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How to Sleep for Free on your European Road Trip

The cost of a European road trip can stack up quickly and accommodation can take a huge chunk of your budget. But unlike the UK, much of Europe is well geared up for camper vans and motorhomes.

Free camping in Europe with your motorhome is easy. Often easier than finding a campsite. During a 6 week road trip around Europe, our accommodation costs came to a grand total of zero.

That’s not a typo. We didn’t pay for a single night’s accommodation in all that time. You can easily travel most of the European continent without ever paying for accommodation.

If you’re planning a road trip around Europe and want to save a few pound, follow this guide to see how you can find free camping in your motorhome.

Free camping in Europe with your motorhome

First thing’s first, you need a camper van or motorhome. A vehicle you can cook in, carry drinking water, sleep in and have campervan toilet facilities.

Cars with roof tents are generally not allowed. You have 2 options for free camping in Europe with your motorhome: camper stops or wild camps.

European camper stops

Most European countries provide official places for you to stay overnight. These are generally referred to as camper stops. Each country may refer to them by their own name and signpost them accordingly:

Spain & Portugal: Area de servicio para autocaravanas
France & Belgium: Aires de Service
Germany, Austria & Switzerland: Stellplatz
Italy: Area di sosta
Norway: Bobils

Camper stops range from carparks in town centres to remote locations and beachside spots. We’ve even seen them in National Parks.

Read more: Wild camping locations in Spain

Facilities can vary but most include free drinking water. You’ll find facilities for chemical toilet and grey water disposal. Overnight overnight parking is free.

Some have free electricity for hooking up your camper van’s leisure batteries. We’ve even managed to secure quite good free wifi connections at many camper stops.

Overnight parking can be limited to 48 hours in some, others will have no restrictions. A few may even charge you a euro for a water top up. However, the vast majority of the facilities provided are totally free of charge.

Free camping in Europe with your motorhome is a privilege

Camper stops are a privilege and certainly not a right. Coming from the UK where motorhomes are not widely catered for, we certainly feel they are a luxury.

With that in mind, there are some rules that must be followed. Camper stops are not for camping.

This means no pitching a tent, winding out your awnings, hanging out laundry or putting out your camping table.

Certainly this may be a downside; it is lovely to sit out on a summer’s evening with a glass of wine. But this is camping. If you want to camp, go to a campsite and pay for that privilege.

The cost of a road trip can quickly stack up and accommodation costs could be high. But do you know you can go FREE camping in Europe with your motorhome?

Are you looking for the ideal gift? Take a look at these ideas for travellers.

Wild camping in Europe in your motorhome

We’ve all been there. We find a perfectly idyllic location and think it’d be wonderful to spend the night there.

It may have a spectacular view, it’s quiet and remote or has the promise of a beautiful sunset. To stay the night would be wonderful. If you’re on foot with a small tent, you could be rather discrete about it.

Hiding a 3 metre high motorhome is no mean feat though.

Throughout Europe you will find ‘tolerated’ spaces and remote locations that are perfect to park overnight. They don’t offer any facilities but if you find a perfect spot, you could always give it a go.

Read more: Our guide for wild camping in your motorhome

With so many motor homes touring Europe, there’s a wealth of information available on the internet about where to find some of these spots.

Just bear in mind, these are not official places so you could be asked to move on. We’ve wild camped at many locations in western and eastern Europe and never been asked to move on. We do choose our spots wisely though.

How to find free camping in Europe with your motorhome

You may well see a camper stop sign along your route and this may be a perfect opportunity to park up for the night. You may want a few pre-planned though.

Here’s a couple of ways to have some locations pre-planned. Get yourself a sat nav that allows you to either upload waypoints or at least allows you to enter GPS co-ordinates.

Never set off on a European road trip without it. Our sat nav has a set of (dated) camper stops included as points of interest. We occasionally get lucky using that function.

The cost of a road trip can quickly stack up and accommodation costs could be high. But do you know you can go FREE camping in Europe with your motorhome?

Essential reading: A beginner’s guide to road trip planning

Resources

Campervan Hire

It’s easy to arrange campervan hire in Europe.

We recommend using a reputable comparison site like AutoEurope to check the different types of motorhomes and campers available.

They even allow drop offs at different locations so an ideal way to avoid circular routes.

Finding stopovers

VWFurgo is a website that holds almost 4000 GPS co-ordinates for camper stops across Europe.

Each location is marked on a map and provides photos and details of the facilities and nearby amenities. It includes both official camper stops and ‘tolerated’ spaces.

The site allows you to download the full file (for free). It covers most of the major sat nav formats.

It’s a heavy weight file so consider if this will affect the performance of your device. You can always download it onto your laptop or tablet and refer to it as you go.

iOverlander is another terrific website with loads of overnight wild camping spots and parking locations. It’s maintained and updated by overlanders and terrific source of information globally, and not just for Europe.

If you’re trying to find free camping in the UK with your motorhome, you could try park4night.com. It’s not as comprehensive as VWFurgo but a good resource.

Alternatively, there is a book detailing the official camper stops across Europe. 

It will become your accommodation bible as you travel around Europe in your camper van or motorhome. With almost 9000 free or very cheap aires listed, you’re sure to find a suitable place to sleep.

The Camperstop Europe guide include photos, GPS coordinates and information about facilities at each camperstop. Don’t tour Europe without this.

camperstop book

More than 10 750 European motorhome stopovers in one guide.These motorhome stopovers, spread across 27 European countries, are presented in a concise, compact style.

Essential reading: our essential guide to buying a 12v fridge.

Road trip planning doesn’t have to be difficult. If you’re looking for a European road trip on a budget, camper stops are a perfect way to reduce (or eliminate) your accommodation costs.

You now know how to find free camping in Europe with your motorhome. All you have to decide now is when and where you’re going.

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The cost of a road trip can quickly stack up and accommodation costs could be high. But do you know you can go FREE camping in Europe with your motorhome?
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Marta

Thursday 7th of January 2021

In general, if you go off the main roads and stay away from the traffic, pedestrians and general rush, you'll be fine with camping in a car with a roof tent as well. We did that for a week in Croatia and have not paid a cent for accommodation. Road trip in VW Golf from early nineties was an experience :P pitch late - arrive early! Greetings from Spain

Keri

Thursday 19th of November 2020

Hi, Any recommendations for renting a camper in Europe? I would like to start in Amsterdam and return it in Porto, Portugal. Looking for around a 90 day rental. Thanks

Angela and Graham

Friday 20th of November 2020

Hi KeriWow! 90 days between Amsterdam & Portugal will be amazing! We think Northern Spain is especially beautiful! We've not rented a camper before but we do know that renting is quite expensive. The company we use whenever we need car hire, also arrange campervan hires and conveniently allow different drop off locations so well suited for your travel plans. You can check them out here. Let us know how you get on and have a fabulous time!

budge

Sunday 8th of December 2019

this sounds just what we are looking for, on the 9th Jan 2020, we are heading of to Europe for 6 months in our motor-home which we have recently purchased, so hopefully your site will help us.

Where to Find Free Camping in Europe With Your Campervan ~ Psy Minds

Wednesday 13th of June 2018

[…] *This article was originally published at mowgli-adventures.com. […]

Auban

Wednesday 18th of April 2018

We will be driving a VW pop-top. You mention that car-top tents are a no-go. Does that include popping up the top on the VW?

Angela

Thursday 26th of April 2018

Hi Auban - yeah the pop tops are fine. It tends to be separate roof tents that are less tolerated.

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