's credit, we offered to give them the extra 10€ just so we could be on our way, but they wouldn't take it.
On-the-spot fines are common in all countries, except Ireland where the Police are not authorised to collect fines. Some places, like Croatia, give you 8 days to pay. Other places, like Portugal, give their police officers an ATM to make sure fines are paid immediately!!
The most important bits of paperwork are:
- V5 Logbook (yep, the original)
- If it's a hire vehicle, proof that you are allowed to drive and cross borders
- Valid MOT
- Driver licence (pink part only)
- International Driver Permit (if required- read the post if you're not sure)
Other items you need to carry for Vanlife Europe
- GB sticker or GB on your reg plate
- First aid kit– did you know it is illegal to NOT stop at an accident in France and many other places in Europe?
- Warning Triangle
- Hi-vis jacket which must be easily reached without leaving the vehicle (or getting off a motorbike!) We recommend carrying at least 2, ideally one per person.
- Spare light bulbs- tricky if you have LEDS but we carry a couple of random old bulbs just for show
- Headlight deflectors as our UK headlamps are pointing the ‘wrong way' for European roads-
- Radar detectors are forbidden EVERYWHERE in Europe.
Campervan route planner- Planning a route around Europe
Europe is awesome to explore by camper, but it can also be daunting. We suggest planning a loose route, so you know where you're headed but leave time to explore places you find along the way.
We like to keep a note of places we find or hear about on Google maps and use those points to plan our next adventure. But you can keep a simple list on your phone which you refer back to whenever you need inspiration!
Touring Europe in a campervan – Finding places to stay
Most people travelling Europe in a camper are doing so on a budget. Therefore, you need to find cheap, or preferably FREE places to stay. That's called wild or free camping.
You'll be pleased to know that Europe is MUCH better at providing places for vans to stop for the night, at least compared to the UK (although Brit Stops is helping.)
Here are our favourite ways to find places to stay for the night:
This free app is what we mainly use when touring in Europe in our van. There are LOADS of places marked suitable for campers, vans or motorhomes to park for the night. Some are paid (and marked as such), some have facilities and others are totally wild camping spots in the middle of nowhere.
Most places have reviews and photos so you can see where you're staying- we avoid anywhere that doesn't.
Word of warning- some sites/ aires have rules against unmarked/ unconverted vans. If this is you, read the reviews carefully so that you're not asked to move on when you arrive. Or use the places marked ‘Nature' on the app- there shouldn't be anyone there who cares.
France Passion is a collection of local businesses across France, which offer free overnight parking for vans, in return for a meal/ purchase some wine at their shop. It's supposed to be completely without obligation, but we've heard stories of a hard sell. It works great if you're planning to eat out anyway, but if you're trying to save money, Park4night might be a better option for you.
If you want more information on how we pick our places, here's a video we did explaining our process:
Is wild camping legal for campervans in Europe?
Sometimes. There are different rules in different countries. For example, wild camping is illegal in Italy. Yet you'll still find places on Park4night where it's tolerated. Also, the approved places (Sostas in Italy) cost from as little as 2€/night.
Wild camping is also illegal in Switzerland- until you reach the Alps and people are merrily parking for free in any layby they can find. My favourite night ever traveling in the van was spent in the Swiss Alps, looking up at the Milky Way, with nothing but the wolves for company. And it cost us absolutely NOTHING!! You can also enjoy wild camping with a campervan in France.
My advice is to check out the legalities in the country you are heading for. If you're not sure and not happy, move on to an approved stop point. You can find more advice on wild camping in Europe here.
Aires- Approved Places for Campervans, perfect for vanlife in Europe
Europe is NOT like the UK and Motorhomers/ campervanners are not treated like a nuisance- most towns make excellent provision for them and you can stay in clean, pretty locations within easy walking distance of town centres or attractions.
These places are called Aires (France and Belgium) / Sostas (Italy)/ Stellplatz (Germany) For the sake of ease, let's call them all aires for now.
You cannot pre-book Aires- they operate on a first come basis. A campervan will fit well into all of them unless you have a trailer- some of the spaces can be pretty tight. Some aires have rules against unconverted vans/ vans with signage staying- be sure to read the reviews carefully (you can find reviews on Park4night.
Campervan Travel tips- some essential kit to help make life easier.
Is Wifi an essential? For us it is. Mr WB works from the van and our life just wouldn't work if we didn't have a decent Internet connection.
We have a wifi dongle in our van and it's BRILLIANT. We regularly have multiple devices connected to it at once without problem. Yes, occasionally it's a slow connection, but for convenience and power-saving we haven't found anything to beat it. We charge it using a 12v charger while driving and it easily lasts a couple of days when we're wild camping.
We use an old, second-hand iPad with Co-Pilot navigation app installed onto it. It's been great and we love the offline map feature.
If you don't want an app, these campervan sat navs are awesome and very useful- particularly if you have a bigger, taller van.
Also, be careful where you mount your sat nav. Many countries now say it's illegal to have the satnav mounted on the windscreen or blocking the driver's view. We use this mount and mount our iPad on our dashboard, where it's low enough to not cause any problems.
Travel Europe in a Campervan- POWER requirements!
One of the joys of touring Europe in a campervan is the freedom. We love being able to park in remote locations for days on end. Having to find a campsite every night so we had electricity would really ruin that! (Not to mention blow our vanlife budget!)
The solution is an inverter (and possibly a power pack depending on how power hungry you are.
We charge whilst we're driving by running the inverter as we drive, which charges the laptops. We charge phones/ iPads using USB sockets in the cab.
We do have a solar panel onboard, which really helps when we're wild/ free camping with a camper. It helps top up our batteries and allows us to stay off-grid in the van longer.
We use Gaslow refillable bottles, which are so useful and make getting gas as we travel so much easier. There are plenty of places across Europe to buy refillable gas and you use it just like a petrol station; some petrol stations even sell LPG gas.
If that isn't an option for your campervan, make sure you get a kit with various nozzles, so you can easily switch between the different types of bottles available.
Europe in a campervan- Tips on Safety
112 can be dialled anywhere in Europe in an emergency, accident or distress situation.
Thieves & Security
Many thefts are opportunistic. Apply common sense and always leave an area if you are uncertain. We've stayed put twice, even when we had doubts and both times we've ended up regretting our decision.
We don't travel in our van with any jewellery, very little money and very few items of value. We try to minimise the risk as much as possible, but at the same time you have to get out and enjoy the places you visit; otherwise, what's the point. Install a really good lock on your camper, both for outside and for inside. We also like to use a steering lock as a visible deterrent.
Essential Tips for Traveling in a van in Europe
Where to get water and waste while travelling Europe by campervan?
If you're not planning to use campsites (and you don't need to!) there are several options for getting fresh water and getting rid of waste. PLEASE don't just dump your black waste if you have a toilet onboard- there are plenty of places to dispose of it hygienically.
Many service stations (also called aires, confusingly!), provide a motorhome service point. Often this costs 1-2€ to get everything you need. We find these using the Park4Night app- there are loads throughout Europe. Some aires also have disposal points- again, you normally need to pay for them.
Sidelights whilst driving your camper
Sidelights must be switched on in the following countries at ALL times:
Low Emission Zones in Europe
Be careful of low-emission zones and areas which require a congestion charge or similar, like Paris and London. These places are often clearly signed but it can be easy to be caught out. We try to Google each city before we visit, or park well outside and catch a train in.
Vignettes in Europe
Also, you need a Vignette for Motorways/ toll roads in Switzerland and Austria.
Driving on the wrong side of the road!
Driving on the right-hand side is not as scary as it seems! Promise.
Don't forget some (VERY few) roundabouts in France still give priority to people coming ON to the roundabout- so if you're already going around you have to stop and let them on! (Don't ask- it's a French thing!!)
In all our years of driving in France with a car and a camper, we have NEVER found one of these roundabouts, but we have been caught out on occasion by a member of the… older… generation driving onto a roundabout without right of way, forgetting he has to stop! (I hate to say it- but it does seem to be the men who do this!!)
Just be careful and pay attention if you're not sure- always expect the unexpected!!
Traveling in a van in Europe- essential tips for camper van life
Try and buy your Euros in advance as you'll get a better rate. You can use cash machines in Europe but there are often high charges for that.
Also, don't forget that not every country in Europe uses Euros. Here are some popular ones which don't!
- Bulgaria – Lev
- Croatia – Kuna
- Czech Republic – Kurona
- Denmark – Krone
- Hungary – Forint
- Norway- Krone
- Poland – Zloty
- Romania – Leu
- Switzerland – Swiss Franc
- United Kingdom- Pound Sterling
There are others in East European as well- make sure you check in advance.
This pass is awesome for being able to skip the queues if you are traveling Europe during Summer. We love not needing to find change as we travel- it just sends us a bill at the end of the month. We use Emovis-tag.
Make sure you're have enough medication for you and any pets. Be prepared to explain your medication and prove what it is with a doctor's note or something similar- just in case customs search the van and ask you.
Actually, on that note, EXPECT to be searched at customs/ borders. They do search campers and vans a lot!
Tyres & Snow chains
If you're travelling Europe by campervan during the winter, you might need snow chains and all-weather tyres. You can get these fitted in Europe without problem.
How to travel Europe in a camper van- Final thoughts
I know the idea of travelling in a foreign country in a van can be daunting- especially if they don't speak the same language! However, none of this is difficult; you just need to be organised, which can take some time. Here are some final tips and inspiration for your campervan travels:
- Learn a little of the local language. English is widely spoken around much of Europe, but they love it if you make an effort. After all, you are in their country and a little respect to them means a much friendlier welcome!
- Accept you are a tourist- you will make mistakes and probably look like an idiot. Don't let it put your off your camper van adventure!
- Try to ‘slow travel'- travelling by van is about the journey as much as the destination. This can be hard when you're on a schedule, but try not to cram so much in you can't have a day by the beach or at a vineyard if you fancy it.
- Having said that, do a little research as you travel so you don't miss some amazing places. We like to pick an area and then Google it to see what great adventures are waiting for us! Then we plot a rough itinerary on Google Maps.
- You don't want to spend your time with a broken down camper. Make sure you do these essential vehicle checks before you go!
How else can I help you today??
I know you will LOVE being able to travel Europe by campervan. Let me know where you end up- I'd love to see your pictures. Safe travels.